Michael Czirjak, Co-Founder and Partner at C2R Ventures

Scaling Up Serivices - Michael Czirjak

Michael Czirjak, Co-Founder and Partner at C2R Ventures

Michael Czirjak is a Co-Founder and Partner at C2R Ventures, a New York City based a Talent Advisory Collective dedicated to disrupting the FinTech, Blockchain, Financial and Management Consulting recruitment space.

He has a 20+year track record as a full-desk recruiter, delivering top computer scientists to the world’s elite firms who are using mathematics and technology as their driving force and competitive advantage.

Since the early 2000's he has been immersed in the New York City FinTech and start-up community, working for premier firms including Princeton Information, MISI (now NTT Data) and Syscore.

Additionally, Michael is the co-host and co-creator of Duos – The Co-Founders Podcast, that focuses on the power of two people coming together to build successful partnerships, companies, brands. A New Jersey native, Michael attended Kean University.



[00:00:01] You're listening to Scaling Up Services where we speak with entrepreneurs authors business experts and thought leaders to give you the knowledge and insights you need to scale your service based business faster and easier. And now here is your host Business Coach Bruce Eckfeldt.

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[00:00:58] Welcom everyone this is Scaling up Services. I'm Bruce Eckfeldt. I'm your host. And our guest today is Michael Czirjak and he is co-founder and partner at C2R Ventures, which is a New York City based talent advisory collective focusing on fintech block chain financial and management consulting and recruiting. So we're going to talk to Michael a little bit about recruiting, about talent, about what's going on in the industry is also another podcast host. And we're all kind of touched that the end, but really focused on founders and the relationship between founders to really power successful partnerships and companies. We'll touch on that at the end. But let's talk a little bit about talent and where the talent market is and what people can learn about finding the right people for their business. So with that, Michael. Welcome to the program.

[00:01:41] Bruce, thanks so much. Glad to be on, too.

[00:01:44] Why don't we start with a little bit of your background? Because I know that you've been in the talent space for a while, but give us a sense of what you were doing that got you into talent and got you into helping companies figure out how to find the people they need. And then we'll talk a little bit about the business.

[00:01:58] Sure. So I don't think anyone really picks recruiting as as their profession.

[00:02:04] I think more people sort of fall into it, which is exactly what happened for me in the mid 90s. I was in school. I was looking to become a teacher. And I was also playing in bands professionally at the time and one of the members of the band. His mother worked at a startup that was doing recruiting in New Jersey and sort of the rest is history. And one of the things that that was great about that period was it was really sort of that mad rush when a lot of the newer technologies were coming out. So you had, you know, Java and C Sharp, et cetera. And we're starting to really become very favorable languages. But you also have sort of an influx of talent that was coming from overseas, being India, China, etc..

[00:02:48] Know the challenges that we face that was that clients were looking to hire folks with specific development skills, but the domain really didn't matter.

[00:02:56] So if someone was in healthcare or pharma manufacturing, finance, it didn't matter if they had a job on their resume, maybe they were getting hired. So it created this big rush and there was a lot of hiring that was happening. But I think what ended up happening long term was that things sort of got pared down. And the domain is what we find is equally as important as the technology skills. Some of the other things back then were a little bit different is that you didn't have sort of these platforms like you do today, you know, linked in Stack Overflow. Yeah. GitHub, etc. So, you know, my first days of recruiting were and this is try dating myself.

[00:03:32] We used to say we used to subscribe to C++ magazine and we would get the journals and Monday and Monday nights we would be in the office, tall Levin cold calling people, which is, you know, to a lot of folks who do recruiting today. That's so far in an abstract. And like, why would you do that? But it was a really good, good lesson in learning how to, you know, get yeses when you also got a lot of no's and a lot of sort of resilience and creativity of how you would have to navigate, you know, sometimes interesting and difficult conversations when, you know, people are looking to be with their family at 10:00 o'clock. But you have this amazing opportunity that you want to share with them.

[00:04:11] So what goes into being, I guess, a good sort of talent scout recruiter?

[00:04:15] I mean, what what is the essence of of being someone who can really help a company with finding talent? What do you what is entailed in that?

[00:04:23] I think from the client side, that first and foremost for two are one of the things that that we really thought hard about when we launched our company was that we didn't want to be just another vendor, just another agency. You know, all of us, my partner, Eric Rosenthal and Nick Castillo, you know, we've all been working together for a long time.

