November 1, 2014

How One Woman Incorporated 100,000 Businesses

Nellie AkalpMost students in law school end up being lawyers, but that’s not the path Nellie Akalp took.

Nellie, an Iranian immigrant and co-founder of CorpNet, chose to become an entrepreneur.  Both she and her husband were in law school full time when they decided to start an online incorporation document filing business to pay the bills.

Their first company became MyCorporation, which did so well, Nellie never quite made it to the courtroom.  In 2005, the company was grossing $1 million in sales a month, which got the attention of Intuit. They wanted to buy the company. Nellie was hesitant, noting, “How do I put a price on something I love doing?”

But with the assurance from Intuit that she and her husband would still be involved in running the company, she went ahead with the sale. After a few months, Nellie missed her entrepreneurial freedom, so she resigned.  “As an entrepreneur, I’m an innovator. I can’t follow other people,” she says.

That Wasn’t the End

Under the noncompete agreement she’d signed with Intuit, Nellie couldn’t get back into the incorporation business for three years. She tried other things, like teaching kickboxing and aerobics, as well as opening a clothing company. Nothing inspired her.

What she realized is how much she loved helping small business owners. The second the noncompete agreement expired, she was back in the incorporation business. Her new company, CorpNet, also offers DBA and LLC filings and other business services. Anyone else might be daunted by the fact that this industry is oversaturated and has bigger players with bigger pockets. But not Nellie. Her determination and vision, as well as ability to hold the hands of the small businesses she helps through the process of starting a business, makes her company a formidable competitor to bigger companies like LegalZoom.

Not as Digital as It Sounds

And while you might assume that filing for a corporation online is a completely digital process, Nellie says that’s far from the truth. Behind the scenes, she and her team are searching business names, inputting data onto state approved forms, following up with the state the paperwork is filed in, putting finishing touches on the documentation and sending final paperwork to the client. They use paper file folders, color coding and large bins to organize their processes.  All in all, it takes an average of 20 to 30 days to process a standard corporation or LLC filing, and many people are involved.

So processing 100,000 incorporation filings (as Nellie has done) is no easy feat!

How the Game Has Changed

Once thing Nellie notices this time around with her business is that the game of getting customers online has changed.  Starting a Web-based business today, versus starting in the 1990s or early 2000s, couldn’t require a more different approach. It’s no longer about buying pay-per-click ads, something she did with her first company. “Today you can’t pay to play. It’s too expensive.”  Now it’s about engagement, something she does when networking at conferences and events.  Nellie is a big believer in social media, including Twitter and blogging on the CorpNet blog (she’s also a Small Business Trends contributor).

It’s also about providing personalized service.  Nellie and the CorpNet team revel in the fact that they are still able to be hands-on, and that they can give personalized attention to customers.  For instance, CorpNet’s website features a photograph of Nellie front and center on the home page.  (That’s no stock image!)  The company offers a free trademark search and a free business name search.  You can call them and they will actually speak with you by phone.

Nellie says: “You have to keep changing. Adapt to your clients’ needs.”

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Susan Payton - Awards Communication Mgr.


Susan Payton Susan Payton is the Communications Manager for the Small Business Trends Awards programs. She is the President of Egg Marketing & Communications, an Internet marketing firm specializing in content marketing, social media management and press releases. She is also the Founder of How to Create a Press Release, a free resource for business owners who want to generate their own PR.

6 Reactions

  1. Susan: What an inspiring entrepreneurial story! I will definitively check out CorpNet when I am ready to set up a business in the United States of America. :)

    Personally speaking, it is a big plus that it is a photo of Nellie R Akalp on the homepage, instead of a stock image. I have now “publicly +1’d this as Martin Lindeskog.”

  2. Hi Martin — it’s interesting that you point out how useful it is to have a photo of a real person on the home page. I thought that was significant, too.

    Ironic, though, that we have become accustomed to such low levels of personalized service, that just the fact that you can see the real business owner’s photo is remarkable.

    But it takes an entrepreneur like Nellie to spot that as a competitive differentiation.

    – Anita

  3. Anita,

    Yes, we are getting more and more used to personalization in different ways. The uniqueness of the individual mobile user and that you should “become 100%” were things that came up during today’s “Mobile Revolution” conference in Gothenburg.

    On my About Me page on EGO Sole Trader, I have added a photo of myself that is linked to my Flickr photo album.

  4. Hi again Anita! :)

    In the first course lecture of “Certified Networker” (R ) by Referral Institute (franchise name, ReferensAkademin in Sweden), the lecturer pointed out that you do business with individuals in the first place, not organizations, and that you should find your business idea with a true meaning. It resonates well with my experiences as a purchaser and how you evaluated your suppliers. Did you learn to know, like and trust your partner on the “other side” of the “negotiation table”.

    Social media has emphasized the notion of being your true self. You can’t “hide” behind a standardized brochure or website anymore. What will happen if you “scratch” on the surface by doing a search online, asking for references, checking LinkedIn connections, etc?

    Best Premises,

    Martin

  5. Thanks a lot for sharing Nellie’s story.

    I had no idea that she was an Iranian immigrant.

    I met Nellie at a convention, and we clicked right away.

    I’m an affiliate partner of Nellie’s, and support her company whenever I can.

    Thanks again, Susan.

    The Franchise King®

  6. Thank you for sharing Nellie’s story. I have her scheduled for an interview on my site. I can’t wait to learn from her.

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