Friday Q&A with Mohamad Yaghi, CEO and Co-Founder of Rakr

Every Friday we feature someone in the Canadia tech, finance, or startup space doing something cool and pick their brain to get practical and actionable tips and advice for the rest of us. 

This week we are featuring Mohamad Yaghi, CEO and Co-Founder of Rakr, a Canadian ag-tech company that helps farms modernize their operations to save money and time.
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Taking a Boy Band Public

BTS, the insanely popular Korean boy band, is set to cash out today as the company who owns them, Big Hit Entertainment, will start trading shares on the Korean Stock Exchange. The public offering is attracting massive retail interest in Korea and around the world from the legions of fans.
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Flightless Region

WestJet will suspend all routes to Moncton, Fredericton, Sydney, Charlottetown and Quebec City, as well as reducing routes to Halifax and St. Johns  as of November 2nd, calling the business ‘unviable.’ The cancellation of 100 plus weekly flights will lead to the loss of 100 jobs.
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Self Driving Shuttle in Toronto

Autonomous vehicles will be popping up in Toronto sooner than anyone expected with the launch of a pilot project in a Scarborough neighborhood. According to the City of Toronto, the shuttle will connect the West Rouge neighborhood with the Rouge Hill GO Station. The neighbourhood was chosen because of a lack of access to public transportation.
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Canada’s Newest Unicorn

Wealthsimple, the Toronto based fintech startup, best known for its savings platform and celebrity marketing, can now call itself a unicorn after raising $114 million at a valuation of $1.4 billion.
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A Canadian Tesla?

Watch out Elon Musk, the Canadian Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association (APMA) is coming for you... Yesterday, the CAPM, which represents Canadian auto parts manufacturers, launched Project Arrow, an initiative to prove that a fully electric vehicle can be designed and assembled in Canada.

What are they building? The APMA is hoping to build an original, full-build zero-emissions concept car designed by students at Carlton University. They launched the project in response to Prime Minister Trudeau's call for a zero-emissions future by 2050.

Why is this important? Canada is home to hundreds of small scale parts manufacturers who produce components used in nearly every vehicle. The goal of Project Arrow is to demonstrate that Canada has the expertise and capacity to produce electric vehicles at scale. APMA's hope is that a multinational manufacturer sees Canada's capabilities and decides to invest in our automotive sector.

Bottom line: Advanced manufacturing jobs will be key to our country's economic future. Demonstrating that Canada is capable of producing high-quality electric vehicles will go a long way in securing future investment.

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One Airline to Rule Them All

Over the weekend, Air Canada announced they still plan to acquire Air Transat but on revised terms. The proposed deal would see Air Canada purchase Air Transat at $5 per share, down from the original $18 per share.

Is it a done deal? While both parties have agreed to the revised terms, the deal is far from final.

  • Regulators in Canada, Quebec and the European Union will have to evaluate the deal against anti-trust concerns and give it the green light before it can proceed. Deadline for the deal to receive regulatory approval was moved back from December to February 15th.
  • Shareholders of Air Transat welcome the deal but are waiting to see if any other bidders emerge before giving it the rubber stamp of approval.
What does this mean for you? Prior to the pandemic, the proposed takeover of Air Transat by Air Canada was highly contentious. If approved, the acquisition would give Air Canada a 60% marketshare over Transatlantic flights and dominance in Montreal air travel.

  • Conventional wisdom is that less competition leads to higher prices and a worse experience for consumers. Air Canada and Air Transat have done little to reassure passengers that this won't happen.
Zoom out: The more than 60% discount in share price shows you how hammered the airline industry is being hit. Air Canada is proceeding with the deal because they think they're getting a airline for a steal. Now it's up to the regulators to decide if it's in our country's best interest...

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Trade Titans

Forget about China, America's got a new foe on the trade front: the menacing Europeans! Yesterday, the WTO gave the European Union permission to tax up to $4 billion of American products annually.

Why? In a classic sea-saw, last year the World Trade Organization gave the US the permission to tariff European products in retaliation for generous EU subsidies to French-based plane manufacturer Airbus.

