Stasher, helps you to stash your luggage away during travels
In this interview, Joe talks to Jacob (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacob-wedderburn-day-499258111/, https://www.crunchbase.com/person/jacob-wedderburn-day), the CEO, and co-founder of the London-based startup stasher (https://stasher.com/, https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/citystasher). Stasher is similar to an Airbnb for luggage, where you can store your luggage on the day of departure at certain tourist hotspots and still do some sightseeing.
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During the interview, Jacob tells the story, how he came from studying economics to “real” business and how Airbnb paved part of the way for their startup idea. As usual for Joe, the interview goes sometimes off on some tangents. You will find the links below and if you watch the video interview, you also get to see the strange phone booth in all its abstract glory … Tune in to learn more
Alternatively, we wanted to call the Interview: “Stasher your reason to visit a dog café in Canada“
During the interview both are talking about:
- Economic downturn 1907 https://www.federalreservehistory.org/essays/panic_of_1907
- Economic downturn 2008 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_crisis_of_2007%E2%80%9308
- “Flying Saucers from Men in Black I” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_State_Pavilion
- Euston Station London https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euston_railway_station
- Kings Cross Station London https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_King%27s_Cross_railway_station
- Stasher at Time Square in New York City https://stasher.com/luggage-storage/new-york/times-square
Welcome to startuprad.io, your podcast and YouTube blog covering the German startup scene with news interviews and live events.
Joern: Morning this is Joern from …. We are your start up podcast and YouTube blog from Germany. I’m right now here in my cramped study as you can see in the background if you’re watching this on YouTube and I do have a guest live and direct from some phone booth in London. Hey!
Jacob: Hey, how is it going?
Joern: I’m doing great, thank you. We will soon learn what brought you to into this phone booth and stashing stuff away but first let’s talk a little bit about you because you have a master’s in economics. That’s usually not the average background for startup founder. How did you decide to do economics and then pivot towards startups?
Jacob: I guess it goes back to school. I always liked the idea of running a business; sort of being an entrepreneur being able to set my own agenda. My interest in the world of business put me to studying economics as a subject at school, which I really enjoyed. When I was trying to decide what to read at university it was a trade-off between math and economics. I always felt like economics had the sort of practical application, and the math was a little less challenging. It was kind of bringing that real-world application to what I liked about math that made me quite interested in economics. The timing was quite relevant because when I first started studying economics it was as the financial crash was happening, so it was a fascinating time to be to be reading this and to be interested. It seemed to me that everyone had built businesses and institutions up till now, and there was a crisis going on. Even really experienced people didn’t totally understand, and then people started to understand. It was an amazingly interconnected system anyway I found it really fascinating.
The course I went on to read was actually economics and business management. It was a brilliant course, I really enjoyed it. I did my masters in economics because I didn’t want to go straight into any kind of city career. I didn’t feel like banking or consulting, and those are the kind of companies that were coming around to the campus and trying to recruit. I didn’t feel like any of that was really sort of singing to me. It didn’t strike me as something I wanted to do. I like to gain theory; I liked what I was studying in terms of management. I actually really wanted an excuse to apply for something in practice. My co-founder Anthony I met when we were studying together at Oxford. We did economics together there and in the year that I was doing my master’s at UCL was the same year that we actually co-founded Stasher. It was this year we had the opportunity to explore this idea and build on what was just a really basic concept. We saw it as a side hustle. When we first started, it was a learning opportunity than anything else. I don’t think either of us fully appreciated at the time the potential of what we were building. We were certainly excited about it, and we talked about how we dreamed of building it into the company that it is today, and the kind of company it still has the potential to be. But it was very much like, “let’s just try. Let’s do something. Let’s learn from the experience”. That’s the background that kind took me to London where I was studying economics, which is where I was when we started Stasher.
Joern: I was smiling when you said the crisis. We do have some very senior listeners there, most people cannot see you right now. A lot of people would just listen to this interview, they can be already sure you’re not talking about the crisis of 1917. What crisis did you have in mind?
