Stephan Schambach is the founder of NewStore which operates a platform for retailers to run their stores on iPhone. The company has raised $130 million from General Catalyst, Salesforce Ventures, Enjoyventure Management, and Activant Capital. Prior to this he founded Demandware (acquired by Salesforce for $2.8 billion), Torqueedo (acquired by DEUTZ for $100 million), and Intershop.

In this episode you will learn:

  • How to vet potential investors
  • When to invest in structuring company culture 
  • Stephan’s hobby project that was acquired for $100M
  • His newest startup which has already raised $130M
  • The importance of choosing where you incorporate and go public

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For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.

Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).

Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

About Stephan Schambach:

Stephan Schambach is a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record of building successful tech companies in the U.S. and Europe.

Under his leadership and vision, Stephan Schambach brought Intershop and Demandware to IPOs with multi-billion dollar market caps. In 2016, Salesforce acquired Demandware for $2.8 billion.

At NewStore, Stephan Schambach is setting out to change the market once again. This time by solving the omnichannel problem facing so many retailers and brands.

Connect with Stephan Schambach:

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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:

Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a founder who is quite the founder! He’s done it multiple, multiple times from starting the business, to scaling it, to raising money, to getting acquired, and every single thing that you can think of. I think we’re going to learn quite a bit, also in different industries. Without further ado, Stephan Schambach, welcome to the show.

Stephan Schambach: Thank you for having me.

Alejandro: You were born and raised in Germany, so how was life there?

Stephan Schambach: Yes, more specifically in East Germany. I grew up in communist, and life was quite different. Some of it reminds me of the current times that we live in. There wasn’t much to buy in the stores.

Alejandro: Yeah, I remember. I actually remember when I visited Berlin years ago, I went to this museum, The Checkpoint Charlie, and it showed the differences between the East and the West, and it was pretty unbelievable the differences.

Stephan Schambach: Yes. Absolutely. I grew up in East Germany, but when the Wall came down, I was about 19 years old, and I was a physics major. I felt I could do everything I wanted and decided to become an entrepreneur.

Alejandro: Did you have anyone in your family that had this drive for business, for starting your own thing, or how did you get that?

Stephan Schambach: That’s an interesting question because I learned much, much later that my grandfather, whom I never met, was a very successful entrepreneur. It was hidden from me a little bit because, after World War II, his estate fell to the State in East Germany, and he wasn’t much talked about because, for some reason, it was deemed to be dangerous. Much, much later, actually like ten years ago, I met with some of my relatives, and they told me that story and showed me that he was a successful entrepreneur. They had some old photographs and samples. He was into manufacturing, interestingly enough. But I never knew that before, and my parents were physicians. I thought I had a unique skill that I had no relationship to my relatives, but it just skipped one generation, it seems.

Alejandro: That’s amazing. Why physics? Was that because it was the only thing you had available, or why did you go with physics?

Stephan Schambach: Honestly, at that time, I was happy to be in any form of a higher education program because my parents had no interest in supporting the regime, and usually, back then, higher education was limited to those that were clearly a fan of communism. I wasn’t, and my parents weren’t. I was glad to get into any program. Physics wasn’t necessarily what I wanted, but I had some interests in it. It wasn’t bad.

Alejandro: So you were alluding to it then when the Wall came down. That gave you the East and the West coming together, and that gave you the sense of freedom. You mentioned that this pushed you to really go at it and become an entrepreneur. Tell us what that process was for you.

Stephan Schambach: Actually, I made that decision pretty much in the night when the Wall came down. I made a split-second decision to jump aboard a train to Berlin when I just watched television and heard that the borders were open. That night, in West Berlin, I decided that I wanted to start a business on the side, initially. Later, obviously, the business boomed, and I didn’t have the time to finish my degree, and I was no longer interested in becoming a physics lab rat.

Alejandro: Got it. What was this first business?