The European Union proceeded to counter-sue the US, arguing that the US Government also heavily subsidizes their domestic airplane manufacturer Boeing. So now the EU can charge their own tariffs on US goods in response to the US's original tariff – that's what we call a tariff tongue-twister.

What's next? The WTO's main motivation for the decision was to force both parties to come to the table to negotiate a settlement. But that could take years...

Zoom out: In the short term, key industries – already struggling due to COVID-19 – will be particularly hard hit by Europe's tariffs. Last year, the EU released a list of items it could tax, including aircraft, chemicals, citrus fruit, frozen fish and ketchup (not ketchup?!?).

This is really bad for news for Boeing. Between the grounding of their 737 MAX's fleet, the drop in air traffic due to COVID-19 and now European tariffs, Boeing can't catch any breaks.
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One More Thing

💵Get your wallets ready. Yesterday, Apple held their 'Hi, Speed.' event where they unveiled four new phones: the iPhone 12, as well as their Pro, Mini, and Max versions.

But the really big news was Apple's announcement that the iPhone 12 will be their first 5G enabled device.

What's 5G again? 5G is the latest in cellular technology. According to experts, 5G will 10x internet browsing speeds, enable 4K video on your phone, and power the next generation of connected devices, such as autonomous vehicles.

Is 5G available in Canada? Yes! Rogers, Bell and Telus are all in the process of rolling out their 5G networks and almost all Canadian cities have some coverage. The problem? Very few devices actually support 5G.

That's until now... the iPhone 12 is the first high profile phone to support the new spectrum and marks a turning point for the technology.

What else did Apple announce?

  • More speed: In addition to 5G, all iPhone 12 models will use the A14 Bionic chipset, which Apple claims is the fastest chip in any smartphone.
  • Magnets: If you use wireless charging, you know how frustrating it is to find out that your phone didn't charge because you didn't place it on the pad properly. Apple's added a magnet to each phone to prevent this from happening. The magnet can also be used for accessories, such as a phone card holder.
  • Camera: Apple loves their cameras and the iPhone 12 and 12 Max don't disappoint. The iPhone 12 Pro has the best camera(s) of any iPhone and the standard iPhone 12's camera has been optimized for night mode.
Apple also unveiled a new Homepod Mini and a new wireless charger but both took a supporting role to the iPhone 12.

The strangest news of the event was Apple's announcement that they're going to remove a wall charger and wired headphones from the iPhone 12 box. End of an era for the white earbuds...
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Shot Across Google's Bow

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to fire its opening salvo at Google this week, charging the company with anti-trust violations related to its search practices.

The charges: It's not yet clear what the case will focus on, but we have some hints... 
  • Congressional Democrats released a report last week claiming Google has a monopoly in search and uses its market dominance to crush competitors.
  • Republicans have accused Google of political bias in its search results. 
Pitfalls: But anti-trust regulators face some pitfalls in this case...
  • Anti-trust cases typically must now show that consumers are harmed by the targets practices, which can be difficult with tech companies that offer a free service.
  • Reports last month quoted lawyers expressing concern that the Attorney General was rushing the case.
  • The outcome of the election could impact the trajectory of the case, and a new Biden-led Justice Department could change course. 
Zoom out: After years of inaction, U.S. lawmakers are rushing to regulate tech companies, which no longer enjoy public acclaim. But in spite of much furor, regulators have yet to score any major wins.
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The Bankers Meet

Finance ministers and central bankers are gathering (virtually) this week for annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank.

7 months into the pandemic and with the economic recovery losing momentum, to say these meetings matter would be an understatement.

Key questions:
  • Will a consensus be reached on continuing (or ramping up) stimulus spending?
  • Will wealthy countries that can borrow at low interest rates organize sufficient transfers to low-income countries to fund COVID relief?
  • Will major countries — particularly the U.S. and some EU states — pull back on stimulus too soon, threatening global recovery?
Power shift: Central banks are already running the money printers at full tilt, which means that there's only so much more monetary policy can do. Now the big decisions will be fiscal policy choices made by finance ministers and governments.

