Johnny Cupcakes on Entrepreneurship and Making Magic Happen

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On Wednesday, September 11, at Phoenix Art Museum and Thursday, September 12 at South Mountain Community College, you can catch Johnny Cupcakes' lecture, "How to Start a Business With Little To No Start-Up Money." During the talks, he'll share his story, his tips, and few resources for starting entrepreneurs.

"You don't have to start a T-shirt brand, but [this lecture] gives people a boost of motivation when they leave," Johnny Cupcakes (whose real name is Johnny Earle) says. "This is my favorite thing to do. I love working and running my brand, but doing this is very emotionally rewarding."

The story of the world's most famous faux-baker starts more than 12 years ago, when 19-year-old Earle was working at a record store. He had taken a break from school and was trying to figure out what to do with his life. As a joke he printed a shirt with cupcakes and crossbones, and to his surprise people started asking questions about where he got it.

By 2001, he was touring with his band, often wearing his own shirts, and selling them out of the trunk of his "beat up '89 Camry." In some cities, he'd even take the shirts to stores and try to sell them.

"But it's not the 1920s," he says. "You can't just kick open a suitcase like I was doing. So, I didn't have a lot of luck."

Then he got smart -- or at least got with the program -- and took his cupacke'd garb to a trade show in Vegas, where for two days he worried if he'd made a huge mistake. He'd left his job, his girlfriend, and his band behind. It was a huge risk, and he needed to make it work.

On the third day of the show he has sold orders to stores all over the world.

Eventually Earle decided "people only like what nobody else has." So he pulled his clothing out of other stores, choosing instead to make Johnny Cupcakes products available only at a small number of boutiques, on his website, and at traveling events. These days the business' identity is still just as unique as its owner's, and Earle is mostly unapologetic about any confusion over what it is that he sells. More than anything else, Earle is about offering memorable experiences.

"Whether people leave my store upset or happy, they all leave with a story to tell," he says.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria