Den Heads find out what Michele Romanow is scared of

The Den's Tech Titan, Michele Romanow, took on burning questions asked by Den Heads during a Facebook Live Ask Me Anything event on April 5. Hear about her entrepreneurial journey, business tips and insider knowledge from behind-the-scenes of the set.

What is the best shipping advice for worldwide shipping?

“I love that you’re already thinking about how to grow a big business that’s global from the beginning,” said Romanow. “Don’t try and boil the entire ocean.” Her advice is to use one shipping service for international and domestic shipping. Also think about other options, like if your product is produced in China, it may be better to ship from there. “You really need to look at all your different options and weigh what really makes the most sense.”

What’s the best way to acquire new users?

“All of your early users should be organic,” said Romanow. Start by reaching out within your own network and also see if there are partnership opportunities with other companies to share users. But ultimately, “to really scale, you’re going to need a paid solution to continue that growth,” said Romanow. You can use an ad agency or learn to use Facebook ads yourself, but make sure the cost of advertising is something that can be sustained.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

There is no typical day. “For all the people that follow me on Instagram, they know that some days start off on a plane, some days start off in a boardroom, some days start off in a gym, some days start off in another country,” said Romanow. She’s also not a morning person. “I often work pretty late into the night because I find that’s when my brain is the most alive and working well,” said Romanow. “I think I felt bad about that for many years. A lot of the world is biased to being a morning person but I had to find out what worked for me to make myself more effective.”

How do you keep up-to-date with the latest e-commerce trends?

Romanow follows many Canadian media sources like Betakit, The Globe and Mail and The National Post . “[They] all cover entrepreneurs and new innovations in a really great way,” she said. For American news, she follows Techcrunch, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Romanow is also a fan of audiobooks because they’re a fast and efficient way to ingest the information. And when she’s not listening to an audiobook, she’s listening to the “How I Built This” podcast.

What’s the best path to move forward to get an app out there?

“What you’re looking for in any environment is an unfair advantage where people can notice you,” said Romanow. “You want to really figure out that environment so you can make it as easy as possible to get a download. You want to [also] be exploring, in the early days, what paid acquisitions is costing you.” Again, she recommends figuring out how to create partnerships with other companies to help you scale your company. 

What have you learned from sitting beside Jim?

Despite being a few generations apart from each other, “A lot of the principals in business [we share] are the exact same,” she said.

  • Treat people well
  • Invest in people
  • Deeply care about the company you’re building

Any thoughts on how to launch a website effectively?

“One of the great myths about e-commerce is that if you build a website, people will find it,” said Romanow. “There are unfortunately now billions and billions of websites, so getting noticed is more important than building a website.” Here are her tips:

  • Use the same strategies of getting your network to get excited about it
  • Figure out how to create and share referral traffic
  • Use advertising to get people to visit your website

Any tips on how to virtually create the tactile experience offered by physical stores?

The Tech Titan recommends thinking about the blend of what you can offer and what you can’t. Your website should be able to offer highly detailed information about the products. One key thing people forget is that product pictures should be beautiful and customers should be able to zoom into them for as much detail as possible. Another important thing to do is to sollicite real and honest reviews. Lastly, Romanow says you should think about the experience after the purchase. What does your packaging look like? Is it Instagrammable? Is there something special or extra in the box? “[You’ll] create a tribe of free advertisers that will keep coming back to you.”

What’s your favourite flavour of pizza?

“A perfect margherita pizza.”

Any ideas on reducing shipping costs on products that are very heavy?

“The first thing you should do is see if you can do anything to your product to make it cheaper to make,” she said. If that isn’t possible, “There is an entirely different logistics chain that you should look into if your products are extremely heavy.”

What mistakes have you made before finding your big hit?

“For every five projects I started, one was maybe a hit. And that is the process of entrepreneurship. Iteration becomes innovation,” said Romanow. One of the frameworks she uses is figuring out which decisions are reversible and which decisions are irreversible.

Do you have any non-business talents we don’t know about?

“I have a secret desire to be in Cirque du Soleil.”

Do you have any fears (rational or irrational)?

“I definitely have a fear of being stuck in an elevator. I’ve never actually been stuck in an elevator and hopefully it never happens,” she said. “I think all of us have a fear of failure. [But] it’s really about understanding that you need to start feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

How do you attract customers for items that aren’t selling?

“Maybe the items that aren’t selling, you shouldn’t be selling. But there’s a bunch of ways to diagnose this. The first thing that could be happening is that it’s a different product for a typical audience you have. So maybe you want to try and find another audience that you haven’t been advertising to,” said Romanow. “The next thing is that you should be using that as a learning experience. And the third thing, which is kind of the golden rule in retail, is that you shouldn’t be sitting on inventory and sitting on valuable real estate of something that isn’t working.” That’s why stores have end-of-season sales.

What’s your best advice for people who have a small business at home?

“You have to determine your own goals and then how to work from there. If you have a small business from home, that’s probably a great fit for an e-commerce business because you can [run the business] from the comfort of your own home. You can use shipping solutions and you don’t have to talk live to customers face-to-face. You can be in your pyjamas as you run your website.”

Is it important for entrepreneurs to focus on one niche or market, or should you go wherever the ideas take you?

“You have to choose a stream that’s flowing in the right direction. You will never be successful if you are fighting the current.” For example in today’s world, Romanow suggests to not start a company that makes photocopiers or film cameras — businesses that are actively in decline. “You have to be in spaces that are growing.” Once you have picked that space, be prepared to pivot the product to figure out exactly what is going to work for that market.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed another Dragon do off-camera?

“I witnessed Joe Mimran burst out into O’Canada last year.”


Ask Michele Romanow Anything is presented by Canada Post.