My guest today has a passion for assisting small business owners and entrepreneurs in starting and protecting their businesses.
Alongside her husband, she pioneered the business filings industry with MyCorporation.com in 1997, while they were both at Law School. A Fortune 500 company acquired MyCorporation.com in 2005, which allowed her to retire at the young age of thirty.
She hated being retired and soon grew restless, so she and Phil founded Corpnet.com. Corpnet prepares and files the documents necessary to start a new business in any state or county in the U.S., and sends alerts to up-and-running businesses when annual reports and other business filings are due.
My guest’s companies combined have helped more than 100,000 corporations and LLCs get started.
Now, let’s hack …
In this 33-minute episode Nellie Akalp and I discuss:
Listen to Hack the Entrepreneur below ...
Voiceover: Welcome to Hack the Entrepreneur, the show which reveals the fears, habits, and inner battles behind big name entrepreneurs and those on their way to joining them. Now, here is your host, Jon Nastor.
Jonny Nastor: Welcome back to Hack the Entrepreneur. I am so happy you decided to stop by today. I am your host, Jon Nastor, but you can call me Jonny.
My guest today has a passion for assisting small business owners and entrepreneurs in starting and protecting their businesses. Alongside her husband, she pioneered the business filings industry with MyCorporation.com in 1997 while they were still both in law school. A Fortune 500 company acquired MyCorporation.com in 2005, which allowed her to retire at the young age of 30.
Being an entrepreneur, she hated being retired and soon grew restless, so her and Phil founded CorpNet.com. CorpNet prepares and files the documents necessary to start a new business in any state or county in the US and sends alerts to up-and-coming businesses when annual reports and other business filings are due.
My guest’s companies combined have helped more than 100,000 corporations and LLCs get started.
Now, let’s hack Nellie Akalp.
I want to thank today’s sponsor, FreshBooks, for making my life easier. What is the one thing that I am no good at? I am horrible at staying on top of my bookkeeping and accounting for my business. Now, rather than losing the receipts and handing my accountant this giant messy box of papers, FreshBooks has this amazing app for my iPhone and lets me instantly take pictures of receipts and sort them by touching a couple buttons.
FreshBooks is designed for small business owners like you and me. FreshBooks integrates directly with three things that I use every single day in my business: PayPal, Stripe, and MailChimp. To start your 30-day free trial today, go to FreshBooks.com/Hack, and don’t forget to enter ‘Hack the Entrepreneur’ in the ‘How did you hear about us?’ section.
Welcome back to another episode of Hack the Entrepreneur. Today, we have an extra special guest. Nellie, thank you so much for joining me today.
Nellie Akalp: Thank you so much for having me, Jon.
Jonny Nastor: Absolutely my pleasure. Let’s jump straight into this, shall we?
Nellie Akalp: Absolutely.
Jonny Nastor: Nellie, as an entrepreneur, can you tell me what is the one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your successes so far?
Nellie Akalp: I think my authenticity in the way I do business really has been the single most differentiator for us as a company in a very competitive industry and what is the reason for our success to date.
Jonny Nastor: Really? Is this something you had to work on, or is this looking back being like, “Yeah, just because we really are just authentic in the space”?
Nellie Akalp: You know, Jon, I’m a very genuine and authentic person, and I’m just a very nice person. When I deal with people, whoever it is — whether it’s my family, my colleagues, my loved ones, my friends, or people in business — I connect with them instantly because I take interest in what it is that they have to tell me about. I’m very passionate about what I do. It often comes off as such because, every time I’m talking with somebody and I’ve just literally met them, they often tell me that I come off as very sincere and genuine.
That’s something that’s been born in me. As an individual, I feel that when you’re nice, it is addicting. Often times, maybe others can learn a thing or two from you. In my opinion, doing right and being nice without expecting anything back takes you a long way in life, in business, and in whatever you put your heart and set your mind to.
Jonny Nastor: So well said, and you can’t fake authenticity. It’s just something you can’t do.
