How The Sprinkles’ Co-Founder Found Product-Market Fit For Cupcakes

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

​Sprinkles' Founder Candace Nelson
image courtesy of Candace Nelson

With multiple TLC shows devoted to them, and high-end bakeries popping up all over the country, it’s hard to imagine there was ever a time when cupcake brands weren’t a thing.

But when Candace Nelson introduced Sprinkles Cupcakes in 2005, the market looked a lot different. On this episode of the “Behind Her Empire” podcast, the Sprinkles co-founder shares her journey to revolutionize the baking industry.


In September of 2001, Nelson found herself dealing with the emotional turmoil of losing her job and the attacks of 9/11. She had worked at an internet startup until the “dot-com bust,” and was struggling to figure out what to do with her career.

“It was the first time in my life that I reflected on what it was I actually wanted to do, as opposed to what was sort of this traditional path to success,” she said.

She wanted to do something that brought her “joy.” She realized she was always happiest when she was baking. So her journey to create the perfect cupcake began. She spent two years perfecting her recipes alongside her husband and sorting out the branding before launching Sprinkles. She tried out different recipes, tweaking them each time to get unique flavors.

“My idea was to really brand the cupcake and elevate it — make it aspirational, make it giftable,” she said. “So I knew if I was going to do that and go all in on cupcakes, I had to really make the product exceptional.”

Part of creating an exceptional cupcake business was nailing the aesthetic.

“If I was creating an upscale cupcake, I had to elevate the brand and the aesthetic of the cupcake as well, leaning into: what was the Sprinkles cupcake going to look like?” she said. “And that meant reinventing the sprinkle itself to that modern dot that sat on top.”

Launching a cupcake business in the height of diet culture wasn’t easy. Nelson found herself facing constant rejections from almost everyone.

“I would show up at every party I was invited to with my cupcakes, with my business cards — yes, business cards in tow,” she laughed. “And I just generously gifted my product all over town.”

A few hundred parties later and word started to spread about her cupcakes. Because she had a clientele built up before she had a physical location, it was no surprise that Sprinkles sold out on its opening day.

“After a while I felt this natural pull, and that was sort of the product-market fit — to use a tech term and apply it to cupcakes — but that kind of gave me the confidence that I had some traction and there was appetite for my product,” she said.

Nelson said the advice she always gives to young entrepreneurs is to own a niche.

“I think it's really important to start with one product and really test the market to find that hero product,” she said. “Owning a niche and being known for something, so people associate you with something and will turn to you.”

Her advice on how to do this? Start by “speaking directly to a smaller demographic.”

“Speaking directly to a smaller demographic target market that you really resonate with is going to help you in the long term because they become your brand ambassadors and start to really spread the word for you,” she said.

dot.la Social and Engagement Editor Andria Moore contributed to this post.

This podcast is produced by Behind Her Empire. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

Hear more of the Behind Her Empire podcast. Subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radioor wherever you get your podcasts.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Cadence

10 TikTok Gadgets That Went Viral In 2022

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

10 TikTok Gadgets That Went Viral In 2022

Part of TikTok’s evolution over the years includes becoming another outlet for consumers to purchase popular gadgets. The app generated $821 million in global consumer spending across the App Store and Google Play in the first quarter of 2022 alone.

And since the holiday season is among us, it’s time to get some gifts checked off your list. So here’s 10 tech gadgets that went viral on TikTok that you can buy for your loved ones.

Read moreShow less

LA Tech ‘Moves’: Disney Taps Bob Iger for CEO, Former Meta Exec Joins DeSo

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

LA Tech ‘Moves’: Disney Taps Bob Iger for CEO, Former Meta Exec Joins DeSo
LA Tech ‘Moves’:

“Moves,” our roundup of job changes in L.A. tech, is presented by Interchange.LA, dot.LA's recruiting and career platform connecting Southern California's most exciting companies with top tech talent. Create a free Interchange.LA profile here—and if you're looking for ways to supercharge your recruiting efforts, find out more about Interchange.LA's white-glove recruiting service by emailing Sharmineh O’Farrill Lewis (sharmineh@dot.la). Please send job changes and personnel moves to moves@dot.la.

Read moreShow less

This Week in ‘Raises’: Swell Energy Lands $120M, Modyfi Draws in $8M

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

This Week in ‘Raises’: Swell Energy Lands $120M, Modyfi Draws in $8M
This Week in ‘Raises’:

As funding in Los Angeles continues to slow down, Swell Energy still managed to raise fresh funding to accelerate the company's mission to deploy 26,000 energy storage systems in homes and businesses across the United States.

Read moreShow less
RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending