Naspers

As some pricey coding camps fade away, Codecademy barrels ahead with affordable paid offerings and a new mobile app

Posted by | codecademy, eCommerce, Education, Mobile, Naspers, TC, Union Square Ventures, zach sims | No Comments

Between 2013 and last year, the number of boot camp schools tripled to more than 90 in the U.S. alone, according to Course Report, an outfit that tracks the industry. Some — including The Iron Yard and Dev Bootcamp — have since folded, unable to find enough eager recruits willing to pay top dollar to learn coding skills. (The average cost of a 14-week program last year was $11,400.)

At the same time, it has become apparent that when it comes to massive open online courses, a very high percentage of students don’t stay the course.

New York-based Codecademy, which began offering free coding courses at its outset, has managed to keep plugging away — and grow — despite these headwinds. In fact, the company today employs 85 people, up from 45 when we last sat down with co-founder and CEO Zach Sims in 2016. Its revenue is also up 65 percent year over year.

None of it has been a walk in the park, admits Sims, who dropped out of Columbia University in 2011 to start the company. “There’s been a ton of ups and downs,” he says, explaining that the company struggled for years with how to produce meaningful revenue before introducing two premium products in the last couple of years, both of which are affordable by design.

One of these is Codecademy Pro, meant to help users learn the fundamentals of coding, as well as develop a deeper knowledge (and receive certification from Codecademy) in up to 10 areas, including machine learning and data analysis. The cost is $20 per month, money that Pro users often see back in the form of a a $5,000 to $10,000 raise from their employer, insists Sims. He says the course “isn’t so much for those who are transitioning to full-time jobs but people who are learning skills to level up in their existing career.”

A second offering is Codecademy Pro Intensive, which is designed to immerse learners from six to 10 weeks (depending on the coursework) in either website development, programming or data science. Students follow a structured, detailed syllabus that’s divided into focused units to organize the learning experience, which is synchronous but collaborative. To wit, users are placed in a moderated Slack group and can chat with people who are learning the same materials at the same time. They also receive unlimited access to a pool of 200 mentors who work with Codecademy, some of them “graduates” of Codecademy themselves.

Sims declines to talk about what percentage of the 45 million people who’ve taken a Codecademy course has paid the company, but he notes that the “macro trends in the market are going our way. People still need to find jobs, and tech is still an important skill to get them there.” Indeed, according to Code.org, a nonprofit that seeks to expand computer science instruction in schools, there are more than 540,000 open computing jobs. At the same time, fewer than 50,000 computer science majors graduated from school last year.

Sims also stresses the importance to Codecademy of ensuring its offerings remain “free and low cost everywhere in the world.” Toward that end, the company is today rolling out its newest product, a mobile app that enables users to learn on the go, though it is accessible to paying customers only after a seven-day trial for everyone. (No credit card is required.)

The idea, says Sims: “Lots of people use mobile phones, and we should be letting them practice whenever and wherever they want. They end doing twice as many exercises if they can learn on the subway, then pick up where they left off on the desktop later.”

How much of an accelerant the app will be remains to be seen, but certainly, Codecademy’s approach — catering to people who can’t take or aren’t interesting in expensive offline programs — seems as relevant as ever as some of its competitors fade into the distance.

“When we first started,” says Sims, “the skills gap was just making itself evident. There were tons of tech reports about tech jobs and not a lot of people to fill them. A lot of boot camps and other options emerged to fill that vacuum because, at the time, colleges weren’t equipped to handle [the knowledge gap]. Plus, student debt continued to be an issue, which made [underprivileged] students particularly ill-prepared for the workforce.”

What has changed since then is, well, not much, argues Sims. He notes that aside from a glut of hyped offerings to come and go, people still need ways to adapt to rapid-fire technological change, and with college costs as high as they’ve ever been — prices have soared upwards of 200 percent over the last 20 years —  they need affordable alternatives in particular.

If Codecademy requires more capital to continue providing as much, it isn’t saying. Asked about fundraising — Codecademy has raised $42.5 million to date, including from Union Square Ventures and Naspers — Sims says it isn’t talking currently with VCs. “We’re pretty capital efficient. We still have the majority of our last round (raised in 2016) in the bank. And we’ve been able to grow pretty sustainably.

