Business

How two brothers went from selling t-shirts out of a van to a 100 million dollar company

In 1989 two brothers, Bert and John Jacobs created their first t-shirt design. They would go out to college campuses and sell t-shirts out of their van. 5 years later after a not-so-successful road trip, they came back to Boston, unsure of the future of their small business. On their return they threw a party with friends where they asked them to doodle drawings and sayings on their living room walls. That night one doodle got a lot of attention. It was a stick man with a hat and a big smile. They called the character Jake and printed 48 shirts before heading out to a street fair to test them out. They “sold out” within an hour.

Next they convinced a local shop to sell their shirts form the window display. The shirts were selling well but the store owner suggested they add an ice cream cone in the the stickman’s hand – considering the busy ice-cream shop next door.  It worked. They sold out. They replicated the strategy in a bike shop adding their stick man character Jake on a bike. Always displaying “life is good” underneath. The idea spread.

What started out as 2 brothers selling t-shirts in a van has turned into being in 4,500 retail stores in the United States, and in 30 countries.

You never know what is going to catch on but you have to try to figure it out.



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