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welcome to the only small business podcast you'll ever need we go behind the scenes with business owners and marketing experts for success stories epic failures and creative ideas you can use from wix com mrs. who what wit what's up ba welcome to another episode of who uh twix I'm your co-host DL and i'm here with justin what's up everybody so today we're bringing you a story about why it's important to be flexible as a small business owner and our guests in the episode is an impressively flexible small business owner his name is Mike Rosenthal he's the owner and founder of Joey ax they're a company making boutique non-dairy ice cream with some really cool flavors like or chadha and and mango chili this is not your basic vanilla vegan dessert we talked to Mike about not only the changes he made as he grew Joey but also the intense research that went into those changes yeah and it was a lot as a small business owner it can be easy to get lost in your own head but Mike is a great example of why you should trust yourself obviously but not only yourself on making big decisions about changing your business he did a ton of DIY market research to get where he is today and where he is today is is pretty amazing he started in restaurants and he's now selling joya in over 200 stores on the East Coast but Mike as you're gonna hear is a big believer in the pivot he recognizes the moment when you've got a shift and try something new and he made some serious pivots with Joey ax he's got tons of advice for how you can learn from his mistakes so we're gonna head now to our conversation with Mike and we'll catch you guys afterwards we're here in the studio with Mike Rosenthal Mike good morning thank you so much for joining us my pleasure good morning to you guys so what's going on in New York what's up over there oh you know just beautiful beautiful out just hanging out enjoying all the tourists in town so let's start with the very basics of your company jus aright can you tell everybody you know a little bit about you and what in the world is Joey well I'm crazy so good okay decided to give up on a very good career in the wine business where I got the travel and eat and do lots of fun stuff and decided to quit all of that and start a dairy-free frozen dessert company so that's what you know it's dairy free frozen desserts it is their coconut based ice creams inspired by my adventures wait that's awesome so Mike's I want to hear one what are set adventures & 2 within those adventures how important was dessert yeah my favorite thing to do is travel and when I travel I'll go see some architecture I'll go you know do some touristy things but mainly I just want to eat and I want to eat like what the locals eat so when I would go in these trips to places like Mexico and the Philippines and Thailand and in Israel and all these places I'd come back to New York wherever I was living at the time and just make delicious food for my friends with flavors that I encountered on those trips so when eating one of these meals how important do you think dessert is to a well-balanced diet good question important question it's funny and I'm giving you the truth today so I'm actually not a huge desert guy which is very unusual for someone that owns a dessert company but when I decided to start my company and I knew I wanted to do something in food I I wanted to do something that I really deeply connected to because I knew from talking to other entrepreneurs that your business becomes your life so I wanted my business and my life to be something I'm really passionate about mmm so I thought of my best and oldest food memory and that was getting something from my Philadelphia brethren out there they know what water ice is water ice in Pennsylvania means one thing yeah it means ritas it does it is all right for those who don't know Rita's is a is kind of like an Italian ice brand it's very local to the Northeast specifically sylvania and it's very sweet but it's very like delicious and unique flavors that they they have there and that's what i ate growing up so the first day of summer we'd always go to rita's water ice and yes I know water is ice we call it is what we call it yeah so that was what really stood out to me as my oldest food memory so I wanted to recreate that nostalgic memory and kind of build a business with the pillars of all these things that I'm really passionate about so traveling and also I'm lactose intolerant so I wanted to be able to do something that I could actually eat interesting okay all right so listen I want to dive a little bit more into that but let's back up a little bit I know today people can find Joe a people can find your dessert in what something like 200 stores in the new york city area yes sir and grow and wow but in your mind you know you mentioned you were working for a winery are you working in the wine business how did you go from there to opening her own your own business yes so I worked for the gallo winery which is the largest winery in the world and i had a couple different roles with them mostly in the sales and management area okay and and i was my role with the winery was was to work specifically with restaurants and with sales people that sell to restaurants so I was surrounded by food every day and I got to a really close snapshot of what the trends are and what people are doing and what people are looking for and after consulting with thousands of restaurants I got an idea about the difference between people who I thought were going to be successful in the food and beverage business and and people that weren't and and most of the people that ended up being successful that I consulted with were those that were ahead of the trends and people that focused on things that weren't going anywhere like health sure health will always be an issue so those yet to answer question so I was doing that I were working for the winery and any time I was stressed