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Johnny Cupcakes

Johnny Cupcakes

What it does: T-shirt maker and retailer
Founder: Johnny Earle, 27
Web site:
Based: Weymouth, Mass.

Then: In 2001, as a lark, Johnny Earle made himself a T-shirt with an image of a cupcake atop a pair of cross bones. The iconic design got noticed and people started asking to buy his Ts. Earle began selling them out of the trunk of his '89 Camry and later at what he called his "cupperware parties" and trade shows. Earle had two Boston-area retail stores and had opened a third on Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles. Sales topped $2 million in 2007, and Earle expected revenue above $3 million for 2008.

Now: Earl is hitting the lecture circuit, speaking at business schools about starting a brand with little money. He also plans to create pop-up shops this year, partnering with bakeries in different cities. He envisions selling city landmark-themed designs (like a Statue of Liberty cupcake shirt) and serving pizza. "You don't see Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren hanging out with their customers, eating pizza," says Earle. Revenue topped $3 million last year, and he expects $4.5 million in 2009.