In The Trenches: 36 Things I’ve Learned as a Founder

Startup Advice from our founder and CEO:

Mama CEO™

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Over the past five years, I’ve accrued a lot of advice – some of it invaluable and some not so much – as well as lessons learned the hard way. I’ve also collected quite a few notes and reminders along the way. These are not irrefutable truths; they’re simply my observations from my own journey. If nothing else, I hope they’ll help you define your own.

1. If you know it is foolish to learn to drive a car from someone who has never been behind the wheel, use the same yard stick to decide who gives you advice about your startup.

2. There is nothing wrong with learning that you don’t like working for a startup, building a startup, or being an entrepreneur; choosing not to leave a well-paying job to chase a dream is a completely valid decision.

3. Don’t expect anyone else to understand your decision to…

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APPCityLife Offering Mobile Platform at Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam

APPCityLifeLogoSmall

 

Check out our latest press release:

APPCityLife Offering Platform at Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam

APPCityLife is proud to announce the company is a technical sponsor of Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam taking place in San Jose, California, this weekend.
APPCityLife is a mobile tech company connecting people and cities through a non-developer mobile platform which delivers cross-platform mobile apps with real time analytics, open-data integration and mobile coupons.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (October 23, 2014)

APPCityLife, Inc., a mobile tech company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a proud to be a sponsor of Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam. Details for the event are online at http://www.hackmyride.challengepost.com. The event will be held at  The Tech Museum of Innovation this weekend (October 25-26) and is hosted by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). Tickets are already sold out. Individuals who cannot attend are encouraged to vote on ideas and to submit their own at http://bit.ly/hmrideas.

APPCityLife is providing participants who attend Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam with free access to the company’s unique mobile platform. “Because our platform is non-developer-friendly, it makes it so much easier for almost anyone to get hands-on with creating civic apps that use open data to address local issues,” says Lisa Abeyta, Founder and CEO. “We’re looking forward to seeing the creative solutions coming out of this weekend,” says Abeyta.

Participants can download the company’s OpenData app from iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/opendata/id918637886?mt=8.

Hack My Ride: VTA’s Transportation Idea Jam includes $3,000 in prize money for apps, data visualizations, software, technology, prototypes or proofs of concept that could best improve the South Bay’s transit experience, increase transit use, or solve broader transportation and mobility challenges. Judges will look for submissions that have the greatest potential to inform and engage the public through crowdsourcing, two-way communication, data generation, data visualizations, interactivity, and helpful information. A popular choice winner will win $750.

More about APPCityLife:

Website: http://www.appcitylife.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/appcitylife
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/appcitylife
Twitter for Lisa: http://www.twitter.com/LisaAbeyta
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/appcitylife-inc.
Blog: https://appcitylife.wordpress.com
HuffPost (Lisa) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-abeyta/

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Addressing the Downside of Civic Hacking: Creating A Financially Sustainable Model

Originally published on Mama CEO

Members of the ABQ Civic Entrepreneur Bootcamp building apps on the CityLife platform

Members of the ABQ Civic Entrepreneur Bootcamp building apps on the CityLife platform

One of the best known civic mobile app contests is the NYC BigApps Challenge. The competition has attracted hundreds of teams from around the world, all vying for high dollar prizes and the promise of a coveted contract with the City of New York. Since the contest’s inception five years ago, hundreds of apps have been launched – with last year’s winners alone sharing a prize pool of over $150,000.

For the winners, it is well worth the effort. The prize money, especially considering that no stake in equity is taken from the winning team or company, is of high enough dollar amount to recoup costs for time spent developing, testing and deploying the app – and possibly make a small profit depending on the size of the team. Along with prize money, there is also the value of international publicity generated for finalists and winners.

But what of the hundreds of apps that aren’t winners, which earn neither publicity nor money? An in-depth study that followed the apps submitted for the 2011 competition reported that only 35% of the applications could be verified as still working one year later. The apps which integrated multiple sources of data along with user-generated content were the most likely to still be in use, but even among those apps, almost half were no longer being supported. That is a lot of time, programming talent, and effort expended on projects with very little reward beyond the experience.

