The tech layoff wave is far from over | Equity Podcast

This episode is sponsored by Morgan Stanley atwork visit Assessment to get your free transaction Readiness assessment [Music] Today hello and welcome back to equity a Podcast about the business of startups Where we unpack the numbers and the Nuance behind the headlines today is February 2nd 2024 Welcome to our Friday Show where we sit down with a group of Friends and then we talk about the news That's been going on in the last couple Of days so I have brought several Friends along with me today one is Kirsten corac tuch wi's Transportation Editor and Senior reporter hi hi so Happy to be here today most excellent And in a surprise and a lovely little Bit of news we have Karine Levy with us Today she's been on the show before but This is her first time ever sitting down With us for an entire news Roundup Karine you are a managing editor on on The techwrench plus team how are you I'm Doing great thanks for having me on the Show again absolutely and if you're Thinking to yourself where is our dear Friend Maryann as a vetto well she is Off taking care of family this week she Shall return she has all of our love and Support and we'll have her back in your Ears before you know it but on the show Today we have an absolutely jam-packed

Episode we are going to talk up top About the social media Senate hearing Then deals of the week we have zoom ramp And venue and metronome and then for Themes today we're talking about layoffs In the world of fintech and what happens When you infuse AI into VC but first my Friends uh yesterday I don't know if you Were glued to C-SPAN as I was but a Number of social media is CEOs were Dragged before Congress and then I don't Know how to describe it um shouted at For hours I think might be the fair way To say it did you guys watch this I Didn't actually watch it but I have seen These before and from what I got off of Um other news reporting it was much more The same which is nothing nothing Happened yes so I caught a little bit of It but I would love to hear what your Worst part of it was please the worst Part of it was um Senator cotton Haring The CEO of Tik Tok trying to figure out If he was a member of the Chinese Communist Party even though he's Singaporean and this led to a really Kind of racist series of questions about Like do you have a Chinese passport he's Like no I'm Singaporean do you have dual Citizenship nope just Singapore and it Went on and on it was just I didn't know That the number one Factory for cringe In the world was Congress but now I Think I've been convinced that this is

The bottom of the uh of the barrel any Takeaways from it I mean I think we've All been here before it's very Deja Vu And as someone who once had the pleasure Of living in DC and covering the hill I Can tell you wow yep I've seen that in Person xenophobia on display and all That aside it it does show that a again Often times lawmakers are catching up With technology and really show their Lack of understanding around things and I'm not saying every single one of them Do but it's Certainly it's a proof point and and This I see this even on my own beat with Autonomous vehicles it's like they're Catching up and making potential laws Around subject matters that they don't Totally understand or the technology is Already so much part of culture and Society that is very hard to clob back Yes I I agree with that entirely the Only thing that I want to bring up for Our friends who are with us today on the Show is that it does appear that section 230 which essentially provides a a legal Framework for protection for platforms To not be responsible for what their Users post or share on those platforms Is bipartisanly hated and I think this Is a very dangerous moment for the Internet for startups for Tech platforms Big and small because it does appear That they have lost the support of the

The Congressional body that once gave Them this protection and I don't think We have the internet as we have it today Without section 230 at least in the the US so I'm I'm worried I guess the Question is then is this theater or is There enough actual political will to Really be a threat to section 230 so you Know we'll see what happens but maybe we Should talk about some actual material News that happened this week results I'm Here for it let's go all right well my Deal of the week is a company uh founded In 2015 called Zoom zum not the video Streaming company that we're all Familiar with and is publicly traded no This is a company that was founded by a Woman named Ru Naran in like I said 2015 And it's all around I hate to use the Word disruption but disrupting or Changing old school ways of how kids got To school student transportation so we All all know how at least how I used to Get to public school was walk to the Corner get on a yellow school bus y um These are diesel you go to your school And that's how you get to school Basically what they created was it's a Two-part building out a fleet eventually Of all electric vehicles a mix of buses Vans things like that is not all Electric today but that's the eventual Goal so there's the emissions and health Aspects of that but also on the

