Vishal Marria has raised around $100M for his big data analytics startup, offering more powerful insights to all large and small businesses. His startup, Quantexa has raised $100M from top-tier investors like HSBC, British Patient Capital, Dawn Capital, and AlbionVC.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Picking your investors
- The questions you should be asking VCs
- Quantexa’s vision for the future
- The best mindset when venturing into entrepreneurship
- Vishal Marria’s top advice for other startup founders
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 Vishal Marria:
Vishal Marria is a globally recognized leader in solving clients’ financial crime and surveillance challenges. Vishal Marria is accomplished at building teams and helping clients to use innovative data analytics for their financial crime challenges.
Previously Executive Director at EY, Vishal Marria led major programs at international banks including global Anti FinancialCrime technology strategy, data-driven remediation, and end-to-end reviews of strategy and policy. Vishal was instrumental in directing and building the Detica NetReveal business globally and strives to bring together business and IT to address financial crime risks.
Connect with Vishal Marria:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. I’m very, very excited today. We have an amazing guest. It’s incredible what they’re doing. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun learning how he got started, how he built a business, financed it, scaled it, and obviously being in a rocket ship. So without further ado, let’s welcome our guest today. Vishal Marria, welcome to the show.
Vishal Marria: Thank you, Alejandro. It’s great to be here, my friend. Thanks for taking the time.
Alejandro: Originally born and raised there in the UK, but I’m sure super-inspired by your parents that decided to go to the UK themselves from India. How was life growing up?
Vishal Marria: Yeah, that was great, Alejandro. You’re absolutely spot-on, so yeah. My parents came from India in the ‘60s. Yeah, I was born and brought up here in London. It was great fun. My parents were entrepreneurs. My dad had a number of superstores, so cash-n-carries here in London, across London from south to north. I really was brought up in business. I had a great academic career and also studied incredibly hard. I was always brought up in business. Lots of conversations at the dinner table were about business.
Alejandro: I can imagine, and I’m sure that you learned quite a bit. But probably more than just learning the dogmatic side, you definitely learned the pragmatic side by working with your dad, so how was that for you?
Vishal Marria: Yeah. It was really mom and dad. They were partners together, which is fascinating – learning how to turn profit, learning how to ride in both good waves and bad waves. We had a number of crashes during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and the ‘90s. I learned a lot from my dad on how to still run and build a business during some of the booms and some of the recessions that the UK had during the late ‘80s and ‘90s. So, a huge experience. At first, an experience – some of the stressful times when interest rates were up 15% to 18% in the UK. How do you manage a business? How do you run a business during that, as well as expanding, so not just running it, but expanding and expanding during some of the hard times was a huge sign and a huge jot; I learned very much from the first-time experience.
Alejandro: What got you into computer science? I know that there is a lot of pressure in India toward education, and you see a lot of engineers, and it’s amazing. It’s like everyone goes to study computer science. Was that influenced, to a certain degree, by the culture that you went and did that? You were just into problems, or how did you essentially get into computer science?
Vishal Marria: Great question. I think my parents would have loved anything that I would have done if it was computer science or become a doctor, or worked in the family business. I could tell you right now that my father wanted me to go into the family business. Even when I graduated and took my first job at Detica, my dad said to me, “I’ll give you three months, and then you’ll be coming to work in the family business.” To be honest, my parents would have loved it if I went anywhere and didn’t create anything. They always expected me to either join the family business or do my own business, to be fair. But how did I go into computer science? Honestly, it was through my school. I did incredibly well at information technology, as it was called then. I was learning code. I was writing code in my GCSEs, and I was very good at it. I then went into A-levels and did computer science as my A-level, and then I obviously did a degree in computer science. It wasn’t necessarily that I stumbled into it, but I was just very good at programming when I was young. I don’t program anymore, but I was just very good at it, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the computer doing something that I wanted it to do, and I really enjoyed it. So it wasn’t necessarily that bringing things together and building it in the hardware point of view. It was about software. It was about in the computer to do stuff, and I really enjoyed it. Having a math background, having computer science ahead was really lovely, and that’s how I went into computer science.
