Q&A with Michele Romanow, CBC Dragon and co-founder of Clearbanc

Credit: Michele Romanow on Twitter

We chatted with the Dragon about the future of the financial industry and her favourite presentations in the Den

Michele Romanow turned 30 the same year she was given a chair on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. It’s a remarkable achievement considering that her business career began nine years earlier when she started a zero-consumer-waste coffee shop with two fellow Queen’s University students. 

So began the life of a serial entrepreneur, as Romanow went on to start a number of businesses, including a caviar fishery, one of the country’s biggest e-commerce sites and a couponing app.

When she’s not investing in up-and-coming Canadian moguls, Romanow acts as the president of Clearbanc—another company she co-founded—which seeks to provide budding entrepreneurs with funding that doesn’t require a personal guarantee.

Recently, Romanow was in Vancouver as part of Clearbanc’s partnership with Intuit Inc., the financial software company behind programs like Quickbooks and TurboTax).  

BCBusiness caught up with Romanow to ask her about the alliance, as well as her favourite Dragons’ Den presentations.

Why did Clearbanc join forces with Intuit?

We’re both very passionate about small businesses and helping entrepreneurs grow and succeed. We share the same vision of helping entrepreneurs grow and grow through multiple different tools and sources of capital, so that was really the reason for that. 

As Canadians banks start to open up their data to tools like Quickbooks, do you think the financial industry in Canada is about to see a major overhaul?

I think there’s just generally a ton of changes happening in fintech overall. Looking at the last 10 years and the destruction of all the big media companies, people have placed a lot of big bets on fintech in the next 10 years. Consumers will want to have access to share their data with multiple providers. It’s really never made sense that your bank should be separate from the ways you’re accounting; those should always feel jointed and feel easy.

Hopefully all of this makes life easier for entrepreneurs, whether it’s getting capital from Clearbanc or doing more seamless accounting. It’s hard enough; no one becomes an entrepreneur because they say, “I can’t wait to do my books.” That’s not the primary reason, so anything we can do to make it easier is much better.

Speaking of Canadian entrepreneurs, what’s your number one piece of advice for those trying to start a business here?

I think my biggest piece of advice for new and aspiring entrepreneurs is always to start now. It never feels like the right time to start a business. Lots of people come on Dragons’ Den and say, “I’ve been thinking about this for 10 years.”

The world’s changed in 10 years! It’s that, and then I think it’s pushing yourself from planning to execution. Businesses are built by 5 percent great ideas but 95 percent execution, so pushing yourself into constantly moving faster than others, building faster than others, that really leads into your ability to innovate, because you’re seeing the market respond faster.

Did it take you a while to get used to being on TV and being comfortable in that environment?

I certainly hadn’t done television before. I had no aspirations of doing television per se, but it’s like anything else as an entrepreneur: you just kind of dive in quickly and learn from your mistakes. On TV you get to watch your tapes and figure out when you talk too long and when they cut you out and how soundbites work. You kind of iterate your way through it, and the CBC liked me, so they brought me back.

You’ve started and invested in multiple companies. Is it hard to become an expert in different fields in a matter of weeks?

I think that there’s a process to starting a company where you actually have to believe that there’s a totally different future than the one you’re seeing today. So the problem is that when you come from an industry, you have all these different biases, like “Well, we’ve always done it like this,” or “We’ve always seen things like this.”

Fundamentally that attitude totally prevents you from being innovative. And people forget when you start, what a big advantage it is to not have any legacy systems. One of the reasons it’s so hard for the banks to move forward is because they have stuff that was built 40 years ago. You don’t get the luxury of building from scratch today; you have to build on giant legacy systems.

Facebook wasn’t invented by a newspaper editor. Tesla was not invented by an auto executive that came and started a new company. All of [Richard] Branson’s businesses were totally new to him from the beginning. So I would actually argue that you have a tremendous amount of insight coming in, knowing how to be an innovator, knowing how to break down barriers, and knowing how to do things quickly and how to get partners and traction early on than actually the knowledge of the industry.

I think that if we [at Clearbanc] had come in with a team that had been a bank for years, we would have naturally done things the way they were done previously. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn fast. You have to learn incredibly fast. You have to do a ton of reading, ask really hard questions and find the right people to talk to. But that’s your job, and that’s the fun part of being entrepreneur—figuring out what’s been done previously and how you can build something better.

Michele Romanow dishes on her most memorable Dragons’ Den presentations


They were two engineers that came on and had built a prototype padlock. You know how padlocks are super annoying? You can’t remember the combination number, and I always freak out because I think I forgot the code and I’ll never get my stuff back.

So they put a fingerprint sensor on a padlock. You can either open it through your touch, or Bluetooth if you give someone else permission to open your lock. When they came on the show [in 2016], they had done one crowdfunding campaign. And today, they’re doing half a million dollars in sales per month. It’s an amazing product, and its done super well. That was quite memorable for me, just because I think it’s been a really successful pitch. 


My joke is always that tattoos have a 10-year shelf life. These guys truly built from scratch a temporary tattoo that lasts for three weeks and it looks exactly like a real tattoo. The ink is in your skin; it’s super cool. You can make your own custom design, or they have thousands on their website. It was a great product, and I remember when they did the pitch they brought out some very good-looking guys with tattoos, so it was funny in that way. But amazing product; it’s been an incredible investment.


Everyone’s wants to know what’s in his or her meat. So they do a box every month where you can customize it based on what you want to cook for your family. But they source from all local farms and it gets delivered to your door. I think they were quite memorable because Mark the co-founder is so fiery. He’s not willing to take no for an answer, and just had very strong conviction. He was so persistent about it, and I think that’s a great trait of every entrepreneur, just never being afraid.