Mike began his entrepreneurial career early. At age 11, he began investing his paper route money into wholesale lots of semi-precious gemstones. He traded them at retail for items out of the classified ads, then resold them, keeping the profit. At 14, he started a commercial cleaning service specializing in Law Offices, and in High School, he ran a coffee shop out of the back of his car.
When Mike was 18, he moved 1500 miles from his home town to Phoenix, Arizona to study Electrical Engineering. He brought with him two suitcases, a box of gemstones, one rollerblade, and $1200. "Looking back," recalls Roberts, "it was like some kind of reality TV show. I had less than two weeks to secure an apartment, trade the gems for a motorcycle and house full of furniture, and get a job. The craziest part was skating 12 miles on one rollerblade to pick up the motorcycle, and then taking 6 hours to get home because I had no idea how to ride it."
Mike quickly moved through the ranks. By age 20, he found himself leading a team of developers at Rockwell-Collins building the next generation of seat back streaming video for commercial airliners. Shortly thereafter, Roberts dropped out of his engineering program and started his first technology company, TrafficHawk.com. TrafficHawk failed almost before it started.
"TrafficHawk failed because of me," Mike admits. "Outside of technology, I really had no idea what I was doing. I had poor focus and not that great of leadership. I knew how to run an engineering project at a big company, but not a clue how to get a new venture off the ground." TrafficHawk was a big learning experience. "I really don’t like to lose," declares Roberts. "TrafficHawk showed me a lot of my own weaknesses. I set out to improve. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind that I wouldn’t try again."
After the TrafficHawk failure, Mike went back to school this time majoring in Economics. In 1999, he founded Velocityscape as a technology and management consulting firm. Roberts landed long term contracts with the likes of Microsoft, Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo, and several others. Things were going well in his young career. But at night, Mike was working on something more.
"The thing that I am most passionate about; what I was born to do, is bring new ideas to market," explains Roberts. At night, Mike was working on a project he called Providus. "I had a client, and they wanted to get some data off the Internet and put it into a database. We looked for off-the-shelf solutions, but ultimately we had to build a custom tool. It took maybe 35 hours to build, but the thing was completely un-maintainable. I thought there had to be a better way."
For 14 months, Mike worked alone, every night and weekend building Providus. Finally, in September of 2003, he made it available for download. "I think in the first 6 months I made a total of 8 sales. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that! I mean 14 months…" The initial response wasn’t great, but there was a lot to be learned from the few customers that there were. "It was kind of painful, but I found out what customers were really looking for," he explains.
Mike went back to work on Providus for another 6 months. "I made a lot of changes, including the name, based on customer feedback. It was all true. There was no way to know by the name Providus that the product took data off the web and put it into a spreadsheet or database. It sounded more like a disease or something." The new name was Web Scraper Plus+ and the second release in April of 2004 showed marked improvement in sales. It still wasn’t perfect, but it generated enough sales for Velocityscape to hire its first employee.
Today, Velocityscape is the market leader in web data extraction products and services. SpyFu.com is Mike’s first new product launch since Providus in 2003. "I’m not sure what to expect," he admits. "On one hand I want to keep expectations low because I know what it was like last time. On the other hand, I feel like I have learned so much and the whole organization is so much more capable. And man, is SpyFu exciting! I really just can’t wait to see what happens. I love this stuff, and I will never stop doing it." --
Mike currently lives in Cave Creek, Arizona. He is 28, divorced, his favorite color is blue, and he has a wonderful girlfriend named Lacey. He enjoys snowboarding, motorcycle racing (both dirt and street), skydiving, and of course the sport of kings: ping pong.