Masters Series Transcripts: Hannah Vasicek (Founder at Francesca) and Tobi Skovron (Founder at CreativeCubes.Co.) — How I Built My Business

Camille Monce —  October 13, 2018 — Leave a comment

Getting your idea out there and into business is one thing, but how you take the next step to build it up can be a challenge.

Hannah Vasicek is the Founder of the designer jewelry label Francesca. When she started selling her handmade designs at Hobart’s Salamanca Market she had an idea that she might like to have her own shop one day. Less than 10 years later Francesca has a shopfront in Hobart and Melbourne with online sales going globally. Hannah explains her bumpy road to building the business and provides a glimpse into what’s next for Francesca.

Tobi Skovron is the Founder of co-working space CreativeCubes.Co. But first, he invented the Pet Loo and built a business that he sold after a decade. Tobi describes the challenges of relocating to the US in the middle of the global financial crisis (GFC) and outlines his plan for enabling more entrepreneurs with CreativeCubes.Co.

Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.

Serpil Senelmis: What do you think it takes to build a business?

Interviewing Public: A lot of inner strength, a lot of drive and vision. And knowing what your purposes and knowing your why.

Interviewing Public: You need to believe in yourself, you need to believe in the the end goal, what it represents to you, what it represents to the people surrounding you. So, yeah, I think you just need to be really dedicated to it.

Interviewing Public: I think the best businesses don’t just focus on money, they actually a feeling of purpose or a gap in the market or a need that someone has.

Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to business success. I’m Serpil Senelimis from Written and Recorded. How do you take a concept that started in your bedroom and build it into a business with its own location employees and investors? You’re about to meet two people who have done just that. Tobi Skovron is the CEO and co-founder of CreativeCubes.Co, a co-working space with culture. Toby converts buildings to co-working spaces for other businesses to call home. And he’s just about to open a second location for Creative Cubes in Melbourne.

Tobi Skovron: It was at that collaborative workspace, by the way, Uber, I’m afraid you’ve heard of them started literally across the corridor. And so I’m surrounding myself with people like that and having lunch with these types of guys that have these wild ideas. It really was exhilarating.

Serpil Senelmis: We’ll hear from Tobi soon. First up Hannah Vasicek, who founded the jewelry store, Francesca while she was 21 and still at uni, Francesca started as a stall at the Salamanca Market in 2011. And today has a global offering online with shopfronts in Hobart and Melbourne. Hannah says there’s no way you will survive business if you don’t absolutely love what you do. Her key to success is passion, perseverance, and conviction.

Hannah Vasicek: I grew up in a rural New South Wales, really small population and there wasn’t much to do there. And I was one of those children who had way too much energy. And my mom like needed to funnel it into something. So she actually took me to a beading store when I was 12. And I started creating things with beads, and I absolutely just fell in love. I guess from an early age, I had an entrepreneurial spirit. I traveled two hours to school each day on a bus and two hours back, so 20 hours a week on a bus. And that was when I had my first business venture started. So I actually went in at 12 bought wholesale lollies and I’d buy a whole box of lollies for $20. I’d separate them all and sell them individually and I’d profit about $120 from each box and I was selling two to three boxes a week. So at an early age, I saw the beauty of finding something at a cheaper price, being able to market it and find my audience and sell it to someone at a higher price. So I kind of got hooked from there and still loved making my jewelry. So I guess that’s where it sort of started as a passion. I never thought that it would be what it is today. So we have 32 staff now. And we have an online store that’s shipping internationally and it’s just amazing. From there what essentially happened was, I was making my jewelry, I started overflowing my bedroom of jewelry, so I started selling it to whoever would basically look at me, I’d take it to the staff room at school and force my goods on them. And then when I was 16, my family moved to Tasmania. And it’s funny, Tasmania everyone used to think that it was such a nice small place and why would you go there, but for me it was the world was my oyster because it was this massive city and there was so much opportunity. So, I started selling my jewelry to a gallery down in Salamanca, and they were selling out and putting three times the price on my goods when I was 16. And I thought there’s no point them getting the profit, I should be getting all of this profit and enrolled in the the markets down there. It’s a amazing market and you meet customers from all over the world. At 16, I rocked up there with my little tent and my bag of goods. And the first time that I went to exhibit there, I didn’t get a stall, and I convinced someone else to let me set up on the side of their store. So from there, the first piece that I sold direct to my customer, I was just absolutely just hooked.

