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SaaS Breakthrough Featuring Amit Bivas

An in-depth interview with Optimove's head of marketing, discussing a wide range of topics.

Podcast Transcript

[David Abrams] Hello, hello and welcome to episode number 26 of the SaaS Breakthrough show brought to you by Demio. The SaaS Breakthrough show will be an inside look at what is working in marketing for SaaS companies today by the marketers who are in the trenches experimenting on a daily basis to grow their MRR and build amazing businesses. My name is David Abrams and I’ll be your host today as we bring on Amit Bivas who is the head of marketing at Optimove. Amit is a seasoned and marketing executive with vast experience in planning, developing and executing B2B and B2C marketing strategies from the ground up. His sharp skills, creativity, and keen eye for detail, alongside with a strong background in data analytics and statistics, place Amit as a unique combination between the art and science of marketing. Amit also holds a BSc in industrial engineering and information systems, so he’s got both that right brain and left brain going on.

In fact, that’s a great tie into today’s episode. We talked about Optimove and how they built this platform that has both the left and right brain of software. We go into a ton of things like how to market a highly technological, innovative product to a new market, how content marketing can be a powerful marketing initiative, especially early on. The exact content strategy that Optimove used that vaulted their marketing machine and became a huge lead generation process day after day for them. How they doubled down on content in an unheard of way, it was absolutely incredible to hear him tell this story and this is going to be amazing, you guys are gonna, love this. And finally the marketing skill that Amit feels every marketer needs to know today to be effective. We really do hope you enjoy today’s episode. Don’t forget to rate us and leave comments and questions so we can make sure to dive into all those things, but let’s go ahead and let’s jump right in with Amit.

How to Build
Your Customer Model

In our guide to customer modeling, you will see how the customer lifetime value model is one of the most fundamental marketing tools that customer-centric companies use to understand their customers better.

[Narrator] This is the SaaS Breakthrough podcast. Uncovering what’s working today in SaaS marketing by the actual SaaS marketers who are building companies day in and day out. Let’s get started.

[David Abrams] Hey, Amit. Thank you so much for jumping on the SaaS Breakthrough podcast with me. How are you doing today?

[Amit Bivas] Good. Good. Thanks for having me, David.

[David Abrams] Yeah, I’m super pumped to have you here. I’m super pumped to learn about Optimove. So I guess let’s jump right in. There’s a lot to talk about. Explain a little bit about Optimove, who your customers are and what you guys are doing uniquely in the market place.

[Amit Bivas] Sure. So, Optimove is a marketing technology, we sell to brands which sell direct to consumers, so that makes us like a B2B2C. What we do is it’ll be easier to explain where we were located in the marketing technology stack, so we’d sit between the data layer, the data warehouse and all that good stuff where all of the consumer data is stored and between the communication channels, between the email service providers and push notifications and all that stuff. And then we orchestrate based on the data feeds those channels. So the idea is to maximize the value of each and every customer by communicating with them with the right channel, through the right channel, with the right message, providing them the best value that they could get in terms of marketing communications.

[David Abrams] So that is really complex and really powerful. But I guess just give me more explanation. Does that mean that you guys save data in custom fields and you basically just like a data warehouse and then based on fundamental like scenarios or situations that you set up, it then sends to certain places, right?

[Amit Bivas] So we tend to explain this the product as, as we look at it trying to find a good example is like a two sides of the brain, see how the left side of the brain, which is the more analytical side. So that side is what, where we take all the data, we flatten it, we build on top of it, our customer model, which helps which is a segmentation model. And then it also has a lot of predictive analytics and it gives to the marketer is that type of gap that usually they might have with insights into their customer base, which type of personas they have there? What are they likely to do? What’s their predicted customer value, what’s their particular, what’s their likelihood to convert? And so on and so forth. That is the left hand side of the brain, the right hand side of the brain, which is the more around a creative side if you will. So, we tend to look at that as the campaign management side of our software. So we take all that insight from the left hand side of the brain and then leverage that in order to provide the marketer with a very smart campaign management. So there they’d be able to build target groups because we’re directly connected with the data and start sending out campaigns. And then the connection between be the right hand of the left hand side is the AI Layer, which would then based on the, on the campaigns that the marketer is sent, would say, okay, this works better, this works that this is less efficient. Let’s further break down the segments. The AI layer helps finding the white space and further, find the potential to maximize customer value. And the idea is that our main KPI to measure success, it varies because what we do is we treat every campaign a test versus control. So you always measure the marginal uplift and then you can measure based on revenue, based on profit, based on visits to a website and so on and so forth.