[00:04:44] And when we kind of put this together, we really wanted to map out a strategy of where we could really become advisors and partners with our clients. And one of the one of the challenges that I'd say that most agencies face is that they say yes, too often they say yes to the wrong candidates and they also say yes to the wrong clients.

[00:05:01] And in a business where, you know, you're driven literally by performance. You know, in our world, if you're not putting people into companies that are in the successful way, you're not making any money. We felt it was very important to learn how to say yes to the right opportunities. And I think when it comes to the client side. The most important thing is really listening, learning what the client's pain points are, really understanding the stack, really understanding what the culture is like, really understanding who fits, who doesn't, and not trying to force the client to take people that don't really fit into their foundation of who they are. Now, granted, sometimes the client doesn't fully know who they are. So you do have to educate them a bit, possibly on the on the market conditions. But in the long run, you know, that's that's side a, right. So figuring out from the client perspective who would be the ideal candidate for them? And then I'd say on the other side is obviously the candidate piece. You know, it's a very emotional thing for people who change jobs quite often. I mean, for both you and I, we're working with people who are in and out of businesses all the time. So I would say sometimes I take it for granted that, hey, you're scheduling an interview or you're doing this, you're doing that. But the truth is, people are working. They have families. They have lives. They have obligations now. Career change is very stressful. It's right up there with, you know, moving and getting married and doing all these things. And, you know, the wrong career move could really, you know, put your career trajectory at a deficit. So I think really understanding both sides of who's looking for what and really trying to match up those match up those variables, I think is very, very key to be successful in this space.

[00:06:41] If you've had a case where a client comes to you saying they're looking for a particular type of talent or, you know, a particular profile or experience level or something, and you've had to kind of tell them, no, you're not that based on really what you need, that's not who you want or kind of advise them or push back on them in different ways.

[00:06:59] And what ways typically are you finding that you're helping clients rethink their strategy?

[00:07:04] Yeah, I mean, sometimes I'd say, you know, client might might want someone that has really it's three people in one. And I think that that's often the challenge. I mean, years ago now. Now it's a big term.

[00:07:16] You know, you hear the term dev ops or site reliability engineer Asari. And that was really sort of the kind of the jack of all skill set. You know, someone who knew, you know, scripting languages, they knew, you know, let's say on Linux infrastructure, they understood the pain points of this capacity planning and what application developers went through. And years ago, you know, that was like struggle to find someone who had all those things. And now you're getting sort of hybrid roles where maybe someone has two of the of the thirds that that you'd really want. So I think in those in those scenarios, you know, the clients, sometimes they're insulated by their own environments. So they might not know what the market bears and they might think they need, you know, something specific. But also the interview process helps unfold some of those some of those questions. You know, they get 10 people in the queue, they interview them and then they realize, wait a second, what we thought we wanted and what the market's bearing and maybe where we're trying to move for a future state that's not aligned. And we need to recalibrate. And we do it in obviously a conscious and courteous way that, you know, we're not there to waste their time. They don't want to waste our time. And clearly, the last thing we want to do is we start out the candidates that we work with their time. So I think if you keep the open dialogue, it's pretty, pretty easy to accomplish everyone's goals.

[00:08:32] What are some things that a company can do when they're kind of doing their talent, planning or figuring out what their talent needs are to help bolster the kind of planning and figure out how to articulate that to make it easier either to work with the recruiter or work with, you know, someone who's gonna help them find folks are actually going to find folks.

[00:08:49] What are some things they can do to help either get clearer or more strategic around their planning? There have been around their talent needs.

[00:08:55] Well, I think it's a great question, because there's been clients that we've had in the past where a candidate would show up for an interview. They would just be riddled with, you know, sort of these, you know, just like a stockpile of technical questions. And there would be zero conversation in or around the actual project, what their interests were, where the company is going, what are some of the new initiatives, what the culture is like, etc. The war for talent is so aggressive right now. I would say three years ago we had a candid interviewing. They might have one to two opportunities that were on par with what we would present them for. I'd say now it's probably five to six at all. Very compelling opportunities, different parameters. Some can be, you know, a startup, some can be companies who have, you know, are public, etc. And the one thing I'd say that a smart company does is really they outline their hiring process in a very rigid way. So Canada comes on site or first Canada gets submitted. What's the process? Is it a code or pad? Is it hacker rank? Is it a phone screen? Do they have to do a take home project? Is there a phone interview after that video interview? Do they come on site for a full day, half day? Time is valuable for everyone.

