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Scale Up With The CFO Centre

5 key factors to help you sell your business

Any business owner will eventually be faced with the need to sell their business.

It could happen when a medical change or injury makes it impossible to continue, and you need to sell to secure your family’s future. Or maybe an offer comes along that’s just too good to refuse.

Regardless of the reason, it’s always a good idea to take steps to make your business ready for sale at any time. And as Chapter Seven of the CFO Centre’s book “Scale Up” points out, many of those steps will help make your business life easier, less complicated and with fewer unpleasant surprises, right now and ongoing.

The CFO Centre report “Heading for a big exit goes into detail on some of the steps you can take now to get the best possible offer for your business when the time comes – and make your life easier now as well. Here are five key points covered in more detail in that report:

  1. Ownership

A potential purchaser will want clarity around the question of who currently owns the business. If you’re the sole decision-maker in the company, it may be best to have all the shares in your name.

But if you want to reward long-time employees, and support their continued loyalty, you may want to grant or sell some shares to them. If that’s the case, a potential buyer will want to see that there is an effective shareholder’s agreement in place. This reduces uncertainty for the buyer.

  1. Real property

If your business owns real estate, you need to understand that a buyer may view this as a problem – particularly if owning the land is not essential to the success of the business. Consider separating the property from the business, so that a potential owner has the option of avoiding a commitment to an asset that they may not want. One way to deal with this is to put the land into a holding company controlled by you, and then set up a lease agreement for the business to use the property.

  1. Intellectual property

Over the years your company has likely developed trademarks, patents, brands, and industrial processes that are important to the success of the business. You may not think of them as something that has value, however, anyone considering buying the company will want to be sure about the ownership of this intellectual property and its value. So, it may be good to have your company’s IP valued professionally – you may be able to increase the purchase price based on that valuation.

  1. Customer contracts

Many potential buyers will base their purchase decision on the expected ongoing cashflow of the business. So, they’ll want to know about how much of that cashflow comes through dependable contracts. But they’ll also need to know if those contracts will transfer to the new owner – and if a high proportion of the company’s income is due to the customer’s personal loyalty to the owner. Accordingly, it’s good to carry out an analysis of the company’s major customer contracts to see if the future business is sound. Because cashflow is so important in putting a value on a business, consider some of the points raised in our blog post “How your business can fly away from cash problems.”

  1. Financial records

Many owner-operated businesses are operated in a fairly ad-hoc way. If an idea sounds good, the owner relies on their intuition and experience to decide on the next steps.

Potential buyers need to know that there is a plan in place – including a budget each year that they can see closely matches what was actually spent. They need to know that there are not a lot of unnecessary expenses, such as a local softball team sponsorship that is due largely to the owner’s personal interest, rather than its marketing value.

This is one of the areas where an experienced financial professional from the CFO Centre can help. This person can work with you well ahead of time to build a business that is financially successful and therefore attractive to a potential buyer. You’ll also get help with finding out what potential problem areas might cause a potential buyer to lower their offer or just walk away, so you gain the most benefit from the hard work of building your company.

Scale up with the CFO Centre - Disruptive Ideas

Is your business idea disruptive enough?

Maybe you see ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft as arrogant bullies. Or, to you, they’re a breath of fresh air in a world held victim by over-regulated dinosaurs.

But whatever your view, you can’t deny that ride-hailing upended an entire industry. Some taxi companies have tried to compete with the upstarts through rideshare-like mobile apps allowing customers to choose vehicle options, pre-book rides, and pay by smartphone.

Why have ride-sharing services succeeded against well-entrenched opposition? They’re a new idea – but more importantly, they offer real benefits over the traditional taxicab. In short, they’re disruptive.

As we’ll see later, just being disruptive isn’t enough on its own, but it’s an essential part of success.

Disrupt your way to a better customer experience

To see how being “disruptive” works, consider one of the world’s oldest skills – what some parts of the world call “joinery” and others “cabinetry.” It’s about making furniture, cabinets for kitchens and bathrooms, and other fine woodwork. It’s a slow, meticulous process in which skilled people use tools that have changed little in centuries.

That is until someone crashed into this tradition-bound environment with a radical new approach to the business. As entrepreneur Alex Craster recounts in The CFO Centre’s book “Scale Up”, he’d already helped disrupt one industry – travel agencies, with the then-new idea of people booking their own travel online.