Alejandro: Let’s talk about finishing and getting your degree. You also got your Master’s, but your first real experience in the work environment was with Detica, and I think this, for you, was also a very interesting experience because you got to see the full cycle of the company from you joining to the company being acquired for £500 million. That maybe gave you insight as to how you get involved with something, how it goes for different cycles, and then how it ends up getting to the finish line. So how was that experience for you?
Vishal Marria: It was a tremendous experience. I joined Detica when Detica was a pretty large company. At that time, it was over 1,000 employees, and I joined as a graduate in a graduate scheme, finishing my Master’s and my degree at Royal Holloway, University of London. At that time, the CEO of Detica is a tremendous man who I call Dr. Tom Black. Tom wanted to invest in software into IP. Back in 2005, Detica was a consulting – it was a services business. He wanted to build IPs. At that time, my boss, a guy called Imam Hoque, who is my Chief Product Officer here at Quantexa. Imam was in charge to come up with new IP. He had this group called The Technology Innovation Group, TIG. He also had this group called The Data Lab. I joined the Data Lab as a graduate. It was about playing with data. It was literally like we were using – at that time, I did the Sass when I joined Detica. I remember even back to today, The Little Book of Sass. Picked it up, learned it, and then I was coding in Sass. I found it very strange compared to – I came from a C++, a C background, so learning Sass was a bit strange in what I had been doing at university and so on, but I loved it. I loved coding. It was my first experience of working with real customer data to find insights, and it was a huge experience. My first project at Detica was for a very large [8:11] here in the UK to find fraud, to tackle fraud. It was this fraud called sleeper fraud, or advances fraud, first-party fraud, some people may call it. It was a huge insight on how do you take large clusters of data, run it through some software that you’ve created fundamentally to find bad actors.
Vishal Marria: This is before people talked about big data, big analytics, AI, machine learning, human intelligence, etc. This was way before then. We were looking at large pools of data, bringing them together, and then finding patterns and anomalies using customer data, transaction data, and so on. It was huge fun, and I really enjoyed it.
Alejandro: One thing that is really interesting, after Detica, you did a few more years between Sass, EY, and really getting that background. I find that you are one of those entrepreneurs that are very dangerous but in a very good way of saying because you were very well prepared when you started Quantexa. Not only did you have the experience of understanding how to run a business, from being with your dad to doing computer science. At the end of the day, engineering is all about resolving problems, but then you were able to enhance that with understanding what it took from operating to exiting with Detica. But then, as well, with embracing even more the problem-solving aspect of it with Ernst & Young. In this case, why did it take you so long to start your own business? Because you had this in the genes. What were you waiting for?
Vishal Marria: Great question. There are a number of reasons. If I graduated at 23, 24 – I don’t remember how old I was. When I graduate, if I had tried to start my company up then, I probably would have failed. The experience I got from Detica like you said, I was part of a small group, a startup in a bigger company, which was Detica. Detica was then acquired by BAE. I went through that acquisition. I was then part of a team that acquired Norcon Technologies into NetReveal, where I was the Head of Financial Services. Then, working for SAS and Dr. Jim Goodnight, who is the godfather of analytics. Learning how to work in a much bigger corporate like SAS, and then going into a big full partnership, that institutional knowledge, that corporate knowledge, that governance, the rigor, the experience of learning from so many wise people around me was part of my journey and part of my success here at Quantexa. My father said, “A wise man learns from his mistakes. A wiser man learns from other people’s mistakes.” It was fascinating working with so many experienced people around me and learning from their experiences. Some of it, I would disagree with. Some of it, I absolutely agree with. I remember working when I was at Detica with a salesperson, and he taught me everything what not to do in a sales process. That was eye-opening because I learned so much of what you should not do in a sales process. Then I learned from another sales director at another organization who taught me everything I should do in a sales process. This was great to learn, great wisdom, great experience. I think what took me 14 to15 years to start Quantexa was that experience I learned from different people, different organizations. I really feel that it made me the person I am today. It rounded me out. If I look at E&Y, it really rounded me out as a person, as an individual, because it gave me exposure and access to C Suite that I never could get in my previous careers because of the brand, because of the firm. It could give me that access to the top level, and that was fascinating. That was hugely fascinating, a huge experience that I put to work here at Quantexa. I think I did it in the right time. I also would say my thought and my vision around Quantexa around leveraging the best of open source, open architecture to build Quantexa the way I’ve done, again, wasn’t there ten years ago. If you went to a large organization and said, “Can you put this startup company as the nucleus to your data strategy?” They would have said no. I will choose a three-letter acronym company because I don’t get fired for choosing that company.