This is only one contest with one study, so perhaps the results would trend differently with larger samples, but I’m not so sure. As the founder and CEO of APPCityLife, a startup delivering a global platform with sustainable options for developing and maintaining useful mobile apps for cities, I have heard this story told all too often by hackathon organizers, city leaders and civic hackers. In fact, in a private conversation with our team, the founder of one of the world’s largest civic hacking groups went as far as expressing regret for launching the group due to the growing challenges of leveraging short-term volunteer labor to create longterm solutions for communities – not because solutions aren’t needed but because most of the events hosted by his organization delivered very little in the way of viable product – and when a completed project was deployed, finding funding and an entity to deliver continued support was an even more difficult proposition.

Here is what I believe must happen if we, as a global community, want to effectively exploit the power of mobile apps to address the growing civic demand for access to information and communication via mobile.

Free Labor Is Not A Sustainable Solution

While most of us have likely participated in volunteer efforts focused on a personal passion, very few of us can sustain full time or long term involvement without enough financial benefit to cover our day to day expenses. Even as a corporation, our team can only provide charitable support to a limited number of worthy institutions. This whole “build it and they will come” notion that somehow all that is necessary is for cities to send their data out into the ether and then the data will be embraced by developers and integrated into useful tools solving pain points for citizens for free is short-sighted. While open data most definitely accessed and used in very valuable ways beyond building mobile apps, it is important to realize that when it comes to this particular aspect of open data, free is not a sustainable solution.

Students, community groups and individuals are usually more than willing to show up for a day or a weekend to attempt to address local issues, brainstorm solutions and begin the hard work of building out the technology needed to bring that solution to viable product, more often that not, a day or a weekend is just not enough time. And expecting these groups or individuals to continue work over long periods of time without financial remuneration is not only unreasonable, it is not good business. Without proper funding, solutions are not easily maintained, updated, or grown to add new features. It is one of the reasons we spent almost a year building a real time coupon server where geolocated, targeted offers are deployed on the fly on a local level. By offering revenue share models where income generated through mobile coupons, sponsorships and advertising is shared with those creating solutions for their community, there is proper incentive for apps to be sustained longterm. And it works – our first public school app went out the door already generating more revenue for the school district than was spent on development or support fees.

Open Data Must Be Normalized For Affordable Mobile Integration

Since most open data is being delivered from legacy servers with myriad formats, the challenge of integrating multiple data sets that are structured differently is a difficult challenge even for experienced programmers. When our team began work on our own global open data app, we experienced first-hand the challenge of developing an app accessing data feed from a variety of sources, including companies like Socrata or Junar as well as data produced by in-house teams in other cities. Instead of tackling each of the data sets individually, we stopped production on the app and took a month to build an incredible piece of technology – a world-class open data server which analyzes data from almost any source and normalize it on the fly for immediate use in mobile as everything from charted city budgets to real-time mapped locations of food trucks. It almost feels like magic happens when an open data feed is added and then appears as a readable chart within seconds. And the best benefit of automating complex coding is greatly reduced requirements of both skill level and time to produce a finished product, meaning that an app that might cost six figures and take months with custom coding can be produced in a few days or weeks and supported for as little as a few thousand dollars a year – and generated advertising revenue can often cover or exceed those costs.

Make Mobile Development Accessible to Non-Developers

During a recent meeting with the CIO of a city on the West Coast, it was mentioned that the majority of people who attend the civic hackathons his city hosts arrive with almost all of the right ingredients: passion, ideas, and willingness to work as a team. What is missing from the majority of the attendees is the one skill needed to create mobile apps for civic solutions, mainly the ability to code. And after his team reviewed numerous platforms available on the market today, none provided the depth of flexibility or the sophistication needed to enable non-developers to create powerful civic apps that would actually solve the problem being addressed. It is one of the many motivators behind our decision to make the necessary upgrades to our platform to offer a version which graphic artists, web developers, and passionate activists could comfortably use. It is vital that as a global community, we enable those who are most willing and able to solve problems to access tools that enable them to finish the job in hours or days instead of months. After news of our first successful bootcamp this past weekend – the first time anyone outside of our own team gained access to our platform – requests for a spot on a waiting list to access this platform have already started pouring in from those in attendance to as far away as South America, Europe and Africa.

