The Queen’s Gambit in Clearco Part 2


Clearco- A mercenary must be relinquished

clearco- queen's gambit

I thought the way this story came to be was interesting. By last Sunday, I had a rough draught that included a few Clearco developments, which I forwarded to the company for comment at 6:40 PM.

Around 10 a.m. on Monday, I became concerned that Clearco would ignore me and instead work with a pre-existing media relationship. In fact, this pattern had previously occurred, with The Logic’s Jon Victor breaking a story and Michele Romanow quickly responding via The Globe’s Sean Silcoff.

By 10:30 a.m. on Monday, I had decided to publish the first part of the story, which revealed that Clearco had quietly raised funds, including from the founders. I put the rest of the story on hold. This would secure the scoop and demonstrate to the company that I was serious. I admit it was rash, like a terrorist shooting the first hostage. Clearco‘s global head of communications contacted me about 45 minutes after I sent the story:

“I noticed you just published an article that is obviously false and inaccurate. You sent it at 7 p.m. and it was published at 10 a.m.”

You can see that they can react quickly when they want to – in 45 minutes! He inquired as to when I intended to release the second installment. And I stated that by Tuesday. I also inquired as to what aspects of the published piece were incorrect. Nick responded:

“The information you published and sent me is either speculative or simply incorrect… The article is slanderous, and I’m happy to go over it with our legal counsel point by point if that’s helpful.”

I replied that I was available at any time. I did not consider the presence of a barrister to be a threat. Corporates are usually quick to hire lawyers – in this case, most likely to advise and take notes. Judges appreciate contemporaneous notes. Which reminds me: I’m a legitimate journalist, deserving of every legal protection available to them. The publicist then took a completely different approach:

I was hoping to see if you’d be interested in meeting with Michele one-on-one to discuss the content of your email. It would allow her to be completely honest with you and ensure the accuracy of your piece.

Please let me know your availability; Michele has a busy week, but we could try to arrange something for the end of the week or early next week. Would that be acceptable to you? I know you said you wanted to run your piece in the next two days, so I’m just checking to see if that works for you.”

This was a stalling tactic: rather than address the inaccuracies, they offered an interview with a CBC Dragons’ Den star. Rest assured that your son acted with dignity. My response was as follows:

​”Thanks for the offer, how about we try to do what we can and see if there are things only she can illuminate?

Your “point-by-point” proposal sounded promising.

I’ll listen to whatever Clearco has to say, whether it’s from the press team or Masa Son himself!”

​For those who are unfamiliar, Masa Son is Softbank’s Big Kahuna. However, the public relations representative insisted on a call with Michele, and we agreed to meet on Thursday at 5 p.m. Sean at The Globe, predictably, had a piece up by Tuesday. But I didn’t expect him to get some extra scoops, such as the appointment of a new CFO and the possibility of follow-on financing.

My draught, as it was sent to Clearco, brought up the issue of the ineffective interim CFO situation. Ironically, that draught also included a few lines that poked fun at Sean’s status as Michele’s preferred journalist.


As you can see, Sean’s piece included several quotes from Michele. That could explain her “crazy schedule” and the fact that she could only talk to me on Thursday! Not that I believe I have the right to talk to her at any time. Sean thanked OPM Wire for the initial report, which was thoughtful of him. Given all of the appropriately sceptical points Sean raises in his article, I have to say that my belief that Sean is Michele’s confidante is shaky!

On Wednesday, I wondered if Michele would still take the time to speak with me now that her gambit had been successful. She did it! She was extremely helpful. She began by asking a lot of questions, as I would in any stressful situation. Pranit Tukrel, on the other hand, was recruited from Inovia rather than parachuted in. Overall, I believe we all came out on top.

I was able to speak with a Dragon without humiliating myself on national television by pitching a newfangled garden hose or whatever else happens on that show. For what it’s worth, I think she’s very talented, but it’s clear that the best talent of a generation has been swept up in a massive creative destruction experiment with wide-ranging results.

The Current Management Situation

Curt Sigfstead, a high-caliber CFO, was hired by Clearco in April 2020. He was previously the Head of West Coast Technology Investment Banking at JP Morgan. In December 2021, he will leave Clearco for Clio, a legal-tech startup. Curt’s tenure as a Clearco executive was relatively short when compared to his career at JP Morgan, which lasted approximately 23 years.

Curt’s departure is unclear to me in its entirety. Approximately eight months before Curt’s departure, Michele Romanow announced on BNN Bloomberg that Clearco would be entering the public markets. Curt’s experience in capital raising could have aided Clearco in achieving a successful IPO.

Following Curt’s departure, Ivan Gritsiniak served as interim CFO. Ivan earned a BMath in 2016 and joined Clearco the same year, serving in a variety of roles, including corporate officer for the parent company and corporate director in various Clearco subsidiaries.

Ivan is one of the most senior employees who lives in Canada, as Michele and Andrew are currently residents of Barbados. He also appears to have established some solid roots.

In April and May of this year, Ivan Gritsiniak and Gritsiniak ABC Corp. purchased approximately $4.4 million in GTA real estate, including a $1.4 million condo in downtown Toronto and a $3.0 million multiplex in Etobicoke.

Vasili Gerogiannis, the new CFO based in Chicago, is not as well-known as Curt. OppFi, his former employer, is also a fintech that has dropped roughly 75% since combining with a SPAC last year.

Michele’s resume, like that of many VC-funded entrepreneurs, is relatively thin in comparison to a largely traditional industry like finance. I say this with respect; she has accomplished a lot for her age, even before Clearco. Michele’s strength, in my opinion, lies in media and hypergrowth rather than copulas and credit models.

The Financial Situation

Clearco has previously stated that it relies on funding for receivables from a variety of sources, including Arcadia Funds, CoVenture, Credigy, and Pollen Street Capital.

Upper 90 is said to have previously worked with Clearco on funding. Upper 90, on the other hand, has since moved on with all of their principal and returns intact. They apparently outgrew each other.

Clearco also has an existing debt relationship with Silicon Valley Bank, according to records obtained by The Logic.

According to Shopify’s disclosure, the EDC, which is owned by the Canadian government, provides credit insurance on merchant cash advances. Given the EDC’s open nature, I’d be curious to see if the EDC would reveal any insurance claims and premiums related to Clearco’s advances.

According to a quick LinkedIn search, there has been some employee turnover in Clearco’s capital markets team recently. Matt Armstrong had only been VP of Finance at Clearco for four months.

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