Food tracking

One of the harder data sets to track is food consumption, which can in theory provide some vague estimate count of nutrient, calorie, etc. over time. Once tracking this data becomes easier, we can start to correlate this against health outcomes.

I’ve come across two approaches recently, both of which seem impressive when looking at the demo:

  • Evolve does this by allowing you to speak to it. I assume they will create Alexa, Google Home, etc apps. Check out the video: https://vimeo.com/221845678
  • Bitesnap does this by allowing you to take photos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uw6kjbiFcNs

In both cases, the app will parse out your food input into ingredients, then nutrients. Both (I assume) will learn over time and get better at knowing what you eat. Bitesnap seems to have a more intuitive way to provide feedback.

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Working with corporates as a startup

Many startups seek to disrupt existing industries. Some of them seek to disrupt them by competing with large companies. Others seek to disrupt industries by collaborating with, or selling to large companies. This article is for the latter.

As a startup, here are some tips on doing business with large companies.

Learn how the company has worked with technology and startups in the past.

A little research will go a long way. Look up what kind of technological innovations the company has implemented in the past. Were these technologies built internally or did they work with an outside vendor? Have they worked with or invested in startups in the past? What kind of startups are they? Who are the people mentioned and quoted in the articles that discuss technological innovations this company has explored? What other notable projects have people in this company explored relevant to the value you are seeking to provide them?

Google it. Google News it.

As you start engaging with this company, try to understand the “politics”.

Whomever you start to engage with within a company, they report to somebody. That person reports to someone else. All three of those people have slightly different “goals” within the company. As a startup looking to do business with a large company, part of your job is to assess what role different people and departments have within the organization and how they interact with each other. How you navigate this can determine how fast or slow your deal might proceed.

Seek a champion.

As you do the above, your goal is to seek a champion. For a large company to start working with a startup, it often takes a champion to sell this idea internally. This champion may have to bring you up multiple times in various meetings. Look for the individual or department in the organization whose goals align closely with the value you seek to provide for the organization. As you engage with any company early on, your goal should be to identify, meet, and provide value to this champion. As you start to engage with many companies, you will likely find patterns that help you seek the champion quickly (often times a specific title or department).

Provide tools for the champion to sell you internally.

Once you’ve identified this champion, your job is to provide tools to help this champion sell you internally. Provide language that resonates internally. You need to provide a simple pitch the champion can remember and repeat. This will likely be slightly or significantly different from the elevator pitch you use with investors. Decks and other material they can pass around or present can help.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Large companies move slow and take time. A deal may suddenly fall through for reasons out of your control. Don’t spend so much time on making one deal happen that you have to shut down your startup if it doesn’t go through. It’s happened before and will happen again to somebody – but not you.

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Why did you start this company?

“Why did you start this company?”

“Why are you working on this idea?”

We investors love asking these questions. We’re assessing your passion for the idea. Starting a company is difficult, and we want to know that you are going to persevere when times get tough.

It’s not a simple question.

Usually, the reason you’re working on your startup is more confusing than a simple story. It’s a mix of consequences and coincidences. You should be aware of all the reasons that led you to you working on your idea.

Where did you notice the problem you’re solving? Why do you care about this problem so much? Why does it have to be you solving the problem? Why not just help guide someone else already working to solve it? How much are you risking to start a company? Who else might lose if this doesn’t go well? Why risk so much? Why not risk more? What’s your ultimate goal here?

Those are just some questions you should be able to answer.

“What’s the ‘Why?'”

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An Introduction to Startup Methodologies

There are a handful of startup methodologies that every entrepreneur should familiarize themselved with. These concepts, widely accepted amongst tech startups, were developed by seasoned entrepreneurs to help fellow entrepreneurs avoid common mistakes.

The Business Model Canvas, developed by Alexander Osterwalder, is a framework for analyzing the different components of a business – it’s essentially a substitute for the traditional business plan, a long document that nobody will ever actually read.

The Customer Development methodology, developed by Steve Blank, is a scientific approach that can be applied to startups to improve the likelihood of their product success by developing a better understanding of the customer.

The Lean Startup method, developed by Eric Ries, was built on top of the Customer Development methodology, specificically with tech startups in mind. It focuses on testing hypothesis and quick iterations of product.

Take This Free Online Course

If you’re unfamiliar with the above concepts, the best place to start is Steve Blank’s Udacity course, How to Build a Startup. This course covers both the business model canvas and the customer development methodology.

Another great free course can be found on Udemy called Build. Measure. Learn. Lean Startup SXSW 2012. These are recordings from the Lean Startup Track at SXSW Interactive 2012 with Eric Ries, Dave McClure, and other great startup founders.

Check Out These Books

You can learn more about the Business Model Canvas by visiting the website, where you can purchase the book and download the Canvas for free. Every entrepreneur should go through the process of filling out a the Business Model Canvas at least once!

If you’re going to read one book on Customer Development, it should be Steve Blank’s book, The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company. It’s a more detailed and readable version of his first book, The Four Steps to Epiphany.

Check out the Lean Startup website, where you can learn about basic principles and check out some great case studies listed. You should also purchase the book, which many would tell you is a must read for any technology entrepreneur.

In-Person Learning

There are a few in-person courses designed to help you apply these principles to your business. The Lean Startup Machine is a three-day workshop that’s been going on for a while. SW NEXT is a similar course that meets once a week for 5 weeks, developed in conjunction by Startup Weekend, Steve Blank, and Udemy. Both courses force you to “get out of the building” and talk to customers, which can be difficult without a little push.

For a more casual opportunity to connect with people, check out the Los Angeles Lean Startup Circle Meetup. You might as well know name Patrick Vlaskovits, our local “Lean Expert”, co-organizer of the LA Lean Startup Circle, and co-author of the books The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development and The Lean Entrepreneur.

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Best Resources for Learning Startup Marketing

Here’s a list of the best guides I’ve found to teach yourself startup marketing, digital marketing, growth hacking, or whatever else you want to call it:

GROWTH HACKING/STARTUP MARKETING

Growth Hacking is becoming an increasingly popular term for metric-based marketing for early stage startups. The term itself can be controversial, but don’t focus on that too much. It’s a mentality that’s very helpful to understand.

The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking – A great place to start and get in the mindset of what you need to focus on when growing an early-stage startup. This resource was put together by Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor. Neil Patel is the co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, and is one of the most prominent growth hackers out there.

The Ultimate Guide to Startup Marketing – This one is less of a general overview of what it takes, but has simple actionable starting points for you. This one is put together by KISSmetrics, which as I mentioned above, was started by Neil Patel.

Want some cool case studies? Check out this slide deck (Dropbox, Living Social, AirBnB, etc.).

CONVERSION RATE OPTIMIZATION (CRO)

No matter how much traffic you drive to your site, if those visitors don’t do anything, it does you no good. Conversion rate optimization is all about increasing the conversion rate of your passive visitors to active visitors.

The Beginner’s Guide to CRO – Everything you need to know about optimizing your site is right here. It’s hosted on the Qualaroo site, a company started by Sean Ellis, who is credited for coining the term Growth Hacker. He’s helped many companies grow, but most notably he was the first marketer for Dropbox.

Chapters: What is Conversion Rate Optimization?, Why Conversion Rate Optimization is Important, The Basics of Conversion Rate Optimization, Building and Testing an Optimization Plan, User Experience and Funnel Optimization, Landing Page Optimization, Reducing Bounce and Exit Rates, Myths About Conversion Rate Optimization, Tools to Test and Optimize Conversion, Measuring Conversion Rate Efforts and Calling Winners, Bonus Advanced Tips and Hacks for CRO, Conclusion

SEO

SEO is all about how to rank high on search engines when potential visitors/users/customers search for something relevant to your service. While it’s not the ideal marketing focus for everyone, for most, it’s very crucial.

The Beginner’s Guide to SEO – Moz’s guide to SEO is IMPO the best out there. It’s a little long, but read the whole thing and you’ll know SEO better than some of the cheaper SEO consultants out there.