If we want open data initiatives to truly succeed and become the conduit for useful mobile tools in our communities, we must offer options for funded projects, provide access to powerful tools which serve as stepping stones for STEM. Only then can we create sustainable public-private partnerships. We will all reap the benefits of more available civic mobile solutions when we come to the place that the only limit holding us back is time.

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Insight: Are Women Entrepreneurs Better Off Than Last Year?

Last week, APPCityLife’s COO and cofounder, Lawrence Abeyta, was a guest panelist for the Tech Fiesta ABQ Women in Tech Luncheon. He shared many of his insights as a strong supporter of women in tech. We were pleased to be represented on the panel and happy that the event gained national exposure through the following opinion piece which Huffington Post recently published. The blog is written by our Founder and CEO, Lisa Abeyta, who regularly blogs for Huffington Post.

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

APPCityLife cofounder and COO, Lawrence Abeyta: Tech Fiesta ABQ Women In Technology Luncheon 2014 © Gabriella Marks

Are Women Entrepreneurs Better Off Than A Year Ago?

by Lisa Abeyta

During yesterday’s second annual NMTC-WIT Luncheon, a reporter in the audience asked the panelists if things were getting any better for women.

In an article published this year in ForbesGeri Stengel predicted that 2014 would be the breakout year for women entrepreneurs. “While the number is still small —  nearly 20% of angels in 2012 invested in women-led businesses — the percentage grew more than 40% from the previous year, according to the Center of Venture Research, which studies early-stage equity financing for high-growth ventures. Even venture capitalists have increased their support of women-led companies. It’s still paltry, but the percentage of VC deals going to women-led businesses was 13% in the first half of 2013. That’s nearly a 20% jump over 2012, according to Pitchbook, a venture-capital research firm.” Encouraging statistics that point to better opportunities ahead. But the real question is, as individuals, do we see new possibilities or more of the same status quo?

The answers from the luncheon’s diverse panel of men and women, including our own COO at APPCityLife, varied from some panelists seeing no change at all to a few answers that, yes, things have changed. As a female CEO, I am well aware of New York Time‘s annual report that of the top 200 highest paid chief executive officers, only two are women. I’ve also seen first-hand at least one venture capital door close because of gender. I could easily see the glass as 87% to 95% empty (the percentage of venture capital currently funneled into male-founded companies in the US).

I choose to see it differently. In my experience over the past year, I’ve seen both significant and subtle changes that make me believe there is more respect, opportunities, and equality for women founders than ever before. Despite a few fairly disheartening experiences with investors, I’ve also found passionate support from others. Our company raised almost $500,000 in angel and family fund investments over the past twelve months, and we’ve been selected as one of only ten New Mexico companies invited to pitch for a larger round of investment at the upcoming Deal Stream Summit. Because of our focus on solving problems in the civic space, I’ve had the incredible privilege of being invited to meet with leaders from around the globe and participate in discussions about civic innovation. And I have yet to find an instance where my gender created any barrier of entry into any office when I’ve reached out to civic leaders – even in some of the biggest urban centers in the US.

But more than anything else, the topics of discussion at the luncheon were a strong indicator to me of just how far we’ve come as a community in New Mexico. Last year’s luncheon opened with the very uncomfortable topic of the jerk tech apps pitched from the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt. Almost the entire hour of conversation last year was focused on the unfairness, the bias, and the simmering anger of those who’d been passed over, ignored, and not taken seriously simply because of their gender. This year’s luncheon definitely covered some of the same challenges – the funding disadvantage, the challenge at being taken seriously – but what inspired me most was the questions that had to do with the real meat of running a business. Those questions were new. Topics ranged from the value of having Non Disclosure Agreements and Employment Contracts to implementing sales channels for international businesses. Instead of simply focusing on the problems women face, the panelists were able to share valuable insight and knowledge that were real takeaways for the rest of the crowd.