Background sort of a cloud-based Analytics software that routes students Smartly based on their needs and their Location to and from school so that's That's what the company does and the News the material piece is that they Raised $140 Million and their valuation is now 1.3 Billion so many questions about this one I love the idea getting kids to school Faster better more Health oriented Le Wise love it I mean I grew up on the Same buses that you did and we used to Sit in the back next to the big engine Part because it was Warmer that's not great it's probably Full of fumes this is probably why I'm So dumb I could have been smarter but With the buses they got me uh but the Real question is is okay so some Software some EVS some students to me it Sounds like a really cool Community idea Not a venture bable startup I'm clearly Wrong about that but it just sounds like A low margin business to me Kristen so What am I missing in this model that Makes it a unicorn that just raised nine Figures I only can answer part of that Question because the company wouldn't Answer my questions around financials so Things around revenue revenue growth Except for to say things are great which Doesn't give me much information but What I can say is that it may be a low

Margin business but it's certainly Scalable because schools are everywhere And the company is already working in a Number of school districts in San Francisco Los Angeles Oakland Seattle Chicago and Nashville these are huge Districts with big problems and I should Say one of the biggest issues as another Lifetime ago when I was very young I was An education reporter buessing is Directly Linked In some cities to things Like open enrollment and busing kids to Certain schools to actually help with Diversity in some cities like including In Milwaukee and there is very much an Issue with finding drivers enough Drivers and there's a lot of cost around It so if you can find a way School District find a way to reduce costs and Maybe not use the giant school bus to Pick the two kids up save money really Recapture a lot of capital to already Stress budgets all right so Karine you Have a child that attends an educational Facility I'll leave it vague um what's Your take on this so I'm really stoked On this actually because like you said Like you know walking down to the corner And there's the bus and it is full of Fumes you know I live in California so I'm all for the EV side of this and if It's going to clean up you know the Environment and what the kids are doing Then you know bring it on I'm looking

Forward to it launching in the peninsula Where I live right South of San Francisco you live in the greater San Francisco if you will correct uh Pearson Though so I do know they've some big Contracts and those contracts with Different school districts can be worth I think up into the nine figures Themselves yeah of course and this is Again where I would love to look under The hood if you will of this company and Really know what their margins are and And how sustainable it is there's Clearly a demand and a need for it based On my understanding of uh the pressure On budgets and the capital cost of Transporting students which is something That is mandated if we can do that more More effectively efficiently and at the Same time achieve zero emissions great Can the company make money though in the Meantime is kind of the big question Here can it survive but I think this is Good news for them they've certainly Been growing they're still at it they Survive covid I mean that's kind of a Feed in itself so stay tuned on Zoom I Have a question before we move on if if Scooters that are electric and were Purchased with Capital dollars we called Micr Mobility if this is buses that are Purchased with Venture Capital dollars Is this a macr Mobility Company sure yeah I suppose you could

Can can we coin that I'm not really Kidding I'm kind of asking oh sure let's Call it macr Mobility nice okay cool now We can move on thank you coined here Coined here coined here by three nerds Who are talking through the news all Right Karine uh you have a story from Ramp which is a fintech company we've Covered on this show at nauseum because Maryann and I have known it since it was A little tiny thing and apparently it Has been busy with the checkbook yeah so It's actually went you know from being a Tiny little thing to now being kind of a Huge thing and um so this week it bought A company called venue which is an AI Company uh that was launched in 2022 it Was for an undisclosed amount I asked uh Around if I could find you know how much They bought it for but nobody would tell Me so I guess they're not disclosing Before that they raised about 1.2 Million from SE And other big names so we can kind of Maybe guess around there what the value Was when they bought it this is ramp's Second acquisition in the past year to Focus on procurement which is you know Simplifying vendor relationships among Other things when they've first got into It was August so they're kind of you Know ramping that up ramping that up Slowly slowly but the first AI Acquisition was a company called coher

Doio and all that doio has always messed Me up because I'm like You have say it though because it Doesn't make sense cohere is a word Coherence is a movie coh here. is the Startup so I think you it's like in the In the late 90s when you had to say Dotom with everything because no one Knew what you were talking about like it Wasn't Amazon it was it's Cohere doio what about the Facebook can I call it the coh here. sure that built An AI customer uh support tool so They're slowly slowly kind of you know Flexing their AI capability You know brex is another one its main Competitor they are also going into AI So I don't know is this like AI is Taking over yet another segment you know What is this I have a couple questions So you said this is their second Acquisition over the past year to build Up procurement so what does this company Startup what Gap does it fill that that First acquisition didn't is it really Just an aqua hire type of situation Where we're just just grabbing Talent or Is it really like there's some specific IP or you know specific software that That they're capturing here and when Those two pieces fit together it makes The perfect complete circle of Technology I think so I think it's Probably a little bit of both they just

