Grant's Desi Achiever
THE TAX GUY WHO STARTED WITH $0
By SHAGORIKA EASWAR
Jake Anand wanted to be a physician to help people. His parents, like most desi parents would, approved.
Anand worked on projects in molecular biology with various scientists including Nobel laureates J.D. Watson and Carol Greider. He had papers published. He got into med school. All was going according to plan. Until Anand decided this is not what he wanted to do, after all.
He had observed people – including other students at McMaster – who needed help with their taxes. They just didn’t understand taxes and some were paying more than they needed to. As a self-described extrovert who enjoys talking to and interacting with people, Anand felt he had found his niche, something which also satisfied his entrepreneurial spirit.
“Not everyone ‘gets’ taxes,” he says. “They may be smart and bright – in fact, there is a quote attributed to Einstein that he understands everything but can’t understand taxes! – and I saw this as an opportunity to help people with their taxes and accounting. I was in my 20s, an age when you think you are the king of the world, that you can achieve anything, and I gave up my studies in molecular biology and switched to business courses to equip myself better.”
He went to night school for an mba, and also completed his cfp, Chartered Accountant and cpa designations. Then he launched Softron Tax. Completely self-financed. He worked to raise the money to buy computers.
“In the beginning, it was just me,” he recalls with a chuckle. “Though I had been helping students do their taxes since my university days, I had no ‘clients’, no assets. I started with zero. In that first year, I signed up maybe 20 or 30 people.”
Today, Softron Tax is a household name with 25 branches across Ontario, with 45 full-time employees with the number swelling to over 200 during tax season. Today, over 70,000 people get help with their taxes at Softron.
“That’s not large, our competition does two million,” he says, putting the numbers in perspective. “But our clientele is loyal. When you give great service, when you care about people, they see that and they refer others. We treat both customers and staff like family. They feel comfortable with us.
“And they know we dig deeper. We find them money that others may have overlooked. We’ve had clients get over $1000 refunds when somewhere else they received maybe $100. What sets us apart is service, which we continue to provide even after tax season is officially over. cra can audit anyone any time of year and we are there to help our clients. We don’t shut shop at the end of tax season, we are there year-round.”
Anand uses what is thought to be ‘fallow season’, the period between May and January, to train people. Many of them are newcomers, who find it difficult to find employment in their own fields due to lack of Canadian experience.
“We provide opportunities, we help them get a foot in the door,” he says. “We can’t be training during tax season! Many of those who complete our tax course stay with us, discovering rewarding careers. Some leave to work for the cra or other accountants. Some start their own business. It could be seen as creating my own competition, but I encourage entrepreneurial spirit. I think there’s room for everyone and if you are good, you will succeed in whichever endeavour you choose.”
Courses are in-class in locations across Ontario with online ones being available nationwide.
Taxtron, a software launched by Anand, is one of the oldest tax programs for Windows and Mac for corporations and individuals. It is also less expensive than most other available programs. Some of the other programs limit the types and number of taxes you can do with them – some allowing only basic T4, he says. With Taxtron, one can do many different types of returns.
There’s an amusing story behind how he came to Canada as an eight-year-old in 1972. Originally from Punjab, India, his father had left India to find opportunities in England. However, the weather didn’t suit him and the racism prevalent at the time forced him to seek new shores. He came to Canada and loved it so much, he decided this is where his family would settle.
“In the early 70s, not many people in India – my grandmother included – had heard of Canada and she refused to let her daughter (my mom) go to a place she knew nothing about. After much persuasion, she allowed us to go to New York. That, she had heard of! So we landed in New York and dad had to come fetch us from there!
“We came in the beginning of December and dad thought he would give us a few weeks to settle in before enrolling us in school. We had never seen snow before, and were also seeing all the Christmas-related excitement for the first time. Santa! Presents! And no school! I told my sister we shouldn’t be the ones pointing out the fact that we were not in school. That if the parents hadn’t realized that, we should also stay quiet. Imagine our shock when January rolled around and there we were, walking 15 to 20 minutes to school in all that snow and ice!”
As one of the few South Asian families in Brantford at the time, they had to go to Toronto to pick up desi staples for their cooking. They also faced discrimination.
“Though we had done our schooling in English, our accents were different and people were not as open and accepting of differences then as they are now. It was difficult. It was tough. Newcomers today who find easy acceptance do not realize how the ones that came before were pioneers who paved the way for them, made things easier.”
Anand in turn now helps newcomers by explaining the Canadian tax system, by making them aware of the benefits that are available to them from the day they land.
“People tend to think they become eligible only when they file their taxes but things like Child Tax Benefit, for one, are available from the get go. International students also may not be aware of the credits available to them.”
He also educates people on the importance of tax planning. And of making a will. Not having one just creates headaches for the family or possible beneficiaries, he says. “Going to a lawyer to sort everything out is expensive and difficult for the bereaved family. The hassle can be avoided with some planning. Simple things like who can sign on your behalf. I find getting this information out to people very rewarding.”
To those that come to Anand seeking tips on successful entrepreneurship, he says, “Talk to an accountant before starting a business venture. Be aware that the government is the silent partner in any business – understand the rules.”
He is married to Sandra, also a cga and cpa, who is in an integral part of the business.
“I am only able to make it work because of her,” he says. “This is not one man’s effort, but that of my whole team, of all of us. I see myself as a link in the chain, a spoke in the wheel.”
They have two daughters, Saiba, 16, and Eshana, 15.
He is active in the community and helps with the soup kitchen and sponsors local events and initiative such as tree planting. His father has Parkinson’s and Anand is involved with the Parkinson’s Foundation, helping and promoting them in any way he can.
“I had started out wanting to help people as a physician. I am happy I am able to do so as an entrepreneur. There are so many people who depend on us for advice, who put their trust in us. There’s an obligation to fulfil that trust. Being able to do so is immensely rewarding.”