Vishal Marria: But now, today, more and more people are looking for companies like a Quantexa, and they will take that step, even on some of the most critical problems because a lot of people have gone forward in that thinking to say, “The way we did it before might not have been the right way, and we want more agile, more innovative companies to sell some of those problems.
Alejandro: Of course. In this case, let’s fast-forward a little bit. You are at Ernst & Young, and this is just the most immediate role that you had prior to starting the business. But I understand that the resignation phase was quite an event, so tell us about that.
Vishal Marria: I wouldn’t say it was an event. I would say it’s definitely something I will remember very well. [Laughter] There’s a conference for AML, Anti Money Laundering. There is a conference called ACAMS, and ACAMS is the biggest AML conference. And the biggest ACAMS conference ironically happens in Vegas. I went to Vegas for the conference. I was at EY, and obviously, leading up to going to Vegas, I had a lot of thoughts. Could I now do it? Could I now be the #1 and start the company? It takes a lot of mental thinking before doing it. I was married. I didn’t have kids then, so I had no dependencies, but I had just gotten married to my beautiful wife. I went to Vegas, and I met this lady at the conference. You know, at the conference, you have where the vendors sit down, and they pitch you stuff. So you’ve got the room where the conference happens, and you have another room where the vendors are.
Vishal Marria: I met this lovely lady there who was working for this company. I won’t name the company, but she was working at this company, and the product was awful – an awful product. This lady has so much passion, and she was pitching to me the product, and the product was awful, but the passion that she had around this product was so infectious, and I sat there, and I was listening to her, and I was like, I can create a better product than that, and I can take that to market. I was listening to her – obviously, we didn’t buy anything and unfortunately, the company is no longer there. That night, I sat down, and I rang up my wife. She was in London. I was in Vegas. It was morning in London, it was coming to late evening in Vegas, and I said, “Darling, I’m going to do it. I’m going to leave EY. I’ve got an idea. I’ve got a vision.” Frankly, Alejandro, if I didn’t do it then, I would have become an equity partner, and I would have stayed at that firm. I wouldn’t have left.
Vishal Marria: I said, “It’s now or never. It’s really now or never.” I had the idea, and I had some financial backing myself. I had some money myself. I said, “I could do this. I know the people I want. I know the people I want to get on my side,” because it’s always about the people. I said to my wife, “Look. I’m going to do it.” She had been with me since I was 16, so she’s been through everything with me. She said to me, “Absolutely. Vish, if you put your mind to it, you’re going to be successful.” Then, that next morning, I call my career mentor, who’s back in London, and I said, “This might come as a bit of a surprise; I’m resigning.” I was on six-month’s notice. “I’ll work my notice. I never burn bridges. I will work my six months, but I need to leave. I need to leave the firm. I love the firm. It will always have a close place in my heart, but I need to move on. I need to do something myself. I need to be an entrepreneur. I need to go and start the business.” After a few neat ends, you know how it is. The guy said, “Come back to London. You’re in Vegas. You’re probably thinking – don’t put it all on red or black or whatever it is. Don’t do it. Come back to London, and we’ll have a proper chat. We’ll have a coffee.” My mind was made up. And that was it. Then, I came back to London, served my six months’ notice, and then started Quantexa in March 2016.
Alejandro: Very cool. So what ended up being the business model of Quantexa for everyone that is listening and watching to understand it?