The Advanced Guide to SEO – Another great guide to SEO put together by Neil Patel (same guy who did the growth hacking guide at the top).

The Advanced Guide to Link Building – Again, by Neil Patel. I put this under SEO instead of it’s own section because link building is core to SEO.

CONTENT MARKETING

Content Marketing is about publishing content online that’s so helpful to people that they share it with others, and they all become your customer. Not quite, but something along those lines. You could say this blog post, and most of the guides on here are content created as part of a content marketing strategy.

The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing – Again, by Neil Patel on Quicksprouts. He’s really killing it with these guides.

SOCIAL MEDIA

I hope I don’t have to explain to you what social media is. All the guides below are from Mashable, the king of social media news online.

Twitter Guide Book

Facebook Guide Book

The Beginner’s Guide to Tumblr

The Beginner’s Guide to LinkedIn

Reddit: A Beginner’s Guide

Beginner’s Guide to Facebook

Beginner’s Guide to Twitter

 

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How to Get Into YCombinator

I started reading HackerNews recently, and I love it. Today, 3 of the top 100 posts happened to be advice for getting into YCombinator, so I though I’d post them here for people who might have missed it. While these are tips for YC, the same advice goes for applying to startup accelerators in general.

And because it’s not all about getting in (also a top 100 from Hacker News today):

And because it’s not all about getting into an accelerator

 

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Making Sense of Agile

Disclosure: we have a 2.5 hour workshop on Agile Tools with Patricia Anglano coming up at Coloft on October 8th, which inspired me to write this article. Read more about it here. In this article, I tried to link to the most helpful Agile articles I found for people just getting introduced to the concept.

Though I’ve coded on and off for some time now, I can hardly call myself a developer. I’ve barely collaborated with others on a project. I’d love to find time, and when I do, I’d love to try Agile.

I’ve been reading up on Agile Software Development, but honestly it’s still very confusing to me. I just can’t manage to fully imagine what the process looks like. What I understand is that it’s good for iterative software development, which works well with the lean startup method.

Who uses it?

It seems like most dev teams I know (both startups and dev shops) use Agile or at least some aspects of it. The most neutral survey on agile adoption I could find was this Forrester survey from 2009:

35% of respondents stated that Agile most closely reflects their development process, with the number increasing to 45% if you expand what you include in Agile’s definition.

In a more recent survey from 2012, 84% of respondents (software development professionals) said their organization is using agile development. The number seems quite high to me, but this Annual Development Survey is pretty to look at and has a lots of interesting info, so I highly suggest you take a look.

Should I learn it?

If you’re a software developer or a project manager at a startup, I would say yes. If you touch any part of the product development cycle, I would say at least a little. While I’ve had people tell me you’re either agile or not agile (you can’t be “kind of” agile), plenty have told me otherwise. Either way, it seems like there are lessons to be learned simply from understanding how it works.

I also think it’s great for business managers and CEOs should familiarize themselves with the concept of Agile (I agree with this rather long Forbes article, The Best-Kept Management Secret on the Planet: Agile).

I was also introduced to this TED video about how Bruce Feiler implemented agile practices with his family and the benefits he saw in doing so. So perhaps there are lessons learned for any organized group.

In an effort to balance my bias, I found this article that provides some guidance into whether your organizations strengths are better suited for waterfall or agile. This Quick Introduction to Agile Software Development also highlights some cases where you might not want to go agile.

How do I learn Agile?

I can only imagine the best way to learn agile is to join a team who already uses it. If you’re looking to start using agile in your organization, there are consultants you can hire to help you implement. Another costly solution is getting certified, but I think it makes more sense to learn by doing.

If you want to start learning on your own, the Quick Introduction to The Quick Introduction to Agile Software Development is the most comprehensive, yet simple guide I’ve found so far online. You should check out the original Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the 12 principles listed, but it doesn’t guide you in implementing. It’s always worth reading the Wikipedia article if you haven’t. If you Google “agile development”, it’ll take you down a rabbit hole filled with lots of information, but it will take some time to make sense of it all.

