After a frustrating bout with his own property tax appeal, Badal Shah co-founded TurboAppeal, a fast-growing, data-driven solution to help appeal your taxes.
8/17/2015 - Editor's Note: In the Start Me Up series, the Kellogg School spotlights members of the Kellogg community who are bringing bold entrepreneurial visions to life.
It is estimated that more than 60 percent of home property taxes in America are assessed above their current value, yet a meager 15 percent of people challenge them. With an expensive and arduous process, culminating in mixed results, it’s not surprising to see so many people simply pay what they are assessed.
, the Chicago-based company co-founded by Badal Shah ’12, utilizes big data analytics and machine learning to support customers’ property tax appeals, making it easier and more likely to see a successful appeal. That ease has helped TurboAppeal grow exponentially in under a year of operation.
Shah’s moment of clarity for this concept came when dealing with his own property tax appeal as a homeowner, one in which he was let down by the services of a law firm he highly regarded.
“I was just extremely disappointed in the service,” Shah said. “When I saw the evidence they had actually submitted for my property, I recognized it was extremely inaccurate. As I saw that, I said ‘There has to be a better way that we can address this with technology.’”
Using TurboAppeal’s data-driven, evidence-based approach means cutting out the paperwork and logistics of dealing with law firms. In addition, the service is about 40 percent less expensive than a law firm, Shah said. This gets rid of the costs of time and labor, thereby ensuring that none of the work that needs to be done for a successful appeal will be skimped on.
“This is a big data problem,” Shah said. “There can’t be a manual service to address this, to really truly serve homeowners in an accurate way. We wanted to use an approach where we know for sure that the evidence given is the most accurate.”
A less sexy vertical, greater results
Property taxes may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering the booming big data trend, but that’s exactly why Shah and his co-founders decided to go after it. Looking at a vertical that “wasn’t as sexy” meant making big data consumable for people in a way that has tangible value, Shah said.
Since opening shop in February 2015, TurboAppeal already has grown to more than 30,000 customers. Shah has plans to scale into additional markets in Illinois and Florida, and into seven more states in the next two years. Ultimately, Shah plans for TurboAppeal to have a national presence.
“Yeah, it’s a fast growth model,” Shah said. “We’re trying to make the experience easier [for customers] but also, being a tech company, we’re starting to see opportunities in very complementary verticals as well. So we’re starting to develop other iterations now.”
Shah said that Kellogg taught him how to be a better leader, master areas of business he wasn’t as familiar with, and gave him an expansive, worldwide network of people he could lean on and learn from.
“It was the best experience of my life,” Shah said. “The education is second to none. It’s amazing, but even more so is the network – the network of learning from others across different industries – is just truly incredible.”
Another network, namely his family, helped Shah understand what it took to become a successful entrepreneur. Growing up, Shah’s father owned and operated his own chemical company. There, the younger Shah saw the hard work, grit and long hours of an entrepreneur and business; it’s in his blood, he said.
“I grew up on that,” Shah said of his father work ethic. “I saw him in the grind every day, working his tail off to make ends meet.”
Shah said his parents are proud to see him branch out onto his own after years of working at the family chemical business. His father understands his son has inherited his entrepreneurial spirit and knows he has a thirst to “do better and to explore the unknown,” according to Shah.
“Just ‘Be brave’ as Kellogg says,” Shah said. “He’s highly supportive of it, because he understands that as an entrepreneur, we’re all about trying to excel at challenges that others may think are too large.”
The most important thing to Shah is showing his two children that a great business idea can succeed with hard work and effort, no matter what others say.
“The ultimate success story would be showing my kids that you can enter something and do it successfully in an area where people were really trying to discourage you from entering,” Shah said. “If you can work hard and you can put the right team together, you can really dive into anything. If you can go from chemicals to tax appeals, that’s a pretty interesting story.”
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