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Interview with Jack Carlson, Rowing Blazers

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Interview with Jack Carlson, Rowing Blazers

Originally published on IdeaMensch. Source

Jack Carlson is the founder and creative director of the brand Rowing Blazers. Before launching the label, he earned a doctorate in archaeology at Oxford and worked as a field archaeologist in Italy. He was also on the national rowing team, and represented the U.S. at three World Championships. He won a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships and also won the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta and the Head of the Charles Regatta.

Since starting Rowing Blazers in 2017, Jack has collaborated with brands ranging from J. Crew to the NBA, and from Seiko to Barbour, creating collections that combine a love and knowledge of classic, vintage, British and American sportswear, with a taste for streetwear and a penchant for doing things the right way. The brand is known for its ethical production, producing most of its collections in Portugal, the United States, and the United Kingdom; and also for giving back to the community: Rowing Blazers has partnered with charities ranging from the NAACP to The Social Change Fund.

Outside of his work with the brand, Jack has also been an outspoken advocate for making the sport of rowing more diverse and more accessible and volunteers for organizations dedicated to this cause.

Where did the idea for Rowing Blazers come from?

I was racing at a rowing event called Henley Royal Regatta in England. It’s kind of like the Wimbledon of rowing. It’s very traditional, and all of the competitors, when they aren’t competing, and all of the spectators, wear traditional club blazers in bright colors, or crazy stripes, or with embroidered emblems on the pockets. I met rowers from all over the world, and I learned about the stories and traditions behind their blazers. I thought: someone should write a book about these blazers. They brought together so many of my interests: menswear and clothing in general; history; and sport.

A few years later, I decided I would write the book. It was a side project for me, and I thought it would be fairly niche: really just for the rowing community. But when the book came out, it took off in the fashion and menswear communities in a way I never could have imagined. That success gave me the idea and the motivation to start my own brand. The two main pillars of the brand I wanted to start were authenticity and irreverence. I also wanted to create a brand that brought together my love of the classics and of vintage clothing with some of the things I loved about streetwear: the unexpected collaborations, the frequent product drops. Just as importantly, I wanted to create a brand that was making things using traditional, sometimes even “old fashioned” techniques, in places and workshops that were dedicated to ethical manufacturing, human wellbeing, and minimizing waste and other environmental impacts. I’m a vegetarian, so I also wanted to make sure we avoided materials like fur, angora, shearling, and so on.

In coming up with the idea for the brand, I also wanted to create a brand that had a strong sense of community, and that gave back to the community and to charitable causes. I wanted that to be something the brand does regularly; to be part of Rowing Blazers’ DNA. I’m proud to say in the four years since the brand began, Rowing Blazers has partnered with a wide variety of local, national, and international charitable organizations, with a particular focus on youth access to sports and social justice.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I spend a lot of my day on calls: Zoom calls and Google meetings, looking at new designs, planning photoshoots, talking with collaborators and partners, and so on. I feel very fortunate to work with an amazing team. The Rowing Blazers’ team is second to none in terms of its creativity and passion. It’s also very diverse, and so is our company’s leadership. This is something I’m particularly proud of, and which I think is important for our success: people might not realize it, but about half of Rowing Blazers’ leadership team are women, and large proportions are BIPOC and LGBTQIA+.

When I’m not on Zoom calls with our team and with our partners, I like to work somewhere with ambient noise: in cafes or restaurants. It somehow helps me focus. Lately, I’ve been trying to make sure I spend at least a couple of hours everyday outdoors, no matter what the weather, running, walking, or doing some other kind of activity. I think that’s so important for my productivity and focus too.

How do you bring ideas to life?

At Rowing Blazers, I take so much of my inspiration from the past: from vintage clothing, but also from my own past: my childhood in England and Massachusetts, growing up in the ‘90s, my time at Oxford and working as an archaeologist in Italy. All of these things form a base from which I build. To me, I try to bring these inspirations to life with a sense of authenticity (to me, this means doing our homework, and being rigorous in what we create); a sense of irreverence (to me, this means never being 100% literal, but having fun and being a little tongue-in-cheek, a little subversive); and creating whatever we are creating in an ethical, thoughtful way.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I think people are increasingly becoming “cultural omnivores.” They are curious and thoughtful about a wide range of worlds and movements and tastes. They aren’t as easily pigeonholed into the categories and labels that the media and big corporations like them to fit into. I like this and it excites me, because it resonates with me, and because Rowing Blazers itself has such diverse, eclectic inspirations.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I don’t know if it’s a habit exactly, but I have very high standards for myself and for anything we put out into the world. If it’s not excellent and interesting and well executed, what’s the point? I think I take these high standards with me from being in elite sport for so long. Rowing races at the World Championships can come down to hundredths of a second. There isn’t much room for error or for giving anything less than your best. I think this is one of the things that has helped make the company so successful in such a short period of time.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that everyone is just figuring it out as they go. There’s no playbook for starting and building a successful clothing brand, for example.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

House of Gucci was a good movie!

