Most 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.”