The big picture: A major politial battle is emerging over whether fiscal policy — taxing and spending by governments — will continue to be used as a mainly short-term fix for economic slumps or a long-term project to manage the economy and achieve political goals.
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Airbnb's Near-Death Experience

When COVID hit in March, Airbnb lost $1.5bn in bookings nearly overnight and saw the number of weekly bookings drop from nearly 600,00 in February to around 100,000 by mid-April.

By the summer, business had recovered and bookings returned — on some days — to pre-pandemic levels.

So what happened?

  • Airbnb switched focus from international destinations to local getaways, changing its algorithm to show people nearby cottages and beach houses.
  • After securing a $2bn loan, they cut costs dramatically, laying off a quarter of their workforce and slashing $1bn from marketing expenses.
  • The company refocused on its core functions, putting other projects like experiences and transportation on hold. 
The outcome: The company appears to have made it through the worst of the storm (at least so far), future bookings in the US have risen since last year, rental inventory is growing again, and some laid off workers have been re-hired. 

Zoom out: The fate of Airbnb is a useful barometer for travel and leisure businesses more broadly. The company's survival and recovery shows that people are once again spending on holiday stays, but in a very different way than they were pre-pandemic. However, with cases on the rise, this sector isn't out of the woods yet.

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What Are The Two Most Important Business Skills Today?

Answer: Spreadsheets and story-telling. Being able to analyze data and use it to tell a story. Mastering these two skills can really take your career to the next level.

Fortunately, Lighthouse Labs can help you master them in just six weeks with live online classes. Learn from pros and build your knowledge with expert mentors. Plus, scholarships of up to $750 are available.
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Let's Make a $100 Billion Deal

$100 billion — that's how much the OECD says could be lost on an annual basis if negotiations to develop global cross-border tax rules collapse. 

What's being negotiated:
  • 137 countries came together in January to agree on new rules for taxing multinational corporations that do business globally. 
  • In particular, governments are looking to find a way to tax tech giants like Amazon and Facebook. 
  • These tech corps often book profits in low-tax countries like Ireland, allowing them to avoid paying taxes in higher tax jurisdictions where their customers reside.
What's the problem:
  • Making a deal that satisfied so many different countries is tough. 
  • The Americans have pushed for a "safe harbour" rule that would allow companies to decide whether to subject themselves to either existing or future rules (an idea that nearly everyone else opposes).
  • Low-tax countries want to keep profits booked in their countries so they can impose taxes themselves (albeit small ones).
  • A deal has yet to be reached, despite the deadline already being extended.
What's at stake: 
  • If a global agreement can't be reached, countries will impose their own national taxes on digital services. 
  • The U.S. government has threatened to retaliate with tariffs against any country that imposes taxes on U.S. based tech companies.
  • The OECD projects trade disputes driven by this issue could reduce global GDP by as much as 1%. 
Zoom out: With the global economy already knocked back by COVID, an international tarrif war could make things even worse.
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Wait, your mortgage doesn’t disappear after you die?

If you’re a homeowner, you’ve felt the pain of saving up for a down payment for years just to buy a tiny box in the sky with about the same square feet as your parents’ laundry room. Nope? Just us?
After saving up to buy what will likely be the biggest asset you ever purchase (although we really do hope you buy a super yacht one day), don’t you want to protect it? I don’t mean hiring The Rock to stand outside and scare away burglars - I mean protecting it by having a will that ensures your largest assets passes on the way you would want. Not as sexy, but still important.

What if I asked you how your home is owned? Would you know the difference between owning it jointly with rights of survivorship vs. joint with tenants in common? Would you know what happens to your mortgage when you pass away? And would you know who your home would go to if you didn’t have a will?
Well, 1 in 10 Canadians think their mortgage disappears when they die (spoiler alert: it doesn’t), and there are a lot of myths and misconceptions and home ownership and estate planning. While we can’t make your mortgage disappear, we can break down the basics for you.

If you’re a homeowner, you’ve got to take a minute to read Willful’s Guide to Estate Planning for Homeowners about why you should get a will. You’ll learn how your ownership structure affects how a home is treated in your will, what happens to your dreaded mortgage after you pass away, why you may want to update your will when you move, and lots of other exciting things. We promise, it will be more exciting than watching paint dry.
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Friday Headlines

Macklem's Warning: Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem (we're going to try to make T-Mack happen, btw) is warning that the next few months will be critical to the future of the Canadian economy, and said the Bank is not "actively discussing" negative interest rates. 

