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The Favorites Game: Starting right

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, July 2011 Intelligence

By: Kristin Clarke

Summary: Life if good CEO Bert Jacobs shares his favorite T-shirt motto, ways to get people jazzed, and more.

"I think with start-ups there's often a stifling tendency to gather focus groups and collect market trend reports, and there's just too much analysis and debate," says Bert Jacobs, CEO and cofounder of Life is good, as he recalls lessons from the earliest days of his $90-million global retailer and its Life is good Kids Foundation for children in crisis.

"Some guidance from those things is healthy," but for organizations in their infancy, "there comes a time … that you need to actually make something and go sell it," he says. "Fortunately, [my brother] Johnny and I were completely ignorant about the market. We launched very inexpensively by selling in the streets, and by the end of day one, instead of speculation and calculated guesses, we had actual current performance data. Action is eloquence."

That said, good risk evaluation is vital to survival, so Jacobs has a two-pronged approach: "Helping kids overcome life-threatening challenges is a central focus at Life is good. If a proposition can build business for us, I'd say on a scale of one to 10, we're a five, with 10 being the highest risk tolerance. If, however, a proposition can directly advance our kids' foundation, our risk tolerance jumps to an eight."

Here are other sure hits for Jacobs:

Favorite trait of brother and cofounder John Jacobs: "Relentlessness."

Favorite way to get people jazzed: "To zero in on people's lives instead of just on their work. To expose their dreams."

Favorite T-shirt motto: "I like it here."

Favorite part of the Life is good Festivals that raise foundation funds: "I get a hoot out of watching people of all ages play horseshoes, throw footballs, listen to great music, or just enjoy hot food and cold beer and know that … by doing it, they're raising money and creating awareness for kids who need help."

Favorite reminder that life is good: "I like to think about our ancestors and their hardships and triumphs. It fills me with gratitude and good energy."

Contributed by Kristin Clarke, a business journalist and writer and researcher for ASAE. Email:

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