Stephan Schambach: I would buy computers in West Germany and would sell them in East Germany, install the computer networks, and do some custom programming with a couple of people that I hired. It was nothing special. It was interesting how it got started. I didn’t have a car, so I hitchhiked in the bordering states of Avaya and found a computer distributor who was willing to give me a line of credit. This computer distributor was an individual who got shot at while fleeing from East Germany. He simply said that I was the first young gentleman coming to him and asking for it, and he would support me. He more or less gave me a car, a driver, a bunch of computers, and other things I wanted to have, and off we went. This is how the first business got started, and I paid him in cash because, at the time, the banking system didn’t allow for local currency transfer between East and West. That came a couple of months later. The first deliveries, I paid with lots of cash in hand.

Alejandro: Whatever happened with this business?

Stephan Schambach: It’s still around.

Alejandro: Oh, very cool. What’s the name of this business again?

Stephan Schambach: It’s Seh — I’m not sure if you would find it easily now. They’re a specialty computer for terminal equipment that banks need now. They changed, obviously, the business model. They’re not a universal computer distributor any more, but they were at the time, and they helped me to get started, which I’m totally thankful for because it was based on trust and handshake. It was nothing else to prove that I was worthy.

Alejandro: Absolutely. Then, did you sell this business, or what did you do?

Stephan Schambach: Yes. I sold it to a partner that I had in the business and started what later became Intershop.

Alejandro: Obviously, Intershop, quite a success. Tell us about the incubation of Intershop.

Stephan Schambach: We had a business model before Intershop in document imaging. We selected a computer platform that was super interesting and exciting called Next. Next was a platform that was invented by Steve Jobs after he got fired from Apple. Those machines were 20 years or so ahead of their time, I felt. They could do things that PCs couldn’t do. We built software on it, and it was fantastic. We could sell it. However, a couple of years later, PCs became powerful enough to do what we did with our document imaging software, and we lost all market because these machines were too expensive. Next was always tightly coupled with the early internet, so we had email, FTP. It was the only way to stay in touch with other developers, and the only way to get software. We were all used to downloading software, but back then, that was a total novelty. Back then, it was floppy discs, and later on CDs, but not in the next environment. It was mostly downloads. When the web browser showed up in Next, he took notice, but when it showed up in Windows, it was even more interesting because we had a competitive situation with a U.S. player whose document imaging software ran on Windows, which in 1994 was powerful enough to compete with us. So, we lost that market. We had financial obligations. We had a credit line at 17% interest rate with a local bank, and our business was dwindling. So we were in dire need of a new idea. What we had was something called the World Wide Web becoming available on Windows in the form of a web browser with mostly educational and scientific applications on it. We were wondering if there was a promotional application for the internet and eventually build a prototype of a shopping platform that we tested with data from a computer distributor, and we played online shop for computer parts for a while. But eventually, we had delivery trucks showing up every day, giving us hundreds of packages that we had to repack and ship, and we didn’t want to be in this business. We decided then to stop that and become a software company. Intershop was the name of the company. We eventually produced the first package eCommerce software that was on the market. It was released originally in 1997. Before, it was prototypes and other things. We were venture financed. The company was headquartered in San Francisco, and things moved quickly back then. We went public in 1998 at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and then later at a Nasdaq listing in 2000, the last day when it was still possible because afterward, the markets completely crashed, and the dot-com bust happened.

Alejandro: Yeah, and you were able to go through that cycle too. This company was valued at its peak at 14 billion. How many employees did you have at the peak?

Stephan Schambach: At the time of the peak, there were 1,500 employees.

Alejandro: Wow! What was the time there compared to the time now? How are things different?

Stephan Schambach: Actually, the rate this crisis unfolds right now reminds me very much of the dot-com bust. It doesn’t feel like the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. It feels much more like the dot-com bust. It’s like the bottom has been pulled out, and there are parts of the economy that has a trickle-down effect to everybody who supplies that economy. 

Alejandro: Yeah.

Stephan Schambach: For the foreseeable future, it will be difficult for entire parts of the economy, and not just retail, to sell them information systems. They see this as one of the digressionary spending. It’s going to be tough. I mean, we’re in a good position, I think, but this is not going to be easy.

Alejandro: Of course. Obviously, here, you had the opportunity to learn. I think the problem with many entrepreneurs nowadays, especially the ones that are operating all these companies that are worth billions, that maybe launched in 2008 is that they didn’t really go through what you went through, here, with the business. During this time with Intershop, what did you learn going through the dot-com bust because you guys went through that? The company survived, and you left later to start your next business, which we’re going to talk about. But during that shaky time, what did you really learn?

