We talked to Vincenzo Villamena of Online Taxman on how he is helping ex-pats around the world with their US taxes.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Vincenzo Villamena: Everything is going well with work, family, and life. This is a great time for self-reflection and working towards goals.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Online Taxman.
Vincenzo Villamena: I’m a born and bred New Yorker. The city raised me and taught me a lot about the power of hustle and never giving up. I credit my entrepreneurial spirit to that. After going to the University of Michigan, I came back to NYC to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers doing accounting, where I found myself already looking at the world of opportunities in NYC in my early 20s. I started doing taxes for friends and family as a side hustle because I got a free version of TurboTax from the firm. Fast forward 6 years, I was tired of the NYC rat race and working a private equity job (even though my goal was to work in finance) and moved to Argentina in an eat, pray, love moment of my life. Looking for my next step in life and running out of money, I saw the amount of US ex-pats in Argentina that were clueless about their tax situation, so I decided to go back to what I knew – taxes. I built a website – Online Taxman.com, started advertising on Google, and low and behold, people found me and hired me to do their taxes. Ten years later, we are going strong with a team and helping ex-pats around the world with their US taxes.
How does Online Taxman innovate?
Vincenzo Villamena: We innovate by being thought leaders in the international taxation and offshore structuring space and by making in-depth and accurate information available to readers around the world on our website at no cost. Knowledge is power, and we want to give people the power to make informed decisions. In turn, they gratefully come to us for help when they need it.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Vincenzo Villamena: We have been really fortunate to already have an online business model and a great team. Our clients still need to file their taxes, and with the increase of working remotely, we hope that there will be more opportunities to win clients. That being said, we have supported our employees for their work at home needs (with families being home, etc.) and donated PPE to the town of an employee affected by Covid-19.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Vincenzo Villamena: I have had to make difficult choices in letting people go, and in some cases, not letting them go early enough. One lesson learned is, “Hire slow, fire fast.” It’s difficult to part ways with an employee, especially one who you like as a person, but in the end, business is business. If that person is not performing, then, unfortunately, you need to make difficult decisions. On a different note, if you see an employee is not a fit culturally or even cancer to the team, regardless of whether they are a high-performance person, you must also part ways with them because they will continue to cause problems to you as a manager and be a bad influence for the team.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Online Taxman in the future?
Vincenzo Villamena: I deal with stress pretty well. Given deadlines and the high-intensity work of tax season, we are well equipped to deal with this. Personally, I meditate and exercise and encourage our employees as well. We even brought in a guest speaker, a former Hindu monk, and spiritual guru, to talk to the team about stress and energy management.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Vincenzo Villamena: We have a few competitors focusing on US Expat taxes. However, many are budget providers competing strictly on price. We are not competing on price, but instead offering a quality service at a fair price, a better overall value for those seeking professional help. We also have a brand focused on high net worth individuals and corporations with more complex situations and transactions – Global Expat Advisors (www.globalexpatadvisors.com), which has become very successful as there is very little competition other than Big 4 firms, to advise on complex international issues.
Your final thoughts?
Vincenzo Villamena: For all entrepreneurs out there, I advise never to give up, you need to pivot, and you may need to shut down and start over with a new idea, but never give up and manifest your success through hard work and visualization.