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Business owner Johnny Cupcakes sprinkles UNH students with entrepreneurial lessons

Johnny Earle, (or Johnny Cupcakes, as his company states) started over 16 businesses before the age of 16 because he wanted to spend more time with his family.

“It was always a dream to spend more time with my family. I hired my mom as my [chief financial officer] CFO and shortly after I hired my sister as my [Human Resources] HR manager. It’s not just me, it’s a team effort,” Earle said.

Earle spoke of his success at a lecture, which took place in the Memorial Union Building’s (MUB) Strafford Room last Thursday evening.

The event, which was put on by the Memorial Union Student organization (MUSO), was hosted to “allow students to gain the tools they need to possibly start their own business and learn what it takes to run and operate one,” according to the event’s Wildcatlink page.  The website also stated that Earle began Johnny Cupcakes out of the back of his car, and was named “top innovator in retail” by The Boston Globe in 2011.

During the lecture, Earle spoke of his own journey as a businessman and gave business advice to the audience about how to become successful in the business world.

Earle explained that he found the idea for Johnny Cupcakes after interning at a T-shirt printing company.  The feeling of accomplishment he had whenever a shirt came out of the dryer sparked his interest in the business.   

“You’re never too young and you’re never too old to volunteer, to job shadow. Learning hands-on is key. You might even get a paid internship. It increases your chance of getting other jobs and it gives you an idea of what you want or don’t want to do for the rest of your life,” Earle said.

Earle also explained that his success did not come without sacrifice, as sometimes his personal life took a backseat to his entrepreneurship.

“I realized that I have to build a strong foundation for my life before I take on the responsibilities of another human’s emotions. It was the best thing that I could have done to just stay focused,” Earle said about the sacrifices he made for his businesses.

Earle spent the lecture speaking of his advice for young entrepreneurs, most of which he learned through personal experience.

Gabrielle Lamontagne/Staff
Multibusiness owner Johnny Cupcakes presents his success in business to UNH students in the Strafford Room.

“If you have an idea and you have little to no money to invest in it, pre-orders [are] a great way to take a calculated risk,” Earle said.  “…When you start making money it’s often attractive to get new sneakers or a new car, but if you’re really serious you should re-invest that money in your business.”

Though Earle claimed to be serious about his business, he did admit he was not afraid to joke around and finds humor to be an important aspect of his company.  As a kid, and even into his adult life, Earl said he has always been a class clown at heart.

“I find ways to involve humor in my life, both personally and professionally. Working at Newbury Comics, I got all these funny nicknames. Johnny Cupcakes came out of nowhere and I thought it would be funny to put on a t-shirt to advertise a bakery that didn’t even exist. The prankster in me thought this would be a fun social experiment,” Earle said of the origin of his alter-ego, and eventual name for his company.

Earle’s business is run around the idea of customer appreciation and word-of-mouth advertising.

“The more you change it, the more customers are going to be curious and the more writers and bloggers are going to be talking about it. Everybody has something better they could be doing so if you really want someone’s attention you have to make it worth it for them to really support you,” Earle said.

Collaborating with other companies and franchises is something that Earle values highly as a businessman, particularly based on his word-of-mouth advertising philosophy.

“We worked with Hello Kitty. The best thing we got out of this was brand new customers. The great thing about collaborations is that they’re like a gateway drug,” Earle said when giving advice on collaboration. “Someone who knows nothing about Johnny Cupcakes might be walking down the street and look up and see the Ninja Turtles, so they walk in the store and end up leaving with a shirt. They’re now part of the brand. If people drive by and see a giant Homer [Simpson] strangling customers, they’re most likely going to pull over.” 

However, Earle did comment that collaborations aren’t all fun and games.

“Collaborations are great, but sometimes you have to give companies a reason to want to work with you. You have to have some type of value proposition. For us, they see our Newbury store as a billboard for their brands and our social media following they find attractive,” Earle said.

However, the most important piece of information for young entrepreneurs, according to Johnny Cupcakes, is that failure is key.

“I fail every day,” Earle said. “I never studied business. I’m just a little guy who’s not afraid to fail. You have to learn how to turn negatives into positives.”

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