Tal Bar David is the Co-founder and CEO of Complyt. Tal took a legal background, significant tax expertise and experience working with high-tech companies, and flipped them into an extremely successful entrepreneurship. Tal was able to turn a “Eureka!” moment into Complyt, a leading US sales tax automation platform. Complyt simplifies the compliance obligations for global businesses. With a quick integration, the Complyt automated sales tax platform monitors, calculates and files sales tax returns, all in one accessible platform.
Tal’s journey is one of the most relatable paths to starting one’s own company that you’ll encounter. Any entrepreneur/young CEO will be able to benefit from the personal insights and takeaways he shares in the interview below.
Please tell our readers about yourself. How did it all begin?
I am 36 years old, married plus one child (and another on the way). My story is actually pretty unusual; I studied law and accounting, not the typical origin story of a startup entrepreneur. While trying to decide which of these professions I should pursue, I found myself interning in the US tax department of EY. That is where I first encountered the mysterious world of the US Sales Tax. As I gained experience, I consulted a lot of companies on taxes in general and specifically I had to help them find their way around Sales tax issues. I sensed a recurring pattern among customers, who all voiced the same pain. After hearing their complaints again and again, the need was so obvious and for the first time I felt the entrepreneurial urge to deliver a solution. I was able to raise funds quickly from investors who were familiar with compliance and regulation so they really bought into the idea. Then I quickly got to work before anyone else moved to fill this need.
How did the idea for your current business come about?
The year was 2019 and one customer after another told me that they were incredibly confused by new obligations placed on global businesses when it came to applying and collecting Sales tax. They had good reason to be frustrated; US Sales tax is one of the most complex indirect tax systems in the world. The previous year, the government decided that these taxes, which were originally intended to be local, should be applied on global transactions. The result was a nightmare, since taxes needed to be calculated differently based on the location of the customer and the products and services that were being sold. Customers wondered aloud why someone couldn’t provide them with an easy-to-use technological solution that would take care of these calculations and give them the answer to a simple question: How much Sales tax should I collect?
This actually made a lot of sense to me, since it seemed that this was a problem that could be easily solved with software. The recent changes in legislation provided the compelling event that created a large market for such a solution, so I knew I had to act fast. My goal was to make calculating the Sales tax obligations for any given transaction painless, I didn’t want customers to have to think twice before issuing an invoice.
That’s how I came up with Complyt. It is a system that connects to your ERP and, based on the transaction parameters, advises whether Sales tax is required and how much, as well as handles your filing obligations.
What has been the most satisfying moment in your entrepreneurial journey thus far?
Since I am still on my journey, I don’t think it is possible to point to a single moment. There are many different milestones in the life of an entrepreneur, challenges to overcome and achievements to celebrate. Small satisfying moments; when you succeed in securing investment, when the team achieves a technological milestone, when you win a deal, when you grow the team by adding a new position. The trick is to savour each small victory, as the day-to-day life of an entrepreneur can be very stressful.
What challenges are you facing these days?
One of the main challenges is actually to put together the right team, who can work together with the right chemistry. As a small company, I find that every individual is more impactful, both in their contribution to the solution and as a member of the team. If you are a Google, employees may come and go without making any waves. For us, every addition and every departure has an effect.
Another challenge is keeping track of the competition, constantly checking around to see what others in the space are doing. This is actually something I have made a point of doing from the very beginning and I feel that it was a great contribution to our success. I met with dozens of potential users and my competitors’ customers to analyze what was missing in those solutions, making sure I understood the pain that I could address and the best ways to solve it. Direct communication with your customers is tremendously valuable for figuring out where to devote your energy and resources.
I’ll share an example: I originally envisioned that the product would have a state-of-the-art dashboard, something sleek and shiny, that would allow users to perform all sorts of analytics. When I shared this with customers, their feedback was that they didn’t perceive the dashboard as something that crucial. From their point of view, as long as the system was working reliably and could help them resolve the Sales tax issue quickly, they didn’t have any need for deep analytics. That saved us a lot of effort and allowed us to focus on other priorities. Staying very close to the customers is the key; users should be defining what is important to them.
What motivates and drives you as an entrepreneur?
My biggest satisfaction is seeing my vision slowly materialize, to see how it solves the pain for the target user and watch as they realize how much it can make their lives easier. That is what fuels my motivation. Then I move on to the next challenge, the next pain that can be addressed.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned during your career as a CEO?
The most important lesson for me was learning how to accept help from others. The Israeli ecosystem is extremely supportive. I participated in a mentoring program and had a very helpful mentor who taught me a lot. Whenever I get involved in a new domain of expertise, I always seek out a mentor, a domain expert. It’s super important to add expertise from the experts.
For example, if I need to hire a Salesperson, I will try to consult with someone who has experience in that field; how can I know what I am looking for if I don’t have an understanding of the challenges that they might encounter?
If there is one thing I would like to pass on to other founders/CEOs who may be just starting out, is not to be shy about grabbing a cup of coffee with people and seeking their advice. I found that people are more than happy to help and that I was able to learn a lot. That’s not to say necessarily that I always accepted everything they said, but for me, every input is useful and every viewpoint can teach you something.
Do you believe a method or formula exists to become a successful CEO?
No, I don’t think there is, it really depends on the journey. I was an individual founder, simply because I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, so that is how it turned out. Later on, it took me a while to find a co-founder since it was important for me to find someone who could complete me, not just professionally but also in terms of characteristics, so we could help balance each other out. There is no single template for being an entrepreneur.
You also need to be able to delegate, to rely on others. A CEO needs to understand a range of areas enough to be part of the discussion and have an appreciation of the nuances. And then they need to bring in good people to care of the details, and then they need to trust them to do their job.
Do you have any advice or tips to share with the young CEO?
Something important that I learned along the way is to always maintain a good relationship with my investors. In the beginning I considered them as people I had to impress, and I should show confidence and share mainly good news. Over time I learned to treat them more as trusted advisors, to ask their opinions. Most investors are experienced and before they invest in your company they have been involved with at least a couple of startups. They believed in you enough to make an investment so they want to help. This also creates buy-in, keeps them involved. Asking them questions keeps the communication flowing and, when you inevitably will face challenges and obstacles, this will help keep them on your side.
What’s next? Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
In 10 years I expect both myself and Complyt to still be around, since we are only scratching the surface of this problem. We have a grand vision to become a global company that will provide solutions for companies wherever they want to do business. We want to provide them a solution that, as the name indicates, is a complete one. They can focus on running their business wherever they want to, all over the world, and we will take care of the compliance and taxation issues for them. Our message to them is “We’ve got you covered.”
I would also like to achieve a good work-life balance, I know it is possible (I’ve heard rumors from other founders :-)). Obviously the work of a CEO and founder never ends but I would still like to make time for my family. I believe that it was Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola who explained that of all the balls we juggle in life, a few, such as family and health, are made of glass. Being an entrepreneur and constantly seeking innovation are important but I don’t want to drop the ball on my family and on my wellness.
My journey has taught me that you never know where life will take you. I started with law and tried to avoid taxes, and look where I ended up. You should never automatically say no to new situations and opportunities that you encounter in life, try to give them a chance and see where they will take you.