Perhaps the only reason we were able to focus on questions about business and expertise this year is because we did address the more uncomfortable topics in the past year. But I, for one, am heartened by the notion that as women, perhaps we’ve come to the place were the conversation can begin to change from how do we let women in at all to how do we help more women grow international, high growth companies.

It’s certainly what I and my cofounders have set out to do, and I am inspired by the growing support and opportunities making that more and more possible.

This was originally published on Huffington Post.

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Open Data: Going Beyond Solving Problems to Making the Impossible Possible

This also appears on Huffington Post
 

 

Lisa Abeyta, Founder/CEO APPCityLife, Inc. TEDxABQ Technology Salon: Global Impact of Mobile Open Data August 12, 2014

 

As a global community, we are producing data at an astounding rate. The pace was recently described as a “new Google every four days” by the highly respected Andreesen Horowitz partner, Peter Levine, in a thought-provoking post addressing the challenge of making sense of this mountain of data.

“… we are now collecting more data each day, so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. In fact, every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — by some estimates that’s one new Google every four days, and the rate is only increasing. Our desire to use, interact, and learn from this data will become increasingly important and strategic to businesses and society as a whole.”

For the past year and a half, my cofounders and team have focused on what it will take to use, interact and learn from data being produced within the civic sector. It’s one thing to be able to build an app for civic; it’s quite another to build a platform that can manage multiple apps across multiple platforms while addressing the challenges plaguing the “wild west” nature of growth in the quickly emerging market of open data. I was recently invited to share our lessons learned and the promise of the future in mobile open data at the TEDxABQ Technology Salon. Here is a bit of what I shared:

Beyond Solving Problems to New Possibilities

When we first looked at the opportunities for creating apps built on open data, our priority was finding pain points for both cities and the people who lived there. We focused on solving real problems, and it led to some early success. We worked with the City of Albuquerque to deploy their ABQ RIDE app on iOS and Android platforms, and the app not only solved real problems for riders, it also saved real money for the city. The app has grown to over 20,000 regular users and continues to be one of the highest downloaded apps on our platform.

But recently, we’ve started asking questions that go beyond the basic, that change the experience or make things possible in ways that never were before. Here are two I’m incredibly proud to be a part of:

Public Transit for the Blind

Have you ever thought about what it is like to try to be independent in a city when you’re blind? And while the ADA requires certain accommodations for the blind on public transit, little in the way of guidelines or requirements exist for new technologies like mobile apps integrating with transit. But we asked if there was a way to use new technologies like iBeacon and integrate their near-range broadcasting with a transit app? We could make it possible for the blind to independently use public transit, opening up a world of independence where it wasnt possible before. That’s a powerful step up from simply solving problems to changing the possibilities. We’re currently designing a pilot project to do just that and are looking forward to unveiling details soon.

Managing Emergency Communications for Public Schools

Think about the last time you heard about a lock down in place at a local school. Did you think about what that experience is like for the parents whose children are there – or for the administrators struggling to deal with an often volatile, unpredictable situation while managing a surge in calls from worried parents? Have you thought about the challenges of emergency personnel responding to the school and trying to focus on keeping a frightening situation from becoming worse by parents arriving on scene and become part of the chaos?

It’s a question that was paramount in our planning when we designed our first school app. Sure a school app is useful without this feature, if only for figuring out what is for lunch or finding grades or phone numbers. Fingertip access to school info is already useful in an app in and of itself. But add on top of that utility function the ability to have parents opt into receiving push notices for their children’s schools, and that app just went from convenient to vital.

Imagine receiving a push notification from your child’s school informing you that the school is on lockdown, why the lockdown is necessary, what is being done to address the situation and what you, the parent, should do in the situation. A worrisome situation doesn’t immediately spiral into fear and impulsive reactions. Information, in cases like this, are vital, and what if an app can give you all the information you need at your fingertips instead of waiting on a phone call or the news to break the story?

