October 11, 2016 by Speakers' Spotlight
Buytopia Co-Founder and Dragon Investor Michele Romanow Opens a Bank for Freelancers
Tech titan Michele Romanow is an engineer and a serial entrepreneur who started three companies before her 28th birthday. The newest (and youngest ever) entrepreneur to join CBC’s hit show Dragons’ Den, Michele is the co-founder of e-commerce platforms Buytopia.ca and Snap By Groupon, which have saved millions of users hundreds of millions of dollars. Ranked in WXN’s “100 Most Powerful in Canada” and listed as the only Canadian on Forbes’ “Millennial on a Mission” list, Michele brings her youthful energy and incredible entrepreneurial savvy to every stage. Michele has just launched clearbanc.com, a financial services platform targeting North America’s 50 million freelancers and self-employed contractors:
It’s no secret fintech is the latest darling of venture communities worldwide. Global investment in fintech companies hit an estimated $20 billion in 2015, up 66 per cent from 2014, the Fintech 100 report by KPMG and H2 Ventures notes. That trend is only expected to continue — a fact not lost on tech entrepreneur and a star of CBC Dragons’ Den Michele Romanow, who built daily deal site Buytopia and mobile savings platform Snapsaves, which was acquired by Groupon.
Her latest venture, clearbanc.com, is a financial services platform targeting North America’s 50 million freelancers and self-employed contractors. “The economy continues to move in this direction, with growing numbers of entrepreneurs, but I don’t think financial services institutions are set up for it,” Romanow said.
“On a practical level, for example, taxes are not withheld when payments come in. Freelancers are viewed as risk, even if they have substantial earnings, making access to credit a challenge.”
So how do you build a bank for this giant group? Romanow started by targeting a significant unified market within that group that was large enough to build traction fast. Clearbanc went live in the U.S. in April 2016 after striking a deal with Uber to provide revenue-based financing for all its drivers in the U.S. in the form of a Clearbanc branded debit card that they put all transactions through. Romanow plans to expand both geographically with Uber and by launching new products within the next two quarters.
“Uber drivers’ needs are the same, which made underwriting simpler, and we were able to reach a lot of them at once,” she said. “There will be more than one million Uber drivers in the U.S. in the next year. That’s a huge group.”
While her agreement with Uber does not permit her to share how many drivers have signed on to date, she will say “We’ve advanced more than $5 million so far and that is growing at a rate of 15 per cent a week.” Clearbanc charges a spread on credit of between 2 and 10 per cent. “We’re looking to under-price credit relative to the alternatives out there — that’s our initial model,” Romanow said.
“We also collect interchange fees on transactions any time the card is used.”
The next target market: airbnb hosts, who can use their Clearbanc account to draw on future bookings to build current cash flow.
Clearbanc currently offers two products: the aforementioned revenue-based financing and tax planning services. The plan is to expand the product offering to include help managing accounting and expenses and to move into larger, less uniform groups, such as writers and independent construction contractors, for example.
“The next big area that tech will disrupt is banking,” said Romanow. “Mobile is totally transforming the experience of banking but the banks are not keeping up. “Part of being an entrepreneur is believing if you keep asking questions, you can figure out.”