Craster talks of how he’d been pulled into managing his father’s failing joinery business. But he came to see opportunities for the firm to provide better services and meet new needs. He started using suppliers in Eastern Europe who were able to do highly skilled work at a fraction of the cost of UK suppliers. He also switched the focus of the firm, from making products into providing solutions to customer problems.

The result has been spectacular growth and even an invitation to supply services to Buckingham Palace.

Why is disruption like this such an important part of business success today? It has to do with two concepts – something that’s new, and something that’s better.

Grab the attention of people you want to attract

Let’s start with “new.”

One well-made kitchen cabinet is pretty much like any other well-made kitchen cabinet. In some ways, cabinetry is a commodity – it’s hard for a customer to tell one company’s offering from another’s. So it becomes a race to the bottom regarding prices.

To catch the attention of potential customers, Alex Craster’s company had to offer something that was new to the market – providing a service in which company representatives sat down with potential customers to get an idea of their problems. That might involve a hotel that wanted to attract a higher level of clientele. This approach made the company newsworthy, so it gained more word-of-mouth publicity.

The company’s approach made it more attractive to the traditional media. But it also had the potential to attract what is becoming a more important kind of attention, from social media including bloggers and Instagrammers.

This meant that just having a new approach put the company’s name in front of potential customers.

Holding the attention of prospective customers

Once you have the attention of the people you want to attract, how do you hold them? By offering something they will value – something that’s not just new, but demonstrably better than what they have now.

Alex Craster’s approach, which included a consultation and understanding customers’ business objectives, was a big step towards helping a hotel meet its goals. Those may have included being able to charge a higher room rate and improving the hotel’s all-important RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) metric.

So too, you need to be sure that your business idea offers real benefit to the people you want to serve.

Start by understanding their situation – some of the most pressing problems they are facing. That matters, because unless you can present them with a solution to one of their most pressing problems, or a step towards a solution, they’re not going to pay attention.

Then, instead of choosing a service or product to offer, you choose a problem to work on – such as increasing a hotel’s RevPAR.

Your approach must then revolve around solving that problem, with your product or service being part of that solution. If you’re offering something that is distinctly better than the solutions your prospective customers have on hand, you’ll have a much greater chance of success.

Planning is essential

All of this – finding something new and better – doesn’t just happen. You need to think it through. It takes time to match the assets you have – your skills, the skills of the people you work with, experience, and other factors – to the needs of potential customers.

A big part of that is the financial resources you have access to. With a good understanding of your financial picture, you can understand your financial strengths and limitations, so you know how much you can spend and still pay your rent and your staff.

Many growing companies find that the best way to make sure they have the financial resources they need is through a skilled finance professional – a Chief Financial Officer – who can help them understand their financial picture, and if necessary, get access to other financing that can help to seize on the opportunities to grow in a “disruptive” way.

For many companies, their best option is to have an experienced CFO available to them, on a long-term basis, but without the need to pay the compensation that a full-time professional would expect.  By utilizing a part-time CFO, they have the skill set they need available to them, but in a much more cost-effective manner.

To make sure you’re being disruptive within your market, planning is key. Failing to plan is like planning to fail. To learn more about how you can take your business to the next level, please download our e-book, “Business planning & strategy implementation,” which will walk you through the steps involved in business planning.

Scale up with The CFO Centre

How to start building your “dream team” for helping your company Scale Up

Venture Capitalists, angel investors, bankers and private-equity managers may not agree on much, but there is one idea they share. They’d rather put their money behind a stellar management team even if it has a just-okay idea than put it into a brilliant idea implemented by a ho-hum management team.

If your company is seeking to break out of startup mode and into a period of aggressive growth, how do you go about building that stellar management team? You may need people with skill-sets, experience, and connections that are a few levels above those of the people who have helped you get this far.

It’s sort of like when you graduated from university and its pajamas-friendly environment and had to buy your first real ‘work’ outfit to start your “grown-up” wardrobe. What should be the first piece to add to your ‘collection’ of your management team that will take your company to the next level?

A CFO is the key to unlocking your future

You might think it’s best to start by recruiting top-level talent in Operations, Sales or R&D. And those functions are vital. But the foundation to it all is finance. Remember that “money makes the world go ’round.”

