• A Chat With Basil Shkara - Developer of TapTax

    A few weeks ago, whilst sitting at my MacBook Pro, bored, scrolling up and down my Twitter time line for something to occupy my brain, I spotted a re-tweet from Basil Shkara, about a new app he developed called TapTax. I didn't know who Basil is, but I was interested to find out more about him and his new app, so I emailed Basil some questions. This is what he replied back with:

    Give us a description of TapTax for those not familiar with it.
    TapTax is the only app which lets you lodge your Australian tax return from your iPhone.

    We've streamlined the tax return process so that you only have to answer 8 yes/no questions. The only other thing you have to do is take a photo of your group certificate. The app leads you through all of this and the process is over in less than 5 minutes.

    It's free to download the app, and you only pay at the end once you decide go ahead with it (it's only $30). After you checkout, the app uploads and encrypts everything to our storage server.

    Our accredited Chartered Accountants then go through your information and prepare your tax declaration form which they send back to you for you to sign within the app.

    The whole premise is to make it quick and easy for anyone to get their taxes lodged.

    What was your role in developing TapTax and who else, if anyone, was involved along side you?
    I wrote the iPhone app and the backend server-side code. I also did all the artwork and the web site.

    My friend Khanh owns an accounting firm in South-West Sydney and he designed the experience and was responsible for streamlining the tax return process (more on this below!)

    Where did the idea of TapTax come from?
    It was Khanh's idea. He gave me a call a couple months ago and told me about this idea he had. He thought it would be great if people could just take a photo of their group certificate on their iPhone and get an accountant to do their taxes for them.

    Well, as he was telling me I couldn't help but think what a fantastic idea it was. I was sold! As a project, it sounded perfect: a tight feature-set, possibility of disrupting an industry and the fact that no one had done it before. So I started writing the app in and amongst my other client work and after several rounds of beta testing with some close friends, I submitted it to the App Store.

    The original conversation we had really nailed down everything that is in the app today. Everything we talked about got into the app and we didn't stray very far at all from our original goals.

    What sort of development background have you had? What were you doing before you decided to build TapTax?
    I've been an Objective-C developer on the Mac platform since before the iPhone was released. When the 3G launched in Australia in 2008, I started writing an app to look for apartments to rent. That app was eventually acquired by Fairfax and became the Domain.com.au iPhone app.

    Shortly after that I was brought on to work full-time at Fairfax to help develop their mobile products. I was the lead mobile developer there for 2 years. We released apps for the Good Food Guide, Domain, Drive, MyCareer, Sport & Style, RSVP, Essential Baby and of course the SMH, Age, Brisbane Times and WAToday apps for iPhone and iPad.

    Since leaving Fairfax, I've been running my own business independently for the past year, and have been writing apps for various companies in Australia. The last apps that I worked on, which are currently live are, the Ozsale iPhone and iPad apps (Ozsale's App for iPad & iPhone - OzStyle by OzSale).

    What sort of development and design tools have been useful for you in the development of TapTax?
    I use Vim for all my programming, Xcode for build management and Photoshop for mockups and for drawing any required artwork like logos and buttons.

    As anyone who has worked with me will tell you, I love Vim and have a dangerously deep passion for it. I've converted many of my friends to using it. As a programmer, you depend on your text editor as your main tool, so you should make it a good one and put the time and effort into learning how to use it effectively. That applies to whatever your text editor of choice is, not just Vim.

    The server-side is written in Go (The Go Programming Language). I had fun using this new language and I ended up releasing the source to the PayPal library I wrote (https://github.com/baz/go-paypal).

    What has take up of the TapTax service been like so far? Has it met expectations?
    It's a great feeling to know that Australians are early adopters. Its done better than we expected but that being said, we're not quite swamped with tax returns yet!

    Many developers struggle to tell the world about their work - what is your approach to marketing the app?
    Count me in with the other struggling developers! My approach has been pitiful. Thus far I've been placing a few choice AdWords around and have been trying to make a bit of noise on Facebook and Twitter. From the analytics I'm getting from the web site, my efforts are not proving to be too good.

    My next step is talking to an AdWords rep to see if I can wrangle more value out of it.

    How involved were accountants in the development of the app?
    Very involved. As I mentioned above, the app was designed with with an old friend who happens to be an experienced accountant.

    Khanh's been preparing tax returns for over 10 years for self managed super funds, small to medium business owners and complex family structures. He's the director of Bladens Accountants & Tax Agents, which has been in business for 25 years (don't visit his website though, it's truly awful)!

    We worked hard on determining which questions the app should ask, and the experience user's would get as they navigated the app.

    Has the ATO had any feedback or response to TapTax?
    The ATO contacted us about 2 weeks after we launched. They were concerned with how we were dealing with the various privacy and fraud aspects of the process. Needless to say, they were satisfied with how the operation is currently running. Phew!

    If you want to get your tax sorted nice and easy, download TapTax now off the App Store.
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