Entered the procurement space so this is A another way of simplifying that and Adding whatever the you know the IP was From venue to their offerings plus the Talent of course but both brex and ramp Have you know gone really hardcore for The Enterprise market and I think that When ramp first went into procurement Their first you know big contract was With Shopify so I think you know they're Both kind of really targeting these big Players and so that means that they need Like all the help that they can get I Think in this case it was both the IP And the people yeah I mean look if you Raise 1.2 and you sell it's because you Weren't making enough progress no no Founder would sell that early on a Normal Venture Capital Cadence if they If they were crushing it because you can Make a lot more money for yourself by Staying Indie but that doesn't mean that It's a bad result I mean picking up ramp Stock which I presume this deal was Partially in cash partially in stock Just because why not it's not a bad Thing to hold on to certainly not a Failure just not quite becoming as big As ramp did the thing though is that Yeah sure brex and ramp both going after AI both going after the Enterprise blah Blah blah but brex is doing layoffs and Ramp is doing acquisitions and those are Pretty much on the opposite ends of the

Corporate Health scale Kirsten right I Mean it feels like a big distinction oh Absolutely it is and we don't really Know who's going to be corporations Aren't who what am I saying um we don't Are people my Friend we don't really know which Corporation strategy is going to be the Winner until it all plays out because as I've seen and you've seen we've seen the Companies that say oh there's a lot of Consolidation happening in the Marketplace right now we were lean let's Take advantage of this opportunity and Spend money that could turn out great or They're the ones are like o we don't see Economic conditions really improving We're going to do some Cuts now which One is going to be the winner in this is A little bit hard to tell but I will say This there's a lot of consolidation and Opportunities happening right now Certainly in this th Tech space and There is if you have the money for it And you're not over spending and you've Been Fairly strict with your spending this is A good opportunity agreed agreed agreed I would not be shocked to see more of These smaller dollar implied fintech Tuck-in deals a lot of things got built That might be more features than Products and as some of the unicorns in The fintech world look around with some

Extra cash why not grab it some more of That to come and just real quick on the Other side of it for the AI companies You know I read a story recently that Said that they are having a hard time Finding a place finding money finding You know where they're going to go so For on their side like being acquired by These bigger companies totally makes Sense and helps them live longer or at Least their technology can live longer Yeah a million dollars goes a long way Until you hire Engineers or train an AI Model then it's you know a whole zero or Two short so yeah it's expensive okay so On the money side though my deal of the Week is metronome which just raised $43 Million in capital and this is the Nerdiest won EST deal ever so metronome Has made software to help companies Offer consumption-based billing often in Addition to traditional SAS billing so If you think back a couple years ago Especially as twilio's valuation had Soared to the absolute Stratosphere During covid people were discussing how SAS and the kind of per seat per year Model had some inefficiencies for the Buyer why not just offer software Effectively really as a service use as Much as you pay for for pay for as much As you need and and then it turned out That that was a little bit tricky in Certain cases but metronome has seen 6X

AR growth and just put together a round That uh dramatically increases valuation So I think there must be a lot of market Demand for this stuff anyways yeah that Is very wonky and I'm wondering where They found the niche like where you Mentioned that it's complicated so is This most suited for the smallest of Smallest businesses that period Periodically use or need the software But not necessarily in a consistent Basis like who is the customer here so The best way to explain this is the Recent AI boom has been a boom for Metronome because they are helping a lot Of AI companies offer their services on A pay as you need basis and you know We're talking names like open AI Anthropic the big model companies and so As they've scaled because they're using Metronome Tech metronome has seen its Own Revenue go up because shocking Enough Kirsten they are charging for Their product also on a consumption Basis so as their customers use more of It by charging their customers for using More of it metronom as well so Essentially metronome is like the second Order growth effect of how fast open Ai And anthropic are scaling themselves if You want to think about it that way okay And the reason why I bring all that up Is because you know often if you're Going to make um kind of like an API

