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, whilst 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 30.
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:
- How and why being nice goes a long way in life and business
- Why you can't fake authenticity
- Going after your dreams and making your mark in the world
- How being an entrepreneur can allow you to be a better parent
- Learning to politely declining offers (and stay focused)
The Show Notes
- Corpnet Website
- Nellie LinkedIn
- Nellie on Twitter
- Nellie on Pinterest
- Jon on Twitter
- Show Sponsor: FreshBooks (30-day Free Trial)
Here's the Key to Turning Your Failures into Opportunities …
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?
How and Why Being Nice Goes a Long Way in Life and Business
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.
Why You Can’t Fake Authenticity
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.
Going After Your Dreams and Making Your Mark in the World
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.
How Being an Entrepreneur Can Allow You to Be a Better Parent
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?
Building a Strong Team, and Embracing the Dividends of Past Experiences
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 thicker skin, have learned a thing or two, have made a ton of mistakes, have failed hundreds of thousands of times.
Throughout the process of not only owning our previous company, MyCorp, but owning several companies in between, it really made us who we are today. It's a result and a compilation of everything we've done in the past as to who we are today, but we're very different. We're much more mature, in my opinion, much more seasoned as entrepreneurs. We're much more conservative and relaxed in the types of decisions we make and how we make a decision when it comes to the business, the ultimate lifetime of the business, and where the business is going to go.
Jonny Nastor: Yeah, and more seasoned and relaxed. I like that, and probably a lot more confident in yourselves. You guys have done this, and acquired by Intuit is probably something that really adds to the confidence behind you starting more businesses.
Learning to Politely Decline Offers (and Stay Focused)
Nellie Akalp: True, true. I think ‘entrepreneurship' is such a huge and widely used term. For me, it's basically, as a small business owner, I've learned a lot. I failed. I've learned who my friends are. I've learned who is really your friend and who is there really for having an agenda or ulterior motive. I've become a lot more picky and selective as to who I associate with. I've learned that it's okay to say no and to nicely decline offers. I've learned that, as a small business owner and wanting to run a successful small business and be a career woman, you have to pick and choose your battles. You have to accept certain things as it goes with the territory.
For example, for me, being a career mom and being a working mom, I don't have that free lifestyle of being able to socialize when I want because I have this dedication to my team here and to my company, and I have a reasonability to my team. I have to run a business. It's about picking and choosing your battles, being able to balance things, looking ahead, and really deciding what's important for you. For me, it's important to have a career, be able to set a good example for my loved ones and my children, and to leave a legacy behind.
Jonny Nastor: Excellent. Okay. In all of that, there was twice you've mentioned hundreds of thousands, I believe, you said of failures. That's a lot of failures and moving on, right?
Nellie Akalp: Maybe I was exaggerating a little.
Jonny Nastor: Of course, but it's such a big part of it, right? It's a big part of life in general. As human beings, as entrepreneurs, one of our greatest struggles is that fear of being wrong, making mistakes, and totally failing. Nellie, could you walk us through how to fail in your business and not have it totally sideswipe you?
How to Be Bold, and Accept and Learn from Failure
Nellie Akalp: First of all, I'd like to say that, in my opinion, failures in business are just opportunities to be seized. To me, if you don't fail at one point or another in your lifetime, then I truly don't feel that you'll see that ultimate feeling and that ultimate true smell of success. True, true success, in my opinion, comes from a plethora of failures and really, really making some bad choices and learning from them. As a result, making the right choices in addition to working hard, rolling your sleeves up, really getting into it, and really creating something out of nothing.
Frankly, for us, we've had a ton of it, and we're not done failing. I'm not a perfect person. I'm just a human being, and I make mistakes — as an entrepreneur, as a small business owner, as a human being in my life. Frankly, not everything that I do is right. Often times, I listen to my gut. I listen to my intuition. I listen to my instinct. I tend to resonate with that when making a decision for my business in addition to, obviously, looking at numbers and being granular about it, but we've made a ton of mistakes, especially in my current company, CorpNet.
One of the biggest mistakes we made was doing what we thought was working for us back then in the current business. That was one of the biggest mistakes we made. Immediately, we changed our business models. Another mistake that we made was, frankly, not really relying on the brand and the voice that I had built in the community in this last six years that I've been in business, and paying a ton of money, throwing a ton of money on paid advertising. Our company was literally on the verge of being shut down.
Frankly, we took a very bold and disruptive move and just shut down all paid advertising. Come to realize that, not only it did nothing but increase our bottom line by 40 percent, but it didn't even decrease our traffic. It actually increased it because all of our traffic was coming as a result of our social media efforts, our engagement, and just our constant playing out there on the social mediums, and engaging with our clients, word of mouth, and repeat business. We've made mistakes. We're probably going to make a ton more, and as a result, learn from them and become even more successful.
Jonny Nastor: That's brilliant. I love it. Cut off all paid advertising, and traffic doesn't change. It's just your bottom line is there again. Wow, I like that. Okay. You mentioned leaving a legacy. You mentioned making a mark. I have this thing that I want to end on that I'm calling the ‘entrepreneurial gap.' It's something I think we deal with as entrepreneurs, where we do want to leave this mark. We do want to do big things. We're constantly looking ahead into the future — one month, three months, six months, a year, five years, 10 years. We're always pushing goals ahead of us. As we almost hit those goals, we set five or 10 loftier ones.
You, Nellie, have done some really impressive things. You've had exits, which people always look for in their business. You decided to start another very successful business with tons of failures along the way, but that's totally fine. You've got to partner with your husband for the past 16 years, I believe, which is amazing.