Alberta Geothermal: In a bid to diversify from oil and gas, Alberta's government is looking to develop its geothermal energy (using heat from below the surface of the Earth to generate electricity) sector.

Going Electric: The Federal and Ontario governments are investing $500m+ to retrofit Ford's Oakville plant to manufacture electric vehicles.

TikTok Saga, Vol. 819: First the U.S. tried to ban TikTok. Then a judge ruled that wasn't allowed. Now the U.S. Justice Department is appealing that ruling. That means the ultimate decision will get pushed to a higher court sometime in the future.

WayMo Goes Public: WayMo has launched a driverless car service to the public in Phoenix, Arizona. Who knows how this will go, but the promo video looks pretty futuristic.

Debating the Debate: The U.S. Presidential candidates can't even agree on disagreeing. The Commission in charge of the debates said they would make the next debate on October 15th virtual because, you know Trump has COVID. But now Trump has refused to do a virtual debate and wants it delayed, which Biden has said he won't do.

Prepping for The Worst: PM Trudeau told reporters that the government is preparing for how a disrupted or disputed Presidential election could impact Canada. Not something I want to think about, to be honest!

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Friday Q&A with Ben Feferman, CEO of Amuka Esports

It's Friday, and that means it's Peak Q&A time.

Every Friday we feature someone in the Canadia tech, finance, or startup space doing something cool and pick their brain to get practical and actionable tips and advice for the rest of us. 

This week we are featuring Ben Feferman, CEO of Amuka Esports, a Canadian leader in Esports tournaments, venues, and leagues.

Tell us a bit about who you are, your background, and what you do now.

Ben Feferman: I am the CEO of Amuka Esports, which is Canada's leader in esports venues, tournaments and leagues.  We operate two gaming arenas where people come to play and compete in different video games like Fortnite, League of Legends and Call of Duty. 
My background consists of 5 years as a film producer, specializing in documentary production and another 5 years in venture capital and investment banking.

What's one book that has taught you a lesson that you apply to your daily business life? What's that lesson?

BF: This one is a little out of left field, but Into the Wild by Jack Krakauer.  That was the book that really broke me out of my shell, inspired me to travel the world and live for the moment.  Sometimes when I'm stressed out to the max, I think about the book's subject Chris McCandless, his views on the world and ultimately his (SPOILER ALERT)  fatal travels to Alaska.
What evening and/or morning routines do you have that set you up for success?

BF: I have a natural alarm clock, my kids, so I typically get up around 6:30-7:00am.  I make them breakfast, get them dressed, and allot some time for myself for praying (a daily requirement for Orthodox Jews).  I actually try to avoid any work until they are out the door at 8:30 but its often hard not to check the news or social media in between.

Once at the office, I try to address all social media in the first 30 minutes and avoid using it until the evening.  I'll put out my daily LinkedIn content, answer all messages, see what's the latest scandal in esports and then move on.  I then race through emails, slack messages, WhatsApp threads and then focus on the daily schedule of calls, meetings and ongoing projects.

Every evening I almost do the reverse.  I go through all of the weekends to send out follow-ups or address necessary action items.  I go through all the emails, messages, etc for the day and then usually end up watching some esports content creators and finally fall asleep to an episode of Family Guy.

What are you involved in outside of your company? As in mentoring, boards, volunteering or other activities? How do you recommend others engage in activities outside of work and how do you give and get the most out of them?

BF: Outside of Amuka Esports my priority is spending as much time with family and my kids as possible.  I have 4 kids under 6, so it's a really busy house and I love doing anything and everything with them.  My oldest kids are starting to play video games so everyday Sunday night is Xbox night and we play some Minecraft, Roblox or the LEGO games.

Health and wellness is a huge part of my life and specifically running has been a transformational activity for me.  A couple of years ago I ran my first marathon, which was a huge accomplishment and at some point in my life, I want to qualify for Boston.

Finally, I'm very involved with numerous charities and love to be involved in creating new and innovative fundraising events and campaigns with a focus on esports and gaming.  Charity streams, events, tournaments etc. are an amazing ways for charities to engage their base especially during COVID.

