VENTURES AFRICA – In a new feature series launching today, each Wednesday I will be profiling one of “Africa’s Most Innovative Companies”. In today’s inaugural edition, in an exclusive interview with Ventures Africa, Co-founder Marc Sevitz tells readers about the South African hit that is TaxTim.
Frustrated by the complexities of filing tax returns, two young friends decided to pool their skills and create Tax Tim: an innovative business solution. An online tax advisor, Tax Tim enables users to be independent in their tax compliance.
Introduced by mutual friends, chartered accountant and tax advisor Marc Sevitz found a kindred spirit in software developer Evan Robinson. Their annoyance in common? The difficulties involved in understanding personal tax obligations and filing income tax returns. The pair could not believe the costs invoked by even the best-educated adults, due to the system for filing tax returns being so complex and unnavigable. They resolved to create a solution, combining Sevtiz’ tax expertise with Robinson’s software know-how. TaxTim was born.
Users sign up to TaxTim for a minimal fee of 199 rand ($22.6) per yearly tax return, for which “Tim” – an online advisor- helps users through the filing of their tax returns by way of an easy to understand chat-based dialogue.
“TaxTim allows taxpayers to be in control of their tax affairs without needing to spend hundreds of Rands on professionals unnecessarily,” explains co-founder Sevitz in an interview with Ventures Africa.
“Unlike other services where taxpayers are asked to give up all their details and have someone else perform their tax work for them, without any knowledge of what has taken place, TaxTim allows you to be fully compliant yourself,” he adds.
Selected for support and funding by Google’s original Umbono programme, the pair have received backing from the outset as everyone that comes across TaxTim recognises the difficulties of being tax compliant. The idea is simple: “TaxTim is a simple friendly dialogue approach which takes the hassle out of tax and asks you questions in non-tax jargon so that even the most tax-phobic person can do it right,” says Sevitz.
Commenting on the added benefits to be gleaned from participating in a start-up accelerator programme, the TaxTim founders think that the concept of such assistance programmes is flawless: “Having access to Google mentors, angel investors, community members and of course the office space and facilities that Umbono provided really helped us get going. Being a part of the program opened up a lot of doors that perhaps we wouldn’t have been able to knock on had we just started out ourselves. The entire incubator environment is definitely the way to foster start-ups.”
With the concept, product, funding and plan in place, Sevitz notes that there were certain sector-specific additional challenges involved in setting up the innovative tax service: “Trying to get the revenue services on board, dealing with Government is difficult, but while we continue to try and find a way to work with them we are expanding our offering.”
A year after being selected for the Umbono programme, and only with the tax season only warming up in July of each year, TaxTim already boasts 4,552 registered users and the co-founders are looking forward to future expansion. Sevitz describes the duo’s ambitions, saying: “We’re aiming to offer the TaxTim service to the rest of Africa and other emerging market countries. There appears to be a need for a more compliant tax base and people are willing to pay their taxes, so we’d like to be able to assist by offering a painless, simple easy solution.”
In a related note, the TaxTim pair has also branched out, further innovating for the tax sector by offering their software for use in educational institutions. Over 1,700 university students are already using TaxTim as a tool for specialist tax studies, with Sevitz hinting that this avenue is also central to the TaxTim expansion strategy. He hints: “We also have a series of great educational tools planned!”
So what advice do the TaxTim team have for budding entrepreneurs?
“Ask yourself if you really believe in what you are building and what you are selling. If you don’t, others will detect your doubt, especially during sales, and your project will suffer. When things get tough you need to believe in the dream to get through it,” Sevitz advises.
“It’s worth finding something that really gets you buzzing…Then your work becomes playtime and the rest is easy.”
TaxTim has been selected to appear at the DEMO Africa event in Nairobi, from the 24th to the 26th October, to be held at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.