“If we see opportunities to accelerate growth down the line,” he adds, “we’ll go raise it.”

Asked if it can see a day where it works more closely with enterprise customers that want to help employees burnish their skills, he says that’s a high likelihood, too. But “so far,” he says, “we’ve seen pretty good consumer growth. It kind of comes down to how many things can you focus on.”

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Old media giants turn to VC for their next act

Posted by | 21st century fox, Activision Blizzard, Axel Springer, bertelsmann, Entertainment, epic games, Gaming, Hearst, Media, Naspers, Netflix, Sky, Tencent, Venture Capital, WndrCo | No Comments

The Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 eras weren’t kind to the world’s largest media conglomerates, throwing their business models into question, creating whole new categories of content consumption, and bringing online competition to subscription and ad pricing. Many of the media giants from the 1990s and early 2000s remain market leaders with multi-billion dollar valuations, however, and have become active investors in startups as a tactic to help themselves evolve.

Of the traditional media companies that have committed to corporate venturing, there are two distinct strategies: those whose investing seems to be about replacing the historic classifieds section of newspapers and diversifying into a range of consumer-facing marketplaces, and those whose investing is concentrated on capturing an early glimpse (and early equity stake) in startups reshaping media.

Replacing Classifieds, Investing in Marketplaces

Mathias Doepfner, CEO of Axel Springer. The company’s startup accelerator is one of the most active in Europe. (Photo by Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)

Given the first crisis newspaper groups faced from tech startups in the 1990s and early 2000s was the rise of online classifieds sites (like Craigslist) and transactional marketplaces (like eBay and Amazon), the disruption of their lucrative classified ads revenue stream drove their attention to e-commerce.

Aside from Hearst, the major US newspaper and magazine chains – like Gannett, News Corp, Meredith Corp / Time Inc, and Digital First Media – haven’t made many investments in startups. Perhaps the financial straits of most US newspaper companies have left little cash for VC investments that won’t pay off for years in the future.

But in Northern and Central Europe, where news readership and even print publishing remain healthy by comparison, the leading media groups have been aggressively investing in marketplace and e-commerce startups across the continent over the last decade.

Europe’s leading publisher, Axel Springer has made itself an established player in the European startup scene. Axel Springer’s Digital Ventures team has backed marketplaces from Caroobi (for cars) to Airbnb, and their Berlin-based accelerator (run in partnership with Plug & Play) has invested in over 100 young startups, like digital bank N26, boat rental marketplace Zizoo, and influencer-brand marketplace blogfoster. In a move more strategic to its business, the 15,000-employee group made a large investment in augmented reality unicorn Magic Leap this past February as well, forming a partnership to leverage its content IP in the process.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Schibsted, Sweden’s Bonnier, and Germany’s Hubert Burda Media (best know to many in tech for their annual DLD conference in Munich) and Holtzbrinck Publishing are each globally active, multi-billion dollar publishers who operate active early- or growth-stage VC portfolios composed mainly of e-commerce brands and marketplaces.

The most iconic corporate venture investment by a newspaper conglomerate (or any company for that matter) is without question the $32M check written into 3-year-old Chinese social web startup Tencent in 2001 by the South African publishing group Naspers (founded in 1915). Tencent, now valued around $400B, is Asia’s largest and most powerful digital media company and Naspers’ 31% stake was worth roughly $175B in March 2018 when it sold $10B in shares.

As a result, Naspers has transformed into a holding company that incubates, acquires, and invests in online marketplace businesses around the globe (though it still maintains a relatively small publishing unit).

The challenge for traditional media companies investing in startups beyond the realm of media is that even if wildly successful, those investments neither give them a distinct advantage in media itself nor make their business model like that of a tech company by way of osmosis. These investments can be flashy distractions to make management and shareholders call the company innovative while it fails to actually re-envision its core operations. Investing in Airbnb or BaubleBar doesn’t address the key challenges or opportunities a traditional publishing group faces.

Therefore the best case scenario in this strategy seems to be that these companies find enough financial success that they just transition out of the content game and become holding companies for other types of consumer-facing brands the way Naspers has. But even then the path seems uncertain: despite all its other activities, Naspers’ market cap is less than the value of its Tencent shares…it’s not clear that the best case scenario necessarily transforms the core organization.