Stephan Schambach: On the one hand, the other interesting situation, there was no more new business for a while. It was very tough to acquire a new business, at least for a year. But our existing customers, their online businesses, kept growing. For a while, even they didn’t realize it necessarily because it was such a small percentage of their overall revenue. But at some point, it reached 10%, 12%, and it became really important. I looked at the retailers that we worked with and how difficult it was for them to operate these systems because it wasn’t just our software. They had a choice of hardware of service. They needed backup systems, databases, firewalls; you name it. There were 20 different component types, of which you each had four or five different vendors you could pick from. Every installation was unique and had its unique challenges. It was difficult to upgrade it. When they had a spike in traffic because their business grew, they needed to buy new hardware. It was very difficult for them. And, we only sold the license, so we didn’t have a sustainable business model. I thought it would be much better if we could create a uniform setup where we could share the resources across many retailers, do a much better job of designing it for purpose, upgrade everyone automatically, and essentially run it as a service for them. Today, that’s how business is done in B2B software. It’s called SaaS. Right? But back then, it was a novel concept, and the only company who did it in some shape or form was Salesforce. So, watching this and coming to the conclusion that something that’s run as a service where the software developer would also be responsible for the success of the software was seen as totally logical, but it was impossible to explain to people. I didn’t find investors initially. I didn’t find customers who were remotely interested in that because it’s something that was totally clear to me that this is the future, seemed such a foreign concept. Convincing people that this might be the future, even if I had scientific proof, and individual components, or financial models, and so forth, it was very interesting how different entrepreneurs think about a problem and how difficult it is for them often to convince their constituency to support that. We eventually came through, but it was an interesting time. Everybody thought eCommerce was over, just to summarize this. I thought it was just delivered in the wrong way, and that was the right approach. It turned out to be the right approach.

Alejandro: This reminds me, for example, of the communication that Sequoia sent early in March to their companies where they were talking and showing and this also relates to their Good Times presentation that they did back in 2008 where it showed clearly that in moments of turbulence, the companies that are able to survive are those that are able to put a correction in place quickly and to be able to adapt to the new, whatever is open.

Stephan Schambach: Yes.

Alejandro: It seems that you guys were able to do that. You left in 2004, once all the turbulence was more stabilized, and you went at it again. So what happened?

Stephan Schambach: Again, I became convinced through what I’ve tried for the entire year of 2003 at my old company, Intershop, I tried to build a Cloud-based version of Intershop, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it because I couldn’t take the people who are assigned to the best customers who bring in the money to a new project and withdraw them from producing revenue that might or might not provide revenue a couple of years down the road. I wanted to have a subscription-based business model that was essentially a revenue share, and not a sale of licenses. So the entire incentive system in my company at Intershop, at the time, was gear toward selling something, making the quality sales goal, selling licenses. Whereas, what I wanted to do was something that would start with a trickle, just a revenue share. It turned out to be impossible to muster the resources internally even though I was the biggest shareholder, I controlled the board, and I could have done everything. But that just didn’t work, not in a downturn, anyway. It led me to believe that if I wanted to make that work, I would have to do it outside of my old company and start all over again. I also tried to get funding for this idea, and it was impossible to do it at Intershop because Intershop was always looked at through the lens of its old business. So it seemed easier to start from scratch, and that was Demandware, which got funded by a General Catalyst in North Bridge as the VCs in the summer of 2004.

Alejandro: Obviously, here, this is the next rodeo, the next time that you’re at it again raising money. At this point, you’re seasoned at fundraising, and you know how to do it and from where and from who. When it comes to from who, and now when it comes to fundraising, what would you say an ideal investor, why in this case, for example, did you pick General Catalyst? How do you pick your investors? How do you go about picking your investors?

