Home » Bert Jacobs: Do What You Like, Like What You Do at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

Bert Jacobs: Do What You Like, Like What You Do at TEDxBeaconStreet (Transcript)

So we got lucky in many respects, but we were drawn to being optimistic and we believed that there was power in being optimistic. What was more important to us at the time, and what was a question mark, is it commercially viable? Will people actually buy those 3 words “Life is good” and other optimistic messages? Well, they did.

Two days later, in the streets in Cambridge, we sold 48 shirts in 45 minutes. And it scared the heck of us, because we didn’t know what to do. But the business started growing, despite our lack of business acumen. I don’t have time for all the mistakes we made, but trust me, we made lots of them. But the brand idea was strong enough that it carried us.

We began to blur the line between work and play, and so to us this is what a board meeting looked like. We really didn’t know what was happening with the business, but it was growing underneath our feet. And the more shirts we designed, the more people bought.

So in the first 6 years, the first day when we sold those shirts in Cambridge, we had $78 in our pocket. And in 6 years it became a $3 million business. We thought we were on our way to the moon and we were just enjoying things. And people asked, because we have a Life is good Kids Foundation these days, “Did we start with the idea of an integrated model, for-profit and non-profit?” Trust me, I had no idea what an integrated model was and I guarantee you, my brother had no idea what it was.

We were just trying to avoid getting a job. And we were enjoying it and we were doing well with that, OK? That’s when something surprised us. We started to get mail from people who faced severe adversity, and we really didn’t know why they were writing. I’m going to read an example of a letter, and the letter came from one of these two boys. I still haven’t met them, but one day I will.

“Dear Bert and John, my name is Alex. I have a brother, Nick, and we are 10. We both have extra challenges in the world, but at the end of the day, we still have each other. We were both born early and weighed only 1 pound, so we had a lot of growing to do. When I was born, I had my leg amputated. Nick is legally blind. Me and Nick have all of your shirts, with all the things we like doing best, but if you ask us what we do best and what makes us happy and laugh the most, it is just being together. I know now that Nick has more challenges than I do.”

This is my favorite part because the kid’s 10 years old, it’s like he’s been around the world, right? “But he says and does things that make me laugh and forget feeling bad. I don’t know how to describe it, other than to say that I love him. You’re lucky to have a brother, too.” He doesn’t know my brother. “I hope you do fun things together. Your friends Alex and Nick.”

So when you get a letter like that, what do you do? You know? You get a letter like that, it shows you the depth of optimism, it shows you gratitude for what you do have, and it makes you think, “I’ll never say I have to do something again. I get to do something.” We get to do the laundry, because you get to stand on two feet. You get to go grocery shopping, you don’t have to go grocery shopping, because when you go grocery shopping, you get to look at the labels with two eyes.

So here’s these kids asking for nothing. They really called just to say “hi” and hang out. So we did the only logical thing anybody would do at that point. You probably guessed it. We started a pumpkin festival. And the pumpkin festival raised money and awareness for children facing unfair challenges. And we had it up in Portland, Maine. And if anybody’s been to Maine in October, it ain’t bikini weather, OK? We didn’t know if anybody would show up to our stupid little party or not, but people showed up. Lots of people showed up.

And this woman showed up 14 months pregnant in a bikini. She brought her husband, Mr. Positive Man, and whoever this guy was, was escorted from the premises. That festival grew and grew, and eventually we broke the Guinness World Book of Records for the most lit pumpkins in one place at one time, on the Boston Common. Eventually the Life is Good – and it raised – that first year it raised over $100,000. In 2006 on the Boston Common it raised half a million dollars, every penny going to kids who need it.

The pumpkin festival has now become the Life is Good Music Festival. This attracts 30,000 optimists. Thirty thousand optimists for a weekend, who get together and hear great artists. This is Michael Franti in the picture; we’ve had Dave Matthews; we’ve had Jack Johnson this year. So it’s fun for us, we’re still blurring the line between work and play, but we weren’t born for business, business was born for us. Business is a tool and our optimism and open-mindedness allowed us to listen to those boys and other letters and convert what we were doing to be a little more meaningful.

This kid, I have no idea, he’s at one of our festivals and I don’t know what he’s looking at, but we literally blew his mind. The community of optimists has grown, OK? So, social media has a way, I mean, the Internet was only invented in 1989, in a short period of time something remarkable has happened, and it’s a beautiful thing for humanity.

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