Johnny Earle speaks about entrepreneurship with students


first_imgFollow us on Twitter @dailytrojan Entrepreneur Johnny Earle, better known as Johnny Cupcakes, spoke to students about his business Monday in Taper Hall of the Humanities at an event hosted by the USC Speaking Committee.Earle started selling T-shirts out of the trunk of his ’89 Toyota Camry. Now, he has a multimillion dollar business with locations in the United States and England. He was named America’s No. 1 young entrepreneur by Bloomberg BusinessWeek in 2008, as well as one of the 30 most innovative businessmen in Massachusetts by the Boston Globe in 2011.As a kid, Earle set up lemonade stands and yard sales, selling his father’s old tools and his sister’s toys while his parents weren’t home. He bought a shovel for $9 and shoveled snow so that he could buy better winter garments for himself. Later, he performed magic tricks and was paid $20 for every 30 minutes he performed at birthday parties.Though Earle has a borderline learning disability, he saw the quality as beneficial rather than disadvantageous.“I didn’t believe it was a disability,” he said. “I thought it was a superpower.”When Earle grasped what he wanted to do with his life, he said he poured passion toward it and used his disability to his advantage.“When I found out what I wanted to do, I would put 110 percent into it,” he saidEarle also gave several pieces of advice to USC students who were interested in becoming entrepreneurs. He described the time when he made a yearbook out of a scrapbook when his school did not have one. Because he did not have enough money to buy supplies to make the yearbooks, he took pre-orders before making them.“I sold a product that didn’t even exist yet,” he said.In advertising, Earle said, students can offer an incentive, provide a sample of the product and approach people they know as well as talk to new people. When talking to new people, there are three essential components, Earle said. The entrepreneur should have a good handshake, good eye contact and not have bad breath — qualities necessary in a marriage as well, he joked.“You could have a million dollar idea, but if you have horrible breath, they’re not gonna listen to your idea,” he said.In deciding which items to sell, Earle said he had to become creative.“Since my friends were already selling drugs, I had to sell something else,” he joked.Earle instead chose to sell candy. Earle sold 100 packs of candy for a dollar each two times a day, making $200 a day. In a week, he made $1,000.“I would come back everyday with a backpack full of cash,” Earle said.Earle had another creative breakthrough when he came up with the idea for Johnny Cupcakes T-shirts while ordering T-shirts for his hardcore metal band. He said was intrigued by the machines that made T-shirts.“[I thought,] I can’t afford T-shirts, but I’m gonna learn how to make them,” Earle said.Though Earle started businesses when he was young, he instead advised students to get hands-on experience through internships. By getting hands-on experience, Earle said students can learn what they want to do for the rest of their lives and what they don’t.To follow his passion and pour in all his energy into it, Earle said he had to cut down on distractions such as video games, social media, television, partying and relationships.“Time is the most valuable thing you have,” he said.When he printed out his own designs and started wearing his T-shirts to his work at a record shop, people who usually didn’t even make eye contact with Earle started laughing. Earle said his experience shows that a company does not need big investors to become successful. Alex Zhang, a freshman majoring in business administration, agreed.“It’s a common misconception that you need [venture capitalists] to back you up when you can just do it yourself and work slowly,” he said.The reason Earle’s brand has stayed in business for 13 years and is a multimillion dollar business is that all of the products it releases are based on experience, Earle said.For example, the company had a breakfast shirt that they only sold during breakfast hours. Though some customers were angry at the sale cutoff time, the strategy worked: people talked about the brand.The company also gave out free breakfast with the purchase of the shirt as a form of brand advertising.“It might cost a little bit more money and time, but I feel that we get that back with brand longevity,” Earle said.Earle said the most important aspect in creating a new business is originality. To determine this, Earle said entrepreneurs should ask themselves one question.“What are the 10 plus things that make your [business] unique?” Earle said.Gurleen Chadha, a junior majoring in neuroscience, was intrigued by the brand’s name and logo.“The brand image, because it’s called Johnny Cupcakes and it has nothing to do with cupcakes, I think that’s really funny because it’s a good way of capturing people’s attention, and packaging and marketing the brand as it is,” Chadha said.Many students were eager to learn how Earle developed his business concept and how he marketed his products. Tiffany Tse, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences, said she was curious to know how he was able to build a successful business from such humble beginnings.“If you’re not from a big brand already, it’s hard to get established and if you’re just starting off from nothing, it’s hard to make so much money off a simple T-shirt,” she said.A unique feature to Earle’s business strategies is to remain an independent business. He turned down offers from companies such as Macy’s, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters and Hot Topic to carry his products in their stores in order to continue curating a memorable experience for the customers.“If you do sell to stores, make sure you sell to the right stores,” he said.Students were able to connect with Earle’s strategy of remaining independent to maintain its values.“When you want to have that much control over a product and you sacrifice things like that, it’s taking a huge risk, but it ends up paying off,” said Brian Shaw, a junior majoring in human biology.In terms of personal success, Earl also had a piece of advice for students.“Real success is being happy doing what you love,” he said.last_img

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