Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters, my name is Andrew Warner, and I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and home of over 100,000 entrepreneurs who have come here to tell you how they built, grew, and often sold their businesses and they do it so that you can be inspired and learn from them and my hope is after you do that and you go out there and build a successful business you’ll come back here and continue the circle of Mixergy which is come back and teach, come back and tell your story here too. So, we often hear that there’s a sophomore slump for entrepreneurs, right?
You have a great success and then afterwards you have a big, stunning setback. That’s the story the media often tells us. That’s the story people like to believe but the truth is often different. Today we have an entrepreneur who had a successful exit and now she’s back at it again and this company is growing so well that I invited her here to tell us how she did it. Nellie Akalp is the founder of CorpNet. It’s a company that helps you start a business, whether it’s a sole proprietorship, LLC, or corporation operation, and if you already have an existing business they will file your paperwork for you and do everything you need to keep your business in compliance.
I’ve invited her here to talk about how she did it and it’s all sponsored by Lead Pages. In fact, let me say this, if you’re good at creating landing pages that convert, that get email addresses, that get people to buy, I want you to create a template and sell it using Lead Pages and if you do that I will be your sales person. I will sell it here on Mixergy. The first five people who do it I will sell it here for you for free.
All you have to do is go to Mixergy.com/leadpages, Mixergy.com/leadpages, create your template -they make it super easy-, start selling it there and people will guy it from you. I guarantee it. Go do it right now, the first five people I’ll make sure we sell them. Nellie, welcome!
Nellie: Thank you, Andrew, for having me!
Andrew: I want to talk about CorpNet. This is the company that you’re doing really well with but I thought we could do his back story. Talk about with one thing with Mycorperation.com, your previous company. Do you remember the day that you sold that business to Intuit?
Nellie: I do like it was yesterday.
Andrew: Okay, what happened?
Nellie: So, you know with larger corporations it’s really hush-hush until the huge announcement comes up and I think we have to wait until about nine or ten O’ clock at night and there were about 50 employees that came across the office into the Radisson Hotel and we were all congromulated [SP] there waiting for the big news and I remember everybody just looking at me asking ‘what’s going on, what’s going on?’ and I said ‘listen, it’s going to be great news. Everyone is going to be in a better place now than we are today’ and finally at I believe it was like nine-thirty or ten pm we made the huge announcement followed by campaign pop.
It was the beginning of a new life for me and my husband but at that time we really didn’t know it because we were both going to be staying on board. We didn’t know the changes that were going to be taking place for us and you know, so we had made the announcement and really the deal was that we were going to stay on board. It was just a witch of bank accounts and we’re going to have the backing and support of Intuit which is a wonderful corporation. I love them. I’m blessed that I got the opportunity to be acquired by them.
Andrew: And you’re basically set for life from that. I’m looking here at their press release from 2005, November 21st 2005 they announced publicly that they bought your business for about 20 million dollars in cash. Did you have any investors on that business or was it all yours?
Nellie: No, none of my businesses, none of my holdings, have ever had any type of partnerships or investors outside whatsoever. The only partner has ever been my soul mate, my husband, and my business partner Phil A Cap.
Andrew: How long have you been married?
Nellie: We’ve been married for 17 years.
Nellie: And, we’ve been together for 21 years, yeah.
Andrew: Wow. So the 20 million dollars goes into your bank account. I remember talking to Barbara Corker and about the day she went to the ATM and saw I think it was 40 million dollars or so on the ATM receipt. Did you have that kind of experience?
Nellie: Well, you know, it’s a little more tricky than that. They hold some money in escrow and we got a chunk of it upfront and yes it did go into our bank account and then immediately into an account so that we were getting interest on it but yes you’re absolutely right.
Andrew: So, did you buy anything fancy with that? A boat, a monocle, a top hat?
Nellie: Oh yes!
Andrew: All of it, huh?
Nellie: I think my husband went a little more crazy than I did. He bought a couple of Harleys. He’s a motorcycle rider so he loves to collect motorcycles. We bought a few nice cars, a couple of toys. I bought a few handbags but how many handbags, how many shoes, how much traveling are you going to do before you get bored? It loses its allure at one point or another and for me that’s really what happened. After my non-compete ran out I was frankly too bored, too young and too passionate to take on an early
Andrew: What’s the difference between the two companies?
Nellie: Absolutely nothing.
Andrew: So you really had to wait for the non-compete.
Nellie: A better environment, different stage of my life, different mindset. I think Phil and I have grown a tremendous amount, both as leaders and people and mentors so same idea, just a different business model and different office structure, different office environment.
Andrew: By office environment, one of the issues that you had with Intuit was the culture changed. Once your business was acquired obviously it is no longer your business that’s why they paid for it. It’s no longer your culture. How did the culture change there and what did you miss?
Nellie: You know I get up every morning, Andrew, and people ask me why I get up every morning and for me it’s really about small business success. Creation, innovation and being passionate about what I do. And as an entrepreneur, when my creativity is boxed I can’t create and I can’t innovate. So although Intuit is a great company for us, it had lost its entrepreneurial spirit so it was time for Phil and I to step down and to let other people take charge and for us to focus on our then growing family which at the time we had twins that were about two and one-half years old and I had just had an infant who was about one year old.
