It’s a familiar setting. Two parents working, eating, sleeping, barely seeing their kids — and then doing it all over again, day after day.
Jocelyn Sams was an elementary school librarian in Kentucky. Shane Sams was a high school social studies teacher and football coach.
Together in 2012, they created Elementary Librarian, a membership site with ready-made lesson plans and a space for elementary school librarians to share ideas.
They chose this company largely because it leveraged their experience: Jocelyn had prepared lesson plans for her day job, and Shane had written and sold sports playbooks. Choosing a venture that utilized their expertise, versus embarking on a new passion, was the best decision they made, Shane told Good Financial Cents.
The Sams got started by replacing their moments of evening leisure with building the website. They blogged and started a podcast for elementary librarians. Their first email to their subscribers generated $250, which they were able to replicate month after month.
A year later, the company brought in $36,000, a year’s teaching salary, in just one month, Shane Sams told Forbes. They quit their teaching jobs and hired a book shipper and a virtual assistant for customer service. The Sams each worked just 10 hours per week, Sams estimated in the Forbes interview.
While teachers could find information on their own for free, the value of Elementary Librarian and the Sams’ other website, US History Teachers (which they still own), is curation, saving teachers valuable time acquiring credible, classroom-friendly resources, including video segments, Sams said in a podcast with Side Hustle Nation. “Your classroom’s on autopilot.”
“The [education] market is ripe for innovation,” Sams told They Got Acquired. “The old textbook companies are dinosaurs. Teachers are better at creating their own resources… Sometimes librarians bought our plans, many times school districts would find us and buy resources for their entire district.”
Once they hit around 1,000 paying members in 2017, they sold the bootstrapped ed-tech company to private equity group SureSwift Capital, with the help of broker Jason Yelowitz at Quiet Light, Sams told They Got Acquired. The buyer paid “something like” $800,000 upfront, plus ongoing payments of $100,000 for an unspecified number of years, he said on the Side Hustle Nation podcast.
In the end, they have received more than $1 million from the sale of Elementary Librarian, Shane Sams told They Got Acquired.
One big draw for the buyer was the recurring revenue of the membership site. While SureSwift Capital typically invests in SaaS, or Software as a Service businesses, this membership site, like SaaS companies, brought in recurring revenue, whereby members paid a monthly fee to continue membership.
Use automation to make your company attractive to a buyer
The formula for growing Elementary Librarian is one the Sams live by, as they aid other entrepreneurs through their online community for entrepreneurs, Flipped Lifestyle. That includes consistently creating free content to draw in members, promoting content through ads to grow email subscriptions, and marketing paid memberships to the email list, Shane Sams said.
“We’ve seen many of our students replicate our success in the lesson plan space,” Shane Sams said.
They also advocate for automation and building a strong team to make the company attractive to a buyer.
“Buyers of websites are looking for an investment, not a job,” Shane Sams said. “Recurring revenue, systems and automation are the most important things for valuations… So hire, systemize, and automate.”
In hindsight, Shane Sams thinks Elementary Librarian could have grown faster if they had hired employees sooner. At sale, they had two employees in addition to both founders working part time on the company. Their staff continued to work for the company post-sale.
The Sams were hesitant to make the investment into employees, but once they did, “Jocelyn had all systems ready to go for training,” said Shane Sams. “Without good manuals, training videos and time invested in an employee, you can’t train them fast or scale! Creating great systems lets you hire faster.”
“The more turnkey your site, [on] day one, the more it will be worth,” Shane Sams said. “Nobody cares how much money you make with your online business. They care how much money your business makes without you there to babysit it.”