Wayne Lewis: So obviously your mom was quite a catalyst for that in the first instance, did they encouraging the whole process and going forward to do the try and bring you back a few steps?

Hannah Vasicek: Um, I think my parents were always very encouraging. I mean, anything that got me out of the house and out of their hair was good. But it’s funny, they never saw it as a business or anything more than just as my dad would say, selling trinkets. And so I kind of didn’t believe that that would be a business for me. So at 18 I actually enrolled in uni and I did a double degree. So I did science and law majoring in physics and maths. Who does that? And literally, I went to uni and at this stage, it’s amazing. I was working one day a week at the markets and just one day a week of work. I mean, I would make jewelry during the week supported me living out of home since I was 18. And every single uni holidays, I travel overseas, so we had this amazing business but I never saw it as a business. And midway through my degree, the first business was actually called handmade by Hannah which was a bit cutesy and my target market was 60-year-old men, I mean men, no 60-year-old women. And I wanted to sell to my age group. So he rebranded to be Francesca and that’s the name my mum wanted to call me. So from there, it started actually to take off. still didn’t think I could do business. My dad, definitely he’s very traditional. He said that women shouldn’t be in business. So I still felt like it was just a hobby for me. And it wasn’t until my fifth year of law that I opened an email one day and it said that you’re in the top four of a Global Student Entrepreneur Award. And I kind of was like, I don’t even remember applying for it. And the next week, I flew over, presented my idea of this amazing international brand, which wasn’t international and definitely wasn’t out of Tasmania yet. But I had this vision of, of how big Francesca could be, and I presented it at PWC. And literally, just I had five-year projections of how big we were going to be and like all this stuff, and actually one so I rang my dad told him that I was going to New York expenses paid in three weeks to present the business at the World Trade Center. And he just laughed and said, you know, like, I don’t believe you so…

Wayne Lewis: And is it just your dad that you’ve maybe come up against from a male point of view that says, you can’t do that, or we got any other kind of experiences?

Hannah Vasicek: And so many, so obviously, I did five years of law and science and I got headhunted by a top law firm when I graduated, I deliberately didn’t reply to anything. They sent me down there in Tasmania, and they basically grilled me about the business, and at this stage, I did still didn’t know if I could do the business full time and support myself. So when I told them you know, oh, I can sell the business or you know, I can have someone run it and they gave me the job but they gave me a month to to decide whether or not I should give up my business. They didn’t want me working on it at all. When I decided to say no to the law job. I had old teachers that were saying that I was wasting my brain. I had people saying that you know, like what a waste 5 years at uni.

Wayne Lewis: How long did it take to convince yourself?

Hannah Vasicek: It’s it’s an ongoing project, I still. The more you grow, the more stressors that come into the business, the more employees that give you grief, you sit there, like I have that many moments in life where I’m like, what am I doing? Like, I don’t belong here. Like, you know, I shouldn’t have all of these. the staff and things like that. So the inner critique never goes. And it’s one of those things that you just got to be mindful of it. And the biggest thing for me was surrounding yourself with people who believed in the dream when you don’t, because there are those times and you know, I’ll ring my mom or ring my husband and say, you know, I’m giving up this is it like, I can’t do it anymore. And they then take the reigns. And then when your employees start taking the reigns and you know, kicking you up the bum, that’s when you know you’re doing something right.

Wayne Lewis: What about the staffing side of things and knowing when to maybe make the first hire and when you’re obviously got past the moment then stage what was next for you?

Hannah Vasicek: Figuring out how to hire someone, actually. What do you do? Where do you find this information to actually hire someone in the first place? That was the biggest thing. So I like, you know, obviously you can Google. But it’s really hard to find the basic dumb questions. I think there’s a huge gap in the market, which I’d love to fill one day in how to really simplify the big scary steps. So I’m pretty sure I didn’t do the most legal thing at the beginning, even studying law, you’re not really well equipped to live it in daily life. So I just winged it, you know, asked so many questions. I didn’t even know how to pay superannuation, but I knew it was there and it was racking up. But I literally was like, I don’t want to bring my accountant in and say, how do I physically deal with this? So you’ve got to ask the stupid questions. You’ve got to be investigated because no one else is going to find out for you, especially if you’re a one-man show. So that’s the exciting thing and when you start to thrive off and learning, things like that and being happy to fail at you know, making the wrong hiring in things like that, yeah.

