Employee benefits that directly increase the net salary. The Baden-Württemberg-based start-up Riso shows how this can be done. Via app, receipts for private expenses are scanned and reimbursed tax-free by the company. Riso wants to create simple and fast wage benefits for everyone. Founder Philipp Maier explains how exactly this works, why an accelerator helped the young start-up to grow and how to prevail against competitors in the fintech market.
How did you come up with the idea to found your start-up?
At the time, I was working in financial consulting and learned about tax-optimized options in the area of wages. At first I was very surprised that these options were not widely used. But then I understood that the implementation in practice is difficult for SMEs because of the complicated laws: the big ones put whole teams of tax advisors on the subject and thus take advantage of the multi-million subsidies. This brings financial advantages and strengthens their market position. In order for SMEs to catch up here, they also need advisers who specialise in them and, above all, one thing: a simple system that is suitable for everyday use. This is what we have created with the Riso app.
What is special about Riso's business model, what do you do differently?
We are consistently digital. All of our benefits are handled digitally and in the cloud. This clearly differentiates us from traditional providers who rely on paper and cards. In addition, we are geared towards German SMEs: we don't have any minimum volumes or minimum company sizes, and we make benefits possible from the first employee onwards.
Last but not least: We combine various tax-free wage components and benefits and can thus deliver everything needed directly to payroll accounting from a single source.
What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome at the beginning?
Perhaps trivially, that there are only 24 hours in a day: in other words, a lack of resources. In the beginning, I did too many things myself and only gradually found partners. Even today, we regularly take on more than we can accomplish as a team. But this is now happening at a healthier level and we see it as an incentive to move forward every day with seven-league boots on.
What support or help would you have liked to have had when starting up?
Founders as well as supporters have to be willing to break new ground, consciously take risks and thus accept the possibility of failure. This type of supporter is not easy to find, especially in the area of taxes and finances, people like to trust in the established from the last century. Here we have experienced some resistance from advisers regarding our digital approach, but also disbelief at the potential administrative efficiencies. This could have been easier. On the other hand, resistance makes you stronger and allows you to grow and develop.
A circular from the Federal Ministry of Finance, which explicitly approved of our approach, then surprisingly helped us from the official side. But of course there were also individuals who walked the path with us. And when you're founding a company, you don't always need the masses, but rather the broad support of a few, but all the more involved supporters.
Have you worked with an accelerator?
Yes, I participated in Up2B. It was a great program.
How did that help you? What else did you miss?
For me, the exchange, feedback and expert input were particularly important. We had some extra lessons in the evening. I am still in contact with many participants and lecturers today. The spirit of wanting to improve, change or advance something unites us.
How do you feel about the current funding opportunities for fintechs in Germany?
There is currently quite a wide range of digitisation funding. We are also funded and benefit from it. Nevertheless, it is still difficult for start-ups to persevere and survive. There are many initiatives, but at the political level, it is not yet understood everywhere what a start-up really needs on a day-to-day basis. And that is definitely more than money, for example the supporters, visionaries, development partners, tinkerers, live testers and of course paying initial customers mentioned above.
And how does it look in Baden-Württemberg? How do you feel about the funding opportunities for FinTechs here?
For Fintechs specifically, I'm not sure. However, with Pre-Seed BW (and then Protect), the state has created a great early-stage funding. To my knowledge, this is unique in Germany. It's good that Baden-Württemberg has taken its cue from other countries here: If you are best-in-class in your league, you have to change leagues and look for new role models.
There are currently around 900 fintechs in Germany. How do you succeed in such a booming market?
As a young company, it suits you to specialize and position yourself crystal clear. You could constantly build more app features, implement a 17th special request or get bogged down in product development: Simplification and focus are critical to survival, and not just for us.
We'd rather try to do one thing right than a dozen half-done. In Riso's case, by the way, we can take that literally: There are a good dozen tax-optimized salary modules; we're currently only doing four of them. That's good, because it means we cover enough tax-free wages for first-time customers. And at the same time, we still have great development potential: A tripling is possible and we can already show these options.
And in which direction do you think the fintech market will still develop?
The transformation has already started - modern insurance solutions, digital banks, countless services ... - , but the real impact is yet to come. The traditional houses still dominate the market and make the grand of the sales. However, many fintechs are now shifting to the growth and scaling lane and this development will lead to some market upheavals in the next 3-5 years.
About the person: After his studies in International Management, Philipp Maier founded several companies and dealt catchily with the topic of salary optimization. This was followed in 2018 by the founding of his start-up Riso, with which he aims to make tax-optimized salary benefits accessible to smaller companies.
About our partner fintogether:
The state accelerator "fintogether" is an early-stage startup support program in which FinTechs are supported in a targeted manner from their founding to their market entry. The goal is to build a lively and successful FinTech scene in Baden-Württemberg, so that companies, startups and investors can benefit from it. Further information via: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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