Becoming technical in a new field requires work. To cross a threshold from “visitor” to “valued contributor” when learning a new discipline like software engineering you have to commit and you have to really want it. When I started working in venture capital 10 years ago, I stuck to consumer facing businesses and business model innovations, because frankly I didn’t have the background to understand technical innovation. At first I was totally cool with that, and I did really well approaching the markets I could immediately understand…you sort of didn’t need to know what was going on underneath the hood in order to evaluate consumer applications, media, marketplaces, etc… at some point if a deal got interesting enough, you’d call a CTO in the portfolio to check the “technical diligence box,” and then keep rolling on a thesis that really had nothing to do with technology itself.
Over time, however, something unexpected happened…I started to fall in love with the systems and principles that underlaid many of the businesses I was thinking about. I sort of fell ass-backwards into what has become a deep passion of mine, and I started to spend time with a different type of thinker than I did at the start…I started asking the “how” questions more and more, and so began my post-graduate education in software engineering, technical thinking, and system design. I was fortunate to have very patient teachers…Doug and Eric especially, but also hundreds of technical founders along the way, who helped to evolve my mindset into what I guess I’d call “full stack thinking,”…where the viability and merit of a decision is influenced by everything from the infrastructural dynamics and technical approach at hand, up through the consumer behavior and ecosystem dynamics in given market. There is a conversation and dialogue between the technical and non-technical dimensions of any opportunity that informs a much more nuanced perspective than is available when looking at a market opportunity through either of these mindsets independently.
As I begin to evaluate new directions to build in with Doug, Eric, some of the areas in which I am most interested, I find myself bumping up against a lack of technical proficiency. It’s not a feeling I’ve had in a while, but frankly a lot of the work being done in IT specifically (the domain we know well) hasn’t really inspired me…it may just be where i’ve looked so far, but the broader market feels super saturated right now, with tons of companies chasing very similar…often, but not always…incremental opportunities. Granted, we did not achieve our goal of building a native internet at Wildcard, and even further granted, we did end up pivoting into a clearly incremental application of our early work (aka from the Native Browser to the Wildcard News app), but nobody will accuse our initial ambition and mission of being incremental or uninspired. We bit of something big and unknown, and came up short, but at least it felt meaningful at the time.
As I look for similarly or more inspiring frontiers to tackle now, I have become somewhat enamored by the increasing permeability of the “membrane” that has long separated information systems from biological systems. More and more our physiological system is being represented and understood digitally, and similarly the principles behind our manipulation and design of digital systems are being applied within the medium of organic matter and specifically DNA. In this arena I don’t yet have an adequate understanding on the bio side to think in the way I have grown to think about opportunity. I crushed AP Bio in high school, and occasionally attended my introductory bio classes in college, but it’s been a while, and there is another layer of understanding that I need to achieve to get further into the world of genetics, bioengineering, etc…Neither Doug nor Eric has any background here, but our deep data engineering DNA (no pun intended) is obviously applicable to this problem space. I think for a while I forgot how serious a commitment it is to become technical in a new field, but I remember all the work it takes, and I’m kind of interested to committing again here. I can’t say that my learning will inform this next business opportunity, or if it will be a much longer road applied at a later date, but I am ready to be a student at the edge of biology and information technology regardless, so I figure worth hanging a shingle…To that end, if you come from a bio background (or even an IT background i guess) and are interested in collaborating at this intersection, come hang with us at our office in soho…we’re excited to learn what you’ve been thinking about and happy to participate and contribute toward flushing out this landscape together. I’m email@example.com.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
When I was freshman in college my Grandma Norni died. I was extremely close to her. I remember hearing the news, I remember attending her funeral…and most of all I remember the feeling of wanting to cry, but for some reason not being able to. It was a very unsatisfying feeling to know that type of pain, while lacking the ability to access the release of crying…
Fast forward 3 years…normal day at college…I return home to my apartment to find my roommate Tim watching a film with his girlfriend in the living room. I wasn’t gonna tune in in the middle of it, so I just grabbed some food, opened my computer, and started to do my own thing. At some point, I glanced up at the screen, and happened to catch a 60 second scene of a woman in a hospital, deciding whether to take her husband off life support, and something insane happened…i felt this deep sensation come over me and I cried harder than I have ever cried in my life…heaving…couldn’t catch my breath for like 5 minutes….and the whole time Tim and his girlfriend just stared at me like “what the fuck is going on with this dude?”…inbetween gasps i’d belt out “i’m fine, i’m fine”…but it was very bizarre. I wasn’t sad at all…it was totally physical…and I was almost watching myself have this insane reaction to a film and characters that I had no invesment or context around…Something about that scene had tapped or unlocked this very deep pain I had buried somewhere in my brain when my grandma died. It was total catharsis…it stopped…and I just looked at them and was like “sorry…i know that must have been weird…i’m totally fine.” I tried to explain it to them that that release was from her death 3 years ago, but i couldn’t really explain.
Last week I sat down for coffee with one of my board members who has known me for 10 years…he told me he was sorry I had to go through the experience of killing the Wildcard app and letting most of our team go. He’s not the only one…a number of other folks who care about me, have also asked “how are you, how are you doing?” and my honest answer is “i’m really fine.” There’s something not totally right about putting 2.5 years of energy into a product and vision and team, wiping it clean, and then waking up the next day ready to roll…but in some sense that is very much where I am…it’s only when I really think about it, do I realize that I have this weird capacity to stuff painful moments deep down into places that won’t be discovered until 3 years from now when I stumble across some film or song that unlocks them. I feel like I haven’t really gotten to say goodbye to Wildcard, and that I probably won’t get to before diving into the next direction…
Fast forward to today. We have $3M in the bank, our burn is now less than $50K a month, and my mind has already moved on to self-driving cars, and healthcare, neural networks, diagnostics, climate change…and a bunch of new areas that really excite me…i’m reading ferociously, which is how i learn best…i’m starting to feel very creative again…i feel unconstrained…and open…and my mind just doesn’t seem interested in examining the loss…i wish i could tap into my heart and really say goodbye to the Wildcard chapter before letting my brain take me forward so quickly…but I guess I have this tendency, which i’m guessing many founders have, to move through pain quickly…and whether I like it or not, the pain of Wildcard’s end seems to be in the rear view mirror for now.
