‘Den of Dragons’ tech titan Michele Romanow on the risk of betting on yourself


    Clearco co-founder and CEO Michele Romanow embodies true determination. Shortly after graduating from university, she was literally knee-deep building a commercial caviar fishery in New Brunswick. Business was booming until the recession hit in 2008. Fast-forward to today—five companies and countless awards later—Romanow proves the value of backing yourself by backing yourself. You get a hint of her entrepreneurial passion on the hit CBC show Dragon’s Den, as she is one of the dragons that the contestants propose their business ideas to support. Read about her take on everything from renting to investing, and take a chapter from her handbook on taking risks that pay off.

    Who are your financial heroes?

    My father. He taught me a great work ethic and has always taught me the value of money and financial independence. He showed me the value of a dollar and how to maximize it, whether it meant spending money or saving.

    How do you like to spend your free time?

    As a founder, I know I’ll never have a typical nine-to-five job, and while that can scare some people, I really love it. I make sure I’m really unplugged when I’m free. When I’m not working I love to travel and exercise – and eat.

    If money were no object, what would you do now?

    This may sound cheesy, but I absolutely love what I do. I knew I was born to be an entrepreneur and to build something. I am incredibly passionate and put my absolute heart into everything I do.

    What was your earliest memory of money?

    I distinctly remember going out for dinner with my family and learning that certain items on the menu were more expensive than others. That piqued my curiosity. Why were things evaluated differently? And how are the goods priced? [I wanted] to afford the most expensive item on the menu, usually the lobster. Maybe that’s why one of the first businesses I started was a caviar fishery.

    What’s the first thing you remember buying with your own money?

    The first thing I did with my own money was invest in my first business. I graduated from college, built the Tea Room. And then [my business partner] Anatolia [Melnichuk] and I decided to start caviar fishing. We had won some money in business case contests but used much of our own money to fund our entrepreneurial journey. It was risky, but it was worth it. You should always bet on yourself.

    what was your first job

    One of my first jobs was a doorstep salesman selling home water heaters. I discovered early in life that every single job in the world is related to selling in one way or another.

    What was the biggest money lesson you learned as an adult?

    I learned very quickly that trends can change in the blink of an eye. I was building a caviar fishery from scratch when we realized that the world supply of caviar had declined by 90% due to overfishing in the Caspian Sea. One moment we were knee deep in fish and the next day we were cold calling some of the best restaurants in the world. Business was doing incredibly well until four months later [when] the recession of 2008 hit. I had to sell one of the most unnecessary luxury products. That’s when I really understood that the world really doesn’t owe you anything.

    What’s the best money advice you’ve ever received?

    If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your gut, especially when it comes to money.

    What was the worst money advice you’ve ever received?

    I’ve been told by several people that investing is complicated. Even when I was just starting up Clearco, I kept hearing that I didn’t understand credit simply because I didn’t look like the typical banker, I wasn’t Ivy League trained, I was a woman from western Canada. We have many preconceived notions, especially about money, but if we take a step back, money is like anything else. You need research, knowledge and trust.

    Would you rather receive a large sum of money at once or a smaller sum of money regularly for a lifetime?

    The entrepreneur in me says flatly, never underestimate the power of compound interest.

    What do you think is the most underrated financial advice, tip or strategy?

    diversification. Whether it’s investing in stocks or bonds, real estate, or just building a bad-weather fund, I advise everyone against putting their eggs in one basket.

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    What’s the biggest misconception people have about growing money?

    There are so many «experts» out there telling you this and that about how to grow your money. They used to be called “get-rich-quick schemes”. Now I feel like there’s a whole subset of social media dedicated to this topic. However, the truth is that there is nothing that does not start with hard work and dedication, that is the only common thread when talking to anyone about growing money.

    Can you share a money regret?

    Don’t start investing with Angel sooner. The investment barrier is lower than expected. A small amount of money can make a big difference for an entrepreneur.

    What does the word «value» mean to you?

    It’s hard to put a specific price on time, but I try to ‘value’ my time as best as I can, knowing that everything is a compromise. For example, I know that cooking can take an inordinate amount of time, so I choose to spend a lot and not cook a lot. I’m spending more and more money on delicious food.

    What was the first major purchase you made as an adult?

    I belong to a completely different generation that didn’t buy many assets and very late bought houses or cars and just rented them. Renting allowed me to move anywhere, which was great for my career. After the Groupon acquisition, I moved to Chicago and San Francisco to found Clearco. In a way, not having a fortune has helped my career and money management. I was able to take a lot of chances by not putting down roots because I didn’t leave anything behind.

    I remember buying two suits for my first real job when one of my businesses failed. When the recession was so bad, I worked for a large retailer for a year. They were well used for a year and have not been used since.

    What do you think of debt?

    I think debt is incredibly helpful when it’s used intelligently, without overwhelming yourself. It’s just important to limit your reliance on outside capital and use it in conjunction with other forms of finance.

    What was your last Spurge?

    Some rose gold jewelry.

    What was the last book about money you read?

    I keep coming back to it Influence, by Robert Cialdini. Selling and money are so connected, and I read it over and over again when I go into an important negotiation.

    What do you always have in your wallet?

    Cash! I can’t believe so many people are walking around without cash. It’s the best deal in the world if something bad happens to you. It is such a great safety net and can solve many problems quickly.

    What’s your favorite possession?

    I think the best things are experiences to cherish. I have some jewelry with lots of sentimental value, great stories and history behind them. These are among my favorite possessions that are for beauty, not just utility. Things I really can’t live without are passport, laptop and mobile phone – these are completely different things than things that bring me joy.

    What’s your next money goal?

    At Clearco, we always talk about funding a million founders. We’ve funded about 10,000 so far, so we still have a long way to go, but this has always been my North Star [mission statement]. Capital is the true leveler. And being able to fund so many companies, putting money back into the economy, has a huge impact on people’s lives.

    My MoneySense quick questions

    Rent or own?


    Buy or lease?


    Save or invest?


    budget or not?


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    The Den of Dragons post by tech titan Michele Romanow on taking risks and betting on yourself first appeared on MoneySense.

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