Reading is fundamental :: Little Free Library Project

We will be doing the Little Free LIbrary in our front yard.

Why?

I have loved books since I was little.  Where other little kids got caught skipping school in the playground or doing something rather unsavoury, teachers that sought me for being late or M.I.A. caught me (predictably at the time) in the library.  What a little nerd.  Now to be fair it was in the Dr.Seuss section, so not totally uncool. At present I live in the UK where libraries are free. At least for the time being.  In fact the UK has something like 4,500 library “service points” but 600 libraries have closed since 2011.  How many users do they get at these libraries? Do they reach the people who actually do love books- or could do so- had the idea of loving a book outside of school been embedded into their minds as strongly as it had been in mine?

Now the last time I had a library card outside the UK, it was a straightforward 10-minute process. Upon moving to London, I made the attempt twice and found it far too cumbersome.  Life got in the way and I forgot about it and retreated to my old friend Amazon.

Green Street Library - destroyed  by London Rioters

Destroyed during the London Riots in August 2011: The Green Street Library was the only property in this largely family area which the rioters thought to smash.


Irony of ironies: The Green Street Library was the only property deemed worthy of smashing in this East London neighbourhood.

Everyone in the world knows about the London Riots in August 2011.  There was looting.  There were fires in many parts of the city.

Nothing news-worthy happened in my neighbourhood.  I remember us walking to the green grocer around the corner from our house to suss out the general feeling at the height of the drama. The corner-store Turkish East Londoners said almost nonchalantly that they had our backs, they had their brothers and cousins on the lookout and the families in our area were totally safe.

So nothing earth shattering, really; no trouble except as pictured on the left: Young hooligans broke the windows to the Green Street Library.


The Thinking behind it all…

Now I’m not saying the hooligans smashed the Green Street Library because they had as much trouble as I had getting a library card. Nor am I saying the Little Free Library in our home is to replace the British ones. This idea latched onto me a few months back when I found it in Elizabeth Banks’ website (I love her).  These little boxes help to promote literacy, and help build a sense of community.
I’m a big fan of both those things.

The Little Free Library Project helps promote literacy and promotes a sense of community. Small groups have come together and worked with local builders and other stewards to make the idea grow…

The Little Free Library started when Todd Bol built a small structure (a glorified birdhouse if you will) and filled it with books in honor of his late mother, a school teacher and avid reader. He placed the structure on his front lawn with a sign encouraging curious visitors to “Take a Book. Leave a Book.” The spirit of the project fuelled the start of The Non-Profit organisation Little Free Library Project.

In 2011 there were 100 libraries. As of April 2013, there are over 6,000. Do the math – that’s about 2 million books shared. They aim to have 25,000 libraries by the end of the year.  At time of writing it hasn’t quite reached the UK yet.

Starting one couldn’t be easier:
One could buy a Little Free Library original, super-easy, comes with the identifying tag.  Or you could team up with builders, artists, and others to make a group effort at it.

You could build your own with their plans, or create a unique one from scratch. People have done this across America, Brazil and Italy.

Back to the future, and a point about young hooliganism: What if sociologists are right and in many gang situations you’ll find an odd one.  The one that hangs with the Alpha Males but isn’t quite a gangster and is there to (A) Not get beaten up by others, or (B) Feel accepted, or (C) not get beaten up by those with whom he hangs.
The aforementioned Odd One would very likely not be caught dead in the library.

But what if it took this wannabe-hooligan-Odd-One a few times walking past our Little Free Library before curiosity got the better of him…
And he is one day walking without the Alpha Male Hooligan entourage as he picks up a book.
It could change his life, or it could be a catalyst to something interesting. You never really know until you try these things.

I do know that the idea has latched, it’s grown in my Dr.Seuss-infected mind for quite a few weeks now and it’s time for me to just run with it.
Would you give a book for this project?
Is it an idea you can pass on to someone else?