Jacob: Sorry, I was talking about 2008/2009 global financial crisis. As you remember this is when the subprime mortgages in America kick-started. It was like a domino effect, where so many economies went into recession and there was the blaming brothers. At the time, I was just starting to study economics. It seemed like a massive chaotic mystery that I wanted to understand a little bit better. I think from that point, if not slightly before, I was interested in the world of business and stocks but never really from the point of view wanting to go into the sort of City and training. I always said I had that angle where I wanted the coalface of capitalism, actually running a business and getting my hands dirty. I would that clarifies.
Joern: Okay, just a little bit teasing you. I was wondering when I first read and heard the idea about Stasher, I personally found it very good because I’ve spent one very long afternoon at JFK. At the time I was planning to leave New York in the late afternoon early evening or local time. I was trying to go to JFK to put my luggage in storage and then go and see see some sights around. I want to see the supposed flying saucers from ‘Men in Black’. I was there at JFK and they told me, “Sorry nothing here where you cannot store your luggage”, and I said “okay, “Can I check in?” and they said, “No, three hours before.” So, I was sitting there and wasting life time. So how did you get your idea, because I had this experience and I never got the idea –“Let’s do the Airbnb of luggage storage”?
Jacob: That’s one of the things I love so much about being in this businesses. I think almost everyone I’ve ever told the idea to has experienced something just like yourself. Or, can imagine themselves being in that experience where you’re traveling and the last thing you want to do is be worried about looking after your luggage. Or you don’t want it to stop you from you know being able to enjoy yourself to the full.
The idea for this came from a slightly different project that we originally worked on. So when we first had the idea for Stasher it was literally Airbnb for storage. It began when Anthony used to live centrally between Houston and Kings Cross. (These are the busiest stations in London for any listeners who aren’t familiar). He lived between them, and often friends and family asked him if they could leave stuff at his place because it was so convenient. That was when we thought maybe there’s an idea; maybe we could compete. Maybe we could offer a storage service in people’s homes. Airbnb obviously was just beginning to be hugely popular. In fact, by that point, it was hugely popular but I think it was really becoming the household name at that point. So people were increasingly familiar with sharing economy services. The sharing economy as a concept was taking root. People were trusting it more, and the timing seemed really perfect to explore something like this.
So we just dived right in and we made this website where people could book storage in Anthony’s flat and in my flat. For the beginning, those are the only two. We persuaded friends and family who somewhat reluctantly agreed to list their own homes on this website where people could book storage, and I’m glad that we did. It was essential because it allowed us to collect the initial data that helped to validate the idea and drive the direction we should be taking it in. I suppose it could have gone one of two ways because there are other startups which has made a real businesses out of long-term storage in people’s homes. Then imagining, here you’ve got a whole garage, a shed or spare rooms where you can do long-term storage for people who want an alternative to self-storage. But, when we were looking at it, at that point in time, we did serious research into cell storage.
We saw it was a crowded space; it was competitive, and there are a lot of warehouses. By coincidence, all the early customers who were coming to us were interested in short-term storage. So they were exactly as you described it; they were travelers, it was their last day and they just wanted the chance to make the most of the city without having to drag their bags around with them. They’ve been checked out and they couldn’t leave the bag at their air B&B or their vacation rental or even their hotel, in city centers where they’re busy or they were there for just a visit. Or, even locals who were going somewhere and didn’t want to bring their luggage or their bags on their work where their belongings with them. So we felt like we uncovered this niche of short-term storage. The only solution that existed at the time were station lockers, and in London, there’s only a handful of them left. They’re really expensive. They were charging 12.50 pounds, per bag per day which too seemed extortionate. We figured, we can do this for half the price and we can scale. We don’t have to set up facilities, hire staff to man them, or pay rent. We can literally find places that are willing to store stuff for for half the price of that and roll out massive scale. That was when we got really excited about the idea and that was around December 2015, January 2016.
So we started working with businesses at that point. That was when we thought shops and hotels are looking for ways to make ancillary revenue. They are open very regular hours, if not 24/7. The one catch with doing that sort of service in our own homes was obviously that, if people wanted short-term storage they needed you to be in all day. This was obviously something we were prepared to do for our first customers. But we figured this doesn’t really scale. I remember at least a couple of times I had to skip lectures and run back early to let someone in to pick up a bag and I thought it’s just about worth it for me because it is my project. But to make this work at scale we needed a more reliable provision of storage, and that was where shops and hotels just started to make so much sense. So that was the key pillar. As I said, it could have gone in a few directions. I think that when we realized that we wanted to focus on short-term storage, we wanted to focus on tourism and events as the verticals, for why customers were coming to us. That was the foundation.