Nellie Akalp: Yes.
Jonny Nastor: Could I have you, right now, not look forward anymore, and just stop, turn around, and look at where you have come from, what you've learned, what you've accomplished, and just tell me how you feel about that?
Nellie Akalp: I feel phenomenal. I feel happy. I feel blessed. I truly feel that I wouldn't change a minute or a second, or change anything in my life. I feel that, had it not been for the path that I took and how my life turned out with everything that has happened today, I wouldn't be where I am today. Frankly, I'm blessed, and I'm very thankful for that.
Jonny Nastor: That's awesome, and you absolutely should be because you've done some really impressive things. I know you're going to go on and do some more. In passing, Nellie, we've got to talk about you and your business, but could you specifically tell the listener where they can find out more about you and your business please?
Nellie Akalp: Absolutely. For those of you interested in starting a business, whether it's setting up a sole proprietorship, partnership, incorporating your business, or setting up an LLC in any of the 50 states, feel free to reach out to me online or to my company at CorpNet.com.
Again, CorpNet.com provides business filing services required for a variety of business needs, such as forming a corporation or an LLC, filing a fictitious business name, trademark search, and registration services, and much more across all 50 states. In addition to those of you who already have an existing business and who want to keep their business in compliance, we can assist you with those services as well, in addition to much more.
You can also follow me on Twitter, @CorpNetNellie. I'm on Facebook under Nellie Akalp. You can connect with me through LinkedIn, or Google Plus. I'm also on Pinterest. I'm basically all over in all of the major social mediums. Then I also have great videos on starting a business, managing a business on YouTube as well. Again, you can always reach out to me through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonny Nastor: Wow, that was awesome. I know that if you're listening to this show that either you own a business or you are thinking of starting your own business. I know from my own inbox and the questions I get from listeners is so often about structuring a company and how to do it, so Nellie can absolutely help you. I will link to CorpNet in the show notes, so they're easy for you to find. Also, all of Nellie's social media.
Nellie, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today. Please, just keep doing what you're doing because it's really, really awesome and inspiring to watch.
Nellie Akalp: Thank you so much, Jon. It's been a pleasure talking with you today, and I really appreciate the opportunity to participate in your show.
Jonny Nastor: You are very welcome.
Nellie, thank you so much for joining me today. I really, really do appreciate it. That was an awesome conversation. You have a great attitude on life and business, and I just love where we got to go a couple times there.
Nellie is a smart lady. Nellie has created a business and a market out of nowhere and had it acquired. At 30, she got to retire. Then, as we heard in the conversation, she got bored, but she also had a non-compete agreement that ran out. I like that twist to it. Then she went at it again, and she's super successful at it again. I'm so happy I got to talk to her. Nellie is a brilliant entrepreneur, brilliant business mind, and just a really dedicated individual to her business, to her family, and her life in general.
Nellie said a lot of smart things. Nellie said a lot of things, didn't she, during that conversation? But she said one thing. She said that one thing. Did you get it? Did you hear it? Let's do it. Let's find the hack.
Nellie Akalp: Our company was literally on the verge of being shut down. Frankly, we took a very bold and disruptive move and just shut down all paid advertising. Come to realize that not only it did nothing but increase our bottom line by 40 percent, but it didn't even decrease our traffic.
Jonny Nastor: And that's the hack.
Nellie, Nellie, Nellie. Yes, exactly. To clarify first before I get into this at all, this is not me saying, “You should cancel all paid traffic,” because, of course, that's not the answer for everybody. What the answer is and what the hack is, when things are getting bad, when things are not working, change them. Change them drastically. Change them in bold, drastic ways like Nellie did to see if that works.
What's the definition of insanity? The classic saying is, “Doing the same thing over, and over, and over again expecting a different result.” I see so many business owners, it's like, “We've always bought this advertising. We've always paid this money. Our business is okay, but it could get better.” It's like, “Well, have you ever tested not buying that advertising, or have you tested to ensure that that advertising is actually working or that putting this money here causes growth?”
As humans and then as business owners, we get stuck in our ruts, right? We do the same things. It's habitual. We just do it over and over. We don't think about it … until something happens. Like when Nellie says, “Our business was doing horribly. Literally, it was going to just fail.” They had to do something, and she did something and realized that, “Wow, 40 percent was just added to our bottom line.” That's awesome. Thank you, Nellie, for that because bold things have to happen.
You should do them not just when you're about to go out of business. You should think of these things, test everything, and think of everything in your business that could be. Sure it's working okay, but maybe you could do something bold. The worst case scenario is you just go back to doing exactly what you were doing, and you're right where you were. Worth a shot, always.
Nellie, thank you so much for that. All right. That wraps us up for another episode. It was a lot of fun. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
I want to do something I haven't done in quite a while. If you've made it to this point, I would love to hear where you are. I'd love to see where you are. My cellphone. Don't phone me. You can. I won't answer it. I'm terrible. Sorry. I don't even answer my mom when she calls. I'm terrible at answering the phone, but I love texts. I have an iPhone. If you have an iPhone, you could message me from anywhere in the world. It's free. You could even send me pictures. Area code 807-472-5290. That's 807-472-5290.
Send me a picture where you are listening. I'd love to see, or just send me a message. Tell me where you're at. I'd love to chat with you, and that's the one. Do it. I would love, love, love to hear from you. It's been a while since I've done this, and it's cool when I was doing it before. I was getting texts from all over the world. It was really, really cool, so please, just take the time. Come on. It's one text message. You can do it.
All right. Thank you so much again. I hope you know that I do truly, truly appreciate it. Please, until next time, keep hacking the entrepreneur.