Optimism abound during Jacobs general session
Tue, March 19, 2013 at 19:04
Brad Spiegel in Bert Jacobs, Convention, General Session Speakers, IHRSA 2013, IHRSA Live, Life is good

Those who don’t know the story of Bert Jacobs and his company, Life if good, might not see how it relates to the fitness industry. 

After his general session talk on Tuesday at the IHRSA 32nd Annual International Convention & Trade Show, sponsored by SPRI, the connection is almost a no-brainer.

“Your organization is not about innovations of products,” said Jacobs, who insisted he is not anti-technology. “What it is about is bettering someone’s life. Both my business and yours is about that.” 

The way to go about it – and the way it has worked for him – is all about optimism. It was the theme of the hour-long talk that included Frisbee throwing, Jacobs taking off his sneakers and walking on the stage bare foot, and a “timeline” of his life, as he put it. 

“I am not an optimist because good things have happened to me, good things have happened to me because I am an optimist,” he said. “Once we chose to focus on what was right, (our company) started to grow. 

“Optimism is the single most powerful tool for your success; not just your business success, but in life, too.” 

Really, the best way to summarize his company, and an outlook he feels would truly benefit those involved in the fitness industry, is a bunch of vignettes. 


He said when he was young his mother would ask the family of 8 to tell her something good that happened to them that day. He suggested for those in the audience to do the same prior to its next meeting. He promised it would change the energy in the room, like it did around the dinner table in his suburban Boston home more than 30 years ago. 


“Being part of the solution is a lot more fun than being part of the problem.” 


Bert and his brother John, co-founders of the company, were canvassing the county in a van for more than four years selling their T-shirts. During plenty of downtime they came up with many ideas. That is exactly the time Jake – the image on most of their products now – came to be. They asked each other, “what if we created a hero and his power was optimism?” 

When they came back to Boston they often had parties. At one of them they had a picture of Jake hanging on the wall and a girl said to them, “This guy’s got life figured out.” From that they shortened the company name to what it is now. 


Around 2000 – when the company hit $3 million in sales, up from $87,000 in 2004 – Life is good began to receive letters from people who had problems but were inspired by their T-shirts. 

“Everything is relative and these people were appreciating the good things and not taking it for granted.” 

Many of the heart-felt correspondences really hit the Jacobs brothers. From reading them they decided to have a pumpkin festival in Maine, as a fundraiser. It made $100,000, which was donated to kids in need. That was the beginning of the company now giving 10% of its profits to kids in need. Currently Life is good has donated $9 million. 


In 2006 Life is good hosted a carving pumpkin event on Boston Common, with the hope of setting a record. There were more than 31,000 pumpkins cut up on that day. 

“The great thing (about the Boston Common event) was we didn’t do it, the community did. You have to build a business with your community.” 


Another letter came from a man who beat cancer. He said that he had always said he “had to” do things – had to take out the trash; had to go to work. He now says he “gets to” do those things. 


He ended his talk by urging the attendees, and everyone in the industry, to take chances, and to find your purpose and don’t be quiet about it.


Article originally appeared on IHRSA (http://www.ihrsa.org/).
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