“You don’t fix a confidence gap by telling people to be more confident. … Encouraging them to ask questions, especially about money, can give them the information they need to be confident.”
Michele Romanow is an engineer and a serial entrepreneur who started three companies before her 28th birthday.
A “Dragon” on CBC’s hit show Dragons’ Den, Michele is the co-founder of Buytopia.ca, Snap By Groupon, and — most recently — Clearbanc, an online financial service. Ranked in WXN’s “100 Most Powerful in Canada” and listed as the only Canadian on Forbes magazine’s “Millennial on a Mission” list, Michele brings her youthful energy and incredible entrepreneurial savvy to every stage.
She was also a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award; the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards; and was a Cartier Women’s Initiative Award global finalist.
I think we can agree you’re good with money. So, where did it start? Who inspired you?
My father was a huge inspiration to me when I was growing up. We didn’t have very much, but he still gave me an allowance every week. We would track what I did with it using an allowance book which meant I had a general ledger of everything I spent money on from kindergarten up to grade 12. It was never about feeling guilty for spending money; it was understanding where my money went, how to save, how to invest, and living by a set of principles.
Is there a lesson from being an entrepreneur that we could apply in everyday life?
As an entrepreneur, you often don’t feel confident because you’re regularly going into industries and situations where you’re the first to build something. In those moments, the most important thing to value in yourself is the ability to be resourceful and ask thoughtful questions, aka the tough and awkward ones. The ones everyone wants to ask but are too afraid to voice it. By addressing them, you get the answers you need and the benchmarks to know where you stand. It’s an approach that applies to more than entrepreneurship. Any time you don’t feel 100% certain, ask questions because that’s the only way to find out just how much you know.
What are your thoughts on financial literacy, and what it can become?
Because of my role in Dragon’s Den, people ask me for financial and investment advice a lot. But to be honest, there are a lot of things I still don’t understand. I’m very familiar with angel investing, and topics like that, but with other areas of finance, I always rely on my network and resources to help me make the right decision.
I think the fact that financial literacy, as an idea, is still being discussed means we’re not where we need to be regarding making sure that everyone understands its importance. That’s why we see a difference in confidence between men and women. There’s not enough trust or support. There’s still a stigma around asking questions about topics you’re “supposed to understand”. Women can help each other break down barriers and change the negative perception around asking for advice.
I also think it’s bizarre that we ask kids to make career decisions without telling them about salary information or stats. I think we should feel comfortable talking to our children about money, just like we do when we speak to a peer, friend, or colleague we trust. In my opinion, sharing information is one of the best ways we can make a difference in each other’s lives.
As told to Cara Lau exclusively for Stnce. We make taking financial ownership approachable and relatable.