Call to a AI model you pay per how much You're using ero metronome the thing is I recently chewed through some data from A called maxio which was the result of a Merger of chargify and SAS Optics if I Recall correctly it's a SAS company and They were taking a look at the growth Rates for companies that charge for Software on a per seat basis so Subscription or consumption which is What we're talking about here and the Data is really kind of interesting if You are a very small software company Growing on a consumption basis is very Very tough but accelerates as you get Bigger so as you get bigger using that Model you tend to grow faster SAS or Subscription on the other hand is much More stable so it's a little easier at The front but doesn't grow as fast later On and so I think we're seeing some more Divergence in how software companies Charge for their work that's not just in In model type but also in kind of like The shape of the business it forms and So I'm very excited about all of this But yeah 43 mil led by Nea didn't share The valuation pitchbook as is 350 Million post money up from about 150 Million post set in their series a back In 2021 so for fintech doubling since 21 Who else is doing that it's a winner do They have any other competitors is this A market for the taking or are there

Others chomping at their heels well I Mean you can think about companies that Have been well known for the Subscription business model for a long Time I mean Zora is public sure of Course sure I think there's companies That are doing this type of work I think Archetype is one my memory is a little Blank here K this is a great question That I should have prepped for uh but no I presume that there's more than one Company doing this because there's Always more than one is my is my take on Things okay so here's my very quick Follow-up question to it how you talked About the difference between you know Your traditional subscription SAS and Then this consumption base model do you See even though it's kind of a little Bit nichy and a little bit complicated Do you see a point where this will pivot More companies will pivot to that model As they scale like they'll switch from That stable SAS model to more of a Consumption model and therefore we're Going to start seeing more of these I'm Asking for a prediction here so I think The prediction is that the dichotomous Choice between one or the other is false I think what we're going to instead see Is companies that offer some of their Software or capabilities on a SAS basis And then some of them that are offered More on a consumption basis and honestly

Uh this is actually a fun question Because I think what we will see is a Lot of companies offer their kind of Core offering on a subscription basis But then allow for AI usage on a usage Basis because they probably don't want To guess what everyone's AI usage is Going to be and then have edge cases Blowing the economics out of the water So that's I can kind of see everyone end Up with a two-part business model Frankly I think that'd be cool Interesting yeah but enough about SAS Pricing and the nuances thereof I know Some of you are sitting there going oh God Equity people be quiet talk about Something I do care about and so we will We're going to talk about block and PayPal right after this very short break [Music] Is your company planning to go public or Conduct a shareholder liquidity program Within the next 18 to 24 months did you Know that proactively planning for your Next private company liquidity event or IPO can help you maintain greater Control over timelines and outcomes Morgan Stanley at work believes that When you have the right technology and Systems in place working in harmony Leading up to a transaction you can Prepare and execute with more accuracy And ease visit morg assessment to connect with

Their issuer strategy and Excellence Team for a free assessment to find out If your company is transaction ready Again that's Assessment to get your free assessment Today all right Karine I presume you are A cash app user I am actually not really Yeah I know isn't that a surprise are You a venmo user I am a venmo person yes Ken are you more venmo or cash app I Used to be more of a cash app and it's Gone more venmo mostly because other People have and so but every time every Single time I volunteer for this Nonprofit and I run their like little Sale or whatever we do cash app we don't Do venmo interesting cuz I'm 100% Veno But I figured I was in the minority and Was uncool but now I feel actually very Much in good good friendship here Because we're talking about the Companies behind those products block And PayPal both of which are going under Going even more layoffs the macro Picture here Karine we wrote about for Tech pun plus recently is that Tech Layoffs have accelerated much more so Than we saw in the back half of last Year and in fact in January alone According to layoffs to FYI we have seen More layoffs in q1 of this year thus far Than in the last two quarters so first Of all thoughts about the cuts and then Two Karine what do you got for us on U

Block and PayPal yeah well I think the Cuts are interesting that they're still Happening it felt like you know 2023 was Like okay everybody's doing a correction Like this makes sense it's terrible it Makes sense it makes sense and now it's Like starting to make less and less Sense from an outside perspective I mean Businesses have to cut costs and this is Unfortunately one of the ways to do that But what does it mean what does it mean For these companies that they're doing That well I think it means that growth Is not where they thought it was going To be and there's less gross profit than Expected kirston and so they're probably Just looking at profitability and going sure that's probably part of it I Will say that you know historically if It's publicly traded companies that We're talking about they're often times Rewarded for cutting back and layoffs Traditionally happen in January and also At the end of the fiscal year which is June July time so how much of this is About economic condition and how much of This is about well we've made these cuts And been rewarded about it so far Inflation is still kind of there let's Do a few more cuts and this is the time Of year to do it I think there's a Combination of that happening in the Marketplace right now and so it's hard Sometimes to pick is the company hurting

