A few weeks ago, I went to the Johnny Cupcakes talk in Ann Arbor— thought I’d share my notes for anyone who didn’t get to go.

For those who can’t read my messy handwriting, read the transcription below. :)

JOHNNY CUPCAKES lecture/talk/event/crap

(for those who missed it)

  • Do more of what makes you happy. Make time for it. 
  • Even if it doesn’t pay well.
  • Representing yourself is super important so look people in the eye, & don’t be gross.
  • Try doing something to make money, even if it’s not what you want to do ~forever. 
  • If you have no money, take preorders and use that to produce your product.
  • When taking preorders, offer an incentive.
  • Have a real, physical sample of whatever you’re selling ready to show people.
  • Approach the right people.
  • … & people you know, for your first sales.
  • If your idea is good enough, then you can take it further and market to other people.
  • People talk about experiences. They want your product for the experience, so give them something cool to talk about. Have at least a dozen things on hand to talk about when introducing it.
  • Internships and volunteering are ridiculous awesome because they give you real life experience. Sometimes, this can be way better than going to school.
  • Try offering unpaid internships, if you’re a new company. <— Note that I personally disagree with this, particularly for artists, if you’re making them do actual work rather than just getting a learning experience. Not cool, man.
  • WORK NOW PLAY LATER, & put 110% into your business.

Key Things To Remember For Success

  1. Be positive. :), not :(.
  2. Take risks.
  3. Make time for whatever it is you want to do.


  1. Video games
  2. Girlfriends/boyfriends (unless they fully support your venture/creativity— being around a downer can really hurt you in the long run)
  3. Partying
  4. TV & social media
  5. Youtube

You can still do these things, in moderation, if you really can’t go without them— just remember that they’re taking time away from learning & exploring and creative growth, and take that into consideration. Know your priorities.

  • Pins are a great way to make money. Theoretically. Unless you make a bad business decision and your partner ditches your venture for his girlfriend. (Yes, he is speaking from experience here— I cut this story way down, haha. It was funny, in a schadenfreude sort of way.)
  • Ergo: DON’T START A BUSINESS WITH YOUR FRIENDS, unless you can be upfront with them and delegate really well.
  • The concept behind his brand is strange, but strange is good.
  • Strange is IMPORTANT— it’s why people will remember you.
  • Have an email list, but don’t be annoying—being annoying sucks. Only email people who want to be emailed, allow them to easily opt out, and don’t do it often. Make them look forward to getting the messages.

(page two)

  • Complete strangers should want to ask you about your product. Let other people do your advertising for you, just because it’s that amazing.
  • If you’re not failing, you’re not learning.
  • Try and get into trade shows, it’s absolutely worth the money in the long run.
  • This is really important.
  • Aka, selling out can suck, because you might lose the creative control you wanted by starting a business in the first place. So make that decision carefully. (He would personally avoid doing so, using Ed Hardy as an example.)

NETWORKING— aka, the most important thing ever

Do it. Bam. Right now. Remember everyone you meet.

  • Client lists! Post them online whenever possible. Transparency is good.
  • Offer freebies carefully.
  • Be unique & awesome.
  • Seriously, put on an experience for people.
  • Be memorable!!
  • Have an online shop. A good one.
  • Have twitter & instagram, and start a hashtag for your brand/products.
  • If you sell stuff online, people will talk about it online, and do your marketing for you.


it can make or break a sale.

  • Good packaging never gets thrown away. Ex: apple store, their own brand, etc.
  • Tissue paper, boxes, shipping boxes, all worth the extra money to customize.


they are so important, okay.

  • Business cards can make or break you.
  • There’s 100s of sites that sell them, so you have no excuse not to have one.
  • They are an extension of your personality.
  • Ideally, make them match your resume— make that stand out too.
  • They should pass the drop of water test— eg, ink shouldn’t bleed if you get condensation on them, paper shouldn’t easily buckle.
  • Make them nice quality, and make them well designed. 
  • Think to yourself: would I throw this out if I got it? Or would I want to keep it? 
  • Part of the ‘experience’ factor.

Building a Community

  • Let people sell your product by talking to one another.
  • You don’t necessarily need actual traditional advertising.
  • Build a positive team and learn to delegate.
  • Giving back is super important too— not just for business. It’s just something you ought to do.


Don’t get bummed out if you go broke.

  • Send people handwritten notes, they love it.
  • Try asking Monster, Red Bull etc for sponsorship if you hold an event.
  • Use the preorder strategy mentioned earlier if you can’t afford to produce products in advance, just remember to have at least one sample.
  • Collaborating is good — just make sure it benefits both parties equally.
  • Utilize social media in fun ways.
  • If you have extra inventory, send it to people who might give you exposure, or give it to charity. Don’t try and sell it at a discount, it devalues your brand if you have sales too often.


  • Alibaba
  • Storenvy
  • Spoonflower
  • Jakprints
  • Kickstarter

Take notes