Clearco co-founder Andrew D’Souza tells TechCrunch he has stepped down from his role as chief executive at the fintech company. Michele Romanow, the co-founder and president of Clearco, is now chief executive of Clearco. D’Souza, meanwhile, has assumed the role of executive chairman and remains the company’s largest shareholder, he tells TechCrunch.
The move comes seven years after D’Souza and Romanow launched the capital lender seeking to disrupt VC with non-dilutive capital. Clearco is now valued at $2 billion.
Despite its executive chairman connotations, D’Souza insists he will continue to work full-time at Clearco and has no plans to go it alone. Much of his role now consists of working on acquisitions and strategic partnerships, executive recruitment and investor communications.
“I’m in this as long as everyone still wants me around,” D’Souza said. “Sometimes when founders move into CEO positions, it’s like going down and leaving the company,” D’Souza later added. “Actually, I expect to be even more full-time and even more involved.”
The executive shake-up comes nearly a year after the company rebranded from Clearbanc to Clearco, and Oak launched HC/FT and SoftBank Vision Fund as late-stage investors. D’Souza then said that “we are no longer just a capital provider and [having] a kind of transactional relationship with our customers to really use data, our network, guidance [and] capital to be a long-term partner.” Last year, the company expanded to ten countries and committed $3 billion in capital to its founders.
Shifting roles means that a new wave of change is about to hit the company, both personally and professionally. Before launching a fintech company, D’Souza and Romanow were in a romantic relationship together — a reality that caught their eye, but also caused some early concern among investors, presumably out of concern that a potential split would affect the company’s stability. .
During the pandemic, the two co-founders came to the conclusion that they wanted to get different things out of life in the long run, but find a “productive way” to translate that into the business.
“We are no longer in a relationship, we are no longer in a personal relationship, but we still care deeply about each other,” D’Souza said. “So we are no longer in the same location 24/7 which is the other reason why […] we kind of realized that we need one decision maker to really run the business from day to day.”
“We have a $2 billion dollar baby,” Romanow added. “It was very easy when we were always in the same room — someone would call one of us and get us both.”
The co-founders said they are not against hiring another executive in the future. “Certainly, you know, having someone at the table who’s seen a much, much larger scale would be a huge asset, and so I spend my time doing the conversations,” D’Souza said.
On the strategic side, D’Souza’s departure from the CEO position comes as Clearco begins to focus more on delivering financial results.
“For a company of our level of maturity, we candidly built this business at a time when capital was cheap and growth was at all costs,” D’Souza said. “And now we’re entering a time where you have to balance capital efficiency and growth — we have to start making predictions and meeting those predictions.”
He added, “Those things come much more naturally to Michele and less natural to me, and that would just become a CEO’s job as the company matured.”
“This is a much better way for a company to operate; you want a single decision maker so you don’t have to go to two people to get an answer, you want someone who is long term focused on the market, partnering and talking to investors and doing those things for the long term. And we have neglected [that] because we both had decisions to make,” D’Souza said.
Clearco’s intense launch over the past two years underscores some of the “grow at all costs” mentality that dominated startup sentiment during the pandemic — but will now change. In April 2020, Clearco launched ClearRunway to help SaaS founders secure non-dilutive capital that is repaid through revenue-sharing agreements. A few months later, in July, it launched a way for founders to find out how to value their companies based on benchmark data and internal metrics. In October, Clearco launched a tool that would pre-purchase a company’s inventory directly from suppliers and then be refunded when products are sold. And in February, the company announced it had created ClearAngel, a product similar to the 20-minute term sheet but aimed at lower-income founders.
Romanow said the company is working on more products this year, including a buy-sell platform for e-commerce businesses. Already in operation, Clearco’s acquisition market built on top of its longstanding network of fledgling founders has resulted in 11 deals to date.