So for us really it was about that entrepreneurial mindset and that culture and it had lost its spirit for us so it was perfect timing for us to really just focus on ourselves as individuals and really better ourselves and really focus on our parenting skills and on our children and we were blessed with the opportunity to do that. But then when time came and our non-compete ran out we really found ourselves being too bored, too young, too passionate and too eager to really, really let our creativity and our passion for entrepreneurship just kind of whittle away.
Andrew: How about this that I think what keeps a lot of people from going back to the same business is; one of the reasons they don’t go back is the environment changes. That if you had a big hit which you did then other people would have seen it and started to create similar companies and then if you’re waiting for three years and then entering the field, you’re entering a field that has experienced successful businesses in it already. I’m looking at one that’s really big right now.
Nellie: Yes. Well, you hit the nail on the head, Andrew. When I started http://www.mycorporation.com it was at the birth and the infancy of the internet. I mean literally we had to purchase our domain name by sending a check, literally a check, to this guy Dayton at Earthlink.
Nellie: When we started http://www.mycorporation.com there were maybe only four companies that were doing the same type of services that we were offering out there in the market place. And then after we launched our business the 800 pound gorilla, known as the famous Legal Zoom came about and they were competing with us. They’re a great set of guys over there that lead that company. I’ve met them. Great company, however, when we sold http://www.mycorporation.com it really created this opportunity for Legal Zoom to create a brand and a foothold for themselves in the incorporation, small business filing.
Andrew: So why didn’t that stop you? Why didn’t you say, “There’s already a gorilla in that space and then there’s another one that we sold our business to. They are very big companies. They are probably doing it okay. Why didn’t that stop you?
Nellie: Because as an entrepreneur I don’t look at obstacles as a stoppage for me. I look at it as an opportunity and I look at it as a way to get around it and how I can go around it and create a niche for myself; and in my world, in my dictionary there’s plenty of business to go around for everybody, it’s how you market yourself-
Andrew: What was going to make you different? It was marketing, and sorry what else?
Nellie: It was basically how we branded ourselves, how we marketed ourselves; and I felt whole in the industry, whereby although there were all these great companies out there, nobody was really listening to the client’s needs when we came out in 2009.
In 2009 we came out at the height of the recession, we came out when there was the zero moment of truth. The birth of the social media age. So people were no longer just going to purchase on the internet. They wanted to know what others are telling about other people’s services on the internet. It’s really about word of mouth and what other people are talking about, about your company.
So we decided, let’s jump on this social media band wagon, that none of my competitors have really gotten a hold of yet, and let’s take that angle. So we came out with a very Web 2.0 type of look and feel with the website. I made myself the brand for the company because, I am a small business expert.
I have over 15 years under my belt. I have probably formed 100’s and 1000’s of companies to date. People connected with me, and then I think it was the personal touch for us, because we under promise and we over deliver. In this day and age, that’s what people want, they don’t want to call a company and just have an automate recording that says; press 1 to connect to sales, press 2 to connect to customer service. They want the answers right there and then.
Andrew: So if I call right now your 800 number, I am not going to get a voice system like that?
Nellie: No, in fact I urge you to call right now.
Andrew: Let’s do it right now.
Nellie: Let’s do it.
Andrew: Alright, here we go, 8-8-8-
Andrew: Calling them right now. [phone rings] Oh is that coming right to you?
Nellie: It comes through the office.
Andrew: [Talks into phone] Hi Samantha, my name is Andrew, and I was wondering if I could talk to the founder, to Nellie.
Andrew: Actually I am on an interview with her right now, and this is being recorded. She told me that you guys don’t have an automated system, and I wanted to test it. She challenged me to and I am testing it right now.
Nellie: Go ahead and tell her to connect you to me .
Andrew: Not at all, alright, well thank you so much for jumping on this call.
Samantha: You are welcome, do you want me to get you over to her?
Andrew: No, actually I am on video Skype with her right now.
Nellie: Tell [??] I say, hi.
Andrew: Thank you, bye. Alright that’s pretty impressive. So the call did go to your desk also.
Andrew: What kind of revenues are you guys doing right now, that the calls still come to your desk?
Nellie: I don’t like to share that information, because my competitors are looking at me; but I can tell you, we are in the 6 digits, and we are a multimillion dollar company.
Andrew: Six digits profit you mean? Because multimillion would mean at least 7 digits, no?
Nellie: We are doing multimillion dollars-
Andrew: -in sales?
Nellie: In sales, correct.
Andrew: Per year.
Nellie: Per year.
Andrew: And the business was just started in 2009, so we are talking about a 5 year old business.
Nellie: Exactly, we have just celebrated our five year.
Andrew: One of the first steps you took was getting the domain name. How did you come up with the name CorpNet, for your business?
Nellie: Frankly, it was the only name that was available on the internet, with a 2 syllable word. So I decided to go for it.
Andrew: Two syllable, and also short, and not a lot of letters.