So yea…I guess this post was about trying to articulate how I’m experiencing loss…trying to find catharsis…trying to answer that question “how are you doing?”…even if the answer is “i’m experiencing loss, by not really experiencing it…”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Today is a rough day. After 8 months of building and living Wildcard 2.0 we’ve made the difficult decision to stop supporting the Wildcard 2.0 app. Wildcard has been through a lot of twists and turns over the past 3 years. We initially set out to replace the browser on your phone with a native card based browser. The first year of our company was about building out awesome technical infrastructure and answering questions around what a card was, both technically and from a design standpoint. When we released our first consumer facing product (Wildcard 1.0) it was really a proof of concept of what the web could look like in this new format where you didn’t have to wait for webpages to load. We were really excited about our future. People who cared about design and technology were really excited, and investors were really excited.
We raised our first $3 Million largely on the background of our founding team. We had successfully built and sold Hyperpublic to Groupon, and folks were more than happy to back our team to take on this wildly ambitious goal of replacing the browser on your phone. We raised our $7M Series A round 11 months later on the technical progress we had made toward this goal, and a pretty incredible early demo of the Wildcard 1.0 app. This all happened in year 1.
The second year of Wildcard was about taking this technology to market. Our 1.0 was a great proof of concept, but we had to focus the product on a use case more narrow than the “catch all” of the browser. We didn’t yet support everything a browser could do, so we needed to tighten our experience to something immediately usable to consumers. We zeroed in on news and media, put our heads down, and spent 7 months building Wildcard 2.0.
When we released it, it was the #1 New App of the week in the Appstore. That was helpful, and good for about 90K installs. 3-4 months later, it was named one of Apple’s Best Apps of 2015…good for another 40K-50K installs. With some press hits in between, and all the “influencer word of mouth” you could hope for, all in we’ve amassed a few hundred thousand installs…
Retention is a challenge…and the average app loses 90% of their users in the first 30 days..we did better than average with 2.0, but despite tons of tweaks and awesome product improvements…our growth and retention numbers are simply not good enough for a consumer facing app to be a viable business.
At current burn, Wildcard has a little more than a year of capital in the bank. You don’t have to be a genius to look at our growth curve, look at distribution dynamics in the appstore, and look at the climate that we are going into over the next 12 months to know that we need to make a change, and we need to do it now.
We could continue to improve the app over the next year of runway, but without a monumental home run iteration, my instinct is that there would be virtually no market for our next round of funding and no path to profitability with the numbers we are seeing. This moment requires a more fundamental change in trajectory…something that is going to be painful, but doable with our current capital reserves, and not doable if we delay or don’t act decisively now. We are going to shut down the app and take the company in a new direction. I can’t say much more about what we are going to build next, except that we will put everything we’ve got into it.
This is a really hard day. We are taking the team down in size. A lot of wonderful people who worked their asses off on the Wildcard app are going to need to find new jobs…
I feel terrible that we weren’t able to realize the Wildcard vision as we set it on day 1. We knew it was a homerun swing when we stepped up to the plate…and unfortunately we sort of hit a deep foul ball. Time to regroup, dig in, and get to something special together.
If you have any questions about this step in our company, or if you are curious about our next chapter, i’m firstname.lastname@example.org.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about virtual assistants lately…and the other day i had a notion that the rise of virtual assistants feels in part a response to the growing demands on human beings around information processing. When you are always connected, and there is an ever growing amount of data to be processed, but a limited capacity to do so, physically, something has got to give. In computing, when a server can no longer efficiently process the requested volume of data, what do we do? we spin up another machine and split the work. Of course there are optimizations on that single server, to make it more efficient in handling increased loads, but at some point, it makes more sense to run processing in parallel. I think there is something similar happening in human information processing. The discovery tools have reached some limit of optimization (i.e. the feed, search, etc), and even the size of the informational units has reached a plaeau in processing optimzation (tweets vs blogposts, headlines vs articles, images vs text, things can’t get much smaller/denser, etc)…and there just really isn’t much more room along those axis to help us handle the ever growing body of information that needs to be processed…in the last 10 years we were able to lessen the load by spreading our processing over much more time than was previously available…mobile gave us much more connected time to distribute the information processing over, but now that we are on our phones all of our waking day, we’re running out of processing time to add…hence a general sentiment of “information overload” and “phone addiction” that is becoming mainstream affliction in today’s day and age…so what do we do, when we physically can’t process any more, and we don’t have more time to add, and we’ve done all the mechanical optimizations we can to make the time we’ve got more efficient? We start to think about parallel processing…about spinning up a second machine, or in this case, a second human, to split the load…granted many of these virtual assistants are focussed on task oriented information processing, but in general…we are adding parallel humans to interact with the same mechanical tools we ourselves have access to, in cases where we can no longer eek out gains in a “single server” architecture (i.e. doing it ourselves)…i think this is a trend that will continue, and i’m interested in seeing how higher order information processing, that’s focussed less on completing tasks, and more on augmenting your knowledge and informational awareness via a second human brain, will come into focus over the next 24 months…I think people will increasingly value being able to parallelize their processing….and it will become more common for people to offload even non-intuitive processing tasks if their interface and ux to do so becomes more frictionless. I can, for instance, see a world where people ask a 3rd party to read and monitor their facebook for them…as odd as that sounds…I use that just an example of the broader theme of parallel human processing as an architecture of living in a world of growing available information with limited physical and mechanical processing tools…
weird stuff 🙂Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Olivia had some work to do yesterday morning, so I decided to walk over to the new Whitney Museum to enjoy Frank Stella’s one man show without the crowds of a normal, non-Jonas impaired, Sunday. I love going to empty museums, especially with large format work like Frank Stella’s. It’s space to think, and be inspired, and yesterday certainly delivered. I lucked out and joined a small free tour, where I learned about Stella’s exploration from the strict constraints of 2 dimensions, to movement and perspective within those dimensions, and then almost an outburst into a 3rd dimension coming off the “canvas.” I could see the design thought behind his work, and it made me want to design something that wasn’t made of pixels. I don’t consider myself a designer, but my days are often intimately tied to design process and thinking. I work closely with our design team and together, alongside engineering, we create a visual, although not-physical, representation of a thought or feeling or intention. As I looked at these incredible works, playing with concepts of symetry and emotion, I thought to myself…I would love to make stuff like this…but I am not a painter, or a welder, or a craftsman…
Interestingly, for the first time in my 33 years going to museums and appreciating art, yesterday the fact that I am not a crafstman did not feel prohibitive to creating art like Stella’s. I’m not a designer or an engineer, but with a great team and a shared vision, we have been able to express a vision together through software at Wildcard. What if I could collaborate with a designer and a craftsman and a welder…could we together capture something unique and physical?…what would the communication be like? How could we develop a shared language to realize something that none of us as individuals could achieve. Without the promise of an enterprise, or a business behind this collaboration, who would want to come together to create a 10 foot physical object that costs thousands of dollars to produce? I don’t know…but it’s not impossible to see that happening …perhaps a pursuit for another day…it sure would be nice to be creative beyond the screen…and I believe the design thinking that we apply in technology could produce some interesting work in a more physical medium. This line between technology and physical art, is in fact blurring when you think about virtual reality and 3D printing…even Stella’s most recent work in the exhibit was designed on a computer and printed in 3D (as opposed to bent from a raw material like metal)…maybe a pipe dream…but maybe something i’ll try one day… Here are a few photos from the exhibit:
Today Wildcard released a new iPhone app called Wildcard Comedy. It’s the first step in an exploration we are calling Wildcard Communities. We’re taking the design, card technology, and curation that made Wildcard one of Apple’s best news apps, and focusing it on content that is meaningful to specific communities.
