The company’s name is Life is Good, Inc., but business wasn’t always that good for brothers Bert and John Jacobs who started out in 1989 selling T-shirts on the streets of Boston. After a few bumpy years (in a minivan), a conversation about how the news media focuses on anything negative resulted in a stick figure named Jake drawn by John. And the rest is history on the way to 4,500 retail stores in the U.S. and in 30 countries. But, of course, there’s a lot of work, luck and fun along the way if you are the Jacobs brothers.

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(Photo: Bert’s head)

Optimism is at the DNA level of the company. The brothers not only sell products that celebrate that optimism, they make doing good a central focus of their privately held company. They have created a foundation that has raised millions for causes related to children. Ten percent of their profits go to social causes.

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(Photo: Bert’s feet)

At Inc. Magazine’s GROWCO conference, the funny and fun-loving Bert Jacobs provided several insights into the Life is Good approach to business. (NOTE: Because I can’t type at the speed of Bert’s one-liners, some of these are interpretations of his quotes and not direct quotes.)

  • You weren’t born for business. Business was born for you. It’s a tool that we can do with whatever we want.
  • If you start a business meeting with “what’s wrong,” all the energy focuses on something negative–on fixing something. My mother taught me to start a meeting by saying, “tell me something good that happened today.”
  • By focusing on what’s right with the world, we can solve what’s wrong with our world.
  • Being optimistic doesn’t mean we believe everyday is a sunny day. It’s there for the most challenging days. (The company’s most successful product was after the Boston Marathon bombing and said, “Nothing is stronger than love.” All proceeds from the sales went to purchasing prosthetics for those who lost limbs in the bombing.)
  • Business can beat the child out of us. It can make us get pessimistic. (At Life is Good), we find ways to poke fun at anything.
  • Making money doesn’t make a person happy (we make fun of that with our products). Life isn’t all about business. Business should serve the things you love.
  • We’re capitalists. We like opportunities. Business gets a bad name. We are not going to solve the world’s social problems without (the help of) business. Capitalism will solve social problems.
  • Your brand is this: Knowing what you are and doing it.
  • Ten percent of the company’s profits goes to the non-profit Life is Good Playmakers. (See video below)

Posted from Inc.com’s GROWCO conference in Nashville:

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