Johnny Cupcakes comes to SCAD

900+ SCAD students filled Trustees Theatre - I was one of them.

“I never understood why people worked jobs they couldn’t stand.” That’s how Johnny Michael Earl, better known as Johnny Cupcakes, started his lecture to more than 900 SCAD students on Thursday night.

As a child, Johnny found little ways to make money with lemonade stands, yard sales, and shoveling snow.

He was also a class clown. This dude would pull little pranks on classmates, but had to calm it down when he got suspended for an itching powder prank gone bad.

After high school, Johnny tried college but decided it wasn’t for him.

During the time he spent working at a record store, Johnny made shirts for his band On Broken Wings, and as a joke, made one with his nickname “Johnny Cupcakes” on it. He wore it to work, and got so much attention from it that he decided to make a bunch and sell them from the trunk of his car at work.

Like anyone with common sense, when he started making more money from t-shirts than he was making from his job, he decided to quit.

Johnny brought a suitcase full of his t-shirts along when he and On Broken Wings signed to a record label and went on tour. Members of the other bands would  buy some shirts and tour in them too.

Instead of partying, he invested his time into not having to work a job he didn’t like. “Time is something you could never buy back,” said Johnny.

Before opening his own store, Johnny was working out of his attic, “scrunching down, getting scoliosis. That’s what she said.” (One his many jokes that got the audience laughing.)

Because of his dislike toward hype, Johnny decided to make his gear exclusive, even though he was getting plenty orders from companies like Urban Outfitters and Barneys.

Johnny and tattooed supporters.

“You wanna create an experience for your customer,” said Johnny. “Have something for them to talk about when they leave.”

Johnny Cupcakes stores are bakery themed. People who visit a Johnny Cupcakes location thinking it’s a real cupcake shop often leave the store upset.

But he says he likes tricking people.  The brand’s had little or no advertisement in nine years, but people leave and tell others about the fake cupcake shop, and that’s better than any advertisement for Johnny.

We all got some free stuff, including a copy of the Johnny Cupcakes periodical "The Cupcake Chronicle."

Today, Johnny Cupcakes is an official multimillion dollar company.  But Johnny insists that “it’s not about the money. It’s about being happy doing what you love.”

Wise words from Johnny Cupcakes:

  • “Don’t rush. First impressions are very important.”
  • “You gotta spend money to make money.”
  • “Invest a lot of time to put toward your business or you’ll end up playing catch up and, eventually, quit.”
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