Stephan Schambach: That’s a very good question. At the time, here’s what we did. My technical co-founder and I went to the East Coast and the West Coast of the U.S., so San Francisco Bay Area, mostly, and Boston and met with VCs. It’s like speed-dating. We go to one VC, we pitch it, we tell them we’re not ready to get funded yet. We just want your feedback, and maybe you can recommend a couple of other people we should meet, VCs, or otherwise. We networked quickly through the VCs scene in San Francisco and in Boston. In San Francisco, it was easy to get the meetings, but whenever I said we want to do eCommerce, the meeting was pretty much over. There was a hangover effect from the dot-com bust in the Valley, where they just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Boston was a little different. There was more interest because some of the early eCommerce software successes came from the Boston area. Eventually, I met General Catalyst. What was interesting is, I knew some of the people. They were entrepreneurs in their prior life. Larry Bohn, for example, ran a company that we partnered with, NetGenesis. Intershop and NetGenesis had a partnership. I knew him as an entrepreneur and CEO and trusted him and pretty much all the other partners at the time at General Catalyst, they’re also software entrepreneurs like Jeremy Allaire, for example, or David Orfao, and a whole bunch of likeminded people who are not bankers. That made all the difference because they generally wanted to succeed through the agency of others and help.

Alejandro: Yeah. That’s a very interesting point because it makes all the difference, and now you see that on most of the firms where they have people with background operational expertise. But before, most of them wore suits and ties from Wall Street.

Stephan Schambach: Yes. Absolutely.

Alejandro: When you evaluate an investor, what are the key traits? Is it about the network? Is it about who they can introduce you to from a talent perspective, from a potential acquisition, or what are some of the things that you look at?

Stephan Schambach: First and foremost, do they have experience in this space that I’m in? I want to see that because only then can they understand when the company needs to pivot, to change, and only then can they be helpful by giving me additional intelligence or other things that they learn from other companies? I’m acutely aware that the partners I’m dealing with end up on my board — it’s like a marriage. I may very well have them in my life for ten years, so I need to like the people and know that they’re going to be compatible with my team and me and helpful over a long period of time. And I want to see what they do for other entrepreneurs that they have invested in. So I’m usually interviewing other entrepreneurs that they invested with. I’d like to understand, for example, have they been helpful with talent? How do they behave in board meetings? How do they behave when there’s a crisis? What are their ethical standards, and so forth? That makes a big difference if you have a partner that you essentially through the co-sell agreements are bound to until the company gets sold, or the company goes public.

Alejandro: Yeah. Definitely, one of the strategies there to expand on that is for sure to ask a failed entrepreneur to see how they behave during the tough times. No?

Stephan Schambach: Yes. Sure.

Alejandro: Here, on this journey, quite a successful outcome. So Salesforce acquired the business for how much?

Stephan Schambach: 2.8 billion.

Alejandro: What does it look like when you’re a founder of a company that is acquired for 2.8 billion, what does it look like from the inside?

Stephan Schambach: In this particular case, it was a very good acquisition because it was highly compatible. There was a time when acquisitions and software frequently went the wrong path, and at some point, it must have been 15 years ago. Oracle began to make acquisitions that turned out a little bit better by professionalizing the process and the integration and so forth. We were lucky that we had one of the best companies acquiring us. First of all, they had a clear need. Then we knew they could sell our product in many different verticals that we just didn’t have the bandwidth to address. So we knew it would be good for them and it could become a big business. Essentially, they turned it from a 200-million-dollar business into a 1.5-billion-dollar business growing rapidly. It was good for everyone involved. It was good for our employees as well. They had stock options. Some of them have made careers in Salesforce. Others are back in smaller companies depending on a personal preference, but everybody felt the overall experience was great.

Alejandro: How many employees were at the time of the acquisition there?

Stephan Schambach: I think it was about 1,000 or 900.

Alejandro: Wow. What does it look like when you’re leading a company with so many employees? When you have so many employees, it’s a big responsibility. How do you transform it as a leader?

