by Amy K. Lavender

University of West Georgia students, faculty, staff, and the west Georgia community filled a sold-out, standing-room-only Townsend Center on October 19 to hear BB&T Lectures in Free Enterprise speaker Johnny “Cupcakes” Earle share his tips for business success during the biannual talk hosted by UWG’s Richards College of Business.

Johnny “Cupcakes” EarleNamed BusinessWeek’s No. 1 Entrepreneur under 25, Johnny has built a graphic T-shirt empire by selling shirts in his vintage-style “bakeries” across the United States. He began with a shop in Boston, and now has locations in Los Angeles, Hull, Martha’s Vineyard, and London.

Johnny has been an entrepreneur since he was eight years old – from lemonade stands and shoveling snow to yard sales and haunted houses, giving him plenty of time to rack up both successes and failures that attendees could learn from.

Johnny’s tips for starting a business with little to no start-up money included taking pre-orders, considering the timing of your sale, approaching the right people, and providing your customers with an incentive.

“Start first with your family and friends, because those people are going to want to see you succeed,” he explained. “Then you have to branch out and start talking to strangers. […] And any money you make, you need to invest it right back into your product.”

Johnny also encouraged everyone to use their time wisely, saying that to be successful in any endeavor, you will probably have to make a few sacrifices, like reducing the time you spend on social media, watching TV, playing video games, etc.

“I had friends who partied a lot,” Johnny recalled. “And I was always astounded at how much money they wasted every week. I also had a girlfriend [at the time I decided to start my T-shirt company] who wasn’t very supportive, so I broke up with her. It was painful for the first few weeks, then I was like, ‘look at all this extra money I have!’”

Johnny also advised the entrepreneurs in the crowd to have an experience for their customer that is unique.

“The store is all about the experience. It’s a cupcake shop that doesn’t sell cupcakes,” he laughed. “Is it strange? Yes! But strange is good. It makes your product memorable. It makes people talk about your product, then your customers do your advertising for you.”

Lastly, Johnny advised listeners to be brave, try new things, and not be afraid to fail.

“I fail all the time,” Johnny said. “But that’s a good thing. Because then I know what doesn’t work, and I can move on to something else that does.”

Posted on October 20, 2015