Nellie: Exactly, and I said you know what, it’s really how we brand that name and it seemed to be the only name that kind of had a ring and really settled with me, so I decided to choose that name.
Andrew: I know you had to buy from someone else, was it expensive?
Nellie: I actually didn’t. I bought it directly.
Andrew: Really? I can see here, I am looking at archives.org; and it looks like was used a few years ago, but I guess that someone just let the domain go.
Nellie: Correct, yes, we are still trying to get variations of it, but they won’t let those variations go. So we’ll see.
Andrew: All right. So you had the domain, you wanted to get out there and get attention. You really are good at getting publicity. What’s the first bit of publicity that you got for your business?
Nellie: Actually the first bit of publicity, it’s such a long time ago. You’re making my brain work today, Andrew!
Nellie: [laughs] So we went to affiliate summit, if I am not mistaken, and I remember having a booth there, and I was being interviewed by Anita Campbell from Small Business Trends. She’s a great friend, a great lady, great small business expert and as I was getting interviewed by her you know, she wrote about me that night after the interview in addition to a few other vendors and bloggers who had come to visit me at our booth and I remember we were in Vegas as a matter of fact and we were sitting at a night club that night with my assistant and my assistant gets a notification on her phone and she says ‘Look! It’s coming to life, it’s coming to life! Look, they’ve written about us!’ So, I’ll never forget and I was actually pregnant at the time!
Nellie: And I was in Vegas so you know along the way we had another child. Ariana is about three years old and so I have four children and when I was, you know, at this Vegas gig and For Affiliate Summit, I was pregnant and I remember I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t really do much and I was hobbling around and Amanda my assistant was like ‘Nellie, look at this!’ and I was so excited and then I looked at her and I said well, she was like ‘we’re going to go celebrate, how about you?’ I’m like no, take me back to my hotel room, but that was really one of the vivid moments for me to realize that oh my god, this is coming to life again, and how exciting is that? But, really, Andrew every day is a celebration for me with Corp Net because I love what I do-
Andrew: Excuse me, why an affiliate summit? If you’re getting started and you’re investing your own money in this business and you want to bring in new customers why did you pick an affiliate summit as a place to start?
Nellie: Because affiliate partners are great to network with and a lot of our competitors get a ton of business through affiliate, you know through their affiliations with other companies.
Andrew: I see, affiliates will promote your business. You figure to give them a percent, okay, and so was it effective for you? Did you on your first time out-
Andrew: You did, you got affiliates?
Nellie: It was, and we still have a great affiliate program and you know we were doing it through two networks, Share Sale and Commission Junction. Now we’re strategically doing it through Share Sale and you know it’s a great, great way to network and promote your business and-
Andrew: Why Share Sale?
Nellie: I just like the people who run it. I like the mindset and I like the fees they charge us and we’ve had a long standing relationship with them. You know, I’m all about loyalty in creating relationships with people and I think it goes around. What goes around comes around and you know Brian Littleton, one of the founders of Share Sale has been a huge supporter of mine since day one and I like his program. I like what he stands for and the actual program itself doesn’t take a lot to manage and you get a ton of business from it.
Andrew: I see, Share Sale is one of your top referrals according to Similarweb.com. Mashable is another one of your top five sources. You started writing articles fairly quickly.
Andrew: That’s where you’re getting a lot of your traffic and credibility to this day. What’s the first big hit that you had with an article that you wrote?
Nellie: It was on Mashable and one of my top, top articles and I don’t recall when I wrote it but it was about doing business in multiple states. That to this day, Andrew brings me a ton of traffic.
Nellie: Oftentimes one of the big questions is ‘if I run a business can I operate it in more than one state?’. So, I decided to write an article about that and decided to share about my experiences and also what are the best ways to operate your business in multiple states so that you can save a ton of money and not get yourself in trouble.
Andrew: I see, there’s another one from 2012. It’s called “LLC or ESCORP, which is right for your start up?” This is how you get attention; this is how you get traffic, where do you come up with the ideas for articles on Mashable?
Nellie: From my clients.
Andrew: What they call you up with most of the- what’s the process?
Nellie: My best resource, Andrew, my best resource is my clientele. I want to change something on my website? I ask my clients.
Andrew: How do you do it?
Nellie: I literally engage with my clients through surveys, through newsletters, I get on the phone, I just call them up ‘hey, we’re thinking about coming up with this product. What do you think about it?’ I take a sample of about ten to fifty people and either myself, my business partner, or a few of our members of our product development team, we get on the phone and we survey people. I mean, literally, roll your hands up and rally the troop and get to work.
Andrew: Give an example of something you called your customers about. Give me an example of a product that your customers in this process helped shape.
Andrew: What’s the question that you had that you took to your customers about packaging?
Nellie: As a small business owner, what is it that you need as far as paperwork to get the incorporation process or the LLC process started? What is it that you’re looking for, and what is it that you’re not getting from what you see out there? And every time, the answer is the same. You know, “I want A, B, and C, and I don’t want..”
Andrew: What is “A, B, and C?” What do they specifically want? I would assume that, by now, after having run one successful company, and, now, helping many other companies incorporate, that you would know what they need. What surprised you?