[00:10:11] And I think when a candidate has a very good idea of what the process will look like and how it will unfold, and obviously that's where we come in and. Educate them as much as we can on this is what your expectations would be. Whether the candidate gets the job or not. Obviously, we want them to get the job and the candidate does. But that experience, that experience pays tenfold where someone would say, listen, I went on site with this client. I didn't get the job. But the experience was amazing. And I think for I come from a collateral perspective that really helps a client out there in the real world. When someone says, hey, what was it like interviewing at X, Y, Z in the day, they go through that, you know, that that exercise of what their experience was like.

[00:10:51] Yeah. It's like oh, it's like you're at your reputation. You're hiring you're hiring reputation. And if you if you leave candids in the dark and not tell them what the next step is and surprise them, you know, it's gonna be you're gonna have a bad rap in terms of other potential candidates.

[00:11:04] Yeah. I mean, there's there's websites now. Obviously, Glassdoor is a big one, you know, where where you know, personally and my personal opinion, I don't find it as as useful. I know people complain a lot on there and you know, and people need a place to put their thoughts. But I think, you know, one of the reasons why you work with an agency that has a good reputation is just that, that we curate our clients to make sure that our clients are ones that we're comfortable representing and we know their environments inside and out. And in that sense, you'll also get the entire walkthrough of what each and every process is like from start to the close to when you join.

[00:11:43] Yeah. So you mentioned the how sort of competitive things have gotten over the last couple of years, but what else have you noticed in terms of just the change in trends in whether they be technology specific or more general, just recruiting and finding talent for companies?

[00:11:58] What are some of the things you've noticed over the last three, four, five years in terms of how things have changed?

[00:12:03] I'd say that for certain skill sets where they might normally be specific to a domain and I'll I'll give you a real world example. There is Kenan I was working with had extremely amazing C++ low latency experience and had worked in a prop trading firm for a number of years. That person ended up getting offers at two separate firms after that that were also on the trading space, also had offers for Google and Facebook and also an offer at Goldman Sachs. So you take a person who has been literally working only within fintech or trading, and that person's skill set is transferable to these domains that are also serving up, let's say, for Google and Facebook, serving up ads or something else, or just, you know, working on high availability type systems. And I think that's probably the biggest shift. So data science is obviously a big buzz word that gets thrown around.

[00:12:56] And literally everyone is looking for data scientists, whether you're, you know, your or your hospital, whether you're a your you're one of the Amazon, etc. And the idea is that the type the underlying technology knowledge is almost more key than having the domain knowledge. So we're seeing a big transfer is that when candidates are receiving offers, their offers aren't you know him? I have five offers from the investment banks. It's I have an offer from an investment bank and then a company that's in this industry and that industry. And I think for the candidate, it's great because, you know, years ago, you probably thought you were only going to be able to stay in your lane if you'd been in there for a while. And I think it's it shows the power of technology, how it's able to really transform businesses. And if companies are investing smartly in technology, which they should, and not looking at it as just a cost, they should be able to realize that that is going to be their competitive advantage. A great a great idea with that execution is just a great idea.

[00:13:53] You know, I'm curious on the flip side from a from a candidate point of view, and I ask this sort of on behalf of service companies who have people they want to keep. What are the things that you see that that really helped retain folks like when you when you go to somebody who is employed and you're giving them an offer? What are the reasons they give for not taking offers or not being interested in looking at what drives people's retention or, you know, it essentially makes your job more difficult?

[00:14:21] Well, there's a number of factors there. I mean, outside of the standards, which would be no compensation location and things like that. And I think from from an actual inside the company perspective, Smart Company is one of the things that they do is they let a candidate work on certain projects that could eventually influence positive outcomes for the company. So if you're a software engineer and you have a great idea and there is a sort of, you know, flat hopefully a flat organization where its its best idea wins. I think companies that invest in those types of programs and meet ups internally and coding groups internally, I think those things really make a difference because, you know, there's nothing worse than going to an opportunity or, you know, your your day job where you feel like you're just doing the same thing over and over. There is there's no advancement for technology. There might not be any clear path from upward mobility. But when you're. On these projects, I think it really sort of, you know, kind of spurs these great ideas that eventually influence the future state of the company, so smart companies do that. They invest a lot in open source, you know, sort of sort of things to do the hackathon. And I think all those things that keep people engaged like they're part of the actual hive is really key. And they and the companies that that clearly show that they're not doing that. You know, your retention rate is you know, it's going to be it's going to be low.

[00:15:49] Yeah. And let's talk about the kind of the actual recruiting process itself in terms of how a company can, you know, just around best practices for interviewing for the vetting process. I mean, you mentioned, you know, doing code tests, doing projects, doing various kind of certifications and things. What if I'm an employer and I'm trying to think through how I go about my interviewing, recruiting, interviewing process and whether or not I'm using an advisor like you? What are some best practices, things that I can do to improve the effectiveness and the efficiency of that?

[00:16:22] Well, I think if at all, in a best case scenario, you do have your opportunity you're looking to fill. Clearly to find you have the process clearly defined. And, you know, the market, again, is so competitive. You have to be in a position where you can you can sell the candidate on why this opportunity would be great for their career, help them and also to help the company and companies who don't do that. I am certain companies hiring different ways. You know, some companies hire in a way where you're you get into the company and then we figure out where you're the best fit that works for some candidates, for some candidates. It just doesn't. But I think it all goes back to this communication idea where a candidate themselves. I and my partners always advise if you're going to begin interviewing, you really need to do the things that anyone who's in a highly competitive and highly successful position would do. You have to prepare. So that means, you know, studying, practicing, canvassing the market, figuring out where you think your interests might be, where they aren't, figuring out what you want to do, what you don't, what are things that you might say yes to and you wouldn't say yes to, whether it's travel restriction.

[00:17:33] The average you want to work, you have to kind of do all those things and the client has to do that equally as well. You can't expect the candidate to just jump through a bunch of hoops for interviews where they're taking time out of their day, where they might they might all clearly be noticed by their current employer that you know why? Why is Steve out four days in a row, you know? So it's sort of this kind of time management and consciousness of, again, creating a better experience. And I think all those things sort of put together really make the difference. The challenge in recruiting and closing on the client side is that we're not dealing with products. We're dealing with people who have you know, it's emotional. You know, there's sort of this flip flop back and forth, should I take the job? Shouldn't I? My friend said this. I'm not sure about this person on the team. You know, there are just so many variables that go into it. So even if you have the perfect role and the perfect candidate, it doesn't always mean it will align.

[00:18:29] Yeah, no, that makes sense. Talk to me about some of the sort of tools and stuff that I can use. Or do these tests you to take home test. You know, third party kind of evaluation tools. You know, whether it's, you know, coding or, you know, knowing, being able to test to set server levels. What are these? Are they useful or they when you apply them? I mean, how do you integrate those into the process?

[00:18:53] Yeah, I would say that if if you were if you were about to go into an interview process or you think you're ready, that I think it's time that I want to move out from from my current, current employer. My advice is always the same. Even if you're technically a passive looker, you should try to look at multiple opportunities at the same time. And again, I would say prepare first, spend a couple of weeks, go back through your, you know, whatever language is where, you know, whatever whatever your four skillset is, technical skill set is, go back to the basics, focus, be prepared. This this is a funny thing. I think even with interviewing and I've done this myself when we were working with a new client and you know, we know we're going to engage with them. I will say out loud the pitch of how I would present this to someone, because I know the first few times it's going to sound like marbles. I know I'm not going to say it the right way. And I think candidates sometimes forget how to, you know, in a concise way explain who they are and what they do.

[00:19:53] So all those things are very much ready for you to get ready for interviews. And then when I say if you are going to hit the market to have the best leverage, you would want to interview with multiple companies at the same time. The worst case scenario is you stay where you are, right. If you can go out to the market and see four or five opportunities, you can say, listen, I know opportunity. It's a great company, but the fit isn't right. Opportunity B is exactly what I'm. And so forth and so on, and it gives you a better gauge to make, you know, who doesn't want to have more options when they're trying to make a decision that literally can be the next one to five years in your life, you'd want to put yourself in a position where you're as educated as possible and clearly to be able to to leverage to get yourself the best opportunity, best compensation and best everything if you can.

