Tax woes result in friends' IT startup

Marc Sevitz (left) and Evan Robinson of TaxTim (Supplied)
Marc Sevitz (left) and Evan Robinson of TaxTim (Supplied)
Cape Town - TaxTim is the brainchild of young South African entrepreneurs, Marc Sevitz (a qualified CA and tax specialist), and Evan Robinson (an inventor and software developer).

After having been selected to join the national Google Umbono programme in 2011, they created a fun, easy and fast online tax return solution for anyone confused about tax.

TaxTim was also chosen as one of Africa's Top 40 tech startups to present at the DEMO Africa conference in Nairobi in 2012.

Fin24 caught up with them:

What are your professional backgrounds?

Marc: I am a chartered accountant with extra qualifications in tax law.

Evan: I studied Biotechnology and Biochemistry up to the Masters level, but have always run my own web design and programming business since high school.

I started and sold two businesses related to SMS functionality and tried a few entrepreneurial things in between.

How do you know each other?

Marc: Evan and I have been friends for a few years before starting TaxTim. We are part of the same group of close friends.

How did you establish the need for TaxTim?

Marc: In March 2011, I was assisting Evan with his tax affairs. He was frustrated that he could not complete his tax return on his own and feel confident while doing so.

While we were working he asked me what I thought of the idea of him building a program that would store everything I knew about tax.

This would be "a virtual version of me" that we could make available online at an affordable price to help the everyday taxpayer.

Thanks to some initial seed funding from Google, TaxTim was born soon thereafter.

Have you had a positive response?

Marc: TaxTim has received a very positive response from all over South Africa. Companies have begun approaching us to partner on a variety of projects, which we hope to announce as the year goes by.

We have thousands of loyal taxpayers who use our system repeatedly each year, many of whom ask questions on our tax helpdesk and use our free vehicle logbook too.

We are currently receiving more than 2 000 visits a day to the site. We also provide our services to corporates to help their employees, as well a tax teaching tool to some of the leading Universities in SA.

Was it always your dream to be an entrepreneur?

Marc: At first, I can honestly say, no. I thought I would be happy working my way up in a company and learning as I went along.

Since having started TaxTim I can comfortably say yes, I now feel that all I want to do is be an entrepreneur.

Evan: I wouldn't say it was my dream. My dream was always to be an inventor, and that I have been.

Now I'm just working on the commercial stuff so that I can keep on inventing.

What kind of personality does an entrepreneur need?

Marc: You need to have passion for what you love, patience and dedication.

You also need to be a diligent and hardworking person prepared to accept the highs and lows of running your own start-up as well as to make sacrifices.

Most importantly, you need to be able to listen to others when they offer advice, including your own partners.

Humility is a must. Excitement and drive and always wanting to succeed is so important as well.

Evan: I agree with Marc. It helps to also lift your head out of daily tasks every now and then to gain insight, evaluate, strategise and be creative.

One moment of insight can save a whole lot of unnecessary work.

Any advice to aspiring IT entrepreneurs?
Evan: Writing computer code requires you to develop your use of logic (humans are not naturally logical) and be able to think methodically.

I would recommend doing as best you can in Maths and Science in Matric. If Computer Science is available at your school, take that too.

For the first time it is possible for a young person with a basic computer and internet access to make an app that can change the world and see global success. It's a very exciting time for young developers.

Is there a shortage of software developers creating practical and innovative products?

Evan: I think there is a shortage of good programmers in SA, partly because coding is not glamorised much and fewer people are inclined to study it at university.

There is also a shortage of people willing to take an idea they might have and try to make a go of it and turn it into a business.

It is often hard for the inventors of an app to find partners who can provide business skills in order to convert the idea into a functioning business.

Luckily in the last two years, several IT incubators have appeared in SA, particularly Cape Town, in order to address this need.

That being said, many computer science graduates are exceedingly talented and are often poached by some of the biggest IT brands overseas.

What do you love about what you do?

Marc: I get a chance to assist and educate people in something they don’t understand and often fear.

I am very passionate about education and love making difficult topics that people struggle with more understandable and user-friendly.

Evan: I love creating machines that think for themselves, interact with people and create relationships on their own, and that are helpful.

I love knowing that TaxTim is cranking away doing people's tax returns, while I am doing other things.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?

Marc: Spot the gap in the market, identify a real need or pin-point and see how you can solve it. Put a good team together, nothing beats being able to work effectively with your partners and employees. A good combination of skill sets between partners goes a long way.

Don’t be afraid or too proud to listen to good advice from experienced entrepreneurs. They have been there and done it so are a good source of advice.

Most importantly, believe in yourself and your idea, patience, hard work and passion are musts and this will show when you are trying to present/sell your idea/product. Don’t be afraid to take risks.

Don’t assume that what you think you know is going to work or is actually what your customer wants. Assumption can lead to mistakes in product or service delivery.

Always be prepared to listen to the customer’s ideas and suggestions and often their demands. At the end of the day your customer is the one who will keep you in business.

Evan: You can do it! Even if you only have an hour a day to work on something, go ahead and try.

If you don't have the required business skills, or need some help, partner with someone who can assist.

Try to find your first customer before you begin, or at least identify clearly how you will get the word out about your service once it is ready.

- Fin24

* Share your experience of setting up a business or simply ask a question. Our business panel can put you on the right path.

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