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I just always come back to who we are as a company and what we stand for. I think about this everyday, and it guides so many of our important decisions. It’s what has informed so many of Rowing Blazers’ charitable partnerships; and it’s also guided the brand collaborations and partnerships we do; and, of course, it’s guided how and where we make our products, and the kinds of materials we use. I think if you don’t keep your values in the front of your mind, you might lose track of who you are. It would be very easy for us to find cheaper ways of making our products for example. This could enable us to sell more of them, and to offer them at a lower retail price to our customers. But we don’t do that. Quality is too important to us; the people making our products are too important to us; and the planet is too important to us.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Collaborating. We do a lot of collaborations with a wide range of brands and businesses, big and small, young and old. Our collaboration partners include the NBA, but they also include my favorite pizza place in New York: John’s of Bleecker Street. They include old-school heritage brands like Sperry and Barbour, but they also include young streetwear brands like Noah and Eric Emanuel. What they all have in common is that Rowing Blazers has an organic connection to each of them.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve had to overcome lots of failures and challenges as an entrepreneur. I knew almost nothing about the apparel industry when I had the idea of starting the brand, and I’ve had to learn on the job for the past five years. Fortunately, I’ve had great partners and a great team who have made the learning curve much easier. But there have still been countless times when products don’t come out how they are supposed to; when things are late; when problems occur that you never even could have imagined: we once had a technical glitch where, for about 20 minutes, nearly everything on our site was $39 – including blazers and jackets that are supposed to be closer to $1000. Some people got a really great deal that day! All you can do to overcome these things is move forward and learn from your mistakes.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Time travel! Don’t know how it would work, but I bet people would pay a lot of money for it.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 you can spend is eating a nice meal with great company. It doesn’t need to be fancy. But going somewhere with a good atmosphere, eating good food, not looking at your phone, and just catching up with friends is the best way you can spend an evening and a little money.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Lately, I’ve been trying to avoid software and web services as much as possible, in favor of just talking with people or meeting people over calls – or in person. I guess you could say Zoom or Google meets. But I try to avoid anything much fancier than that.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Shoe Dog. It resonates with me because it is a book filled with unexpected challenges, and how scrappy you might need to be to overcome them.

What is your favorite quote?

Aut viam inveniam, aut faciam: I shall either find a way, or I shall make one.

Key Learnings:

  • Stay true to your values. There might be easier or cheaper ways to do things, but without your values, you don’t have a brand.
  • Hold yourself to the highest standards you can. If you’re not doing great work, why do it?
  • Work with a diverse range of people and partners, both within your organization and externally.

Interviews

Interview with Sara Sheehan, Founder of Sara Sheehan Consulting

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Interview with Sara Sheehan, Founder of Sara Sheehan Consulting

Sara Sheehan, PCC, is a consultant and Executive Coach who works with C-Level executive leaders in designing organizations, developing business strategies, managing change, optimizing talent and leadership development, and solving complex human performance problems. Through executive coaching, Sara helps leaders sprint their way up the corporate ladder and increase their performance.

During Sara’s 25+ years in business, she has worked with leaders, teams, and organizations in Fortune 100 companies and individuals. Sara specializes in change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design. As a collaborative, results-orientated coach, Sara provides support and practical feedback to help clients effectively navigate change and address business challenges. She also integrates coaching techniques, methods, and approaches to help her clients develop change capabilities and learn to apply them right away. With a servant leadership mindset, she supports her clients in building new skills and customizes frameworks to her client’s project needs. Sara works with clients based on her network, referrals, and appointment.

Sara has been featured both nationally and internationally on podcasts as an expert on topics of change management, talent and leadership development, executive coaching, and organization design.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

The idea for Sara Sheehan Consulting is based on almost 30 years in management consulting and executive coaching. Through business consulting, I help businesses through complex business transformations from a human capital perspective. Through executive coaching, I help busy executives sprint their way up the corporate ladder by setting goals, increasing their performance, resolving conflict, and setting up an advisory team so they are even more successful in their current role or their next one if they are in transition.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

It’s a combination of time blocking for specific purposes like business development, market research conversations, reaching out to ideal clients or close contacts that can refer me to ideal clients, scheduled current client meetings, a wide variety of marketing activities, and time for things that feed me like exercise, cooking, or other interests like spending time with friends and family. I am innately extremely productive so when I am at my best I am in a positive flow.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I have a lot of creative ideas so bringing them to life is not a chore. Typically, writing is the first step to bringing new ideas to life, then it may spread across my marketing mix into videos, presentations, new offerings, or marketing research conversations to test market viability. Once an idea has filtered through these touchpoints, I am able to put more structure around it. Two ideas that I am formalizing right now: a paid membership community on Mighty Networks called The Center for Change Leadership and a chapter in a collaborative book.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love progression and innovation in technology that helps us be more productive at the least possible cost. To provide a little more context, I love the current trend in software that allows users to get started on a web platform at a low cost and you can increase your plan as you need to if the services fit your needs. These pay-as-you-go plans and the ability to play with new tools are fantastic. Specifically, I have a project team that uses Monday.com and it serves as a tremendous productivity hack.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I know that I am not supposed to do everything, nor should I if I want to scale a successful business. To this end, I am working with the best expert vendors that are aligned with me to amplify my business and my message.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice I would give my younger self is that it’s ok to start thinking about how you want to use your craft as an entrepreneur. I’d express to younger me that thinking about offerings and solutions that can be commercialized is going to benefit you. You can start planning now, frame it up, and test your assumptions in market research conversations. You may find that it manifests differently than you expect and that it’s important to be open to the gifts it brings.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

One of the offerings I have done a lot of market research conversations on is my Mastering Change Management Course. The course can be delivered live via Zoom to a cohort or through self-study via Kajabi. I have had no opposition to the course to date, and I have also not found the right pilot group yet. Based on the conversations I have had, the right pilot group is out there! I understand that this is such a different way to deliver consulting work that people may not be open to it just yet. People that disagree with my approach are more likely to engage a consultant based on the project timeline, although this option will require more time with the client and be more costly. The differentiator for the course is that I am seeking qualified education provider status with the Association of Change Management Professionals so that anyone that takes the course could apply the credits toward the Certified Change Management Professional (CCMP) exam or credential renewals.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

The one thing I would do time and time again would be market research conversations on programs, solutions, and offerings. This is the best way to validate that a new offering is viable in the market, and it provides opportunities to uncover ideal clients or get referred to your ideal clients.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One strategy that has helped me grow my business significantly has been increasing my visibility through engaging a professional marketing agency and a publicist. I was already active on LinkedIn through posting, writing, and videos weekly, however, engaging a marketing agency to support me has allowed me to get strategic in planning on a quarterly basis, as well as executing a broader plan. They also created my branding and collaborated on my website design so everything I produce visually supports my message and purpose. Engaging a publicist that I am aligned with has magically connected me with the right opportunities for increased visibility. Both my marketing team and my publicist are trusted advisors and I am looking forward to seeing how these advisors will continue to grow my business.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

It took me longer to attract my ideal client than I’d hoped since I spent so many years working for other firms. It’s not surprising or unexpected, it’s just a fact that it takes time to be known for your expertise. Additionally, I should have engaged a marketing agency and publicist sooner than I did on both fronts. To be honest, it took a little bit of time to come into contact with the right people to work with. I also think the patience and time allowed me to work on my own mindset which is invaluable.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

When I see questions like this one I immediately think of Peanuts, Lucy, and Charlie Brown at an advice booth with a sign that reads “Advice 5 Cents” with a dixie cup next to it. What’s the quickest way to start a business that can serve a wide customer base? Marketing and business development are two things that every entrepreneur needs to focus on to scale. If you can fit in that space and speak directly to the pain points of a differentiated ideal client, things should manifest fairly quickly.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Definitely reconnecting with friends, family, and clients over a shared meal. You can’t replace being in person and truly connecting with others following such an isolating two-year period.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

The top three online tools and resources that I am currently using to grow my business are Google Workspace, Slack, QBO, and Quickbooks Online. All three tools make work easy, support me in what I am doing, streamline all of my efforts, and keep me focused on what’s most important.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller: I believe the Story Brand is absolutely essential for entrepreneurs to incorporate as they build their business.

