Technology

Need help saving cash or managing affairs? Miami fintech startups can help

Taxfyle team members Steven de la Fe, Michael Mouriz, Richard Lavina, Will Sahatdjian, Phillip Ingelmo, Martha Rodriguez and Antonio Del Cueto display Taxfyle’s app. Taxfyle provides CPA on-demand service through its iPhone and Android apps; users are matched with a CPA to prepare and file their tax returns.
Taxfyle team members Steven de la Fe, Michael Mouriz, Richard Lavina, Will Sahatdjian, Phillip Ingelmo, Martha Rodriguez and Antonio Del Cueto display Taxfyle’s app. Taxfyle provides CPA on-demand service through its iPhone and Android apps; users are matched with a CPA to prepare and file their tax returns. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Taxfyle: Hiring a CPA, filing taxes can be as easy as hailing an Uber

A couple of years ago, Richard Lavina, a CPA, was taking an Uber ride, chatting with the driver.

“This guy doesn’t report to a boss, he can pick up jobs whenever he wants, he makes good margin and he has a certain sense of freedom,” Lavina said. He wondered why there couldn’t be a vehicle like Uber for accountants who wanted to pick up extra money doing simple tax returns. He did some research and couldn’t find such a service.

At the time, the Cuban-American University of Miami graduate was a CPA for PricewaterhouseCoopers. He began talking to family and friends and started spending his late-night evenings plotting out this business concept. He soon attracted his co-founders, Michael Mouriz, a lawyer and serial entrepreneur, and William Sahatdijan, a developer who built the tech platform.

After another year of hard work, and after raising $1.25 million in angel funding, Lavina and his team launched Taxfyle in late February 2016 — yes, after the busy tax season had already started.

Taxfyle (taxfyle.com) provides CPA on-demand service through its iPhone and Android apps. Using the app, users snap a picture of their tax documents and answer 11 short questions, and a licensed CPA is matched with them to prepare and file their tax return within seven days. Taxfyle costs 40 percent of tax-prep services like H&R Block or do-it-yourself software like TurboTax, Lavina said.

“We now have 300 CPAs with an average of 14 years’ experience. We have done hundreds of tax returns. We are getting 350 new registered users a day. We surpassed 15,000 downloads, all within 30 days of existence,” he said.

All CPAs on the service are vetted and verified, he said. Taxfyle guarantees that returns are completed and filed within seven days. The service also provides audit protection for $3, meaning the service will stand behind customers in the case of an audit as long as the filing information was not altered by the customer.

Taxfyle has been used for the simplest 1040EZs to complicated returns with side businesses, rental properties and a number of investments. Pricing starts at $49 for simple returns; the algorithm determines the tax profile, and the customer is matched with a CPA within 90 seconds. In just a few weeks, the app has climbed to No. 1 best new app in the Apple store.

“We filled the void of people who wanted their taxes done but didn’t want to go to [a preparer] and didn’t want to spend eight hours on TurboTax doing it themselves — and we could do it at a price point cheaper than H&R Block,” Lavina said. Many of its customers have their own small businesses, he said.

Now that the busy tax season is behind it, the Taxfyle team wants to use that tax momentum to expand its platform to other CPA services for individuals and small businesses, such as on-demand bookkeeping and business incorporations. It’s raising a Series A financing round now to fund the expansion.

Gradvisor: How will I pay for college?

How will I pay for college? That’s the No. 1 concern of employees who have children under 18 as college costs — and student debt — continue to mount, according to a recent Gallup survey. Yet more employers today offer pet insurance than any type of college savings plan, said entrepreneur Marcos Cordero, co-founder of Miami-based Gradvisor.

Indeed, the cost of college is the fastest-growing household expense in America, rising at double the cost of healthcare since 1978 and resulting in a $1.2 trillion student debt crisis, Cordero said.

Cordero saw a big opportunity. Gradvisor, launched in October, gives employers a way to offer college savings planning as a benefit to their employees, much like they offer 401Ks for retirement now.

Gradvisor (gradvisor.io), a registered investment adviser, will help employees choose the plans right for them, answer questions and provide statements along the way, and will monitor progress toward their goals. Not only will employers be offering a benefit their employees care deeply about, Cordero said, but it could help take a bite out of future student debt: Students whose parents set up savings plans borrow half as much as those without a plan, Cordero said.

Cordero and his partners were able to leverage their expertise in the college savings industry. For four years, Cordero has owned and still runs the successful SavingForCollege.com, which has been helping people learn about college savings plans for 17 years.

“There are over 95 529 plans and 1,100 options within them. There are over 34 different state tax rules configurations. It gets very complex for both an individual to choose and for an employer to offer,” Cordero said. “We are helping employers address this.”