Wayne Lewis: I mean you did the rounds you went into to trade shows and fairs and markets and things like that, which helps build the business. What are the kinds of things and tools did you use to kind of take it to the next level? Did you build a personal brand or anything like that?

Hannah Vasicek: My business basically doesn’t wholesale. So wholesale would have been the easy route. And we actually started the first year, I was like, okay, we’re just going to wholesale and that’s going to be the brand. But I went to a trade fair spent $10,000 to get retail stores, which would stock my brand, but then I realized I don’t actually trust that they’re going to do the brand justice. So I didn’t want the brand to be watered down into a little homewares store. And I had this vision that I presented on about us being this massive international brand. So I actually came back. I had all these orders to fill and I canceled them all. So knowing straight away, what you say your brand looking like in the future is essential because that week literally I winged it found a place to open a retail store was $400 a week, that’s peanuts in retail these days. But I thought that was huge. And I just literally opened the doors the following week, put freedom furniture everywhere, and just made do. We opened the door in March 2013 and 18 months on, we had opened our huge flagship store. And it was from hustling, like, so I was working a two-day law job to ensure that I could pay the $400 a week rent, and then working the other five days in the store direct with my customer and just absolutely building this community. And every time I’d meet someone, then they would go and tell someone else and we just have this huge, huge effect. And we went from doing you know, $200 a day, which I thought was like, amazing to doing, you know, like $10,000 and like it just started like catapulting and then, you know, I sold the drain to my bank manager and I said, you know, I want to have this store that’s in line with the vision that I had. And she believed in it, we got knocked back for our $75,000 fit-out loan because we were like a nobody. She believed in me so much that she rang the highest person that she would get to at the Commonwealth Bank, told them about how big we were going to be one day, and they push through the line. So literally, like if you’re so dead set on the vision, and where you’re going to be and you can convince yourself and then convince other people, they work magic for you. The day we opened, we quadrupled our revenue, and I paid off that loan in six weeks. But you had to believe, I had to believe and hold that vision there and convince everyone around me that it was going to happen so that it could happen. So yeah, it’s it’s I kind of remember what the original question. You just gotta hustle.

Wayne Lewis: Keep going. So what are maybe some of the worst moments within your journey so far? So obviously, it can’t all be sunshine and roses.

Hannah Vasicek: Never ever, ever get into business unless you 100% love what you’re doing so I have three essential ingredients for success, which is passion, perseverance, and conviction. The passion is like, there is no way that you’ve survived the struggle of business. If you don’t absolutely love what you do. The qualifiers, you know, you have to do it for peanuts, and still enjoy what you’re doing and be happy. Because it’s years of really hard work and depending on you know, how big you want to grow it, reinvesting before you even you know, make the true success story. That’s a big one for me that you shouldn’t go into business unless you really, really are willing to. I’m that person who I’m like, everything will be fine. You know, I’ve got a flat tonight. I probably missed it, but like, it’ll be fine, we’ll get there. And I remember one day when I’d literally just put all of my money into the store. And I came in on a Sunday morning to get my computer charger and walked into the store and everything was gone. Like everything was gone and I thought I was on a TV show or something like that. I thought someone was pranking me, because all of the jewelry was gone. And then when I saw the till splayed across the floor of the shop, I knew that we’d been burgled, and my heart just absolutely sank. You know, I was going on this like dreamboat of how awesome is everything and that happened, and um, we were severely underinsured. I think we were insured for like, $5,000 because I was trying to save money. And that was a huge, huge impact on myself and you know, the business. That’s one of the big doozies. Six months later, our office was broken into by we think the same person. It’s hard to recover from things like that. But again, if you really love what you’re doing, you just get back up and you keep going. There’s so many hard aspects to business. But if you see it as a challenge and something that you can really, you know, thrive off, I think it’s sometimes worth it.

Wayne Lewis: And what does the future holds for Francesca’s collections?

Hannah Vasicek: Yeah, so the future for us is trying to work out how you can be a sustainable business. And yet one which can really give back to the community, one which can bring meaning. And as well, we’re starting to ask ourselves as a whole, you know, how big do we want to be like, we could scale tomorrow and have 100 stores? No problem. But how big do we want to be without losing the heart and the core of the business? And I would highly recommend doing this at the start of your journey, journaling down what your view of success is in the future. So how much money do you want a year? What material things if you’re that way inclined do you want to be happy and successful? Because it’s often that as an entrepreneur and a business owner, you get there and you’re still not happy? And I see so many entrepreneurs who are they’re making all these wins, and they’re making so much money, but it’s never enough. And I think that the most amazing thing and the true vision of success is actually getting there and realizing that’s enough. So the future for us is actually uncertain at the moment because we’re not quite sure that we want to scale I think that you know you go into business to be time rich and not money rich and I’m definitely not time-rich at the moment and I think that’s probably my, my future goal, yeah.

Wayne Lewis: Perfect. Can we have a round of applause for Hannah Vasicek?

Serpil Senelmis: What a vision, wow. To be time rich and not money rich. She is one inspirational lady. In a moment we’ll meet another business builder in co-working space maker Tobi Skovron.

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Serpil Senelmis: Thanks, Ad Guy, Tobi Skovron founded the co-working space CreativeCubes who are just about to double in size with a second location in Melbourne. Before that Tobi built a successful pet supplies business that he sold as a going concern in 2013. This is a man who has been there and done that, and Tobi makes an active choice not to go with the flow. His motto in business is “upstream is the new downstream”.

Tobi Skovron: So born and raised in a very entrepreneurial environment. At the age of 14, I lost my dad who passed away, and while that absolutely hurts and still hurts. The reality is I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have to go through that experience. As a young kid, my dad was a raging entrepreneur, dropped out of school when he was young, forced me to go all the way through. But when I used to leave my bedroom, my mum had plaques, literally outside my bedroom. So my bedroom then was sort of like a hallway and then a bathroom. And the hallway between my bedroom and the bathroom was like, littered with awards that my dad had won on a global scale. And so looking back, I really do feel like that was a very impressionable, every time I go the toilet, there was that message reinforced. And one of the things that I really remember was my dad turned 40, he passed when he was 44. There was a cake that my mum had created for him for his 40th birthday, which was actually a photo of him on the icing. And there was a little bubble that said, I did it my way. I look back now like I think about the impression that that made on me. 2003, I met this girl, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment she was living at home, I bought a dog called Subi. Sim basically said Tobs, we just need a patch of backyard on our balcony. And that was like the light bulb moment. I don’t know if it goes on or off but it put rocket fuel inside of me. And I went out and created this thing called the pet loo. And if you’re a pet owner and you go to a pet store, I’d say nine and a half times out of 10 you’d see pet loo exhibited or retailed in shops. And so that kind of fueled a 10-year journey. After six years, we went to Los Angeles because in 2006, we started exporting by the container load to the US market. I remember very clearly on a Sunday afternoon, we’re watching footy and since we going to live overseas. We just started this monster business. I was like yeah, kind of but we can’t. And she’s like, well, let’s put a manager in and let’s try to manage over the next 12 months. And let’s see if we can go abroad. I was like, cool, okay. And so she says, where do you want to go? I said, where do you want to go? She goes, I asked you first. I said, I’m a gentleman I’m trying to ask, you know. So on the count of three, she said, LA. I said, Los Angeles. So we moved to LA 2008 2009. And we live there almost nine years. We actually been back just under two years now. And basically went there trying to export and grow the US business. Talk about being kicked in the hairy beanbag. We went to LA 2008. It was the peak of the global financial crisis. No one was buying anything. I remember converting $300,000 in Aussie dollars to go to the US so at the time We decided to go was like 97 98 cents to one, which was awesome. The day we got there and exchange the money was 58 cents to one. So overnight, hundred and sixty-four thousand dollars just evaporated in exchange rate. Peak of the global financial crisis, I just fired my distributor, who I asked to sell into retail stores and decided I would just sell ecom direct to consumers who is buying a container load pricing, which was great. But then selling at retail and making like, more money than I was, and I was like, sweating. So I dismissed him. I said he could stay on and continue his channel. He was like, I’m out. So I was $300,000 negative on the sales line. I was $164,000 negative on exchange rate, peak of the global financial crisis, and we just landed in LA. And so I basically worked my ass off and over the course of four years, we built the business up. And in 2012, I sold the business for all cash to the largest player in the space. I literally went from negative 460 odd thousand to just shy of 10 mil in rev, and debt-free cash flow positive. Broke as a joke because every dollar that came in had to go into fuel the next container, and I was always container loads behind. But at the end of the day, come 2013 are sold to a company called Pet Safe. I paid all cash for the business, I had no investors and life had begun. And so join them for a couple of years. And then Sim, she kind of pestered me for a little bit, you’re all here so just be angry. Pester me for a period of time to say hey, can we go home? Can we go home? Can we go home? And so in 2016 October, we came home, and now she’s like why did we come home? It’s freezing here.

Wayne Lewis: You talked about that moment on the cake, and it was your dad doing it his way. What is your way? And what are those key traits that made you what you are today?

Tobi Skovron: I think resistance or resilience. I have this motto and had this saying at Pet Loo, upstream is a new downstream, everyone’s going that way. I don’t want to go that way. Pet Loo was an amazing journey. I kind of miss it. But I also where I’m at today is I’m sort of coming down the mountain and don’t look at that as a hierarchy aspect. And I’m trying to get all the people at CreativeCubes, either on my back, or at least help them navigate back up the mountain. I’m trying to now create spaces and environments and communities to support people from having to deal with the shit that I had to deal with. You know, my parents wanted, what they didn’t have for me, and I want what I didn’t have for my kids. And so I also want that from an entrepreneurial standpoint. I want people that have an idea kind of maybe about to jump off the cliff. I’m going to push you. I’m going to teach you how to build the plane. And then I’m going to surround you with other people that are sort of trying to figure it out as well. And then we’re going to take off together. And that’s what inspires me. That’s what makes me move every day.

Wayne Lewis: Yeah. And when you got to that point of where you’re able to sell the business initially, what was the key kind of elements in that whole brokering of that deal that allowed you to sell out there?

Tobi Skovron: Yeah, so I took an idea from Elwood Victoria. I took that to a global market of 150 countries of distribution. I proved the demand, I proved that we were the category laid out. I mean, it’s not a pretty space, but we’re in waste management or pet waste management. Which global crisis no global crisis is…

Wayne Lewis: It’s money, right?

Tobi Skovron: It’s not going to dry up anytime soon, and actually kind of made pee and poo sexy. From a pet ownership perspective. I enabled a lot of people to have dogs, whether they lived in an apartment, on a boat, in a cold climate where their dogs won’t go outside and they’re doing the stuff inside. We enabled all of that. And I think that the data was there. The brand was in stores, people were loving the product, the reviews, so it gave the acquirer every reason to make the purchase. And for me, I was really excited that they could take the business beyond what my means were without me having to go and raise venture to continue to go.

Wayne Lewis: Yeah, you surround yourself with other people with other skill sets at CreativeCubes. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of that and your success as well?

