RSM Malta was first incorporated in 2005, and, since then, has grown from a humble team of eight to employing close to 180 dedicated staff members. Entering its new and improved offices, merging with Spitery Bailey & Co in 2016 and diversifying its services has led the tax, accounting and advisory firm into one of the main players on the local market.
And, while the company excels in a number of areas, one service it is particularly proud of is its approach to supporting start-up organisations and family businesses into evolving their business to take them to the next level.
This approach was discussed at length on Tuesday afternoon’s episode of The Boardroom, presented by business writer Jo Caruana. RSM Malta’s Vladimiro Comodini (Partner), Karen Spiteri Bailey (Partner) and Fabienne Ruggier (Director) shed light on the company in more detail, covering the organisation’s major milestones and its broad spectrum of services:
Ms Ruggier, who is a Director within the firm’s NextGen Advisory team and has over 18 years of professional experience, said that the company defines a start-up as a venture in the very initial stages of operation, typically led by a motivated founder, or founders, who have a vision. They believe there is a demand out there for the product or service they want to bring to market, she adds.
“Typically, there are also very limited resources – we often hear of start ups that are cash strapped. We need to see how to make ends’ meet, how to carry out market research with the limited resources available, and how to get feedback from the market.
“It is very much an exploratory journey in the initial days, months or years of a start-up.”
Ms Spiteri Bailey, who is a Partner that heads the back-office services, VAT services and payroll, stresses that “a lot of time and patience needs to be dedicated” to start-up organisations.
“It is from listening extensively that we as a company learn about these people, where they are coming from and what their background is. It helps us understand how we can help and mentor them, to get their idea to fruition which hopefully becomes a successful company. Once the start-up formally launches operations and begins to trade, we handhold for the first few years, following which the company can hopefully continue independently of us,” she says.
RSM Malta has specialised and honed their approach to serving start-ups over the past year and a half, launching a working group that is led by the company’s partners and a number of individuals within the company who are passionate about the sector.
The company brings a multi-disciplinary approach from the start, involving several experts and seasoned professionals internally to understand an organisation’s particular needs, and help to form a plan on how to move forward. One major selling point of RSM Malta is that it does not farm out or outsource any of its work, having a team of dedicated experts across several disciplines in-house.
“We start off by being a sounding board to the start-up’s strategy, vision and business model. We bring professionals from several disciplines together and boil it down to specific support and assistance, depending on the maturity the start-up is at,” says Ms Ruggier.
Here, Mr Comodini, who is a Partner within the NextGen advisory unit of the firm – which advises people and companies on all fronts, speaks about a need for balance when formulating a plan for start-ups.
Mr Comodini’s focus areas are in gaming, compliance and financing, however his advice for start-ups in such early stages is applicable across the board.
“You need to find the balance between the young generation, who are passionate in their ideas which for older professionals may sound difficult to make work, and the older generation who typically provide mentoring and have experience in implementing ideas.
“When consulting and supporting a start-up, we dedicate our time and resources to generate a start-up mentality within the organisation. We firmly believe the start-up sector is the future,” says Mr Comodini.
In line with his areas of expertise, Mr Comodini goes on to shed light on the different financing options available. He says that because the popularity of angel investors or venture capital funding is not as pronounced on the island – although it is picking up – the firm starts by going through national incentives available.
For instance, a Government scheme is available to provide funding to assist firms on developing a professional business plan. Other funding is also available to help firms grow the number of staff to complement growth.
“Unfortunately, traditional banks do not like the start-up community. We know that the majority do not succeed, and start-ups can be risking, so traditional banks do not like to take on that risk.”
Rounding off, the three seasoned experts are asked about the main pitfalls entrepreneurs tend to face.
Ms Spiteri Bailey says that overenthusiasm can be a drawback. She explains that sometimes, when a founder is passionate about an idea, and the numbers coming from the market research do not back up that product or service, business owners can push ahead anyway because of their love for the idea.
“Numbers don’t lie and you end up with the start-up not succeeding. It is important to be open to all feedback and information being made available, and tweaking a product or service accordingly,” she says.
Her point is echoed by Ms Ruggier, who says that experimentation on the calibration of a product or service to how the market is responding is vital for a start-ups’ success.
Lastly, Mr Comodini points towards the hesitance that some start-ups or family business owners may have to criticism.
“The entrepreneur has to be open to the challenges going forward. Sometimes, we give constructive criticism based on an assessment of a specific situation, but this is not always received well.”