Voted America’s number one Young Entrepreneur of 2008 by BusinessWeek Magazine, Johnny “Cupcakes” Earle, is a sweet dude.
At the age of 26, the college dropout is already the head of a multi-million dollar company, which he launched six years ago from the trunk of his car. And no, he does not sell pastries. He does, however, sell cupcake-themed apparel that has catapulted him to the ranks of the nation’s top young clothing designers.
Earle, better known as Johnny Cupcakes, lectured on starting and running a small business in I.V. Theatre last night. In an exclusive interview with the Daily Nexus, Johnny discussed the success of his clothing company.
Daily Nexus: First off, tell everyone a little bit about yourself. For those who couldn’t make Thursday’s lecture, who are you and what do you do?
Johnny Cupcakes: My name is Johnny Earle a.k.a. Johnny Cupcakes and I make limited-edition, collectible T-shirts with cupcakes on them. All of my stores are set up like vintage bakeries, which display T-shirts in ovens and refrigerators. I started this now multi-million dollar brand at the age of 19 with no investors, start-up loans, education or help. Customers like and appreciate the story behind my brand. I started this from the trunk of my beat up ’89 Toyota Camry. College dropout. Drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. Turned down a lot of investors. Took countless risks. Kept my shirts out of heaps of chain stores. Yeah, I could have made a TON of money real quick, but I chose quality over quantity. I’d rather have a strong brand filled with knowledgeable customers who truly enjoy and appreciate what I’ve created — rather than making a quick buck trying to get my shirts in chain stores across the world and then being just another fad.
DN: How did this all start for you, and if you don’t mind my asking, why cupcakes? Is there some sort of story behind that?
JC: While working at a record shop, I was given many completely random nicknames. People would throw words at the end of Johnny – i.e. Johnny Pancake, Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Coffee-cakes, and Johnny Cupcakes. I thought it would be funny to put Johnny Cupcakes on a T-shirt as a joke, so I did. After doing so, all these random people started asking me about my JC T-shirt that I would always wear, and I started to print them to sell. I started poking fun at pop culture and replaced popular icons with cupcakes instead of bombs, and more notably – the cupcake and crossbones instead of the skull. Guys thought it was funny, girls thought it was cute, and everyone thought it was random and neat. Soon enough I was hustling these shirts out of the trunk of my car. I never wasted a dime, putting everything right back into my business. I spent all my time concentrating on drawing ideas, writing down concepts and coming up with other nontraditional ways to go about growing my business.
DN: For those who missed your lecture, why did you come to UCSB?
JC: I came to UCSB to share my knowledge and nontraditional ways of going about starting a business… I started this brand from and with nothing! If I can create a multi-million dollar company with cupcakes, you can do it with anything. I usually receive hundreds of positive e-mails from inspired students after lecturing at different schools. It’s a great feeling knowing that my lectures have changed the thought process of so many students in such a positive way. It makes me feel as if I’m doing a lot more than just making T-shirts with cupcakes on them.
DN: What advice can you give any aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
JC: I have a ton of advice, most of which was given in the lecture, but I will leave you with two things: Don’t rush; first impressions are everything. Don’t get bummed out if you go broke; you need to spend money to make money.
DN: Your cupcake shirts are known for being creative, especially with the various themes you incorporate… Where do you draw ideas for the shirts?
JC: I get a lot of ideas and inspiration from my childhood. I also feel as if I’m constantly wearing special glasses which enables me to see things in cupcake-vision. I still do poke fun at pop culture, but I also tie in my personality in just about every T-shirt and product.
DN: Where do you see your company in ten years, and more importantly, where do you see yourself?
JC: I could see my company maybe having Johnny Cupcakes’ shops in London, Japan and New York. A full range of accessories and clothes, but still keeping everything limited edition and collectible. I’d like to have my own cereal and bubble gum some day. I also plan on writing children’s books. I’m still hoping I meet that special lady some day, along with having a bunch of babies (hopefully in the next five years).
DN: Thanks again for giving UCSB students a chance to pick your brain. Any last words you’d like to leave with them?
JC: Check out my Web site and read up on the brand. Now get out there and learn the tricks of the trade! Or instead of learning, you can spend your thirsty Thursday playing dirty beer pong. It’s cool though, in hopes of paying off your student loans — you can always work 9-5 at CVS when you graduate.
Johnny’s lecture covered everything from the process of starting a business to how to gather a devoted clientele. For more information on Johnny Cupcakes, go to www.JohnnyCupcakes.com.