How Munich Startup Safety Tax Free Aims To Disrupt The Tax Refund Process

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Founded by 5 Chinese students, Safety Tax Free is creating a new traveling experience for tourists in Germany. Head of Online Marketing Fabio Pullara explains the idea behind the startup.

How would you describe Safety Tax Free in a few words?

Safety Tax Free is a tax refund startup that disrupts the tax refund process, eliminating time-consuming forms to fill in manually as well as administration costs. Our app is currently dedicated to Chinese tourists who shop in Europe and benefits both tourists and retailers who save time, energy and money.

What inspired you to create the app? How did it all start?

The idea of Safety Tax Free was created by five Chinese students who studied at the Technical University of Munich. They realized that the tax refund processes available at that time were extremely complicated and time-consuming and a lot of them would not even be processed successfully, resulting in high losses for the tourists (e.g. if the name on the form is misspelled, the form becomes invalid and the refund cannot be paid).

The founder worked as a part-time tour guide in Germany during his studies and once filled in the forms for the tourists of his group at the airport. Because he mixed up the passport numbers and the names, he accidentally made all tax refund forms invalid and the members of the whole group could not get their refund. This experience made him sit down with his peers to think about a better way to get this process done. The whole idea behind it is to make traveling relaxing without the stress of filling in each form, getting to the airport early or queueing to obtain the cash refund. Everything is managed by a simple app which reduces effort at the point of sale, avoids queueing at the airport and transfers the refund directly to the customer’s Union Pay or WeChat Wallet account.

How does the app work? What are the benefits for the user?

The app is very simple and intuitive to use. Users scan their passport to register and save all their data, they show their QR code within the app at the point of sale when making a purchase. The staff of our partner stores can then scan the code with the POS terminal and we print a fully filled-in form. Later, customers have the forms stamped at the customs and, back in China, our delivery partner collects their receipt right from their doorstep. Our users receive their refund directly on the app within 1-3 days and can decide to withdraw it on their UnionPay or WeChat account. The app is also useful for searching our partner stores, for managing all active tax-free forms and, later, for buying complementary products in the app store.

What’s the most considerable pivoting maneuver that the team has undertaken throughout the journey so far?

In the beginning, all we concentrated on how to make the app as convenient and cost-saving as possible for our tourists. Only later, we understood that we had to become more active on the B2B side as well and develop added value for our partner stores, otherwise they there was no way they would cooperate with us. In order to fulfill this requirement, we developed a POS terminal that accelerates the creation of tax refund forms remarkably, and are offering further services like translation, social media, and physical sales support by our employees to better serve Chinese customers.

What is the biggest challenge that the company has faced so far?

The tax refund industry is a very complicated and competitive market. As every startup, we are in direct competition with the big and well-established international players of the industry. It is not always easy to achieve the trust of stores, as they are used to the old system for many years or even decades. Once they understand the benefits that Safety Tax Free brings, however, both retailers and tourists are very curious about the service and are very happy to become our partner stores or to use the app.

What is the most memorable moment throughout the history of Safety Tax Free?

Of course, when the first real tourists (not just our friends or family) downloaded and used the app for the first time, this was a very memorable moment. Until today, it still feels great to receive positive feedback from our users who say that our service saved them a lot of time and money.

Another very memorable moment was probably, when we first realized through some partner stores or through analysis of our website, that large competitors have noticed us. Of course, this puts us under pressure to develop fast, but it also shows that we are already on a good path.

Talking about the future: what are your short- and long-term goals?

At the moment we are working hard to establish ourselves in Germany. Germany is currently our main market, and it can be a very lucrative one as it is very popular among Chinese tourists. For the short term, we are definitely working on growing our network of stores to be more appealing to our users. Concerning the long-term goals, we are looking at other key markets in Europe where we can expand our service to. We are in the process of opening a branch office in another Western European country in the coming months and we are looking at and evaluating three other markets.

What’s one piece of advice you can give to fellow founders for their startup?

Dare to think big! We believe that Tesla, Google, and Facebook are great examples of how new players can change existing, seemingly saturated market with those great new ideas that technology can offer nowadays. You should always think of the potentials your idea has – even at a stage where of course not all ideas can be realized right away – and be willing to adapt your strategy and your products underway to reach the big goal in the end. Remember that nothing is set in stone and that customer experience is the first priority.



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