Woonivers: The Battle against the Outdated Rules of The tax-free Industry

Antonio Cantalapiedra Woonivers

Antonio Cantalapiedra, Founder & Chair & Chief Executive Officer of Woonivers tells us how they serve the underserved with their tax-free solutions.

First of all, how are you and your family doing? 

Antonio Cantalapiedra: We´re doing pretty well. We´ve got health, hope, and faith. We stay blessed then.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Woonivers.

Antonio Cantalapiedra: I´m passionate about maths and technology. Using technology to cut down on red tape and boring procedures has been my obsession since 2007. Automatization and digitalization are core ideals of my profile and then challenges for Woonivers. I usually get sick whenever I see people in airports or stores lining up and wasting time. 

I set up companies to make processes completely digital from end to end, having records for each transaction. I´m obsessed with using machine learning algorithms to evaluate transactions without human supervision. 

We´ve created an expert system with rules involving fraudulent behaviors. To detect the unknown fraudulent behaviors, we use unsupervised algorithms, such as K-means, to organize the data into clusters, looking for outliers and anomalies with the highest probability of being fraudulent. With annotated dataset, we apply a collection of supervised algorithms, such as Naive Bayes, Random Forest, or even more complicated Deep Learning models, to get a confidence interval of each transaction. The advantage of using supervised algorithms is that in the evaluation part, they are much faster than the unsupervised ones. In addition, we will obtain the already mentioned confidence interval. 

At the top of our prediction models, we´re building a meta classifier to encapsulate them and where we can plug in and ponderate different algorithms to obtain a consensual response. The values to ponderate the output will be automatically calculated using optimization algorithms such as evolutionary algorithm, particle swarm optimization, or simulated annealing. So let’s say the meta classifier will apply different algorithms and will return a proper answer based on the different outputs gathered. 

When the system returns a positive, we can involve the user in extra steps to make sure the user is not committing fraud, for example, by asking the user to certify his location or snap a photo with the purchased item. 

Woonivers is part of a lifetime obsession: to serve the underserved. 

How does Woonivers market its product/services online? 

Antonio Cantalapiedra: Let me first describe my company. Woonivers is a “mobile-only” “cloud-first” non-paper-based solution intended for a real-time tax refund. It is a platform that allows retailers to collect data on consumer purchases in real-time in order to create micro-segments based on purchase behavior and launch hundreds of 1:1 personalized offers, improving consumer-retailer relationships across every channel with an ultimate impact on sales. Therefore, we use thoughtful algorithms to customize cashback offers for a wide variety of travel shoppers. 

We’d like to contribute to a better, more sustainable tourism. 

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how did you get through it?

Antonio Cantalapiedra: It´s been tough. Our business is fully connected to tourism and mobility across countries, cities, shops, and airports. We´ve been focusing on cross-borders to overcome the pandemic. We got lots of transactions along the frontier between Andorra and Spain and other borders across Europe. We also focused on changing the outdated rules. In a VAT refund context, structural changes in the overall framework of the VAT system highlight the growing need for an effective VAT refund system to fulfill the fundamental right of a trader to be relieved entirely from the burden of VAT. These include the move towards a more destination-based system for cross-border trade, proposals for an extended one-stop-shop (OSS) to give effect to the E-commerce Package and the Definitive VAT Regime, and increasing provision of services on a cross-border basis by businesses, as well as growth in the use of specialist subcontractors within business models. 

Woonivers scope doesn’t just involve tourists but retailers, airports, and governments as well. In order to acquire tourists, we are partnering with digital tour operators around the world who are really looking into improving the experience of their customers. As of writing, we are exploring partnerships with Ctrip and some other players. The reason for this is that the majority of tourists that go to Europe book with brands like Expedia, booking, etc. As of writing, we have received positive feedback from AENA & Aeroport de Paris, as well as government approval by the French Customs (Douane). 

We are ready for a post-pandemic world with a useful “prophylactic” mobile solution also for eCommerce transactions. You don´t need to physically drop by stores to take advantage of Woonivers software. Our competitors are old-fashioned, slow, and not ready for a post-pandemic experience. 

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?

Antonio Cantalapiedra: A previous mathematical segmentation is crucial. Segmentation is the act of identifying and profiling distinct groups of customers. It is a previous step before proceeding with logistics regression and then GAN, LSTM (Data Science techniques). To deeply understand logistics regression it is mandatory to dig into “segmentation”, “linearity”, “multicollinearity”, “non linearity events conversion into linear ones”, “correlation analysis and reverse causality”, “homoscedasticity”, “monotonic relationships”, “interaction variables”…etc.

 You may use software like Mixpanel for campaigns and many others, but you should first use latent class segmentation (using Lateng Gold softy) as long as it has a series of advantages: 1. A rigorous statistical procedure and the use of statistical indicators to check the model’s fit (BIC, classification error, number of parameters, etc.). 2. Usage of latent or non-observable variables as segmentation criteria. 3. Usage of exogenous variables to describe segments in precise detail.

We use tools like Sproutsocial for monitoring and analytics, Buzzsumo, Socialmention, Semrush for SEO analytics, Yoast, OptinMonster for Lead acquisition, Snip.Ly and so on.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Antonio Cantalapiedra: Woonivers main competitive advantage is that we are digitizing the entire VAT refund process. Several of our competitors – Planet, Global Blue, etc., have introduced so-called digital solutions that aim to solve the problem, but the flaw is that they only digitize a part of the process (usually the beginning with the form filling), not really replacing hardware. Woonivers is the first “only mobile” and “only cloud-based” tax-free operator. The problem for incumbents tax-free operators persists when tourists come to the airport to claim their refunds. Our solution solves all of those problems from Point A all the way to Point Z. 

Apart from the core platform, Woonivers is also offering an analytics platform for brands that will help them acquire and retain more customers through microtargeting. Due to the company’s relationship with tour operators and digital travel agencies, Woonivers has access to tourists’ personal details months before coming to Europe. Once a tourist registers for an app, he/she will be asked to answer an interactive survey that will tell us what their tastes and budgets are. This data will be used to create “profitability profiles” that is based solely on previous purchasing habits. 

Using a brand’s past purchasing data, we can automatically generate customer profiles that will be ideal for a brand. Our algorithm will then match each company to a group of tourists that will most likely buy from them based on previous purchases. Once this match has been made, brands can use Woonivers to send promotional materials, among other customer acquisition techniques. 

In a context where Europe is unifying, normalizing, and sharing fiscal data to prevent money laundering and other types of fraud, this product is clearly an advantage. It gives us leverage to achieve different agreements with the governments and entities that we really need as partners. Having a good relationship with governments gives us access to key information, law adaptations in order to open new market opportunities, improvements in tax-free workflows that make the process better for every actor, etc. 

To conclude, there’s evidence that is giving foreign residents the right to reimburse their VAT is beneficial for the retail sector, not only for brick-and-mortar stores but also for e-commerce and omnichannel combinations.

Your final thoughts?

Antonio Cantalapiedra: The bureaucracy is murderous, and nobody seems to stop the deaths using technological tools.

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