Apparently there is such a thing as Good Agile and Bad Agile. I’ve found some tips from somebody whose experienced agile at multiple companies, Agile Development: the quickstart guide to doing it right.

That’s why when Patricia Anglano of Agile Media Consulting, who helps companies implement agile, approached me with her hands-on workshop to let people experience agile in a night, I was quick to set it up at Coloft.  The 2.5 hour workshop is coming up in October and you can find more info here.

I know there are other opportunities to learn Agile (General Assembly does classes, but none are currently upcoming in LA) and I’m sure there are great resources I’m missing. Please don’t hesitate to share any you know of in the comments.

I’d like to end with a fun presentation that introduces the essential concepts of agile by comparing it to Tetris: Improving Agile Development Through Tetris.

 

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Three Most Underutilized Marketing Strategies for Early-Stage Startups

nose-up

Disclosure: We have a  one-day workshop coming up with Sean Percival at Coloft that focuses on these three marketing tactics. Regardless of whether you join us for the workshop, I think you’ll benefit from knowing these strategies exist.

I had the chance to chat with Sean Percival, who recently joined the Distribution Team at 500 Startups where he also blogs for them about marketing. He shared some insight he gained from assisting their portfolio companies with marketing. The most exciting insight to me was that after helping dozens of companies, he’s been able to identify three things that early-stage startups often need help with: drip marketing, retargeting, and SEO tune-up.

Since early-stage companies lack the bandwidth to try every marketing strategy available, it’s important that they quickly identify strategies most likely to be both effective and cost-efficient. Why not learn from the experience of others and focus on what’s working for them?

Drip Marketing

Drip Marketing is where you send multiple pre-written emails to customers over time. Unlike traditional email campaigns where you send an email to everyone at the same time, these messages are usually timed to be sent X, Y, and Z number of days after the user provides their email address.

For example, Neil Patel on his personal blog sets up a series of seven emails where the first six are educational and the seventh is his pitch. There are plenty of things to think about when implementing a drip marketing strategy, so check out this infographic before you start.

Retargeting

Retargeting is where you run ads that only show to people who’ve already visited your site. You can take it a step further and, for example, target a specific ad to people who’ve abandoned their shopping cart. Services like AdRoll make this possible, check out their article: How Retargeting Works.

Though a few years old, this survey amongst marketers suggested Retargeting as the most underutilized marketing strategy.

SEO Tune-Up

If you don’t know what SEO is, it stands for Search Engine Optimization and this breaks down into a lot of smaller strategies that basically help people find your site through search engines. If you want to know all that goes into SEO, two great resources are The Beginner’s Guide to SEO (Moz.com) or The 2013 SEO Checklist (Clickminded.com).

Some Final Words…

Every business is unique, so every company has the responsibility to analyze which marketing strategies work best for them. If you want a broader understanding of marketing a tech startup, you should probably check out The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking by Neil Patel & Bronson Taylor.

If you want to master these three strategies and happen to live in Los Angeles, check out the one-day workshop with Sean Percival on September 28th: Drip Marketing, Retargeting, and SEO Tune-Up (only $299 for early-bird pricing!).

 

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Developing a Curriculum for Entrepreneurship

This Summer, I have the honor of teaching an accelerator program for the Santa Monica Youth Tech Program. 14 hand picked high-school students will split up into teams and work on two civic tech startup ideas out of Coloft, 5 days a week for 5 weeks. Two hours each day, their minds are mine to shape.

While I’ve been a guest speaker at a few university courses, this is the first time I’m developing a full curriculum on my own. It’s intimidating.

These are the steps I took:

1) I looked back at my favorite courses I’ve taken and reflected on what I liked/disliked about them most.

2) I looked through similar curriculums that I was able to find online.

3) I read up on instructional design theories.

4) I found this article on what you need to do the first day of class. Then realized Carnegie-Melon had all these great resources to help guide curriculum design. It was nice to have this list of instructional strategies, and these things to think about when planning course content & schedule.

But mostly, it was a lot of throwing ideas on post-its, organizing it, realizing things I was missing, re-doing the process, etc.