Vishal Marria: What we do here at Quantexa, Alejandro, we connect data to empower people to make better decisions. The way we connect data together is a process called Entity Resolution and Network Generation. We are the only platform that can do that Entity Resolution in both batch and real-time in a transparent fashion. Entity Resolution has now become almost the foundation to anything to do with digital transformation, data analytics. Because if you don’t understand the entity, the entity can be a customer. It can be your customer’s customer. It could be an address, a telephone number. If you don’t understand your customer, how do you do business? How do you manage your risk? How do you manage compliance if you don’t know who that customer is or who that employee is? Very quickly, in five years, Entity Resolution has become more and more foundational to data management to understanding how you go to market, how you understand your risk, and so on and so forth. Today, we are supporting over 7,000 end-users on our platform who are using our entity resolution to either tackle financial crime to onboard customers to manage their credit risk or to prospect and to go after new customers. I’ve built in a very open architecture fashion, so you can build APIs into interaction systems into other analytical tools. If you want to run your Python on top of my Entities network, you can do that. It’s very open, but it’s very clear; it has the transparency, the data lineage. Because of the big, full background I come from, being able to put these types of capabilities in a regulatory environment where you have to go through things like model risk management and model governance, again, we have done that with our platform. We have that documentation at hand. So that’s what we do. As I said, we’ve been running now for over five years. We’ve successful raised three rounds of funding. So we raised just under $100 million. We’re winning in the market. We have a great client base and an excellent, fantastic team, and some fantastic partners, and some great investors who are backing me in this journey. It’s been a great five-plus years now.
Alejandro: How many people do you guys have in the business just so everyone listening gets an idea of the size. Anything else that you can share, obviously, you’re more than welcome.
Vishal Marria: Sure. As of the first of April, we now have over 327 employees here at Quantexa. We will be around 500 people by this time next year. So we’re growing at a rate. As I say, we now have over 7,000 end users. During this pandemic year, we would have grown over 100%, which was fantastic, and that’s not just expanded to my current rate, it’s also that we picked up another 10-15 new logos during this process of the pandemic. It’s been a huge win in so many different ways. Yeah, that’s where we are today – just over 323, 327, as of April.
Alejandro: Nice growth. Vishal, you were alluding to it before. You guys have raised about $100 million, a little bit over it. Essentially, I understand that it becomes a little bit more tangible and easier, maybe because of the experience, too, raising money. But for you, you were coming from the corporate road. This was your first rodeo. I’m sure that it was quite new. Raising money is an art. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of psychology and a lot of strategies involved. Even more of that, more on the psychology side when you go earlier on the financing cycles, the earlier rounds, the seed rounds typically are more like individuals, and they’re less burden on the diligence side, but when you got toward the Series A when it’s more like institutions are what you’re dealing with, it’s a whole different ballgame. How was raising the Series A for you guys?
Vishal Marria: Series A was stressful. Alejandro, it was stressful. When it’s your own business, and at that time, when I did the Series A, we probably had about 40 to 50 people in the company by then. I was bankrolling it pretty much; it was my money. We had some great, two anchor clients where we were building our product pretty much with them, so we had to detour out of the product. It’s really hard and very emotional when it’s your own money, and I didn’t take a salary for nearly 18 months. So when I started Quantexa, as I said, I consulted with my wife, which was really important because it was a family decision. I was leaving a Big Four partnership on a very, very good package and then to not take a salary – at that time, it was 12 months in my head. It actually became 18 months where I wasn’t going to earn a penny.
Vishal Marria: Conversely, I was putting money out of my own pocket into the company every month, every six months. It’s a very different model. It was a very different way of thinking, and you need to set yourself up to think like that, which was very different for me. Series A, that journey, end-to-end, was three months, which went pretty quickly, actually, from getting the deck out and speaking to a number of investors. In Series A, I got four signed term sheets. I selected two for my Series A.
Vishal Marria: Some good learnings. Don’t go all-in very quickly with one. You have to – do not. There was one VC I remember who said, “Vish, you’ll know in the process till you’ve got a signed term sheet in your hand.” That stayed in my head. I could have lots of great conversations with lots of great VCs. It means nothing until I have that signed term sheet in my hand. It was a very good conversation. I was ready to put it in my head – means nothing, those good conversations, until you get a signed term sheet. That’s the first point. The second point, don’t get too excited with good conversations. There are a lot of people out there that will burn your time, and what they’re doing is fact-finding about the market, about your client base around your go to market. They are fact-finding. Those are not good conversations. They are conversations that are great for the VC, but it’s not necessarily good for you because you’re not getting a check at the end of that process.