Tobi Skovron: Yeah, so CreativeCubes is a collaborative workspace, and we have aspirations of taking on the world obviously. During my time in Los Angeles, we lived in a three-bedroom apartment. The second bedroom was for guests that were coming. It was a rotating door for everyone that came and the third bedroom was my office. We had logistics in a 3PL Third Party Logistics Center in another state. And so long as I was connected to the web, I was able to process orders. And sometimes I wasn’t actually at the apartment, I might have been on the plane flying to another retail location or a distributor. And so long as I was connected, I was able to distribute product. And so, Sim I got to a point in our relationship where I was so obsessed with the business. And she was so obsessed with or maybe not obsessed, honey, not obsessed with living in Los Angeles and sort of like traveling abroad, we were young, we were newly married, we didn’t have kids, we had two dogs that we kind of imported from Australia to live with us, but we’re pretty free with the exception of money. And so you know, a black ride to Venice Beach, which was you know, a kilometer away from our apartment was a big deal. So she would bust in the door at two o’clock in the afternoon and go hey, you want to do this. I was like, I’m at work. Yeah, I know your weapon like you’re here. But no, no, like, it’s I’m not here. I am here, but I’m not here. And then on the flip side, I say, hey, do you want to watch I think 24? Would that been a irrelevant show back then. Yeah, it was 24 tonight. Yeah, cool. I just go to the toilet. And then I come back to the toilet via the spare bedroom and hear my email. I just checked email. Three hours later come out what’s going on with 24. That was three hours ago. She’s asleep on my couch. And so there was just no break. And so I moved into a collaborative workspace, which actually happened to be the old Google headquarters in Santa Monica, which is really cool. Because Google had moved out to Venice. And this guy had taken over this workspace. This was way before any other collaborative workspace existed, it was called Rock Real Office Centers. It was in Silicon Beach, which is a smaller tech scene to Silicon Valley, although Silicon Beach has now got bigger transactions going through it than Silicon Valley, like Snapchat. And so it was a real scene and sort of wen I immersed myself for the sake of our relationship I am by the way, we weren’t in trouble at least. I don’t think.

Wayne Lewis: That was gonna be my next question.

Tobi Skovron: When I immersed myself in this community, I actually created a boundary between work and play. And it was exciting to go home at night because I’ve kind of locked my work away. My other iMac there. So I wasn’t running on a laptop. And I was able to really compartmentalize life. And so it was at that collaborative workspace that the next part of the journey started to be realized. And I’m a very, very loyal person. But running the pet business, and sort of working in this collaborative workspace, by the way, Uber, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them started, literally across the corridor. And so surrounding yourself with people like that, like what’s your scuba thing? You’ll hear about us in a few years. And so surrounding myself with people like that, and having lunch with these types of guys that have these wild ideas really turned me on like, it really was exhilarating.

Wayne Lewis: I can sense that.

Tobi Skovron: Yeah. And so I started having this sort of like, I love the pet business, and I love what I’m doing here. But wow, this collaborative workspace is really something special. You not only influencing or being part of and supporting the people, but you’re influencing their markets because those people are actually able to springboard off this platform, which is a desk or private office to deliver their message and their vision. And so I fell in love with community and collaboration. And I’ll tell you, the success that I had at Pet Loo was absolutely because I had an amazing woman behind me. But I was also able to rub shoulders with people that were like changing the world and had that mentality like, just throw yourself off the cliff and see what happens. I don’t think we have that here in Australia. I think we have it, probably within people. But I don’t think we have that as a society. You know, there’s that tall poppy syndrome, we should be lifting people up. And if you have a crazy idea, I want to wrap myself around you. And you can get on my back, and I’ll help carry you to the top of the mountain. And so that is, for me, the inspiration for CreativeCubes, and I hope that I can help push a lot of people off the cliff in a very safe controlled way and inspire them to just have a crack. Admittedly, when I was 23, when we first started Pet Loo, I’m 38 this year, we had nothing. I came to Melbourne with like maybe 1000 or $2,000 in my wallet. So the loss wasn’t that big. Now it’s potentially catastrophic. But I really do hope and I really hope that creative cubes is a big enabler for people that are just like, screw this corporate job. I studied podiatry by the way you studied law doing jewelry, I studied podiatry and started making dog toilets.

Wayne Lewis: And what does the future hold for CreativeCubes? Where are you taking it? And how are you going to do that?

Tobi Skovron: The goal is to sort of scale that across Australia, and maybe a location or two throughout the US to help Aussie companies break into the US or Canadian markets, where, you know, I got relationships and anything I can do to help the people. I’m a serial entrepreneur, but I really genuinely feel like I’m the people’s entrepreneur. And I’m kind of looking out for the people within the community. And hopefully, I become a byproduct of that success or their success, should I say.

Wayne Lewis: Tobi Skovron of CreativeCubes. Can we have a round of applause, everybody? Thank you very much, Tobi.

Serpil Senelmis: Thanks, Tobi. And thank you, Hannah, as well. Next time on Masters Series, how to grow your business from zero to $20 million. We’ll meet the owner of Australia’s leading safety training company, and the founder of the app company that built the trend tracker app. Until then, I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded and for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.

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