What is your favorite quote?

I have so many favorite quotes! Here’s one that is on my mind and heart right now: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch

Key Learnings:

  • If you want to grow and/or scale your business, it’s important to know that you can’t do everything alone
  • Working with the best expert vendors that are aligned with you and your business will amplify your business and message
  • Strategic partner progression and the right innovation in technology can help entrepreneurs and businesses be more productive at the least possible cost
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Interviews

Interview with Blake Kohler, CEO of Pulse For Good

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Interview with Blake Kohler, CEO of Pulse For Good

Blake is passionate about, well, everything! As the CEO of Pulse For Good, he uses that passion to help nonprofits worldwide gather feedback from vulnerable individuals more effectively. With his background in technology, Blake is helping to bring business-class survey tooling to organizations ran on shoe-string budgets.

As someone who likes to talk, he knows how hard it can be to listen, and along with the Pulse For Good team, he’s working towards building a more empathetic future.

Where did the idea for Pulse For Good come from?

Pulse For Good emerged from an early pilot of a partnership with the city of Seattle. The various city offices were trying to figure out how best to facilitate gathering feedback from the youth homeless population in Seattle, and our early solution, which was designed to gather employee feedback, was suggested. We quickly found that traditional survey methods left a lot to be desired when gathering feedback from vulnerable populations and set out to build something that better fits the unique concerns of serving vulnerable groups.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

As a small startup, our typical days are full of adventure. Some days are dedicated to sales, other days we spend doing support, some days we are working on marketing, and other days we’re trying to improve our operations.

We find that using an agile model works well for our team. We utilize Kanban boards and team standups to keep track of everything from development tasks to customer onboarding.

How do you bring ideas to life?

As a team, we tend to be very visual-focused, so often, our ideas begin to emerge onto whiteboards before they become something a little more tangible.

Once they’ve been thoroughly debated and diagramed on a whiteboard, they make it onto one of our tasks on our kanban boards.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Our team is excited about the combination of technology and social impact. More groups are looking to do good in the world instead of maximizing profit. It is fantastic to see people use their time and talents to help those around them.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One of our core values is a default to action, which has proven time and time again to be the primary driver of our productivity. Too often, we spend hours debating something, and nothing gets done. By defaulting to act, we might at times cause some headaches, but those headaches are often quickly fixed, and the value we gain from the constant action greatly diminishes any headaches we’ve created.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Spend less time worrying about what others think of you and more time worrying about how you think of others.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Pain can be good for you. It’s a form of feedback, and the more you experience it, the more opportunities you have to make a change.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

We’ve had tremendous success posting on Linkedin. We try and do it every day, and it’s been an incredibly valuable part of our growth.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Very early on, we developed an advisory board of industry experts. This helped us gain a considerable amount of credibility and allowed us to develop tools, relationships, and techniques far beyond our abilities as just a founding team.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure we had coming out of the pandemic was a communication breakdown amongst our founding team. Previously, we had conducted in-person meetings, but with the world changing, we switched to a more remote first attitude. Over time, our perceptions and goals changed without getting together.

We had to have some serious heart-to-heart conversations and institute more formality in our processes to help bridge the gaps that this lack of communication caused us.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

We’ve always thought there would be an opportunity for a crowd-sourced travel agency. We believe you could utilize people’s passion for planning vacations and natural competitiveness to offer tailored vacation plans to the masses without the expense of full-time travel agents.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

We recently conducted a series of case studies with our customers, and we paid each person who participated $100. These case studies are invaluable to us, and it is one thing for us to share how our system can help an organization. It’s entirely different for a peer of those organizations to share how we help. Case studies are worth their weight in gold.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Slack – we use it for all of our communication, and as a remote team, it helps us all stay connected and on the same page.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Outward Mindset – changing the way we think and feel about others helps all aspects of your life

What is your favorite quote?

“Listening is the first act of love.” – Paul Tilch

Key Learnings:

  • Defaulting towards action drives productivity
  • Pain can be good for you
  • The best $100 spent is the one that makes your next $1000
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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Interviews

Interview with Dayana Doncheva, Founder of EcardForest Group Ecards

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Interview with Dayana Doncheva, Founder of EcardForest Group Ecards

Dayana Doncheva is the founder of EcardForest Group Ecards – a company for greeting cards that can be signed by many people online and sent digitally. Their ecard collection includes all key occasions and features birthday, farewell, baby, wedding and many more cards. EcardForest is highly invested in environmental protection and engages in tree planting around the world.

