Navigating tax season can be a frustrating for anyone—well almost anyone.
When Archit Gupta, M.S. ’08, listened as his father, a CPA in India, described issues with filing taxes for firms and users, he heard what he thought was a “fun problem” to solve. In short, the process was complicated and difficult, even for the savviest accountants. Putting his expertise in computer science and experience in the technology sector to the test, he developed a platform that would allow consumers to easily file their taxes.
He didn’t advertise the platform. But within two hours of launching he had his first user. Within 11 days, as the end of the tax season approached, he had over 1,000 users. Today, Clear is recognized as a leading financial software as a service platform throughout India. The platform is used by more than 6 million taxpayers, 80,000 practitioners, and numerous businesses and brands. Gupta remains at the helm of the company as founder and CEO, growing the reach and financial offerings to connect with millions of Indian taxpayers and thousands of businesses and brands.
Gupta enrolled in the Master of Science in computer sciences program in 2006, after graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology in Guhahati. He chose UW–Madison at the recommendation of a peer who had enrolled in the Computer Sciences PhD program along with other feedback he received about the university.
While at UW–Madison he enjoyed learning from faculty, particularly databases from Professor Jeff Norton and operating systems from Professor Mike Swift. He also worked closely with Professor Aditya Akella and Professor Paul Barford. Gupta made numerous contributions to their research and was cited as a coauthor in several publications.
“UW–Madison has a great computer sciences program and fantastic faculty,” Gupta said. “I graduated during the 2008 crisis. Even during that window, the program is so strong that most companies were very keen to hire a grad from UW. So, I think that was amazing.”
Following graduation, Gupta was invited to interview at technology companies across the United States. He chose to join Data Domain, a startup specializing in solutions for disk-to-disk and offsite disaster recovery.
“That was a great experience,” Gupta said. “I wanted to always work in a startup and wanted to eventually start my own. The best way to get to know how to work in a startup and how to set up a startup, is to work in one.”
Gupta worked for almost three years at Data Domain until January 2011. The company had been acquired in 2009 by EMC, a Fortune 500 Company (that would be in turn acquired by Dell in 2016). Gupta recalled at that point that the company was no longer a startup and other team members were moving on, so it was a good time to launch an entrepreneurial idea of his own. Initially the entrepreneur explored possibilities in the U.S., but ultimately launched ClearTax in India (officially in Feb. 2011) after becoming interested in the tax problem. Even though he had been looking for an idea to build a business around, he didn’t immediately identify the project as the one he had been looking for.
“I didn’t know we were starting a new tech company at the time. I was just trying to solve a problem,” Gupta said. “For a while I thought, ‘I have a cute little product.’ It’s not a company. But what started to happen was the second day after we launched, hundreds of users started using the product organically. People were looking for something like this—the product had a life of its own.”
Even though he hadn’t considered it as a potential business, Gupta vividly remembers seeing the platform thrive in its infancy.
“Watching the Google analytics dashboard light up was a super high,” Gupta said. “It was a lot of fun just to see us creating real value for users. To start seeing thousands of users talk about it on social media, to start using this, telling, and sharing it with friends—just getting a life of its own. That was amazing.”
Growing Clear from a platform that served a thousand users to one serving millions in a decade has been no small feat. Gupta attributes Clear’s success to building a strong team and being very customer focused. He notes that investing in high-talent individuals and hiring from top colleges and companies has been critical to creating an effective team. His focus on customers is to offer a product that is fantastic for them, which in turn causes users to elevate Clear in their own minds and in the minds of others.
In addition to software for taxes, Clear offers products for invoices, payments, wealth management, and credit. Taxes continue to be the core of Clear, with the platform facilitating 6 million individual tax returns and $4 billion in tax payments in fiscal year 2020. However, other services have proven substantial and impactful. Annually, $300 billion in invoices are filed through Clear, or around 10% of India’s B2B invoices.
Clear has raised $140 million in equity capital investment since its inception. The company was incubated in Y Combinator and is funded by Silicon Valley investors, including PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Max Levchin, and Scott Banister. Clear’s investors include Composite Capital, Sequoia Capital, and SAIF Partners.
Growing as entrepreneurs
For young entrepreneurs looking to start their own venture, Gupta recommends starting as early as possible. He anticipates that while in college and right after graduation, students will hopefully have little to no debt and might not yet be growing a family, affording them the flexibility to focus on learning, putting in extra hours to develop a startup, and financial fluidity that is not committed elsewhere.
“Following graduation, you are at an age where it’s possible to work 40–60 hours a week at a primary job and then work hard outside for 20–30 hours developing another idea. I think at that age, there is a lot of energy you can channel.”
Connecting with the right people is also important. Gupta was able to learn much through his own work at Data Domain. He also says that classmates and alumni can be good resources for ideation, establishing direction, or creating connections.
“Build a lot of friendships with the smartest people in the school, who you like, and they could become your friends or partners, potential future employees or future employers,” Gupta said. “I mean very genuine friendships. Nerd out with the people you like and do stuff with them. I think that’s the other part.”
Additionally, learning to code is essential if you are seeking to start a tech venture or having a reliable technical partner. Finally, Gupta emphasizes the importance of persistence in launching any startup.
“Settle down for the long haul,” Gupta said. “Building a successful startup is a 10-year journey, so the sooner you settle down for the long run, the better it is.”
Gupta said a global perspective is also important for entrepreneurs, calling it “essential and valuable.” Learning from renowned faculty at UW–Madison was a boon to him on the road to launching his own startup. But he also mentioned that UW–Madison being ripe with a culture of experimentation, a culture of doing, and learning a different way to think about problems was influential. The personal connections with Badgers inside and outside of the classroom was also a big takeaway in gaining a global perspective.
“I came to Madison and for the first time I had friends from the U.S., and who came to the U.S. from all over the world like China, Japan, South Korea, and other places. I worked with them also. To me, that was fantastic—a lot of cultural experimentation and you were exposed to the global best.”
Story by Steve Barcus, director of communications, International Division