Q&A with Deborah Sweeney, Attorney-Turned-CEO of MyCorporation.com
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I am the CEO of MyCorporation.com. I grew up in Southern California and my undergraduate degree is in Criminology and Psychology. I also went to law school for my JD and have an MBA from Pepperdine University. Before I owned my own business, I was a partner at a Los Angeles law firm. I later went in-house for one of my clients and managed the MyCorporation division at Intuit as their GM.
What inspired you to start your business?
While I was managing the MyCorporation division at Intuit in 2008, Intuit was divesting small businesses. I was watching my division being affected in the process as less and less was invested in our marketing. I didn’t know what was going to happen next — not to me, the employees at MyCorporation, or to the business. During this economic slowdown, I began discussing with my husband the possibility of offering to buy out MyCorporation from Intuit. We met with our bankers, I proposed the idea semi-informally to my boss, and I put together a presentation on how MyCorporation could thrive outside of Intuit.
I met formally with Intuit leadership afterward where I made my offer to purchase the business out if they were interested in selling or divesting to me. Six months later, the leadership came to me to suggest that I present the options for divestiture — close the division, sell to another company, or sell to me. About a month after I presented the leadership with more documentation on how I could make all of this happen in 2009, I received the greatest phone call of my life. Intuit offered to sell MyCorporation to me and make me the sole owner. And I enthusiastically accepted the offer!
Where is your business based?
Greetings from Los Angeles — Calabasas, California, to be specific!
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
The purchase of MyCorporation was certainly one of the first steps I took to becoming the owner of a small business. Rather than bring on any outside investors, I mortgaged my house and bootstrapped the purchase of the company. Running a lean business was not easy and meant making sacrifices on everything from cutting back staff to penny-pinching my own personal spending habits. However, I could do it and did!
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
When raising awareness of your business, the most important thing to focus on is your ROI. Early on in my business career, I spent an astronomical amount to build our brand and realized a few years in that some of our marketing expenditures were ROI negative. We were focused on growth, but I wasn’t paying attention to ROI and on a significant amount of our marketing, we were losing money. We went back to the drawing board and reexamined which initiatives provided the most return on investment versus those that did not and cut the ones that didn’t. My suggestion to all new entrepreneurs is to pay strict attention to ROI. Know where you are spending your hard earned marketing dollars and how that investment is paying off.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
I have a legal background which is unconventional for an entrepreneur and also means my initial knowledge of entrepreneurship was more limited. I overcame this challenge by letting each piece of my education enable me and contribute to my success in business. When I was a practicing attorney, having my business degree was a differentiating factor in the practice of law. When I went in-house and our company was acquired by Intuit, I was running a division of the company that offered legal services.
As an entrepreneur, my law degree continues to be valuable when I execute contracts, negotiate deals, and when I work with my employees. Similarly, my business degree has been invaluable when I think about our profits and losses, strategies, and mission.
How do you stay focused?
I credit the to-do list (especially one written on Post-it Notes) for helping to keep my thoughts organized and stay on the right track with my daily workload. I also meditate and take Pilates classes, spend time with my family and friends, and unplug where I can to rest and recharge.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
We pride ourselves on our personalized customer service. We listen to and encourage feedback from customers on how we can improve their overall experience.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
We work to form strategic partnerships with other like-minded companies. By creating partnerships, we’re able to best serve customer needs and establish a mutually beneficial partnership that works for each company and its customers.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
“Lead from within, not from out front.” I have always liked this advice on how to control a business without being controlling. If you try to run everything yourself, you’ll eventually crash and burn. Empower and trust your team to keep the business humming without you micromanaging
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
App: Mint. I love this app because it gives me the ability to see exactly where the money I'm spending is going and sends me an alert when I'm about to reach the end of my budget. It allows me to be more mindful of my finances and proactive about the process, so I can take control to curb unnecessary spending now that I know how it all adds up.
Blog: The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) blog is an amazing resource for any entrepreneur looking to start a small business or grow an existing one.
Book: Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. This is one of my favorite business books because it has a positive impact on how entrepreneurs run their business. The theme of the book is that it's all about thinking differently and not following the crowd, which is admittedly something that happens more often than one realizes in business. It inspires you to think for yourself and create an opening that others do not see. In doing so, you can create your own space rather than follow the space of others and march to the beat of your own drum!
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
I love using Evernote to jot down moments that inspire without forgetting about it later, which I feel often happens if I write something quickly into my iPhone’s notes section. If I’m out and about and see something that sparks a lightbulb moment within me, I’ll make the note in Evernote and know that it will be accessible — and impossible to forget! — whether I’m on my phone, tablet, or laptop.
Who is your business role model? Why?
Oprah Winfrey! From her talk show to Weight Watchers and even a rumored run for Presidency, she transcends all business models.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
In the next six months, we will continue to evolve partnerships and build digital service products. We also have fun initiatives planned for our employees too… stay tuned!
How can our readers connect with you?