Nellie Akalp: Yeah, you can’t. You can’t. That’s one thing that you can’t fake. Truly, CorpNet, my company, came out during a very, very weird time in the business climate. We launched our company in 2009 after my non-compete ran out after the sale of my previous company. We started CorpNet during the height of the recession and, frankly, in a market which was completely saturated. Now, hundreds of thousands of people offering similar services to what CorpNet provides.
In my opinion, what really made us stood out was, one, because I branded myself as a small business expert, having done this in the past multiple times, not hiding behind who the owner of the company was, and truly putting my voice out there as a small business influencer, someone who is truly passionate about small business, has this love for entrepreneurship, and wanting to help other small business owners, entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, mompreneurs in blazing their own trail and making their own small business dreams into a reality.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, and you don’t hide behind it. It’s really you. @CorpNetNellie, I believe, is your Twitter handle.
Nellie Akalp: Yes, it is. It is.
Jonny Nastor: They’re so closely aligned. That’s awesome. That’s interesting, though, too, because I know you sold MyCorporation.com in 2005, and then you had a non-compete for four years. As soon as that ran out, you competed again?
Nellie Akalp: That is true.
Jonny Nastor: That’s awesome.
Nellie Akalp: Thank you. I actually got into owning my own business back in 1997 straight out of law school after I graduated. I decided not to practice law, and my husband and I decided to start our first company out of our two-bedroom apartment. We grew that company to where it was doing a substantial amount of sales, and we were blessed by the opportunity of being acquired in 2005 by Intuit. After the acquisition, we realized that we were entrepreneurs, and we can’t really be boxed in with our creativity.
After the acquisition, the business had lost its entrepreneurial spirit and culture for us, so we decided to step down, take some time off, focus on our then growing children. Then in 2009, after our non-compete had ran out, we realized that we were too young, too passionate, too motivated, and frankly, too bored to take on an early retirement and decided to start all over again from scratch with CorpNet.com, my new company.
Jonny Nastor: I love it. And too bored. It’s interesting, because you’re right, you’re a mom of four children as well.
Nellie Akalp: That is correct.
Jonny Nastor: You’ve now started two really impressive businesses amongst all that.
Nellie Akalp: Yes.
Jonny Nastor: You worked what, it’s 20 years almost of schooling from grade one all the way to the end of law school with the idea, typically, of becoming a lawyer, working for a firm, and having a good ‘job.’ How do you, “I’m going to start my own business. Here we go,” after all of this training and all of this schooling? It’s a bold step.
Nellie Akalp: It is. For us, it was, frankly, because of the fact that we had too many student loans that we owed and, also, the fact that after attending law school for four years for me, and for my husband three years — we graduated from different law schools — we realized that, truly, although we loved going to law school, we didn’t really have much in common with the profession. We really didn’t see ourselves practicing the profession. Keep in mind, my husband is admitted to the State Bar of California, and he does practice from time to time. But again, his true passion and love is entrepreneurship, being an entrepreneur, and really creating something out of nothing and innovating.
For us, really, it was about the fact that, going out of law school, we didn’t really see the entry-level jobs, after graduating law school, supporting the type of lifestyle that we wanted to have. We’re both only children, and we wanted to have a big family. We love to travel. We love fine dining. We love enjoying ourselves. We’re not very meticulous about materialistic things, but we like to live comfortably.
Frankly, for us, what was really important is not to also be boxed in with our creativity. Getting a job in a law firm wasn’t going to jive with our dreams and aspirations. So we decided to create a business that, at the time, in 1997, was a really hot industry, starting businesses online. There was really only three other players in the industry, so we thought, “Okay. Let’s come out with this idea, and go for it.” We did, and knock on wood, it worked for us. The exit was a huge blessing for us as well.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah. I love it. Almost polar opposite of being an entrepreneur, I think, would be being a lawyer just in a firm, so I can see why you didn’t want to be boxed in.
Nellie Akalp: The whole idea of entrepreneurship, to me, is so exciting because it’s about going after your dreams, really spreading your wings as far as you can reach them out, and not really being limited to what you can do. For us, owning our own small business allows us to do that in addition to allowing us to see our four children grow and being able to balance being working parents and seeing our kids grow. It also really sets the stage as to the message we’re giving out to our children in that, if you want a great life, if you want to see success, you got to work hard for it.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, absolutely. Not only are you going after your dreams, but you’re also helping thousands of other small business people go after their dreams, which is pretty amazing.