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Umbrella Politics in London

A smallish blog I’m quite fond of, written a few rainy days ago. Aaah I love London

Marketing Thought

Before I moved to London, no one told me that it actually rains about 30% of the year.  I suppose I should’ve known this from all the old films my mom used to watch where a Rain Scene was more often than not a mainstay in a film based in England.
alternate-reality-umbrella-politics-delusions-of-spain“Delusions of Spain” Umbrella

Well this morning when I woke up, it was raining yet again.  It wasn’t quite the downpour where the raindrops sound like small projectiles bashing against your bedroom window, but more like that fine mist which hangs in the air.  This is the rain I like to call ‘Spittle Rain’.  It is the specie of rain which is not a drama if you’re just going 2 minutes to the corner store (more hassle to bring an umbrella than to use one); yet if you’re walking 12 minutes from the Tube station to your office…

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Umbrella Politics in London

Before I moved to London, no one told me that it actually rains about 30% of the year.  I suppose I should’ve known this from all the old films my mom used to watch where a Rain Scene was more often than not a mainstay in a film based in England.
alternate-reality-umbrella-politics-delusions-of-spain“Delusions of Spain” Umbrella

Well this morning when I woke up, it was raining yet again.  It wasn’t quite the downpour where the raindrops sound like small projectiles bashing against your bedroom window, but more like that fine mist which hangs in the air.  This is the rain I like to call ‘Spittle Rain’.  It is the specie of rain which is not a drama if you’re just going 2 minutes to the corner store (more hassle to bring an umbrella than to use one); yet if you’re walking 12 minutes from the Tube station to your office, you will probably end up smelling a bit like a dog that has been left out in the back garden a little too long.

This is when your umbrella becomes all important.  It is your protection against the elements and possibly the rest of the humanity who co-habitate the barely-protected sidewalks of London streets: the real Peak-Hours they don’t warn you about. Everyone and their umbrellas are next to you, whizzing past you, and trudging off to work same as you, under spittle rain and often without a care that their umbrellas very nearly take your eye out.

This is the moment you have to learn Umbrella Politics.

It is there the instant you open your umbrella on a crowded London street where there are 3,000 other commuters trying to pretend they are not desperately unhappy with yet another day of rain (for 30% of their daily life).  Not exactly the best crash landing back into my weekday reality after a vj gig in Italy last weekend.  But as fate would have it, I was using the slickest coolest prettiest umbrella – the genius kind which folds away into a lightweight 6 inches yet opens up a sturdy wind-proof umbrella. It weighs less than my iPhone.  So I guess the Italians know how to make it right, it is The Ferrari of Umbrellas.  It was keeping me absolutely dry without the fumbling known to all who who require wind-proof titanium umbrellas in this city, but just don’t know it yet.  It is in these moments of feeling absolutely safe in your umbrella space that you can stop and reflect on the finer points of Umbrella Politics in London.

umbrella politics-sea of umbrellasI looked out to the horizon at a sea of umbrella-laden anonymous people…

The Tall Staunch Man with a black umbrella is the perfect gentleman– he stretches his umbrella upwards as he avoids eye trauma to befall the oblivious men and women rushing past him with their umbrellas:

Oblivious Woman keeps her umbrella close to her salon-perfect head, while Oblivious Man has his enormous umbrella cocked to one side as he protects no one and nothing, other than the cellphone married to his ear.

I see a Short Stocky Woman with her umbrella pointed forward with the edges cracked and the spine bent, it seeming more like a weapon than a rain prophylactic…what umbrella tragedy happened to her I mused for her to be so evil with that thing?

Then there’s The Lost-looking Tourist, still wondering why he chose London while struggling with maps and cameras and desperately trying not to invade people’s space with his shoddy travel umbrella.  All the signs are there for him not to use his old travel agent ever again – (Duhh… the ‘Cheapish Tours’ logo on the flimsy umbrella should have been a dead giveaway).

And just like that I was in my office.  The day was about to truly start, with new lessons learned.  The moral of the story, boys and girls of any age: should you have made the choice to live in England, Peru, Mawsynram, Kauai, or the Rain Forest or anywhere where precipitation is part of your daily life:
Don’t scrimp on The Umbrella. It can save your health, your life and even your mindset…

Oh and if you don’t care to ask me what the real-life brand is of my ‘Ferrari of umbrellas’, check this cool list and below are some we prepared for you earlier.  Pan– the other half of Alternate Reality is a master finder of all things crazy to keep you sane:

The Umbrella for “The True London Warrior”

alternate-reality-umbrella-politics-London-warrior
“Get out my Face – Space Invader” Umbrella
“Get out my Face – Space Invader” Umbrella
alternate-reality-umbrella-politics-enough-already


“Ok, Enough Already!” Umbrella

And so my blogified rant ends.
Figured out your politics? Got a wicked umbrella to share?

A Curated Bookshelf for That Entrepreneurial Tipping Point

Inspiration and the good-old-fashioned ‘Quest for Knowledge’ are crucial at many points within one’s entrepreneurial journey.
Most need it in spurts; some need a constant flow…but everyone needs it at some point. To quench that proverbial thirst for everything, today’s entrepreneur is spoiled for choice like never before.