If you’re an aspiring comic, professional comedian, or pursuing a career in this corner of the arts, Wildcard Comedy will be your go to source for what’s happening in the world of working comedians each day. You’ll be continuously updated on industry-specific news, watch great expressions of the craft, and get the funniest videos, podcasts, and tweets created by your peers and stars, all in single curated news feed.
The comic community, like many smaller communities, does not have a best in class mobile app for discovering, reading, and watching what’s happening in their world every day. At Wildcard, we believe that one size does not fit all when it comes to the News and Media that matters. Wildcard Communities is about zooming it in from “what’s happening in the world”, to “what’s happening in the Comedic world”…and if successful, potentially what’s happening in the worlds of hundreds of smaller, more focussed communities like Comedy.
Whether it’s through Wildcard Communities, or other initiatives we have in the works, we are committed to giving you perspective on the world at large, but also YOUR world, and we are well on the way to doing so. We have seen a number of companies that we admire take a winning user experience (Stack Overflow, Amino, Reddit, Twitter) and roll it out on a community by community basis, and we think Wildcard has the potential to do the same as the information source of choice for these smaller groups.
We’ll report back in 60 days and either replicate this model in more communities, modify it, roll the parts that work into the core Wildcard experience, or completely move on if we are way wrong…Should be a fun couple of months 🙂Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
An investor i know well sent me this presentation from Marc Suster with a note that said “Marc is certain that we’re in a bubble”…i opened it, inclined to be persuaded, as i’m a cautious and anxious soul…but when i really processed it, this bizarre rant came out in response. No idea if it’s right or if there are major fallacies in this logic, but figure better shared than buried:
Response (you really do have to flip through that Suster deck for 2 mins for this to make sense):
i guess a key question to ask is whether this will end poorly for companies or traditional vcs, or both?
the argument that $ coming from “non-traditional vcs” is the cause of private valuations exploding could mean A) they are going to leave and when they do market will contract) or B) although these capital sources were indicative of a coming crash first time around, their presence today might represent the exact opposite…that is that our industry has matured to the point where it is attractive and normal course of business for more risk averse capital sources because our industry is not as risky as it was back then. In that case, there is an argument for sustained growth and further influx of capital into our ecosystem from these sources which would make “being a traditional vc who demands lower prices” a difficult spot to be in: the “ends poorly for traditional vcs but not companies.” case.
The thing that exists independent of whether these capital sources are here to stay or fleeting is a coming reconciliation between public and late stage private multiples, but it is not a forgone conclusion that this ends with private multiples contracting…it could end with public multiples expanding…and this would be the “surprise case” driven by the world waking up a change in risk profile for technology companies, and a larger volume of public market dollars from not the initial chasers (T. Rowe, Fidelity), but the “meat of the institutional market” (mutual funds, index funds, conservative asset managers etc.) deciding that they need to rebalance their portfolios to view tech as more of a meat and potatoes allocation than they previously would have…this could drive public market multiples higher…further, i’d presume part of the decline in public market tech $ inflows (if that is a factor driving multiple compression) is resultant from allocations by more aggressive public market tech investors into private alternatives to what’s being traded publicly. I think surprise case in the public markets is the Andreessen opinion tied to actual market dynamics, and I think the private multiples contracting when reconciled with public market multiples is the Bill Gurley (and i guess marc suster) case…
I’m inclined to not care personally…as i think our world, like most markets, is most certainly cyclical…independent of any specific rationale for when and why corrections and periods of growth occur, and through cycles i see more growth than decline (which gives me confidence to participate on a long term and sustaining basis)…on a short term basis, i could see a stiff correction before the data truly comes in that the optimistic case was in fact correct…and i believe it’s uncertain but likely that it is…the end result of the optimistic case is that technology as a defined industry and asset allocation may contract, but startups and technology companies will be reclassified into market segments by the actual industry that they participate in as opposed to by the fact that they leverage software or sensors…and therefore the true aggregate market, addressable capital and multiples available to them in the public market will exceed the “tech dollars and tech multiples” constraint that we currently contemplate. It’s why looking at “SAAS multiple compression” is not a realist bellweather for the broader coming correction…the thin sliver of “selling software” is and should follow our traditional definition of our industry and market segment, but many of the 80 “billion dollar startups” referenced in this presentation can not and should not be classified as such and constrained to previously held market conceptions of their upper bounds from a public investor demand standpoint. I know someone will say “well if we reclassify tech companies by more traditional, less risky market segments, that should likely lead to multiple compression as tech companies command premium multiples from relative to more meat and potatoes segments…to which i would reply…i’m not a public market investor…i’m winging this, but something about access to different dollars, ability to reinvest capital from these pools into further innovation, etc., etc…i can think out that far, but our industry taking market share in the capital markets, independent of short term multiple fluctuation should end well”