Investing in the Next Generation of Media

Thomas Rabe, CEO of German media group Bertelsmann. Bertelsmann is unique in treating startup investments as a dedicated division of the conglomerate. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The other track for “old media” giants has been to focus on venture capital as a means to uncover the future of the media business so the old guard can learn from the new generation of media entrepreneurs and react to market changes sooner than competitors. Intriguingly, it is consistent that the conglomerates who have taken this strategy are ones whose operations in television, radio, data, and telecom outweigh any involvement in newspapers.

Bertelsmann, Hearst, and 21st Century Fox have been the most aggressive corporate venture investors in startups working to shape the future of media, whether it be through streaming video services, crowdsourced storytelling platforms, or augmented reality.

With annual revenue over €17B, Bertelsmann is one of the largest media companies in the world, spanning television production and broadcasting (RTL Group), book publishing (Penguin Random House), newspapers, magazine publishing (Grüner + Jahr), and education. Unlike of media companies though, it treats venture investments in media startups as a key division of its company rather than as a side project.

The company’s core Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (BDMI) invests across the US and Europe in companies like Audible, Mic, The Athletic, and Wondery (and in funds like Greycroft and SV Angel) but there are also the 3 regionally-focused funds investing in China, India, and Brazil plus the education-focused University Ventures fund it anchors in NYC. Collectively, Bertelsmann teams made 40 new startup investments in 2017 and generated €141M in venture returns, according to their 2017 Annual Report.

The investment arm of Hearst, one of America’s largest publishers with $10.8B in 2017 revenue, has likewise been a major backer of BuzzFeed, Pandora, Hootesuite, and Roku not to mention Chinese language app LingoChamp, live entertainment brand Drone Racing League, VR capture startup 8i, and dozens of other media-related startups. Hearst’s ownership in these ventures makes strategic sense: they provide market insights relevant to the core businesses, offer immediate partnership opportunities, and would be strategic acquisition targets that evolve the company’s position in a changing market.

21st Century Fox and Sky Plc (in which 21st Century Fox owns a 39% stake and is trying to acquire outright) have both made a whole slate of startup investments across the media sector in the last few years. In addition to its $100M investment in live-streaming platform Caffeine (announced on September 5) and similarly massive investment in WndrCo’s NewTV venture led by Meg Whitman, Fox has invested repeatedly in sports-centric OTT service fuboTV, hit newsletter brand TheSkimm, VR studio WITHIN, and fantasy sports app Draftkings with Sky often co-investing or building meaningful stakes in international startups like iflix (a leading streaming video service in Southeast Asia and the Middle East).

Since traditional media giants own extensive intellectual property of hit shows, films, and often exclusive rights to popular live events – not to mention established distribution channels to tens or hundreds of millions of people – there are immediate partnerships that can be signed to benefit both a startup and the incumbent. The incumbents often re-invest repeatedly to build their ownership and deepen the alignment between the companies, which rarely happens when media companies invest in marketplace startups.

Tencent’s always-be-evolving model

The new crop of digital media giants that includes Netflix, Snap, VICE, and BuzzFeed aren’t doing much if any strategic investing. Instead they’re keeping focused on growth of their core product offering. The notable exception is China’s Tencent.

In addition to dominating China’s booming messaging app sector with WeChat and QQ, owning 75% market share of music streaming in China, and being the world’s leading games publisher through its own studios (Riot Games, Supercell, etc.) and its minority stakes in Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, and others, Tencent has taken a strategy of investing often and early in promising digital media startups…and it has its tentacles in everything.

Based on Crunchbase data, Tencent has done over 300 investments in startups. It is likely the most active venture investor in China, where most of its portfolio is concentrated, but also backs Western media startups like SoundHound, Wattpad, Spotify, Smule, and Wonder Workshop.

Tencent can give distribution to these upstarts through its vast portfolio of digital properties and it can keep tabs on what new content formats or business models are gaining traction. It operates from a mindset of perpetually evolving, and trying to snatch up startups whose products could be key assets in the future of content creation, distribution, or monetization. This approach is one both old media giants and the next gen of unicorn media startups should consider.

