Life Is Good co-founder Bert Jacobs kicked off Inc.’s 2014 Growth conference in Nashville this morning with a story about his mom. There were six kids in the Jacobs family, and the way Bert remembers, every night when they all sat down for dinner, his mom asked each of them a simple question: “Tell me something good that happened today.”
Right, because life is good. Not always but often. And if you need reminding, Bert and his brother John will be happy to sell you a T-shirt, a coffee cup, a hoodie or a pair of board shorts that won’t let you forget it. These guys started in 1994 with $78 in the bank, the story goes, and a simple stick figure John drew (“It was the last thing he did for the company,” Bert jokes). Today they’re running a $100 million apparel juggernaut. Life is good, indeed.
Looks like fun, too. Jacobs showed up wearing shorts, a tee shirt, a backwards baseball cap, and no shoes. He peppered the crowd with Frisbees. He showed off a picture of himself hanging out with Richard Branson on Necker Island, and told us what they did together there: “Work until noon, then recess the rest of the day.”
But he also brought picture of two kids coping with serious disabilities who helped inspire the company’s charitable arm, Life is good Playmakers. Originally Playmakers was all about helping kids faced with life-threatening diseases, but then Jacobs had a revelation: “Poverty or cancer. If both can kill a child, what the hell's the difference?” To date the organization has trained nearly 5,000 volunteers to help kids overcome poverty and violence, not just illness.
After Playmakers had raised millions in part by breaking the Guinness record for lighted pumpkins, some worried that Jacobs was losing sight of his mission. He insists instead, that good works build company culture, inspire employees, and yes, boost profits--the two go hand in hand. And by the way, the marketplace demands it. "If business is inauthentic and not making the world a better place,” he warned, your customers “will whip your business down."
Jacobs closed, tearfully, with another story about his mother. Though she was not a smoker, she died March 3 of lung cancer. Rotten luck, absolutely, but she was joyful and optimistic to the end. She told her children that when she died, she didn’t want a funeral. She wanted a party.
“Let’s not get so caught up in our businesses,” Jacobs pleaded, and then he posed a question: “Will we, when our time comes, have to run around and make up for things we wish we did? Or will we sit back like my Mom did and say, ‘Throw us a really good party.” He got a standing ovation.