How to Start a Company and Make it on Reality TV: The Evolution of Heaven Cupcake

The story of Heaven Cupcake starts with my desire to have a company of my own with a market-worthy product and healthy culture (which I feel a lot of companies are currently missing, but that is a whole other story).

I was a newlywed and a student at the University of Utah in 2010 when I established Heaven Cupcake. My wife, Cori, and I had recently moved from Houston, Texas to Salt Lake City (my hometown). Luckily, prior to our move, Cori accepted a position with the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. Through her job, I was introduced to The Foundry, a business incubator helping entrepreneurs turn ideas into successful businesses with the help of a peer network. The peer interaction at The Foundry was instrumental in my early success with Heaven Cupcake. Through that network I found someone to design my logo, my website, and a chef to help create our recipes. I also found someone to help create an audition video (and an assistant to star in that video) that I shared with the producers at Food Network’s Cupcake Wars (which luckily, they loved). Without these resources at my disposal, the story of Heaven Cupcake might have been a very short one.

As I was busy creating my brand, I was also purchasing a truck. You see, our original business plan was to have a cupcake truck roaming the streets of Salt Lake City, using social media to advertise our location, and thus selling our amazing cupcakes to the masses. This was a model we had seen time and time again in Houston and it was an extremely profitable and fun way to do business. With some of my hard earned money, we purchased the cupcake truck. I carefully designed the wrap on the cupcake truck to make the most of our branding and promote our social media ties. It wasn’t until the first voyage of the Heaven Cupcake truck that I realized a glaring oversight—Salt Lake City isn’t Houston. In Houston, food trucks are allowed to park anywhere they can feed a meter – meaning prime spots downtown are fair game. While in Salt Lake City, you can only park on private property with permission from the owner. Getting permission from private property owners proved to be more difficult than anticipated, and I ended up getting more parking tickets than cupcake sales.

While I was trying to get the cupcake truck business going, I was in negotiations with the producers of Cupcake Wars. In April of 2011, I went to LA to film episode seven on the third season of the show. On was the last day of filming, I received an urgent call from my wife in Salt Lake City. She had returned home from work to find our cupcake truck, which was parked on the street in front of our home, missing. I couldn’t even begin to imagine why someone would want to steal a cupcake truck. The police, suggested contacting impound lots before filing a report. Low and behold, the truck had been impounded. I arrived home a few days later, and after paying a hefty amount of fines, the cupcake truck was back. Apparently, from what I can gather, there is a time constraint on how long a commercial vehicle can be parked (even in front of your home) on a residential street. Since I was busy in LA, and my very pregnant wife was not about to drive the truck, the truck had sat parked in the same spot for a day over those constraints.  

Shortly after our cupcake truck was towed, I decided to pivot our business model and sold the cupcake truck (I believe it now resides in Idaho, working for a carpeting company). I decided to invest in more search engine optimization for our website. I paid the company who did our SEO work in the only currency I had—cupcakes. I changed to a delivery-only cupcake service with the ability for our customers to place their order online and have their cupcakes delivered the next day.

A few months later, our episode of Cupcake Wars aired on the Food Network. Though I had come very close to winning, I lost in the final round to a much more established baker (whom I am still friends with today). After the episode we saw a substantial boost in sales. It became apparent to me that the majority of our sales were coming from people living outside of Utah. People were ordering our cupcakes as gifts for clients, friends, and loved ones—and I had the only cupcake shop set up to handle deliveries within a reasonable price point.  People who were searching for flower delivery shops saw that they could deliver cupcakes (a much more delicious treat than flowers) at a lower cost. It proved to be a winning formula with happy recipients and many repeat customers.

With my background in sales and customer service, my peers in The Foundry and eventually my degree from the University of Utah, I was able to create a customer experience and product that I could be proud of. People who use Heaven Cupcake often write saying their recipient “loved” our cupcakes and that word is an important part of our mission. Many times I have thought about selling the business, but feel indebted to the Salt Lake Valley – where the heck would people get delicious cupcakes if we weren’t around?

That is my story (at least the start of it) as told by me, Erik Lars Larsen Founder and CEO of Heaven Cupcake. Many people helped me get to this point. Some played bigger roles than others, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them. I am the first to admit that I’m addicted to being an entrepreneur and Heaven Cupcake won’t be the last company I start. In fact, I just filed a patent for a technology that I think could revolutionize the way we fix clothing.

Heaven Cupcake has been a continually evolving process with plenty of ups and downs and I’m continually learning about the industry and being a business owner. After nearly three years in business, we have been blessed (or maybe cursed) with three appearances on Cupcake Wars. Our next appearance airs on March 31st with my wife Cori as my assistant.  I’ve been able to create a cash flow positive business and sales have quadrupled from 2011 to 2012. We anticipate more growth this year, with sales for the first two months of 2013 totaling 30 percent of our 2012 gross. While I never imagined myself running a cupcake company, it has been a journey I wouldn’t trade for anything. I’ve learned countless lessons, both the easy and the hard way. I’m ready for the next chapter as I plan on how to scale the business. Stay tuned…

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