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?

You ever see someone who is just wildly successful at whatever YOU’RE trying to be, and then you want to just emulate everything that person does? However, you’re not able to keep up, or you aren’t able to make it work the way you were hoping? Yeah, so that happens to me, too. And so now, this brings me to Inc.com’s article by Geil Browning “The Brain-Based Secret to Getting More Done”.
I’ve been told I’m like a machine sometimes when I work, but I know others who are just absolute freaks when it comes to productivity. As much as I want to be as successful or more, I know that I have to carve my own path. I want to change the world, sure. But for me to be able to do something as simple as, say, blog everyday like I know David Cummings can do, I know it’s just not something I can (or will) keep up with. Just like working out, I’ve gotta find what’s sustainable for me.
Browning writes how there are four major ways people think that can shape and impact how they are productive:
  • Structural.As you can imagine, this is the person who formalizes a game plan. It’s got rigidity. It’s got form and structure.
  • Analytical.Every decision is scrutinized to find and implement the best ROI.
  • Social.This type of person is democratic in his/ her approach. This is especially great to create a sense of accountability to the table for everyone.
  • Conceptual.Stuff is just done. There’s a notion that things are WIP (work-in-progress), but productivity here is measured in completion.

Okay, now that I’m done summarizing the article by Browning, here are my personal thoughts:
  • Team play. In a startup team (or really any team), it’s best to have people with different thinking and different backgrounds. The natural yin-yang and complementing will help your startup find holes in products and strategies. It’s like a good trivia team… you want people who can answer questions for any subject thrown at you.
  • Sustainability.The article mentions New Year’s resolutions (8% actually follow through?!) especially with exercise. Reminds me of an article I read from a trainer who was asked what was the best exercise to lose weight? The trainer responded with, “whichever exercise you enjoy”. You’ve gotta find what works for you, and what you enjoy to really implement anything that will be sustainable.
  • Switch it up! The article (and this very awesome post) is all about finding your natural state of thinking for productivity and just general mind set. However, I think it’s also good to switch it up every once in a while, and spend a day (okay, a few) trying to put a little more structure to your day, if you’re more conceptual. Or perhaps being more social. Not looking for the sustainable part, but spending a little time on the other side of the walls can help you consider other alternatives that can make your process and thinking that much more holistic and perhaps even stronger.
  • Respect.To the point above about team play, this article readily highlights the differences in how others may think. It’s easy to try to push others to your style of thinking, and then getting mad when it doesn’t stick or isn’t considered. This is why those personality profile tests like Myers-Briggs, DISC Profile, etc. are so good for managers to see. It’s important to consider others as individuals and promote their own growth.
  • Consider yourself. The article, at its core, is about knowing yourself. In today’s high-speed, text-a-minute, Facebook-slap-in-the-face society, it’s easy to forget to consider who we are. I’m a big proponent of taking a few minutes every night before bed in reflecting on the day, and think about yourself. What you like, what didn’t you like, what you did well, what made you bored…

What are your thoughts about what makes you more or less productive than one of your friends or idols? How have you capitalized on one of your strengths to be more productive and effective?
Inc.com’s Ilan Mochari wrote “What Happens When Entrepreneurs Fall in Love With Their Creations”.  The article went in a different way than I thought.  In light of the Golden Globe-nominate Her starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson (voice) where Phoenix’s character, Theodore Twombly, falls in love with a computer system, Mochari writes about the propensity for entrepreneurs to fall in love with their creations.  Though, the ending was more of a cautionary note for any one of us, in general, about the attachment we have these days to technologies. 
Mochari opened the article talking about the “edifice complex,” a spin on the Oedipus complex when sons fall in love with their mothers.  The edifice complex is where a person falls in love with a building, or at least, the desire to the design one.
Mochari talks about how Jim Koch’s, founder of Boston Beer Co., love for his business enabled him to pursue building a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility despite providing minimal value, instead, adding substantial costs in capital and operating costs.  (He later realized his folly and moved to build a smaller facility, but only after heavy investment in time and capital.)
Lessons and Take-Aways
The conclusion of the article was a little more “generic”, and could serve entrepreneurs/ readers with a more cautionary tale in touching on Koch’s dilemma.  That is, there are many perils when it comes to loving our creations as entrepreneurs including some thoughts below:

Failure to see the real opportunities.  I’ve long described entrepreneurial endeavors analogous to raising a kid (for better or worse).  As such, we sometimes believe our creations are perfect as they are, and no, he never bit Little Billy despite jaw impressions to the contrary.
When you’ve spent hours and weeks and months and years on your product, you may be blinded to see that there is something eerily wrong underneath the covers.  As such, it’s important that even though you may test features for success/ failure, getting feedback early and often from your customers and prospects lends critical perspective to ensure your product hits the spot.

Blinded to the failures.  Somewhere in your journey of the startup roller coaster, you may stumble and fall.  Periodically, the team should evaluate the direction of the company, and whether or not the current path will lead to the Land where you want to be.  However, sometimes love of your startup may blind you thinking your startup will succeed, when in fact, it won’t.  Either a pivot is needed, or shutting down is the more appropriate direction so you can move onto another project.  Of course, this can be tricky and takes real consideration whether or not you may just be in the “trough”.

Stagnation for improvement.  This can be confused with the above, but I want this to be clear: what I mean here is the debt (not financial, but technical or otherwise) of the startup.  If you’ve been working on a project for years (oftentimes, not that long), you may believe your product is so perfect that it can’t actually be improved anymore. Or maybe that it’s in a great place where it doesn’t need to be improved.
We, as a people, should strive to learn to better ourselves and the people around us.  We’ve always got room to improve.  As such, our creations oftentimes have room for improvement as well.
I like the notion of the idea of Six Sigma – the notion of process improvement to reduce variability.  With Six Sigma, you’re constantly looking to improve.  When you reduce variation to some level, then you crank the screws tighter and the cycle for improvement continues.

Over-valuing your startup.  Tune into ABC on Friday evenings, and you can catch a glimpse of over-valuation galore on Shark Tank.  You’ll see Mr. Wonderful, Mark Cuban, and the other sharks pointing out hideously high valuations of entrepreneurs; thus, putting in a massive hurdle where the entrepreneurs never get investment.
I like capitalism and the notion of free markets where the market pays what the market bears.  I haven’t had quite the opportunity to really sell a company (yet), but the idea here is that entrepreneurs’ biased views and love for their startups sometimes fail to recognize the notion that what they believe the worth of their company is can be very different from what it’s worth to the free market.  This may lead to a failure to do a deal in a complete liquidity event or investment to get the business blasting off the ground.
Wrapping It Up!
Hey, passion for our startups is important in entrepreneurship.  It can be a great ingredient in how we continue to pursue our dreams.  Passion and love gives us that genuine spirit that enables us to invigorate and motivate prospects into investing in us or buying our products.  However, love for our products should be tempered with realism.
Have you seen the movie Her?  What are your thoughts on our growing dependence on technology?  What are some other ramifications of falling for our startups as entrepreneurs?