Nellie: Well, the first thing is that they don’t want to call, and again, get an automated answering machine. They want the answers right there and then. They want to know who they’re talking to has, literally, the tenureship and the expertise to talk to them. Mm-kay, and number three is they don’t want to have a sales spiel, you know, made on them. They don’t want the gimmicks. They want the straight-forward, honest, ethical company who is really there to help them start..
Andrew: That doesn’t seem like much of a surprise. Of course, they’d want the ethical company. What was it about the way they asked you that helped shape the product?
Nellie: Well, for example, a lot of our competition has an 18-page questionnaire that they run..
Andrew: And your people did not want that?
Nellie: No, ours is only, literally, a one-page questionnaire. It’s one page of questions and then the next page is your payment information. Mm-kay. And, literally, to take you through the process it’s which state, what type of business entity, pick it, choose it, choose your packaging, one page of info, and then payment. In and out. So..
Nellie: So what we advertise is what we deliver. Okay. And, we under-promise, and we over-deliver. So that’s what makes us different.
Andrew: So what’s an over-delivery when someone asks for incorporation? Do you say, “Hey, you asked me to incorporate one company, and, now, I just gave you a second one?”
Nellie: Great question.
Nellie: So, it’s mostly with timing.
Nellie: And, also, with the paperwork, and really going the extra mile for them. For example, you know, Corpnet is not a legal, tax, or financial service company. We don’t offer legal, tax, or financial advice. However, if someone really needs a CPA, and they’re stuck in a rut, we will, literally, take the extra mile. We will call, make sure that CPA is right for them, and give them a referral. Let’s say somebody needs something done…
Nellie:..Within 24 hours, we will Federal Express it, or we will private messenger it to their home. I mean there have been times that I’ve had people walk documents to my clients home.
Andrew: I see.
Nellie: Whatever they need, we are here for them for it, because this is our job. Our job is to make people’s life easier when it comes to document filings for their businesses.
Andrew: One more thing about that Nellie – that when the CEO starts calling customers, customers then feel that they can start calling the CEO, too, because, “Hey, Nellie just contacted me asking me for some feedback. I helped her out. Well, I need an issue solved with my business. I’m just going to ring up Nellie.” How do you handle all the inbound follow-ups that come because you’re reaching out to customers so much?
Nellie: I respond to them personally.
Andrew: How can you handle it? That seems like a lot.
Nellie: Why don’t you challenge me on that and you’ll see.
Andrew: [Laughs] No, I know you can. I believe, first of all, I love that you said that, because that does really make me believe it. But, second, I know I have that challenge..
Nellie: [??] I’m a mom. I’m a mother of four and I’m a CEO and I’m an entrepreneur,
Nellie: Which means I work round the clock. It doesn’t mean that I don’t take time off for myself, or I don’t shut off my phone. But my job…I’m in a service industry, and my face, my name is on the homepage of our website.
Nellie: Which means, I put it out there because I want people to know who’s behind the company, and I want people to know that I stand behind what I say and I’m accessible to them. So if they call me, whether it’s through my cell phone or the office line, or through e-mail, they will always get a person..
Andrew: How? How can you manage it all without going nuts?
Nellie: It’s called organization. [laughs]
Andrew: What’s your organization that allows you to do that? I want to copy that?
Nellie: Oh, thank you. I, literally, respond to things as they come across my desk when they come. I don’t let things pile up. I’m an extremely A type personality, and I basically respond to everything like that.
Andrew: As it comes in.
Nellie: As it comes in. It’s all about organization. Come on, I have four children, Andrew, and I run a business.
Andrew: It’s even harder. My guess is that one of the things that you do is that you start to see repeating questions. Probably people ask you the same thing. Should I get an LLC or a C-corp or an S-corp. And you say, here’s an article that I wrote for Mashable. I think it will answer your questions. Is it that?
Andrew: And if it is that, they ask you something that you hadn’t heard of before. Maybe you’ll come up with the answer on the spot, and then file it away for another article. Is that the process?
Nellie: Exactly, exactly. I mean, really it’s a case by case scenario. I don’t like to send automated responses to my clientele because I feel that everything about me and my business CorpNet and our team is so personalized. So I do put a real personal twist to each response because I think that’s what, you know, a little bit of time, a little bit of personalization goes a long way.
And hence the reason why we are where we are today.
Andrew: Do you want to give your email out to the audience and see what they come up with?
Nellie: Absolutely. NAkalop@CorpNet.com.
Andrew: All right. One of the other things you did was I think you tried to hire employees from your past company to bring them over to CorpNet. Is that right?
Nellie: I actually never poached mycorporation.com. I never will. It was out there that we were starting a company. People started coming, you know, out and approaching me as to whether I’d like to hire them on.
Andrew: I see.
Nellie: And one person does work with me from our old company, and she was with me with the old company. And she’s with me today, and we are very blessed and proud to have her as she is an integral part of CorpNet.
Andrew: I see. So you didn’t go back and get other employees.
Nellie: I never poached.
Andrew: It was said there was something like, some investor said, “I’d like to invest in entrepreneurs who get the band back together who go back and get their old employees back and restart the business.