out or unhappy with working for the man I would cook meals I would cook dinners for my friends and that made me really happy and the meals I would cook for my friends would be these things that international flavors that people would come over and I cook for them and they'd be really happy and then talk about my trips and my adventures and they started to request some of the desserts i was making so i made more of them and actually started with an avocado lime sorbet it's legit I'm bringing it back one day I'm hoping I'm hoping sooner than later it was a very like soul-searching type of moment where I tried to say you know I'm working a great job for a great company I just wasn't happy so when did that tipping point happen where you said this isn't my hobby I'm gonna make this my business well with the winery uh I was up for a promotion which was going to be the state manager for New York and I got passed up on that promotion I tried for it i interviewed for it i got passed up for someone a couple years junior to me and the natural inclination would be to be really angry we're really annoyed or upset and I was relieved and to me that that was a one hundred percent yeah that said its own decision yeah yeah so I knew at that point that this wasn't what I was meant to be doing the winery wasn't what I was meant to be doing and I really just looked inside and said where what am I most happy like when am I most happy and what can i bring to the market that's out there that will make other people happy can you give us those first few like action items that you did uh to to launch to start to get to get things in motion yeah I have a really good friend of mine he's actually used to be a customer of mine in the wine business in Chicago and was became a good friend of mine and he actually was unbelievably generous and said hey if you really want to start this business I'll fly out to New York I hope you pack up your stuff will you haul it from New York to Chicago you can live with me in my extra bedroom and you could work out of the kitchen because he used to run a Mexican restaurant group and he's you can work out of the kitchen in there and develop your flavors well I think everybody everybody needs a friend like that that's amazing yes yeah he he has a true place in my heart in my business for sure and so I did that I moved out to chicago and i spent about eight to nine hours a day for an entire year in the kitchen of a mexican restaurant where no i didn't learn spanish but I did learn how to curse in Spanish that's important and that was that was really the start it's actually started as a sorbet company okay so because I'm lactose intolerant and the whole rita's water ice connection I wanted to do artisanal sorbets but i ended up pivoting that concept because Chicago is cold as yeah you probably know yes should i do really well mm-hmm and it was interesting because i made a bunch of interesting sorbets like the avocado lime like a lemon cilantro did some really cool stuff but in the winters in chicago nobody wanted I see sorbets even if they were delicious but I made this one sorbet for the Mexican restaurant which was based off a drink in Mexico made from cinnamon and rice and it's called or chadha sure and I use coconut as the base instead of just using fruit and water and sugar and the really interesting thing was people loved or chadha and they bought it in the winter but some one thing about the flavoring feels warm even if the actual food item is cold is this exactly and and the fact that it wasn't an icy product it was more creamy people didn't view it people didn't care that was called out it was more of a comfort food and I learned that it was people didn't see that coconut based flavors as as sorbet they saw him as dairy free ice creams so that was really an aha moment where I made a couple more coconut based ice creams and when I decided to develop the brand to be sold in retail stores and not just restaurants I wanted to really folk the concept and now all i do is the coconut based and that now it's that became joao frozen desserts as we know it so while you were in the kitchen of your friends mexican restaurant were you I mean were you just like a mad scientist throwing flavors together like what was the process for you oh yeah I pretty much spent my life savings on things like coconut mango all different types of sugars I would spend hours and hours a day during the day just working on recipes which now I realized was probably not the best use of my time but I spent so much time getting these recipes down to the tea I mean by every little thing every little ingredient and i was making really small batches on these tabletop ice cream machines i had three of them that a buddy of mine gave me and to do production for more people you have to use different equipment than these little i mean i make a gallon of ice cream in an hour which is not very smart for business not really effective if you're trying to turn over tables at a restaurant nah exactly and the other element to that is i sold my car to be able to afford to do this so i could only sell to restaurants that I could walk to from the restaurant you in chicago in chicago right so in the winter in that walking sir no but don't feel bad cuz it was actually i thought there was a little bit of romance to it no when you were the the flavors that you were creating they were going out to customers in the restaurant correct yes so did you use that experience I mean you had like a focus group every night in the restaurant how did you like get feedback did you ask them like how did you you know sort of sharpen your skills through through being in the restaurant oh yeah i grilled customers all the time yeah it was really cool and the funny thing was i would go out and talk to them but the most telling was if i was going to do a trio of sorbets and ice creams the most telling was i would go out towards the end of the meal and see what was missing you