Refund Giant

The fast, hands-free VAT refunds app for overseas travellers.
Refund Giant

Meet the team

Shawn Du, COO (MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship Management 2019)

Alex Zhou, CEO (MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship Management 2019)

Jil Schwarz, Advisor (MSc Innovation and Entrepreneurship Management 2019)

Get in touch

The company
Refund Giant is an app-based service that syncs with credit and debit cards to automatically issue fast, hands-free VAT refunds for travellers by detecting purchases abroad. The app-based service offers a seamless experience, a digitized process, and instant refunds after approval – faster and at a price lower than outdated competitors.

We originally presented the idea as Entrepreneurship module project, then spun it off into a business that we’re working on full-time after we realised its potential.

The team
We met at Imperial in the MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Management program. Shawn and I came to Imperial not to work on one specific idea, but rather to find a co-founder with an entirely different skillset who could be flexible enough with big pivots. Fun fact: We originally started working on a recruiting business at the beginning of the year, but ended up shelving it when the opportunity to digitize the VAT refund process presented itself.

Our advisors
Dr. Harveen Chugh was our first advisor, who guided us through both our Entrepreneurship module in IEM, as well as through the IB Pitch competition which we won this year. She helped us reach out to HMRC and guided us to the right direction. We have a small handful of other advisors which have dedicated their lives to growing travel startups from inception to exit, but not made them public yet.

Enterprise Lab support
Beyond hot-desking space in the Enterprise Lab, having access to Experts-in-Residents, Idea Surgeries, and an environment filled with other equally motivated entrepreneurs has helped us move fast and break things, in a good way! We’ve also used the space to host events.

Where we are now
We’ve secured permission from HMRC and Border Force to operate. We’re finishing building v1 of the app, which will soon be in app stores for beta testing. We’ve already begun closed market testing and are processing refunds manually for about 15 travellers from North America, Asia and Europe. We’re also super big on talking to customers; we’ve talked to 300+ travellers at the airport claiming a VAT refund to understand their pain points. After walking them through our prototype, 94% of those interviewed said they’d rather use our service than the current process.

Success and setbacks
Our biggest successes so far have been obtaining approval from HMRC and Border Force, winning £5000 through IB Pitch and having users find our service organically for piloting.

We have also faced a few setbacks, including coming second for our Entrepreneurship module’s pitching competition, hunting for the right fit for a CTO (currently we have two part-time developers working for us) and sleepless nights spending working on Refund Giant.

Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
No matter how silly your idea sounds – even if it’s just some notes written down on a napkin – talk to as many people as possible about it, find a complementary co-founder, and run with it.

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