Nellie Akalp: Yes, and that really for me is the exciting part because, Jon, for me, I’ve made my mark in my opinion. I’m not done yet. I’m continuing to innovate and continuing to build myself up as an entrepreneur, but at the end of the day, if I wanted to retire today, I could. Truly, what keeps me going is the feeling that I get in helping another entrepreneur realize what their passion is and helping them bring their passion into a reality.
I do it daily, and I love it. That’s what really gets me up to come to work, because as a mom of four especially and having a young one at home still, it’s really hard to leave your kids at home, especially during the summertime, and say, “You know Mom’s got to go to work.” For me, I really do love what I do. Truly, it’s because of my love and passion for small business and entrepreneurship that gives me that excitement and zeal to come to work daily.
Jonny Nastor: I love it. Okay. At the beginning of the conversation, you told us your authenticity, your just real trueness of being interested in other people is your one big differentiator in business. Every blog post now, Nellie, talks about the 80-20 rule, right? Do 20 percent. Get 80 percent of the results. Do what you’re good at. Delegate the rest. Nellie, can you please tell me something that you are not good at in your business?
Nellie Akalp: There’s so many things I’m not good at. I love the 80-20 rule because I often follow that rule in my business. Here’s the bottom line. When you have a great team of people, in my opinion, great big companies are made by a sum of all of its parts. As a leader, as a CEO, I’m great at many things, but I’m not as good as other things.
Frankly, if I delegate those things to others who are great at it, then what happens at the end of the day is that it creates this automated way of having your company run like clockwork. Everybody is happy. For example, I hate bookkeeping. I literally do, but it’s something that I have to do because you have to be close to your numbers as a small business owner.
For me, that’s one type of tedious task that I’m not really great at and I don’t like doing. What I do is I delegate it to somebody who enjoys doing that, but I also have a system of checks and balances in place, whereby I make sure it’s done and it’s done accurately. At the same time, I don’t have to do it, and I don’t have to hate my job while doing it. I can focus on what I do best, which can bring even more traffic into our business and, ultimately, more sales.
Jonny Nastor: Wow, so, so well said. The whole focus of that answer seemed to be on having a great team. I’m wondering, Nellie, is there something between MyCorporation.com, then four years of not being the team behind it and then to starting CorpNet, was there something when you started CorpNet that, immediately as you were starting or even before, you were like, “I have to delegate this part of my job that I did before because I’m not that good at it”?
Nellie Akalp: That’s a great question. For me, as an individual, as a small business owner, and as an entrepreneur, I’ve changed, I would say, 180 degrees from the time that I used to own MyCorporation and now that I own CorpNet. With MyCorporation, my husband was truly the voice behind that company. He was our CEO with the old company. I was more the operations gal and somebody who had a lot of active participation in the day-to-day aspects of the business, including in the sales department, managing our sales operations, and even our document filing units with the old company.
With this company today, my current company, CorpNet, I’m the CEO. I’m the brand. I’m the voice. I’m really, really not involved in the day-to-day aspects of the business and running the actual day-to-day operations of the business. We have a general office manager who handles those tasks and oversees those tasks. My job is more of one who really sets the tone and the goals for the company, the vision, and really where the company is today and where we want to be within a year from now, within five years from now.
Jonny Nastor: Nice, so that’s interesting. Is that strictly because you have way more resources starting CorpNet than you did when you started MyCorporation, or was it just literally something that you see way bigger growth if you just be the brand face and out there as the CEO?
Nellie Akalp: I think it’s a combination of things. Back when we started our previous company, Phil and I were just fresh out of law school. We were much younger. We were truly new business owners, entrepreneurs, and we didn’t know a lot. It was just one of those ‘learn as you go.’ Whereas with CorpNet, our current company, we’re more seasoned. Trust me, we still have a lot to learn, and we learn daily. We still make mistakes, and we learn from our mistakes. It was just different timing for us back then versus now. We’re much older, much more seasoned, have...