Joern: I realized you are going for tourists, especially because I love New York and I’m there frequently, also for work. I then saw as my co-host at the startups news always describes it as the center of the universe – Times Square. He works just around the corner and I realized you are even providing opportunities to drop off luggage straight at Times Square, right. There’s like a small phone store around there. So, I realized that is very touristic. But, before we get into a little bit of the details of how you guys are actually working, and how this could work for me, I was wondering how do the people discover you guys? I didn’t know you guys existed until I was approached by your very awesome PR lady. Admittedly, if I had known that before I would have used it in London in New York and maybe some other places before.
Jacob: Well it’s a very good question and obviously part of that is, as you say, we’ve reached the stage now where we are looking to do a lot more PR and outreach to get the brand out there. Up until that point, we’ve been pretty laser focused on channels with high intense. What I mean by that is, we’ve relied quite heavily on Google. For example, if people search for luggage storage, if they’re looking for storage in a particular City, if they look for lockers, that sort of thing, that’s when we’ll capture people. We put a lot of effort into organic search results, obviously to make sure that we rank well if people are looking for it. Likewise, there’s obviously always Google paid channels as a way to initially acquire customers as well. That has been key for us.
Another thing that we’ve done is worked quite hard to partner with relevant refers. The travel industry is a really fantastic industry to work in, in that respect. In that, I think understanding the way people travel is key. There are some real super users here, there are people who travel all the time especially business people, but not everyone travels regularly. So when you do have a customer in travel you want to be sort of referring them around all your partners or your affiliates, and likewise, they do the same for you. Just to give you an example of what I’m talking about, if people are checking out of an Airbnb and it’s managed by a property company that we work with they’ll tell that customer about Stasher as they’re checking out, and say, “You know we are sorry we can’t provide luggage storage for you but we have this service that we work with”. In fact, in some cases, we find even if they can provide luggage storage they’re happier to refer customers to us because they know that we’ll provide the quality of service. It gets the customer out of the apartment and frees them to clean it up and make it ready for the next guest without any of that kind of friction that can make it a little bit tricky between check-in and check-out.
At the end of the day, Airbnb has become an extremely professionalized service now. I think are days where it was just someone’s spare room and you’ve got this little friendly local host. I think by and large a lot of what’s going on now with Airbnb and with other vacation rentals is, it’s a real professional service. It’s how people make their incomes. What that means is that they are ancillary services around vacation rentals such as luggage storage, and there are several others as well; some of which we’re looking to expand into. This is what they’re after in order to make the service as professional, as slick as possible. That’s certainly our mission as a company, is to make travel more seamless for customers and for us and the referral partners too.
Joern: Are you actually growing, so to say, in the shadow of Airbnb? It sounds like right now you’re pretty much tied to them.
Jacob: Not just Airbnb. I suppose it is worth saying Airbnb is iconic in the vacation rental industry. They are the go-to brand. The crazy thing is that they didn’t invent the space. Vacation rental has been around for four decades if not if not longer before Airbnb came around. They just did such a fantastic job of building and brand in that particular service. So I think it’s fair to say that without Airbnb’s success it would have been much harder to build the business that we’re building. At the same time, we are linked to them in the same way that a lot of our partners are. In that, you’ve got vacation rental Management Companies which list on Airbnb, which uses it to drive a lot of traffic. Those same customers are then being referred to us. It’s an ecosystem that’s built around Airbnb, but it’s not limited just to Airbnb. I actually argue that a company like Booking.com, they’ve done, I don’t have the exact stats, but my impression is they’re almost as big as Airbnb when it comes to vacation rental booking. Having lost a lot more recently, but obviously, they have a massive hotel inventory as well. There are other big players in the vacation rental space, there’s Expedia, VRBO, Home Away, so there’s a lot going on. Airbnb I think just happens to be the most iconic but certainly, their success is massively beneficial to us. I mean they’re continuing to grow at a phenomenal rate. They overtook Expedia in terms of booked through most recently. So the way that people travel has absolutely changed as a result of them.
