Munich Startup: Who are you and what does Verso do? Please introduce yourselves!
Andreas Maslo: We, Andreas Maslo (33) and Florian Holl (39), are the founders of Verso. Wondering about the impact made by our favorite products on the environment, people and society is something that has been on our minds for years. We met in 2010 through our tennis team, and even back then, we checked to see where our favorite everyday products came from and how they were produced. And we found: nothing.
After further research, it became clear that most companies themselves aren’t even aware of the impact their actions have on people, the environment and society. They lack the know-how and the right managerial approach. To make sustainability in companies as easy to manage as possible, we ended up founding Verso.
Today, our company is a complete CSR management cockpit for sustainability officers. It allows us to support companies with our software and consulting solutions to sustainably transform the economy. Regardless of whether they’re a startup or large corporation, with Verso, companies can manage information on sustainability and quickly communicate it to selected stakeholders.
Verso isn’t my first company. When I was 18, I took over a landmarked building and turned it into a four-star guesthouse. After participating in the Deutsche Gründerpreis in 2006 and coming in third in Bavaria, I started to take a serious interest in entrepreneurship. My business studies at the Kempten University of Applied Sciences and Harvard University gave me a strong foundation for Verso. My co-founder Florian Holl also has a background in business administration and regularly gives talks as a CSR expert, for example, at the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Munich.
Ambitious goals: Verso wants to sustainably change the world
Munich Startup: What problem does your startup solve?
Andreas Maslo: What it’s basically about for us is that we urgently need to sustainably transform our world. Based on how we live now, we’re going to reach the ‘point of no return’ soon in terms of the climate and environment. And it’s not just that. In other areas of sustainability as well – economic, social and societal aspects – quite a lot has gotten out of balance and is not viable for the future in its current form.
The way we do business plays a significant role in this deplorable state of affairs. Companies want and need to assume their responsibility now to survive in the future. That’s why sustainability management and CSR are one of today’s most important and pressing issues in a corporate context.
With our software and consultation services, we at Verso want to remove obstacles and make it as easy and convenient as possible for companies to sustainably transform themselves. In addition to our software and consultation package for beginners, many CSR professionals also use our software. With the cockpit, they holistically manage their goals, measures, key figures and communication. And then you have the CSR reporting obligation. We’ve partially automated the process in our software and integrated guidelines. That saves users a tremendous amount of time and money and makes external agencies unnecessary.
Munich Startup: But that’s nothing out of the box!
Andreas Maslo: We would be happy if it really wasn’t something out of the box! Because then the current economy would be much further along in terms of sustainable transformation. We still need a whole lot more companies that are committed to sustainably transforming our world. It really counts now!
The challenge of red tape
Munich Startup: What have been your biggest challenges so far?
Andreas Maslo: Our biggest challenge is certainly the recurring confrontation with the ‘old world’ of business. Profit maximization as the sole foundation for all decisions – along with budgets. With the complex issue of sustainability, our message often fell on deaf ears in the past. Simply because decision makers didn’t understand the materiality and potential of CSR. It’s similar to the situation with digitization – there are definitely still lots of company leaders out there who only find the courage to make changes when there are no other options left.
For sustainable transformation, ‘Fridays for Future’ and the global climate change movement were definitely a start. Since then, the topic that is so dear to our hearts, sustainability, is no longer dismissed as do-goodery. Even the most numbers-based CFO can no longer disregard the fact that corporate responsibility is being called for: by employees, customers, shareholders, society. Sustainability is currently becoming the “license to operate” for every company out there. Regardless of whether it’s a startup or major corporation.
The second major challenge that we face time and again is red tape. We have to meet the same bureaucratic requirements as big, established companies. That often doesn’t make any sense at all and costs us time and money that we would much rather invest in developing our company. We would very much like to see some things significantly simplified, such as classifying the social security status (employee or entrepreneur) or employee stock participation programs. An ombudsperson institution for startups would also be a good idea, where excessive amounts of bureaucracy or questionable individual decisions made by administrators could be reported and advice could be given.
Using economies of sale in sustainable business
Munich Startup: How is business going?
Andreas Maslo: Our business depends entirely on the amount of attention paid to the issue of sustainability. We’re happy to see that there’s more interest in it today than ever before. We receive amazing feedback on our events and there are so many open doors and sympathetic ears at the moment. We were able to increase our customer base by 56% in the past year.
Of course due to corona, we’re also seeing cancellations because budgets aren’t being approved. Others, however, are now banking on sustainability precisely because of the pandemic and global interrelations and definitely want to take a strategic approach. We plan to launch the first online shop for CSR software in the near future to make it even easier for customers to use Verso for their CSR management.
As for the next one to three years, we could definitely see ourselves joining forces with other market players so we can offer our customers an even wider range of products. The right economies of sale and synergies could make it possible to promote the sustainable transformation of companies even more rapidly. It’s definitely high time!
Munich: A privilege with downsides
Munich Startup: What do you think about Munich as a startup location?
Andreas Maslo: Munich is of course both home and a high-tech city. It really is a privilege to have an office in this unique city. On top of that, we’re located in the Munich Technology Centre (MTZ), which offers an excellent environment for growth.
But this attractive city also has its downsides: The rent in Munich isn’t exactly compatible with startup salaries.
We would also like to see more platforms for exchanging information about specific topics, especially about sustainability, CSR and SaaS, or Software as a Service. There is so much untapped potential in these areas! For sustainability, we already started our Impact Circle, which is our own information platform, where we interview CSR leaders and CSR managers and bring together interested parties.
But I basically also think that physical location is becoming less and less important. We do think it’s extremely important for teams to meet up regularly. But since lockdown early this year at the latest, a lot of people have gotten used to working entirely from home. That means startups could also employ team members who live in the middle of the Alps or elsewhere – as long as the internet connection works. But having a central meeting place like Munich is still a good basis. After all, we do have lots of customers right here on our doorstep.
Munich Startup: Hidden champion or shooting star?
Andreas Maslo: We want to turn both the topic of sustainability in companies and our customers into shooting stars. We as Verso would be happy to be the hidden champion.