Productizing to $10k/month: How to use a productized service to accelerate your transition to software – Brian Casel – MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recap

The MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recaps can be found on the central “hub” page.

Twitter: @casjam


Key Points From the Talk

  • Build a service first, learn, develop software from there
  • Customers want results, not tools
  • Combining a Done For You Service with software delivers results

Talk Recap

  • 3 goals:
    • What a productized service looks like as an actual business
    • Combining a productized Service and (SaaS) software
    • Showing opportunities to use productized service to transition from freelance to products
  • Restaurant engine history
    • freelance developer/designer – living project to project
    • Plan/Dream: within a year transition from freelance to customer
      • build software
      • first customers
      • $10k/month
      • Quit! (and focus on product)
    • Fast forward a year:
      • some customers, growing – not quite $10k/month
      • ready to take a leap of faith and quit freelancing
      • no relation between time and money lead to a number of bad decisions
      • within a year back to taking client work
      • This is how it went
        • build software
        • first customers
        • $10k/month
        • Quit! (and focus on product)
  • Factors of Resistance (things that slow you down)
    • Client work
    • Day job
    • Bills
    • Kids
    • Family & Friends
    • No experience (working in a product business)
    • No chops
    • No help
    • No network
    • No idea
    • RISK
      • time investment with little to no payoff initially (hard to sell to family & friends)
  • Actual timeline for Restaurant Engine
    • Build software
    • First customers
    • Quit freelancing
    • Resistance, Mistakes, Back to client work,
    • Re-Focus
    • $10k/month

The Path of Least Resistance

  • Audience Ops – actual timeline:
    • Launch
    • First Customers
    • $10k/month
    • Building software
    • Launch software
  • SWaS – Software With a Service
    • Software product with a “Done For You” component (DFY)
    • The Software provides the tool
    • The Service delivers the result
    • Services = higher form of onboarding – ensures great experience
  • SWaS is easier to buy
    • no/minimal learning curve for the customer
  • SWaS is easier to sell
    • you are identifying ONE problem
    • you’re delivering the perfect method to solve ONE problem
    • “Onboarding/learning curve” no longer a valid objection by the customer
    • Cancellations become less of concern as customers are seeing results –> customers are happy –> lower churn –> higher LTV

Case Studies & Tactics

  • LeadFuze – DFY cold emailing lead generation
    • “Invisible Software” – they use software internally, but customers never see it
    • software streamlines & scales the Service
    • Used revenue from the Service to turn internal Software into a SaaS product
  • owning the tool is optional!
    • build your service on top of existing tool
    • Leverage popularity of existing tool OR keep it opaque
  • Test Triggers – runs & manages A/B test on your websites
    • built on top of Optimizely
    • 3 clients ($1500 MRR) within 30 days – from 50 hand-crafted outreach emails
  • AuditShark – security auditing software
    • enterprise sales territory –> 6 month sales cycle
    • “The Service sells the Software”
    • 3 sales in the first month of offering the DFY service
    • much faster & more efficient delivery of service, thanks to tool
  • Podcast Motor – DFY podcast editing & production
    • “Launch with a day job”
    • 20+ paying customers in less than 6 months
    • Targeting business podcasts
    • Re-investing all business revenue to grow team & product
    • Plans to launch a software component later

But Can it Scale?

  • Benefit of SWaS: revenue and results (and business lessons!) from day one (for the founder)
  • customers want the RESULT, not the tool ==> DFY component for Restaurant Engine
  • I removed myself to the point that I spend <3 hours/month managing the business
    • outsource and automate using freelancers
    • First: Get the solution right – then: remove yourself from the delivery
  • Focus
    • on one problem, one solution for one ideal customer
    • standardized and predictable delivery of the solution
    • come up with a marketing plan for your ideal customer
    • Your DFY solution is a no brainer value proposition
  • Audience Ops
    • “10x The Speed”
    • 4 months in:
      • 90% removed
      • $10k/month MRR
      • self-funding software product
    • If you’ve done it before, you can do it again 10x faster

Price on Value. Scale the Costs.

