For many entrepreneurs eager to start their own business, simply completing and filing the proper forms to get off the ground can be a daunting challenge. Once you decide which business structure to choose, the process of filing the paperwork--and, of course, finding the startup cash to pay for it--can be overwhelming.
Enter MyCorporation, a Los Angeles-based business that provides incorporation and LLC formation assistance for businesses in all 50 states. MyCorporation is an online resource for securing the proper legal business startup, maintenance, reporting and documentation--including intellectual property protection.
Having shepherded MyCorporation on its journey from small-business enterprise to corporate ownership by an industry Goliath--and back again to its small-business roots--I've learned that running a business not only takes tremendous agility and a willingness to take risks, but also that sometimes you have to go with your gut and follow your instincts--even when it isn't easy.
From Small Business to Corporate Division
MyCorporation was founded in 1998 by several of my law school classmates to fill what at the time was a void in the industry for reliable, secure, legal business documentation services. I served as outside general counsel and, later, as internal business affairs manager. At the height of the dotcom boom, the small company built a solid reputation for its ease and affordability in supporting the rapid evolution of internet-based business development. Unlike LegalZoom and other online legal aid sites, MyCorporation focuses exclusively on business startup and ongoing legal filings--a unique niche that eventually attracted the attention of small-business champion and software giant Intuit.
Impressed by MyCorporation's focus on providing startup assistance and its reputation for exceptional customer service, Intuit--best-known for its QuickBooks and Quicken software--made a bid to purchase MyCorporation in 2005.
To the business software giant, MyCorporation offered an opportunity to engage business customers in the Intuit product lifecycle at a much earlier stage and secure an ongoing revenue stream with MyCorporation's annual filing services and its long-term customer relationships. For MyCorporation's owners, an acquisition by Intuit was a major milestone in validating the success and ongoing potential of the service. It also provided an opportunity to leverage Intuit's expertise in the small-business arena to help grow MyCorporation.
For all the horror stories I'd heard about how difficult a merger or acquisition can be, the transition went remarkably well, as both parties shared a common desire to maintain autonomy going forward. Intuit immediately integrated MyCorporation's services into a comprehensive suite of online business products that included both incorporation/LLC and documentation services alongside Intuit's financial management offerings.
The former owners opted not to stay on following the acquisition, so I was tapped to oversee the new division at Intuit. As a former partner with Michelman & Robinson LLP and co-owner of a clothing manufacturing business with my husband, I aimed to bring a unique perspective and deep understanding of entrepreneurs' needs to the newly formed corporate division. Not only did I understand the law and legal requirements, but I was also keenly aware that legal fees for new businesses can often be cost-prohibitive.
Staying True to the Mission
Throughout the merger and afterward, my team and I worked very hard to maintain MyCorporation's ease of use, outstanding customer service and agility to serve customers in all 50 states--often in as little as 48 hours. Our goal: Make incorporating, annual business filings, legal agreements and tax-related notifications easy and painless.
MyCorporation soon began to feel uncomfortable in its new skin. As part of a multibillion-dollar company, my team felt stymied, unable to remain nimble and adaptable to meet our small-business customers' needs.
Intuit excels at product research and development, which often results in longer time to market than we were accustomed to. MyCorporation, on the other hand, has always been a master of test-and-launch strategies that allow us to deliver the services customers need when they need them. Tax and corporate structure laws change often, and necessary updates frequently got stuck in the Intuit R&D cycle. Often, by the time these updates were made on MyCorporation's site, either the law or the market's need had changed and we'd missed it--a situation that was undesirable for both MyCorporation and Intuit.
While Intuit supported our mission, it soon became obvious that we needed to part ways. Retaining the opportunity to work as partners, rather than continuing the ownership-based relationship, proved to be more appealing to both parties--especially given the economic conditions at the time. Intuit had been hit hard by the economic slowdown and already had begun laying off staff and cutting back. I saw MyCorporation at risk.
Powerful Partnerships--A Solid Foundation
In 2009, I purchased the MyCorporation division from Intuit and set about reclaiming the nimble positioning that had made us a success. A key component of this transition was--and continues to be--our focus on delivering exceptional customer service, which we do by building strong partnerships wherever possible. I believe very strongly in the power of leveraging the collective resources of partners for mutual benefit. We've addressed this on both an internal level with employees and externally with our customers and partners.
Inside the organization, we work very hard to ensure that our employees feel valued and appreciated, gain satisfaction from their work and are happy with the environment in which they do it. Their positive demeanor comes through loud and clear to our customers, who appreciate that our employees truly are happy to help them with their startup and ongoing filing needs.
Outside the company, we focus on creating strong partnerships with organizations that fulfill a need for our customers. With MyCorporation, it's been my philosophy to focus on our core competencies--startup and ongoing business filings--and perform them exceptionally well. For the rest, we build connections that make sense, just as we've done with Intuit. We've also built a growing affiliate program that not only helps expand our reach, but provides value-added service offerings to our affiliates--again, a mutual benefit.
We strive to build long-term relationships with our customers. First, we help them understand the filing process, timelines and ongoing documentation needs--with the goal not only of making it easy, but also saving them money. Then, we promote our customers' success by sharing case studies with our growing customer community--a lesson we learned while under the Intuit umbrella. By touting our customers' successes, we not only demonstrate how our services played a role, but also share the benefits of their products and services with our other customers in the hopes of making additional partnerships. You might say it's our way of paying it forward, and it has definitely been a key factor in our success.
Having come full circle, the company and I are now happy and comfortable in our own skin. While we are grateful to have Intuit as such a strong partner, we are also now keenly aware that bigger isn't always better. For me, it's been a distinct privilege to have a front-row seat to the launch of so many new businesses. The ultimate reward is the satisfaction that comes from supporting the entrepreneurs who fuel commerce.
Deborah Sweeney is CEO and owner of Calabasas, Calif.-basedMyCorporation, an online legal and business filing service focusing on entrepreneurs and the small-business community.