whew…having spit that out, i’m going to say it’s probably 10% wrong…little bit of a rant, but maybe right…gonna publish this thought and see what others think 🙂Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A few years ago a friend of mine invited me to a “closed door” after hours meeting at his house. It was a small gathering of 10 or 15 founders where folks could speak openly and candidly on any subject. I don’t think I’ll be violating that pact by saying that I briefly met Anthony Casalena who started Squarespace. I don’t remember much of this interaction except that I remember him talking about the Squarespace superbowl ad and how they had tried every possible marketing channel under the sun at Squarespace. He spoke of marketing as a core competency at the company, and I sort of flashed to various billboards and subway ads, and facebook ads, and whatever else and made a mental note in my head “Squarespace is good at marketing.” At the time I didn’t care much…I was a product-centric founder, i cared about engineering and design, and marketing was far from a craft I was a) familiar with and b) cared to be. Fast forward a few years, and I have become quite tuned to marketing as a discipline. I’m at a company that is circling around the cup on “product/market fit” and bringing great Marketing DNA into Wildcard has been a top priority of mine for the past few months. Even before we launched Wildcard 2.0, I kind of new that engagement was going to be solid from our beta, and I began to get serious about understanding what the right Head of Marketing fit was for us. As with any new discipline not represented within the team of a startup, it’s usually the founder’s job to go learn it when nobody at the company knows it. So I geared up to learn Marketing 101. I remember when we were an engineering culture in the earliest days, and I had to go “learn design” at least well enough to understand the craft and identify our leader in the field. Today design is a point of strength in our company, but it started as a weakness with me doing a bunch of research, buying a bunch of coffees, taking online HCI classes at Stanford, and getting the basics down before we could develop it into a strength under Khoi and Steve. With marketing, this learning process was actually much harder to pickup than design. I found our network didn’t reach as far into the marketing community as it did into design. I guess most of the engineers and founders we know have worked with great designers over the years, but the numbers got smaller when we’d ask our friends “do you know any great marketing leaders or teachers?” We got routed to plenty of agencies, and point solutions, and ex-agency folks, or young up and comers, but it took a while to really develop an understanding of the full marketing stack from performance to brand, and to really understand what we needed at this stage in Wildcard.
I hate the idea of paying recruiters 30% of a years salary to fill a key role. I know it’s a no-brainer sometimes, but building a team is a core strength of ours, and something about retaining recruiters just has always been hard for me to digest. We kept working to better understand the craft, and even built up competency on the “growth hacking” side of the marketing spectrum (not surprising that we got good-ish at the more technical part of the stack first given our dna), and over a few month period we got to a point where we could identify really what we were looking for in a Head of Marketing. With that clarity now under our belt, one of our board members strongly urged me to take meetings with recruiters. I did, and I wasn’t shy about my ask. I wanted someone who had seen the whole thing, from first marketer in, to iconic consumer brand known and loved by millions. I wanted them to have built a team, gained familiarity with the entire stack, and to be of the “startup cloth.” It could be the #2 at Kayak or Venmo or something on that scale, or the #1, but if I was going to pay that kind of money to make this hire, I wanted best in class, humble, roll up their sleeves ready and on the same level in their field as our other leaders are in Engineering, Design, Data Science, etc…To put it in the words of one of the recruiters, “there are like 5 of those people in New York City…you basically want a unicorn.”
As it turned out, we never ended up hiring a recruiter. Through a mutual friend, we started spending time with a super thoughtful, humble, and experienced person who happened to be a user and lover of Wildcard already. He was the first marketing hire and Head of Marketing at Squarespace from when they were Wildcard’s size and no marketing budget to hundreds of people, a super bowl ad and $45M in annual spend. People he worked with through more than four years at Squarespace spoke to his appreciation for product, his desire and ability to live at the intersection of product and marketing, and his overall wonderful contribution to their team and culture…especially in the early days of the company. I was a bit worried that coming from a now huge company like Squarespace, with a 15 person marketing team and running that kind of scaled effort that Wildcard might be too early for him, but as it turns out this is exactly the stage and moment in a company’s life that he had been looking for in his next chapter.
I’m so excited to have Matt Haggerty joining Wildcard as our first Head of Marketing. Design and Engineering have been our strengths for the past 2.5 years, and I can’t wait to turn marketing into Wildcard’s third super power with Matt’s help 🙂Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
After 7 months of incredibly hard work, we launched a brand new app today. My blood, sweat, and near-tears are baked into this product…and I think that’s exactly what it takes to create a best in class experience on the iPhone. Wildcard 2.0 is not a proof of concept. It’s not a technology demonstration. It’s not a new design language. As of 7AM this morning, it’s the best news and entertainment app in the Appstore. It’s complete, it’s premium, it will keep you up to date throughout your day, similar to a Twitter or Facebook, but it’s beautifully designed and editorially curated to surface the highest quality content from the web, without the noise and junk. It’s on my home screen, and it would be there even if I didn’t help to build it…and it’s on a lot of other home screens…thanks to an incredible group of beta testers who helped us refine and perfect it over the past 2 months…people use it everyday…it’s become a part of my life, a part of an extraordinarily high percentage of our beta users’ lives, and today I hope it becomes a part of your life too. It’s absolutely beautiful, absolutely smart, so easy to use, and you can count on it to keep you informed and entertained weather you have 2 minutes waiting in line for lunch, or 2 hours stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
I know you probably have some other way that you are used to getting your news and entertainment every day…but Wildcard 2.0 is next level. When we started Wildcard, we set out to redefine how you access and consume the web’s content from your phone, and today I think we’ve answered the news and entertainment portion of that question. We are going to work our asses off, day and night, to ensure that you know what’s happening in the world, and in your world, everyday. You’ll know the 10 major things that everyone at work is talking about, and the next 20 things that are super interesting but didn’t make it into your Facebook newsfeed, and finally the 20 things that are important news to you, but not necessarily to the rest of the world…in short…with Wildcard 2.0…you will Know the Day.
Here’s the link: http://wcd.io/wildcardios
Here’s our new website (which i love): http://www.trywildcard.com/
Enjoy, and please let us know what you think. We’re @wildcard on Twitter.