Joern: I see, and if I do understand it right, your service fulfills a double purpose. At first, the landlord’s get the people out of their room very early, to prepare the room for the next person. Plus you have like this phone shop I just talked about at Times Square that is generating traffic through your app because people want to drop off stuff there. How do you actually acquire the the drop-off sites?
Jacob: Good question. You’re absolutely right! It’s very much just like a marketplace set up, and it’s got all these different kind of actors within it, so the partners are key on the demand side. On the supply side – the guys who are supplying the storage, we’ve built up a massive network of them over time. I remember when we started, way back when, we we managed to get about 10 hosts on the platform (while we were doing it as a side hustle), I remember thinking ‘once we had turned like ‘yeah, now it’s going to snow ball”, and ultimately every time it really has. Every host that we add makes it easier to add new hosts, which is great. I guess, without revealing too much there’s a few different ways that we approached this problem of acquiring hosts. The interesting thing is unlike Airbnb, where they want to bring on as many hosts as possible, for us, there’s an association point. So what I mean by that is, you wouldn’t want every business in a city to be on Stasher because it would make it hard to choose where to store your luggage. They wouldn’t have enough ancillary revenue coming through. It would be dispersed to provide a meaningful quality of service.
So, we look to get places at key spots near to train stations, and near to tourist attractions. A lot of that will be researched in advance. Our contact men will call them; we will reach out to them through whatever channels we can. Going in person and selling is often key and it’s nice. The association point argument is key because you couldn’t do this for every business in a city, but if you know which businesses make sense to target then you can run these sort of trips to visit them. It’s been a process like that, you had places strategically. We’re really focused on prioritizing our expansion, so we’ve always seen it as critical to be in as many places as possible. I mean officially, as of last week we’re live now on all six continents. We added our first South African stash points which sees us live on Africa. That was a really cool milestone as a company, but, for us now the key is prioritizing which cities to put enough growth efforts into. I hope that answers your question without without giving too much to sensitive strategic info, but that’s roughly the idea.
Joern: Oh don’t worry you can give us more and more sensitive strategic information. It just shared between you me and like 20,000 people listening to this podcast. So everything is totally fine, and people cannot hear you laughing in the background. I had two more questions to that first. What is the fanciest or strangest place where people can stash their luggage away? Second, how does it work for a potential client, do they need an app?
Jacob: We have some really good places. I mean, we have some fantastic hotels in London; some really premium premier inns, off the top of my head, that have really nice lounges. I’m sure we have some some particularly weird and wonderful places around the world as well. I know there’s a particularly strange cafe in Japan; a dog cafe in Canada somewhere. What else do we have? I would have to dig around a little bit; I’m sure I can find stuff that’s even weirder. But by large, we do try and go for places that are either hotels that give off a good level of customer service quality or shops that are reliable. It’s a perk when we get the weird and wonderful places. We have a beach hut in Brighton, which is like a Swedish arts and crafts center; the host who runs that she’s really lovely. So it’s a fun mixture. What was the second party of your question sorry?
Jacob: Sorry, I just have to laugh so hard because the headline of the interview is most likely going to be special. Stasher, you reason to visit a dog cafe in Canada. My second question was how is it for user? Do they need an App? How does it work, like operation for client, for user?
Jacob: So there are apps absolutely that you can download in the book, but also the website is mobile optimized. To be honest we we ran with just the website for quite a long time before investing money in the app. purely because as I said we were requiring most of our customers through Google, so it made sense to be web first. It was originally slightly easier for us to build. But in terms of booking it’s super quick. From point of download or point of opening the website, you can have a booking within two minutes. It’s designed to be somewhere between Airbnb and Uber in terms of experience. What I mean by that, is the process, you search the city or town or wherever it is that you need storage, and you’ll get a map with all the different options. Unlike Airbnb there’s not so much to filter on; you’ve got opening hours and you’ve got the sort of location. Prices are pretty standardized, so there’s really not an awful lot to sort of distinguish between them. It’s purely about what’s most convenient for your plans. So in that way its closer to Uber, except that, it’s not that you’ll take the next place, because with opening hours and everything else you might want to factor in a few things. Anyway, you click the place you want; it takes less than a minute to do the payment form and and you’re done. Then you’ve got a booking and you can take it right in. what we find is that the majority of customers are booking and using it the same day. It’s not so much a planned in advanced service like ‘oh I’m going traveling, I will need this’. It’s very much like, ‘I’m here now, I’ve got my bags, what can I do with them?