Nellie: Well, it depends, Andrew, because sometimes old blood doesn’t work with a new gig, in my opinion. And this particular person happens to be a chameleon and she changed over time. And for us as entrepreneurs, owners, and owners of a new startup we were in a different mindset. We had changed.
Andrew: How did you change? What was the difference that others couldn’t keep up necessarily?
Nellie: I became smarter. I became less of a people pleaser, and with age you just grow and become more tenured as an individual. And I realized that really clear with people, and you also have to really know what people’s agendas are all about when you’re dealing with them. People hold themselves out to be something and they’re not, and there’s always a different agenda for it.
Andrew: What do you mean? What kind of agendas do people have? What’s an example of one that people had at the last company that you now figured two more …
Nellie: I’m not per se referring to the old company. I’m referring to people in general, you know, especially when you’re starting a business, a new venture. The minute people find out, they want to give you advice. In fact, I wrote an article about this that’s hot off the press, and it should be coming out very soon on Mashable.
And I call it The Five Types of Advisors that you’ll get when starting a new business. And it can be anyone from just knowing it all and not listening to what you’re doing, or it could be someone who’s trying to push you to go into a certain direction where all along their agenda’s something else.
Andrew: By the way, can you hear that? They’re doing construction on my building. My next call after we’re done here… I’m going to have to call into the building and tell them to do construction after hours.
Andrew: They can’t interrupt these interviews. They’re sacred. Construct somewhere else.
Nellie: Don’t worry, you’re preaching to the choir as the guy next door to me is banging on my door telling me to be quiet.
Andrew: Oh really?
Andrew: We’re not even talking that loudly.
Nellie: I know. Go figure.
Andrew: Do you write your own articles, or do you have other people ghost write them
Nellie: No, I write all of them.
Andrew: It’s all you.
Nellie: it’s all me.
Andrew: You wrote a press release. You said when you launch the business, and it got a ton of coverage. What did you say? What is about your press release that gets coverage? Nobody seems to get any coverage for a press release any more.
Nellie: I think it’s my authenticity, Andrew. I think it’s the fact that I’m authentic, I’m genuine, and I say it how it is, and people connect with me. I mean let me tell you. Last week I was at the QB Connect conference; and as I mentioned to you, I still have a great relationship with the folks at Intuit. Intuit just launched their QB Connect; which is for small businesses, and I was there at that conference, and I had the privilege of being amongst a very many elite group of entrepreneurs from, Magic Johnson, to Giuliana Rancic, Bill Rancic, Martha Stewart, and Arianna Huffington.
Arianna Huffington; just like me, gave out her email address and her keynote speech. I decided to reach out to her because my story follows her story line very much the same when it came to our personal lives and the collapses we’ve had. And, you know, I’ve dealt with panic attacks in the last couple of years; in running my business, but look at where I am today. I decided to reach out to her, and because of my genuineness, because of my authenticity, and she replied back. She goes listen, I got about 1,000 emails and the reason why I responded to you was because you were so genuine and authentic in your approach to writing me this email, and you didn’t kiss my ass. Excuse my language; I hope I didn’t break any rules. But you were just so genuine and authentic and I think in running a small business; I have a point to this, authenticity is the key.
Andrew: Panic Attacks.
Nellie: That’s what sets you apart.
Andrew: What gave you a panic attack at Corp Net?
Nellie: So, in the last year, I, you know the business was going through some highs and lows; and of course this is my second baby, so as an entrepreneur your business is an extension of you. We were at a point where our top line was growing so much, but for a period of like probably three to six months we were just not making any profits. It affected me so much, Andrew that I couldn’t even literally sit behind the wheel of my car and drive my kids to school. Finally, I decided to make a really bold move and I cut all advertising on Google; all paid advertising. I said you know what; leaders take bold moves and make bold decisions. My intuition and my gut instinct has always been my BFF, in any business dealing I’ve have ever ran, in any of my businesses that I have ever dealt with.
So I decided to just listen to my gut instinct and cut all paid search advertising to see all of the efforts that I have put forth and all the articles I have written, all the press releases I’ve done, and all the outlets that am in currently. How much business and how branding have they’ve really created for me. And guess what? My company increased by 40% in profitability over the last six months.
Andrew: Because you cut out your expenses?
Nellie: I cut out $100,000 a month in advertising to Google, who I call my non-profit corporation. I mean I worked for Google back then, you know, and do I pay that? No.
Andrew: I see now.
Nellie: In all candor the only thing I do through Google is brand advertising; which is, you know, I pay for brand, so if somebody types in Corp Net you’ll see our ads pop up. But that’s not even like $50 a day, seriously. So, and I realize that my panic attacks were directly correlated to the level of stress I had in my daily life and in running the business the way I was running it; because today I’ve a profitable business. I have a business that probably three or four people have already approached us wanting to acquire us and we just say no. Because with this business, I don’t know what I want to do yet. All I know is that I’m still creating and I’m still innovating and I love my small business and I love blazing other people’s trails and making other people’s small business dreams into a reality.
