(Photo by Flickr user MoneyBlogNewz, used under a Creative Commons license)
American writer and satirist Bill Bryson has a really great essay on tax forms. It begins like this:
Enclosed is your 1997 United States Internal Revenue Service Tax Form 1040-ES OCR: ‘Estimated Tax for Self-Employed Individuals’. You may use this form to estimate your 1997 fiscal year tax if:
1. You are head of a household and the sum of the ages of your spouse and dependents, minus the ages of qualifying pets (see Schedule 12G), is divisible by a whole number. (Use Supplementary Schedule 142C if pets are deceased but buried on your property.)
The essay goes on to list three more increasingly absurd eligibility requirements and instructions that, while humorous, belie Bryson’s frustration with the obtuse process that is filing taxes.
If you’re a self-employed entrepreneur and have ever felt like Bryson, there are at least a couple easy explanations for your frustration. These range from the fact that IRS forms are complicated, to the fact that very little in an average American education prepares young people to deal with life basics like filing taxes.
But now, D.C.-born startup Hurdlr wants to alleviate your frustration by making finances, and taxes, easy for self-employed entrepreneurs, freelancers and on-demand economy workers. It’s an attractive concept.
Think about it — the U.S. has a large and growing independent contractor workforce. According to an independent study commissioned by the Freelancers Union, 54 million Americans do some kind of freelance work.
And whether you’re the founder of a small business or an Uber driver, your approach to finances is fundamentally different from someone on payroll at a large company. Historically there has been a dearth of financial services catered towards your needs — Hurdlr is stepping in to fill that gap.
Hurdlr is the second business partnership between cofounders, and brothers, Raj and Anu Bhaskar. The duo spent 10 years building the real estate software platform VisualHOMES before the company was acquired five and a half years ago. Looking for his next venture, CEO Raj Bhaskar hit on the idea of a mobile-first financial product for small businesses.
He flushed out the idea a little bit, then took it to entrepreneurs and small business owners in his network. “I always go customer first,” Bhaskar told Technical.ly.
Ultimately this strategy paid off, because the feedback he got was somewhere along the lines of: This is great, but what about all the solopreneurs out there, the hustlers or those with multiple income streams? They’re the ones who really need help.
And thus Hurdlr was born.
On the front end Hurdlr is an app (or rather, multiple apps — each one focused on a specific employment type) that allows a user to easily track income and expenses, as well as estimated taxes. The back end is where the magic happens — the app easily syncs with many large and local banks, and has up-to-date tax info for all 50 states and D.C. Bhaskar, whose brother is the technical cofounder, said his team started building this infrastructure over three years ago.
— Hurdlr (@hurdlr) February 25, 2016
What the Hurdlr app offers is great. It’s a streamlined interface, simplifying a process (accounting) that many find tedious. But Bhaskar’s vision doesn’t stop with providing a tool — he wants to offer education as well.
“I’ve been quoted as saying tax education [in high school] could be more useful than calculus,” Bhaskar said, wryly. Especially for the independent contractor workforce, finding dependable information on tax deductions is a struggle. Sure, the internet is littered with posts, but are they reliable?
Bhaskar and his team put together a list of “16 Tax Deductions for Uber Drivers” around this time last year. It was such a huge success he knew they needed to do more.
Today, Hurdlr’s educational component in a website called 99Deductions which, as the name implies, gives information on a host of tax deductions for freelancers. “I am a ___, and I need tax info on ____,” the form at the top prompts. Bhaskar told Technical.ly his team took care to describe each deduction in clear and concise copy, but every page has links to the actual IRS documents should you want to take a deep dive. The site displays disclaimers on using its information as tax advice, of course, but Bhaskar said the whole thing has been reviewed by a CPA.
What’s ahead for Hurdlr and 99Deductions? The company plans to release another app, this one for all freelance workers, in April. As for 99Deductions, keeping the site up to date will be a continuous project. Bhaskar told Technical.ly he ultimately wants to build a network of CPAs who can answer user questions in a discussion forum.
Bhaskar isn’t in a rush, though — he’s playing the long game. “People will always need what we’re making,” he said. At least, as long as taxes exist. But while in some ways the concept is eternal, it’s also interestingly of-the-moment, especially given the aforementioned popularity of independent contractors.
When it comes to Uber drivers and other on-demand economy workers, there’s a huge philosophical debate over whether the model means more freedom for workers, or whether it simply shows large, wealthy companies taking advantage of a fractured workforce. Bhaskar, perhaps wisely, says he chooses to stay out of this debate. Because regardless of where you fall, philosophically speaking, it’s impossible to ignore that the workforce exists, that it’s growing and that it needs tools and education for financial empowerment.
“I’m just trying to help,” he said.-30-
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