Looked at another way, a lack of money can stop your world from turning. What signs could exist to indicate that money issues might hold you back?

  • Your bank keeps calling to say that you’re close to violating your covenants on existing credit
  • Your head of Accounting shows up at your door a few too many times asking where the cash to cover payroll is
  • You don’t have a clear idea of what financial resources you have available in the near or long term, to fund working capital or investments
  • The account manager you’ve worked with for years gets transferred – and you find you have nobody at your bank to advocate for you

If you have the money issue solved, you’re free to implement your growth ideas – research new products, expand into new markets, offer new products to existing customers – confident that you have the financing to allow those ideas to happen. But how do you meet your financial needs in a way that works for your still-growing company?

3 ways to get the CFO you need

There are several ways to sweeten a cup of coffee – sugar, honey or a vast array of artificial and “natural” sweeteners. In the same way, there’s more than one way to get the financial expertise you need.

  1. Promote from within: You can take someone who knows your financial picture – your head of Accounting, say – and move this person into the CFO role. You need to be sure that the person has the right skills and connections, because what makes a good CFO is different from what makes a good Controller. And, you need to back-fill the role that this person was promoted from.

 

  1. Hire a CFO from outside: The second way involves hiring a full-time CFO from outside your organization. This person will come with the skills and connections you need, but at a cost – literally. The amount you must pay to attract top talent can throttle your company’s cash flow, exactly the problem you want to solve. And, top CFO talent may well be wasted on a midsize company. After the setting-up process is complete, your new CFO may get bored and start taking calls and meetings with search consultants.

 

  1. Hire a part-time CFO: This solution (which is one that The CFO Centre provides) can give you the best of both worlds. You get an experienced CFO, often with a track record in your industry, and you don’t need to pay anything like the salary and benefits package expected by a full-time employee. Many experienced CFOs like having a part-time position – it gives them the flexibility and work-life balance they want, while still being able to get the satisfaction of helping great businesses succeed.

Our experience at The CFO Centre is that any company can benefit from someone in the CFO role, whether it is part-time or full-time. How that role is provided depends on the circumstances.

Feel free to contact us to see what we can contribute towards your thoughts regarding your company’s future.

Scale Up with The CFO Centre - Cashflow

How your business can fly away from cash problems

Do you ever feel that growing your business is like being a bird in a cage? Even if it’s a big cage, it’s still got its limits. For your business, that “cage” can be a lack of cash needed to let your business fly as high as it can.

It shows up when you’re hit with a lack of cash to hire new people, to move to larger premises, or to invest in R&D to upgrade your products. It’s your accountant warning that you’re short on money to make payroll or pay the rent, or your bank asking you to replenish your accounts.

Sometimes, cash flow issues intrude if business is slow, and your fixed payments such as rent and utilities eat up too much of the small amount of revenue that comes in.

But cash can also be a problem if your wildest dreams come true and you have too successful a business. If you need to hire staff, buy inputs like parts and raw materials, and buy and install equipment, that means a lot of cash going out if you’re to meet your customers’ needs (see our post on “Hypergrowth” for more on that).

Even if your customers pay right away, you’re still left holding your financial breath until that money’s in your bank. And you may need to hold your breath a lot longer if your customers take 30, 60 or even more days to pay.

Success-induced cash flow problems are particularly problematic for scale-up companies, because their cash shortages are often much larger than those of startups. Smaller companies can dig into their home equity, a personal line of credit or friends and family. But scale-ups’ cash demands are often too big for those startup-type solutions.

It’s like learning to swim – in the shallow end of the pool you can always put your feet on the bottom. But at the deep end, that’s not an option.

Learning how to deal with those deeper waters starts by understanding how your company can get into cash flow problems in the first place.

What causes cash flow problems?

According to the CFO Centre’s e-book “Cash Flow,” the main causes of cash flow issues are:

Slow-paying customers: Customers may be facing their own cash flow problems and may be inclined to drag their heels on paying your company. There’s often a gap between the time you pay for the inputs to your product – including paying your staff – and when your customers pay you. You may be reluctant to press for payment, partly because you don’t want to alienate or lose a customer, but some customers will take advantage of that.

