The Unfair Advantage of Discomfort

I counted sixty-four of the latest Forbes 400 who dropped out of college, or never went. That group had an average individual net worth of $4.8 billion, which was twice the average of Ivy League grads in the 400. That number is almost 3 times higher than the average of the entire 400.

Even if you set the financial bar lower, Shawn Achor’s research at Harvard reveals college grades are not at all predictive of later financial success. A study of millionaires revealed their average GPA was 2.9.

Yet, parents with financial resources are doubling down with pressure exerted on their kids to look good for college. One result is a stunning drop in the number of teens working dead-end summer jobs like their parents did. Those very discomforts - I call the 300-hour rule - play a large role in the desire to earn unusual success later. We may be cursing the next generation with the biggest obstacle for most great stories to ever begin: comfort.

In 1962, psychologist Victor Goertzel published a book called “Cradles of Eminence: A Provocative Study of the Childhoods of Over 400 Famous Twentieth-Century Men and Women.” They selected individuals who had had at least two biographies written about them and who had made a positive contribution to society. They found that less than 15% of their famous men and women had been raised in supportive, untroubled homes, with another 10% in a mixed setting. Of the 400, a full 75% grew up in a family burdened by a severe problem: poverty, abuse, absent parents, alcoholism, serious illness or some other misfortune.

I have zero interest in politics, but always wonder why this incomplete trigger for never ending debates -

“The disparity between rich and poor is huge, and the participants are…”

-leaves out the most important part. These three words should always complete that sentence as a powerful reminder, no matter which side you are on.

“…constantly changing places!!

Beware or be encouraged. Energy wasted debating what is fair could be re-directed to fuel the fire in bellies to move up, or mind-sharpening risk for not falling down.

If there is ever a contest to pick which word has done the most damage to people’s thinking, and actions to carry out that thinking, my nomination would be the word “fair.” - Thomas Sowell

How else could a homeless man own a business, but lose all its funding, then become homeless a second time living in a car, then become a multi-billionaire?

John Paul Dejoria is a first generation American, born to Greek and Italian immigrants. His dad left when he was 2. He grew up working early and often. “I loved the fact at the age of 7 that I could make a flower pot and sell it for fifty cents,” he said.

He began his career as a door to door salesman at age 9 with Christmas cards. At 11, he got a paper route but gave his mom all the money. “I was just happy to work and proud I had a job,” he explained. But his childhood was more than troubled, and he drifted in and out of biker gangs in east Los Angeles and was, for a time, homeless.

After high school, Dejoria joined the Navy at 17. When he got out, he sold encyclopedias and office equipment, repaired bikes, drove a tow truck, and worked as a janitor. He could not earn enough income to afford any kind of home. His wife left him and took what little money they had. He was homeless again, living out of his car this time. He collected soda pop bottles to return, so he and his infant son had any money at all.

One of the door to door products he peddled was shampoo. He learned that industry was particularly wide open to better products. But then he got fired from his first job in the hair care business.

This is one of my favorite parts to stop and think about. The most uncrowded path to profound wealth is often subtle improvements in an existing industry so beautifully boring as to not attract attention from those attempting to sharpen a unicorn horn instead.

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“I didn’t have the money or the grades to go to college. I learned from the house of hard knocks. Believe in yourself and read books. After high school I bought a dictionary to look up words I didn’t know when I was reading, that’s how I got educated,” Dejoria recounts.

Dejoria and his friend Paul Mitchell both believed in the same opportunity in the hair care industry. They convinced an investor to back them with $500,000.

Then the investor backed out, and their business was over before it started. “No investor would touch us with a six-foot pole,” Dejoria recalls vividly. Down to their last $700, they decided to do it by themselves.

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Their first bill came from the designer of the bottles for $1,000. They had two weeks to sell enough to cover the difference. An uncomfortable advantage is no outs.

So, Dejoria sold door to door once again. Offering free demos to salons, his only marketing plan was a guarantee to buy back any product that was left unsold. Simple but unique. The approach had never been done before in the industry.

“We just thought we had a good idea. Even if you’re down and out, if you’re in America you have the opportunity to go knock on doors,” Dejoria said.

They decided on two big differences to change their industry. They believed if only the highest quality ingredients were used, and for the first time not tested on animals, that customers would want to pay more and help make the world a better place. “When people see what you are doing, they want to be associated with you, and you end up selling more because they want to support you.” Dejoria said. He tested products on himself instead.

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A few short years later Paul Mitchell passed away. Dejoria took their idea with his own relentless spirit and grew it into the world’s largest privately-owned salon haircare company. Now he sells his shampoo and other products in 103 countries from his massive organization. Perhaps the most telling fact I learned about just how he pulls that off now, is that employee turnover has not even reached 100 in four decades. Customers and employees who believe never leave.

His living motto is that success unshared is failure. “Knowing that you did something good for someone else is that incredible high that everyone is looking for,” Dejoria says.

To be able to live that motto Dejoria points to four lessons he has learned.

1) You are going to get rejected a lot, keep knocking on doors. You must remain as confident on door #59 as you were on #1.

2) Don’t be in the product business be in the re-order business. You must have a world class product for that to occur.

3) Successful people do all the things unsuccessful people are unwilling to do. If that means working 7 days a week, 18 hours a day, you do it. And stick to your beliefs.

4) Give back. Customers want to be involved with companies who help others, and employees do too. Companies should explain in writing how they change the planet on behalf of its customers.

*****I would add one more to his list. I noticed what he did not say, but lived. Perhaps too often we all hear the inspiring words - do what you love. Better might be to just love what you do.

Right in the middle of all that, he launched Patron Spirits in 1989 with a friend. People thought they were nuts to charge 3 or 4 times the rest of the tequila market. But, Dejoria believed the void was in the ultra-premium market which nobody had done before. Once again, he started by selling door to door the highest quality product on the market with no other business plan around it. Dejoria sold his stake in Patron to Bacardi, in a deal valuing his business at $5.1 billion.

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To really enjoy the better things in life, one must first have experienced the things they are better than. - Oscar Holmolka

While living the better than good life now, Dejoria is still serious about the original shampoo business. To make certain his company would stand the test of time he placed his share into a 360-year trust to ensure the company will remain in the beauty business. Not even his own family could change the direction he chose. That uncommon level of commitment pours over into the day to day operations and team loyalty. And, he is not done hustling down new ideas. Recently, he introduced new products with a natural marula oil harvested in Africa, where Dejoria has been keenly interested in raising billions in aid.

I have heard him ask himself and then answer the question most often on the minds of awe-struck would be entrepreneurs, more enthusiastically than any other.

“Yea…but could you do that again today?”

“Easier!! If you could get a loan in 1980 you were paying 17%, inflation was 12% and unemployment was 10.5%. We had to wait in line for gasoline.”

That is the one time I read, heard, or watched him say a single word about the economy, and only in a rhetorical question for others that he never stopped to worry about himself. Some people are just too busy creating their own market. Often, their only advantage is having grown very comfortable with any discomfort along the way.