[David Abrams] That is incredible. Obviously there’s a lot of stuff going on there with your technology and that sounds amazing. So I want to go into how you guys have been able to market that. But before I do that, I just want to know when did you actually join the team and maybe what the company was like or the marketing team size was like at that time.

[Amit Bivas] The company was founded in 2009, two co-founders to the company. They met out of the Tel Aviv University. The company was forged from academia, academic world, so one of the co-founders was doing his masters for operational research, the other one was doing his PhD in machine learning and they come together and applied an operational research model into a customer modeling mechanism. So they took some kind of, I won’t get into the bits and the bites, but it’s a state machine that’s a very common model for operational research and applied it to marketing, so they’d be able to segment customers into small micro segments, see how they migrate between micro segments, which is parallel to how in the state machine, how functions migrated from one state to another state. And then based on that, this model can predict future behavior. And once again segment down to very, very small entities.

So that was taken back in the day and they sold it as a service so they would know, reach out to all of the larger retailers out of Tel Aviv, Israel, and bang on their doors asking for give me access to your data. And back then 2009 especially out here out of Israel, it wasn’t such a common practice to take leverage data to, invest in your existing customer base. So at the beginning was very hard to find people that would be able to willing to share their data. But we had success with some of the larger retailers out of Tel Aviv. The ideal was even back then, that it’s very, very hard to scale a services company. So from day one, the two founders knew that at some point they want to, they want to pivot into becoming a SaaS company. And the model was bootstrapped. We never took any VC fund. So what they did is they used to teach in the university during daytime and a night time sell that model and as, as a consultancy service with the margins, they started developing the software and then hire the first developer and so on and so forth, and around 2010-11, the first version of the software was out there. And back then it was, they just bake that, that model into a software where you feed with data and the output is a very robust granular segmentation and predictive analytics per each and every customer fed into the model. Fast forward around 2013, we rebranded and then that’s when the company was started to be called Optimove. That was the name of the product. And then around 2015, over 60, 70 percent of the company’s income was from SaaS licensing where that point per se, we’re a a SaaS product, a company.

I came in around 2012 where at the beginning to begin with, I wasn’t even a marketer. I came in so, as I mentioned, one of the co-founders of the company, Pini, which is today the CEO of the company also, he was my professor at school. I started, I studied industrial engineering and then I just sent, sent him this type of crass email saying, hey, how about we change our relationship from student-professor to employer-employee. He appreciated by my approach and brought me into an interview and then I joined the company as a data analyst. So that was the time when, when we sold the model as a service. So I used to consult based on this data to a lot of B2C firms out of Tel Aviv. So that’s when I joined the company and that’s how I started gaining my marketing experience, even though it’s very different than what I do today because that was like more consulting in the B2C marketing space. And today obviously I’m doing B2B marketing. That’s when I started in the company.

[David Abram]: That makes a ton of sense. And congratulations to the founder, to everyone in this company, it sounds like an incredible journey and incredible ride. It’s oftentimes you see these services evolve into, into SaaS, right? As you want to automate it because services is so hard to scale. So it makes a ton of sense. You know, I guess just listening to you guys obviously very academic, a lot of things happening in the SaaS company and the product itself. What is the pain point that you’re facing when you switched over to marketing, trying to explain something so advanced, it’s advanced technology trying to find product market fit for it, or do you feel like selling in the services first gave you guys a leg up on like how to talk to these companies who wanted it, how to approach it? Or is that something you guys had to figure out when you got to SaaS and started talking about it again?

[Amit Bivas] That’s a great question. Is pretty much the story of my life nowadays and you know, for the past six years. So the idea is that if you think about it, what we sell is a product that helps brands maximize the value of their existing customers. Now this is from a business perspective, it’s counter, it’s not counter intuitive, but back then talking about 2010, it wasn’t as intuitive. Usually we’d sell to companies that have a vast online presence and then the whole entire online world is quite new compared to the traditional businesses. So they’ve been around the pioneers for 15 years and typically in quote on quote off new types of environments what is most intuitive to the marketer is to pump new blood into the system. So it’s much more intuitive to invest into acquisition. But then retention is something that you know, is definitely not a commodity.

