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Take-Aways from Life Is Good Co-Founder on Culture and Super Powers

My buddy recently shared with me a video from Inc.’s iCONIC: Chicago conference of Life Is Good co-founder Bert Jacobs. It’s lengthy at 43 minutes long, but it showcases how Bert and his brother’s company ingrained “super powers” and humanitarian efforts into the company culture that has driven the company into a $100M company.

As I said, the video’s pretty lengthy. I’ve distilled my take-aways below.
  • Jacobs repeatedly tells the audience, “Your most precious asset is your time”. He then asks, “What’re you doing with your time? What’re you doing with your life?” Life Is Good is built on valuing everyone’s time and making that time valuable. They “focus on opportunities rather than the obstacles” believing whatever you focus on (good or bad) grows.
  • The concept of Life Is Good came from the Jacobs’ childhood when the family was enduring much hardship. To focus on the good, the Jacobs’ mother started a dinner ritual where each family member tells what went well that day.
  • Life Is Good is built on super powers we all have including compassion, gratitude, fun, authenticity, and others. These super powers are what give life fulfillment.
  • The brothers started selling t-shirts out of a van they bought and traveled and lived in. After one road trip, the brothers threw a keg party where family and friends gave thoughts on artwork. There, the brothers had a picture of the Life Is Good character, Jake. A woman described the picture saying, “This guy has life figured out.” The brothers decided to shorten those words into “Life Is Good” onto a t-shirt with Jake. With that shirt, the brothers sold 48 shirts in 45 minutes. That was the “aha” moment.
  • To expand the company, the brothers decided to wholesale to retailers. The first customer sold out of the t-shirts quickly, and asked if Jake “ate ice cream” (there was ice cream shop next door to the customer). The Jacobs brothers said, “Sure, Jake can eat ice cream”, created a new shirt, and found the interest exceedingly positive. From there, shirts were created where customers asked for Jake to do various activities.
  • In six years, Life Is Good grew to $3M. Bert laments they could have been a $20M company, but they made every mistake possible. However, they were learning.
  • The brothers wanted to take the company to the next level and set an advertising budget, but had a change of strategy (and heart) after reading letters sent to them including one inspiring letter from a 10-year-old boy. The Jacobs brothers decided to shift the money away from radio advertising towards “pumpkin festivals” to raise awareness for activities for kids with life-threatening conditions. The response was so overwhelming the company started more pumpkin festivals. The pumpkin festivals raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for kids while aligning the company towards a humanitarian mission. Customers were more than happy to spend hard-earned cash towards Life Is Good shirts knowing there was a great cause behind the company – the “halo effect”. The company grew from $3M to $50M from 2000-2005.
  • Capitalism will solve social issues. Corporate America gets flack due to “greed” and the like. However, it’s okay for people to want big houses and nice things. That does not have to be mutually exclusive to non-profits. Instead, capitalism can help solve social issues.
  • Life is Good is a human message, not just an American message. The company fully believes in enabling people to live happy and fulfilling lives.
  • “Protect your time with your life because it is your life.” In response to the inevitable demise of everyone, “will you have to run around to make up for things that you wish you did? Give out more love because you didn’t give more when healthy?”
What are your take-aways from Bert’s talk?

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