Open data is an exciting field of opportunities, and we are beginning to discover that those opportunities have the power to change peoples’ lives when we can package and deliver information that solves problems and even goes beyond those problems to make the impossible possible.

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Why Every Public School Needs a Mobile App

I was cleaning up in the kitchen when I heard a text message alert from my phone. Within seconds, another came through. I opened my son’s first, who never texted me during his classes at the nearby high school. It simply said, “I love you, Mom.” My daughter, who attended the same school, had sent a text with the very same message. While I like a message of gratitude and love as much as the next mom, when both of my children texted me moments apart when they should be busy in class, I knew something was wrong. Within minutes, I heard a helicopter hovering overhead. I tried in vain to reach the school; the switchboard automatically routed my call to their voicemail system. I tried to reach my children on their phones, but there was no reply.

It wasn’t until our local news station reported a SWAT situation and school lockdown that I had the slightest idea of what was going on.

It was the first time I realized that every single school should have their own mobile app, if only to use as a direct line of communication to the parents of the children in their care.

This year, our company’s first mobile app for a public school system will go live with targeted messages for specific schools as well as district-wide notices. The app will do a lot more than that, but even for this single purpose, the app was worth developing.

Here is why I believe every school needs an app and how we can make that happen:

Communication

photo 1 When we first sat down with the communications team at Albuquerque Public Schools, they had one specific goal in mind that drove every aspect of the design process for their school app: create a communication channel directly to the local school community, from parents and students to the teachers and staff at that school. This team was already very aware of the challenges of getting information into the hands of those who needed it – and the value of doing so quickly and effectively. When inclement weather closes a school, letting the school community know as soon as possible allows families needed time to make new arrangements for the change in schedule. And when parents show up at a school during a lockdown, they become a liability for the emergency personnel responding to whatever might be happening. If a push notices delivered directly to the phones of parents could inform families as to the nature of an emerging situation – and specifically what parents should do in those circumstances – not only does anxiety go down, but the situation can be better managed for a good outcome for all involved. We worked with the school district to create a custom web-based notification center that would allow the district’s team to send out notices either to the entire user-base of the app or only to a specific subset who had opted in to receive notices for a specific school.

Engagement

photo 4One of the best indicators for a child’s success is the level of engagement that child has with the school community, and when parents and students are kept apprised of upcoming school events such as parent-teacher conferences or school performances, the potential is increased for higher engagement from parents. I don’t know about you, but this is what happens to the stack of flyers and newsletters that come home at the beginning of each school year: for a few days the stack sits in a place of prominence in the kitchen, while I still believe that I will find the time to read through each flyer and add each event to my calendar so I won’t forget later in the school year. After a few days of avoiding the pile, it finally gets moved to a less conspicuous corner of the study. After a few weeks of gathering dust, the pile eventually ends up in our recycle bin, and none of the events or notices have ever made their way to my calendar. When a school can provide an interactive calendar where parents and students can add important events right from the app to their smart phone’s calendar, the chances of the event not only being remembered but attended increase significantly.

Information

photo 3Whether you’re spending time hunting down the phone number to report a child absent or call a school nurse, or you’re searching through the school website to find the lunch menu or the portal for checking online grades, gaining handy access to important school numbers and information saves time and frustration for everyone involved. Well, perhaps it doesn’t save frustration for the student who is hoping against hope that her failing grade isn’t discovered by a parent, but even in providing easy access to checking grades online, the ability to keep informed as a busy parent makes the difference between discovering a failing grade while there is time to address the problem or not finding out until grade cards come home.

Funding

APPCityLife_SchoolsOne of the biggest challenges of producing custom mobile applications for schools is cost, and we’ve yet to discover a school district that isn’t on a very tight budget. And many school boards consider a school app a nice perk but not a necessity, especially when the fees would require using tax dollars to fund the project instead of putting that money to work in a classroom. At APPCityLife, we did what we’ve become very good at doing as a bootstrapped startup – we turned the challenge of funding the app on its head and figured out a way to not only pay for the development of the app but to help the schools earn revenue from it. In Albuquerque, we found community partners in Delta Dental and Sprint, who willingly paid for sponsorship opportunities to help create the app for their community. And when those sponsorship fees had paid for the development costs, we shared the additional revenue with the school’s foundation to help fund their many charitable causes such as the clothing bank and homeless children initiative. With this funding model, we believe it is possible to create mobile apps for schools across the country without having to tap into the limited tax dollars available.

