Q&A: Rohan Shah ’14 on entrepreneurship, Forbes 30 Under 30

Entrepreneur Rohan Shah ’14 was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list last month in recognition of co-founding the company Extend, which provides an online platform to help merchants offer extended warranties and protection plans, while also assisting customers in filing claims. Since launching the company in 2019, Shah and his cofounders have raised $56 million in funding and signed on more than 100 customers, including Peloton, iRobot and Logitech.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): What is Extend and how does it assist merchants in product warranties? 

Rohan Shah (RS): Extend is an easy-to-integrate solution that helps any merchant or retailer sell extended warranties and protection plans on the products that they offer today. So traditionally, if you look at the retail market, you notice [large] companies like Amazon … have offered extended warranties for 20, 30, 40 years, and these extended warranty products are incredibly meaningful from a business perspective.

However, the rest of the market, the other 99% of merchants, especially as e-commerce has continued to grow, have never had access to offering things like extended warranties to their consumers. And so that’s really where Extend comes in to help those merchants and then also to provide customers with a better, better and more digital interface, so if something goes wrong [we can] help them file claims that are handled in a more modern and seamless and elegant manner.

TSD: What excites you most about your work with Extend?

RS: First and foremost, I’ve always personally leaned more towards the business-to-business side of things. It’s really fun helping people grow their businesses, whether they’re a large company — Peloton is one of our clients — or a small entrepreneur. I’m an entrepreneur myself, so I have a ton of respect and admiration for other people who try to start their own businesses because I know how hard it is. 

The other part is that I love working in that team environment. My entire life, I’ve been an athlete who plays on team sports. Having started a company that in less than two years has grown to over 100 full time employees, it’s really rewarding to be able to work with some smart folks who work extremely hard and have taught me a lot along the way.

TSD: How did you first become interested in entrepreneurship?

RS: My parents are both entrepreneurs — they started a company together in 1987. My entire childhood, I saw them hustle and work super hard to build their own business, a very different type of business than what I’m working on today. The grit and determination and hard work and effort, all of that is true across the board. 

Building a product is something that I’ve always been passionate about. And Stanford was of course, a privilege, but also a great place to learn, given the number of classes that focus on people like myself, in terms of honing the right skills, and understanding the process and the best steps that you really need to be successful in sort of this world of starting a company.

TSD: What kind of difficulties did you overcome while pursuing your dream of starting your own company?

RS: The first company that I started when I graduated from Stanford didn’t really go anywhere. One of the hardest things for me to do was telling those involved that it was time to close up shop. In retrospect, it’s one of those things where I probably wouldn’t be as successful without having that experience of failing. Frankly, I was never the best person at learning in a typical classroom; I was always the best at learning by doing.

I think the most important step was figuring out how to improve myself both as a person and as an operator and executive and founder. My first company sold to startups, and selling to startups is hard because they don’t have a lot of cash to spend. What I really wanted to do was to learn how to build software products for larger companies, so I got a job at a company called DCG in their digital ventures group, where the mission statement was to build products for Fortune 500 companies. I also wanted to get better at product development, so I became a product lead at DCG. Overall there was a lot of figuring out what my gaps were and identifying places that would help me fill those gaps, so that I could prepare myself for the next chance when I wanted to start a company again, where I would be taking a lot more risks.

TSD: What advice would you give for people who hope to start their own company?

RS: The number one advice that I would have for someone that wants to start a company for the first time is, don’t start a company just because you want to start a company; start a company because you identified a really meaningful problem to solve. And be really clear cut around how you want to do that. 

You can be a creator anywhere you work — you don’t need to start your own company. That said, there’s a lot of smart people out there who will start their own companies, and I would just say to be prepared and plan ahead for the realities of doing that. It’s not always easy, so do it for the right reasons, not just because you think it’s glorified and being in the Forbes 30 under 30 list is cool.

TSD: What does being a member of the 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 list mean to you?

RS: The first thing that I’ll say is, my mom got really excited. So it’s always nice to get your mom happy. I think the other part of it is, I like to keep pretty private, so it felt a little weird for me at first, but it’s always rewarding to be honored by something like that. To be a part of that community is pretty cool. It’s also great press for our business, which I think is the other most important thing for me. I’m lucky that I get to hold that baton, if you will, for the rest of the people at the business who have enabled me to be honored on the Forbes list. I work hard, but it’s the hard work of everyone else as well, who have allowed me to be honored.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Contact Nicholas Wei at nicholas.wei89 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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