High fixed costs: You may be paying too much in rent or payroll, because in the optimism of entrepreneurship, you expect to need that capacity sooner rather than later. But your “sooner” may be taking its time arriving. When in growth mode, you’re likely paying more for inputs and fixed costs than you’re bringing in as revenue, so all costs need to be monitored regularly to ensure that you’re not spending too much.

Your prices are too low: You may be trying to win customers, particularly in a market where prices are easily comparable, but if you’re not covering your costs or giving yourself a healthy margin, you risk running out of cash. Customers who choose only based on prices will likely jump to a competitor if you increase what you’re charging.  Understanding your costs and developing your pricing model accordingly is critical.

Other common reasons include low sales volume, too-generous payment terms, bad debts and too much old inventory.

How to get the help you need to avoid cash flow problems

Most entrepreneurs would rather focus on growing the business than watching over the finances. That’s even more so as the business gets bigger, and the cash flow picture becomes more complex.

This means that growing companies can benefit from specialized financial expertise. Sometimes, that expertise is available within the company, but more often, it’s necessary to look outside.

A professional with financial expertise can help you recognize warning signs you may have missed as you focused on growing your business. This person can then help you find ways to deal with those issues, such as pressing customers for faster payment. There may also be opportunities for other ways to deal with your financial crunch such as vendor financing or R&D tax credits, that you may not have fully explored.

For many companies, that means a need for the skills of a Chief Financial Officer, but maybe without the price tag of a full-time CFO’s salary. A part-time CFO may be the answer – someone who is fully part of your leadership team, but on a basis that may range from a few days a month to a few days a week.

The CFO Centre’s “Cash Flow” book provides some suggestions on how to deal with possible cash flow problems, as well as describing your options as regards a part-time CFO.

Scale Up with The CFO Centre

Is the problem your company solves BIG enough?

If you have ambitions to grow your small company into a large one, you need to make sure it has room to grow.

To see how that works, consider that humble box of baking soda in your refrigerator. Baking soda was originally developed for, well, baking. It solved a baker’s problem – the difficulty of getting baked goods to rise. But then, people discovered other problems the product solved – diaper rash, kitchen fires, grease stains … and refrigerator odors.

Manufacturers such as Arm & Hammer found demand for their product that was quite unrelated to their company’s original idea.

But what Arm & Hammer found out indirectly about solving wider and bigger problems, you need to do intentionally. How do you do that? Here’s a three-step process.

1. What problem(s) are you solving now?

You may have started your business to provide a specific product (such as baking soda) or service. But your customers may look at the situation quite differently. They’re looking to buy a solution to a problem they’re facing, like diaper rash or a carpet stain. Sometimes, it’s more than one problem – a box of baking soda helps bake cookies and helps clean the kitchen counter.

So, you need to get a clear idea of what problems you’re solving for your customers now. To do this, consult with your customers directly, get input from your sales team, and see what people are saying about you on social media.

Then ask yourself: are the problems we’re solving now the problems that will help us continue to grow? Should we be solving different, maybe bigger, problems?

2. Find the right bigger problems to solve

The world is full of bigger problems – climate change, overpopulation, civil unrest, and many more. But how do you find the right bigger problems? Some ideas that may guide your quest:

Do people with money feel this problem? If you’re running a business, you need to earn revenue – so the problems you solve must involve people who have the money to pay you. And, the problems must be pressing – those ideal customers must actually feel the pain and urgency enough to want to pay you to solve those problems for them

Does this problem give meaning and urgency to your life? As well as pressing on your customers, the problems you’re solving must motivate you. They have to help you get going in the morning and stay at it all day. Only then will you be able to motivate others on your team, even those who don’t interact directly with customers, to help solve those problems too.

Does this problem have staying power? You need a problem that will continue – and better yet, continue to grow. Only then will you have the basis for a business that has sustainability.

Now, let’s consider how you can bake that sustainability into your business.

3. Develop a solution that’s disruptive

If your answer to the problem of refrigerator odors is another box of baking soda, you may need to re-think your approach. You’ll be struggling against a well-entrenched competitor.

Instead, the solution you offer must be disruptive – in other words, it must be unusual and offer new solutions to existing problems. One reason is that if it’s a big enough problem, it won’t be solvable by current thinking, or someone would have solved it already. And, you need to seize attention, and offer an advantage compelling enough so that potential customers will say, “I want some of that.”