  • value-based pricing is key
    • price high, charge upfront
    • tool + service == more value – charge accordingly
  • Streamline with predictability
    • lowers costs
    • delegate work / remove yourself
    • software boosts efficiency

Leverage Everything

  • leverage existing software to deliver a service

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How to acquire your first 100 customers: 10 tactics to use after your launch – Justin Jackson – MicroConf Europe 2015 talk recap

The MicroConf Europe 2015 Talk Recaps can be found on the central “hub” page.

Twitter: @mijustin
Slides: here

Key Points From the Talk

  • Ask for money
  • “sprinkling some marketing on top of it” is NOT the magic formula to success
  • Content + Email Marketing works really well right now


Talk Recap

  • In 1980 Iron Maiden was a brand new heavy metal band, they were about to release their first album
  • We are all in search of the magic formula to (marketing) success – but there is none
    • Marketing has dependencies
      • product that people want
      • audience
      • channels that work
      • combines into “Message that resonates”
    • You have competition, etc.
    • Your way out: UNIQUENESS
  • 3 ways to be unique
    • bake uniqueness into your product (Balsamiq)
    • use your own personal uniqueness (DHH)
    • Create unique branding (Rovio – Angry Birds)

7 Tactics for getting more leads

  • #1 Rank highly on a list
    • most of the major properties are ranked lists
      • Google
      • iTunes App Store
      • Reddit
      • Product Hunt
      • Quora
    • list hack: Quora
      • edit “Answer Wiki”
      • Answer a question
      • summarize the answers into the “Answer wiki” – put your product up top
    • List hack: Product Hunt search
    • List hack: Google Image Search
      • Justin is #1 result for “nerd mullet”
      • Really easy to rank for
      • For StageCMS: “band websites”
        • add <img src=”band-websites.jpg” alt=”Band website example” title=”Example of a band website” /> to your website
  • #2 Create a free tool that naturally leads to your product
    • engineering as marketing
    • e.g. Bidsketch “freelance proposal templates”
    • for StageCMS: “Free spreadsheet for managing band finances”
  • #3 write a surprising blog post that gets people interested
  • #4 Give away an ebook
    • trade eBook for email address ==> build an audience
  • #5 ask for referrals
    • word of mouth is great – but you can encourage people
  • #6 share a journey
    • share your story from 0 to $20k/mo
    • For StageCMS: Nightwish (one customer) has a documentary on Youtube
  • #7 Email people you know
    • you are already building relationships
    • you can ask them to use your product, if you have the relational capital

2 Tactics for guiding leads through the funnel

  • #8 Drip email campaigns
    • for SaaS businesses this is the #1 driver of trials & paid customers
    • build trust over a time – automatically
    • In the last email “I told you all these things, why don’t you try my product now?”
    • StageCMS: “Turn your band into a business in 5 days”
  • #9 use retargeting ads
    • test retargeting against not doing retargeting – some people don’t see results!
    • For StageCMS: Retarget on Facebook to people who “like” Bandcamp and SoundCloud

2 Tactics for closing the deal

  • #10 Follow up with your leads
    • no CRM needed; use Google spreadsheets, track:
      • name
      • email
      • estimated LOW/HIGH value
      • ask date
  • #11 Ask for their money
    • we are getting worse at this!
    • “Shut up and take my money” –> Entrepreneurs: “OK, I’M ready to take your money”
    • use phone to close deals

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MicroConf Europe 2015 Notes and Noteworthy

This is the central resource for a recap of MicroConf Europe 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.
If you write/record/create ANYTHING related to MicroConf Europe 2015 please let me know and I’ll be happy to add it here.

Notes on the Talks

Attendee Talk Notes

Articles and Podcast Episodes About MicroConf Europe 2015

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Lars Lofgren – Unlocking the 4 Gateways of Growth – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Twitter: @larslofgren
Slides: here

  • When picking metrics, always ask:
    • What is biggest constraint right now?
    • Which metric help me measure, if I am making progress?
  • Main metric: Get someone to pay AND/OR use your product regularly
  • Bad metrics for this gateway:
    • Asking people if they will pay
    • AdWords clicks
    • Beta or waiting list signups
    • Traffic

Gateway #2: Is your product good enough?

  • main metric: Ask 500 users the Product/Market Fit Question
    • “How would you feel when you could no longer use [PRODUCT] ?”
    • At least 40% of users should say “Very disappointed”
  • P/M Fit Question isn’t perfect, verify with a retention metric

Gateway #3: Can you grow?

  • Pick just one channel
  • Work on it for 3 months. Assume it will work & get ressources needed to execute
  • main metrics:
    • main business metric
      • SaaS: Monthly Recurring Revenue
      • Ecommerce: Monthly Revenue
      • Consumer Tech: Monthly Active Users
    • acquisition funnel (e.g. visitors, signups, used product, converted to paid)

Gateway #4: Do you have a stable model?

  • main metric: Depending on business model
  • SaaS:
    • LTV >= 3x CAC
    • Recover acquisition cost within 12 months
    • Get monthly churn below 2%
  • Consumer Tech:
    • Virality > 1
    • Usage 3 out of 7 days
    • 30% of users active day after signup
    • Organic growth of 100s signups/day
    • Clear path to 100,000+ users
  • Find someone in your industry that knows the key benchmarks
  • Start with constraints, hack together what you need to measure them

Big Win Hunting

  • Get qualitative insights for hypothesis
    • Use words that your leads/customers use when talking about the problem
  • Launch, do it LIVE
  • Use the eyeball test

Finding Ideas to Test

  • Whenever you’re not sure what to test, get qualitative data
  • Your customers want to help you, go talk to 20 of them
  • How to structure your interviews:
    • Brief overview of who they are
    • Deep dive into their problems
    • Present solution for feedback
    • Tell them that this is NOT a sales call
  • Start running surveys:
    • Expect 10% response rate
    • Only ask questions that you need
    • Don’t exceed 10 questions
    • Start with open response
    • Categorize responses to see trends
  • Use Qualaroo surveys to target steps in funnel (“What is preventing you from wanting to start a free trial?”)
  • Pull user activity logs on two groups
  • Find 20 of each:
    • Ideal customers
    • Customers that started but left
    • How are these two groups different?
  • Start doing usability testing – e.g. through Amazon Mechanical Turk
    • great for general UX
    • no good for market-specific insights

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Thomas Smale – How to Build an App You Can Sell – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Twitter: @thomassmale
Slides: here

  • Having an exit plan is an insurance – in case you NEED to move on
  • You should always be prepared to sell your business
  • Looks can be deceiving – a lot of work is hidden beneath the surface
    • Support
    • Complexity
    • Diversity
    • Owner Responsibility
  • Be proactive instead of reactive
  • unsellable business: old business with a lot of support and few sales
  • Rational investors won’t pay for “known” potential
  • Recurring beats one-time sales
  • lessons from successful sales: 
    • know your metrics
    • stable or growing MRR
    • evergreen niche
    • Track record
    • Helpful owner
  • What does the average buyer want? 
    • Month-on-month increasing MRR
    • Upwardly trending niche
    • Outsourced support
    • Documented production roadmaps/codebase
    • Transferability
      • separate PayPal/Stripe/Mailchimp/etc accounts

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Dave Collins – Google and the Leatherman Model: It’s All in Your Hands – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Twitter: @thedavecollins

  • You are looking for hacks that save you time
    • Don’t get a leatherman and then only use one function – Google Analytics is a leatherman
  • Best partnerships are when both parties gain equal value from the relationship

Google Analytics

  • Most data is useless, because it does not tell you what to do in your business
  • Data is not insight – Data is not knowledge
  • “Don’t fill up on cheaper meats…”
  • You are limited by time & ability to absorb

Tip #1: Actionable Data

  • Focus on landing pages with high bounce rates

Tip #2: Tap into Google’s intelligence

  • Intelligence Events
    • You are getting more conversions from country X
    • You are getting dramatically less traffic from SEO
  • “Hidden” above the usual items in the navigation

Tip #3:

  • Audience –> Behaviour –> Engagement has useful analytics

Tip #4: Trends

  • Sometimes you need to accumulate data (week/month instead of day views) to see stuff

Tip #5: Segment

  • “Top 10 countries by visitors” is useless
  • “Top 10 countries by visitors with a page depth > 3” is way more interesting
  • “Acquisition by referrer” is not interesting, “Acquisition by referrer with more than 30 seconds on site” is

Google AdWords

Tip #1: Let your competition guide you

  • Target mentions of your competition (e.g. forums where your competition gets mentioned)

Tip #2: Remarketing the way it should be

  • Because your prospects get distracted by other stuff
  • Just do it – it is easy to setup
  • Do it better –> Brennan’s talk
    • Exclude users who already converted

Tip #3: Use your competition with auction insight

  • Shows you
    • how often you compete with your competition
    • How often you rank above/below them

Google Webmaster Tools

Tip #1: Data Highlighter

  • Tell them what elements on the website are the author, the title, blog post image
  • Improves the accuracy of information displayed in the SERPs

Tip #2: HTML Improvements

  • fix the issues Google tells you about
  • potentially increases traffic to your website

Tip #3: Search Queries

  • sort by impressions
  • average position on page 38? You should create better content for that

Tip #4: Links to your site

  • Who is linking to you? to which page? with which anchor texts?

Tip #5: What Google thinks you are about

  • Content keywords
    • don’t just look at what is there – look at what is missing
  • download the data, because you get more data in downloads

Tip #6: Show Google what you just did

  • “Fetch as Google” to see how it renders and then submit the URL to the index
    • e.g. really good blog posts
    • don’t use unless you have to/it is valuable (e.g. complete redesign)

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Jane Portman – Design for Founders: 4 Shortcuts for Getting Great Design in Record Time – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Website: /
Twitter: @uibreakfast
Slides: here

  • worked for a year on oDesk – increasd rate to $50/h
  • Marketing hack for non-english people: get yourself an easy “english” name. “Jane Portman” isn’t her real name

What is great design?

  • What is great design?
    • It looks pleasant
    • It’s easy to use
    • It communicates quality
  • There is no silver bullet – it takes time
  • You will need a good designer
    • focus on quality over quantity to keep costs low
    • good designers do not take much bandwidth
  • design & copywriting go hand in hand
  • Where to find good designers
  • Once you have a designer:
    • I need a landing page
    • Better: I need a design solution for my business
    • Elements:
      • logo
      • Branding elements (illustrations & )
    • Turnaround time: 1 week – ride the wave of excitement

Shortcut #2: Templates

  • Design is always crafted by hand – Templates are only way to cheat hours
  • Warning: “Non-designer with a template is like a baby with a box of matches”
  • Store & re-use things, keep an asset library

Shortcut #3: Start with yourself

Shortcut #4: Keep it simple

  • Look for simple solutions (easy to build, easy to use, etc)
  • Do NOT re-invent the wheel (Thunderbird title bar on Windows, I’m looking at you…)
  • Do not worry, you can always iterate – just start with something
  • You are the founder: Abuse Enjoy your power
    • have fun
    • business is lifestyle decision

Questions & Answers

  • Cost difference between “landing page” and “business package”?
    • good if designer charges in days
    • being invited into “shaping business strategy” is exciting for designer –> more buy-in
    • good designers prefer to do a package, landing pages are “boring”
  • Start with templates. Where to get templates?
  • “Good design client never argues about button shape/size” – great tip. How to be a better design client?
    • Ask for early prototype, iterations. Don’t allow for 2 weeks on first iteration
  • Give examples of paid test projects:
    • landing pages
  • a list of websites the client likes is a prerequisite before starting the work
  • What prices ranges for a medium-range / top-range designer?
    • There is no top designer
    • fixed price tends to produce scope creep

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Mike Taber – Business Hacks & Epic Wins – MicroConf Europe 2014

The MicroConf Europe 2014 Hub Page has notes on all the talks and additional information.

Webseite: /
Twitter: @singlefounder
Slides: here

Social Media

  • Why is a Twitter strategy important?
    • It expands your footprint
    • you make bigger waves when you publish content
  • The #1 secret to increasing your audience: Follow more people
  • Tools used:
  • Follow people using TweetAdder
    • 100-200 follows per day maximum (Maximum of 2,000 followers total)
    • Follow people following influencers in your niche
    • 7 days later: Unfollow people who don’t follow you
    • Thank people for following you
      • They will favorite it
      • They will retweet it (additional reach)
      • They will reply to you

Finance Automation

  • Success causes problems – e.g. having 3 different business entities
  • “You know, I’ve never really liked paying bills” – so I stopped doing it
    • Outsourced paying for bills
    • Work ON your business, not IN your business
  • Plan
    • Identify & document everything that needs to be handled
    • Build a process for it
  • Execute
    • Execute the process at least once to find flaws in the process
  • Review
    • Constantly review the process
    • Early iterations require more oversight
  • Give Authority
    • Empower your employees/VAs/contractors
    • Give power to change the process
  • Give Guidance
    • provide general guidelines for how the business works
    • Have a strategic operating document
    • Document the whole process thoroughly, so others can pick up
  • Give Praise
    • They are doing you a favor, thank them for it
  • Start with an MVP – Minimum Viable Process
    • e.g. put all your invoices in a post box and hand the box to your VA

Content/SEO Automation

Personal Development

  • Increase productivity: “What if you only had 4 hours to do all your work?
  • Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”
  • Limiting your time for tasks, increases your productivity
  • Personal Fulfillment: “What makes you get up every day?
    • Play to your strength
    • structure your business accordingly
  • People prefer a known bad outcome to an unknown outcome
    • Step out of your comfort zone
    • Benefits of trying new things:
      • Build self-confidence
      • Boosts courage
      • Cures boredom
      • Satisfies urge to grow
      • stimulates brain
      • increases productivity

Overall Health

  • Three Pillars of Health
    • Sleep: 7-8 hours / night
    • Exercise: (150 minutes moderate OR 75 minutes vigorous) AND 2 days muscle training
    • Eating: 1600-2500 calories/day
  • If you fail at one, the others will be influenced by that –> downwards spiral
  • Specific strategies
    • Stop evening & weekend work
    • Scheduling: go to bed at specific time, schedule exercise
    • No late night snacking; try to eat healthy
  • These strategies work, because
    • they give your brain what it needs to function properly
    • they reduce stress
  • Hormonal imbalances might cause you all sorts of trouble – with no easy way out of it
  • You can’t help other people if you can’t help yourself

Questions & Answer

  • Have you done any research of value of having more Twitter followers?
    • I am driving them to my email list – that is valuable to me
    • Provide valuable content in Tweets; intersperse with promotions
  • What workflow have you for content to tweet out?
    • Take from other websites
  • What test did you go through to get diagnosed with your hormonal imbalance?
    • Simple blood test from your doctor

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MicroConf Europe 2014 – Hub

This page is the central ressource for (almost) everything that happened and came out of MicroConf Europe 2014. You will find all the notes I took during the conference as well as blog posts, videos, slides or podcasts from attendees covering MicroConf Europe 2014. I sincerely hope that this is of some value to you – enjoy & execute!

Notes on the Talks


Blog Posts Relating To MicroConf Europe 2014

Products that were handed-in for teardowns

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What You Can Learn From MicroConf 2014 – Even If You Didn’t Attend

Hi there.

Maybe you – just like me – didn’t make it to MicroConf 2014. But that doesn’t mean you (and I) can’t learn a lot of things from MicroConf 2014. There was so much talk on Twitter (#MicroConf) and so much to learn from it.

I’ll start off with my personal selection, but you’ll find a link to Chris Vannoy’s notes at the end of this post.

Personal Selection

What better way to start off with than Patrick McKenzie’s iconic quote? I can only imagine how often those words have been uttered in the hallowed halls at MicroConf.

Hiten Shah lead off the conference with a great talk starting, scaling and growing your startup. One of the best take-aways from his talk was that you should charge your customers as early as possible. Remember that money is the only real validation. If people are not willing to pay for it, they don’t find it valuable enough

Another gem from Hiten. Focus on your customers and making them successful; Growth will come to you. Don’t obsess over some feature or how awesome you think your product is. This is incredibly hard for me. But nevertheless: Customers first, you/your product second.

I’m not a huge fan of this. I think that a lot of those that follow you back are either on auto-follow-back or they care as much about their Twitter feed as you do. Because following more than 1,000 accounts will flood your feed with mediocre tweets from people you’re not even interested in.
I strongly believe that this behaviour results in a first-class vanity metric. You’ll have lots of followers and no engagement. There’s no shortcut in building meaningful connections.
But – if you can – PLEASE proof me wrong on this.

This one is a really important when you have people working for you. Empower them to make decisions for you. Yes, errors will happen. Don’t be afraid of that. A wrong decision now and then won’t hurt as much as everyone constantly waiting for you to make up your mind.
Often it is easy to remedy a wrong decision. More often than not it is NOT wrong at all – just another way to skin a cat. The way you do things is NOT the only way to do it, embrace different or even better solutions.

Another thing to take away from Mike’s talk was this list of directories to announce your up-coming startup to.

Going beyond that age old wisdom Mike advocates to make the following thought experiment: “What if you only had 4 hours each week to get ALL your work done?”
Three tips for the stressed out Micropreneur:

  • Don’t work nights & weekends (corollary: go from moonlighting to full-time ASAP)
  • Get your sleep
  • No late snacking

That is definitely something I’m going to use with my upcoming product I’ve named the plans “Individual”, “Marketing Team” and “Agency” – we’ll see how well this works.

Here Patrick is talking about testimonials and logo walls on your website. For instance it is OK to have a logo wall stating “build on the same platform as: BMW, IBM, Oracle, etc” when you’re using Heroku to host your application – even if those companies are NOT your  customers.

I’m not entirely sure what this refers to, but I assume it is about putting too much stress on yourself as a founder; neglecting exercise, sleep and eating right. I remember Sherry giving an incredible talk at MicroConf 2013 about staying healthy as an entrepreneur’s spouse.

No explanation needed for this one.

I think that this point is really important. We often obsess about features left and right. All the while features don’t make our offering unique; our message does. Our customer support does. Our brand does.
And while I’m at it: Talk about your idea BEFORE you launch. Nobody is going to steal it. Your idea is not special and probably a dozen people have thought of it before you. Don’t be afraid of talking about it and get some feedback.

Another golden rule of building a great product: It’s about your customers, not your product. Them, not you.

You should start with small baby steps and build your way up from there. Get a random stranger to send you money over the internet (NO scams please); that moment will be magical. It certainly was for me.

Such an amazing quote from Nathan’s talk. Also: Teaching is a LOT of fun. Give it a shot.

Gumroad has a lot of data on people marketing their products. Ryan Delk shared quite a bit of it apparently and one big take-away – tweeted at least a dozen times – is how you should price your tiers. That is a great heuristic and you should apply it in the absence of own data – i.e. when starting your business.

Another gem from the Gumroad data. Having multiple price points allows your customers to pay you more; do it!

Unsurprisingly email still works best to market your product. Set up that drip email campaign already 🙂

This one is absolutely interesting. When you use retargeting on visitors, don’t send them to your front page when they click on the retargeting ad. Send them to a custom landing page and funnel them into a drip email campaign. Educate them and THEN try to sell. Great take-away and definitely something I did wrong in the past.

I knew that you should remove existing customers from your retargeting list (but I didn’t do it). But this idea is mind-blowing genius! Don’t delete them from your list, put them in another list, serve different ads. E.g after signup offer them a webinar, get them to invite their team mates, whatever makes sense with your product. This is genius.

Another good reason to get the credit card as early as possible.

Definitely have to do this for LinksSpy. I imagine you get a lot of great insights about what is missing from your product.

Links to further resources

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