Gradvisor launched last fall but has already signed more than a dozen employers representing 27,000 employees across the nation, Cordero said. Miami-based accounting firm Kaufman Rossin will begin offering Gradvisor as a benefit starting next month.

Gradvisor is also finalizing a $1 million seed round to finance growth, Cordero said.

BillShark: Slashes cable, internet, phone bills for you

Your cable, internet or phone bill has climbed — yet again.

If you are like 20 percent of people, you’ll switch carriers. Another 20 percent will try to negotiate a better rate. But if you are like most people — the other 60 percent — you’ll do nothing, said entrepreneur Steven McKean, co-founder of BillShark.

That 60 percent is BillShark’s market. BillShark is a fast, easy bill-negotiating service tapping in to busy consumers’ needs, said co-founder Brian Keaney: “Our customers aren’t just saying, ‘My bill went up, they are saying my bill went up again.’ 

How does it work? Consumers can snap images of their bills and send via BillShark’s mobile app, website or email to bill negotiators who work to lower bills on monthly home services. If BillShark can’t find them savings, there is no charge.

BillShark (billshark.com) has a 90 percent success rate at negotiating satellite TV, wireless phone, internet access, cable TV, satellite radio and home security, Keaney said. If BillShark is able to save a client money, BillShark gets half of the first year’s savings.

By using BillShark, Seth Cassel saved more than $3,400 over two years, he said. The co-founder of Everymundo travels internationally for his business. Sometimes his cellphone bills climb to over $1,000 a month because of international calls. In addition, the initial enticements had expired for his AT&T U-verse service. “For a while, I was paying a full service rate, and nobody does that,” Cassel said

He submitted his bills. After a handful of text messages and a short call with a BillShark negotiator, the negotiator got an international plan applied to his AT&T mobile bill that will drastically reduce per-minute charges for international calls going forward, and the savings was applied retroactively, as well. Also, his mobile plan was reduced by $50 a month and his plan improved, he said, and he saved about $70 a month on his cable, internet and home phone package.

“I already recommended the service to my business partners, my brother, my father. Anyone can benefit from this; it’s pretty straightforward,” Cassel said.

Cassel is not alone. “If you go back 20 years, the rate of the price increases are four times faster than wage growth. That’s why this is such a big problem,” said McKean, who formerly founded Acceller.

BillShark is available nationwide, and it will be featured on Product Hunt on Tuesday. These home services are just the start, McKean said. “We think there are a lot of opportunities in the future to help customers negotiate insurance and utilities. We’ve already started doing energy in the 20-plus states where it is deregulated.”

DocuVital: The ‘TurboTax for end-of-life planning’

Joel Brown and his partners created DocuVital after his father died and he saw the mess his family was left with while trying to put his affairs in order. Because his father had forgotten to pay one premium, the family lost out on a $350,000 life insurance policy, all during a time when they were grieving.

As an attorney of 20 years, Brown decided to create a solution. “I am on a mission to make sure this never happens again to any other families,” he said.

Launched early this year, DocuVital (DocuVital.com) is the TurboTax for end-of-life planning. It organizes, automates, stores and delivers vital information and documents to loved ones so they can wrap up affairs quickly after a death, Brown said.

The boot-strapping company completed its platform and beta testing during the fall while participating in the Venture Hive incubator, and has now completed version 2.0 and the mobile version of the site. It was recently accepted into InfraGard, an FBI program focused on data security. DocuVital is now live and acquiring users and is serving a couple hundred consumers.

The company won a 2016 Citi/Village Capital Miami FinTech Forum competition in February at Florida International University, which came with a $10,000 grant and mentoring program. DocuVital also was a winner at the Temenos 2016 Miami Innovation Jam and will now be one of eight companies globally, and the only one from South Florida, to compete for a grand prize in Barcelona this summer.

This week, DocuVital will be competing at eMerge Americas as part of the Startup Showcase.

“Our go-to-market strategy is to provide DocuVital as an employee benefit through company benefit plans and to financial institutions for their clients. We are in talks now with both local and large international institutions,” said Brown, whose partners in DocuVital are COO Robert Friedman and CFO Dean Anthon. Brown and Friedman have been partners for 16 years and together built two other companies generating seven figures, he said.

Brown said that when he started looking at the data, what he found was that $75 billion to $100 billion in productivity is lost each year because employees either miss work or are less productive at work after they lose a family member.

“This is not just a feel-good benefit,” Brown said. “It will save the company money and provides financial wellness for the employees. It’s a double win.”

Nancy Dahlberg; 305-376-3595; @ndahlberg

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