Gone are the days (so they say) of reading hard copies  and manually correlating information.  If you were truly keen to find out about anything, you had to find the information somewhere.  The mission was on, be it via encyclopaedias (pre-Wikipedia), printed trade journals, or professorial discourses peppered with lessons from upbringing and general living; Correlation was King.  It still is vital– but Google, Search, and online retail giants have absolutely changed the means by which anything can be a catalyst to that lightbulb moment. Of course with information virtually at our fingertips comes the challenge of deciphering and rummaging through tonnes of data (and heaps of rubbish).  It’s a double-edged sword on the information highway with entrepreneurs today. With this project, we’re looking at inspiration coming from a book that has inspired an Entrepreneur; The perfect catalyst blend for a young entrepreneur, a seasoned startup…or even a serial entrepreneur.
I had to be part of this project.

I helped launch #CuratedBookshelf because Inspiration is infectious.
There are tonnes of books that promise inspiration and are ‘highly recommended’ by various websites.  But who has the time to look through Amazon’s Top 100 Hot New Releases or Top 100 Most Wished For?  And that’s just when searching for ‘Marketing Bestsellers’.

I love Amazon as much as the next person, but just search for ‘Small Business and Entrepreneurship’.  It will generate more than 5,000 titles.  How do you find that gem of a book that holds the key to your next creative spark?  Relying on algorithms and ‘what’s popular’ may not always be the best, so we created “A Curated Bookshelf”.

To the entrepreneur about to take that proverbial leap into being a startup, I am ecstatic for you…you may not fully grasp just yet how good you have it. Just a decade or so ago, mentors and business schools looked at startups as small enterprises, rather than as entirely different entities than large corporations, as they are today. Entrepreneurship and startups are the subject of much academic research, professional discourse and stories.
Tonnes of it.  Here’s a little bit about mine:

The #CuratedBookshelf idea came to me because I can’t bear to read a Kindle (I just love the drama of books too much).

I made a rather natural transition from working as an MTV show Segment Producer into various entrepreneurial pursuits once upon a time. The long hours in between concept storyboard and getting the Video Editor to render certain effect sequences meant, well, a lot of time waiting.  And Waiting Time often meant it was time to read books while trying not to die of utter impatience. I soaked up business books.  Inspiration came from every type of book, from “The Alchemist” to “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“; and Marketing was succinctly represented by “Positioning” and “The Big Idea.”

In those days I could walk into a Barnes & Noble and get stacks of fantastic books in one visit.  Back then it was easy to decipher which bestseller book would help you through your particular educational journey.  Today not so much.  Have you seen some of the largest Barnes & Noble book sellers recently, or the Waterstones in Mayfair London?  I seriously get lost in them. Literally.   I was part of startups in New Zealand and Manila, and happily herald the flags of ones in Britain.  Books are made for sharing, this I know.  And who better to ask than those whose businesses rock?
BBB-curated-bookshelf-600w
For our #CuratedBookshelf project, I asked some of the most remarkable entrepreneurs
I’ve met recently:

What book moved you enough to recommend it to anyone at the entrepreneurial ‘Tipping Point’ …or someone well entrenched within their startup journey.  I’m big on spreading this not-so-random act of kindness, so please join the conversation by recommending a book in LinkedIn, Facebook or in Twitter – simply include #CuratedBookshelf in your post.

Here are some of the early tweets, I’ll try to update them over the next few days…

The Tipping Point – Marco the Toy Branding Designer

(An earlier version of this blog appeared in Startups.co.uk)

For many start-ups, taking that leap into entrepreneurship is the hardest. An idea can form and brew over in someone’s mind for weeks, months or even years before all the elements are in place for someone to simply wrangle That Final Fear around its neck and say, “Ok, forget you, I’m doing it.”  The Tipping Point.  It’s that moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.  This blog series is particularly interested in that part of the journey.

For everyone we’ve interviewed so far, taking the leap is much like jumping out of a plane in skydiving gear.  You know you’ve got a parachute, but will it work? What if the wind changes? Maybe you should do the jump tomorrow?

Marco-Tipping-PointMarco Crosta is the Creative Director and Graphic Designer (and Head Honcho)
of Marco Coco, a design agency specialising in toy branding design.