Vishal Marria: Do not be afraid to ask for difficult conversation. Am I the shape and fit of the companies you invest in? What are the companies you invest in? What shape did you come in at Series A? Are you expecting ARR at Series A? Are you expecting a full go to market at Series A? Do not be afraid to ask these questions because you might think you’re having a great conversation; the VC is just fact-finding. Or they might like you, but you’re too early. You’re not the shape that they need. Ask the question because you can burn lots of cycles. When I was doing Series A, it’s the first time in my life I actually got hives. I was getting these rashes, and it was stress because you’re running the business. It’s your own money in the business, and you’re trying to sell the business to these VCs. It’s very stressful. I remember Series A like it was yesterday. Do not get down if you’re not getting the term sheets. If you believe in your business, and you believe in your market, you will find that investor, but do not get down. Don’t take it personally. Just because it’s not for them, it doesn’t mean it’s not for somebody else. Don’t take it personally. When it’s your own business, it’s very easy to take it personally. Of course, because it’s your baby. You created it.
Vishal Marria: Don’t take it personally because it’s not for somebody. That was really important for me to learn as I was going through that process. I have a lot of wise people around me that helped me, guided me. Don’t be afraid to ask the question. Don’t be afraid to go and meet people who have done it before. Don’t be humble about it during that process. I did that. I spoke to a lot of people who had gone through that process before I did, so that was all very good. But, you know, around my first Series A, I got four term sheets. I chose two. It was brilliant. I loved it. It was stressful.
Alejandro: Why did you pick the two terms sheets that you ended up picking?
Vishal Marria: The first one, which is very important to me, is chemistry. Money’s money. There’s a lot of money out there. You can get the money. Chemistry – so, Albion, Ed Lascelles, who is the main partner there and still on my board today in Series C. We just got along. He made the process very simple. We spoke like adults. There was no, “My spreadsheet says no” sort of conversation. It was very business-related. He was very humble during the process. He gave the case studies where he invested and did well. He also told me something that didn’t go well, which I love to hear. It’s always sunny. Sometimes it rains. What do you do when it rains? Ed was amazing. He also had one of his other partners there who got involved were fantastic. They both came into the meetings. The chemistry was just good. I also liked his firm, Albion. I met Will, who – he wasn’t the managing partner then; he’s the managing partner now. Another very, very decent guy, just totally as it was, and again, very humble. I say the chemistry was right. The experience was there. No messing about. It was, “This is my term sheet. This is how it looks. This is what it is.” I loved it; absolutely loved it. Really, really good guys and I really enjoyed the time, and I still enjoy the time with them. Very good. My other investor was HSBC Bank. HSBC Bank was one of my first anchor clients. I have great relationships with the bank. I still do have great relationships with the bank. At that time, we were talking to some of the financial prime guys, the investment managers there. We had some very good relationships at the time of their CEO, Stuart Bulliver, an amazing person. We knew the investment committee well. The chemistry was right. They got my vision – really important: they got the vision. They were going to be a great and also R&D partner to help me build out the platform: a great brand, HSBC Bank PLC. A great brand to have behind you. It was all correct. So we chose HSBC, and we chose Albion. I’m delighted to have both. Even till today, they contributed incredibly well in my Series C. They both did pro rata plus, plus. It’s been a great partnership with them. I’m delighted to still say they’re my partners today.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. Obviously, when you’re starting to add those big names, definitely they open doors just by dropping those names, which is super helpful. One of the questions that I want to ask you here is, imagine you go to sleep tonight, Vishal, and you wake up in a world the vision of Quantexa is fully realized. What does that world look like?
