Have you ever had one of those phone calls that you just didn't want to get off the phone? Because the conversation flowed so seamlessly, and even though it was the first time you've talked to this person, it felt like the 500th? That's how my conversation with Maneesha Mukhi went yesterday. It was as if the words coming out of her mouth were ones that I think daily.
It was a pleasure learning more about Maneesha, who is the founder of AskEllis, which helps individuals and businesses connect with experienced immigration attorneys (and other resources). They craft a lot of high-quality content to help folks along any stage of their immigration journey. So whether they are looking for ad hoc information or trying to fill out their paperwork themselves, Ask Ellis has something for everyone.
We discussed things such as her why and how important owning that intention is to scaling her business. We both identified how lonely it can feel growing a business as a soloprenure (especially in New York City in January! Brr). We talked about utilizing mentors which can be helpful to a certain extent, but can also misguide us away from our real intention. We also chatted about how much we downplay our successes and how important it is to celebrate all wins along the way. AskEllis has been featured in FastCompany and Oprah Magazine- Those are HUGE WINS for this growing startup!
I asked Maneesha about what advice she would share with entrepreneurs just starting out, and she had 4 critical insights on this question. Make sure to read through today's feature to get those steps!
There are a few ways folks can reach Maneesha & AskEllis. If you are looking to schedule a consult with an attorney and you know which one, you can hit the "Schedule a Consult" button on the attorney's profile. If you are unsure of next steps, you can schedule a quick call with the Ask Ellis Concierge (via their website) - they always have same day slots available. Lastly, you can just send them a message through the form on the "Contact Us" page. You can find additional information about AskEllis on their Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and Instagram.
Please tell us a bit about your background both personally and professionally.
Culturally, I am a bit of a mutt! My father was a diplomat for India so I grew up in 6 countries across 3 continents (Asia, Africa, Europe). I always wanted to come to the U.S. for college and was thrilled when I got accepted. After college, my career choices were largely driven by visa constraints so I ended up working in corporate America for a decade. I finally got my green card in 2013 - it gave me the kind of work freedom I did not have before. I quit corporate America shortly after and haven't looked back. I worked at a nonprofit for a year, advocating for domestic violence survivors of South Asian origin. After that, an opportunity at a tech start-up popped up and I thought it would be a great learning experience. Fast forward a couple of years - I finally took the plunge and launched Ask Ellis (with a different name).
How did you get your idea or concept for the brand?
Ask Ellis is a deeply personal venture. Having grown up in 6 countries, I am no stranger to visas. I came to the U.S. as an international student almost 20 years ago. It took nearly 10 years, 3 green card applications and a lot of anxiety to get my green card. Last month, I finally became a U.S. citizen. Along the way, I realized that there was a big hole: immigration information online was sparse and often inaccurate. Finding a reliable attorney was overwhelming. So I decided to create the solution.
Tell us more about your brand and what you do!
Ask Ellis helps individuals and businesses connect with experienced immigration attorneys (and other resources). We craft a lot of high quality content to help folks along any stage of their immigration journey. So whether they are looking for ad hoc information or trying to fill out their paperwork themselves, we have something for everyone.
What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
Learning. You never stop learning as an entrepreneur. I never enjoyed the classroom setting growing up and I always thought it was because I didn't enjoy learning. I realize now that I love learning, but I learn by doing and am a very hands on person.
What are some of the challenges of being an entrepreneur?
When you work for yourself (especially in the beginning when there isn't a team), working alone and being self-motivated ALL the time can be hard. I addressed this by using a co-working space (which isn't feasible for everyone as it is an added cost - but if it will help you work better, it may be worth the investment). Another challenge is figuring out how to allocate your limited funds and time - what should you invest in, what should you outsource vs. doing yourself, etc. There are so many more challenges, but these were 2 big ones for me.
Advice for other entrepreneurs or those looking to get started? (4 powerful and inexpensive ways to launch your business)
Trust your gut! Everyone will have an opinion on how you should run your business. I wasted a lot of time by not trusting my gut and listening to people that I thought knew better than me. Don't get me wrong - some people will offer you valuable advice, but let too many cooks in the kitchen and you will constantly be pivoting and doubting yourself.
Celebrate the little wins.
Before you start, create a simple budget. Here are the essentials to get started (in my personal opinion). Most people need a website, so you will likely have to purchase a domain (this can be as cheap as $10 on GoDaddy depending on the name you want.) You want to make sure your business is legit, meaning you want to incorporate it legally. You can use a site like LegalZoom to help you with this. Have someone create a logo that represents your brand - you don't have to break the bank to do this. You can go on Fiverr or CrowdSpring and get this done at a low cost. Lastly, get business liability insurance - this is to protect you in case there are ever any claims against you/your business products/services. Early on, there are many resources you can use for free. Take advantage of them. For example, you can create a beautiful website on Wordpress - they have free and paid templates that will make your site look professional. Canva is another resource I absolutely love for creating graphics (e.g. for Facebook covers, social media posts, etc.). Mailchimp is a great tool for building your email list (free up to 2,000 emails). Hootsuite is great for automating your social media feeds - helps you plan ahead.
Share your favorite moment or moments while growing your business.
My favorite moments are notes of gratitude or encouragement that I receive from people that find what they need on Ask Ellis. I recently received an email that said, "Speaking to [attorney on our platform] was a breath of fresh air, thank you so much".
How do you advertise your brand?
The only paid advertising we do is Google AdWords. We have experimented with Facebook Ads, but it's not something we do regularly (yet). Word of mouth has been great for us. We have a strong focus on SEO to drive organic traffic to the site.
Looking back would you do any thing different?
Early on, I tried to do too many things at once. I was building a marketplace, trying to grow a community and create an amazing content platform - at the same time. These are all large undertakings. If I could go back in time, I would focus on one piece at a time. By splitting my focus, I actually slowed myself down.
Is there anything else you'd like for us to know?
I strongly believe in collaboration over competition. We try to help anyone that comes our way, even if that means sending them to a resource outside of Ask Ellis. I care more that people are being served than who is serving them.
I hope you enjoyed Maneesha’s interview as much as I did. Look for our upcoming Podcast this summer where we will dive deeper into some of these topics such a budgeting, getting out of your own way, and trusting your gut.
If you are interested in participating in the Female Founder Series drop a line below and someone will contact you shortly!