Our work at the CFO Centre is something like that. We saw a problem – entrepreneurs whose dreams crash to earth because they don’t have the financial lift they need under their wings. And we saw that many companies can’t afford a full-time experienced CFO (that cash problem again), and what’s more, they don’t need one.

What many (we like to think all) growing companies can use is ongoing access to a CFO’s ability to clear away the financial stumbling blocks, but without a full-time CFO’s cost. So was born our “fractional” CFO – a permanent, but part-time, financial advisor.

That’s our disruptive solution.

One thing we’ve found out is the importance of having the cash you need to build a way to solve the “big problem” you’ve decided to focus on. Without cash, it’s like you’re trying to walk when you need to fly. To learn more about the importance of cash flow, the reasons for it (such as slow-paying customers, high fixed costs), and some steps you can take to resolve them, download our free e-book, simply titled “Cashflow.”

Why are scale-ups more valuable than start-ups?

What if Bill Hewlett and David Packard had never got out of that famous Palo Alto garage? If they’d stayed a two-person company, we likely would’ve never heard of them – and the history of Silicon Valley would have been very different. Instead, at its peak in 2011, Hewlett Packard had nearly 350,000 employees around the world.

There are many small startups of the size Hewlett Packard was back in that garage, and it’s important for governments to encourage entrepreneurs to start companies. But the economic value of entrepreneurship isn’t in two-person startups. It’s in “scale ups” – companies that have hit a growth curve. Scale-up companies have particular value because:

Reliable jobs: Scale-up companies create ongoing employment– not only in technology, but ranging from  marketing and sales, to production and support – and this creates more consumer spending to stimulate the economy and a larger tax base.

Skilled workers have a chance to shine: Successful scale-ups require leadership at every level as their organizations grow. Leadership can no longer come just from the top; it also needs to come from within.  As companies grow and scale, they require access to specialist skills and are able to offer secure, well-paid jobs to highly skilled professionals.  In turn, that keeps the knowledge and technical skills in the country while giving individuals the chance to build their professional and leadership skills as well.

Spinoff economic activity: Successfully scaled-up companies provide more than direct employment. They create spinoff activity, potentially creating new industries, and requiring increased activity from their own suppliers while supporting their customers’ growth.  In turn, both the suppliers and the customers become stronger businesses.

Technological advancement: They can gather the financial resources and skills to invest in developing and commercializing new technologies. Scale-ups can  also leverage the innovation and technological advancements coming from startups and bring them to a larger audience, helping other startups to also begin scaling.

Our book “Scale Up” quotes business guru and venture capitalist Daniel Isenberg, “One venture that grows to 100 people in 5 years is probably more beneficial to entrepreneurs, shareholders, employees, and governments alike, than 50 which stagnate at two years.”

This book points out that in many parts of the world including Canada, the focus for business growth is on helping start-ups succeed. People wanting to start companies find financial help, coaching, and other support through incubators and other institutions. “Scale Up” points out that startups are fun, exciting and sexy.

By contrast, the growth process is more of a hard slog. It’s not that common for a company to have a winning combination of a good idea or technology, along with the vision and determination, to grow past the “garage” stage into mid-size, scale-up stage. But when they do, there has not been the support network to help them successfully grow.  Governments and organizations are now recognizing the need to create an eco-system for start-ups to help enable them to Scale-Up.

The CFO Centre has worked with thousands of companies over the past 17 years. Using this experience and the experience of our clients in Scaling Up, we have identified the key attributes and requirements for a company to successfully Scale.  Over the next few posts, we will explore and explain our Scale-Up Framework. Because so many companies either fail or have trouble scaling, you need to have every possible advantage on your side.

So maybe you’re not working out of a garage, as Hewlett and Packard were when they started. But to follow their success path, you need to change your thinking from a startup mentality to a scale-up. Success isn’t a matter of predestination – HP’s founders hit many failures before they found what worked for them – but it does help to have a roadmap to help you on your journey.

The result is a company that is much more valuable when it comes time to move on to the next stage of your life and career.

Is your company ready for rapid growth and positioned to Scale-Up?