The pace of innovation is moving so fast, and so many new doors are opening up – from subscription streaming and esports to voice interfaces and augmented reality – that corporate venture as a core strategy can unlock opportunities for the organization to evolve early, before it ends up being categorized as “old media”.

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Chinese tech stocks tumble from more than just trade tensions

Posted by | alibaba group, Android, Asia, Baidu, China, e-commerce, economy, Europe, Google, martin lau, Naspers, pinduoduo, TC, technology, Tencent, United States, world wide web | No Comments

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on TechNode, an editorial partner of TechCrunch based in China.

Reports of trade tensions between China and the US in the past few months have been hard to ignore. In early July, the US imposed $34 billion on Chinese goods, prompting the Shenzhen Component Index, dominated by technology and consumer product stocks, to fall to its lowest point since 2014, igniting fears among investors.

“The U.S. tariffs, coupled with a falling yuan, will significantly increase the cost for many Chinese technology companies that rely on imported raw materials, such as semiconductors, integrated circuits, and electric components,” Zhang Xia, an analyst for China Merchants Bank Securities, told the South China Morning Post.

Additionally, the U.S. commerce department announced yesterday it will place an embargo on 44 Chinese companies—including the world’s largest surveillance equipment manufacturer Hikvision—for “acting contrary to the national interests or foreign policy of the United States.” The move caused the companies’ share prices to fall by nearly six percent.

However, the focus has shifted to more than just the trade war. And a number of big Chinese tech companies have seen their share prices plummet for other reasons.

Pinduoduo, China’s latest e-commerce giant to list on the Nasdaq, found that an initial public offering (IPO) is not a panacea. Conversely, its listing has drawn attention to the company’s counterfeit products. And investors are not happy.

Tencent’s shares have nosedived by over 25 percent since its peak in January, erasing $143 billion in market value over the past seven months.

Search giant Baidu also hasn’t been immune. The company’s stock price dropped by nearly 8 percent this week following news that Google plans to re-enter the Chinese market.

Government crackdowns

While IPOs are usually a cause for celebration, Pinduoduo has proven this past week they can also be bad for business. The company—which has integrated e-commerce and social media—caters to low-income consumers living outside first and second-tier cities. It has been plagued by accusations of facilitating the sale of counterfeit low-quality goods.

Just days after going public, its share price tumbled by 16 percent, falling below its offer price of $19. The drop was, in part, initiated by requests made by television maker Skyworth to remove counterfeit listings of its products from the e-commerce firm’s marketplace.

The company announced (in Chinese) this week that it had removed 10.7 million listings of problematic goods. However, this did little to assuage concerns from investors and regulators after the latter launched an inquiry into Pinduoduo’s product listings. Its stock price dropped to 30 percent below its closing price on its first day of trading, wiping out over $9 billion in value.

This is unlikely to be helped by the fact that seven U.S. law firms have launched investigations into the company on behalf of its investors. The statement issued by the firms shows that investors suffered financial losses after Chinese regulators began looking into the company’s dealings. The company met today with regulators and agreed to improve its products’ vetting procedures.

However, it’s not only e-commerce platforms that have been affected. Video streaming service Bilibili has seen its stock price drop by almost 21 percent since July 20. The decline comes amid renewed efforts led by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) to crack down on what it deems to be “vulgar” or “inappropriate” content.

The company has subsequently had its app removed from app stores in the country for one month. Nasdaq-listed Bilibili responded by saying it is “in deep self-review and reflection.”

Screenshot of the drop in Bilibili’s stock price. Accessed August 3, 2018

Rumored competition

Baidu, which runs China’s biggest search engine, found that even unconfirmed competition can cause stocks to tumble. In a move which could mark its re-entry into the Chinese market, news broke this week that Google has plans to launch an Android app that could provide filtered results to users in China.

Baidu currently commands nearly 70 percent of China’s search market. Google shut down its search engine in China in 2010 over censorship concerns, giving up access to a vast market. China’s online population now exceeds 770 million, double the entire populace of the U.S. and more than that of Europe.

