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Tracey Noonan Says Growing a Business Is All About Listening to Good Advice

Photos: Courtesy of Adam Clear

If there is one thing Tracey Noonan says she regrets on her way to building her business, Wicked Good Cupcakes, alongside her daughter Dani Villagie, it’s letting her ego get in the way. 

Transforming the business from mother-daughter bonding hobby to multi-million-dollar company took a lot of hard work, creativity, financial savvy, and persistence; but Noonan says she never would have gotten where she is today if she hadn’t listened to feedback and advice from her customers, experts, and her family and business partners. 

No “I” in cupcakes

“I did things out of my ego wanting it rather than my business needing it,” Noonan says. “Those are two very different things. I made some decisions, cost us money, that in hindsight were not the best decisions or were kind of stupid, but I really wanted them and I really wanted to try it.” 

Her mistake, Noonan explains, is that by thinking about what she wanted to try, she was ignoring what the business itself was telling her it needed.

“They usually didn’t work because they weren’t well-thought-out. Again, it was my ego talking, not my business. So once I listened to the business and understood what my business wanted, then I always made the right decision on spending.”

It paid off

While she had some slip-ups along the way, as all entrepreneurs are bound to, the truth is that Noonan also did a lot of things right, and listening to the right people is just one of them. And, this is something she’s been doing from the very beginning, starting from before Wicked Good Cupcakes was even a business. 

When Noonan and her daughter first started making cupcakes, they didn’t expect to be launching a company together. But as they started posting more and more of their creations to Facebook, friends and family began putting in cupcake orders to support their baking. Soon, 

demand had grown so high, they were even filling corporate orders, all from their home kitchen. 

“And, corporate orders required us to be baking you know 200 cupcakes instead of two dozen, and working from your home and having a home oven where you can only do two-dozen [at a] time, that started to present a very big challenge for us.” So, Noonan and her daughter had to make a decision. Slow down production or go all the way. 

All the way

“So, with no business backgrounds, no college degree, no MBAs, no formal culinary training, we decided that rather than rein it in and keep a hobby, we were going to try to make a business. And, we actually were very successful with it.”Noonan says her husband, who had a successful tech start-up, lent the two women $30,000 in start-up funds, and told them it was “sink or swim.” She says in the beginning it was a real learning curve, especially with no marketing budget and no experience. The duo’s first challenge was figuring out how to effectively ship their product, since cupcakes don’t travel particularly well. When her husband first suggested mason jars, which have become the brand’s signature, Noonan said she was skeptical, but agreed to give it a shot. 

She sent a few test jars to family and friends, and asked them to take pictures and give her honest feedback. They loved them. So, Noonan says, she took their advice, and Wicked Good Cupcakes was officially born. The company was doing well, but it was when they went on “Shark Tank” and got that deal with Kevin O’Leary that things really took off. 

A jarring success

Since then, Noonan says she and Villagie have learned a lot, including how to work together as mother and daughter as well as business partners. “My relationship with Dani was very stressful for a while, because I just didn’t see her as a partner, I saw her as my daughter,” Noonan says. “And that was really tough for her and we had a come-to-Jesus moment. She actually told me one day, ‘I’m not doing this anymore if we can’t break up time outside of work and time inside of work.’” Noonan may have a hard time giving up control, but she says she’s grateful when people call her out or point her in the right direction. “I needed to have someone clue me in and wake me up, and I’m glad that she did.”

Knowing when you need a little help is essential to any growing business, according to Noonan. And that includes knowing when to hire some outside help, even if you’re worried about the financial impact. 

“You really need to hire people when you can afford to hire people who are way smarter than you,” she says. “Because they’re the ones who are going to help you grow your business. You will not do it on your own, I can guarantee you.”

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