Start with the problem, not the solution

How one Canadian manufacturer gathered intelligence in its market before starting production. PLUS: Bombardier’s sacred cow status

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Good morning! Here’s what’s on our radar at the moment:

Start with the problem, not the solution

First Light Technologies makes high-efficiency outdoor LED fixtures for governments and enterprise—but it didn’t start out that way. Sean Bourquin and Justin Taverna co-founded the company as a service business, repairing products made by the companies that would soon be their competitors. Their in-depth knowledge of customers’ frustrations with existing technology is what allowed them to scale up quickly, growing First Light 341% over the last five years:

Bourquin and Taverna started the business as a consultancy, travelling widely—Morocco, Trinidad, the Bahamas and that highway in Colombia—to fix solar lighting systems designed by other manufacturers. It gave them priceless intel about the pain points of other producers. When First Light began producing its own solar LED lighting systems a year after its founding, the products were meticulously designed to avoid every glitch the founders saw in the field. Used in spots like parking lots and roadways, First Light’s products are built around core technology that allows them to learn: whether it’s situated in Seattle or Saudi Arabia, each light can measure the conditions of its location, then optimize its performance.

Link: Canadian Business

What to watch for this week

Coming up in the next few days of #cdnbiz:

  • Monday: Ottawa hosts the third round of NAFTA negotiations, which will run all week. Insiders have recently warned that getting a deal done by the end of 2017 is looking less and less likely.
  • Monday: Jack Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, hosts Gateway Canada, a summit for Canadian companies on how to sell to China’s growing consumer base.
  • Tuesday: Canada’s ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, will give a speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto on the state of trade and diplomacy between the two nations.
  • Wednesday: Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz speaks to the St. John’s Board of Trade. Bank-watchers will be looking for hints about potential timing for future interest rate hikes.
  • Friday: Statistics Canada publishes the July 2017 GDP figures broken down by industry.

Earnings reports preview

Canadian publicly traded companies of note scheduled to report quarterly earnings today:

Atlatsa Resources (ATL), Orocobre Ltd. (ORL), Vecima Networks (VCM)

Coming later this week:

Thursday: BlackBerry (BB)

L’etat, c’est Bombardier

Bombardier has achieved a weird sacred-cow status in Canada’s political circles: no matter how many budgets it breaks or deadlines it blows, it cannot be allowed to fail. What accounts for this curious too-big-to-fail effect? Andrew Coyne has some ideas:

There is a strange fever in the air, a hint of the inexplicable, as if not all were quite what it seemed: as if Bombardier were not merely a failing plane-maker and the government not really the government. We must conclude there has been some sort of merger behind the scenes, or perhaps a takeover. Two possibilities present themselves. Either Bombardier is no longer a private company but an arm of the government. Or — as seems equally plausible — the government of Canada at some point became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bombardier.

Link: National Post

Populism vs. big business

Donald Trump’s presidency didn’t come out of nowhere; it’s the culmination of multiple trends playing out over decades. There’s the hollowing out of domestic manufacturing economies and the middle class they supported; ethno-nationalist backlash to the forces of globalization; sprawling culture wars over “identity politics” and far more. So far the loose populist coalition that swept Trump to the White House has shown more bark than bite on Wall Street, Silicon Valley and “big business” in general—but there’s reason to believe it won’t necessarily stay that way:

Trump is nominally pro-business. The next populism will probably take his ethnic nationalism and add an anti-corporate, anti-tech layer. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple stand for everything Francis hated — economically, culturally, demographically and nationalistically. As the tech behemoths intrude more deeply into daily life and our very minds, they will become a defining issue in American politics. It wouldn’t surprise me if a new demagogue emerged, one that is even more pure….

Link: The New York Times

The best one-star review ever

Utah ski resort Snowbird is known for fast, steep, narrow slopes that even experienced skiers find challenging. So when a visitor left the resort a one-star review complaining about how the ski runs were too difficult, the company turned it into a double-page magazine ad, a bravura act of marketing that demonstrates just how confident it is in who its clientele is and what they want:

Snowbird knows they have a tough mountain. It’s kind of their thing. The weakness Greg documented in his review is actually one of the main positives of the entire resort, so they decided to have some fun with it. And speaking of negatives, let’s talk self-deprecation for a second. It’s so hard to do well. Too much or too little of it is a massive turnoff. Somehow, this ad manages to be self-deprecating, humble and thorougly confident all at once. It’s a remarkable balancing act. Ads like this don’t happen often, but when they do, they spark the same reaction in all of us: “I have to find out more about these guys.”

Link: Medium

WATCH: Apple and Samsung’s cold war

Apple is known as the world’s pre-eminent hardware manufacturer, churning out hundreds of millions of the most popular single gadget ever sold, the iPhone. But it isn’t actually a manufacturer—it’s the key client of a vast network of companies that produce thousands of separate components that get assembled (again, by contractors working for Apple) into the final product. One of the largest of these vendors is Samsung, which makes the screen and several key chips for the iPhone, but which is itself the largest single manufacturer of smartphones in the world. You’d think that would be a huge conflict of interest. Well, in fact, it is. Which is why the relationship between the two companies is famously testy, even though each is deeply reliant on the other. This short video walks through the ways that the two companies manage their strange-bedfellow circumstance—and how Apple is trying to break its dependency on its biggest competitor.

Link: YouTube

Thanks for reading! Have a truly excellent day.