Life is Good. Three short words on a T-shirt, but there’s a long and amazing story behind the success of the two brothers, Bert and John Jacobs, who put them there. Both stay busy now, managing their $100 million privately held company, but Bert still likes to take his show on the road as a public speaker, offering words of hard-earned wisdom and cheerful enlightenment as the company’s CEO (Chief Executive Optimist). He passes all of his speaking fees on to his favorite cause, the Life is Good Kids Foundation. He had a chance to speak at the commencement of Fitchburg State College, where he spent his freshman year, and now he’s been invited as the keynote speaker at UNH’s graduation this month. He’s still planning what to say, but, as the T-shirt motto indicates, he likes to keep things simple and fun. As a Life is Good founder, you've become a successful public speaker. Did you (or anyone in your past) see that coming? No. I think the success in public speaking has less to do with my skills and more to do with a real story that interests people. My brother and I are average guys, and our concept is pretty simple, so a lot of folks relate to us. I guess its inspiring to see regular Joes have success.
This is your second commencement address? How is that different from other speeches and how do you prepare for a speech like that? This is a day of celebration. At LIG that's one of the things we do well - we celebrate life. So I think that part will come naturally. I know how to have fun. But this is also a pivotal milestone in the lives of almost everyone in the audience. There aren't too many audiences you can say that about. So I need to deeply respect that. I need to call on only the most meaningful life lessons. This isn't about me or Life is good. This about them.
What do you remember about the address at your own commencement? I remember not feeling connected to the talk. My friend Charlie handed me a huge, juicy slice of watermelon. I remember the red juices dripping down the front of my gown. I remember Charlie smiling and then bent over laughing. We were done with academia. We were ready to take a bite outta life!
Speaking at a college probably brings back a lot of memories of student life. Care to share one? I remember my first day. I remember walking onto campus and sitting down on a bench in a quad. I didn't know a soul, I was late for class, and I didn't even have a place to live yet. But one look around and I knew I was going to like college.
Do you think this year's graduates generally think life is good? I can't speak for them, but one idea I will attempt to convey is that life being good or not has less to do with the things happening to or around them (for example, the economy), and more to do with their own disposition. Life is, in fact, good, and they will "see it when they believe it".
So you were nearly broke and just about to get a real job when you printed up the first batch of Life is Good shirts. What do you think you'd be doing now if that design had bombed? Probably the same thing I was doing before that - teaching skiing and delivering pizza.
It sounds like Life is Good has lived up to some of your biggest dreams for the company. Is there anything you still want to achieve with the brand? We believe one day LIG will be an example of a timeless business model that places positive social impact at its strategic center. We have a lot of work to do, but we're still young and strong, and we still love what we do.
Your million dollar career started out on as extended road trip, living hand to mouth and hanging on a dream. Do you miss those days? Not so much. Those days had their charm, but we're still on an extended roadtrip, and if ever things start to feel cushy around here, we know how to challenge ourselves.
What other three words would you really love to see on a T-shirt? Enjoy the ride :)
This article appears in the May 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine