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Editor’s Pick: Profiles of Small Businesses and How They Grew

An archive of the small businesses we’ve profiled, from our database of over 700 companies

9 Minute Read

Our Trends Guide to Small Business Growth, home to more than 700 small businesses that have provided us with their financials, includes stories of every kind of startup. We’ve interviewed some of the most interesting of the bunch, explaining how they got their start and how they’ve grown their businesses.

You can submit information about your own small business here.

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The features below are in reverse chronological order from the date we published them. This file was last updated on 1/6/19.


Small business of the week: Hydrant is making Pedialyte that actually tastes good

In 2017, John Sherwin saw a gap in the hydration market. On one end was Gatorade, drowning in sugar. On the other end was Pedialyte, a gnarly tasting dehydration solution marketed toward children. Leaning on his biology degree, Sherwin created Hydrant.

He started with an Indiegogo campaign that raised $17.5k. Then he met his cofounder Jai Jung Kim, who pulled the plug on Wharton (yes, that Wharton) and reallocated his tuition money to the startup.

Since then, they’ve completed a seed round with the Philadelphia 76ers Innovation Lab and grown to $3m in annual recurring revenue, working with a food scientist, nutrition and medical advisors, and Oxford researchers.

Their product line has also expanded to Hydrant+ — the same hydration, plus 100mg of caffeine and 200mg of L-theanine.

Now, Hydrant is looking to make its mark in retail, finding shelf space in Whole Foods stores in the Northeast.

  • Founders: John Sherwin and Jai Jung Kim
  • Employees: 6
  • Years in business: 2
  • Cost to launch: $67.5k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, friends/family contributions, VC, crowdfunding, loans
  • 1st-year revenue: $40k
  • Current annual revenue: $3m

Small business of the week: London’s rolled alcoholic ice cream

Scott Burgess and Harry Simpson met when they were 16, selling ice cream at a beachside hotel. Years later, they noticed a peculiar trend rolling across the United Kingdom: rolled ice cream.

They launched Good Times Roll in 2018 after finishing college. Their first shop was beachside in Devon, with an ice cream machine under a gazebo. They’ve also sold their tasty concoctions by the iconic Tower Bridge in London.

Good Times Roll grew quickly to over $100k in revenue, thanks in part to a viral video of its Jägerbomb ice cream — made with a combination of Jägermeister and Red Bull rolled together, and paired with a cheeky shot.

The young founders hope to keep riding the rolled cream wave by focusing on product innovation (lemon and beetroot ice cream, anyone?) and delivering a memorable customer experience through their team of “Roll Models.”

  • Founders: Scott Burgess and Harry Simpson
  • Employees: 35 (including PT workers)
  • Years in business: 1½ 
  • Cost to launch: $68k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, loans
  • 1st-year revenue: $135k
  • Current annual revenue: $1.2m

Small business of the week: Behold, modern cat furniture is upon us

After rescuing their cat, Jackson Cunningham and Vanessa Koo realized they needed to give him things to climb on. But they struggled to find anything that fit their small and stylish Vancouver apartment.

With a background in product development, they leaped at the opportunity to launch Tuft and Paw: a modern cat furniture brand.

They experimented with various designers and manufacturers — and even an animal behaviorist. The experts suggested important details, from keeping the height of guardrails low enough for senior cats, to ensuring there would be 2 exits to make cats feel safer.

Tuft and Paw quickly reached 7 figures in revenue, largely from cat-owner evangelists who are excited to find a non-tacky brand. “Whenever I mention ‘beautiful cat furniture’ people always do a double take,” Cunningham says.

Customers have asked them to expand to pup products (i.e., dog carriers and dog litter boxes). But Cunningham and Koo are “paws”-ing to make sure they’re addressing the kitty cat market effectively.

  • Founders: Jackson Cunningham and Vanessa Koo
  • Employees: 3
  • Years in business: 2
  • Cost to launch: $1k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, Friends/family contributions, Loans
  • 1st-year revenue: $120k
  • Current annual revenue: ~$1m

Small business of the week: The card game that minted millions

In an age where screen time trumps quality time, Willem Jagtman, Lars Blokdijk, Lizette Zeeman, and Bart Kloosterhuis realized they weren’t connecting with those they loved most. Their response? They created Vertellis (which means “tell me more” in Dutch) — a card game designed to spark engaging conversations.

Before starting out, they vowed to produce the product if they hit 500 presales. That happened pretty fast. One woman discovered them through social media and ordered 300 units to give as gifts to her clients. That same woman ended up offering the company manufacturing support. (Power of connection FTW.)

The early success convinced the team to try Facebook ads. That helped fuel 25k sales, netting them $400k in revenue. Since their 2016 launch, the game has expanded to 11 countries and is played by millions around the world. The “connection starter” has evolved into 3 games, 3 books, coasters, notebooks, and more on the way — all designed to stimulate mindfulness.

  • Founders: Willem Jagtman, Lars Blokdijk, Lizette Zeeman, and Bart Kloosterhuis
  • Employees: 15
  • Years in business: 3
  • Cost to launch: $25k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, Friends/family, Crowdfunding
  • 1st-year revenue: $750k
  • Current annual revenue: $10m

The meme-y, profane answer to Hallmark that’s making $1m a year

When they were 17, Marcus Ereira and Luke Shelley co-founded a private tutoring company called Tavistock Tutors. Sales rose when they painted a bike fluorescent orange and parked it around private schools in central London as part of a guerilla marketing campaign.

Now, novelty is their main business. With the financial backing of Tavistock Tutors, Ereira and Shelley launched Central 23 in 2016. It specializes in greeting cards (it’s like a younger, more profane “Hallmark Shoebox”), notepads, and home accessories. Recent examples shared on Central 23’s Instagram include cards with fresh takes on internet memes and one that says, “You’re how old? Fack off.”

Central 23 started focusing on paper cards after multiple unsuccessful novelty products, including a “Post Poo Spray” bathroom fragrance. After pivoting to cards, it took 2 years of pitching to retailers before sales came through. The company made essentially no revenue in its first 2 years. By year 3, it hauled in more than $900k.

Central 23 now supplies products in 4k stores globally, including many familiar names like Urban Outfitters, Topshop, and TJ Maxx. Its digital following on platforms like Instagram has been enhanced by celebs like Victoria Beckham sharing its products.

Next up? Central 23 is adding new products to its roster, including what it claims will be the “most fun drinking game on this planet.”

  • Founders: Marcus Ereira and Luke Shelley
  • Employees: 2
  • Years in business: 3
  • Cost to launch: $5k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $0k
  • Current annual revenue: $1.43m

Infento launches life-sized construction kits that last through childhood

A decade ago, Spencer Rotting was working for a youth organization when an idea sparked: a soap box car race, where the kids make the cars themselves. As the gears started spinning, he and co-founders Sander Letema and Rogier Groen realized a world of potential in multi-functional, reusable parts. Imagine Lego or Meccano, but life-size. That’s Infento.

Instead of buying the hottest new scooter, skateboard, or bicycle, Infento allows parents to purchase a singular modular kit that lasts through their kids’ entire childhood. When kids are ready for a new ride, they just construct a new one. There’s less waste, while kids learn important technical skills.

Each kit costs between $249 and $1,099 and enables 14 to 40 potential builds. As physical toy stores shutter, Infento has focused online. It is doing $2m annually, building off a Kickstarter campaign that helped the company’s product video get 16m views. For buzz, the company relies on families showing off their rides on social.

  • Founders: Sander Letema, Spencer Rotting, and Rogier Groen
  • Employees: 29
  • Years in business: 10
  • Cost to launch: $250k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, friends/family contributions, angel investors, crowdfunding, loans
  • 1st-year revenue: $50k
  • Current annual revenue: $2m

Mindful mom brings pregnancy subscription box to life

When Christine Deehring was pregnant with her first child, Ainsley, she wanted to protect her from day 0. 

She quickly found herself overwhelmed trying to navigate chemicals like parabens, phthalates, or retinoids in everyday products. But as she looked for pre-screened products tailored to expectant mothers, she couldn’t find the right solution.

Recognizing she shared this problem with other expecting moms, Deehring founded Bump Boxes. The company offers a monthly subscription service providing 6-8 products that are safe for pregnant women, from belly oils to teas. Boxes can also be purchased as gifts.

In 4 years, Bump Boxes has grown to $20m in annually recurring revenue, serving hundreds of thousands of customers. 

The company typically attracts mothers early in their pregnancy and keeps them through the baby’s 3rd birthday. That’s 45 months of potential revenue, with an average price of $35/month. 

Deehring credits her company’s success to “always putting mom first.” The company calls every mother who signs up, attempting to build a relationship during an influential time in the mother’s life.

Deehring’s advice to first-time founders? “Don’t be romantic about how you make your money — just pick up the phone and start talking to customers. The goal isn’t to out-innovate your competitors, it’s to out-sell them.” 

  • Founders: Christine and Leland Deehring
  • Employees: 50
  • Years in business: 4
  • Cost to launch: $150k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings and angel funding
  • 1st-year revenue: $24k
  • Current annual revenue: $20m

Couple brings vegetarian protein alternative to market

Husband and wife Tarush and Jasleen Agarwal have been vegetarians for decades, but they always struggled to find protein options that tasted good and were not tofu. They grew up with paneer, a cheese high in fat and protein originally cultivated in India. In America, they found commercial paneer offerings to be too processed and rubbery. 

So the Agarwals launched SĀCH Foods. It’s the only organic, flavored paneer company in the US. Sāch means “honest” in Hindi, and they’ve modeled their brand around transparency and simplicity: Each product contains 5 or fewer ingredients.

The company’s multiple flavors include the original, Mint Chutney, Turmeric Twist, and Spicy Habanero. All of them are high protein and low carb (keto, anyone?). Despite being cheese, the product doesn’t easily melt. Customers use paneer for snacks, salads, and sandwiches.

After starting with appearances at popups and food trucks, SĀCH Foods has since expanded to partner with 25 neighborhood retailers, such as The Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley, Calif. Their next plan is to master digital and direct-to-consumer sales and to start a subscription product.

  • Founders: Jasleen and Tarush Agarwal
  • Employees: 2
  • Years in business: 1
  • Cost to launch: $25k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $35k
  • Current annual revenue: $300k

Kickbike America makes scooters ‘sexy again’

One day, Jordan Crowder was watching Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” music video with his daughter. As Mack rode out on an old-school ‘80s scooter, he thought, “I used to rock those!” His mind was blown when he found the Finland-based retro scooter company Kickbike.

Crowder teamed up with Dave Nadolski, and they’ve introduced Kickbike to North America. The product is about more than looking cool. It has emerged as a cross-training and rehab tool for athletes. And sled dogs use the scooters for dryland training.

The company recently launched its eCruise Electric Kickbike and is planning races and events. The business is making about $400k a year, with no debt and little marketing. 

Crowder’s advice to first-time founders? 

“Entrepreneurs sometimes feel as if you need to invent something new,” he says. “But oftentimes, there is something amazing out there that already exists and just needs the right recipe of people and timing to make it something special.”

  • Founder: Jordan Crowder and David Nadolski
  • Employees: 3
  • Years in business: 5
  • Cost to launch: $10k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $100k
  • Current annual revenue: $400k

The ultimate calculator side hustle

Ten years ago, Justin Supak, 39, stumbled across something silly on eBay: used graphing calculators for sale. He happened to own two calculators from his college days at Texas A&M and had no idea they might be worth something. “I just tested it to see if you could actually sell them,” Supak says. “I listed the two on eBay and they sold. So I was like, ‘OK let’s see if we can get more.’”  

Supak has now run SellYourCalculators.com for 10 years as a side business to his work as an IT service desk analyst. His platform provides an easy way for people to sell calculators, which he then sells at a profit. 

After tinkering to build a user-friendly application for customers to sell him their calculators, negotiating shipping deals with the post office, and figuring out how to fix decent calculators into top shape, Supak makes $100k a year in profit while working 25 hours a week. His goal is to eventually give the business to his parents for them to make money in retirement. 

But the work is not for the faint of heart. Supak has dealt with scammers, and the calculator market has seen better days. It’s all part of the challenge for Supak, who is considering diversifying to sell used phones or iPads. 

“What am I going to do at night? Just watch TV?” he asks. “If I can make an extra 100 bucks or 50 bucks, why not do that?” 

Stats at a glance:

  • Founder: Justin Supak
  • Employees: 1
  • Years in business: 10 
  • Cost to launch: $20k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $50k 
  • Current annual revenue: $350k 

Australian skincare company eliminates the bull semen, invests in vegan products

Angelique Ahearn battled sensitive skin for decades and had to carefully check the ingredients in her cosmetics. She was often shocked, finding crushed beetles, bull semen, and sheep grease in popular products.

After consulting for a skincare brand, she recognized a gap waiting to be filled: natural skincare that wasn’t lumpy and brown and tested on animals. She quit her job and launched NEEK Skin Organics in 2014 (motto: “testing on sisters, not animals”). 

The brand featured one of the first vegan lipsticks on the market. NEEK has invested in other cruelty-free, vegan products, including face cleansers, moisturizers, and eco barrettes. 

The business, based in Australia, now does ~$200k per year.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Angelique Ahearn
  • Employees: 2
  • Years in business: 4
  • Cost to launch: $100k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, loans
  • 1st-year revenue: $50k
  • Current annual revenue: $150k

$1m cookie company persuades father to come out of retirement

In 2016, the Martin family noticed something mundane about corporate gifting: No matter the holiday or special occasion, everyone seemed to receive the same box of crackers, nuts, relish, or Clark Griswold-esque jelly. 

Sensing an opportunity to inject originality, Siblings Trevor and Andie Martin; father Mike Martin; launched Noms, a personalized cookie product. Trevor and Andie had enjoyed their father’s confections throughout childhood, and they convinced him to come out of retirement from his computer engineering career to spearhead product development.

Noms’ customers can request personal messages or corporate branding to be laser-etched onto the cookies. Unlike relish and nuts, the Martins believe the personalization leads to a product people “feel good about sending.” 

The family has kept everything in-house, starting with a home kitchen and upgrading to a commercial kitchen capable of producing 50k cookies a day. Oh yeah, and Noms is doing $1m/year with 20 employees. That’s a lot of cookies.

The business has grown mostly through word-of-mouth and the good ‘ol cold call, but Noms plans to focus on digital and the launch of a subscription service in 2020. 

Monthly personalized cookies? Sounds better than the Jelly of the Month Club.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Trevor Martin, Michael Martin, Andie Martin
  • Employees: 23
  • Years in business: 4
  • Cost to launch: $3m
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, Family/friend contributions, Loans
  • 1st-year revenue: $20k
  • Current annual revenue: $1m
  • Profit margin: 25%

Duo looks to replace TP with ‘below the belt’ wipes

Charlie Siciak and Sam Nebel met in the upstairs bathroom of their frat house with the same thing in their hands: baby wipes. After their friends kept stealing their wipes instead of buying their own, they realized they had a business idea. 

The pair launched Good Wipes — eco-friendly, scented, and adult-branded wet wipes for “down there.” The wipes contain no parabens or alcohols, and the tissue feels nice and thick (but still flushes and biodegrades). An added kick of aloe and chamomile help soothe the skin.

A major challenge for Siciak and Nebel has been destigmatizing the product: They’re trying to prove Good Wipes are better than regular TP and not embarrassing for adults.

So far, the founders have steered Good Wipes into all 1,800 Target Stores, CVS, HEB, and multiple outlets online, reaching  $2.8m in sales this year.

