Michele Romanow of Dragon’s Den: “Why listening to your body is super important”

I think listening to your body is super important. Earlier this year I was feeling really weird — I was getting hand tremors and anxiety which I had not experienced before. A few doctors told me it was nothing, but I knew I didn’t feel quite right so I kept digging until I figured out […]

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I think listening to your body is super important. Earlier this year I was feeling really weird — I was getting hand tremors and anxiety which I had not experienced before. A few doctors told me it was nothing, but I knew I didn’t feel quite right so I kept digging until I figured out I had mercury poisoning from eating too much fish. I had been trying to reduce meat consumption and inadvertently made myself quite sick. I was able to cut out fish and 6 months later my mercury levels returned to normal and symptoms went away, but it was a really important lesson in listening to my body.

At times it feels like wellness or elevating one’s well being, is diametrically opposed to high achievement and high performance in one’s career. The stress, mental energy, long hours, lack of restful sleep and preoccupation that result from a high-achievement life seem to directly inhibit wellness. And yet, in order to sustain the creativity, flexibility, mental acuity and resilience that are necessary for high performance, wellness and wellbeing of the mind, body and soul are also mandatory. So how do we achieve both? This is the question I’m hoping to answer through conversations with high-achieving leaders who are practicing their own philosophies about how to maintain their wellbeing.

As a part of our series about “How To Succeed And Thrive As Both A Celebrity And An Entrepreneur”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Romanow

Michele Romanow is the co-founder and President of Clearbanc: the fastest, most affordable way for founders to grow their business. Michele started five companies before her 33rd birthday and exited two before her 30th. She previously co-founded SnapSaves (acquired by Groupon) and was also the co-Founder of Buytopia.ca, which acquired ten competitors including Shop.ca and WagJag. In 2015, Michele became the youngest judge to ever feature on CBC’s Dragons’ Den (Canada’s Shark Tank), and has been a ‘Dragon’ for the last five seasons.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory of how you came upon this career path and to where you are today?

It’s my pleasure! Thank you for having me. I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and I started my first business — a sustainable coffee shop run by students — while I was at Queen’s University, Ontario. Not only was the business actually profitable, but it’s still running today.

After graduating, two of my classmates and I discovered that the world supply of sturgeon caviar was down by 95%, so I took a leap of faith and moved to the east coast, where I started a fishery called Evandale Caviar. We’re talking the whole nine yards; wadersgarters, fish guts up to my knees, the lot. As luck would have it, the 2008 recession hit and we were forced to shut down the company.

I saw the rise of retail when I was working as Director of Strategy at Sears in 2011, and I knew how crucial it would be to get into the space early. I founded two startups over the next few years — Buytopia, an ecommerce company that still exists today, and SnapSaves, a mobile couponing app that was acquired by Groupon in 2014.

I joined the cast of Dragons’ Den, Canada’s version of Shark Tank, in 2015. I was the youngest cast member in the entire franchise history at that time, and remain the youngest today. We film an entire season in two weeks, and hearing that many pitches from so many hard-working founders in such a short amount of time inspired me to start Clearbanc, the fastest, most affordable way for founders to fund their company. So many founders already have great unit economics, and they’re just looking for capital to fund their advertising. It was clear to me that equity isn’t the best deal for online brands with a product-market fit, so I threw out a different type of deal that eventually grew into the company we’re running today.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been really lucky that the people in my life are also driven entrepreneurs. Any founder will tell you that the most important thing you can do when starting a company is find co-founders who will push you and support you, and when I look back on my career so far, that really feels like one of my biggest advantages. We certainly have to be honest with each other, even if it causes tension.

My first co-founders are my closest friends from business school, Anatoliy Melnichuk and Ryan Marien. We spent our entire time in school brainstorming crazy startup ideas, which is how we ended up starting a caviar fishery right after graduation. We learned so much from each other, Anatoliy taught me how to take risks and how to sell (literally anything). Those early experiences together led us to start two more companies together which led to our third company, SnapSaves, getting acquired by Groupon.