Joern: I see. Before we get towards the end of the interview, I have a few more questions like how you guys are actually financed. Are you looking for an investor right now?
Jacob: Yes. So we’ve been venture backed since about 2017. In 2016 when we were first kind of running this as a side hustle we took some angel funding from the CEO of big yellow storage. That was quite good story. The CEO of yellow big yellow is a fortune 50 company; the biggest self-storage company in the UK. We emailed him just to say, ‘hey we have the storage idea and we’d like to get some advice on that because we’re doing short term storage, so it’s adjacent, it’s not competitive”. Anyway, to add the light, this guy actually read our email and and took the time not only to reply to it but to invite us in and to question us about the model. He came on board as one of our first angel investors off the back of a cold email, which is amazing. That really have kick-started the process for us. I think without that sort of boost at that point in time we probably have been a little bit too cautious about quitting our jobs and going full-time on this. I think we really did want to validate the idea with with external funding and give ourselves that runway to try and build a team and grow it.
2017 was a great year for us. There’s two families, we worked full time, and we began hiring around the summer. Our growth was ridiculous. It’s obviously much easier to have exponential growth when you’re building off of small numbers, but it it was really really awesome to see it go from like one bag a day to 100 bags a day. Then we then we took on venture funding that was in 2017. I think we’ve been very lucky with the investors that we’ve brought on as well. From my experience of working with investors, I think it’s hugely important that you personally get on well with them and professionally and you feel like you can work together. I think we’ve been lucky to bring on investors that are so aligned in terms of vision and so positive about the way that they work with us. We are in fact looking for venture funding again at the moment, where we’re close to sort of bringing around the conclusion this autumn. I’m hoping we’ll be able to publish some results about that around Christmas time.
The beautiful thing about this model is that it’s so asset like, that it can run itself profitably. The reason that we wanted to in venture funding instead is just that I think we see so much potential with scale here. It’s so important to us to be international as quickly as possible. Just to work with people as quickly as we can to build up the biggest brand. I think it’s a really exciting space right now. I could name all our competitors, but I bet most people in the world won’t even have heard of us or certainly not any of them. So it’s kind of that exciting stage, where we’re all looking to build up a brand that people recognize. We want to be at a brand that people associate with the service. I’d love it to be that whenever anyone else comes across one of our competitors, they’re like,
‘oh yeah it’s a stasher competitor”. That’s the position we put ourselves in, and for us that means that we want to be hiring the best team right now, and just expanding our network of hosts. Making sure we have the best most convenient service all around the world and that we’re working with the best partners to grow the business. So for us, it’s about acceleration really. I think I sometimes feel a little bit like we could run it more slowly organically, off the back at the sort of the profits that we can be generating. But, I think it’s just too exciting an opportunity not to invest venture money in and try and accelerate that growth, get it to the real international potential that it has.
Joern: You told us already a little bit of my next question, even though you didn’t know what it would be. What are you looking for? So you’re looking for hosts around the world? Any area? Any specific cities?
Jacob: Yeah. A big focus for us in the next year is going to be North America and also Southeast Asia, Australian. So when we launched, we were very much like UK babies, then we expanded around Europe and we put a lot of our efforts into Europe. North America is obviously a massive market and we’ve been present there for a long time but we’ve been sort of waiting basically to have the opportunity to really put our growth and attention in there. I think we’ve already seen great returns to the sort of limited effort that we have been able to make in America so I’m really excited about what’s going to go on there. The same for Southeast Asia Australia; I mean it’s such a massive market for tourism. Then more mid-term I’m really excited about getting South America and even parts of Africa up and running. That I think will probably be one to two years away before we have really the same level of focus applied there. I find it usually cool that we have this service and it can be live all around the world. We have this fantastic map on a sort of internal dashboards that you can see where people are storing bags each day. It’s so fun to see dots on every continent popping up. So that’s going to be a really big part of our focus, especially North America.