Something that if you tell a marketer, okay, you spent $10, you bring in a new customer, but then now I’m telling you spend another $10 and you know, you already have that customer. But what will just help you know, maximize their value. That’s not as intuitive. Today the story’s a bit different, but back then we had to fight to educate the market that relationship marketing and retention marketing isn’t just email blast, it’s so much more than that. So that’s pretty much the challenge back then, today it’s more intuitive and today we’re just competing against the other company, the other solution providers out there, with our unique differentiators. But back then it was even building a business case was a nightmare.

[David Abrams] I could assume it would be, like trying to figure out how to explain this complex thing. Like you said, SaaS has moved so much and business itself has moved so much and there’s this idea of now that the knowledge base around education and retention and keeping customers versus just acquisition. So it’s incredible that we’re here. But, let’s move over to some initiatives that now that you guys have language and have explanations that make sense, what are actual marketing experiments or initiatives that you guys are running that are bringing in new users. Maybe content marketing or advertising or something like that.

[Amit Bivas] Yep. So, so great, great segue, I mean from the challenge back then where it’s tough for you to build a business case and to help those marketers that are the decision makers of buying or not buying Optimove on how to, on how and why to do it. So that’s why from day one we started doing a lot of content marketing, two main reasons. One is obviously educating the market because we needed to help those marketers understand that they not only need Optimove or solutions of the likes of investing in their existing customer base, but it’ll also become a growth engine to the business. So we invested heavily into content marketing from day one. It’s that and also the type of, of the DNA of the company. So Pini, one of the founders and the CEO of the company is a, some kind of he’s a, he’s a philosopher, so even used the blog before he even founded the company.

So the type of sharing knowledge, posting our thoughts, and you know, generating content was always there. And that helped us justify our existence as technology provider, but also in addition to that, once you teach someone something new, they’re much more likely to follow your agenda. So then what we saw the results of this content marketing is that we were able to teach people new things and then we built our credibility within those, those people and then it was, it just made sense that it would be able to sell to them. And we’ve seen the results. It takes time. It’s not like, alright, tomorrow you invest in digital marketing and the day after the leads are just flowing in, but then you start hearing people saying, giving you feedback and meetings on that blog that they read or on that article that they, that you contributed on any trade publication and then you understand that there’s a lot of impact in that type of content marketing. The traditional ways of how to measure content marketing is, you can measure organic traffic and then that’s how it helped building SEO and stuff like that. But sometimes you can’t measure direct ROI and when you get that type of feedback from prospects, when they say, I read this, it was super interesting. And then the salespeople would say, yeah, this guy came to us and mentioned the blog and mentioned that they read this and that article about you. That is the best feedback on, we’re in the right direction in terms of the marketing strategy.

[David Abrams] Yeah, absolutely. I want to break that down a little bit more because I think content strategy is complex in variety of reasons because one, there’s the topical side of it, there’s the strategy of what topics are you picking, what are you talking about, there’s distribution and then there’s tracking and how you’re converting them into customers. So for you guys, when you were starting, were you going after keywords? Were you doing the SEO strategy or we just like, let’s create valuable content and then if it was that, how did you distribute that out there? Because obviously when you’re doing it, you’re often times not bringing that organic traffic from keywords. How are you getting it in front of people that are the right prospects for you?

[Amit Bivas] That’s a great question. So, at the beginning very, like romantically we used to just general, if we have something that’s worth sharing, we do that. We did have from back then – and those are one of the first marketing vendors that I ever started using – a vendor for SEO. And what they did is, back then it was all about SEO strategy was all about link building, so you know, that was a common practice and that was the right practice. And then Google killed that, but always from day one we optimized the content that we did generate for the relevant keywords, but we didn’t write to target those keywords, we wrote because we had what to write and which, and ideas to share and we took that content that we generated and then put it through the SEO machine, being that the vendor.

[David Abrams] Makes a ton of sense. So you did go with that kind of distributed SEO approach, but valuable valuable content. And where were you guys sending people to from that content? Was it just on the blog you would link to a pricing page? Does it go to a consultation, to a Webinar? Is there some type of mechanism that you’re funneling them to from your content?

[Amit Bivas] Right. So the content usually would help you position someone in the funnel, how high or low they are in the funnel based on what content they would, they would consume. And then what we do lose, with a lot of retargeting across any ad network out there, we would serve them with content that would push them down the funnel. So for example, if you know, top of funnel would be, the what is type of content, then you know, you continue serving them on how to content and then lower in the funnel, business cases and use cases. And then we want to do is, our main call to action in the website is request a demo. So once in terms of the content that the reader consumes, you’re able to position them low enough in the funnel, then you would start serving them with a call to action of request a demo.

[David Abrams] Love that. That is super smart strategy, like a retargeting content strategy. I love that. So as you started growing and you realize that content was working, I’m assuming you guys doubled down on that. How did you, how you scale that content, maybe you scaled it into teams or something like that?

[Amit Bivas] So that’s another great question. Thanks for that David. So what happened was, up until 2016, I think it was the third quarter of that year, we were bootstrapped, no external investment, we reached a 110 employees back then. And then we took our first round of growth capital. We took 20 million, with the idea of, we started coming up against the vendors of the world, the Salesforces, the Adobes, the IBMs of the world. And then you know, to put a fair fight if you will with these guys you need deeper pockets. So we took on growth, growth capital and then the strategy was on what to do with this money would be doubled down on where you’re strong. And as I mentioned from a marketing standpoint, we’re always strong and heavily invested into marketing, content marketing. And then we started juggling the idea of how do you double down on content marketing and then the answer was you become a publisher. So what we did at that point, and I think the idea was born around end of 2016, was we’re building our own publication, back then codename OptiPub Optimove publication. And then we started weave this idea into, into real life and fast forward to end of May 2017, we launched PostFunnel, postfunnel.com, which is a content outlet by all means, generating an article a day, treating everything and anything post acquisition funnel for B2C marketers. That was our, our way to double down on content, become a publisher.

[David Abrams] And how has that worked out for you guys? That’s an incredible idea.

[Amit Bivas] So there are a few phases on that way. So first of all, you want to build credibility. So when we launched, we pretty much kept a distance between the Optimove brand and the PostFunnel brand because if you position yourself as a publication that’s backed by, by a business sometimes that will deteriorate your credibility. And once we reached a certain critical mass, of I think it was around 20,000 subscribers, then we pulled out the Optimove brand because you know, that critical mass already understands that you generate content of very high value. And now, that was the point and I’m talking about end of May, a couple of months ago, end of May 2018, we pulled out Optimove. Today on PostFunnel you’ll see PostFunnel by Optimove, because we have that critical mass and we build that credibility and authenticity that we feel comfortable to pull out Optimove. And now when that happens you get legitimacy that you can, your salespeople could reach out to people that you know, convert on PostFunnel and say, Hey, I saw you reading this and that article and offer them additional stuff. So that’s, that’s how the, we convert type of that high level top of funnel readers into MQLs.

[David Abrams] That’s incredible. And when you actually sat down, maybe you sat down with the founding team or the marketing team and are thinking through these ideas and you came up with the idea of the publication. Did you guys have set goals? They’re like, we need to produce x amount of blog posts or x amount of articles each week, each day. Our goal line for KPIs should be x amount of traffic. How did that work when you guys came because you came up with a great idea, but going into such a big initiative, how’d you handle that?

[Amit Bivas] So our benchmark was always you know our, our blog’s stats. Because our blog was already at a high scale. It’s been around for a few good years. However, the frequency of publishing posts was a bit different. So, we took that as a benchmark and we exceeded it very quickly because we were much more dedicated or not much more dedicated. We have much more resource to develop content, within PostFunnel. So we exceeded it very quickly and we put a benchmark on when we reach a 30,000, monthly sessions we pull out Optimove from behind the scenes and we reached that around end of May 2018.

[David Abrams] Gotcha. So what, what was the publication or what was the blog posting amount on your blog that you guys upgraded? I’m just wondering from, from the size of going from a blog to a publication.

[Amit Bivas] That’s a great question. By the way, they both live together in harmony. So usually the publication…. So the blog is more of dear diary, it’s very first person, but then the publication is very third person, very looking at things from a higher perspective and trying to analyze it from a, from a third party point of view versus the blog that’s very first person point of view, a rounder POV, if you will, and so on and so forth. So there’s still live alongside and we still continue to publish a weekly on the Optimove blog and then we have PostFunnel, which we have, it’s an editorial team, which we have an editor in chief, we have staff writers, we have a managing editor, we have external writers. It’s a pool of around 15 external writers. So it’s, it’s a content machine.

[David Abrams] That was an incredible idea. Really. Kudos to you guys. Was so smart to double down on that. I hear a lot of people saying they doubled down on content. That’s been a channel that’s worked for them. You guys really, really doubled down by building that entire editorial team publication team. So congratulations you guys. That’s amazing. What about KPIs? Does the blog’s KPIs look different from the publication’s KPIs? It’s all this around generating MQLs or are there different things that you have to look at on both?

[Amit Bivas] So the KPI’s, how we see from, from a marketing standpoint is derived from the companies, from you know, the business KPIs of the company. So there’s a revenue goal for the year and then we, we reverse engineered into how many MQLs is that we need to generate, what the conversion rate that we need to generate in order to hit those goals. So that’s how we do it. And then we gauge how many leads would we be able to generate off PostFunnel, how many leads would be able to generate off search and so on and so forth, out of events, which is also a big channel for us. And then what we do is we build the business plan according to that at the beginning of the year and obviously moving forward, on a quarterly basis, we measure how we are and you know, in comparison to our goals and adjust if necessary or you know, just to see that our initial plan was great and continue at the same pace.

[David Abrams] Love that. That’s super smart. So goal mind, break it down from there, break it down by quarter by month by objective, stuff like that. That’s amazing. And what about the biggest win? You know, you’ve been there since 2012, what’s been the biggest win for you?

[Amit Bivas] So I think that obviously PostFunnel was a huge win for us. I think when I started, it was so as I said, I started as an analyst and at some point you know the requirements for a marketing team because up until then, we enjoyed a lot of organic leads and at some point you want to take that to the next level. So, I pivoted, it was Pini, my CEO that decided, you know what, let’s try you doing marketing. And back then we had someone half time doing a lot of content, so it was me and him, and you know, fast forward 2018 today, I have a 19 person staff and you know, that for me is a huge achievement building up from something that was a very low budget, very a guerrilla style marketing until you know, much more structured, a large team very facilitated that for me is a huge win. Today look back and see that type of trajectory and that type of story, a business story. That for me is a huge win.

[David Abrams] Congratulations. It’s a gigantic win. It’s amazing to hear that and it’s exciting and it’s also inspiring. So congratulations to you again and, looking forward, now that you have the publication together, you have momentum in the marketing team, the company is still growing. You have this growth round in, where are you guys going to evolve in 2018 or so just doubling down on what’s working?

[Amit Bivas] So I think that in terms of, marketing infrastructure, we built it all and now it’s just building up. So we built the base for everything, everything you know, all the mechanisms, all the marketing technology, all the stack is there, and now it’s just building more scenarios, more journeys continuing to enrich that, and in terms of of markets, so we’re now also looking into a penetrating Asian markets. Currently we’re serving North America and Amea and we’re looking to penetrate as I said, Asian markets and additional business verticals. So currently we serve retail, we serve subscription based businesses, we serve the gaming industry and now we’re looking into financial services and so on and so forth. So it’s both expanding geographically and widening the range of business verticals that we service.

[David Abrams] Makes a ton of sense. It sounds like it a lot of work, but a lot of fun for you guys in marketing there.

[Amit Bivas] That’s challenging, man.

[David Abrams] Always is the next growth steps. But based on time here, what I want to do is jump over to our lightning round questions. This is just five questions that we’ll go through. I’ll ask you a quick question. You can answer with the first thought or first piece of advice that comes to your mind. It’s really fun. Wanna get started?

[Amit Bivas] Let’s do it.

[David Abrams] Let’s do it. Alright. What advice would you give for an early stage SaaS company today starting marketing?

[Amit Bivas] So I’d say first and foremost, probably hiring that type of round talent that strong, both his right and left side of brain and because I mean if I’m looking my example I used to roll my sleeves build campaigns on the digital marketing, write blogs, and then again have the ability to analyze and understand what works and what doesn’t. So you want to have like that type of all around player because marketing is something that you can learn in academia. But you need to also get your hands dirty and roll your sleeves and you know touch things in order to build that type of experience. So I’d say hiring that round type of talent and giving him freedom to start obviously with a certain, with certain boundaries, but giving them freedom to start building for the marketing org.