Or is this opportunistic oh that's a Really good question and it's hard to Say because both PayPal and block don't Report earnings for a couple days so When I was going through and prepping For this little segment I was trying to Figure out what's their financial Performance what can we take away from That and the last thing we have is data Through you know Q3 which by now is Pretty dated so you know in a couple of Weeks time we'll have more but the thing That struck me was just how large these Cuts are you know a thousand people at Block that's a lot and then at PayPal It's going to be 2500 people through Both layoffs and also through just Closing some roles and I I kind of think About the workers because in theory Right everyone at those companies was Doing things and now there's fewer People to do the same number of things And so does this just end up with more Things per employee or are they actually Going to do fewer things total I I I Worry yeah I think we're going to learn A lot more once earnings are reported Because is this an organizational shift If you will um also I think that we're Still seeing even though I agree that I Thought it was a lot of this was over in 2023 there was a lot of hiring that was Going on and a little bit of Overspending that was going on in

2122 2022 and I'm wondering if that is Still a hangover from that a little bit But also this may be the case of the Companies Reorganizing and either phasing out Certain products and services you know Hopefully it's not oh fewer people doing More things because that's not a great Place to work so we'll see how it all Shakes out if this is more about hey We're actually phasing out certain Products and services and so therefore We don't need these people anymore yeah The thing that I was always told about Layoffs if you're going to do them as a Corporation is to cut once cut deep and Move on these companies cut several Times and cut pretty deep I mean the Block layoff is 10% of the staff which Is a lot and the PayPal is nine that's a Lot so I I guess we will get more Commentary about this in the Ence call Where did they cut and so forth but I I I think this the feeling of safety we All had as layoffs dwindled per month Last year um for this industry has Certainly gone away I I I do wonder if It's efficiency or performance but we've Also seen companies like OCTA recently Cut employees and they discussed getting To be a small smaller more Nimble Organization Google is trying to cut Back on bureaucracy and layers of Management it's it's almost like a like

A feast famine cycle like Tech gets a Little high on its own Supply over hires It Hoards talent and then sudden they're Like oh just kidding and they try to Shed Talent as fast as they can it's Very human to keep going up and down Like the bobbing of a boat in a very Choppy Lake yeah it's just not really Great to be the ones bobbing in the lake Which is what's happening with tech Workers right now and and we are seeing That also in some cases for instance in The case of Cruz where an event or Incident causes a great Reckoning and we Also have that scenario happening uh in The background with a few companies as Well yeah yeah that that was a it was a Precipitating incident I think you can Say correct yes sure uh Karine before we Move on to talk about Ai and VC last Word to you fintech layoffs have we seen The worst of it this year or shall the Blood continue to spill unfortunately I Have a feeling that the blood will Continue to spill that is just my Prediction because I just don't think That the great correction is over yet And I think that you know there was a Lot of bloat over the last year I don't Want to say that about fellow humans um But I think that that's true and I think That now we are just you know seeing the Outcome of that and I don't think it'll Stop yes all right but let's end on a

Slightly more positive note because There's some cool developments in the World of venture capital and one company Wants to go ahead and take Ai and use it To ingest data into these firms Kirsten What's up with the fine folks over at Cap VC this is an interesting one so cap VC is launching a tool for Venture Capital firms using an AI powered Operating system and my understanding is That basically inest sifts through all Of this data and helps them kind of Recognize the value proposition of Various startups that they might invest In and make decisions that's my Understanding of so it's taking a lot of Like unstructured data that a human Being might pour over and use their Let's say gut and also their expertise And experience Instead This is a Operating system that can do that and Then be used by the VC firm to you know Make make choices on investments yeah I Think this is fantastic anyone who's Gone through enough earnings Presentations from public companies Knows that what you do is you get your Finger on the scroll wheel you open it And you go scroll scroll scroll scroll Scroll like 40 pages of them talking About their market and their team and Their recent offsite and then finally You get to the damn income statement Which is what you want and then you have