And because I can’t turn off my founder brain, I started Clearbanc with my partner Andrew D’Souza. From the very beginning of our relationship, we were always talking about the rise of fintech and the gig economy, and what kind of company we would start in the space. Andrew is the biggest dreamer I know, and we learned really early on that we’re a perfect balance as founders because we have completely different skill sets. Clearbanc would’ve been half the size and completely different without him. And I know he says the same about what I bring to the table — Clearbanc is where it is today because of our different perspectives and what we’re able to teach each other.

As a celebrity, you have been blessed with great success in a career path that many have attempted, but eventually gave up on. In fact perhaps most people who tried to follow a career path like yours did not succeed. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path but know that their dreams might be dashed?

The reality is entrepreneurs fail way more often than they ever succeed. It just looks like we are successful because some of the wins can be big and we don’t have to document all the failures! In reality, 80% of my ideas didn’t work. As your building, so many things don’t work so you need to translate that into learning and iteration. All of those iterations and experiments and massive failures will end up leading to a big innovation. I think innovation is a lot of iteration. Most people don’t realize this. Most people think innovation is dreaming up a big idea and going for it and suddenly you build Uber and it’s worth billions. It never happens like that. Even the first version of that app was incredibly simple and matched you with a black car service. It had a little bit of location, but it was very rudimentary.

The other thing is that I was always willing to get scrappy. I believe that CEO stands for Chief Everything Officer, and successful people do what unsuccessful people weren’t willing to do.

The first business I started was a caviar fishery. Our thesis was correct, supply was down 95%, demand was skyrocketing, and chefs couldn’t get their hands on the product. We were very successful in the beginning but then in 2008, the markets crashed. So there I am, 21 years old, thinking that I wasn’t going to make it.

From watching hundreds of pitches on Dragons’ Den, the ones that have been successful were the ones that are constantly making their ideas better and the ones that have failed have been people that were often successful on their first go. I know it’s really nice to think that we’ll all be successful in our first startup, but it actually ends up almost killing you because you can’t see that you can be wrong.

Every time your idea doesn’t work, every time you have a failure every time you lose a deal, it’s a big blow to your confidence. And so it’s that sense of grit to be able to stomach the failures and build resilience which ultimately is what makes for successful founders.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of our interview. You have been successful as both a celebrity and an entrepreneur. Most celebrities don’t make that transition successfully. We’d love to learn your secret. How do you do both?

I was a serial entrepreneur before I became a TV personality and judge. I feel like I was really lucky to get this role because I get to do what I do in real life — on TV! So it felt like a natural extension of myself.

Then after seeing all these founders on the show I came up with the idea for Clearbanc and we’ve been able to invest a ton.

Being in the public eye can become problematic if you start believing your own publicity. The media is always far too kind on the way up and far too cruel on the way down, so it’s super important to have people in your life that always ground you. At work, with my family and close friends I’m just Michele the entrepreneur, not Michele the Dragon.

In my work, I focus on how one can thrive and care for oneself in three areas: body, mind, and heart. You are a busy leader with a demanding schedule, can you share with our readers two self care routines, practices or treatments that help your body thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

I’m not a morning person and don’t like waking up but force myself to try and get a workout in every morning. My hack is if I go to bed in my gym clothes there is too much cognitive dissonance to take them off so I just go even if it’s for 20 mins.

I think listening to your body is super important. Earlier this year I was feeling really weird — I was getting hand tremors and anxiety which I had not experienced before. A few doctors told me it was nothing, but I knew I didn’t feel quite right so I kept digging until I figured out I had mercury poisoning from eating too much fish. I had been trying to reduce meat consumption and inadvertently made myself quite sick. I was able to cut out fish and 6 months later my mercury levels returned to normal and symptoms went away, but it was a really important lesson in listening to my body.

The other hack I discovered was listening to audiobooks. I always wanted to read more but could never find the time. So by discovering audiobooks, I was using otherwise dead time — in ubers, airports to listen to new ideas.

Can you share with us two routines that you use to help your mind thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

Always start with ruthless prioritization. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I’ll make a list of the 3 big things I’ll need to accomplish for that day. You’ll never be able to get everything done, there just aren’t enough hours in a day. But highlighting the three key things can really help with focus.

