A line stretched through the Plaza Del Sol, just outside the Northridge center awaiting the infamous Johnny Cupcakes Thursday morning.
It was an all too familiar sight for Johnny Earle, founder of Johnny Cupcakes. But for him, lines are not wrapped around auditoriums, they’re wrapped around street corners awaiting entrance to his “t-shirt bakeries”- shops filled with all kinds of his cupcake-related apparel.
Earle’s visit to CSUN was not to sell t-shirts or hats; he came to speak about his journey as a young entrepreneur. Earle has been named America’s No 1 Young Entrepreneur by Business Week, has been recognized four years in a row for being in the INC 500/5000 fastest growing independent companies in America, was named one of the top innovative people in Massachusetts by The Boston Globe and has been featured on MTV, NPR, Forbes,and as a case study in branding and business books.
“We put in a request for him to speak here since we’re a business fraternity and we felt we could learn from his experiences,” Josie Chi, Delta Sigma Pi’s Vice President of professional activities said.
Earle did not become a successful entrepreneur overnight. He had 16 different businesses before the age of 16. He sold everything from candy and soda to Tupperware. He started his own business shoveling snow, making scarves and creating, then selling yearbooks at his school. Earle even spent some of his early business years DJ-ing. But his real business started at eight years old when he was doing magic shows and found his passion for trickery.
“When you find that thing you’re passionate about, it affects every part of your life,” said Earle.
That trickery has served as inspiration for not only his other businesses, but his most important, Johnny Cupcakes. The very name came from a nickname, following others like “Johnny Appleseed,” and “Johnny Come-lately.” After making the shirt as a joke, the name stuck. This sparked the idea for more cupcake-themed shirts, most prominent, the skull and crossbones, but instead of a skull, a cupcake.
“The shirt made strangers smile, and made people confused,” said Earle. “I like making people laugh, and I like playing tricks on people, so it was at that moment where it all came together.”
The idea for a business in t-shirt making blossomed from here. Earle began selling them from his car, which led to his infamous bakery-themed retail stores. His stores are built to resemble actual bakeries, everything encased in vintage refrigerators and baking racks. Everything from the aroma to the packaging resembled an actual bakery.
“People were standing in line because they thought they were in line for cupcakes,” said Earle.
Earle talked about how for him, the best part was working with his father on his stores. For the opening of his London store, Earle said that his father was the happiest he had been while there.
“We arrive there, and my dad’s playing the Clash’s ‘London Calling’ when we get off the plane,” said Earle.
Also read: Q&A with Johnny Cupcakes
He stressed the importance of leaving an impact on your consumers. The importance of packaging (Johnny Cupcakes uses traditional pastry boxes for their merchandise) and providing guests with unique experiences they won’t forget.
“People thrive off new experiences, so much that they’ll camp out for days (to experience them),” said Earle.
These experiences are what help create such loyal customers, Earle explains, but as the creator you also have to be loyal to them. In order to build revenue and a better business, you must keep customers coming back. In order to do so, there has to be a unique, original and creative idea that builds your foundation.
“You can’t get comfortable; you have to keep growing your ideas,” Earle said.
To illustrate that, he revealed to the crowd what the pop-up shop was – a portable photo booth in the shape of the cupcake-and-crossbones logo of Johnny Cupcakes, which took pictures of people and framed them in the brand’s logo.
With this, he explained that you can’t have a closed mind when starting to think about starting your business or about going into the world, and how to connect to your customers.
“It’s so important to just think about how many options you have,” said Earle.
Being happy and doing something you love doesn’t always leave you with money and enough means to be successful, at least at first. It takes time to make money and Earle stressed that in order to do something substantial you have to be unique and do something truly creative, no matter how much that may truly cost you.
“Don’t be bummed if you go broke,” said Earle. “You have to spend an arm and a leg to make more arms and legs.”
Earle offered some key advice to the young entrepreneurs in the crowd: to make a list. On one side goes everything you are good at; on the other everything you are passionate about. From this list you decide where you want to go in life.
But, perhaps even better advice, “do more of what makes you happy.”
And to reiterate that point, he had the crowd do the wave and say “MEATLOAF PAJAMAS” as part of two Snapchats to his account
“Now somebody’s going to get into a car crash trying to figure it out,” added Earle with a grin.