The course starts next week, and I have my first week of classes all planned out! While I have a basic outline of what I’m teaching, the later classes will have to adjust based on the progress level of the students.

The five major topics I’m covering are:

  1. Startup Fundamentals – Personal goals, Business Model Canvas, Validation Board, User Personas, Keyword Research
  2. Design – Branding, Photoshop, Illustrator, Wireframing
  3. Development – HTML/CSS, WordPress, eCommerce Tools
  4. Digital Marketing – Analytics, SEO, Social Media, Paid Advertising
  5. Fundraising – Relationship Building, Pitch Deck, Pitch Practice
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Best Online Resources for Entrepreneurs, Organized.

This will most likely always be a work in progress. Please don’t hesitate to add resources or input in the comments! I tried not to have too many services that were similar to each other, and mostly went with venture backed solutions where it existed. Hoping to turn this into a more interactive resource down the road.

I don’t know what I want to do, but I want to start learning.

Get Inspired

Learn to Code Online

Learn to Build a Startup

Learn Creative & Technical Skills

Take University Classes Online for Free

  • Coursera – Stanford, Duke, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, John Hopkins, etc.
  • Edx – Harvard, MIT, Cornell, UC Berkley, etc.

I have an idea/ I’m just getting started

Brainstorming/Understanding Your Business

  • Business Model Canvas – Fill this out to get a good sense of your business. Better with the book, but not completely necessary. Watch the 2 min video.
  • Validation Board – Use this to continuously test your riskiest assumptions and to update your business model canvas as you learn more about your business. Developed by the authors of The Lean Startup & The Lean Entrepreneur.
  • Mindmeister – An online mind-mapping tool, great for collaborating.

Naming

  • Lean Domain Search – Enter a word you want in your domain and it will give you a list of available domain names that includes your word.
  • Gum.bo – Enter a word or words you want in your domain and it will give you a list of available domain names and if the username is available on major social networks.
  • Namechk – Enter a username and it will let you know if it’s available across a large number of social networks.
  • Igor Naming Guide – A systematic process for picking the right name for your business.

Startup Research

  • Google Keyword Tool – Look up search volume for your product, service, or keywords.
  • Google Trends – Look up search trends for your product, service, or keyword.
  • Quora – Great Q&A site. Lots of great answers for technology entrepreneurs.
  • Crunchbase – A database of technology companies. Get to know your competitors, how much they’ve raised, and from who.
  • Angellist – A database of startups and angels. Find local startups and angel investors in your industry.
  • Seed-DB – A database of accelerators and incubators.

Automated Research Tools

  • Google Alerts – Set up alerts for keywords relevant to your business, get recent news directly in your email inbox.
  • Paper.li – Automatically generates an online newspaper from articles shared by Twitter accounts you follow. You can customize this even more by setting it to follow specific lists or hashtags.

Early Customer Validation

  • SurveyMonkey – Create surveys and send them to your friends.
  • Amazon Mechanical Turks – A little complex to use, but you can pay a little bit of money to survey lots of random people.
  • Pickfu – Let random people vote between two options. A simpler version of Amazon Mechanical Turks. 50 answers for $20.

Collaborating With Your Team

I’m Ready to Get a Few Things Up Online

Buy a domain name + hosting

Get a Splash Page Up

  • LaunchRock – Pretty easy to use, but not much customization.
  • KickOffLabs – A little more customization.
  • Unbounce – A drag & drop interface for creating your splash page. Super easy to set up A/B testing. Great for price elasticity testing, etc.

Set Up Your Social Media Profiles

Design Tools

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – Subscription based access to Photoshop, Illustrator, and more!
  • Pixlr – A free online tool, similar to Photoshop (less robust).
  • Flickr – Use advanced search tools to search for Creative Commons licensed images you can use for free (as long as you credit the photographer somewhere on your site!)
  • iStockPhoto – Purchase professional stock photos for use on website/marketing material.
  • VectorStock – Purchase cheap vector designs to use on your website/marketing material.
  • The Noun Project – Great place to find cheap and free (public domain) icons.
  • Google Fonts
  • 9 Best Free Image Editors – If you don’t want to pay for Photoshop, check out these free image editors, compiled by Mashable.