Lastly, so many people here worked tirelessly to bring 2.0 to life. I’m so proud and appreciative of our team here at Wildcard…it’s a really wonderful group.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
6 months of hard work, and I think we’ve built an app that you will use everyday. Wildcard 2.0 is laser focussed on helping you to know what’s going on in the world and online everyday. We’re opening up 1000 invites today before it’s officially in the app store.
Here’s a bit about the new app
Wildcard is a news experience like no other. It’s everything that’s happening in the world that’s interesting and entertaining, broken down into easy, understandable experiences perfect for you phone. Whether you have a spare minute or a long commute, there’s always something fresh and interesting waiting for you in Wildcard.
Wildcard is visual. We don’t always have time to read entire articles or blog posts. Wildcard is a visually stunning, easy to use news experience on the iPhone. We designed Wildcard specifically for your phone, to make skimming, browsing, viewing, reading, and sharing as easy as humanly possible.
Wildcard is effortless. We make it easy to scan and find what interests you. It’s designed to get you right to the articles, videos, photos, and stories that you care about, from across the internet and all of your favorite sites and publications. Wildcard stays on top of the day for you, and YOU choose when and where to dive in.
Wildcard is fast. We use streamlined card technology to deliver the internet’s content to your phone in high fidelity without the wait. See more, wait less. Simple.
Wildcard gets smarter the more you use it. Not only will it show you what’s happening in the world every day, it can start to show you what’s happening in YOUR world, that you care about, based on what you read and share. The more you use use Wildcard, the better your feed gets. Think of Wildcard like a personal news concierge, that goes out and searches the internet for you every day. Oh, and you can connect your Twitter if you want a custom experience from day 1.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Last night I went for a long run along the west side highway. The first few miles of my runs tend to be a mediation of sorts. The ideas and pressures and things that are unresolved tend to percolate to the surface of my consciousness…and when I realize they are there…I let them go and the mind moves on. Depending on my stress level, this usually leaves miles 3-6 as pretty creative space. Everything afflictive has been recognized and released…and I start to think about possibilities…I love possibility…it’s in the suspension of disbelief that I have my most exciting thoughts. Last nights run led me to thinking about accreditation in the startup world. With more and more companies being started every day, and more and more noise (but also hidden signal), I thought about how independent accreditation or ratings could be a valuable and necessary layer in the venture and startup ecosystem. Today, that role is largely played by angel investors and incubators. For 7% of your company, Y-Combinator will put a badge on your startup that says “these folks are legit.” Techstars, Dreamit, Angelpad, whatever…all serve as light accreditation layers signaling to the market that you are worth investors’ attention. The capital and even operational/strategic value that they deliver varies from incubator to incubator, but I’d argue that the YC badge, and a known quality level for those who attain it, ends up playing a pretty critical role not just in a startup’s trajectory, but also in investors’ modus operandi. Angel investors used to perform a similar function. If you got Chris Dixon’s money, or Michael Dearing’s money 5 years ago, that meant something…a big vc fund would look at any deal that had that badge…today, with so many deals, so much spray and pray, so much leverage (via angelist, seed funds, whatever) behind angels’ brands, that accreditation might not mean as much as it used to. So the dynamics are changing a bit on how startups become recognized as legit, and as incubators try to scale, angels lever, and there are WAY more of both at this layer in the stack…I was wondering if a new sliver of acrediditation might be possible and even valuable. What if there were a brand analgous to Moody’s or S&P that was objective and able to rate or rank early stage companies as being legit or not legit…this layer would not be an investor…it would not be a “help you build your thing provider” or a “i’ll introduce you to Series A funds provider”…it would decouple the value add from the accreditation, and simply say “this co is a 7, and that co is a 4” perfectly objective, without further incentive, and it would publish this data to the market as a whole. It would use filters akin to the most sophisticated incubator or angel investors, but build a brand in objective rating. Startups that believed they were more legit than the attention they were garnering could go get rated (just like a company goes to Moody’s to get their bonds rated to attract more capital)…and investors who built trust in the service could use the data to focus on legit opportunities and filter out the noisy stuff. How this service would make money I didn’t quite hash out. I hate businesses that charge startups for help raising capital…so even though moody’s gets paid to rate bonds, I’d prefer it if this rating service wasn’t “pay to get ranked.” I don’t think charing investors for access to the published ratings would be a good model, or a service to the companies that went through the rating process. It’d be nice if the service could take 1% instead of 7% for the service of accreditation, but that sort of fucks up the incentive structure and objectivity…unless of course it was more of a “seal of approval” than a rating, where the mark of legitimacy was doled out sparingly…but i really liked the idea that every co that wanted a rating would get one…and that dynamic would prevent shitty startups from seeking ratings…so there’s more work to do on the business model side, but I think it would be fun to explore this accreditation layer in the stack, in a non-schlocky, non-bank your startup and get you in front of investors kind of way.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
All good things must come to an end some time…today we told the team that this current fund is the last one I’ll be investing with Lerer Ventures. After 6 truly extraordinary years, it’s time…I’m so grateful to have had this experience and the opportunity to create LV. More than half of my professional life has been spent working with Kenny and Ben, and more recently Eric and the rest of the LHV team, and it has been a true honor and pleasure. I can’t adequately express my gratitude to the fam…i’ve become the person and professional that I am today through your mentorship, friendship and love. Thank you.
Being an investor is obviously a big piece of where and how I feel creative. I don’t think I’ll ever stop exercising that creativity. I don’t know exactly what shape it will take next, but I find myself looking forward at a blank canvas…and I really like that feeling. I think I’ll live in it for a while and see what kind of trouble I can’t stir up. Oh, and for founders in the portfolio, don’t worry, i’m here to support you same as always.
man…you think through this stuff on paper…and know it’s right…but boy does it feel intense when plans become realityRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
Today Facebook launched a test with Publishers which I’ve been following for quite some time given it’s proximity to our work here at Wildcard. The program enables Facebook to render 3rd party content from publishers like the New York Times, BBC, and Buzzfeed natively within Facebook. So when your friends share a link to the NYT in Facebook, instead of having to click it and get sent out of Facebook to the NYT website, the articles content is displayed in the Facebook app…it feels like it’s part of the app…and you don’t have to wait to load a webpage…does that sound familiar? The New York times says “the so-called instant articles will load up to 10 times faster than they normally would since readers stay on Facebook rather than follow a link to another site.”
