The scope of work included Strategy, User Experience, Interaction Design, and Interface Design.
I vividly remember the day I formed a sole proprietorship company many years ago. The business was on the rise. With four iOS apps featured by Apple under my belt, I felt like it’s time to play with the big boys.
I remember coming out of the legal office with a bunch of papers in my hand, feeling proud of myself for the decision I have just made. Those were exciting times, full of enthusiasm fused with fear – a perfect formula for generating flow states.
Very quickly, I’ve come to see the other, darker, side of running my own company. While being my own boss was something that suited me well, it was the bureaucracy that I didn’t like.
Project and role overview
One day a friend of mine messaged me that they are working on a simple solution for claiming expenses for self-employed people like myself, and are looking for a product designer. I liked the idea, and eventually, I joined 1Tap, a smaller team within the larger organization of Receipt Bank.
Our goal was to build a product that would take the stress out of tracking and filing the taxes so sole proprietors could focus on their craft and growing their business.
Having Receipt Bank as our parent company was a significant advantage as we had access to large sets of hands-on market data, which helped build a successful product strategy.
When I joined 1Tap, the product-market fit was semi-validated by surveying potential customers if they would pay for a product we wanted to build. It turned out there was a great demand for a product like this on the market.
The target audience was also already defined. We were targeting tech-savvy individuals that didn’t want to bother with the paperwork, such as writers, actors, photographers, designers, software engineers, and so on.
One of the first things I have done was to immerse myself in the data to thoroughly understand the market our product was placed in. Putting myself into our target audience’s shoes wasn’t that difficult because I was struggling with the exact same problems we wanted to solve.
That being said, I didn’t want to rely solely on my own thoughts and perspectives. I created a simple online survey where we asked our participants what their biggest struggles in running their individual companies were and how they kept track of receipts for self-assessment tax returns.
Our assumptions were proven right. Their biggest struggles were to be on top of the finances and paperwork that comes with it. Over 16% of participants were clueless about what business expenses could be claimed to lower their income tax. Around 70% of participants kept receipts all over the place. In a wallet, above the refrigerator, inside a shoebox, on a dining table, in the car – you name it.
At that point, it was clear to us that not knowing what expenses sole proprietors could claim and a lack of receipt organization caused them to procrastinate on submitting tax returns until the last minute. In many cases, this resulted in missing the deadline altogether.
Figures released by HM Revenue & Customs in the UK show that 11.1 million taxpayers filed their 2018/19 returns ahead of the 31 January 2020 deadline. Many cut it fine, with over 700,000 submitting on deadline day and over 26,000 filings in the final hour before the 11.59 pm cutoff. What shocked me was that 958,296 (almost 7 percent) of those required to submit a tax return failed to do so by the deadline.
With those insights in mind, we began to turn ideas into reality. There are two primary things we wanted to solve with our product:
- Save time by eliminating or minimizing the tedious paperwork that sole proprietors have to do to submit their tax returns.
- Decrease the amount of income taxes sole proprietors have to pay.
How we minimized the paperwork
Insights from conducting user surveys showed us that the most significant pain for sole proprietors was storing and organizing receipts as well as paperwork that comes with it. What we ended up doing was building an OCR (optical character recognition) technology that extracted data, including supplier, date, amount, and self-assessment tax category.
From a user point of view, all they had to do is to snap a photo of the receipt. The technology would do the rest. Luckily for us, Receipt Bank had a big database of vendors, which helped us ensure that our OCR technology put the receipt into the right self-assessment tax category.
How we decreased an income tax for our users
Another thing we found in the research was that many people pay more income tax than they need to because they aren’t aware of all the deductible expenses. Our product needed to inform them as well as provide a hook to use it regularly instead of just doing all the work last minute.
Finance apps can be dull, especially if they are tax-related. We didn’t want to become just another generic finance app that deals with numbers.
We came up with a rewarding system that took the amount of tax savings and painted a picture to them. Coming up with a list of rewards that we could show was an enjoyable process – something I would have never imagined doing for a finance product.
1Tap Receipts took away the difficulty of organizing, tracking, and filing business expenses. It also enables sole proprietors to have full access to all of their documents for at least 7 years in case of an audit.
Our users were delighted with the simplicity of the product and found the illustrative rewarding system inspiring. It motivated them to scan receipts regularly so they could check how much money they have already saved in a tax year. Over the years, the app collected over 4,000 five star ratings on the App Store.
Today, the app is used by more than 200,000 businesses. It has been selected as an Editor’s Choice app by teams at both Apple and Google. We also attracted $10 million in growth capital.
What would I do differently
By working in a small team within a larger organization has its benefits and drawbacks. Receipt Bank was a huge help by providing hands-on research that helped build a successful product.
The other side of the coin brought some shortcomings. Although we were an innovation team, we couldn’t move as fast as we wanted because the upper management took time with their decisions. Big companies are slow, especially in the finance industry, as they are cautious of doing something out of the ordinary.
We first planned to release a minimum viable product (MVP) to the market in 3 to 4 months to validate our assumptions and product-market fit. What happened was that it eventually took us more than 14 months to release the product to the market. We had to postpone our launch a few times because of the reasons I mentioned above.
There were some weird decisions. We have done the first real user-testing after the public launch, as absurd as it sounds. Because of constant push backs from the upper management, I have left the team soon after launching the product.
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