To transcribe it by hand into your post And try not to make a mistake it is Tedious it is silly it is timeconsuming And this is a great place I think to Take you know modern AI tools and apply Them to hum drum digital work like this Just makes a lot of sense to me and also Your Venture Capital intern from you Know McKenzie or Wharton or whatever is Probably party and all that anyways so You don't want them transcribing your Numbers you want AI to do it AI never Parties I have a question is I mean does This replace what a VC would be doing Anyway like a due diligence thing or Will this just spit out the data and Then you know people can look at it and Take whatever they want from it so There's I think there's three bits to This one is the ingestion and sorting of Data two is the presentation of that Data and then what's also possible is Applying AI to help you make decisions I Think third bit we'll see how well it Works out but in the case of cap VC Certainly the first two things are for Sure and work and are going to save a Lot of time go back in time to like 2014 2015 I was at TC in my first dent and There was reporting out that AP or Reuters was using what we call robots Back then AI to write Financial stories And I and people were like oh this is Going to replace journalists you know

Whatever whatever and I was like that's Cool because it's doing all the stuff That I do no value on right and getting That out of the way so I can focus on What matters um because when kirston and I go through earnings reports we don't Need someone we don't need to ourselves Transcribe you know the history of their Gross profit margins we need to find the Interesting Nuance in the data itself And that is going to be much harder for AI to I think to tease out so K I think We're still be employed in a couple Years I I think we might be a little bit On different sides of that when that Whole thing was going on that you were Referring to I wasn't happy With that of using AI to write Financial Stories because I do think that the Process while if something collects the Data and provides the data for me I Still want to ingest the data and write It I don't want something writing as an Article for me ever as it applies to This cap VC tool if it is basically Creating a more efficient way and Accurate way and accurate is very Important here to sift through large Reams of data and then deliver that in An organized way so that a human being Can really look at that and that creates Some efficiency so that maybe they could For instance look at more startups in a Shorter period of time great that's the

Line for me though is collecting and Digesting and then presenting that data In interesting and smart ways great After that I'm not very Comfortable why don't I have this for my Inbox right like think about it this way VC's get doc sends they get PDFs they Get stuff from Pitch all these different Services that people use to send pitch Decks around to VCS and they provide Analytics and how much it's opened and Who opened it and all that good stuff For Founders yay and I'm glad that VC is Now of cap VC but I just want this for My inbox so it's like all right you've Got 7,000 emails today here's the you Know 94% of them are spam or whatever And like I feel like this should be Applied to not just stuff for investors I could use this for my life Totally I think that's the value of AI I'm you know in the same camp as Kirsten Like I don't want AI writing the stuff I Want AI to make it easier for me to Write this stuff right and I think that That's you know hopefully that's what They're doing here and you know in order To aggregate a lot more data quicker and Then get a human to look at it and to Figure out what the nuances are and to Figure out how to talk about it and how To write about it I think that that's Like a very key point in all this that All the you know AI enthusiasts are like

It's going to replace Every single job in the world and I Don't know if I want that I don't know If it'll replace every job in the world Because I've tried to have ai write Poetry many times and let me tell you People are not impressed with the Results so at least we will have a Market need for poets down the road AI Will not replace that goodness it's a High margin business everybody get your Verse I'm kidding U there are some other Companies in this bace we know about Companies like deck match and headline We also talked about a company last year That was working on helping VC Associates with the AI so it does seem That the AI boom that we're talking About in general in the world of tech is Also coming from the money that often Sits very much behind the technology Products that we use every day but we Are out of time my friends we have to Leave it there we will be back on Monday Wednesday and Friday of next week if not More frequently but if you need even More from your fine friends on the Equity crew we are Equity pod on X and Threads and we are Tech runch pods over On Tik Tok kren Karine you're the best Thank you so much marann will'll be back With us next week we love you all Goodbye Bye Equity is hosted by myself editor

And chief of Tech runch Plus Alex Wilhelm and Tech rench senior reporter Mary an aeto we are produced by Teresa Loans solo with editing by Kell Bryce Durban is our illustrator and a big Thank you to the audience development Team and Henry pette who manages Tech Wrench audio products thank you so much For listening and we'll talk to you next Time


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