Customer story: GoCardless

Innovative

GoCardless, the YCombinator-funded, UK-based payments processor, needs little introduction, as one of the hottest startups on the British tech scene. Needless to say, we were very happy when they decided to work with us.

Since their first claim with us was recently completed, we thought we’d ask them for a few words about their experience of working with us.

We first came across GrantTree when researching R&D tax credits. The blog on the website explained everything we needed to know in with great clarity and the right level of detail. Working with the team just confirmed that they are expert at what they do.

The team have been great to work with: very responsive to our questions and proactive in drawing our attention to costs we could include in the claim but hadn’t initially spotted as R&D.

The process was incredibly straightforward. Our technical lead spent half an hour filling out a form, our accountant filled out the financials spreadsheet, a couple of hours picking out the non-R&D costs and that was it.

HMRC wanted to come to our offices to discuss our claim, which sounded a little intimidating, but GrantTree were very reassuring. They came over an hour before the meeting to prepare us, gave us an overview of what was likely to happen and the best way to approach the discussion, and we passed.

We spoke to a couple of other companies, both of whom expected us to write at least an initial draft of the technical claim. GrantTree sent us a short form which took our technical lead half an hour to complete and their writers did the rest. This meant our technical team didn’t lose time working on our product.

As the quotes above mention, there was an HMRC inquiry into the technology of GoCardless (our best bet as to why is that the HMRC inspectors did not understand what was so hard about setting up direct debits, and needed to be educated as to the difficulties of doing this on the scale that GoCardless addresses). This goes to show that even startups that are at the top of their game and doing a lot of qualifying R&D can find themselves facing the pointy end of an HMRC inquiry.

Luckily, prepping and assisting in the inquiry is one of the skills we excel at, perhaps because we are tech startup people ourselves and therefore we understand how to explain things in a way that you’ll understand.

Here’s some feedback from the people who were at the meeting, from GoCardless:

Q1: When you heard about the HMRC meeting/check, what was your first association? What did you expect?

Grey: We weren’t sure what to expect when we heard about the HMRC meeting. As a payments company we’re used to dealing with government and the FCA, but there was a lot of money riding on having a good meeting with HMRC so we wanted to make sure we nailed it.

Harry: I also didn’t have a clear picture of what to expect. I’d heard vague stories about other startups getting large amounts of money through R&D tax credits, but I hadn’t considered it for us before.

Q2: How was reality different from your expectations? Off the top of your head, was there anything unusual or surprising about that meeting?

Grey:

  • I was surprised at what HMRC do and don’t consider R&D, particularly the exclusion of design.
  • I was also surprised that neither of the HMRC representatives were technical. That meant explaining exactly why the GoCardless system is innovative more challenging – we needed to explain everything we’ve done from a lay perspective.
  • Finally, I didn’t realise HMRC would want to talk about GoCardless’s entire history, not just the period we were claiming for. At the end of the meeting they said future meetings would probably not be required, so it’s clear that they’re keen to get an impression of a company’s entire life so far from one meeting.

Harry:

The people HMRC sent to interview us didn’t seem particularly well equipped to assess us from a technical perspective. There seemed to be a rather arbitrary division between what qualifies as R&D and what doesn’t.

Q3: How did we at GrantTree help/not help you? Here’s the place to give us some love – even if it’s of the tough kind 😉

Grey: GrantTree helped hugely with our preparation for the meeting. The explained what HMRC were looking for, as well as giving us some tips on exactly how to present (for example, starting the meeting by detailing our technical credentials). Because we had GrantTree’s assistance we were able to spend very little time preparing for the meeting – the hour we had with them in advance of it was enough.

Harry: The advice GrantTree offered before the meeting was immensely helpful. Getting a crash-course in exactly how to navigate the interview process was exactly what we needed – it meant we didn’t have to spend days researching the process before we went in to the interview.

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