John Jacobs Tells Us Why “Life Is good”

By Tyler Manoukian

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, John Jacobs expressed his belief that “Good vibes are contagious” in front of the Student Union Ballroom audience. Jacobs, part of the graduating class of 1990 is the Chief Creative Optimist of Life Is good, a company he and his brother co-founded over 20 years ago. Today, the apparel and accessory company is worth $100 million dollars.

John Jacobs and his brother Bert Jacobs began selling t-shirts in the early 90s. They lived and traveled in a big, hunky van passionately named the Enterprise. The duo sold shirts everywhere from the streets of South Boston to college dorms. The brothers believed that “Optimism can take you anywhere” – an attitude their mother, Joan Jacobs, instilled in them at a very early age.

Jake, their signature character logo is frequently seen with his lovable dog, Rocket, in an always-smiling pose that has become the staple of the company’s product line. Jacobs spoke of Jake’s attitude being personified by phrases of optimism.

“Jake’s power is in his disposition,” said Jacobs.

The logo originally made the jump to t-shirts after of the overwhelming support by visitors in and out of their apartment at the time.

“Jake translates passion around a greater good,” said Jacobs. Life Is Good’s success is due in large part to Jake’s cultural persona – in addition to the dedicated, always-optimistic Jacobs brothers.

John Jacobs created Jake to be the inspirational leader of a brand. He succeeded in the sense that optimism could be channeled into a national and increasingly international symbol.

“In trying,” he said, “You either succeed or you learn.” The Jacobs brothers have learned a lot since their t-shirt launch in the early 90s.

Jacobs personally attributes the success of his brand to the three pillars of optimism foundation: simplicity, humility and sense of humor.

“Sometimes the best conversation is a game of catch,” said Jacobs, “Its mission is to spread the power of optimism.” Jacobs believes in happiness and refuses to wait around in life because sitting around and hoping for something to happen is not comparable the decision to be happy.

Life Is Good designed a Sept. 11 memorial shirt, which raised over $207,000 for the United Way in light of the terrorist attacks. In annual Life Is good Pumpkin festivals, the brand has raised an astounding amount of money. Including $52,000 in the festival’s pilot in 2003 and over $800,000 in 2007 when the brand rented out baseball’s most beloved stadium, Fenway Park.

The company continues its expansion, hoping next to jump into international ventures, as well as food products and home goods. Jacobs envisions the company designing and creating children’s books, a kid’s television show and possibly an animated movie.

The presentation Jacobs offered that day was one of the most inspirational public forums I have ever attended. His optimistic approach in life incredibly is genuine. Everything from the phrases he coins, such as: “It’s better to be like one pumpkin than curse the darkness” and “In difficult times, put something positive in front” to the business aspect of his job are well-thought out and well-managed. His continued creative involvement in the company is representative of that. His encouragement of a “snowball of positive energy even in the hardest of times” is especially motivational and emotionally moving.

This man speaks with such grace and elegance, that he makes it sound easy. Though easy for him, it is quite difficult for others. In his constant pursuit to spread the power of optimism, John Jacobs proves to be such an inspirational speaker not only because of his creative talent, but because of his construction of word choice and the tones in which he presents them.

The wisdom to see the world every day as “half full” as he illuminated at the beginning of his talk is juxtaposed to the concept of seeing the world as an opportunity rather than as an obstacle. In other words, a child-like optimistic approach is more beneficial than an adult like approach to life.

Jacobs narrated a story from his undergraduate days back in 1987 of a milk-drinking contest. The contest pitted him against his friend, Mike. Jacobs was able to chug 16 glasses of whole milk that day to Mike’s modest 14 – all this for a girl who neither one of them ever dated.

His captivating message to the audience: “Do what you like, like what you do.”

Tyler Manoukian can be reached at [email protected].