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How My Untraditional Background Allowed Me to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

Learn how your non-business background can still make you an amazing small business owner or entrepreneur with Deborah Sweeney’s story of going from a lawyer to a full-time entrepreneur and small business owner.
Many entrepreneurs can tell you about their “Eureka!” moment. This is the moment where they came up with a unique idea. This idea could solve problems and make lives easier for customers. It’s the same idea that gives them the confidence to start a small business and begin the journey towards becoming an entrepreneur.

My entrepreneurial journey is a bit different. I didn’t start a business from scratch. I bought a business out from a publicly traded company in 2009.

I grew up in Southern California, attended Pepperdine University and graduated with a JD, and was a practicing lawyer at a SoCal law firm. In 2004, I left the firm to join Intuit as their in-house GM. This is where I managed a division called MyCorporation. Little did I know this business division would later become my business!

The odds weren’t always in my favor. I had an unusual education background, and I purchased a business during the Great Recession. Over the last 12 years, my team and I have also been challenged by disasters beyond our control. We’ve now lived and worked through two economic recessions, the Woolsey wildfire in 2018 which directly impacted our headquarters, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Through it all, we are still standing with more resilience and grit than ever before. Besides hard work, I like to think that my having a unique background has allowed us to achieve success in business.

So, how did I go from being a ‘legal’ person in a business world to buying a business and embracing an entrepreneurial career?

Buying a Business in a Recession

In 2008, I was managing the MyCorporation division at Intuit as their GM. The United States in the midst of a serious financial crisis and it was impacting our division. Intuit was divesting small businesses and I was watching my division being affected in the process as less and less was invested in our marketing.

The stress of MyCorporation being unable to perform at a rate sufficient to make the Intuit leadership team happy began to manifest in me. I was seeing a doctor for anxiety and felt like I was worried all the time. I had left a previous job as an attorney for this position and had a family, including two sons, to support. What was going to happen to me, the employees at MyCorporation, and to the business?

In the midst of all this uncertainty, a path to entrepreneurship was beginning to open up. My unconventional legal background was working to shape me into the entrepreneur I was meant to become.

Follow Your Small Business Dreams

During the 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 afterwards where I made my offer to purchase the business out if they were interested in selling or divesting to me.

After that meeting, I waited for an answer. Six months later, the leadership came to me to suggest that I present the options for divestiture. These were to close the division, sell to another company, or… sell the business to me.

The butterflies began swirling around in my stomach with excitement. While I knew it was important to be as objective as possible, I knew that I wanted to buy this business more than anything else. I believed in the business, the customers, and employees and wanted nothing more than to receive the opportunity to grow and manage this company. The risks were the highest they had ever been in my life, but I knew that with a combination of hard work, a strong team, and a positive attitude, I could do this.

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.

I accepted their offer with an enthusiastic “Yes!”

How My Background Contributed to My Entrepreneurial Success

A lot has changed since I received that phone call, both at MyCorporation and in my own life.

The transition was difficult in the beginning. I went from having a great salary to bootstrapping every possible expense. I had to rebrand the business to better define who we were again. I needed to learn how to balance patience with ownership, knowing that not everything could get done right in that exact second. And even though I was an entrepreneur in the same industry where I spun my business out of Intuit (helping business owners incorporate or form LLCs), I had a limited knowledge of entrepreneurship since I had not done anything like it before.

Then and now, I am able to overcome challenges by reflecting on what my parents had taught me as a child. You become what you believe you will become.

Rather than see my background and occasional gaps of knowledge as something that could hinder me, I let it enable me. I have an undergraduate degree in Criminology and Psychology, went to law school for my JD, and got an MBA afterwards. Each piece of my education has contributed 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 P&L, strategies, and mission.

We’re still going strong and thriving every day. Much of that is because I have been able to lead by being myself. You can teach the nuts and bolts of business ownership to someone, but so much of it ties in with your personality.

Through it all, I have been sincere when working alongside everyone I encounter, from customers to team members. I listen, engage, and communicate in an honest and trustworthy fashion.

In the end, I actually believe this is why Intuit sold me the business. Their leaders understood and trusted that I would run the company in a way that would benefit customers and employees as they spun out to become my customers and employees. I learned at Intuit that if you focus on the customers, shareholders, and employees, things will be right. It’s a bit of corporate wisdom that has never failed me or my business. We continue to grow, and I believe it is due, in large part, to my focus on respect for others, kindness and freedom to let employees “do their thing.” And I’m telling you, it works!

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 Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.

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