Dan Roitman is the founder and chief executive officer of Stroll, an Internet retailer of lifestyle information products. He founded Stroll in 2000 while a senior in college and has led the firm from startup to present. He is an active member of the Smart100, a local network of chief executive officers. Roitman holds a BS in international business and a BA in German from the University of Maryland at College Park.
Sramana: Dan, let’s start by reviewing the roots of your entrepreneurial journey. Where did you grow up?
Dan Roitman: I was born in Germany and I lived there for nine years before moving to the U.S. My parents are divorced, and both of my parents got remarried. I went from being a single child to having two stepbrothers and two stepsisters at the age of 12. Coming to America was a transition because I had to adapt to a different culture and make new friends. It was interesting.
Sramana: When did you come to the U.S.?
Dan Roitman: I came to the U.S. when I was nine. I grew up in Maryland and went to college at the University of Maryland. I started the company my senior year in college.
Sramana: What prompted you to start he company?
Dan Roitman: My dad lives in Europe, and I was visiting him. I came across an advertisement for a product I thought could be very useful for students. It was a digital highlighter, a text-scanning pen, which was made by a Swedish company. I thought it would be a great tool to create study guides, outlines, summaries, and so forth for college students. I happened to have a former professor who was Swedish, and I convinced that professor to fly with me to Sweden to pitch the idea of marketing to college students. They liked the idea and gave me a little bit of funding, and that is how the company started.
Sramana: What was the idea you pitched to them?
Dan Roitman: The idea was to donate the pens to the libraries at universities. That would give free access to the university mailing system because the university would want to promote the availability of the pens in the library. That allowed the company to send advertisements to students directly. That got a lot of publicity in the student newspaper, and the formula worked.
We test marketed at two universities and were about to expand to 20 universities when the company decided to pull out of the U.S. entirely. They wanted to license their technology in the security applications field due to their optical capabilities and leave the retail space. That forced my business to pivot into another area.