Andrew: Let me unpack what you said. First of all I’ve never had a panic attack but I’ve had incredible stress, I’ve had my mind wander to places where it shouldn’t because it was just going to distract me from what I wanted to do. What happens when you go through a panic attack? Mentally, what do you go through?
Nellie: For me it’s also about everything is closing in on me, and I can’t get a breath. I can’t take a deep breath. I mean, it’s like, you know, I can’t breathe.
Andrew: By everything is it the thoughts, like I have all these expenses. We’re not making money. I have all these obligations. It’s just too much, or is it more of a feeling of something nearly physical that overtakes you
Nellie: It’s nearly physical.
Andrew: Nearly physical. I see, okay.
Nellie: Yeah, and it mainly happens … Well, for me it main happened when I was sitting behind the wheel of my car. And oftentimes it happened when I was sitting at a red light and feeling like I was being boxed in with a car in front of me, a car behind me, and having no outlet to get out of. And then I would just literally pull aside, call my husband, and be like, “Hey, I can’t drive. I can’t breathe.”
And the fear for me was always passing out behind the wheel of my car because it’s happened to me once.
Andrew: Oh wow. From panic attacks.
Nellie: Back then. The fear is still there, but I was pregnant with twins, and I passed out behind the wheel of my car. Actually, on my way to my baby shower.
Nellie: So I missed the baby shower, yeah. But the fear is still there, and it’s still there, but, you know, for me it directly correlates with just not taking time out myself, being completely stressed out, being preoccupied, and just not taking the steps that I need to take care of myself because if I am not in a good place, then I’m not able to make good decisions as a leader and former teammate.
Andrew: What do you say to somebody in the audience who says, “If I ever sold my company for $20 million money in the bank, there’d be nothing for me to worry about because I could always just know that I have that safety net.
Andrew: What do you say to someone who says that?
Nellie: Well, first of all, in all transparency $20 million is what we received in cash, but guess how much of it goes to Uncle Sam?
Andrew: Let’s suppose half. I imagine someone says to themselves right now, “Right. Maybe just one is left. That should give you a cushion.” What about that?
Nellie: Well, again, it’s a case by case scenario. For us I have a ton of obligations. I have four children, you know, and as parents we’ve decided that our kids go to a specific school. They’re fully involved in after school activities, and we are accustomed to a specific lifestyle. But at the same time my current company has been funded with everything I have from my past company.
Andrew: I see. So it’s not like you’re sitting back with a whole lot of … I see.
Andrew: Right. You cut back on your advertising, and you said that your business potential… It wasn’t just advertising. You also had to let people go. I remember having to let people go in my last company because the company didn’t grow fast enough. That’s the worst reason. The best reason is to let someone go because they stole something. Then it’s a clear cut, “Hey, the security guard is right there. He’s escorting you out. Get out of here, and it feels really easy and vindicated.”
But it’s when the business isn’t supporting this kind of growth, that’s hard. What was it like for you to let people go.
Nellie: I got out there, and it was a very emotional day. Listen, in business you’re not always going to be riding on top of the wave. There’s going to be highs and lows. And for us in this business, and I say this wholeheartedly I’ve never had more gray hair in my life which obviously it’s colored. But I’ve never had more gray hair in my life in starting and running CorpNet than I’ve had in running any of my other companies.
To me mycorporation.com was a breeze. I mean, we were truly blessed with this opportunity, and oftentimes people come up to me and they say the lightning does not strike twice. I am completely 100% in this agreement with that because lightning does strike twice if you have the vision, if you have the passion, if you have the determination, okay? And if you have the discipline.
So back to your question, a business you’re going to have highs, you’re going to have lows, and for me that low day was the day that I had to look at my team and cut some people. And, again, I had to do that because I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today had I not made that decision a year ago.
Andrew: I get it. And that’s the kind of thing, did you procrastinate? I procrastinated on that.
Nellie: I did.
Andrew: Right? And here’s what I told myself.
Nellie: I fought my husband every day. I threw tables at him. You know, I have to tell you. [laughs] We’re very open about our relationship when it comes to running a small business. And we love each other to death. We’re both only children, and we actually have the same birthday. But in business, you know, we’re partners. And sometimes we don’t agree. And this was something that I would completely fight him on was not cutting advertising and not letting anyone go.
But Phil, if you’re listening to this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart because we wouldn’t be here today if I had not listened to you.
Andrew: What was your reason for doing it? Not the reason you told him, but what was the reason that you think you disagreed with him on that?
Nellie: I was scared.
Andrew: You were scared of what?
Nellie: I was scared that I was going to cut all my ads, and I was not going to get one visitor to the site.
Andrew: Mm. And what kept those visitors coming then?
Nellie: It was my brand. It was all my social media. It was everything that I’m doing socially, engaging out there. As a result of all my contributions, all the outlets that I contribute content to, our affiliate partnerships, our partnerships, our word of mouth.
We have built a brand for ourselves because of who we are and what we do and what we stand for. And I was too stubborn to try it out, and frankly I just said, “You know what? What do I have to lose because it’s either going broke and having to look at everyone that’s working here today.”
And believe me, I get very emotional because every one of these people, in my opinion, they’re beautiful. They’re loyal. They’re ethical. And they love small business just like I do. They’re an extension of me. So it was deciding between letting more people go or taking this chance and seeing what happens.