I’m really excited to see FB take such a strong position that links to webpages is an unacceptable user experience on mobile. For us at Wildcard, we have built the technology to enable any app, including our own, to display 3rd party content natively in the same way that this Facebook trial does. We built the tools for publishers to push their content in in this format, we built the tools for an app to display it alongside the content from their own API seamlessly, and we built our vision of what this native web consumption experience can feel like to consumers in our IOS app. The thing that we have not done yet, which Facebook obviously put a ton of time and energy into, is figure out how the money flows to publishers in a way that aligns the users’ experience in a discovery channel like FB or Google Now and the publishers top line. The NYT makes money off of display ads on webpages…and those ads don’t follow their content into environments that render it natively…and while the publishing world is aware that they need to think beyond this form of monetization…giving up this revenue this quarter or next in exchange for other value like native app installs, subscription, etc…is a tall order for most top line focussed businesses. It’s a pretty thorny problem…where Snapchat discover (which also hosts publisher content natively), and Facebook have the scale to monetize on behalf of CNN or the NYT and then provide a rev share to ease the pain into what is obviously an inevitable future, Groupme or Foursquare might not. But Groupme users should be able to read the NYT 10x faster like they do in FB now…and Foursquare users should be able to read the Eater review 10x faster like they do in Facebook…even “native” monetization solutions like outbrain and taboola that could follow publishers’ content around to these new discovery environments rely on real estate that surrounds an article…which is not available when content is rendered in a 3rd party app.
We’ve been thinking a lot about what native monetization looks like for CNN or NYT beyond the FB specific program or the Snapchat specific program, under the assumption that all apps will be able to display their content 10x faster in a native app based internet…but frankly we aren’t big enough to be the defining force that answers this question over the next 24 months. I think the question will get answered in this time frame…we can and have built the infrastructure to enable such a reality…and I’m hopeful and excited to see giants like FB hacking away at the business model for publishers to win while graduating from a mobile webpage based mindset….because loading webpages on phones is simply unacceptable.
Today is just another step in the direction of replacing links to webpages with native renderings of content and experience. Call it a card…call it an instant article…call it a rich pin…I don’t care…it’s a win for users and a deep confirmation of the future I’ve been obsessed with for the last 2 years.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
My entire life I have always felt a little bit different…not necessarily an outcast…but certainly not normal. This was an idea that was reinforced by my family, and friends, early professional relationships, etc…words like weird or crazy were commonplace earlier in life, and I embraced them as welcome pieces of my identity…conformity was disgusting…uniqueness was important…and I got pretty good at being a weird or different person in environments made up of “non-weirds.” I remember when I started my first company 7 or 8 years ago…entrepreneurship felt like a path that was for the weird, or non-traditional…here was a vocation that was designed for people like me…where I wouldn’t have to fit into someone else’s culture or norms…where my path was anti-path but there was a word for it called startup, that loosely collected the other people to whom “the normal path” didn’t make sense. Admittedly, there may have been some naivitee in this feeling, but at the time entrepreneurship was place where the different could thrive, and I liked that…
Lately I’ve been noticing that entrepreneurship isn’t so different anymore. What was once the anti-path is now kind of becoming the path…for high potential college grads, people leaving wall st, etc…the types of people who were calling me weird are now regular participants in startupland…these days for every Charles Forman there’s a bain consultant or two and I’m wondering if startupland is going to feel less like home to the next set of not-normals who are looking for where they belong in the professional world. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, or that the bain consultants don’t belong here…a lot of those folks are crushing it, building successful businesses, etc…I’m just interested in where the “crazies” might go next, if startupland becomes the new normal path.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 5 so far )
I read this piece by Oliver Sacks in the times last week, and have reread it 5 or 6 times since. It’s a reflection upon learning that he has terminal cancer. Read it before continuing, it’s beautiful.
I couldn’t figure out exactly why it spoke to me so deeply, but now I know. Sack’s sets up a framework between living in “matters of the present” vs. “matters of the future” which rings very true to me. Friends, travel, enjoying each day…these are matters of the present that anyone alive can choose to prioritize. There is common wisdom that guides us to “live in the present,” and workaholics are always warned of the hospice nurse who reminds us that “the dying never say ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.’” Peace in the middle east, global warming…these are matters that belong to the future. Unresolved…but hairy problems that are only of concern to someone who will be here tomorrow, or next year when solutions are more in reach.
I found it fascinating that Sacks has chosen to live in the present in his last months, not because he wishes he had done it differently before, but rather because he can no longer have a role in matters of the future. I love the notion that matters of the future, when put against the present, represent struggle and effort…that matters of the future are work…and focussing on them is…by definition…not living in the present…yet Sacks obviously valued his participation in these matters as, if not more deeply, than those of the present. I loved the gratitude he expresses around having had “an intercourse with the world. The special intercourse a writers and readers.” I take away form these words that work and struggle, and toiling with the future is a great privilege…and that “living in the moment” while such a privilege is available to us is to forgo a right granted to all with a tomorrow.
I live this privilege to toil with future…everyday…as I go to work…and struggle…to answer questions unanswered…
Not everyday does it feel like a privilege…when your run down, and tired, and the answers aren’t coming fast enough…when the next meeting on you calendar looks like a brick fucking wall…remember what a deep privilege it is not to be traveling…not to be living to enjoy each day…you are exercising your right to deeply participate in matters of our future. Sacks had the intercourse of writers and readers, and we have the intercourse of startups and users…and when we reach the moment where necessity commands we give up this right…when we have to travel, and enjoy each day…we will look at this intercourse with the deepest gratitude, and not wish we had done more yoga and bike rides…There is an army of youth who surrender to matters of the present before required…they are surfing and meditating and seeing the world…and when they face the moment that they can no longer concern themselves with matters of the future, they won’t even realize the privilege they lose…
Some days…when living in matters of the future is particularly hard…when the struggle has been the struggle for too many days…I long to surrender my privilege…to move to the mountains and live moment to moment…how much easier life would be without the toil of tomorrow…but I will not…until i see my end as clearly as I see what could be.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
We’ve got this new product coming out at Wildcard. It’s for IOS developers and I’m really excited about it. You know that feeling when your in a nice, fast app…and then you click a link and it kicks you out to a slow, weird, frustrating webpage…yea that sucks…and it’s really the only choice IOS developers have if they want to show you content from other places in their apps…Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, and Google Now all recognized how bad this sucks, and invested a lot of time and money building a way to show 3rd party content (or links) natively in their apps. Each built a proprietary card platform to handle links and transform them into native cards to save you that frustrating click out. Well…for every other IOS developer, who doesn’t have tons of money to invest in that infrastructure, Wildcard has developed a free IOS SDK that gives you that functionality for free in a few lines of code. Watch the video below and holler if you’d like to test it: email@example.com.