Joern: I have one more question because you’re always talking about luggage, I was wondering when you’re traveling what do you travel with?
Jacob: That’s an irony, I pack extremely light when I travel. I am quite minimalist as a person. That being said, obviously, the great thing about Stasher is that it’s designed to be that you’ve got storage anywhere. Anyway, you might reasonably travel. So it has it has freed me up to pack a little bit more when I do go traveling, but I I have a trusty backpack I took travelling when I was younger which I don’t have to check in on planes. I suppose what I’m trading off here is my my passion for supporting my own business against my deep reluctance to ever put my bag through checking process. But I generally travel with a backpack, I like travelling light. What I have done to be fair is travel with that backpack and put it into storage at Stasher after having checked out so that I don’t have to drag the whole thing around with me. so that’s my ideal way to travel really, is pack light enough not to have to check-in luggage, but not so light that you can’t sort of benefit from stashing it at the end of the trip.
Joern: Only two more questions left for me. This one would be, if you could describe your life either as a book or movie title or combination of both, what would it be and why?
Jacob: Just saying, such a tricky question. I knew you were going to ask me, and I’ve been trying to think of an answer throughout the interview. I remember you said yours was Forrest Gump right or was it, Forrest Gump?
Joern: Thank you yes, a mix of Forrest Gump and Pinky and the Brain.
Jacob: What is the story behind that?
Joern: Well Forrest Gump he’s doing the best he can with what he has and Brain is always trying to conquer the world.
Jacob: That’s a good answer. Forest is in such interesting places and interesting times isn’t it. Dam, I need to think of an answer for this. Joern, do you mind if I come back to you on this one. I am really sorry, I’ll keep thinking.
Joern: Okay. The last question would be, how on earth did you end up in this strange phone booth?
Jacob: yeah, I don’t know anyone can see, will people be able to see the videos? It’s a bizarre phone booth; it’s got this black and white pattern that’s almost like being inside an MC Escher drawing. It’s sort of playing a visual illusion on you. This is just a phone booth that’s in our co-working space so I can space office in London really near Old Street. The phone booths just happened to have really really bizarre designs, but I suppose that adds something to the backdrop of this video. I’m still trying to think of recent films and books I’ve read and enjoyed. There’s a book that I absolutely love which is ‘Enlightenment’ by Steven Pinker and it came out pretty recently. He kind of flips the the negativity of current news trends on their head. He says if you look at trend lines rather than the headlines you see that the world is always sort of building towards greater and greater progress. I thought it was a hugely insightful book because I think it’s so easy to feel a little bit overwhelmed by bad news and by particular stories. But implemented bias has impaired so many of our perceptions of the world and the state of things. One of my favorite books as a student was Daniel Kahneman’s ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’. For anyone who’s not familiar with that, it’s a brilliant insight into the way the human mind processes information and the cognitive biases that we can be subject to. Case in point is, the availability bias if you’re able to recall a story more quickly because, either it’s graphic, or it’s happened recently. It leads you to overestimate the frequency with which events take place. That’s kind of what Steven Pinker’s talking about in his book is that it’s very easy to sort of be captured with the sense gloom and doom. I mean that’s not to say that there isn’t some gloom and doom in the world, especially with the recent state of politics. My country Britain very much included in that. But what I like about the book and the sort of relevance to us is that it’s about spinning a positive narrative. One of the things we value at Stasher a lot, and I value as a person is a real optimism and a belief that you can make the world better without sounding too grandiose. I mean, we’re not saving lives, we’re just storing luggage, but the vision here is give people a greater ability to enjoy their time and maximize their experiences. Ultimately that’s what life is all about really. So I guess for want of a better example, and partly subject to my own availability bias because it’s a book I read recently I probably go with enlightenment. it’s a really brilliant book, and it does spell out the ways that actually are not as human being, is dramatically improved over the last century, especially the further back in time you go the comparison becomes even more stark. But it’s a brilliant book and he sort of points out as well, all the problems that we face; in the way that we’ve overcome problems in the past. Yeah, I go with that.
Joern: Great. The only thing left for me to say is, thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking to you. For everybody who’s just listening or seen the edit, we have been talking for almost 45 minutes here online. Thank you very much.
Jacob: well my pleasure man thank you very much for having me.
That’s all folks.
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