You can find out more about APPCityLife’s school apps on our website, and if you would like to spearhead the challenge of bringing a mobile app to your school, please reach out, and help me reach my goal of bringing a mobile app to school districts everywhere.

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Three Reasons Why Open Data and Mobile Platforms Are Vital For Our Future

Digital Explosion

ABQ RIDE's in-app real time tracking puts users in control of their travel, increases ridership and saves the city money.

ABQ RIDE’s in-app real time tracking puts users in control of their travel, increases ridership and saves the city money.

Do you recall being able to sit down in front of a bookshelf, pull out a selection from a set of encyclopedias and browse through the pages to see what information and photos were hidden within? If you’re under twenty-five years old, it’s likely you have no idea what that experience was like. The most archaic forms of information-sharing most Millennials recall are usually the first clunky attempts of internet search on a computer.

In fact, a study published by the US PIRG Education Fund provides insight into the rapid spread of technology across American households. “Between 2000 and 2012, the percent- age of adults who use the Internet in- creased from 46 percent to 82 percent. The percentage of adults who own a cell phone increased from 53 percent to 88 percent. The share of Americans with access to high-speed Internet at home increased from 5 percent to more than 70 percent. And roughly half of Americans now own smartphones, which did not exist in their modern form in 2000.”

The demand for access to digital isn’t just about making things more convenient. This study shows that access to technology and information changes behaviors in ways that help our environment and quality of life. In a press conference with local media on July 9, 2014, the Mayor of Albuquerque, Richard Berry, announced a record-breaking increase in public transit ridership with almost 6,000 new passengers using transit over the past year due to a growth in downloads of the city’s official mobile apps on iOS and Android (developed in partnership with the city and APPCityLife). Over 20,000 users access the mobile apps for real time tracking of buses throughout the city as well as to receive push notices about changes to favorited routes. The increase was also attributed to other implemented technologies like TEXT2RIDE and veteran’s programs.

And the benefit hasn’t just been in favor of users having a better experience because of access to real time information. The city has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars due to a reduction in calls to 311, which are billed at $1.86 per call. The city estimates savings of $548,000 in only two years since the smart phone and supporting technologies were added to their Open Data initiative.

 

Shared Economies, Shared Information, Shared Savings

Prolina Saxena, NextDrop

When Open Data launched around 2008, it was part of a large cultural shift in the way we as a global community share economies, information and innovation. Along with the release of information by governments all over the world, the world at large was beginning to view ownership of data and even experiences in a different way. Sharing-based startups like Zipcar, Uber, and Airbnb, paved the way for a plethora of startups unfolding across a wide spectrum of industries.

Global summits hosted by groups like the New Cities Foundation foster the sharing of ideas, technologies and innovations not only between sectors but also between leaders around the globe. The release of open data to the public has already helped increase the innovative technologies cities and countries use to solve problems. For instance, Pronita Saxena, still in her twenties, is leading her company, NextDrop, is integrating open data with mobile to solve water problems affecting 3 million around the globe.

 

Mega Cities

file000548428752A recent report by Forbes predicts that the population living in urban areas “is expected to accelerate to 60 percent before 2025, globally; with the Western, developed world reaching an 80 percent urbanization level during this time frame.” This massive growth, and the spawning of new megacities across the globe with populations of 10 Million or more people over the next twenty years makes it vital to solve the challenges of efficiently and affordably sharing civic information to such large populations. Calling 311 operator-based services will not be an option when populations increase to those levels. The growth of open data – and the ability to create useful, relevant mobile tools which citizens can use to gain information and report issues to their city government will be imperative.

 

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