Tracey Noonan – CEO & Co-Founder, Wicked Good Cupcakes, Inc.

Tracey Noonan is the CEO and Co-Founder of Wicked Good Cupcakes, Inc., the largest shipper of cupcakes in the United States. Tracey co-founded the company with her daughter, Dani. They opened their first retail location in Cohasset, Massachusetts in October 2011. In 2013, a second retail location was opened in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Today, Wicked Good Cupcakes has grown into a national, multi-million dollar brand, thanks to an appearance on the Emmy Award-winning show, Shark Tank.

Tracey was a 2015, 2016 and 2017 finalist in the prestigious Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” competition. Tracey also mentors female MBA students for Babson College’s Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab.

Wicked Good Cupcakes was ranked #511 on the “Inc. 5000 List of America’s Fastest-Growing Companies” in 2016. Wicked was also ranked #9 on the “Fast 50” list of the fastest-growing privately-owned companies in Massachusetts, for April 2016 and April 2017. The company also finished building a 21,000-square-foot baking and warehousing facility in Hanover, Massachusetts in July 2016. Their fleet of national, franchised cupcake trucks launch Q3, and Wicked Good is currently in negotiations to enter into international licensing deals in Europe and Australia.

Tell me about your early career.
Earlier in my life, I’ve had several businesses, including in commercial photography (for advertising) and animal wrangling (for print, TV, and movies). I had my human/equine massage therapy license, my real estate broker’s license, and I was also a writer. I did a lot, and learned even more!

How did the concept for Wicked Good Cupcakes come about?
Wicked Good started as a traditional, retail cupcake shop. Shipping our cupcakes in mason jars came about as a way to solve a shipping problem that the other cupcake companies weren’t able to do.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year in business was right around where we had anticipated. We did $320,000 in sales, $75,000 of which being cupcake jar sales. It was during this first year that I also applied to Shark Tank. The following year, sales grew to $1.8 million.

What was your marketing strategy?
To gain customers with as little cost as possible. Thanks to Shark Tank and Kevin O’Leary, our customer acquisition costs have remained very, very low.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The year after we aired on Shark Tank, we grew 600%. We have grown every year since. We have yet to hit our baseline.

How do you define success?
I define success by the number of return customers and word of mouth sales. It’s so much fun to be in another state in the country and find someone who has tried your product or sent your product.

What is the key to success?
Grow smart, not fast. Understand that you don’t know everything. Trust your gut.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Customer service is the most important aspect of any industry.

What are some of your favorite books?
Delivering Happiness – Tony Hsieh
Life is Good – Bert & John Jacobs
Good to Great – Jim Collins

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Some of the toughest days were early on. We didn’t have any money to have a real staff. So that meant Dani and I were working fourteen-hour days, six days a week, and taking zero pay. It was exhausting. I often questioned why I even wanted to have a business in the first place. As we grew, the challenges were still there. They were just different.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
My desire to never fail. This has to be a success. We must constantly take a step back, examine what we’re doing, fix what needs to be fixed, and carry on.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Understand you’re not going to be rich overnight. For the few this happens to, there are hundreds of thousands of people who struggle to pay their bills.
2) You will be a level of tired as you have never, ever felt before.
3) Understand that you don’t know everything. Be humble enough to accept someone’s help when needed.
4) Understand that mistakes happen. Everyone makes them and everyone must fix them. Once a mistake has been corrected, let it go and move on.
5) Understand that having your own business can be a very long and lonely road. Ask yourself honestly, “Why do you want to start a business?” And then ask yourself if you’re really willing to eat macaroni and cheese for years on end.
6) Starting a business from the ground up is one of the most exciting things you’ll ever do. It’s not a venture to be taken lightly. But once you know you’re ready, go for it. Take a deep breath, take the leap, and enjoy the ride.

This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.