Along the way, they’ve relied heavily on feedback and advice for new products and scents from their Facebook group, Good Wipes Labs. Up next? They’re looking to launch a subscription service in the new year for people looking to replace their Prime Charmin order.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Sam Nebel and Charlie Siciak
  • Employees: 5
  • Years in business: 5
  • Cost to launch: $75k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings, friends/family contributions, venture capital, crowdfunding, loans
  • 1st-year revenue: $172k
  • Current annual revenue: $2.8m

A husband and wife disrupt the outdated jewelry industry

In the summer of 2017, Chris and Steph Sammons were set to get married. As Chris looked for his wedding band in dozens of stores across Philly and New York, he kept finding the same thing: small selection, ill-informed staff, lofty prices, and months of turnaround.  After waiting two months for his ring of choice, he was told they forgot to order it. Multiple purchases on Amazon later, the couple decided to create a better way.

Enter Hitched.

Hitched allows buyers to select 5 rings and ships them directly to consumers in one week. All of their rings cost less than $499 — a third to a fifth of the in-store price point. 

They’ve achieved lower cost, speed, and variety by working directly with manufacturers, eliminating the middle-men suppliers involved with many diamond retailers.

Sales reached $250k in their first year in business, driven mostly by referrals. “We knew that if we could make the process fun, easy, and affordable, people would tell their friends,” Chris said. “Everybody knows somebody that’s getting married and they all talk to each other.”

They’ve recently partnered with the Groomsman Suit and have plans to open 2 in-person showrooms so people can have a drink, kick back, and leave with a band. Imagine Bonobos, but for the outdated jewelry industry.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Chris and Steph Sammons
  • Employees: 3
  • Years in business: 1
  • Cost to launch: $125k
  • Funding methods: Angel funding
  • Current annual revenue: $250k
  • 2020 projection: $1m+

Advice to first-time founders? 

Chris: “A lot of people like to dip their toes in, but you really need to take the dive.” Steph: “Don’t be scared of competition. Competition is out there, is healthy — and honestly, it makes you hungry.”


The Sabré brothers ditched dentistry to sell online leather goods

Omar Sabré had his dental degree, and brother Zane was working toward his, when their father was diagnosed with leukemia. The family’s finances could no longer support Zane’s schooling, so Omar gave him $30k to keep working toward his degree.

Meanwhile, the family needed to find another financial support system, quickly. Pairing their detail orientation with Zane’s affinity for personalized goods, Omar invested another $45k of personal savings to create Maison de Sabré, a personalized leather-goods company.

Rookies in ecommerce, they learned all they could from Youtube tutorials and spent a year experimenting before introducing a luxury phone case. The case, made from bovine leather and individually monogrammed, sold from Day 1. Since then, the brothers have expanded to personalized card holders, clutches, and wallets.

Two years later, they’ve become so proficient at online marketing, they’ve sold leather goods to customers in over 100 countries.

Zane has since graduated from dental school, but the Sabré brothers have given up dentistry to go full-time on the business, expecting $8.6m in sales this year. Next year, they plan to launch an apparel line.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Omar and Zane Sabré
  • Employees: 14
  • Years in business: 2
  • Cost to launch: $45k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $1.9m
  • Current annual revenue: $8.6m

The Silicon Valley duo helping data centers waste less energy 

After graduating from Santa Clara University, Matt Renner attempted to get a plum job with a startup. But industrial engineers weren’t in high demand at the entry level. He ended up working for a company that buys, owns and operates data centers. 

He noticed a pattern: The biggest companies all went for new construction. They wanted a cut of projects that cost anywhere from $50m to $1B. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are about 3m data centers in the country. Many of them need to be refurbished. 

Along with Aryn Bergman, Renner started Northshore. The company evaluates and retrofits older data centers to make them more energy efficient. “That’s the market niche we’re carving,” Renner says. 

They tapped into their existing networks to find clients. The first year, Northshore made $300k, mostly off consulting work for existing data centers. This year, with $1m in revenue expected, the company is consulting and retrofitting. 

“We’re ultimately trying to influence the improvement of energy efficiency across the world and save our shores,” Renner says.  

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Matt Renner and Aryn Bergman
  • Employees: 3
  • Years in business: 2
  • Cost to launch: $15k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $300k
  • Current annual revenue: $1m
  • Annual overhead: $200k

The 21-year-old kids who created an egg-white chip brand

On a summer day in 2016, two recent high school grads, Nick Hamburger and Zack Schreier, were sitting around cooking omelettes.

