Interview with TaxTim founders: Evan Robinson and Marc Sevitz
Almost two years ago, friends Evan Robinson and Marc Sevitz founded an online tool that aimed to ease the process of doing tax returns in South Africa.
Fast forward to 2013 and the web developer and chartered accountant have managed to grow their tax service into a popular tool that is being used by almost 400,000 South Africans for one or other of the tax services provided by TaxTim
ITWeb Africa's assistant editor Simnikiwe Mzekandaba spoke to the founders about launching their online tax assistant, TaxTim.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: What type of service does TaxTim provide?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: TaxTim is an online digital tax assistant who asks you a set of simple questions one-by-one, in plain language (not tax jargon), then fills in your tax return for you. Everything is automatically filled into the right place on your tax return, whilst also maximising your chance at getting a tax refund and minimising any potential problems with SARS. Our service is like having your very own tax practitioner, but faster, more affordable and puts you in control. TaxTim also speaks English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu so 63% of South Africans can now do their tax returns in their home language.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: Doing your taxes is very personal– were you not concerned that people might not be able to trust your service?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: Building and maintaining trust is integral to what we do. We can't expect people to interact with our brand if they aren't completely comfortable. We have tried to provide quality service and interaction with our users to ensure them of the trustworthiness of our service.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: If so what measures were put in place to gain people's trust to use TaxTim?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: The power remains in the user's hands throughout the process. They work side-by-side with our virtual assistant Tim step-by-step. We only ask for the bare minimum of a person's personal details so that their privacy is maximised. The tax information contained within the software has been created by a registered tax professional who sits on two SAICA boards and his professional registration details are displayed on our homepage. We also do a lot of educational work teaching tax students at seven of the country's top universities which helps to add credibility.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: How has the response been like?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: People really like the service, it has been touching to see the response from people when they realise how quick and easy something that used to be a nightmare can be, they are really appreciative. People are used to not getting much help with their tax matters so we are a breath of fresh air. We constantly receive emails and positive words about TaxTim from people thanking us for our service. The most important response though is that we have had no comebacks from users saying the service got them into trouble with SARS, which says we are fulfilling our objectives.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: What is the number of people/taxpayers that have used TaxTim for their taxes?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: Over 330,000 people have used our calculators, tutorials, help guides and question service this year, with over 10,000 people having used the main TaxTim service.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: What has been the most popular feature of your service?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: Our free tax question and answer service is popular and our tax refund calculator is a favourite too.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: What have been the challenges of starting TaxTim?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: Trying to get people to break away from their old habits and try something new is a challenge, especially with something as typically stressful as tax, people just don't want to think about it. South Africans also aren't completely web-savvy yet so we have spent a lot of time making things as simple as they can be.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: Considering that the tax season is cyclical, what happens to the website the rest of the time after tax returns?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: Most of our business does occur at the start and end of tax season (typically the final deadline day), but people seem to make up all kinds of tax deadlines on their own, so there is in fact business throughout the year but at a lower level. We also provide our service as a bundled-in benefit for corporate employees and to companies that have loyalty programs or large members lists, that is charged at a discounted monthly rate. Apart from this our educational product is used throughout the year during term time.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: Is TaxTim available in other countries outside SA?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: Not yet, but coming soon. The system was built to be rapidly customised with new tax rules so moving to other countries is relatively straightforward.
SIMNIKIWE MZEKANDABA: What future plans do you have for your website?
EVAN ROBINSON and MARC SEVITZ: We would like to provide the dialogue-to-form technology that powers TaxTim to other industries to make complicated application forms a bit easier. We also have some ideas for CSI projects that we would like to get started.