Andrew: And I see. Now a lot of your traffic comes from, let me see here. We talked about ShareSale.com, Mashable, BizSugar which is like a Reddit for businesses, for small businesses, SmallBizTrends, BenjaminGrandEntrepreneur.com [SP], Salon.com, the MogulMom.com, Arefolio.com [SP]. This is all you., your relationships through affiliates or through content that you work with them on.
Andrew: That’s the thing. Do you feel like you’re going to exhaust yourself? You’re answering calls. You’re answering emails. You’re doing this interview. You’re writing, and you’re running the business. I don’t know how you do it.
Nellie: You know, Andrew, I think it’s your mindset, and it’s about what you’re passionate about. In fact, I haven’t even told you what’s next on my plate.
Andrew: What is next on your plate?
Andrew: I mean, what’s next on your plate for today after this?
Nellie: [laughs] No, you always say like, how do you do all this? I’m in the process of building out my own website as we speak.
Andrew: Oh, I see.
Nellie: Yeah, and I’m coming out with two books as we speak that are going to be on shelves very soon. So this is my life. I love it.
Andrew: What is your basis for doing all this? I know what my motivation was. We talked about how I grew up in New York, and in New York everyone seemed to have built this great business and going out and dating and doing all this fun stuff. And I felt like I just didn’t even know how to penetrate any of that. I was a big loser going to Brooklyn Tech and not knowing anything about how to relate or how to build or how to leave a legacy or leave a mark.
And I was too much of a chicken to actually even scratch my name onto the desk as a way to leave a mark. So I said I’ll build a business. What was it for you? What’s your motivation? You seem well adjusted.
Nellie: My four children and truly, truly making a difference in the world and really, really when I look at someone’s face when they have nothing. And when they listen to me and take the steps and how I see their life change within a few months, that to me is everything I need to keep me inspired and keep me going.
Because I come from nothing, and everything I have is truly because of everything I’ve done to get to where I am today.
And that to me, in and of itself, is small business success is when you get to create and innovate and make a successful business and touch people’s lives , touch people’s emotion. And I have to do that because I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today had I not made that decision a year ago…
People’s lives touch people’s emotions, provide the opportunity for other people to gain employment, create job opportunities out there. What else is there? I mean doesn’t that in and of itself inspire you?
Andrew: It does, and I do feel the same sense of I built this, I’m not letting it get taken away from me or I’m not going to allow it to disappear because I’m not going to fight for it every day. You come from a background where you were involved in your family’s businesses. They had a restaurant and ice cream shop, what did you learn from working in those businesses?
Nellie: Hard work, consistency, literally rolling your hands up, working, and being involved with your team because a great company is not because if a great leader. A great company, in my opinion, is a sum of all its parts. Of course, I’m the first one who opens this company in the morning and I’m the first one who’s here, and I’m the last one to leave. Okay, because that’s the example I want to set for my team but this company is not where it is today because of me. It’s here because of everybody who works out there.
Andrew: How many people are you up to? You, Phil-
Nellie: We have ten people in the office and then I have a ton of people that work remotely with me.
Andrew: And it’s ten full-time people from the office.
Andrew: Wow. You know what, for me I remember actually I used to work in my dad’s store. He sold ten dollar pants on Myrtle Ave. in Brooklyn. One of the things I learned is I’m never going to do this small time stuff. It just was not worth it; you stand there and you help a customer out and once the customer is done you get your ten dollars and maybe they come back for the refund maybe they don’t but all you talk about is ten dollars at a time. It’s draining work.
Nellie: But, but, but… it taught you something didn’t it?
Andrew: To think bigger.
Andrew: Cut out- yes it really did! That and you know what else it taught me that I really could sell because if I’m not talking to someone who’s coming in for ten dollars. These aren’t people who are… if you’re spending ten dollars it’s not a casual expense. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. If I could bring a little bit of charm to the conversation, if I could actually have the guts to go over and talk to them and it took a while to develop it then I could sell them a ten dollar pair of pants. I felt like alright, maybe I’ve got some persuasion skills, maybe I am like those entrepreneurs I read about. I’ll go and use this somewhere bigger but at least I’ve proven to myself I’ve got it internally and that helps tremendously.
Nellie: Listen, in my opinion with every failure, with every trial or turbulence there’s a hidden blessing inside of it. I’m not here today… let me rephrase that I’m here today because of the path that I took in my life and the path that I took in my life was full of obstacles.
Andrew: And look, here’s an obstacle to talk about, and opportunity within obstacles, in 2009 you guys made a mistake with pricing. What was the mistake and then what was the realization that came from that?
Nellie: We came out and decided oh, we’re going to follow everything we did in the past but what worked then is not going to work now.
Andrew: So what is he going to do?
Nellie: We changed everything around.
Andrew: What do you mean by… with pricing does it mean that you accidentally increased pricing or did you follow people that reduced your pricing? What did you do with pricing?