Where did the idea for EcardForest come from?

EcardForest was inspired by a personal use case. I was about to organize a leaving card for my colleague in early 2021 and looked for options online that would allow group signing so that the full team can share their goodbye wishes. I didn’t like the available options and realized that this could be a business idea. After doing my research and checking the competitors, I embraced my entrepreneurial spirit and thought I can give it a go.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

There is not a typical-day concept for us yet. We are growing fast and our routine changes very quickly, allowing us to navigate between new feature integrations, the creation and release of new greeting card designs, as well as support tasks. Of course, every team member has devoted tasks, but we work in an agile setup and adapt quickly based on the priorities.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The process is quite funny actually. We dare to dream and think out of the box. Most of our ideas come to life as funny suggestions. If some of those suggestions still keep us wondering a couple of days later, we put them to a sense-check and see what comes out. We do proper research and talk to a couple of external people to verify the idea before putting it into our backlog.

As a next step, we deep dive into the execution. Once we launch a new feature on EcardForest.com we make sure to monitor it closely. Is everything fine? Does it work as expected? Does it generate added value for our consumers and us? If not, we remove it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Hybrid working. Naturally, that drives our business since our online greeting cards experience higher demand when people around the globe work in a hybrid setup.

Hybrid working is an interesting trend to us in general too. We experienced first-hand how easy working in a global model could be. Our team is spread around Europe and when needed we involve freelancers from around the world, which allows us to work with the best talents no matter the location.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

People often tell me that I appear to be very well organized. In fact, I am not, and I enjoy the creative mess to the fullest. It nurtures my imagination. It’s contra intuitive but working in a messy environment has proven to help me become more productive in the long run.

If I need to focus on a bigger analytical task though, I try to get a fresh mind by going on a short walk before I start. That helps a great deal.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be braver! Today, I love to challenge myself, even though I know that some things won’t work out. I take it as a learning and grow from there. But a couple of years ago I was still quite hesitant and tended to lean towards safe bets.

Looking back, I am not sure when I changed to become braver, but I can’t help but wonder where I would have been today if I would have done it earlier.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

There is always more to learn. The schedule of an entrepreneur is usually terribly busy and that’s no different in the corporate world. Often times people feel quite comfortable after completing a task or a project and turning a new page to handle the next one. I see great value in reviewing decisions and processes based on new learnings. In my mind, the “good enough” solution can always become a better one, powered up by new learnings.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Do research. I trust in data and have learned to appreciate its value a lot. Doing your research not only saves a lot of potentially unnecessary work but also helps you focus on what’s important.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Investing in advertising has certainly helped us grow EcardForest. We make sure to capture the available demand as much as possible.

When starting a business, thinking about advertising costs might be scary but advertising is usually what kickstarts your business, once the product is ready. Being brave, spending some money but also monitoring the success closely can go a long way.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Before starting EcardForest I was working on another startup. It was focused on financial investment data and most importantly it was a B2B product. That turned out to be incredibly hard to market and required a lot of sales and support efforts. Soon afterward I discovered that the idea was not worth the effort, and it was not going to work out as expected.

I learned two valuable lessons: First, bringing a B2C product to life is easier. Second, holding on to an unsuccessful business idea for too long doesn’t bring you anywhere.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Circular economy products. I am a big fan of renting and reselling and it’s great for the environment. This is applicable to so many product types – from tools to equipment, mobility, etc. Just find a new niche.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

As part of our sustainability efforts, we donate some of our revenue to tree planting organizations around the globe. Just recently we onboarded a new partner – Ecologi that allows us to not only plant trees but also offset carbon emissions by contributing to additional projects like wind power development.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

We use Github for our backlog and task management. The project section is a perfect solution for agile teams like ours and keeps us focused on important and urgent tasks. It certainly increases our productivity, and I can’t recommend that enough.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Refactoring UI by Adam Wathan and Steve Schoger is a great resource for any digital business or any website for that matter. It provides an understanding and best practices of website design, UI, colors, fonts, visual hierarchies, etc.

What is your favorite quote?

A single tree doesn’t make a forest. I just came up with that one, but the key message is that even the best entrepreneur or the most knowledgeable person can only go so far on their own. Building a strong team around you is what will bring you further.

Key Learnings:

  • First, do your research before you invest too much time and resources in an idea
  • Be open to exploring and learning more
  • Invest in bringing a strong team together to drive your idea further
Originally published on IdeaMensch.
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