ENTREPRENEUR OF THE MONTH: FEBRUARY 2016
By Hope Katz Gibbs
For Life is Good co-founder Bert Jacobs (pictured far right), making money isn’t the sole goal for his company — and he believes it shouldn’t be for any entrepreneur.
Consider his thoughts on how you can find success, the Life is Good, Inc., way.
Bert Jacobs’ 14 Tips for Success
1. Speak out. I do a lot of public speaking to raise money for our Life is Good Kids Foundation, and 100 percent of the fee goes to raise money for children facing life-threatening situations — such as poverty, disease, and a lack of positive influences. The reality is that when Boston was founded in the 1700s, the average life span of a Boston resident was 29 years. In 1800, it was in the upper 40s, and today it’s 80. Clearly, we must be doing something right. If you take a global view, despite the recent recession and other negative considerations, there is reason for optimism.
2. Find your audience. John and I didn’t have anything when we started except the idea that we wanted to spread the word about optimism. The first day we put the Life is Good shirt featuring Jake on a table for sale, we sold 48 shirts in 45 minutes. We knew we were onto something.
3. Find good partners who believe in you. We started out by working with a local screen printer in Boston, and parked a big truck and a container there, and strung up lights because they gave us access to their electricity. That enabled us to hold onto the equity in the beginning.
4. Be careful about investors. Several people wanted to invest in us, but we weren’t sure they wanted to do it for the right reasons. If you really have a long-term vision for your concept or organization, it’s always best to hold onto the equity.
5. Hire and partner with people who share your vision. We have a deep-seated belief that capitalism can be the most effective way to create positive social change, and so do the other four people who have a financial stake in our company.
6. Listen to your customers. Our customers have taught us a lot about what we might be able to do, and it’s not always just about making a profit. If it were, I think we would sell the company and go public. But I think we can do a lot of other really interesting things with the brand — like saving kids’ lives.
7. Realize that you don’t know as much about your business as you think you do. Thinking you have all the answers is a pitfall companies should avoid as they start to grow.
8. Know what you are selling. We don’t focus on the stitching on a garment, or the softness of the T-shirts. We’d rather talk about how we can all make a difference in the world.
9. Know that your customers can put you out of business in a minute. Do you remember the housewife in the Midwest who blogged about the fact that Apple’s iPhone battery was too expensive and didn’t last long enough? Two weeks later there were 200 letters on Steve Jobs’ desk, and he made a change. She changed Apple.
10. Think big. We believe that optimism creates the opportunities, and as we move forward, we envision that a lot of those opportunities will move the organization outside of clothing — maybe into creating healthy and sustainable food products, and even getting into the entertainment industry. We’ll keep you posted.
11. Delegate everything — except for two things. Always hire your senior staff and hold onto your vision. Other than that, someone else can do almost everything else in your company better than you.
12. Don’t white-knuckle it. I see so many people try to hold onto things so tightly that they white-knuckle it a bit. John was a bit like that early on with drawing Jake. But now we have people who sometimes draw Jake better than he does, and that has opened us up to new options and ideas.
13. Chill-out on the prototypes and focus groups. An even better approach is to get out there and see what sells. Don’t quit your job. Make something and sell it. That’s how you know if you have a viable business.
14. Start from the end. Don’t think about how you can get to the next step, or where you’d like to be next year. Ask yourself this question: When you are old and gray, what do you want to look back on and say that you have accomplished?
The bottom line: As poet Mary Oliver asked, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” That’s the only question you need to answer when you are starting a business, picking a major in college, or plowing through a midlife crisis. We weren’t created for business, it was created for us. So your business should serve your life’s purpose.
Learn more: www.lifeisgood.com.