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Life is Good co-founder: Being 'wildly unsuccessful' can make you rich

It took John Jacobs and his brother Bert five years of living out of a van and being "wildly unsuccessful" to find what would eventually propel the company to more than $100 million in sales.

It was something they personally had no shortage of: pure optimism.

"We found this one shirt that said 'Life is Good' with this character named Jake, and that changed our lives forever," John, co-founder of Life is Good told CNBC at the Iconic conference in Boston on Thursday.

"You either succeed or learn. It's not failure," John said.

The realization was that it's not just T-shirts or even art they were selling, but a culture of staying positive.

"Over the years, we learned so much from our customers about the depth of that message — that life isn't easy," John said. "Whether it's in wartime, whether the economy is struggling, people want something positive to rally around. ... Fortunately, our brand has become one of those things," he added.

John Jacobs
David A. Grogan | CNBC
John Jacobs
"Whether it's in wartime, whether the economy is struggling, people want something positive to rally around." -John Jacobs, co-founder of Life is Good

The duo has since started a nonprofit as well. And now it has an election season angle: In the 50 days left before Americans go to the polls to cast their vote in the 2016 presidential election, their nonprofit will award grants to people "doing good" in each of the 50 states.