Mitchell Fox - Co-Founder of GoodApril

[quote style=”boxed”]Use A/B testing very early on to figure out what kinds of messaging resonates with users. We have done this many ways – with AdWords campaigns, Google Experiments on our homepage, and Facebook ads. It gives you data to inform your intuition about what customers want.[/quote]

Mitchell Fox is the Co-Founder of GoodApril, an online tax planning service for American consumers. He is a marketer, product guy, and former management consultant. He’s also an outdoor enthusiast – he spends his spare time cycling, trail running, and rock climbing around San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Prior to starting GoodApril, Mitch was the Director of Marketing at Zecco, an online stock brokerage, and the Director of Product Management at Endurance Lending Network, a small business lending company. He began his career as a management consultant at Bain & Company and the Monitor Group.

What are you working on right now?

GoodApril helps consumers pay less in taxes.

Unlike after-the-fact tax filing solutions like TurboTax, GoodApril provides ongoing, in-year tax guidance to consumers, helping them make better financial decisions and giving them confidence that they’re only paying their fair share to Uncle Sam and aren’t in for an April “surprise.”

Where did the idea for GoodApril come from?

My Co-Founder, Benny Joseph, had a frustrating experience with the IRS shortly after finishing his MBA in which he missed out on thousands of dollars in student loan deductions by a tiny margin, and would have saved hundreds on his taxes if he’d contributed just 1 or 2% more to his 401(k) the year before.

He realized that if he could have known that opportunity existed six months before, he would have acted on it, and saw an opportunity to use the kind of financial data aggregation technology that was using to provide ongoing tax guidance to consumers.

How do you make money?

GoodApril is a “freemium” product. We offer some of our tools and services for free to all users, but charge for others. We also earn advertising revenue through lead generation partnerships with tax filing companies and financial service providers with tax-related products.

What does your typical day look like?

I focus on external elements of GoodApril’s business – marketing, user experience design, and business development in particular. The reality is that as a Co-Founder in a two-man team, I do a little of just about everything.

I’m an early bird – I get up around 6:00am and ride my bike into the office in San Francisco’s Design District. Most days I try to get in a workout – whether a spin class or a climbing session – either before or after work.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I really enjoy developing user interfaces and marketing materials. Often, that involves keeping an eye out for interesting new products, experiences, and designs, and trying to adapt them to GoodApril’s context. Typically I start with a wireframing tool like Balsamiq, and then work with Benny and our designer to develop those ideas into actual products and collateral.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m excited by the increasing personalization of goods and services, which take once-generic experiences and turn them into something unique to each of us. One simple example is how where I once browsed alphabetical shelves at Blockbuster, NetFlix suggests movies I might like based on my ratings of prior movies. Another example is how the Square Wallet, a payments application that you can run on your smartphone, enables you to be greeted by name and order “the regular” at your local coffee shop without having to ever reach for your credit card.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I sold computers at Circuit City. I was supposed to be paid on commission, but many weeks I sold so little that they just paid me minimum wage. I learned that I didn’t much of a knack for sales, and especially not for upselling people into products I didn’t really believe they needed.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would have built a consumer-facing version of our product earlier, rather than spending time on our more complex proof-of-concept prototype. It turned out that investors were less skeptical about the technological feasibility of our plan, and more concerned about our ability to acquire customers who wanted to use it, which couldn’t be proven without signing users up for a functional product.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Use A/B testing very early on to figure out what kinds of messaging resonates with users. We have done this many ways – with AdWords campaigns, Google Experiments on our homepage, and Facebook ads. It gives you data to inform your intuition about what customers want.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I take external reactions to our company too personally. Despite rationally recognizing it’s just part of life, when an investor demures or a journalist fails to respond to an email, I have a tendency to get down on myself. I have found that getting outside – going for a run, for instance – really keeps me going.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There should be an online marketplace for audio tours. I have experienced a few museums, for instance, which did a phenomenal job of bringing their artifacts to life with their audio guides – using voice actors to tell the most compelling stories of the things I’m seeing. I would be thrilled to subscribe to service that made similar guides available to me for everything from museums to city neighborhoods to national parks.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would make it easier for people to live and work where they want to by removing many of the barriers to immigration. I would change immigration policy to focus primarily on someone’s ability to find employment after arriving.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I was randomly assigned to live with a gay, drug-dealing, insomniac in a tiny one-room dorm, and he turned out to be one of the best roommates I’ve lived with. He was respectful, friendly, and delightfully eccentric – these things simply ended up mattering a lot more than the others.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

Twist, a little tool that I use to share my location and ETA for a meetup, has saved my marriage because I’m always running late. I love killing time by consuming news through the Pulse iPhone application. I love being able to quickly develop and share ideas with Balsamiq’s wireframing tools.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art of the Start” for its very pragmatic and simple recommendations about how to develop a great business idea and company.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

Chris Dixon – consistently quality tech commentary.
Hacker News bot – helps surface good tech content.
My wife’s cousin Julius – he’s hilarous.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

When my wife got herself contorted into a ridiculous shape while rock climbing and suggested “I think I’m doing something wrong here”

Who is your hero?

I’m a big fan of Richard Branson – for managing to be both an exceptional entrepreneur and outdoorsman. I love that he finds time for and excels at both.

What’s an example of one of your career goals?

When I was an undergraduate at Georgetown University, I became insatiably curious about the outside world, and set the goal to live on every continent before I was 30. I didn’t quite make it – I never lived in Asia – but I had some amazing experiences in Australia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Germany, Mexico, and Ecuador.

What’s your favorite place to get outdoors?

Like many San Franciscans, I’ve enjoyed many a retreat to Mount Tamalpais (“Mt Tam”) in Marin County just across the Golden Gate bridge from the city. I’ve biked that mountain, hiked it, run its trails, and even enjoyed some spectacular rock climbing sessions near its summit.

Mitchell Fox on Twitter: @mitchellwfox
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Mitchell Fox’s Email: [email protected]