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At Wildcard we build product very fast, and we release new stuff almost every week. The good part about that, is that if you dream it and if our users want it, we can build it…in fact, there isn’t a single thing you can contemplate that we can’t design and build…the bad part of that is that with so much product, keeping a unified message across our products and audiences, and getting the correct message to the correct audience, can be a little exhausting. We have product for consumers, and product for publishers, and soon product for app developers…all oriented around the same fundamental pain point…which is that webpages suck on your phone. We have a belief that webpages will not be how you interact with the internet on your phone 5 years from now, and that a technology and design movement known as “cards” or “native cards” is replacing the legacy web. We are a design and engineering driven group of 23 people who are ready to become a “design and engineering and marketing driven group of 24 people.” This is not your typical startup marketing opportunity, where an app wants distribution, so they hire someone to go get them installs, and that’s the gig. This is a leadership opportunity where your first and most important goal is to infuse marketing DNA and thinking into our entire team. We believe that chemistry between disciplines is essential to success. If you come here you will be expected to learn and appreciate everyone’s individual crafts, whether those be data science or mobile design, and in turn, find a way to communicate your craft to all of us.
With that as a baseline, step two is to be the smartest marketing mind in New York City, independent of what medium and channels are available to us today, tomorrow, or 12 months from now. You might have apprenticed under a master at Kayak, or Venmo, or Squarespace and this is your chance to run the show…or you might have been the master and this is your chance to change the internet. Either way, you are literally coming into a company with zero marketing/growth infrastructure in place. So there is an element of roll up your sleeves, figure this shit out with us, teach us what best in class means in your discipline, and then layer in the right people on your team to execute well. We’re an incredibly curious and fast learning group, and we’re ready to develop as marketing and growth thinkers. We have world class leadership in every discipline we practice…our leadership and team have all successfully started and sold companies in the past, and we’ve chosen to come together to tackle a very ambitious, very amazing problem. I don’t think we have an “easy” or “clear cut” marketing challenge with many analogs and known solutions…I think this is a gig that will require extreme creativity, self-confidence, and persistence…but for the right person, I can assure you it will be fascinating, and you will get to join a wonderful ride, build a brand, and grow a company with a very special group of people.
What does success look like? If you crush it, Wildcard will be a household name. 8 out of 10 people you meet will know that it’s the best way to access the web on your phone. 8 out of 10 Apps will know it’s an obvious replacement to the Safari webview, and 8 out of 10 web publishers will know cards are the best way to natively reach users who haven’t yet installed their apps.
1) You built and grew a brand that we know…we know it because of your effort.
2) You are a good person
3) You want to replace Safari and Chrome with the world’s first “native browser” and you’re not afraid to try to message that to people who don’t know what “native” is or even what a “browser” is
Comp: Extremely competitive comp, meaningful equity, great benefits
Start: whenever you’re ready
A bit of launch Press:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
What does a CEO do in the two weeks leading up to his startup’s launch day? 99 out of a 100 times the answer is “hustle his ass off, line up press, deeply scrutinize product, figure out distribution playbook, create email lists, coordinate the blast, develop playbook for how to work social channels, target influencers, help the team sane while they are sprinting to the finish line, put out fires, etc. etc. etc.”
What did I do in the two weeks leading up to Wildcard’s launch? Lay in bed, sweating out a super intense fever, shiver, sleep, alternate between advil and tylenol every 4 hours for 13 days straight, and stress about how I couldn’t do almost any of the things I should have been doing because I was the sickest I’ve ever been in my life.
The first day I was in the office was the day before launch, when I squeezed out about 3 hours of work before dropping like a brick. I remember scheduling a Techcrunch conversation with Sarah Perez and telling her 11AM is better than noon because my fever usually spikes around noon each day…”hopefully that’s ok?”
Overall I think our launch went pretty well. No major fires, a bunch of thoughtful press. Some fair criticism and a lot of generous support and excitement…when people ask me how it was I generally say 8.75 out of 10…and that is almost entirely thanks to a handful of amazing people here stepping up and picking up my slack to make everything happen. While I was pretty depressed that I couldn’t do my job in a critical time after a year and half of build up, I was pretty inspired that we had built a team that could do my job for me…about as well as I could have done it myself.
So that was the two weeks leading up to launch…but this story doesn’t end there…after another two weeks of remaining ill (albeit slightly less ill)…i started spending a lot of time at doctor’s offices, trying to figure out what the hell was going on…blood test after blood test, results were not regular…white blood cell counts were high even when my fever went away, and then my doctors notices something in my blood called myelocytes. Myelocytes are immature cells that get spit out from your bone marrow before fully differentiating…a quick search on google will confirm that they are often an indication of mallignancy and this news sort of brought me out of the sphere of “fuck this is a bad virus” into the sphere of “fuck is this lymphoma or leukemia?” After a horrendous experience interacting with a sea of physicians assistants and doctors that were not MY doctor, I finally got 30 seconds with the dude who has been giving me physicals for the last 15 years and he sent me to a hematologist/oncologist. Occasionally myelocytes can be present in your blood when you are just really sick…and a bad infections or viruses throw your body, including your bone marrow so out of whack that they spit those puppies out before they are ready…but I’d have to go see a specialists to figure out what was going on.