Hire a Designer

  • 99 Designs – Crowdsourced design work. Get multiple people to submit ideas and only pay for the one you like.
  • Sortfolio – Sort through web designers by city & budget and look through their portfolio.
  • oDesk – Hire freelancers.
  • Elance – Hire freelancers.

 Let’s Get Building!

Wireframing Tools

  • Balsamiq – Drag & drop interface for wireframing websites. You can build in multiple pages and interactive buttons.
  • POP – Convert your sketches into an interactive prototype of your mobile app.

DIY Web Building Tools

  • WordPress.org – This content management system powers 1 in 6 active websites online. It’s worth learning to use. Most hosting services provide a one-click install of WordPress, which will allow you to host it on your own domain name. It’s worth learning how to use, and a great way to build your Minimum Viable Product.
  • ThemeForest – A place to buy premium WordPress themes.
  • Woothemes – Another place to buy great WordPress themes.
  • Shopify – Set up an e-commerce enabled store with no coding experience.
  • Magento Go – Set up an e-commerce enabled store with no coding experience.
  • Sublime Text – Learning to code yourself? Sublime Text is just one of many text editors great for coding.
  • Heroku – Learn to code on rails? Heroku will handle your web hosting.
  • Github – Version tracking is something you really oughta do if you’re coding, and Github is how you’ll do it.

 Find a development agency

  • GroupTalent – You send them basic information about what you need, and they’ll help you with the details of the spec, budgeting, timeline, and match you with the a qualified development team for your needs. Accepts job listings from $5k to $150k.
  • Guru – Freelancing website with a focus on development talent.
  • oDesk – Freelancing website.
  • Elance – Freelancing website.
  • TheyMakeApps – Search for mobile app developers by location and budget, then check out their portfolios.

Charging Money

  • Paypal – Probably the easiest way to start collecting money.
  • Dwolla – The new kid on the block, $0.25 fee max on any transaction. To find out how they do it, read this article.
  • Shopify – DIY eCommerce platform. Super easy to set up shop and start selling.
  • Magento – eCommerce platform. More complex, more customizable.
  • Authorize.net – Payment Gateway
  • Freshbooks – Service business? Accounting, time tracking, and billing.
  • Square – Charging money in person? Use Square.

Collect Recurring Payments

Is my site any good? Let’s make it better!

 Web Analytics

User Testing

  • UserTesting.com – Get videos of visitors speaking their thoughts as they visit your site and a written summary of their experience with your site.
  • CrazyEgg – Get a heat map of where people are clicking on your site and how far down they scroll on any page.

Optimize Your Website

  • Optimizely – Great tool for A/B testing on a website that you already have up and running. Super easy to use, definitely worth messing around with their free demo.
  • Kissmetrics – A serious analytics tool that helps you optimize your website.
  • Qualaroo – Collect insights by asking your customers questions unintrusively.
  • Olark – Live chat with your customers.
  • Get Satisfaction – Customer engagement tool.

 Let’s Drive Some Traffic to My Site!

Social Media Tools

  • Hootsuite – Manage a number of social media profiles, schedule posts, and set up streams based on Twitter lists or hashtags.
  • Wildfire App – Social media campaign tool.

Press Release Distribution

Identify Influencers

  • Google Blog Search – Search for blogs about your topic.
  • Technorati – Blog search engine.
  • Klout – Find top social media influencers.
  • BlogDash – A blogger outreach network. Identify and reach out to bloggers.
  • GroupHigh – Identify and reach out to influencers. Paid solution.
  • Traackr – The most expensive, but supposedly the most advanced platform for identifying influencers.

Online Advertising Platforms

Keeping the Business Running

Finance Tools

  • Mint.com – Personal finance manager
  • inDinero – Basically a Mint.com for businesses.
  • Quickbooks – Small Business Accounting Software.
  • Freshbooks – Service business? Accounting, time tracking, and billing.
  • Expensify – Track your expenses.

Legal Stuff/ Document Samples

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