Photo by Kyle West

Four McMaster students are helping a local gift-card cash-exchange company grow unexpectedly quickly in a relatively untapped Canadian market.

GiftCash is an online service startup based in Dundas that buys unredeemed or partially redeemed gift cards from customers in exchange for a percentage of the remaining value.

The company was co-founded in 2017 by Colin Moffat, a McMaster actuarial mathematics graduate, and his partner Kaya Harrod.

““Everybody buys gift cards and everybody receives them as gifts, and, a lot of time, people don't really want them,” Harrod said.

GiftCash runs a relatively simple but effective service. Prospective clients can go onto the site and check their gift card balance before submitting it. From there, the company offers a percentage of the card’s value. If the customer accepts, they receive an e-transfer payout within five business days.

Harrod and Moffat, are both from Ontario. Before starting the business, Moffat was playing professional poker in Las Vegas while completing his undergrad.

Inspired by a friend, Harrod and Moffat started the company as Moffat finished his degree. They officially incorporated GiftCash in August 2017, and hired their first employee in November.

Since 2017, GiftCash has grown quickly. Currently, more than 10,000 ‘orders’ of gift cards have been submitted to GiftCash, amounting to more than 40,000 cards redeemed by clients in total.

According to MarketWatch, Americans spent $130 billion on gift cards in 2017, but $1 billion were unspent.

One estimate in 2011 found that Canadians spent $6 billion a year on gift cards.

Because the Canadian gift card exchange industry is not as well-developed as the American market, Harrod and Moffat targeted Canadian clients at first.

“Raise and and CardPool kind of monopolized everything in the US, and they bring in millions of revenue themselves. There's nothing really like that in Canada,” Harrod said.

GiftCash’s biggest gift-card exchange competitor in Canada is CardSwap, which was founded in 2009.

However, encouraged by their early success, GiftCash expanded to the U.S. last year.

The company now already receives more orders per month from the U.S. than Canada.

GiftCash has fostered a close connection with McMaster as it has grown.

Including Moffat, eight GiftCash employees out of a total of fourteen in Canada are McMaster graduates or co-op students.

The company hired its first McMaster co-op student in 2018.

Currently, there are four co-op students working as data analysts, and Harrod and Moffat are looking to add to their team.

Harrod admits that she and Moffat did not expect the business to take off as fast as it did.

“Honestly, we didn't realize how big of a market this was until we kind of started. We kind of just jumped in headfirst and decided to do everything that we could,” Harrod said.

Harrod hopes GiftCash will be able to take the next step and become a major player in the Canadian and American market.

“Hopefully, by the end of this year, we'll have better infrastructure on the web site side, and we'll have a larger workforce,” Harrod said. “We'll be maybe not totally up there. I think that's a little bit of a high achievement. But at least we’ll be making a peg in the wall as we climb up to the top with our competitors.”

Students can find out more information about the startup at https://giftcash.ca/.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

Every so often, students walking through the McMaster University Student Centre are met with faces of The Beatles, large maps of the world and even prints of Banksy’s most popular works.  

The Imaginus poster sale, which has been touring Canadian university and college campuses since 1975, is a staple of the university experience. It is not uncommon to see their posters plastered over the walls of dorms and off-campus housing.

The Imaginus poster sale is happening right now in MUSC!

Make sure to check it out before they leave tomorrow 🙂#McSU pic.twitter.com/FfDqEesAgc

— MSU Campus Events (@msucampusevents) January 31, 2019

At first glance, the poster sales seem innocent enough. For under $10, you can get away with two good-sized posters of your favourite band or quote — what could be wrong with that?

A lot, actually. The Imaginus poster sale has been critiqued in the past for selling posters that promote cultural appropriation, and poster sales in general have been scrutinized for the ethics of selling reproduced and borderline copyright-infringement artwork. This can especially raise eyebrows as it is rare that the collected profits ever reach the original artists.  

But beyond the possible problematic nature of the content of their posters, the Imaginus poster sales take away opportunities from student artists. As it stands, McMaster University students cannot sell their artwork on campus for a profit.

According to the Policy on Student Groups, student groups on campus “may not engage in activities that are essentially commercial in nature.”

This policy is what caused the shutdown of an art sale by McMaster’s Starving Artists Society last year. The club is made up of student artists and creatives that are looking to expand their portfolio and reach a wider audience.

The event that was shut down was meant to be an opportunity for student artists to market their artwork to their peers and even profit off of their hard work. Many of Mac’s student artist community are involved with SAS and were negatively affected by the university’s decision to shut the event down.

Essentially, the university has allowed Imaginus to have an unfair monopoly on selling art on campus. For a university that already arguably disvalues the arts, to dissuade student artists from profiting from their work is a serious matter.

This brings to light a larger issue at hand. Why should any students be disallowed to sell their products on campus — especially when outside companies are given space in our student centre to sell their products?  

This situation unfortunately reflects the situation of many non-student local artists within the community. In our corporate world, it is extremely difficult to establish a reliable clientele and profit off of one’s work. Mass commercialized products inherently cost less and as a result, this drives away sales from local artists.

As the university makes a profit from the poster sales, and in general from any vendors on campus, it is unlikely that this issue will be addressed anytime soon.

Until it is, you can support local and student artists through sharing their work, reaching out to them and contributing towards their sales. The SAS also runs art crawls and other events where students can get in contact with student artists!

Everyone has a Friends poster in their house. When you buy local and student, not only are you supporting your peers, but you’re likely acquiring higher quality and truly unique works of art.

 

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