Yesterday, I finally got the last test result back and I am home free…in the clear…no more myelocytes, normal white blood cells, no more follow up appointments…back to business as usual…but the last 5 weeks or so in total have been pretty fucking rough. I’m not sure exactly why i’m writing this all out, but this is a space where I usually reflect on things that are on my mind…and for the last month when normally Wildcard would have been my entire life…in reality…it was pretty hard to focus on Wildcard…and I guess writing this out just provides some kind of closure to an experience I’ve never really had before, but that I suppose bcomes a part of life as you get beyond your invincible 20’s…
As I really settle back into a more normal mindspace…as I really check in with where we are as a company…and dedicate the mindshare that I am used to allocating to it…I am struck by the contrast between today and yesterday before I got those results. I can’t help but observe that import is relative, not absolute. Day to day it definitely feels absolute. Work can be so intense. Get a hire, lose a hire, win a deal, lose a deal, succeed or fail…these things FEEL so heavy…so important…when their is nothing heavier in your immediate vicinity…and even when something heavier emerges…health…9/11…ebola…etc… how fleeting that moment when the heavy becomes light in the face of something greater…our memories are so short…less than 24 hours before Wildcard’s homescreen is as consuming as “does my blood have cancer in it.” I know that is a bit extreme to say…but it is incredibly difficult to consistently maintain the notion that import is relative…or even to hold the contextual and the universal or truth side by side…to see import on a spectrum as opposed to a point.
I’m not sure there is anything to do with this reflection, except to remember that even the heaviest points, the ones that make the everyday feel unimportant…they are just points as well…and there are things out there of an even greater weight…that we are I suppose fortunate not to hold in our minds…for fear that everything would be reduced to nothingRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
I read this morning that Fab was selling for $15M, half cash half stock, 18 months after raising $150M at a $1.5B valuation…As I clicked through to the article, I felt the same disgusting feeling you feel when driving by a car accident and trying to catch a glimpse of the blood and gore. It’s an ugly behavior…a guilty, sensational, non-empathetic lust to watch the wreck in all it’s gruesome detail…and for some reason we, here in startupland, can’t get enough of the high profile gore. We say that failure is acceptable in this world, and when a seed funded company doesn’t make it to the A round, we generally embrace that human and try to lift them up as opposed to scrutinizing his fall, but when fancy people fail, when a high profile person’s new product flops, or a company once on a tear, hit’s a bump in the road, it’s such an easy story, or off color comment, or joke to crack…that we actually bond over watching the car crash together…it’s just a sick behavior.
What does this say about our tolerance for exploration? How can we encourage risk taking, and pushing the envelope when we behave like this? Why does past success or praise somehow strip a founder or company of their right to be imperfect? This world loves to jump on the bandwagon when something is hot, and loves to jump off and judge when the same thing cools off…and there’s this implicit “i was right about this” or “i saw this coming” or everyone else who was bragging about “being right” on the way up was actually wrong and somehow their loss levels things out and becomes my gain…it’s just such an ugly, detached relationship to the creative process…and it only really exists in people who are just far enough a way to look at the thing that’s being judged, as opposed to the process of creation, the risk taking, the attempt…which comes in many flavors, and in my opinion is beautiful even when it ends in defeat.
I know absolutely nothing about Fab…i’m not an investor, have never met them, didn’t bother to read what went right and what went wrong…but if it’s not Fab this week, it’s something else last week or next week…and I’m a little tired of the sensationalism and expose (ex-pose-ay…i don’t know how to make that e character w the thing over it), camera rolling in your face, snickering that comes with a visible defeat. Next time you find yourself judging someone else’s attempt at creation from your arm chair, rather than lust in the savory details, get off your fucking ass and create something instead.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 6 so far )
After a year and a half of incredibly hard work, recognizing that we have MANY years of work ahead, today we are releasing the first version of the Wildcard card browser. If you have an iPhone, you can download it here, and if you’re reading this on a desktop you can click this link and scroll down to receive a text with the appstore link.
I believe that one day Wildcard will replace whatever legacy browser you are using on your phone. It’s clear to me that the browser is the worst user experience on every iPhone owner’s homescreen, and the rise of card technology and card design I believe represents an answer to this reality. While 1.5 years of work may seem like a long time, it is still early days for cards and the native internet…every major platform (Twitter Cards, Facebook OpenGraph, Pinterest Rich Pins, Google Cards, Facebook Applinks, etc.) is working on their version of solutions, and every publisher and developer is being asked to rethink their dependance on legacy webviews in a mobile world. For publishers, cards represent a native interaction with a user that hasn’t installed their app yet, deeplinks represent a native interaction with a user that has, and mobile webviews represent the worst first/last impression you will ever make on a new user.
For consumers, native (app technology) has clearly won, but we’ve lost discovery, and browsing, and easy movement between experiences…the most fundamental thing about my desktop web experience was and still is that I can open a browser, type anything into that box, and get back relevant results that are actionable and usable without installing new software…that is a super power…and it’s what Wildcard hopes to return to you in this mobile first life we are all living. Why should you have to wade through a sea of blue links to broken pages and inconsistent experience when every other app on your phone is beautiful, clean, fast and easy to use. Your web experience should be like that too, and Wildcard is a better way to get what you need from the web.
Like any new technology, this is a Version 1. A beginning of a better mobile web experience, but not without plenty of room for improvement. I sent a note to our team earlier this week, after reflecting about what today’s launch represents, and I wrote that this release is about putting out the first chapter of product that we are deeply proud of, standing behind it, and writing the rest of the book in the open, with participation and feedback from users, developers, publishers, and the market as a whole.
I stand by that thought. Most specifically, Wildcard represents direct access to and discovery of a burgeoning native web. The access part—the browser—we’ve got down pretty well. The discovery part—card search—we’ve done a ton of work to bootstrap in the absence of being live, but it needs users and your help to take it to the next level. Card search feels kind of similar to when Apple launched Siri. Awesome new technology, didn’t nail it 100% of the time, but when she did it was great and she improved every day. That’s what Card search is gonna feel like for a while too. You’ll also start to notice that new cards will be popping up in Wildcard…soon you might be able to find a ticket, check a yoga schedule, etc. etc…so keep searching and watch as things unfold.
Last thought, if you are a publisher or developer or anyone with an online presence who wants to create, manage, or control your cards in Wildcard, or in general…we’ve got great tools for you to do that and we hope you’ll take advantage of them. And if you’re an app that is chomping at the bit to display cards instead of mobile webviews inside your experience, hang tight…we’ve got something coming for you…
Thanks so much for giving Wildcard a try. The more you use it, the faster it will become what you want it to be.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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