Nellie Akalp was still in law school when she and her husband, Phil, started a small business with a simple goal: helping other small businesses deal with all the legal paperwork they needed to get started.
Their company, which they launched from their southern California apartment in 1997 at the height of the technology dot-com boom, became so successful they made a killing selling it in 2005.
The Akalps thought they could kick back and retire, but nope.
“We were too young, too motivated, too passionate,” Nellie Akalp tells NerdWallet.
So in 2009 they plunged back in.
That’s when they started another small business, CorpNet, which, like their first venture, helps fellow entrepreneurs prepare and file documents to start a business.
CorpNet, which has 10 employees, offers a range of services related to such business processes as incorporating a company, registering a trademark and applying for business licenses and permits.
The cost varies depending on the state, but a basic package starts at $79, Akalp says. It generally takes 15 to 20 days to set up a business in most states. It could be longer in some places like California, where the process could extend to three months, she says.
If you’re a CorpNet customer, Akalp’s team would handle all the applications and all the key steps involving county and state agencies, she says. “We handle everything from A to Z,” she says.
And CorpNet can help you avoid some key common mistakes, Akalp says.
Take the process of choosing a name for your small business. “Before printing business cards and letterheads,” Akalp cautions, you must check if the name you picked for your company is already taken. And if the name is available, meaning it’s yours to claim and use, don’t forget to register it, she says. After all, “that name becomes an asset of your company.”
It’s such an important asset you really have to think hard about your choice. For instance, CorpNet urges you to “watch out for language/cultural pitfalls.”
“A business name like ‘Get Nailed’ may not be the ideal name for a carpenter,” the company website quips. And while it’s smart to go with a descriptive name, the company says, you should also avoid being “too specific that you might box your brand in should you decide to expand what you offer down the road.”
The Akalps offer many more tips and tricks to anyone planning to start a business, knowledge culled from their own rich experiences as serial entrepreneurs.
It’s an impressive journey.
Nellie Akalp was a law student at the University of La Verne, and Phil had just graduated from Pepperdine University Law School when they saw the potential of the nascent World Wide Web.
Realizing that the salary of an entry-level lawyer was “so low it wasn’t going to support the lifestyle we envisioned,” Nellie Akalp says she and her husband decided to start a small business, which meant putting up a one-page website.
That cost $100 and allowed them to start offering incorporation services to small businesses.
It wasn’t exactly a sophisticated operation, especially compared to what they have today. To process payments, they used their apartment answering machine. Customers “would call the answering machine and leave credit card information,” Nellie Akalp recalls.
But it was a new service that quickly gained attention from entrepreneurs looking for help in starting a business, she says. “When my husband and I look back, we really did not have to do much to gain clients,” she says.
By the time they sold the business, it was “a multimillion-dollar company,” she says.
Launching CorpNet in 2009 was a tougher experience, she says. For one thing, they were starting a small business in the middle of a recession. By then, the web had also evolved into a bigger, more competitive marketplace. “I feel that I’ve worked harder in building my current company,” she says.
But in many ways, her mission is the same as when she first started out, to aid the entrepreneur who may find the process of starting a business complicated and daunting.
“You come us and we take care of everything,” she says. “We take the hassle out of you having to deal with the state office or the county.”
For more information about how to start and run a business, visit NerdWallet’s Small Business Guide. For free, personalized answers to questions about starting and financing your business, visit the Small Business section of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor page.
Photo of CorpNet client Richard Giorla of Cardio Barre and CEO Nellie Akalp courtesy of CorpNet.