Vishal Marria: God willing, Alejandro, that will happen. I remember once I was very young – I was 24 or 25. I did my first international trip at Detica. This one of the first times I got on a plane for business, not for a holiday. I went to Edenborough, and I got a flight from Heathrow, went to Edenborough, and came back. In London, Heathrow, I don’t know if it’s still there. I haven’t traveled, obviously, during the pandemic for a very long time. I landed in Heathrow, and I got into a taxi. It wasn’t an Uber then. It was a taxi like you call on your mobile phone to collect you. When you come out of Heathrow, there is an advertising stand like a billboard. It’s Oracle’s. Oracle says out of the 20 largest clients or institutions in the world, 19 of them use Oracle. I looked at that as a 20-year-old, and I went, I would love it if I could one day truthfully say that the top ten institutions in the world, 9 use Quantexa. In the top 20, 19 use Quantexa. God willing, we’re getting there. We’re on that journey. That vision is coming true. More and more people are using context to empower them to make better decisions. More and more organizations are combining both human intelligence and artificial intelligence on top of context to empower them to make better decisions. That context is Quantexa. We are the best at building context. The way we’ve architected allows people to put that into machine learning algorithms, to put them into business rules, to combine it, to empower people to make those better decisions. How will I feel when I can actually put the billboard up and say, “Nine out of ten, 19 out of 20 use Quantexa.” I will still wake up in the morning and have my breakfast. I will still have dinner. In Indian food, we have this thing called [31:53]. I will still eat two. I’m not going to eat three. I can’t eat three. I won’t eat just one because I will get hungry. I’m still going to only eat two. It will be satisfaction to have that, but it won’t change me. I’m still there, the Londoner that did this, and I look forward to having the vision true, and I will get there. We will get there, but it’s not just about the big organizations. A number of smaller organizations with just 5,000 customers or 2,000 customers or organizations with just ten employees are using Quantexa to empower them to make better decisions. So, my vision is not just for the large organizations, which I scaled the business to do that, but it’s also the small organizations with 10 or 20 employees who are not the HSBC Bank PLC. They’re also using my platform to empower them to make those relationships.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. I love that, Vishal. So imagine now, let’s say I put you in a time machine. This is the question I typically ask the guests that come on the show. I put you in a time machine, and we’re going back in time. We’re giving you the chance to have a conversation with your younger self, the younger Vishal that after hanging up that phone call that you made to your wife saying, “I have an idea. I want to do this thing.” Imagine for one second, you’re able to sit down with the Vishal that just arrived in the room, sat on the bed, and just hung up the phone, and then started to think about what could this next phase look like. If you could have a chat with that younger self and give yourself one piece of advice before launching the business, what would that be and why, given what you know now Vishal?
Vishal Marria: Wow. Great question. There is a lot I could say, but the one thing that comes to my mind, as you say that is, I would tell younger Vishal, who is starting Quantexa five years ago, listen to what your dad said to you, and I’ll tell you what he said. My dad said when I went to go start my company, Quantexa, he said, “Vish, when you go for a hunt, you don’t prepare yourself that you’re going to hunt for one thing. You prepare yourself that you’re going to hunt for many things. So, you prepare yourself for all outcomes, for not just being successful in one thing, but 100 things. You prepare yourself in that way. When I started Quantexa, I went in with some of my own money. I think if I went in with more of my own money and backed myself even more, maybe I could have delayed Series A for six months; maybe I could have done that and bankrolled it a bit more. Maybe I could have gone a bit faster and a bit quicker, maybe. These are all things if I – it’s always easy to look at it in hindsight. “Back yourself harder, Vish.” I put a quarter of a million pounds of my own money behind it, and then I put more money behind me after that. Maybe if I had put all of it upfront in the beginning when I started in March 2016, and I didn’t drip it, then maybe I could have gone faster. Going back to what my dad said, if I would have hunted and gone bigger and more aggressively, maybe we could have gone a bit faster, but in hindsight, I don’t think I would have done it because I was doing calculated risks. Don’t sprint before you haven’t crawled or started to run. In hindsight, I would have gone faster, quicker.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. I love it, Vishal. For the people that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Vishal Marria: To be honest, I don’t do a lot of social media. The best way to say hi is on LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn. I watch my LinkedIn. I respond back to most of my messages on LinkedIn. Just look me up, Vishal Marria, on LinkedIn, and I will respond.
Alejandro: Amazing. Vishal, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Vishal Marria: Thank you for having, and God bless you and your family.
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