And on a similar note, avoid distraction devices and saying no to OPP: other people’s priorities. The better you are at identifying your 3 big priorities, the easier it is to say no, or at least “not right now.”

Can you share with us two routines that you partake in to help your heart or spiritual side to thrive? (Kindly share a story or example for each.)

Clearbanc is “for founders, by founders” — we hire a lot of founders at Clearbanc who have run startups themselves or still have a side hustle going. We make it a point to highlight founders’ stories whenever we can, whether it’s internally with employees or those of our customers. Whenever I’m feeling down or lack inspiration, those stories remind me why we’re building this and why it matters.

My spirit is most alive with my closest friends and family. There is nothing I’ve found that replaces rich relationships. And they are never easy — relationships take time and sometimes you fuck up. But I’ve found making time for my close circle always enhances my spirit.

All of us have great days and bad days. On days when you feel like a rockstar what do you do? What does that day look like, and what did you do to get there?

The most profound changes in my career have been a result of someone taking a little time to connect with me. I now do the same. It costs me nothing and gives someone else an extraordinary amount.

In contrast, on days when you feel down, what do you do?

Iheard this incredible marine talk about how when you feel like you have nothing left, you actually have 50% more in your tank. So on really tough days, I mentally tell myself to go on for 1 more day — get through 1 more meeting, just get all my to-dos done that day. This mentality helps me move forward and make it to the next step.

When something falls apart, I often sit through the painful moment with my notebook, asking myself the question: “Michele, what did you learn?” I know that I don’t want to feel this pain again and to do that, I have to deeply take responsibility and own my mistakes/failures. Ultimately this is my failure and I have to say the things that I’m never going to do again or the behaviours I’m going to change. Those minutes have been my greatest sources of learning and growth.

Is there a particular resource, a practitioner, expert, book, podcast that made a significant impact on you and helped you to thrive? Can you share a story about that with us?

Ilove Radical Candor by Kim Scott, it’s really helped me build productive and evolving relationships with everyone I work with and it’s become a key principle for how we work at Clearbanc.

I also read a lot of books from entrepreneurs who are reflecting on their career trajectory and try to take some of their lessons learned and incorporate them into how I build a business. “Little Black Stretchy Pants” by Chip Wilson was really inspirational, and the “How I Built This” podcast has similar stories from entrepreneurs I really admire across a huge variety of industries.

Do you have a story about the strangest, most bizarre or funniest wellness treatment that you’ve ever experienced?

Iwould love to say that I’m perfect and I meditate, do yoga, pilates, etc — but in reality, my best wellness treatments have been sleeping. Sleeping has helped me during some of my hardest times as an entrepreneur. You can’t think straight when you’re exhausted.

You’re a high achieving creative authority and leader, and yet, you may have family and loved ones that require a different side of you at home. How do you leave the high powered executive at the door, and become a loving caretaker at home?

Ilove this question because my business partner and co-founder Andrew and I have been dating for the last five years. One of the best parts about working with your partner is that you get a 360-degree view of the other’s’ true strengths and abilities. Sometimes ambitious people are more themselves with colleagues at work than we are with our friends and families, and most couples don’t get to see their partner in their element, killing it at work. When you work together, you get a true sense of who they are as a person and a much richer appreciation of them.

It’s also much easier to sympathize when things heat up, cause we’re going through it together. If Andrew doesn’t deal with a problem, then I do. And when things are calmer, we appreciate it much more, and don’t have any trouble turning off “work talk.”

Because we work so closely together, we actually have to prioritize time apart. We both make sure we book vacations with our own friends, and it’s always reassuring that everything’s handled while you’re out because we have so much trust in each other.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

Definitely Bill and Melinda Gates. One of our biggest motivators at Clearbanc is giving the equity and power back to founders. Bill and Melinda are the perfect example of this — he owned nearly 50% of MSFT stock at IPO, and they turned that outcome into what’s one of the most impactful nonprofits in the world.

When it comes to drive and ambition, I also have a huge amount of admiration for Serena Williams and Ariana Huffington.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Twitter: @MicheleRomanow

Instagram: @micheleromanow

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/micheleromanow/?originalSubdomain=ca

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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