Baidu’s income is still highly dependant on ad revenue, which increased by 25 percent in the second quarter. Google’s return is clearly seen as a threat, causing Baidu’s stock price to fall from $247.18 on July 31 to $226.83 on August 2. This marks the most significant fall since the company announced the departure of its chief operating officer Lu Qi in May.

Steady decline

Nonetheless, all these losses seem insignificant in comparison to Tencent’s. The company saw its stock price increase by 114 percent in 2017, reaching a record high in January 2018. However, since then, the price has dropped by nearly $130 per share, eviscerating a considerable portion of its market value. In July alone, its stock price fell by 9.9 percent. The company’s devaluation tops Facebook’s $130 billion rout following its earnings call last month.

In April, the company lost over $20 billion in value after South African investment and media firm Naspers — an early and loyal backer — announced it was trimming its stake by two percent. Additionally, Martin Lau, the company’s president, sold one million of his shares in the company. This, added to the Naspers sale and warnings of margin pressure, led to a loss of $51 billion in market value.

“Investors are increasingly pricing in lower expectations for Tencent’s interim results,” Linus Yip, a strategist at First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg.

Yip expects the downward trend to continue, and not just for Tencent. “Overall, tech companies are facing a similar problem. They have been enjoying fast profit growth in the past few years, so it will be difficult for them to maintain similar growth in the future as the competition grows and some segments are saturated,” he said.

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Latin America’s Movile is quietly building a mobile empire

Posted by | brazil, Column, ifood, Mobile, movile, Naspers, online food ordering, PayPal, playkids, spoonrocket, Tencent, WeChat | No Comments

By 2020, Brazilian mobile giant, Movile, wants to improve the lives of more than one billion people through its apps. The company began its mission in 1998 selling gaming, news and SMS messaging services to mobile operators in Brazil. After receiving its first investment from South African-based global investor Naspers 10 years ago, Movile grew into one of the largest and most successful mobile companies in Latin America, with more than 150 million monthly active users of its apps and estimated revenues over $240 million.

Movile’s app, PlayKids, propelled the company to the global stage. A platform that offers educational products and content for children, PlayKids in 2014 reached more than 6 million downloads within a year of launching, and 5 million active users per month.

From there, Movile turned its attention to an unprecedented strategy of mergers and acquisitions in Latin America. The company’s expansion strategy included investments in more than 20 other mobile companies, such as iFood and Sympla, two of the most prominent players in Latin America’s mobile space today.

Here’s a look at how Movile went from local success story in Brazil to one of the largest mobile companies in Latin America — and its next steps for mobile success worldwide.

The PlayKids launching pad

By 2012, Movile was the largest mobile services company in Brazil. With more than 150 employees, the company established its core offerings in mobile payments, mobile commerce and other B2B mobile solutions. Movile’s teams successfully opened offices in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Venezuela, which they achieved through the acquisition of another mobile company with a similar business model, CycleLogic. But it wasn’t until the launch of PlayKids in 2013 that one of Movile’s creations landed in the hands of millions of users around the world.

By June 2014, PlayKids had users in more than 30 countries and was one of the top-grossing children’s apps of all time. The success of PlayKids allowed Movile to build key relationships with tech firms in Silicon Valley, including Apple and Google, for the distribution of the company’s apps, and Facebook for marketing them.

Also by this time, Movile had more than 700 employees working from 11 offices in six countries, and began the next chapter in their story: ramping up their investments in other mobile companies. Movile used this strategy not only to continue its expansion across the region, but also to fend off any foreign competition eyeing Latin America’s increasingly lucrative mobile market. By 2014-2015, Latin America was the fastest-growing smartphone market in the world with 109.5 million smartphone units sold in the region.

Becoming Latin America’s mobile powerhouse

2014 marked a big year for Movile. The company invested $1.6 million into online food delivery startup iFood in the past, but an additional $2.6 million investment in 2014 led to the purchase of an iFood competitor, Central Delivery. Movile’s investments in iFood and its buy-out of the competition took the iFood app from 25,000 orders per month to more than one million orders per month.

Movile’s goal was simple: take a fast-moving startup and help it grow beyond what the founding team ever thought possible.

