Life is Good co-founder: Want success? Avoid the 'telephone poles'

How optimism breeds success

It's hard enough to imagine living out of a van for five years with less than $100, but imagine doing that and still remaining positive.

This was the reality that co-founder of the Life is Good brand Bert Jacobs and his brother lived as they embarked on a journey to sell T-shirts on college campuses.

"We talked while we were riding in the van about how the media always reinforces what's wrong with the world and rarely allows us to celebrate what's right with the world. And we talked about the negative impact of that, the energy that that's creating," Jacobs told CNBC. "We thought, 'What if?' What if we could create some symbol, right? Some mantra, or some rally cry for optimists. Maybe that could become our brand."

John and Bert Jacobs, Life is good
Life is Good's $100 million ad-free global success story

It was then that he and his brother splashed the character Jake and the "Life is good" message on their shirts and actively decided to pursue optimism. This strategy worked.

After printing the new shirts, Jacobs and his brother sold 48 shirts in 45 minutes. The speedy sales "scared the heck out of" them, Jacobs said. Ultimately, their business grew to $3 million in six years.

"Bad news sells, and it does. It preys on our fear and sells. But we were learning that good news sells," he said.

Jacobs said that optimism was not only the key for leading a happy and fulfilling life, but also in building their business, something he compares to sky diving.

"When you jump out of a plane, they tell you the one thing not to look at is the telephone poles. I said, 'Why?' and they said, 'Because if you start looking at those telephone poles, you'll just steer yourself towards them.' And I think we can find the same thing in business and in life," he said.

Business owners should take a page out of the sky diving books and stop looking at "telephone poles."

"Look at the blue sky, look at the green field if that's the way you want to land," Jacobs advised.