Young Entrepreneur: Wes Hurt
Many people would probably that think 29 years old is a pretty young age to begin a business — especially one that aims to be an international powerhouse someday. But for Wes Hurt, 29, he felt like an aged veteran with one last chance to prove himself. After all, he had already had a long series of odd jobs (working in water damage restoration, selling cookies) and had attempted starting a couple businesses — all while attending college for eight years at four campuses across several states.
True, he never really expected selling scooters on the side of a highway to necessarily make him a mega-millionaire, but he had high hopes when he tried to start a children’s vitamin water beverage.
That hadn’t exactly worked out. And now, to the bemusement of his family and friends, Hurt was going into the cupcake business.
Small Product, Big Dreams
Hurt was visiting a friend in New York City when they dropped by a bakery that specializes in selling cupcakes, and he couldn’t help but be impressed. To borrow the popular expression, the cupcakes were selling like hotcakes. And suddenly Hurt couldn’t help but think he might try the same thing where he lived: Austin, Texas.
Hurt returned and, at first, told no one of his idea. He had already had plenty of ideas fizzle out, and the reaction from his parents when he did tell them was predictable. They were supportive, as usual, but they didn’t exactly weep with joy when they heard their son was going to sink his time and money into cupcakes. “I had tried so many things, learning a lot, but without success. To them, it was just another idea, I think,” says Hurt.
Hurt had some serious money saved up from his past ventures — $50,000 — so he decided it was worth sinking into what would ultimately be a mobile cupcake stand. The customer would walk up to the sleek-looking van-like trailers, order one of several cupcakes on the menu, and if all goes well, return later because they’re so delicious.
Now, two years after opening, Hurt has two of these trailers and a brick-and-mortar eatery — all of them in Austin. (Photos can be seen here
.) The cupcakes sell for $2.50, each with names like 24 Carrot (a carrot cake bottom and a cream cheese top) and the Snowcap (chocolate bottom and vanilla icing top).
A Tough Beginning
From the start, Hurt was almost able to list Hey Cupcake as another casualty to his career history. He partnered with an old childhood chum, Brian Morris, now 30, and they opened for business out of an old Sno-Cone stand on the Austin University campus.
For whatever reason, the cupcakes didn’t connect with the student population. People would ask what Hurt and Morris were selling, and when they said “cupcakes,” the potential customers, disinterested, would just walk away. They opened in March 2007 and closed two months later.
Several months later, in September 2007, they sunk money into an Airstream trailer
and set it up at a busy location in Austin. As they had before, they rented a commercial kitchen at off-hours — paying $300 a month for it — and they kept trying to tell themselves that they weren’t crazy. They also worked long hours, and Hurt paid a steep price, losing a girlfriend who apparently felt like she was the other woman in this business relationship. But Hurt and Morris made things work, opening their brick and mortar business in November 2008, and another Airstream trailer-based location in May 2009.
“The hardest part in the beginning is having confidence,” says Hurt. “You just have to stay confident, especially when you’re starting something new, and stick to your gut and just keep going and going.”
Where to Go from Here?
As successful as Hey Cupcake has been so far — they have 27 employees — Hurt is about to embark on the startup phase that every entrepreneur experiences if they’re lucky enough to stay in business for two years: growing pains.
“Personnel is a huge challenge,” says Hurt. “I have really good people, and they’re the reason it’s possible, but managing human resources — that’s what I’ve found is the most difficult thing.”
He also wants to expand to other cities, states, and eventually across the globe. “I know that sounds insane, but that’s the goal, and one of the biggest challenges I’m facing is how do we maintain the integrity of our brand? How do you make sure that every step of the way you aren’t taking the cheap way, but conducting your business in the true spirit of how you began it?”
Then there’s the personal angle as well. Hurt is dating again — her name is Heather — and he observes that when it comes to the personal and professional lives, “it’s all about trying to strike a balance.” Indeed. As Hurt already knows, success is hard to come by, but hanging onto it can be even harder. In fact, if the next couple years are anything like what many entrepreneurs experience, he will often feel like everything is hanging in the balance.