Stephan Schambach: The breaks are like this. Up to 20 people, there’s no structure required. Beginning with, let’s say, less than 100, you need a little structure, but you still know everyone. Above that, you have to have investments in the culture, in systems, in the organization, in values and training, and the other things to make it work. With an even bigger company, obviously, it is much more anonymous, and the systems of culture have to be built by then. Otherwise, it becomes very hard to run. I know that because, at Intershop, we grew so fast that we just never had the time or even thought that it was necessary to invest in those things, and it came crashing down when we had to reduce the size of the company. We were not able to restart the company into a vendor in eCommerce because of that. I think we did a much better job with Demandware. I also recognized the point and time when I didn’t want to run the day-to-day business of the company anymore. When I felt our people, who may not be able to start a company like me but are really good at scaling it once it has a certain size. I went out of my way to find these people and hire them and bring them on board, and it paid off handsomely.

Alejandro: Very nice. Even on the side, you were making it happen: Torqeedo. What was Torqeedo about?

Stephan Schambach: Torqeedo is a hobby company. I’m a sailor, and I am a fan of high-performance catamarans, cruising catamarans. I’m also very interested in environmental technology and wanted to build a catamaran that has an electric ocean system, diesel-electric hybrid-ocean system. I built a prototype that went into my boat. It worked, but it was buggy. It had problems all the time. I started a company on the side to industrialize a hybrid proportion system. Once we knew what we could build and what we didn’t want to build ourselves, I was looking for a partner and found the company Torqeedo. It was based on Lake Starnberg at the time in Germany. They were into electric propulsion for smaller boats and thinking about building something for bigger boats, such as catamarans. I merged the companies and became the principal investor and chairman. It was an active chairman, so I invested about five days a month in helping them, fully expecting that my investment would be hobby-money that I would never see again. But it ended up at the end. I had about 25 million dollars in, so I was getting weary of it, but it got acquired for a decent amount, this industry, a technology company sells for, and the investors make money on it; it’s actually considered a success. So it was sold for 100 million to a 153-year-old German company that makes diesel engines, and Deutsche had seen the writing on the wall that diesel engines are no longer the future, and they needed to get into hybrid-electric propulsion. They used to have a marine division, so they were not completely foreign to the concept. They acquired it to use the technology also for agricultural equipment, tractors, construction equipment, and so forth. It was interesting. It was completely outside my comfort zone. Obviously, there was a lot of hardware, batteries, electrical motors, and toys from the past when I was a young man, and I was tinkering in electronics and electrical systems. It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of software. That taught me a thing or two about what’s going on in the automotive industry. Obviously, it’s all becoming software. It was mighty fun. I still have that catamaran with the Torqeedo system. If you want to have a look, it’s called Moonwave.com. There are some videos on it. One of the things that I appreciate most is it can run long distances without ever firing up the diesel generator just by regenerating energy and recharging the batteries from sailing.

Alejandro: Very nice. Say, not bad. A side hobby, 100 million. That’s pretty cool. And, obviously, a nice segue into your next business, NewStore. How did you bring NewStore to life?

Stephan Schambach: This was still at Demandware. We became more and more convinced that only general retail was the future. But it was difficult for them to do that because we were so tight to eCommerce, and the eCommerce business boomed, obviously, and consumed all the resources. I was back at my innovator’s dilemma problem again. I couldn’t muster to pull enough resources aside to build something completely new. I was already with that idea while still at Demandware, but it couldn’t be executed properly. So once I had more time on my hands, I was just the Chairman of the Board, I thought about what it would mean to bring eCommerce into retail stores and what mobile could mean to retail and how online and offline could be one and not two different things. At NewStore, we essentially are providing an Apple-store-like experience as a subscription service out of the Cloud to any brand and specialty retailer who wants that. Our customers’ stores are run on iPhones. They don’t have a cash register. They don’t have any store tech visible in the front of the store. The associates each have an iPhone, and they can sell the inventory that they have in the store. They can sell inventory that is in other stores or on the website, and customers can pay by additional payment methods like credit cards and cash, but they can also pay with their phones.

Alejandro: Got it. Obviously, here, you guys have also raised quite a bit. Why did you raise money here? It seems like you’ve already done very handsomely with exits on the previous companies, so why did you get external financing?

Stephan Schambach: I’m an investor, too. Actually, I’m the biggest investor, but still, great businesses are built with partners, at least in my book. General Catalyst had been a fantastic partner to me in the past, so it was logical to tap them and see if they were interested, and they were. I also found a specialty investor called Activant, who had made successful investments in the eCommerce, retail space like Hybris, which was later sold to SAP. They are extremely knowledgeable about the space. I found two allies here that were really there to help.

