Sramana: Let’s talk about your complicated journey through corporate structures. Who founded this company, and how was it funded in the beginning?
Deborah Sweeney: The company was founded by a law school classmate of mine. It was really funded by company growth, so it was bootstrapped. One client turned to a second client. The founders originally operated out of their apartment, and we lived in the same apartment complex. I was working in a law firm and continued to support them from a legal standpoint. The business just grew and grew and grew. Five years into the business, Intuit came into the mix.
Sramana: What year was that? How big was the company?
Deborah Sweeney: The business was founded in 1999 and went through 2004. In the very beginning of 2004, Intuit came into the mix, and MyCorporation was making $4 million of revenue. Intuit acquired it for $20 million. The financials were nominal from their perspective. It was a unique time for us as a company, because I never thought I would work in that type of large corporate environment. I call them the best and worst years of my life.
I never expected or bargained on working in a small business, and suddenly I find myself running a division for a large company. It was a phenomenal work environment. There were excellent people at Intuit. It was a very good learning experience. You also learn how difficult it is to work and be have an impact in a large corporate environment. When we wanted to change our website or do minor tasks that we thought would be no big deal, we found that it was very difficult to get those things to happen. Intuit saw that after a few years, we needed help and that it was not coming from them because they were busy focusing on their core competencies. We had been a part of multiple divisions at Intuit. That was another growing point for me. I got to know the different divisions and leaders and how all the divisions worked.
Larger corporations have a lot of silos. Our SEO was with one part of the company. Marketing and legal were other parts of the company. There was a real lack of cohesion. That may work when you’re talking about huge products with billions of dollars of revenue, but we are talking about small-business pennies. It was very difficult to work across all of those divisions.
Sramana: How big did the business become under Intuit?
Deborah Sweeney: When we left them, we were right around $10 million of revenue per year. We have stayed right around that range. We left in 2009, and we do expect to grow in the coming years.
We were losing money under Intuit because they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on SEO alone. We were spending money beyond what a business our size should be spending. My first goal was to become profitable, and we did that pretty much immediately. We went from a multi-million dollar search budget to a $20,000 a month search budget. That is a viable search budget for a business our size. We maintained our revenue, which I felt was a huge success outside of Intuit. We were able to be profitable our first year.
Sramana: What was the employee count when you were inside Intuit?
Deborah Sweeney: At the highest point, we had around 100 employees. We are currently at 42. I took every single employee, except for a couple, with me from Intuit. There were 35 at that time. Intuit was phenomenal in their support of our separation in terms of their support of employees. They were all offered severance if they did not want to come with me. Everybody did, and it was a win-win situation. I was able to maintain the company, and Intuit did not pay severance. We had already undergone two large reductions in force prior to that point. That was due to the financial crisis the country was in. In a way, my transition was a happy one because I was able to take everybody with me.
Sramana: Essentially the dirty work was done by the time you separated from the company.
Deborah Sweeney: Yes. There was a definite transition with that. I learned over time that some employees are probably better suited for a large corporate environment. Over the course of the next six months, we moved into a smaller space with more humble surroundings. Some people realized that small business was not their forte. With that I did my very best to support transitions into jobs at Intuit or other large corporations. It’s important to keep in mind that many of the people who were hired were hired into corporate life. They thought they were buying into corporate security at Intuit. They were not buying into the nimble nature of an entrepreneurial environment. They found it was difficult to work in that environment, and I agreed with them.