Before she turned 30, Michele Romanow had launched four successful e-commerce companies including Buytopia and SnapSaves, the coupon company that was acquired by Groupon last year. Most recently, the Queen’s engineering grad has joined the panel on Dragon’s Den providing valuable insight on tech and the millennial consumer. Here, she shares some of the secrets to her success, including why it’s so important to get going…like, right now!
Paying your dues is a thing of the past
The best piece of advice was to quit my job. I had been involved in some startups, but after the 2008 recession I was working as director of corporate strategy at Sears Canada. It was a great role with so much opportunity, but then my former business partners and I came up with an idea for a startup and I had to make a decision. It was scary to leave a secure job, but for me it was the right move. It was actually my parents who advised me to quit, which is funny because they both come from the corporate world where you worked for one or two companies for your whole career. The earlier you can get started as an entrepreneur – before you have a mortgage or a family – the better. I still hear this idea that you need to “pay your dues” and stay at this or that company for two years. That model doesn’t exist any more and the idea of paying dues is really just a great way to hinder ambition.
Done is better than perfect
The most valuable advice I have for entrepreneurs is to start now. People are always saying “I’m planning and I’m researching …” The window of opportunity always closes, especially with small startups. When we launched the Buytopia website I remember our developers weren’t finished. It was literally a jpeg – it was a picture, and the only button that worked on the picture of the website was the buy button. That’s actually how we launched and we made $10,000 worth of sales in our first day. It was so much more important to get out there early than to get out there with a perfect product. You have to get used to that feeling of launching something that’s never quite ready. In school we’re taught to proofread everything six times and make a perfect presentation, but with startups, 80 per cent is getting it out there.
Even great ideas aren’t born great
I don’t really believe in this notion of great ideas – that you just sit there thinking and thinking, and then you have one of these big stock photography moments where you think of something and it’s just “wow!” Great ideas in my career have always been iterative. You have to try a bunch of different things, so it’s more that you arrive at a great idea by executing on mediocre ideas. My line that I am always saying on Dragon’s Den is that for every one company that I’ve started that people might know of, there have been five that didn’t work. We did a scheduling software company, a beauty box company. It’s so important to stop being scared and just get going and try things.
Teamwork is better when you get to choose your teammates
One of the greatest luxuries about being an entrepreneur is that you get to choose the people you work with. You are not placed on a team, you are not placed in a culture. Ultimately, you can get enough sleep and run and eat salad every day, but if you spend 12 hours a day with people you hate, your life is going to be miserable. And if you spend 12 hours a day working with people you love … it still feels like work, but it’s great work. With my partners, I think I just got lucky and then you build the relationship. I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to have a partnership. We certainly try to be honest with each other. Also, three makes it really easy. Two people vote one way and then you move on, rather than having this constant back and forth and time-suck.
There’s still a place for paper
It’s funny because I’m tech, but there are certain situations where I’m still such a paper person. I am a huge list maker and I just find that on paper, it’s a lot more tactile. I think it’s so distracting when people take meetings with their phone or iPad. You just can’t help thinking that they’re looking at something else.