What advice do you have for students or young professionals who are trying to position themselves in a competitive job market. What can they do to make themselves stand out?

BF: During a pandemic, it's not as easy to get out there, go to events, network, etc.  You have to be a little more creative.  In the esports industry, I also suggest the following

1) Be a thought leader:  Get our there on social media and post, comment and educate people about the industry.
2) Participate: Try streaming.  Enter a tournament.  Be in active in Discord servers
3) Volunteer:  Help with tournament organizing or amateur teams who are always looking for grassroots help.

Everything is online now, so it's actually a huge opportunity!

What's one app or another piece of technology that improves your productivity and you couldn't live without?

BF: As a content creator, I would definitely say StreamLabs.  Basically let's anyone easily run a live broadcast or stream.  As an extension of that, tools like restream.io and Discord which really help out as well.

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VEEP-OFF

Last night US Vice Presidential candidates Mike Pence and Kamala Harris faced off in their one and only debate. While the showdown was nothing like the first presidential debate, it was still fierce.

Debate Jabs:

  • Kamala Harris called the Trump admin’s handling of the coronavirus the “greatest failure of any presidential administration in our history.” 
  • Mike Pence took a shot at Joe Biden’s history of plagiarism, suggesting Biden’s campaign ripped off the Trump covid plan.
  • Both VP Candidates avoided a question about the transitioning of power if either of their running mates were to become incapacitated while President.
  • Kamala Harris brought up Trump’s $400 million of debt, asking who the president owes money to.
  • VP Pence vowed to hold China responsible for the coronavirus.

Road to the White House: We now have 26 days until Americans choose a new president, and as we all know anything can happen, but Biden continues to be the odds on favourite. The next presidential debate is scheduled for October 15th, but with Trump’s covid diagnosis it’s unclear if it will go ahead.

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Augmented Automakers

Big automakers are pouring cash into Envisics Inc., the UK augmented reality startup they see as a key piece in the transition to autonomous vehicles. The investment arms of GM and SAIC (the largest chinese automaker), Hyundai Mobis and other investors drove $50 million into the company’s Series B.

The Road Ahead is literally what Envisics technology helps the driver see by inserting a chip near the car’s instrument cluster and projecting a hologram of graphics and information on the windshield.

The tool is already being used in certain Land Rover and Range Rover models, and will be implemented in GM’s soon to be released Cadillac Lyriq SUV.  SAIC will also begin to implement the technology in some of its cars.

Driving Change

This augmented reality technology will be important in the transition to autonomous vehicles. Helping drivers understand how the autonomous system operates allows drivers to better take over in the event of a pedestrian or road feature the car is not properly attuned to. The hybrid approach also eases comfort of car owners and regulators making the transition.

Zoom Zoom Out… The shift to autonomous vehicles has been slower than some would like but that has not dampened the enthusiasm of legacy automakers investing in emerging technologies. GM and others have invested $7 billion into self-driving startup Cruise and Porsche recently led an $80 million round into WayRay, another augmented reality startup.
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Restaurant Relief

Under pressure to close restaurants again for indoor dining as covid cases spike, the Ontario government has come out with a handful of relief measures for the struggling restaurant industry.

  • PPE will be subsidized for small businesses through $1,000 one time grants, which will cover glass, gloves and face masks.
  • Booze delivery and takeout, which begun as a temporary measure at the outset of the pandemic, has been made permanent to help restaurants shore up their bottom line.
  • Support and pandemic related advice will be offered through Ontario’s Small Business Enterprise Centres.
  • Deliveries at retail and grocery stores can now be accepted 24/7, a change now made permanent.

The Ontario government is setting aside $60 million for the program as part of the Main Street Recovery Act.

Hot and Cold
Will $1,000 bucks do much to help a gutted sector? Ontario Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath calls the plan “delusional.” The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses thinks it’s a good first step, but would like to see targeted support similar to measures in Quebec which covered up to $15,000 of restaurants fixed costs.

On Plate: Only 28% of restaurants in Ontario are back to their pre-pandemic revenues, facing cold weather and the possibility of an end to indoor dining more permanent closures aren’t far off.
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