Alejandro: I would love to hear your thoughts on where the industry is going as a whole with retailers, especially in an era that is going to be post-coronavirus.

Stephan Schambach: Obviously, the retail industry at the moment is in the worst crisis ever. I just heard numbers from industry analysts that retail in the U.S. is down by 86%. So it’s life-threatening, obviously. Customers are specialty retailers and brands, so they have a significant portion of their business on the website, so it’s a mix of website and stores. We all hope that they can reopen doors, maybe in May, maybe a little later. Some of them obviously are on cash-preservation mode right now, and it’s very tough for them. Many will not survive despite all the — I think the government cannot provide enough relief, or it will come too late for some of them. They just won’t be able to make it to the other side. So, it’s tough. It will sort out the winners from the losers quite quickly.

Alejandro: Absolutely. How much capital have you guys raised today?

Stephan Schambach: About 130.

Alejandro: 130 million. So, you guys are already in the growth stage. I’m wondering what does it look like when you go from the early stage to that growth and scaling stage where perhaps you guys are right now. What does that transition look like?

Stephan Schambach: That’s much more investment in making the platform work, not just for a handful of customers, but for many customers. There’s investment in making it work globally. Our customers, by definition, are brands that have global ambitions. These days, obviously, we’re all trying to do this without having a massive amount of people doing it. There are lots of partnering with other technology providers with system integrators. We’re not trying to do everything on our own.

Alejandro: Got it. How big is NewStore today? How many employees do you guys have?

Stephan Schambach: We have about 160 employees.

Alejandro: Now, with all the experience that you’ve been able to accumulate from all these different ventures and initiatives that you’ve had, if you had the opportunity, Stephan, to go back in time and have a chat with that younger Stephan that is 19 years old where the world is opening in front of his eyes where that freedom, that possibility of building something, what would be one piece of business advice that you would give to that younger self-knowing what you know now when it comes to launching a business and why?

Stephan Schambach: There’s one specific mistake I made, and that was we brought Intershop public in Germany and not in the U.S. That was at the wish of the investors because, in 1998, Nasdaq had a bad patch, a bad couple of months, but there was a lot of euphoria in Europe. We had to change the company from a U.S. company into a German company, and then we thought we would add the Nasdaq listing later. We did all that, but it was essentially the wrong move. I think had we not done it, we would have been able to grow and prosper again later. But that was part of what kept Intershop from thriving after the dot-com bust. I think finding the right home market and the right environment and infrastructure to grow in is extremely important. It may be normal for U.S.-inbound entrepreneurs to start in the U.S. For me, it’s an acquired skill. I started my first business, as I said, in East Germany, and then moved to the U.S., to San Francisco to continue on there, but I learned from it that B2B software businesses are best built in the U.S., to begin with. So that was one. There’s another one that I know, and it just has proven correct and lifesaving recently. That is, I was always of the opinion that entrepreneurs should take money when they can get it and not when they need it. What that means is that sometimes, I have to be quick and maybe settle with less than perfect terms, but at least I have removed the risk of uncertainty in the future and can move on and focus on business. It has, again, proven extremely valuable. Recently, in December, Salesforce was interested in making an investment. There were many ways to do it, and maybe we could have negotiated a different structure or enterprise or something, but I felt that this was a great opportunity to cement the partnership between Salesforce and NewStore. We were able to close it in December. Had we gone another way and maybe waited a month or two and negotiated a different structure that required more due diligence, I don’t think it would have ever closed because one of us would have eliminated all appetite.

Alejandro: Wow. Talking about timing. You’re absolutely right. I’m seeing deals now falling through left and right. What an amazing timing to be able to have cash now to weather the storm. That’s amazing, Stephan. For the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?

Stephan Schambach: On LinkedIn.

Alejandro: Wonderful. And do you have Twitter or anything like that?

Stephan Schambach: I do, but I think LinkedIn is best.

Alejandro: Okay. Fantastic. It sounds like I plan. Stephan, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.

Stephan Schambach: Thank you very much, Alejandro.

 

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