The insights and data that Movile gathered during its strategic venture capital investments in iFood were critical. During this time, Movile built the foundation for its investments that followed shortly after, and learned how to make them a success. With each new investment, Movile’s goal was simple: take a fast-moving startup and help it grow beyond what the founding team ever thought possible by infusing cash, human capital and any technical resources or expertise that the startup could possibly need.

Movile quickly solidified its M&A strategy, its processes and its position as a leader in Latin America’s mobile market. To continue financing its growth through acquisitions, Movile raised another $55 million from Innova Capital, Jorge Paulo Lemann and FINEP in its Series D round in 2014. This new round of financing led to even more acquisitions, including the acquisition of Rapiddo, ChefTime and FreshTime. It also allowed the company to make additional investments in LBS Local, the owners of Apontador, MapLink, Cinepapaya and TruckPad.

Bundling an empire

In 2015, after a handful of investments in food-related startups, Movile’s appetite for the food and delivery space continued to grow. Naspers and Innova Capital infused another $40 million (Series E) into Movile in 2016. Movile then boosted its iFood and Just EAT platforms with another $50 million. With access to all of Movile’s resources, iFood quickly rose as a leader in online food delivery in Latin America, with 6.2 million monthly orders and a growing presence in multiple countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina.

Movile’s venture capital model became so successful that iFood replicated the same model themselves. iFood took part in more than 10 mergers and acquisitions, including the acquisition of SpoonRocket, a San Francisco-based online food delivery service. iFood acquired SpoonRocket’s technology to help it expand its reach across Latin America.

In 2016, Movile’s Rappido app acquired on-demand courier service 99Motos, and then Movile made investments in Sympla (a DIY-ticketing platform for events), while raising another $40 million (Series F) from Naspers and Innova Capital. By 2017, Movile raised an additional $53 million (Series G) from Naspers and Innova Capital, bringing Naspers’ share of Movile to 70 percent.

On the road to one billion

With no shortage of cash, Movile now has plans to put more than half of its latest $53 million Naspers investment into Rapiddo Marketplace. Movile believes they can transform the Rapiddo Marketplace into a one-stop-shop for a variety of consumer transactions ranging from food delivery and event tickets to refilling mobile credit and hailing rides. Included in this ambitious plan is a payments platform similar to PayPal called Zoop, which handles all digital payments and makes the Rapiddo Marketplace a single platform that can integrate many — if not all — of Movile’s other applications.

If a path does not yet exist, Movile will simply build, acquire or bundle its way to make it happen.

Movile’s mission is no easy feat; however, if the company is to achieve its goal of touching the lives of one billion people through its apps, there may never be a better time. Movile’s all-in-one mobile platform concept is reminiscent of China’s Tencent, which established a number of successful paid services based on its applications. Tencent is currently worth half a trillion dollars and rising, with investments from Naspers and earnings of almost $22 billion last year.

Tencent allows merchants in China to sell their products and receive payments through WeChat, China’s largest mobile messaging app used by more than one billion people. Using an application with widespread adoption and popularity, Tencent is able to continuously add layers and layers of services, precisely what Movile plans to do now with its mobile companies in Latin America.

Movile believes it can be just as successful as Tencent because the Latin American mobile market strikes a number of similarities with Southeast Asian countries. On the other hand, skeptics believe that since Latin America lacks a WeChat-like application to unify the region, it will be difficult to achieve the same level of success. But if we’ve learned anything from Movile, it’s that if a path does not yet exist, Movile will simply build, acquire or bundle its way to make it happen.

Wavy, Movile’s latest endeavor, could achieve this. The business, which bundles Movile’s 400+ content partner companies, 100 million active user base and 40 Latin American mobile carrier businesses, is already one of the largest global players in this space based on sheer numbers alone. The Wavy portfolio incorporates a wide range of products, including educational content and apps, B2B messaging services such as chatbots, SMS, RCS and voice messaging, as well as partnerships with companies in the gaming, bots and apps space.

The race is on among global mobile platform providers and device manufacturers to become the first to offer a total mobile user experience. However, there are very few companies that will ever be able to replicate the range of products and services Movile has developed, making it one of the most remarkable mobile success stories of our time — and one that’s not over yet.

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