[00:20:43] So from the company side, if I'm in a leadership position or I'm in charge of, you know, talent at a growing company, what can I do? I guess to kind of maintain my relationship, because it seems like somebody these really good candidates are kind of passive lookers. I mean, that that I'm I'm trying to build relationships with folks that may not be looking today, but, you know, maybe in a couple of months, maybe in a year when they now start to think about different opportunities, how do I keep my company kind of top of mind? Well, I guess what can I do to kind of attract build relationships and attract kind of more the passive seekers in the market that active?

[00:21:21] The premise and sort of the idea of the way we structured see to our.

[00:21:25] So one of the things that we really wanted to also do as we built our collective is to not just provide here's an opportunity that we have. We really focused very heavily on the idea of of information in and around the industry that would be useful for our community. So when we began in 2017, we had zero followers on LinkedIn. We're now above twenty five thousand two years and really growing that community was providing information that's valuable, not just here's another job. So it could be information of industry. It could be, you know, papers that we write, anything that really helps to drive this idea of what's going on in the market. And I think for employers, it's very important for them to use platforms like LinkedIn or elsewhere to really talk about those initiatives that are going on. Hey, we just received an award for this. Our solution did X, Y, Z. Well, number one in the market for this, because those are the things that candidates really, really are attracted to, that they know that the employer is as engaged as they want to be. And you're probably seeing a lot more of that on LinkedIn. Now, it's sort of, you know, this this platform where, you know, you pay for the service and then you sort of have carte blanche to to advertise or to promote, as you will. But I think that engagement is very key. So when someone thinks of company X, they know that that's an innovator versus a company that. Well, they're a dinosaur.

[00:22:55] Yeah. And so I guess. How is this. Well, I guess maybe what's your take on the trend of the nature of employment in this kind of whole gig economy? And I guess at least the perception that things are moving away from long term, full time employment to more, you know, engagement based, gig based or shorter periods of time. Maggie, what's your guess? What have you seen in terms of the reality of that? And then how is it kind of shifted strategy, how you've seen employers deal with this stuff, how your services going to work? What's your take on that?

[00:23:25] Well, it's certainly a shift into the gig economy. And there's more remote workers now than than we've seen before. I think for companies that are trying to really build their brand, there's probably less. There's probably a less of an appetite to have those types of workers for the long term just because, you know, when you're trying to build products, it's hard, you know, and you really need people engaged and you can't have this sort of revolving door. I think startups maybe have a little bit more flexibility. But, you know, again, it sort of goes back to opportunity. If I'm an engineer and I can work on five different projects that are all interesting, exciting, and I can do that from the comforts of my home. There is there is a high likelihood that that I would do that. It's still for us, it's challenging. But I think that goes goes, you know, when we're first screening, those are the things that we really try to ferret out from the beginning. And we had a conversation with someone, you know, this week, or they said, listen, my current employer allows me to work three days from home. My commute to New York is two hours. And for the client that we were considering them for. It's just not going to work. Rather than try to force that candidate in and force the client to accept it, it's better to be a pass. But certainly the the you know, the globalization of our business, the fact that you have so many remote teams working from all over the world together on projects, it certainly adds to the challenges that we face. And, you know, clearly for employers, it's been a hurdle for them. But, you know, there are ways around it. Again, every candidate is employable. So it just has to be the right fit.

[00:24:58] Yeah. So I want to talk to on the podcast a little bit. I know that the podcast view I'm imagining has been both kind of a business strategy, a content strategy. I'm curious how you kind of came up with the idea of the podcast, how you kind of formatted it, and then what you've learned so far and in some of the work you've done and some of the folks you've spoken to well outside of hating the way my voice sounds.

[00:25:20] So my partner in the Do US podcast, Justin Marcus, we've been friends for a long time. I had worked for his family business back at the the end of the 90s, and he's always been a longtime friend and a mentor of mine.