Nellie: That’s a great question, so not only did we increase our pricing but we actually changed our models so our model with our old company was always an A la carte package where it was a single price. There was not like a ABC package so with our previous companies it was just an A la carte model where you want to incorporate it’s 99 dollars plus state fees and you get to add on whatever you want. The climate has changed. Times have changed. So, we decided when we launched Corp Net to come back with the same exact pricing model. It’s didn’t work!
Andrew: Why didn’t it work?
Nellie: because everybody compares us to Legal Zoom. I mean, Legal Zoom is a great… it’s become the household brand and they’ve done a phenomenal job at it and in my opinion it’s great advertising for me.
Nellie: Because they look at Legal Zoom, and then they look at Corp Net and they call us ‘what makes you different from Legal Zoom?’
Nellie: That’s the number one-
Andrew: And what do you say makes you different from Legal Zoom?
Nellie: Well, it’s our pricing. You get more bang for your buck. It’s our personal service. It’s the fact that it is we are solely dedicated to small business to small business and anything and everything to do with small business in addition to the fact that we have great reviews. I mean you know.
Andrew: I see you are saying one of the things you have learnt was don’t sell ala carte. That’s not an easy way to compete with these bigger guys. And what’s better is to have a package that includes everything that an entrepreneur needs to start his business. And that way they could compare a big basket to this little flimsy one off. Is that it?
Nellie: Customers want choices. But when you are providing a service in a saturated industry that becomes fairly commoditized and it becomes a commodity, you need to have your packaging as such that’s when they are comparing apples to oranges or apple to apples that its very clearly defined and delineated as to what it is they are getting with your service versus the competition.
Andrew: I see. How does legal Zoom do it. They do packages too?
Nellie: They do packages.
Andrew: I see. If you are going to help your customers compare Apples to Apples, you want to have a package just like they have a package and then you want to add more to yours that differentiates you from theirs.
Nellie: Of course.
Andrew” I see that’s the difference. That and when the phone rings, you want to be able to say CEO can hear the phone ring and pick it up where no other company is going to do that. It’s not going to be some guy overseas who is going to try to answer your questions.
Nellie: Well. This is not to say that Mr Salk (SP) Mr John Salk, the CEO of Legal Zoom, you know, should do that or not. But this is just the way I run my business. I have the capacity I have the organization skills. And I stand behind my company and I am I the face of my company. And I like to have a personal relationship with my clientele
Andrew: Let me just ask one more question to just get the facts right on this. I feel like sometimes t I intimidate the interviewee in to [??]. I don’t want that. Earlier when I asked what’s your revenue, you gave me a number and then I don’ want you to feel like I have to say it’s a multi-million dollar a year in sales business, just because that’s what I am expecting. Is it, Are you doing multiple million in sales a year now? 2014, you did that.
Andrew: All right.
Nellie: And Andrew, You don’t intimidate me.
Andrew: I don’t intimidate you.
Nellie: You didn’t intimidate me. I actually, I am very much enjoying this conversation.
Andrew: I am glad. What about a couple of times, when I cut you off? I think I irritated a few people my audience who hate when I cut off my guest.
Nellie: No that was just a hint to me that I am going on and on.
Nellie: [Laughs] No I had a really, really fun experience with you on this podcast and I am actually honored and humbled at the same time that I had the opportunity to share my experience as a small business owner entrepreneur with your audience. And truly, truly, you know, my voice, my inspiration, my passion, and the message that want to share with all the entrepreneurs out there is the fact that if you have an idea if you have a business idea or if you have an existing business and you are having problems you know or doubts or doubting yourself, just do a SWOT analysis about yourself. Really checking with yourself. Remember it’s not all about the hype. There is going to be turbulences in running a small business. And that’s really when we realize are we really made out to be entrepreneurs.
Andrew: It’s a good way to look at it. I sometimes feel like why I can’t just have at least the base line. My friends who have jobs have this baseline. They could at least count on a certain salary every day every week every month. I just want to be doing that and the rest be bonus. And
Nellie: But really what kind of job security is there been having a salary. I mean really is there any job security in having…
Andrew: No. But it feels like. It’s enough to deluge yourself which is sometimes nice. But I like the way you said it. In those low moments that’s when you really find out who are. In those low moments that’s when you earn your spot in the top and that’ what it’s about. And it’s not necessarily an indication that you are wrong for the business or the business is wrong for you. It means that you have go to step it up the way you did, look at things little differently. I am inspired that you talked about it.
I was surprised that you were willing to talk so openly about your, the emotional part. Being in a car and not being able to drive or passing out how tough it was to let people go about how was your husband’s idea that you should cut your that you should cut back on your [??] and about how you are even willing to say that you dye your hair. Most entrepreneurs are not willing to be that open. I admire that.
Nellie: And for the record. I am forty-three years old. See I don’t even have a problem with my age.
Andrew: Way to go, that’s pretty early to go gray. That really must be an issue then.
Nellie: Thanks a lot [Laughs].
Andrew: Thanks you so much for doing this. The web site is if anyone wants to call them up and make sure that they are really there and really can incorporate for them, the website is corpnet.com. [??] Thank you so much for doing this interview.
Nellie: Thank you.
Andrew: Thank you for being a part of it.