SBM #6 - Elf on the Shelf at $1.00

10-year overnight success.

Small Business Black Holes exists to tell insightful, interesting stories about initially successful small businesses who found themselves in black holes and through whatever means necessary, climbed out of them.

Last time, we looked at how Corner Alliance continued to grow once I stopped taking control of all the business decisions and learned to slow down and delegate. 

Today, let’s get a little festive.

📓 The Overview

  • Business: Elf on the Shelf

  • Revenue Barrier: $1.00 

  • Learning: Hire for where you’re going, not for where you are

📓 The Story

Elf on the Shelf is a Christmas tradition for young kids all over the globe. 

As far as the kids are concerned: there’s always been an elf, and always will be.

But for us grown-ups, we know the elf only really became popular in the last decade or so. 

Officially, the Elf on the Shelf started as a book that was self-published in 2004 by a mom and her twin daughters.  

It was based on an elf they had in their home when they were kids that would report to Santa every night, and show up somewhere else in the home the following morning. 

Mom Carol Aebersold and her grown daughters, Chanda and Christa, wanted to tell the world the story of their elf, but they couldn’t find a publisher. 

So they just published it themselves. 

With no business experience between them.

Just a healthy dose of passion, drive and motivation.

I do admire them for that.  

To fund this early venture: homes were sold, credit cards were maxed and retirement funds were emptied. 

They sold five thousand copies worldwide. 

But they didn’t make a penny. 

What were they doing wrong?


  • They were investing in time, but not in people

  • They weren’t thinking about the future 

And how could they? 

They were doing it all by themselves on a shoestring budget. 

But their business mentor gave them some advice: 

“You have to hire for where you’re going, and not for where you are. Because what you need when you first start is not what you need as you continue to scale.” 

So, they did just that. 

They invested in the people that would help them get to the next step. 

They kept their heads down, grew the team, found skillsets they didn’t possess and scaled up. 

It took them a while, but they learnt an important lesson; effort compounds. 

They now have: 

  • TV shows

  • Macy’s parades

  • Spin-off products

Sometimes it feels like you need to get somewhere. 

But effort compounds and staying the course brings its rewards. 

And now there’s not an elf-less shelf in the land. 

That’s the ten-year overnight success. 

And it goes back to what we said in our Once Upon A Farm story a few editions ago; kids like what they like and hate change. 

Add in the fact that the magical illusion of Christmas must be included at all costs. 

And it’s all thanks to Elf on the Shelf, and those women who kept building their team until it became a reality. 

Although officially they say they work for Santa.

🧑‍🎓 The Lessons: 

  1. Effort compounds

  1. Hire for where you’re going, not for where you are 

  1. Never underestimate the power of a good mentor

*Santa and his team were approached for comment but did not respond. They were a little busy.

📅 Next Week:

Stay tuned, because next week we jump into another small business story learning more about the consequences of scaling too quickly and if you have a rocket ship you better learn how to drive it quickly because it's going to the moon with or without you. 

Keep growing,



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