Alumni

Rohrssen ’11 wins national award

By Jan Joslin | May 21, 2019

Michia Rohrssen has been busy since graduating in 2011. He’s founded several startups and is currently co-founder and CEO of Prodigy and partner at Alchemist Accelerator. 

His entrepreneurial spirit has gained national attention and placed him on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. In regard to starting businesses, Rohrssen has said, “You need to make sure your idea is painful enough to be worth solving.”  

CREATING STARTUPS 

I grew up competing in martial arts. I think that in some ways that led me to the business world. I love to win, and there’s nothing more satisfying than building a business and watching it really take off. I think there’s also something special about the process of taking ideas from your head and turning them into real, revenue producing ventures. That idea alchemy has always fascinated me and really makes my work exciting. 

FORMULATING IDEAS 

There are a few things I look for in companies:

  1. Big problems. Succeeding in any business is hard,and the larger the problem you solve generally the larger the reward at the end. Life is short, so I try to generally work on solving big problems in big markets. 
  2. Personal passion. The more connected to a market I am the more fun I have working on the idea. Business is hard, but it should at least be fun as well!  
  3. Some sort of trends or movements that make the business more interesting in the future than it is now. Prodigy is a great example. The way consumers research and buy cars in the U.S. has been rapidly changing over the last few years, so we’re capitalizing on that change in the perfect time with our company by building tools for car dealerships to sell cars in a digital age.  
  4. Tech enabled scale. I’ve always been into computers and with a computer science degree, I really look for businesses that can scale through some sort of technology that I can develop or have my team develop. Businesses that require a lot of manpower can be incredibly profitable, (multibillion dollar construction companies) but they don’t excite me the way technology companies do. 

STARTING COMPANIES  

Growing up I always had small ideas that I would try out to make extra money, but I originally planned on being a video game developer which is why I ended up getting a computer science degree at CSU. I actually started my first business my freshman year out of my dorm because I needed some money to pay for extra bills and thought it sounded like fun. I ended up getting so addicted to building businesses I stopped playing video games, and there was no turning back from there.  

 SOLVING PROBLEMS 

The easiest way [to solve problems] is to get out of your head, get out of your office and go talk to people who have the exact problem you’re thinking of solving. Ask them if they will pay for a solution, ask them how much they would pay and ask them how badly they want it. If you ask 100 people if they’d buy the solution you’re thinking about building and no one is interested, you know you’ve missed the mark, but when people start saying yes, then you’re onto something. 

 BUILDING PRODIGY 

I’ve always been a huge car fanatic. I bought my first car before I was old enough to drive and bought and sold cars all through college for fun. I love cars, but buying them isn’t the best experience in the world. I knew if we could start a business that solved that pain, there would be tremendous value created not only for consumers but also for car dealerships. The idea came mostly through working closely with dealerships and learning versus some stroke of insight or brilliance we had before we started the company. We spent the first year just sitting in car dealerships, learning everything we could about their business so that we were experts on their operations before we could even begin to think about how to improve them. 

ADVISING ENTREPRENEURS 

1. You’re never ready for your first new venture. It’s always risky. Take the leap anyways. You’ll learn a ton,and the skills you gain along the way will make you more employable even if it doesn’t end up working out.

2. Surround yourself with mentors. I’m a firm believer that your life will be the average of the five closest people to you. If you’re surrounding yourself with people that represent who you want to be in 5-10 years, you’ll naturally head that direction. I attribute almost all of my success to taking leaps of faith when things felt too risky and having amazing mentors to keep me from falling into too many pitfalls. 

PRODIGY PROJECTIONS 

We’re going to process $10B in car sales through our platform in 2019, but to be clear, that is not our revenue, just the volume of vehicle sales moving through our platform this year. In a few years I imagine we’ll be powering automotive retail for most of the top auto dealers in the country. We’re getting great adoption from top dealers; we have an amazing team and amazing investors to help us take our business to the next level in 2019.  

HAVING FUN  

I’m really into photography, so I travel quite a bit and take lots of photos/videos on my trips. Taking a step back and seeing different perspectives and cultures gives me a renewed focus and energy when I return from my trips. These days, traveling is almost a must do to balance out the life of running a company. I really get stir crazy if I go too long without traveling internationally. Last year I visited Japan, Kenya, South Africa, Cuba, Chile, Brazil and Argentina, so it was a pretty good travel year.  

Some of Rohrssen’s pics can be found on his fiancee’s website at janiceyip.com. 

Article originally published in CSU Magazine, Spring 2019. 

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