For Schreier, a Type 1 diabetic, egg whites were a favorite snack — particularly, the crispy burnt edges. In the kitchen, the friends asked a question: “Is it possible to make a healthy chip out of egg whites?“

“Zack had to account for every gram of carbohydrate that he ate,” says Hamburger. “He couldn’t even enjoy a bag of chips without having to give himself an insulin shot.”

The duo spent the next 2 years testing out hundreds of ingredients and different cooking processes before striking culinary gold.

In 2018, they dropped out of college and launched Quevos, the first egg-white-based chip. The snack was so good that it earned them a $50k investment from Kraft Heinz, $72k in pre-orders on Kickstarter, and, more recently, a $925k angel round.

They’re currently in more than 250 retail stores, and they’re using their funds to ramp up manufacturing capacity and “fine tune” their chips.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founders: Nick Hamburger and Zack Schreier (21)
  • Employees: 8
  • Years in business: 2
  • Cost to launch: $150k
  • Funding methods: Kickstarter, VC, loans, personal savings
  • Current annual revenue: $400k
  • Projected revenue (2020): $3m

$0 to $8.5m in 4 years — by building pools

A decade ago, in the wake of the recession, Tim Maas watched his construction business crumble into financial ruin.

“It was a smoldering pile of ashes,” he says. “I lost everything.”

He tried his hand at various small online businesses — a wine marketplace, a corporate video platform, a radio show — but nothing stuck and he struggled to stay afloat.

Then, he got a piece of advice: “My friends said, ‘Tim, just do what you know how to do: Build pools.’”

In 2015, he cashed out early on his 401k (complete with a 10% penalty and taxes up the wazoo), and started Pool and Landscape AZ, an Arizona-based construction outlet specializing in pools.

Maas spent $5k on licensing, insurance, business cards, and marketing (mostly truck signs and brochures). He acted as his own sales person, leveraged his prior construction network for labor, and optimized his SEO keywords.

His first year, he pulled in $1.2m in business. Instead of taking a large salary, he invested his profits right back into the company.

Today, he builds around 200 new pools a year (averaging $35k each) and does ~45 big pool remodels (also averaging $35 each) — good for $8.5m in revenue. Accounting for an overhead of $6m (50% of which is material costs, and 35% labor), he’s $2.5m in the green.

What’s been the secret to his growth?

“I hire people with more experience than me, and I allow them to do their jobs as team players,” says Maas.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founder: Tim Mass, 63
  • Employees: 50
  • Years in business: 4
  • Cost to launch: $5k
  • Funding method(s): Personal savings
  • 1st year revenue: $1.2m
  • Current annual revenue: $8.5m
  • Current annual overhead: $6m

Scott Ball, red light ticket attorney

In 2008, Scott Ball graduated from USC law school with $190k in student debt and no clear career job prospects.

Criminal defense was, in his mind, “the only area of law that [wasn’t] boring as hell”––but no firms were hiring. For several years, he “tread water” by picking up legal odd jobs, like defending friends’ DUIs.

Then, in 2011, Ball found his niche: Red light camera tickets.

“Cities would issue hundreds of $500+ tickets a month, and regularly send the tickets to the registered owner of the vehicle without first determining that the person driving the car was the same person,” he says. “[These were] easy cases to get dismissed.”

He launched a direct mail marketing campaign with a unique promise: If he lost a case, he’d offer a money-back guarantee; if he won, he’d charge $200-300 (~50% of the cost of the original ticket).

In his first year, Ball grossed $50k; 8 years later, he’s on track to make $675k in revenue.

Though other law firms have copied Ball’s direct mail marketing model and undercut his prices, he’s now the top-rated traffic ticket lawyer in Orange County, California. To date, he boasts a 60% dismissal rate and has saved clients $2.6m in ticket fines.

Stats at a glance:

  • Founder: Scott Ball, 37
  • Employees: 2
  • Years in business: 8
  • Cost to launch: $2k
  • Funding method(s): Personal savings
  • 1st year revenue: $50k
  • Current annual revenue: $675k
  • Current annual overhead: $200k

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