First mover advantage doesn’t go to the first company that launches, it goes to the first company that scales.”   – Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn

Why Entrepreneurs’ Dream of Hypergrowth Fast Becomes A Nightmare

Rapid growth is the stuff most entrepreneurs dream about as they take their fledgling company through the early years but when it happens, it can quickly become the stuff of nightmares.

The bubbles in the celebratory champagne—“Here’s to our success!”—barely have time to go flat before the problems arise across the high-impact growth or Scale Up business.

Suddenly owners are beset by problems involving the people they’ve hired or not hired, their cashflow chokes, and processes that once worked so smoothly groan to a halt. Customers then leave snide reviews because products or services aren’t delivered on time, and key suppliers get angry at delayed payments. Bankers who were once so keen for business begin to crank up the pressure as overdrafts or loans get close to the ‘red zone’.

No wonder then that so many business owners spend hours every night staring into the darkness wondering what on earth happened to their once easy-to-manage business.

The owners of high impact growth or Scaled Up businesses are often the loneliest, most isolated and overworked individuals. While start-up owners get an avalanche of government help and assistance, their Scaled Up counterparts get very little attention or assistance.

The CFO Centre’s Chairman Colin Mills says he’s seen first-hand what pressure does to business owners.

“I’ve sat in sales meetings with entrepreneurs who had literally been brought to tears by stress and frustration and the feeling that it’s all too much.”

It’s for this reason that Colin has written Scale Up: How to Take Your Business to the Next Level Without Losing Control and Running Out of Cash.

It’s aimed at the owners of companies facing or already experiencing the problems of scaling their businesses to ensure they minimize the problems and achieve growth in a controlled, sustained way.

“Our experience suggests that scale-up issues start to bite at about £1M/$1M Sales Revenue or a minimum of 10 employees,” he explains.

“By the time a business reaches £50M/$50M Sales Revenue or 250 employees (larger firms tend to have fewer employees per £/$ of Sales Revenue) they can most often be considered a “scaler”: they are past the main dangers of scaleup.”

In his book, Colin explains why scaling a business can be so problematic. The business owner has to deal with one or even all of the following:

  • People challenges
  • Sales and marketing challenges
  • Operational challenges
  • Administrative challenges
  • Financial challenges

Colin explains, “Businesses run the gauntlet of increasingly severe challenges, mostly because they are growing but don’t have the necessary infrastructure to support their expanded operations.

“While on paper, they may have the revenue, the manufacturing base or customer reach of a substantial business, the culture, the controls, the processes, the personnel and the leadership remain those of a much smaller business that they were a short time before.

“Worse, they haven’t yet accumulated the resources to build and maintain that infrastructure.”

This creates a hazardous situation for the business, he says.

“The biggest danger in this period is that the business will either outrun itself or get stuck, like a deer in headlights. Outrun, as the company spirals out of control and its cash reserves dwindle trying to meet the expanded demands of the business.

“Or stuck, as the entrepreneur tries to cope with everything at once, frustrated that the problems he could happily once deal with—back when the business was smaller—are not being dealt with by the people he is employing, often at substantial cost.”

Overcoming such problems or avoiding them is only possible if you revise your business model.

“You need to consider your whole business model, because if you have a terrible business model, then the last thing you want to do is to start scaling it. If you do that, then all the small problems that make your life a nightmare now will become major headaches.

“If your business model isn’t great, however, it doesn’t mean that all is lost: there’s a lot you can do to retrofit, design and redesign a business.”

Besides explaining the challenges scaling businesses face, Colin also provides the methods you need to use to overcome them—the same methods that the CFOs from the CFO Centre offers its clients.

They’re also the methods the CFO Centre has used in its own scaling up process, says Colin.

The CFO Centre is a scaleup that has been growing at over 30% for the last three years with close on 400 CFOs but Colin admits he keeps a keen focus on the business, the business model, and the key performance indicators.

“It might be a scaleup now, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not going to career out of control. I have to keep my eyes on the business, re-evaluate the business model, watch the indicators.”

Along with practical advice that you can use immediately, the book features an array of case studies in which business owners describe how they overcame the challenges of scaling their businesses.

So, if your business is on the verge of or already experiencing the ‘difficult teenage’ phase and you’re wondering how to overcome the nightmare challenges you’re facing, this book is for you.

It’s available on Amazon as a paperback and Kindle ebook here.

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