User Value as North Star: A Case Study of Column Tax

How the founders of Column Tax followed their north star through the SPC Founder Fellowship to a $5.1m seed round.

User Value as North Star: A Case Study of Column Tax

The next SPC member cohort application closes on May 24th—apply here if you want to join this summer!

When we first designed the SPC Founder Fellowship nearly a year ago, we had a simple thesis: support talented founders pre-idea and they will create exceptional companies. With the announcement of their $5.1M seed round and launch partnerships, Column Tax is the latest company to emerge from the fellowship and prove our central thesis correct.

What set co-founders Gavin and Michael up for success from the start was their singular focus on delivering value for users. This might sound obvious, but it’s far from the only guiding principle founders can follow. Some founders like anticipating new markets; others excel at revealing improvements to products people think generally work; and yet others are driven by pure technical challenges. Gavin and Michael consistently looked for markets where consumers were clearly being failed and innovative ways to address that failing.

Before finding their way to the problem of taxes, the Column Tax duo briefly explored other pain points in dealing with the state. What drew them to the space was the consistent feedback from users on the challenges associated with managing government related tasks. These early explorations around the friction introduced by state bureaucracy quickly led to the biggest of all: taxes.

Unlike most of the developed world, the United States places the burden of tax reporting and preparation on private citizens and companies. Combined with the country’s byzantine tax code, this burden often imposes significant harm on taxpayers. A monopolistic tax prep industry is incentivized to keep things opaque and complex for consumers forced to use their products. If delivering concrete, real-world value for users is the goal, tax prep is a great place to do it.

Column Tax avoids the moral trap of tax prep software by realigning incentives. By taking an API approach and going business-to-business-to-consumer, Column Tax can focus on providing value for users rather than directly generating revenue. Their first product, Tax Refund Unlock, illustrates this focus on delivering real benefits, giving users advanced access to their tax refund. Millions of taxpayers have a significant portion of their yearly income locked away in the future in the form of a refund; getting their money back sooner can mean a huge reduction in financial stress.

Helping talented founders discover, explore, and validate these kinds of opportunities is exactly why we created the Founder Fellowship. When asked if he would join the fellowship knowing what he knows now, Gavin was unequivocal. “If we could do things over again, 100 times out of 100 we’d do the Founder Fellowship.” The feeling is mutual, and we look forward to Column Tax continuing to make taxes less of a hassle. Because while taxes may be as inevitable as death, they don’t have to be as painful.