Everyone loves a good rags-to-riches story, right? Well, you are not going to get one. Because the heroine of our tale doesn’t bother telling hers. Not publicly anyway.
But Sarah Moore’s story is so powerful that it (apparently) got on Twitter with zero effort and was picked by the My First Million podcast hosted by Shaan Puri and Sam Parr. Shaan was lucky enough to get a few anecdotes (and the figure of almost $50 million in revenue) from Sarah, who has a near-zero social presence otherwise. She has put her business, eggcartons.com, front-and-center, and the only first-person accounts of Sarah that this writer could find were her highly technical and detailed blogs on (you guessed it) egg cartons. The minimal details available about her personal life can be found on the Harvard MBA portrait project.
Why Sarah’s Story is Unique?
There is no dearth of examples out there of entrepreneurs who have built empires from nothing. Their convictions seem to have carried their visions but the “nothingness” they started from was typically a result of personal or professional setbacks.
Moore never even had the good fortune to have a setback.
In fact, she didn’t find a home till she was 15 when she was lucky to be adopted. This (self-described) brash and scrappy child who was shunted from place to place then somehow found her way into the Harvard MBA program. Before that, she also completed her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Psychology. Any Hollywood script would find that a good plot point to roll the end credits on. Sarah, though, hadn’t even started writing her story yet.
Once she got into the program, Moore decided to float her own private equity firm. There was only one problem. The firm had no office and no funds. This is where Moore’s story starts to move more into the realm normally associated with fiction than hard facts.
From ‘Scrappy’ to ‘Borderline Insane’
Moore decided to use her university library as her office headquarters and found her employees (50 unpaid interns) on Craigslist. Since her workforce was comprised of students from other universities and colleges, Moore had to resort to making fake IDs for them to access the office (the university library). While she definitely got her hands on some free real estate, admittance was tricky. Creating the massive number of fake IDs took time and each employee had to wait their turn to get access, so hiring was staggered.
Moore then set her considerable workforce to task. Their job was to scour through 400,000+ businesses for a year and a half. The holy grail was to find a business that she could buy with all debt to ensure 100% ownership. At the time, Moore’s reported entire net worth was the value of her RAV4. She funded her personal expenses through participating in random research trials. Her objective was to find a business with healthy historical cash flows — compelling enough to serve as collateral as she had none.
She also needed the business to be simple enough to run it with zero operational experience or technical skills. The higher the barrier to entry, the better. Think of trying to get a foot in the door with a peg leg.
As could be expected, she received very few responses. Grabbing attention was key, so she started to do things she described as “borderline insane” and even took a photo of herself wearing a sweatshirt that boldly proclaimed, “I WANT TO BUY YOUR BUSINESS.” The fax was sent to thousands of local businesses on a daily basis and to this day, Moore is often recognized from her fax.
Then she finally found her ideal business: Eggcartons.com.
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Diamond in the Rough
Most prospective buyers would probably have balked at the 90s website. Even the hen in the logo was prosaic in red and white with no new-age trimmings. But Sarah knew eggs and by extension, egg cartons were a vibrant business. As she lists on one of her blogs for the website: “Adjusting for population and markets, (egg) consumption has doubled in 50 years.” Egg production had steadily increased to meet demands. Most importantly, the business had registered profits right from its inception in 2001.
Moore proceeded to haunt the owner until he agreed to meet with her. Fortunately, it went well and they decided on the valuation together. However, her appeal for an uncollateralized loan was rejected by nearly all the hundred banks she approached. But one finally settled for 75% debt financing and 25% seller financing. Since she understood little of the financial side of the business, Moore got an accountant to audit the business. She overpaid the accountant for the job, but rolled up his fees into the deal as well. Moore bought Eggcartons with zero down payment.
Needless to say, Sarah’s story doesn’t end here (if ever).
She can tell you about going legally blind for some time from one of the research studies in which she participated. She has stories about traveling to China to check on the carton production and how she got stalled at Indian customs for hours because officials wouldn’t believe that she was traveling to check on egg cartons! She was chased and nearly killed, she says, by an angry Indian carton vendor (and his extended family) when she rejected a shipment.
Not Taking Counsel From Her Fears
Moore has now extended the business from just egg cartons to specialty packaging. More than 40% of her business revenues now come from servicing needs entirely unrelated to eggs. According to Moore: “Anything that requires protection and separation is fair game.” She counts companies like SpaceX, Boeing, Disney, Madison Square Garden, and Crayola among her clients. Currently, she owns King Sales Group, LLC, a composite of three separate business entities — Eggcartons.com, Fall Harvest Products (egg-production industry services), and King Supply (plumbing materials for campgrounds and parks).
Sarah is reportedly in her 20s. At any point of time in her life, Sarah had justifiable reasons to throw in the towel. But in her own words, she refused to take counsel from her fears. Instead, she chose to turn every adversity into a potential opportunity. So the classic rags-to-riches story doesn’t really fit here. Sarah’s story is so much more. We need a new type of fable for entrepreneurs with her indomitable spirit. They are scrappy enough to even wring the rags to their advantage. Riches inevitably follow.