The book: Life is Good: The Book by Bert and John Jacobs (National Geographic, 2015)
The beer: The Little Things by Port Perry’s Old Flame Brewing Co. This Hefeweizen is pure sunshine in a pint glass. The seasonal German Wheat beer “celebrates the little things that we’ve missed over the past tumultuous year, and what we can begin to look forward to.” It’s a reminder that life is good and beer is good too.
The who: For entrepreneurs, anyone in the gig economy, dreamers, optimists, those who look for the perfect (and find the perfect) gift for friends and family, for jeans + t-shirt kinda people and anyone who is seeking a summerlicious read that is as light as Cool Whip and a whippet.
The part you’ve been waiting for: Everyone has owned and loved a Life is Good something-or-other—a t-shirt or go-to coffee mug or hat that has gone tramping and been trampled. Here’s what you might not know: the socially-conscious tee company began evolving back in 1989 by two bros, Bert and John. They made tracks (in both senses) in “The Enterprise” (a mini-van) and committed to “boldly go where not t-shirt had gone before.” Under the guise of “Jacobs Gallery” the twentysomethings (then age 22 and 25) sold t-shirts door-to-door at every uni dorm that would let them in and in 1994 adopted the Life is Good moniker.
Jake and Rocket (Jake’s sidekick dog) now have the same universal brand recognition as the Nike swoosh and Wendy’s pigtails. In six years, the boys saw their revenue catapult from seventy-eight bucks to three million annually.
They wanted to build a biz together that required no experience, no professional skills and no money. Check, check, check! Bert had a communications degree which earned him a steady pizza delivery job in a Colorado ski town. John, admittedly, majored in English and Wiffle ball at Cali State.
Their mother insisted that they be “free-range humans” and encouraged floundering. “There’s no place like roam,” became the modus operandi as Bert and John embraced street hawking long enough to land some needed warehouse space. It was a golden era and not-so-HR-friendly. Signage in the warehouse indicated directions to the “Band and Bar” and “Pong and Make-Out Room.” Civilized, really.
Their well-loved designs continue to be derived from a carefree, boho workplace. Inspired by Dr. Seuss, Bert and John wanted to unlock dormant imaginations and release fun. They established a non-profit (The Playmakers) and organized Life is Good festivals that sometimes revolved around pumpkin carving (in 2006, attendees carved 30,128 pumpkins).
Within the book, their sweet success story is infused with “Fuel” letters from devotees like Doug and his Life is Good hat. He described his hat like a best friend—it had been run over by a semi, set on fire, put out a fire, lost, found, frozen, blown off in the Grand Canyon, dropped in a Porta-a-John and had been to 19 states. The impact of their clever designs is far-reaching, ageless, genderless and timeless.
It’s a mash-up of feel-good, Boston childhood memories and superpowers (they’re easily attained—they include the likes of creativity, fun and simplicity!). There are sidebars of song lists, necessary movies and trivia like the April Fool’s joke they duped fans on. They promoted a Peanut Butter and Jelly cologne and its “sweet smell of optimism.” Everyone bit! It was all a nutty lark but the guys know how to pull a guaranteed punk.
Life is Good is now a $100 million company. They donate 10% of their profits to kids (The Life is Good Kids Foundation). They offer more than the shirt off your back! The company has expanded to include Life is Good Adventures to help you “find your happy place” in Montana, Utah, Alberta and Costa Rica. Here, or there, your mobile device will be a bike or kayak and your reality TV is the forest.
Their bone-deep motto of “do what you love, love what you do” reverberates on their company Careers page.
“Truth be told, we’re a motley crew (not the band, but we do love a good jam) of talented optimists who like to play as hard as we work. Interests include: tails & paws, bad singing, beer, endless snacks, spreading positivity however we can, and YOU.” (*Workplace perks include a free gym, onsite tavern and in-house band).
The guys who once hawked t-shirts out of their dumpy van now have an inventory list that includes tire covers, socks, beach umbrellas, “Seas the Day” Adirondack chairs, throw pillows, totes made out of recycled sails, flip flops, dog toys and paddle boards for crying out loud.
It’s a story of one van, two brother and three words: Life is Good.
Here’s your homework: Pop a piece of watermelon Hubba Bubba in your mouth, kick back and blow bubbles with a wet dog at your feet and the sun on your shoulders. This book will make you think “what next?” What could I hawk out of a van? And my god, if you have an idea to do something unexpected and possibly incredible, do it. Bert and Jacob did.
If you love Life is Good, read this:
Only Two Seats Left: The Incredible Contiki Story by John Anderson. This memoir is a remarkable recount of the no-looking-back risk New Zealander Anderson took in 1962 when he boldly (and blindly) established the renowned tour company Contiki Holidays. The ending will break your heart but there’s probably a Life is Good t-shirt for that.