Arjun Mahadevan, CEO, shares his journey building doola, which helps companies become US LLCs by handling everything from paperwork to taxes to bank accounts and beyond.
Arjun was a Fellow in On Deck’s first Founder Fellowship. Together he and his co-founder JP Pincheira have raised $3.6M in capital to make doola a One-Stop-Shop for entrepreneurs.
We sat down with Arjun to talk about building doola and how they plan to unlock the potential of global entrepreneurship to empower anyone around the world to turn their dream idea into their dream US business.
When starting a business is the pain point
When Arjun Mahadevan and JP Pincheira started their first US company, they found the experience extremely complex and time-consuming — especially as a global team (Arjun was in the US and JP in Germany).
They were looking for an "initializer" that would help start, maintain and grow their company. Most importantly, they wanted long-term support too. When they couldn’t find one, they built it. doola is a company that helps guide new founders in establishing and growing their businesses in the United States.
While most founders are excited to find product-market fit and to build new features, they’re rarely as thrilled about the fine print and logistics — incorporation filings, determining tax obligations, and submitting reports. This was the problem that doola initially set out to fix: helping founders “initialize” their companies.
Now they’re going even bigger, expanding to provide founders world-wide with access to financial solutions to help launch their companies beyond formation to growth.
Initializing the business
Arjun realized that starting a business is the primary pain point for many founders. The bureaucracy of incorporation and all the subsequent processes are such a hassle they often prevent many founders from even starting. Incorporation, especially for international founders looking to do business in the United States, is sometimes an insurmountable bottleneck.
“Before you can go 0 to 1 and reach product-market fit, you have to go from 0 to 0.1 and get your business off the ground. But the anxiety around this step stops many people from even getting started.”
Having faced this problem himself, Arjun set out to create a one-stop-shop to help empower founders during this critical time of entrepreneurship. The way he sees it, the less time they spend on administrative tasks, the more time they can focus on the core of their work: growing their business.
Arjun likens what he’s doing with the logistics of incorporation to what On Deck did for him, “At a certain point, I realized it was a great time to potentially try something, but I wasn't fully ready to call it and take the plunge alone. On Deck was an incredible forcing function for me to actually work on an idea and then get it out the door.”
Before you can nurture, you need to initialize
Arjun recognized that while programs like On Deck empower founders to nurture ideas, many founders — especially international ones — need help with the more pragmatic side of things, namely incorporating.
“We learned that many folks are surprised that you can form a US company as a non-US resident. They also think that you have to work with lawyers or CPAs making it expensive, and ultimately, not worth doing.”
Establishing a US-based business entity is just one part of doola’s initial suite of offerings. For non-US founders, this means that doola also prepares EIN (Employer Identification Number) filings, provides registered agent services and a US based address, and guides clients through some of the most specific and nuanced processes in the formation phase.
Another service doola offers is tax management and interfacing with the IRS.
“We've essentially built an API for interacting with the IRS. While we wish the IRS had internal documentation or an open API, they don’t. Until they do, our solution has allowed us to streamline, automate, and provide a faster and better experience for customers.”
Once doola helps businesses form an entity and get an EIN number, they also help founders create United States bank accounts via integrations or through partnerships. These accounts are critical for allowing the newly formed companies to manage US based payments via services like Stripe and PayPal.
doola doesn’t stop there, and makes sure business owners have access to US based phone numbers for two-step verification processes. With that level of detail, doola really is a One-Stop-Shop for all business formation and operation needs.
But growing a business is the goal
With a recent fundraise of over $3 million, led by Nexus Venture Partners with participation from YCombinator, HustleFund, and a high-profile group of angels, including Jacqueline Reses, former head of Square Capital; Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO at HubSpot; Ankur Nagpal, founder at Teachable and of Vibe Capital; Rohini Pandhi, product manager at Square and partner at Transparent Collective; Arjun Sethi, co-founder and investor at Tribe Capital; and Prasanna Sankar, co-founder of Rippling, doola’s goal is to democratize access to more financial services for founders and increase entrepreneurship globally.
Arjun also understands that focusing on educating current and prospective founders on what processes and opportunities are available will accelerate both their business formation and his company’s growth as well.
“We truly believe that everyone has some idea inside of them and it's really a matter of time before they take that idea and turn it into something real. Everyone has a side-hustle inside them or a business idea written down on a post-it note. When someone decides to turn that dream into reality, we hope they choose to work with us, but at a minimum if we provide them with the education, we can open their eyes to the possibility that they too can launch, maintain, and grow a US business.”
With a background in supporting clients from every continent (well, except Antarctica), doola’s mission is already fulfilling the dream of many to own a US business. With planned expansions into education and other legal, operational and financial services, doola is on its way to being the operating system for getting more businesses off the ground in the United States.