Michele Romanow steps down as Clearco CEO as company lays off staff again

TORONTO — Michele Romanow is stepping down from her chief executive role at Clearco as the e-commerce investing business she co-founded lays off staff.

Clearco spokesperson Nick Rosen-Wachs confirmed the "Dragons' Den" star's career change in an email to The Canadian Press on Monday, saying she will be replaced by Andrew Curtis.

Curtis joined Clearco as an adviser in July 2022, but has worked in finance roles at major investment banks in New York including Merrill Lynch & Co. and Lazard Frères.

Romanow will not depart from the company completely. She will now share the executive chairman role with Andrew D'Souza, Romanow's co-founder who stepped down as chief executive almost a year ago following a romantic split between the two.

"Michele will lead external relations, including the significant role of leading our fundraising efforts," Rosen-Wachs said in an email.

"Michele will remain an integral part of the company, and this leadership transition brings in an experienced finance leader while keeping our founding team close to the business."

The switch up comes as tech companies are experiencing a downturn as their valuations fall from COVID-19 highs, investor exuberance fades and consumers return to pre-pandemic habits.

Many, including Shopify, Netflix, Wealthsimple and Meta, have all carried out layoffs in recent months with several chief executives taking responsibility for the cuts and chalking them up to misjudgments of growth in the sector.

Clearco, which was founded in 2015 by Romanow, D’Souza, Charlie Feng and Ivan Gritsiniak, began a layoff Monday, with 25 per cent of staff cut, said Rosen-Wachs.

The company previously laid off 125 employees from its 500-person workforce in July and then 60 in August, when it handed off its international business to U.K. and Australian e-commerce investor Outfund.

Despite nabbing unicorn status with its valuation over $1 billion in 2021 and $400 million in equity financing from prominent investors like SoftBank, Clearco is particularly vulnerable to the current tech downturn because it provides startups with funding and loans that have more friendly terms than other lenders.

At Elevate, a Toronto tech conference held in September, Romanow said she didn't think Canada's economy and tech sector had come even close to hitting its bottom.

"Tech has seen the first kind of bump in this road and it could get a whole lot worse," she said.

Job cuts aggregator Layoffs.fyi found 1,024 global tech companies laid off 154,336 employees in 2022 and two weeks into January, has already calculated another 91 companies making 24,151 cuts.

"Being an entrepreneur is an extremely hard job," Romanow said at Elevate.

"It is largely masochistic, even when the sun is shining and so when it starts raining, and we go into cloudier economic conditions, this is a very difficult thing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2022.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press