know if people ate all of the or chadha but none of the avocados I told me something and I would ask people out a question and it became known as like if someone ordered it I was probably in the kitchen anyway so I would come out and hand deliver it and just tell them what it was all about because the restaurant pretty much got a sorbet and ice cream chef for free so they wanted to utilize that yeah it was actually pretty cool too because we got some press from and i was able to i was on the morning show in chicago so that i got to do a sorbet show for you and me in the morning about two years ago young man squatting in a Mexican restaurant no little do they know can you share with us some of your experimental flavors that uh that will never see in stores I used to do so i did a raspberry hibiscus sorbet it sounds delicious yeah I'm probably my favorite flavor that I produced was a white chocolate pink peppercorn that sounds good present tense so it it was so clueless yeah were there any flavors that just totally fell flat they just totally failed yes anything with grapefruit I was I just messed it up completely I tried to do a bunch of different grape fruit flavors but something about the acidity and the grapefruit this didn't work and I had to add sugar to complement it and it was too sweet and I don't want anything to do with grapefruit ever so so the world of dairy free desserts I mean I remember growing up and my parents would bring home something called tofutti tell foodies right and now that was dairy free ice cream um yeah so when you were entering this this market were you looking at it as like this is something that already exists and I'm just going to be a new part of it or were you thinking like nope I'm gonna reinvent I'm reinventing this market yeah i think that i think the sexier thing to do is say like i'm gonna come up with something completely new and completely different I'm gonna own that market space yeah what I wanted to do is I didn't really have that desire to just come up with something outrageously new my thing was just to take what was already out there and put my spin on it and just try and bring a part of myself to to the world if you will so there's other coconut based ice creams that are out there but i think the way that Joe AEA's products are a way that I'm crafting the product is its in its own really unique set and it has a lot of different elements that that make it that way one of the main ones is its healthy it's actually about half the sugar of regular ice cream and about a third less calories and compared to the other dairy free ice creams out there it's less sugar and less calories than those as well yeah so I imagine that when when you went from restaurants to to retail you know in restaurants you're on a menu and you don't really need to think so much about about the branding because you're just you're part of the presentation of the restaurant but when you move to retail you have to think about packaging and the logo and all of these things so so first I want to know like when did you when did you decide okay it's time to go out of the kitchen and to get into stores it was I was able to get a couple restaurants to put the Joey a name on their menus but most restaurants don't want to do that so for me it was like I i had a couple restaurants that was selling my ice cream but it wasn't safe because they could just drop it at any time so you went from you know eight hours a day making ice cream and then in the evenings stalking customers as they were eating it yeah and then there were so few hours left in the day to do brandon Moore market research creating your website so once you were at that point in your business how did you balance everything I did it all along side of each other so I worked a little bit on design and packaging and I made a lot of mistakes you know I had a bunch of my my friends design logos for me and I trademarked the name of a brand which I no longer use and you could say I wasted a lot of money which I tend to look in the mirror and say I wasted a lot of money but looking back it was it was a learning experience and now I can move forward and know not to repeat those mistakes I want I want to dive into some of these decisions so first yeah the name Joey ax may be hard to pronounce we spell at j awea um how did how did you come to that name originally the name was sore base Smith which I was thinking of a blacksmith something handcrafted artisanal but when it sounds like the name of a little bit enough of an old gangster something yeah yeah man in the store basement well when I said it quickly because I tend to mumble people thought i was saying sore basement which gave him the picture of me making sorbet in my basement yeah no no not education no probably not so I n plus the the product that was doing really well was people didn't view it as sorbet so I knew I needed to change it and I did some focus groups with the help of some friends and really trying to do some soul-searching and what I really stand for what I'm what's authentic to who I am but the real authentic part of what i love about food is the adventurous element of it okay and and the fact that it brings people together so i was thinking okay let me come up with a name that sounds exotic sounds natural but has some subtle nod to adventure without being over obvious so I came up with the idea of of Sacagawea who is the Native American guide for Lewis and Clark and they were exploring the Louisiana Purchase so you didn't know I was drop a little Merrigan history knowledge on you guys and I kind of liked the the fact that not a lot of people can pronounce it okay which goes against you know it studied marketing at Penn State and it goes against everything that we learned in you know in college and people want to be able to pronounce and spell the name of your brand and I think targeting millennial consumers people love knowing something that nobody else knows and if someone knows how to pronounce your way oh like you guys now you'll be able to educate other people about it so it's like your little secret exactly like we discovered the band before anybody before they were on the radio yeah nothing better than that so you in in some of these focus groups running these ideas for names and 44 sort of the imagery what kind of feedback did you get on joya that told you this is definitely the one yes so I literally wrote the word on a piece of paper and I would around to a couple hundred people and I'd ask two questions the first question was how do you pronounce this and about 75% of them pronounced it the way I was hoping they were going to pronounce that either gia or Julia either way I'm good and the other thing was what word do you associate with this word and I had everything all over the board but I calculated what were the most common word associations the number one was exotic number two was natural and number three was smooth I mean how important do you think it is for somebody starting out to just take those ideas that they're generating that are running around in their heads and just ask people just ask people what do you think about this I think what people say is really important what they do is more important so it was more important for me to see which ice cream or sorbet that they finished versus what if they liked it or not because people are always going to say they like it your friends and family are always going to tell you that you're doing a great job so so now that your product is in retail and you don't have access to your customers how are you still engaging with customers and doing sort of a new version of a focus group yes so we still do tastings in grocery stores we do a lot of them actually a lot of the whole foods and the fairways of the world Union markets places like that that are these people places where people want to taste new products so I do it myself I have a couple people on staff that do them with me and we track everything we track how many pints were sold during the demo any feedback if there was a favorite flavor and I think the most telling which is really easy when it comes to retail products is what sells in stores that's a pretty good determination of what people want is what they're willing to buy but the cool thing the interesting thing about my category of dairy free ice cream is we did surveys of Millennials in New York and said are you willing to purchase dairy free ice cream eighty percent of those people said they are willing to purchase it but they need to taste it first so how do you think you take that specific product and target a much broader audience with ice cream in general people talk a lot about guilt when it comes to ice cream they'll talk about I feel really guilty after I yeah true and there's really these two sides of the spectrum right now there's I'm not going to use the names because maybe they'll sue me but let's say it starts with an H and rhymes with shemagh and us so say you eat a pint of that mystery brand you probably be really happy and really comforted while you're eating it but you might feel lethargic and you might feel guilty afterward and then there's the other side of the spectrum where there are some what I refer to as diet ice creams out there that are made with things like milk protein concentrate pea protein who the hell knows what else is in there and they are you know lower sugar a quarter of the calories whatever their unique selling propositions are and you eat it but you and you don't feel guilty but you don't feel comforted so what I'm trying to do with joey is be in the middle of that spectrum where it's not you'll feel guilty because it's not this high sugar high fat you know creamy thing that makes you feel lethargic but it's delicious and it's better for you than traditional ice cream and it doesn't have the finish in the aftertaste of diet ice creams because there's no artificial sweeteners enjoy when you when you're a retail product in a grocery store you walk down the aisle and there are you're not the only one you know there are thousands and thousands of products so how do you convey everything that you just told us in the way your product look right in your brand you can't put a sign that says like you won't be so full you want to die and it doesn't taste bad afterwards by Joey yeah I mean it's really difficult right it's really difficult to represent everything about the brand in one little snapshot because realistically if you're walking by the grocery store even if you stop you have maybe two or three seconds so you have to try and just give off a feeling enough where people will pick up the product and maybe read about it or look at the nutrition facts so on the package of Jiraiya they're very bright colors for the flavor so everything from turquoise to do a mango chili flavor that has a gradient of like orange to red so hopefully that's drawing draws people in and then the actual there's some subtleties to the packaging it's supposed to look kind of like a sunrise in the back to give people a feeling of this is something lighter or something healthier than what you're used to and then there's the icons of vegan dairy free gluten free and soy-free on there so I think to answer your question that the design is really important and it's something that I'm not an expert on is something kind of we're continuing to get better and better on but I think it really comes down to you know how do we convey that and and I think it's happening naturally if you look at the trends in food in general people are becoming more and more knowledgeable about food so you look at things like you know people aren't counting points as much and people are like you look at the sales or something like diet coke is just plummeting so people want real ingredients real products that just aren't as bad for you as the ones that they used to eating yeah people are certainly more invested in understanding what's