[00:25:36] And we were beginning see to our I I I came to him and we talked through some different scenarios, you know, how to structure a business because he had a very, very successful business with his family. And then we started this to talk about podcasts and we were very interested in doing something. You know, we were both in the same business for both father fathers. A twins were both musicians. There was all this sort of similarity. Interesting. And the idea sort of came one day. He said, listen, what about duos? What about this idea of why two people get together, like we're sitting here together? Why are we here together? And that was sort of that light bulb moment where we said we're not as concerned about, you know, hey, how many billions of dollars have you made? Clearly, that's that's impressive. And we want to hear those stories, but we want to really hear about out of everyone in the room. Why did you know that one person picked the other? And what was the first fight like? And how did you grow together? How do you celebrate your wins? What's the stress like being a founder?

[00:26:32] I mean, you know this yourself and I do as well. You lose a lot of sleep and you get a lot of gray hair. You know, it's it's it's a lot of a lot of uphill. And when you can you can do that with someone else. We think there's a there's a very, very good case and story that that's where the most successful companies are. Now, granted, it could be more than one founder. But, you know, primarily we focus on on successful duos.

[00:26:57] Yeah, yeah, I do. I do a lot of coaching of business partners. I do some coaching of business partners who also happen to be married. It's a whole nother level. But I'd be curious, what what has been your work of some more interesting episodes or kind of some examples of folks you've interviewed and what is what have you learned from them?

[00:27:15] I'd say that everyone that we've interviewed has this sense of humbleness and realize that they they are better for doing it with someone else than on their own. And I think that was one of the biggest takeaways. You know, we interviewed Evan Goldberg, who founded next week Colton, and that's we. And, you know, throughout the entire interview, one of the things he said is like, I just could not have done this alone. I really needed to help with Larry Ellison and to hear him saying that, you know, it just makes you think, here's a company. He exited for like over nine billion dollars, but he still realized that together was better. I think that that's been a really strong lesson. I think the the fight and the fire of everyone that we we've spoken with so far is really, really been amazing. You know, you put your heart and soul into your businesses and it's hard sometimes. A lot of times or most of the time. And the fact that, you know, when it's bad, you can share that with someone and they can. There's empathy for that. And, you know, when you're when you do, you get those winds. You know, it's nice to be able to high five someone. Yeah. So those are probably the two biggest takeaways that we've seen.

[00:28:24] Yeah, that's great. So I know a lot of service based companies who are really very focused on thought leadership and this idea of podcasting comes up and they kind of play around with it as someone who's kind of launched a podcast. What's your kind of advice or recommendations? Should or should people do not do it? What's your what's your kind of takeaway is as a tool for helping helping build business, helping be a thought leader in a space?

[00:28:48] Yeah. I mean, I think just like any business, you know, in a business, you're trying to solve a problem or fix a problem. And I think with podcasts, it has to be something that's interesting and engaging in something where we're where people want want to to experience that, you know, the half hour to an hour that that you're going to spend with them for us. Again, part of it was that we wanted this this concept of the co-founders and the relationship. We also wanted to keep it a little bit light. We didn't want it to be just a completely serious. And just like your podcast, it's very conversational. And that that's where that's where we feel most comfortable. I'd say other than that, you know, you really again, like any other business, you have to map out all the technical aspects. You know, who are your target all. Who is your target audience going to be? Who are your target guests going to be? Where you're going to publish? There's a lot of back in work that goes into it. If you want to make a successful podcast, I mean, if you just want to make a recording for your friends, you can do that, too. And we think that's great. But for us, you know, for thinking of scale and then using using our platforms to get to further markets. I think you really have to, you know, try to get great audio and great guests.

[00:29:59] Yeah, excellent. Michael, if people to find out more about you about C 2 are about duos. What's the best way to get that information?

[00:30:08] So for seats, who are you can go to see to our ventures dot com that will bring you to our linked in page, which we purposely, purposely didn't excite and which we felt. Our entire community, both candidate and client, would have more value from us if we were all in one place. So it's just a launch few seconds after you log in and then it'll bring your right to our linked in page that will have everything from jobs that were we're working on in and all of our content Duos. It's duospodcast.com and you can find us everywhere else. You could find us on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, all the all the regular places that people are listening to podcasts.

[00:30:53] It sounds great. I'll make sure the links to both of those are in the show notes. Michael, this has been great. Thank you so much for taking the time. Great conversation. I've learned a lot. I appreciate it.

[00:31:01] Thank you so much Bruce. I appreciate it.

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