COVID-19 has impacted all of us in our personal and professional lives. We decided at CBO Search to launch a series of interviews with the main influencers in Tax Technology and share with our readers how this crisis has affected their work and how they adapted to it. We think professionals will work differently after these events.
We are pleased to welcome Kid Misso. Kid has built a successful career in software firms and is now leading the Product Management team of a global leading Indirect Tax Automation software firm, Kid reflects on his career path, industry trends and how he adapted his work under the current circumstances.
For those who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Kid. I’m the VP of Product Management at Avalara for EMEA. I have a BA in Systems Analysis and have been working in the IT industry for thirty years. The last fifteen years I have been focused on indirect tax automation and have held a number of roles in sales, pre-sales, professional services and product management.
Thank you Kid, why did you choose to specialise in Indirect Tax automation?
I didn’t really. I was in the B2B e-commerce space and had been working for a series of startups, the last of which wasn’t doing very well and I was more or less twiddling my thumbs when an old colleague from the US approached me about a role to help start up the international operation at Sabrix and it sounded interesting. I spent many years avoiding using the word “VAT” when I described what I did to friends but little did I know what an amazing growth space tax technology would end up being and I am proud of it now.
The VAT industry has dramatically changed, with data automation skilled candidates transferring from other industries like fintech to VAT. It is unusual to transition from Sales to Product Management; can you share a bit more about this transition and how is it to work in this area?
I have made a few unusual transitions in my career. The first one was transitioning from a sales engineer to a head of sales (on reflection, I have actually done that twice). This one was less unusual in reality as I was leading the sales engineering and professional services team in EMEA for Avalara and had been helping to shape and drive the international VAT technology strategy since I joined Avalara.
We have worked increasingly on roles in Product Management especially for software firms, it is a growing function, a good specialism to build skills for candidates. In your opinion, what are the main trends in Tax Automation?
I think there are three primary trends.
The first and most disruptive is the trend away from summarised, periodic, self-assessed VAT returns towards real-time, transactional compliance where the government is more involved in the assessment. VAT is generally seen as an excellent tax mechanism since it does not tax wealth creation and can be implemented with agility, as we have seen recently with the rapid government reactions around the world to Covid-19. However, fraud is an issue and advances in digital compliance such as e-invoicing and live reporting have been successful and we will see this become increasingly prevalent. This is especially interesting to me because these challenges can only be solved with technology.
Secondly, we are seeing a real crossing of the chasm in terms of the adoption of tax automation. Tax has been slow to grasp the fact that the best software for the job usually isn’t software you build yourself in a spreadsheet. However, I think over the last couple of years it has started to become the norm to first consider dedicated software rather than trying to make do with manual processes.
The third trend is towards the cloud. There has been a marked change in the attitudes of our community in terms of cloud with the expectation being that software must be in the cloud now. Anecdotally the Covid-19 crisis is considerably accelerating this view as work has become more distributed.
I'm interested in the effect of Covid-19 on the transition to Cloud technology. Some of our candidates think the market in Tax Tech is evolving faster nowadays, what is your take on this?
I would definitely agree with this view. As I mentioned before, tax is catching on to the enormous potential presented by embracing technology. I think once clever people look at solving their problems through a technology lens, they will see opportunities to automate most of them.
It’s also worth reflecting on the enormous growth of e-commerce and digital services, like streaming and apps. These are borderless business models and allow companies both large and small to easily grow rapidly internationally. However, the main barrier that they usually encounter initially is indirect tax compliance and increasingly companies are looking at cloud software to insulate them from the complexity of managing these taxes in foreign countries.
Finally, governments are increasingly turning to technology to fight fraud and improve the efficiency of the tax collection. Initiatives like the UK’s Making Tax Digital, Italy’s SDI and Spain’s SII are forcing companies to adopt technology for indirect tax purposes. The success of these schemes has been meaningful and the adoption globally is ramping up fast.
Those are interesting points, thank you, what would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?
I have seen smart people succeed in tax technology from both technology backgrounds and tax and finance backgrounds and there are excellent careers available to people coming from both routes. In either case I would urge people to try to learn as much about the other discipline as possible. Those that are deeply knowledgeable in both tax and technology are very valuable. It also depends on what you want to do, for example all of my Product Managers are technology people who have learned tax but tax backgrounds do really well in tax technology implementation.
It is true that in some functions like Product Management, when you hire someone outside of Tax and train them, you also allow a fresh approach and new ideas which is a strategy many of our clients have followed. Can you share a bit more about the international aspects of your career?
Although I have mostly lived in the UK, my career has been very international. I have been working for West Coast US technology companies since 2000 so I have spent a lot of time in the States. It’s mainly when companies have foreign operations that their VAT complexity starts to drive them towards technology solutions so a lot of what we do tends to international. I was also in sales organisations for a long time and went where the customers were.
I have this app called Been that tracks which countries you have visited and I am on 49 now. I’m 50 next year and want to have visited 50 countries by then. Just one more to go but it needs to be a memorable one; open to suggestions!
I will get back to you on that one, is there anything you would do differently if you could?
Yes, I have always dreamt of having my own startup but the right ideas, timing and circumstances have never quite intersected. It will probably never happen at this stage of my career though; I love what I am doing now and I’m lucky to be able to do it.
It is never too late, I have seen many senior candidates starting their own firms when they were in their fifties. What are the main challenges you have encountered while working in Tax Technology?
The biggest challenge in our space is inertia, by which I mean getting meaningful change started. For me, this is about introducing using exciting new technologies in interesting was to solve established problems. One prominent example of this is in VAT compliance, where it has taken nearly a decade to get the market to broadly appreciate that there are better solution for preparing returns and manual spreadsheets.
I agree, I think the pace of change will now accelerate. What are your key achievements?
It’s not an achievement of mine but I am very happy to see how Avalara has grown in EMEA. In just six years we have grown to nearly 300 employees. It’s so exciting to see so many interesting and motivated people coming together and to see the what’s possible when they do. I’m particularly proud of my Product team, they are doing amazing things right now.
How has your work changed with the current COVID-19 challenges and restrictions?
The way we work has changed a lot of course but we have actually been really productive since lockdown and managed to get some great releases out of the door. Product Managers are driven motivated people and switching to working from home was quite straightforward for them and our developers need focused quiet time to do their best work so they have made the switch easily too.
How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? What are the benefits?
We are lucky at Avalara and have amazing offices and I miss the interactions of being in the office with great people. Building great product requires diverse stakeholders to be aligned and nothing beats being physically present to do make that happen. With that said, I have worked remotely for much of my career and have found that it can work well for me and I can get a lot done when I have limited distraction.
How do you keep in touch with them and ensure that you are all working as a team?
We have a daily Zoom stand up that started by being all business with status, blockers and updates but has morphed to be being more about sharing ideas and getting to know one another better. It’s been great for us as we are a nascent team with lots of new people and we have helped keep each other sane.
We hear how important is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and life balance to strengthen the immune system, is this something you have time for?
I didn’t last year and wasn’t in very good shape at the end of 2019 but I gave myself a stern talking to over Christmas and really committed to my health in January. I worked out, dieted and barely drank for three months and dropped 10kg. I’m quite glad I did as I contracted covid-19 and I got off pretty lightly, except the loss of senses of smell and taste thing, which is very dull and still hasn’t returned fully. Now I alternate between running, cycling in Zwift, paddle boarding and kettlebells and eat really well, although I must admit the drink has crept back in over the last month.
Thank you Kid, it has been truly interesting to hear about your Tax Technology career path and how you adapted your routine to carry on working harmoniously with your team under those exceptional circumstances.