inside of their food exactly and nowadays with a smartphone even while you're shopping you can look up new products and get more information about them so I want to know as you were building your website how did you how did you go into it using it not only as an online store which I know you have but also as it like a marketing and educational tool to help people commit to buy him people really go to the website to to research because if they just want to see some cool pictures or see how many other people like it they're going to go to Instagram or Facebook so for me it was having the information of not only what ingredients are in there but why am I using those ingredients and if there's something that you don't know what it is it explains what that is so giving them that information and throw in some cool pictures in there too so Mike additionally on your website besides sort of grabbing your attention and giving you the story both your bio and the story of the company you can also you have an online store on the website yeah you can you can buy your products online so how I mean how much of your business comes from online how much honey is that so I literally just launched the online store so for me it's it's an experience because ice cream is really hard to ship because we do it through dry ice and it's really expensive to ship but we just started it and now you can buy Joey anywhere in the country anywhere in the US on the East Coast if you want five or six pints you can buy that on the west coast it's a ten-point minimum and I ship it directly to your door so it ships out on Mondays it gets there you know Wednesday's usually and you can buy it just go to the website you can purchase it and we'll send it to you so how I want to know both for restaurants and for stores okay how does the pitch process work I mean do you just go in and ask for the manager like what do you do that's yeah that's pretty much it just show up and don't take no for an answer and if they're not there you come back when you're there but when it gets to a larger scale there's you know for some of these grocery chains with you know ten fifteen hundred stores they work they don't really work on the store level so you have to make an appointment with the corporate and when I just started getting into is trade shows where these guys specifically come to look for new and different products some continuing to do those restaurants a little bit different restaurants there they're willing to take a shot take a chance on a new product it's not the hard to get it in but its its most of the time it's not going to stick unless it just goes crazy so with all of the market research you've done in your particular industry we're learning a lot about how to make a pivot but for small business owners they may never have done this kind of thing before so what advice do you have for someone who hasn't run a focus group or had the training that you've had yeah I think you know this is this is really difficult and it obviously it depends on the business but I would just say don't just trust what your friends and family say like if you want to do a focus group ask your friends to introduce you to people that you don't know before try and take your ego and yourself out of it and be willing to pivot the concept because just because you know I I wanted to do a artisanal sorbet company called sorbet Smith in Chicago selling to restaurants and now it's Joey a coconut based dairy free frozen desserts in New York selling to retail stores so yeah and I love it so there's nothing wrong with pivoting the business to make it make it better so when you're approaching a focus group and you're thinking of making a pivot for your business what do you think I mean for any business owner what do you think is the number one most important question to ask number one is how does this make you feel because people in that environment most of the time they make decisions with their emotions first and the logic second so they say oh this looks really cool this makes me feel really cool let me pick it up and then look to see if the logical side of my brain approves that so Justin I've talked to a lot of small business owners and often have learned more from their failures than their successes so you're in good company if you failed and we'd love to learn some experience where you bombed yeah that's I'm glad you said that because it's a starting of business is very very difficult financially personally mostly emotionally because when things go wrong it's it's just you know it's your fault right I mean you're the years old one day I had a lot of failures I continue to have failures and the important thing not to get all Tony Robbins on you guys but the important things not to say that we're not going to fail it's just to understand that there's a reason why you failed and there's a way to adjust in the future so now if I'm looking for say a sugar supplier i'm not going to just have one sugar supplier I'll find three sugar suppliers and have them ready to go in case something were to happen but to answer question as an example of some things that didn't necessarily go right let's see i have a whole long list of these one of them when i was in chicago trying to get back to New York to work with a retail factory I sent a couple thousand dollars worth of coconut and sugar and mango and things to the factory which I won't name and flew out there flew up to New York to do this test production run I was about a hundred and fifty gallons of product so maybe five to ten thousand dollars of ingredients and it didn't work the coconut fat separated because it was too cold in storage and we had to throw out everything so I just flown out every day all of it ah there was Wow I kept a couple pints the coconut which was supposed to be creamy and delicious it looked like yellow snow when we produced it cuz all the coconut fat separated that's appealing okay yeah not the flavor profile I'm going