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Building a Business OS: Interview with Firstbase.io's CEO Mark Milastsivyby@timj
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Building a Business OS: Interview with Firstbase.io's CEO Mark Milastsivy

by Tim J.January 19th, 2023
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Firstbase.io is a company building an operating system for startups. Firstbase Start is a tool that makes it easier than ever for founders to incorporate a startup. In 2022, Firstbase launched four new products, now assisting founders with other needs, such as compliance and fundraising.

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Firstbase.io is a company building an operating system for startups. In 2019, Firstbase went to market with its first product, Firstbase Start, a tool that makes it easier than ever for founders to incorporate a startup.


Fast forward to today, Firstbase has become one of the leaders in the company formation space and helped over 25 thousand entrepreneurs incorporate businesses. But the ambitions of the company — and its founder, Mark Milastsivy — lie way beyond helping startups with incorporation. In 2022, Firstbase launched four new products, now assisting founders with other needs, such as compliance and fundraising.



I sat with Mark to talk about the story of Firstbase, the concept of Business OS, and the company's future.


When did you decide to launch Firstbase, and why was incorporation the first problem you wanted to solve for founders?


I wanted to solve my own problem. I started building projects on the internet at a very young age, twelve or thirteen. Having grown up outside the US, I quickly realized that if I wanted to build a scalable business, I needed to incorporate a company in the US. Even simple things like payment processing or invoicing weren't accessible where I lived. Meanwhile, US companies had access to all these fantastic tools and an entire ecosystem of products for founders.


I started looking into ways to do this and realized there wasn't a good platform for people like me — foreigners who want to start a business in the US — to use. So I had to take the DIY route and learn the entire process myself: from filling out incorporation documents to applying for a business Tax ID as a foreigner to issuing stock.


It was hard to figure all of this out. And through researching the process, I found entire communities of founders struggling with the same thing. I also realized that incorporation was challenging even for US-based founders. So I thought, "wow, it'd be great to help all these people."


When did you start working on the product?


I fell in love with the idea but only started working on the product about two years later.


At that point, I knew I wanted to build a massive company that could have a multibillion-dollar outcome. I was spending my days studying platforms and noticed that almost every company that interested me started with a small non-obvious wedge that would later enable them to expand into a much larger market.


I realized that incorporation could be that wedge into eventually building a platform for founders to manage all aspects of their business. You help them start a company, and that's how the relationship begins. Then you can create the whole ecosystem of products and services that startups need as they scale — we call it Business OS. That was the "Aha moment."


What were the biggest challenges when building the product and after the initial launch?


Building a new product and bringing it to market is, of course, always challenging. But in our case, the unique challenge was creating a solution to a complex bureaucratic problem — US incorporation — and then marketing it to founders in other parts of the world who aren't familiar with how things really work here in America. But foreign founders were underserved by other platforms, so we decided to focus on that segment first.


So I had to spend a lot of time designing the onboarding experience that entrepreneurs outside the US could actually understand, building a lot of educational content, help articles, and interactive tools. You couldn't just say, "sign here, and we will file this form with the IRS," because almost no one outside the US knows what the IRS is. Later, there were many iterations to improve this experience further. Today, Firstbase is the most intuitive platform for both foreign and US-based founders.


Marketing the product to a global community was fun but also challenging. Almost any startup founder in the world could benefit from incorporating in the US, but it was essential to find focus. I chose a few key markets to double down on — countries where the startup scene was booming with the growing number of VC transactions, like India and Nigeria — but continued gradually expanding into other countries by building channel partnerships and launching localized marketing campaigns. It paid off, and by the end of the first year, Firstbase had customers in, I think, sixty countries. But it was a challenge because people in different places think differently from each other. The legal barriers for them to incorporate in another country are quite different, too, so I had to think through all this.


Tell us about your approach to recruiting early team members. Any advice for first-time founders looking to make their first hire?


When I started Firstbase, I had no track record of building big teams and no VC backing. So the only way for me to recruit a world-class team at that point was to get some traction before starting to approach candidates.


My advice to early-stage founders working on something ambitious: think deeply through your product strategy, customer acquisition, and every aspect of the company on the way to a $10B valuation, and write it down. Spend a lot of time on this. Then give every candidate you approach a deep dive into your big vision: create a document and share the link with people. Many great candidates will want to learn more if it is ambitious and well-thought-through. This is an excellent outcome for you — and a chance to make them want to work with you.


You described Firstbase as an all-in-one Business OS. What is the big vision for the platform you are building?


We want to bring all the tools for running a startup into one platform. So instead of switching between tools — payments, compliance, business mail, payroll, cap tables, banking, accounting, and analytics, a founder can run their entire company from one place.


It makes running a business a lot easier. But also, by having all the company and business data aggregated within one platform, you can create this really deep integration between the products and build workflows that otherwise wouldn't be possible.


To make this a reality, we're building our own products — such as Agent for ongoing compliance, Mailroom for business mail, and Raise for fundraising — and integrations with amazing partners on our marketplace, Loop.


What would you consider to be a top priority at Firstbase today — and what's the role you will play in executing against that?


Our mission is to create more growing companies. Being able to deliver on that is our top priority. And each team within Firstbase has the power and freedom to decide what they can do this month, quarter, and year to support our mission. As the CEO, my role is to hire a leadership team (we have some critical hires to make in Q1!), create alignment, and nurture our company culture.