[David Abrams] I love that. That was a great answer. What about a marketing skill you think is vital for marketing teams to improve and build on today?

[Amit Bivas] Wow. So, I’ve been asked this question before and, and, and the first thing that comes up is storytelling. You know, it’s like, I, I like to look at this as like if a chef is an amazing chef and he knows how to cook, right? But he doesn’t plate his dishes very well. It won’t be appealing even though it could be delicious. So storytelling is all about plating. You know, you can have an amazing product, but if you don’t tell its story correctly, so you know, it doesn’t worth nothing. So I think that if you’re able to build that type of ability to do good storytelling, that’s a game changer.

[David Abrams] Any recommendations where to learn, to tell good stories?

[Amit Bivas] A lot of reading, reading good stories, reading books that’s how to, to build that skill of storytelling. And I think that it’s something that, it’s also something that there are people in the world that have it and people that don’t have it, so just the ability to find people and what, what do we do? You hire people so you can ask them to tell them to as a as a job interview question, tell me the story of life. I always when I interview people, what I say is marketing is all about storytelling. Tell me the story of your life.

[David Abrams] I love that question. That is a great, great question. What about the best educational resources you’d recommend for marketing?

[Amit Bivas] Google. I think that everyone’s done everything already. If you write the right query into Google, you’re going to get an answer for everything. Even taking it back to when I was like an analyst, and I, and I started coding a sequel. I had no idea. I asked Google and it answered. And then today looking for best practices are looking for different strategies. You know, Google. And build the right network of your peers, which can also help you share thoughts and ideas. But, but Google knows it all.

[David Abrams] Google does know, it just takes a little bit of elbow grease to do the work to do it. What about a favorite marketing tool you can’t live without?

[Amit Bivas] So, that’s a good question. I think the, the tool that I use on a day to day basis and it’s my task list and it’s my everything and anything is my email, but then it’s probably not a fair, a fair answer. So I would say LinkedIn. LinkedIn because you know, us in the SaaS B2B world you get a lead come in, you want to see if it’s viable or not. Look them up on LinkedIn. You always gonna get a good answer, company size, stuff like that. So LinkedIn, searching for job candidates, Google is, is your place, you know. I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. Sorry, did I say Google? I meant Linkedin.

[David Abrams] You said LinkedIn first. That’s perfect. What about a brand business or a team that you admire today? Last question.

[Amit Bivas] Um, wow. I would say Hubspot, I think that those guys have done an amazing job with content marketing and as you know I’m a big fan of content marketing and you know, I definitely aspire to those guys and you know, I visit and read their content on a regular basis and you know, I get some great ideas from what they’re doing. So yeah, Hubspot.

[David Abrams] Yeah, they’re a great company. I’ve seen them on stage a couple times at SaaStr and incredible story, incredible company, and doing amazing things, so really good answer and I just want to thank you so much for joining me today. Sharing so much amazing info. I learned a ton. Some really great answers there in the lightning round as well, so really appreciate your time and thanks so much for sharing today.

[Amit Bivas] Yeah, thanks for having me, David, was a great pleasure.

[David Abrams] Wow. That was an incredible episode. Really, really, really just a big thank you to Amit and to the entire Optimove team. Just their story is incredible. The years, the time, the knowledge, the education that has got into their product and it’s just going to be exciting to see their product continue to grow and build in this space. Hope you guys took a ton away from today. I think the idea behind their content machine, how they really, when they said double down, they really doubled down by going all the way into creating a publishing blog all around their industry. They’ve really become a big time leaders in that space because of it. Now, if you’d like to meet Amit and other SaaS marketers just like him, you can join our SaaS Breakthrough community Facebook group. It’s a free group where we have people talking about SaaS marketing and all the cool things that are going on, you can join there in demio.com/fd. That is to access our Facebook community. We would love for you to leave us a comment question rating on iTunes, that helps us get this message and this podcast out to more marketing education teams like yourselves and we really, really do appreciate your time listening. So enjoy your week and we will see you in the next episode.

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