for so that was a complete nightmare I had to fly back kind of tail between my legs and completely redo it so it took me about a month or so to get back on track and I sent all the ingredients out again it's another ten thousand dollars or so when keep in mind I didn't have money flowing like crazy so ten thousand dollars a lot of money so I did it again sent all the ingredients out book my travel and got out there and when I got there they said we can't produce for you because our factories shut down and the reason was because one of their employees had done heroin in their freezer and passed away so it's obviously extremely unfortunate for the person that passed away but the example is just that there's a lot of these unknowns that are out there so at that point obviously I was very upset and disappointed for for that experience but it taught me a the lesson to like always have backups and things are going to go wrong out of your control and just to kind of have a support system whether it's your family your friends other entrepreneurs that when those things happen to be able to get through them together with people yeah so wait that that whole batch that second batch that you sent over uh dad didn't go bad too did it I mean we were you able to fix the situation no we weren't able to run that either so we just i just donated that product to charity and yeah yeah how did you know i mean there's a lot of money those are frankly a number of pretty devastating losses yeah how did you know that it was worth continuing well i didn't honestly and I was added money at that point so the decision was what did I learn and can I utilize what I learned moving forward and we're moving in the right direction finally is there any advice that you wisdom that you now have that you wish you had known they would have sped things up or made things a little bit easier for you yeah I think people talk about business plans a lot when it comes to small business I spent a lot of time working on a business plan what I should have done is I should have learned how to get the product out there as quick as possible and get feedback as quick as possible and if I'm gonna fail make sure i'm failing cheap and i'm able to pivot quickly seems like really great advice and also pretty hard to do right from the beginning so where do you where do you want to weigh it to be in the next five years I wanted to be in your freezer first of all yeah I want to continue to grow it because I think that the the fact that it's healthier and dairy-free and interesting flavors I think that's only going to get more and more prevalent in in this country and across the world and people are having more and more issues with with dairy and with soy and whatever else like gluten things like that so I want people that are having those issues across the world around the world to be able to have something delicious that's not a diet product yeah so yeah I want it to be all over the place but in the right grocery stores and I'll look to launch additional products that that represent those same kind of ethics and morals that we stand for cool so where can people find out more about joy so well you can go to my Wix website which is eat Joey accom it's EI t j awwe a calm but i also am building my following on Instagram we're doing a bunch of giveaways and a bunch of a bunch of cool recipes and that's everything is each away assaut Facebook Twitter Instagram it's all eat Joe waya but we would like to eat Joey uh ASAP right now thank you for uh ding us with those delicious flavors this is great thanks thanks a lot man thanks a lot for joining us on who it works it's been a pleasure thank you so much for having me and now it's time for your tip of the day getting feedback from focus groups is a great way to see if you're on track here are a few tips for getting the most out of your focus group 1 take into account who's in your focus group you want them to be members of your target audience to open-ended questions are key and make sure to offer a follow-up if you're asking yes or no questions you'll limit what you can learn three practice the sequence of your questions and make sure they're not to guiding you want to be as neutral as possible to get the best answers and now here are five questions that can work for almost any small business one how would you describe the feeling you get using this product or service to how much would you be willing to pay for this and what led you to that amount three how often could you see yourself using this for what other products or services does mine remind you of and five are there any elements that are missing here what would make your experience better now if much of your feedback is negative it may be time to pivot but it's important to think to yourself am I pivoting my target audience or am I making an adjustment to my product we hope you guys enjoyed our talk with Mike you can find joy of products all over the New York area or as he said you can have them shipped right to your door via his wits website and as always we'd love to hear from you if you've got questions about how or when to make a pivot let us know if you're ready to try out some DIY market research that's great just hit us up and tell us all about it at who what wickes at wix com also are you listening on iTunes stitcher SoundCloud or our Wix website perfect go ahead and subscribe so you'll never miss another episode you can also leave us some comments and give us a rating will love you for it you .

Video Discription

In this episode: focus groups and food business tips.

Launching your small business doesn't just take work – it takes research. Mike Rosenthal, owner of Jawea Frozen Desserts, walks us through the many, many tests and focus groups he held to nail down the look, feel and branding of his company. From setting up shop in a Mexican restaurant to the shelves at Whole Foods, his story is a great one.

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