His father is his absolute biggest source of inspiration as he set-up a hugely successful restaurant and learnt to cook like a demon with little commercial training; teaching Marco that love drives every endeavour. “Richard Branson is a close second.  After all he’s kept consistently ahead of the curve and continues to pioneer British industry, held responsibility for every aspect of his business and has never stopped to sit on his laurels.”

He does admit sheepishly that he would love to have a breakfast pow-wow with The Roca brothers: “The breakfast itself would be beyond words, but after working with my father on and off for years, I  would love to know how a family managed to work together around sharp objects!”

Marco left agency employment and set up his own thing after years of working with toy branding for Lego and Mattel. The ‘tipping point’ was more of a transition although he shares that there was one defining moment:  “…One day, I was designing business cards for an aging fridge magnate who had ruthlessly acquired a toy company I was working in-house for, insisting that all the type needed to be at least 12pt so he could read it. Whilst designing it in braille was an interesting consideration I realised I needed to have more control over what, and more importantly for whom I was designing for. Unfortunately some companies have little understanding or value design, yet feel compelled to employ a creative under the same terms and conditions of a tele-sales agent”

“I all of a sudden was consumed by this feeling of how much I would hate to imagine the sparks of ingenuity that have been slowly smothered under a PC monitor. No matter what, we all deserve to enjoy the work we do and the only thing keeping anyone from this is the fear of change. It was always a daunting prospect going out on my own but after only 6 months the only regret is that I didn’t do this much, much sooner…”

 

This is the point in an entrepreneurial journey that peaks Kristina’s interest the most.  Would you like to share your Tipping Point? Tell us in Facebook.
Marco formed his company in 2012. 
Read more about his and other entrepreneurs’ journeys in Designers, Toys and Greeting Cards- Entrepreneurial Artists and more in BuildBritishBusiness.com

Thursday didn’t exist for 5 years- what’s the worst that can happen?

Yes, you read the title right – I went through 5 years of my life not knowing there was a day called Thursday. It wasn’t amnesia or denial (never underestimate the power of denial); It was simply a matter of circumstance.  Perhaps, I was  a cheeky child with selective hearing.
But hey–despite being a big kid–I’m all grown up and I can admit these things.

Ever had one of those weeks where it started off fine (‘Started off‘ being the operative phrase)?  You start off smiling on a Monday; All activities and accountabilities are mapped out for the week, time blocking was done to assure all creative work will get delivered on time.
And THEN out of nowhere comes the mid-week jab.

If you are running your own business AND working full-time at another role, you know how catastrophic these mid-week jabs can be. Like a clean uppercut right on the choppers, or a painful injection stabbed at your arm before you said, ‘ok I’m ready’.  It metaphorically and sometimes literally halts everything.

The offending Jab can be Mr.Did-You-Get-My-10-Emails today now bugging you in Skype. It can be the Designer who  forgot to set the print ad in CMYK then buggered off to Barcelona for 2 weeks. It can be the people around you in an open plan office jabbering away about chicken and hair dryers.

By Thursday– this morning as fate would have it–  The Dread creeps in at 7 am and I thank my husband’s gourmet breakfast  and Will Power for getting me going.  It got me thinking how I can always talk myself out of these ruts.  I just needed a plan.  After all, I survived without Thursday for 5 years, I have one full day right now to fix things and I will.

And so the story…

ballet-stretch
Like thousands of little girls from my generation I loved pink.  I had a lot of energy– and even more questioning power than my mum and dad could handle. Imagine Bart Simpson without the pranks. In pink. After-school Ballet was more amazing for them than it was for me as a 5-year old for this very reason.  Shortly after I started ballet classes my teacher asked the class: “Can someone tell me the 7 days of the week?” All but the shy kids raised their hands. I didn’t.
It was “…Tooooo easy” thought cheeky 5-year old-me.  She called me, naturally.

So I answered: “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Tomorrow, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.”
Teacher asked “What happened to Thursday?
I asked: “What’s Thursday?”
As it so happened Ballet was on Thursdays.  By midweek, I’d be impatient and ask my mum (every week, relentless, for quite a few months) when ballet was.  “Is it ballet yet mum?!” “When’s ballet mum? When’s ballet mum?” To which she’d answer: “Tomorrow”.
So ballet was on Thursdays, aka. ‘Tomorrow’ – the day that never existed prior to the embarrassing moment in the classroom a year later.

Back to the future: Today is Thursday.  As I blogify this rant, I have reminders that reference lists; and master lists that reference the mini-lists.
People can only be who they are, I tell myself.  Mr. 10 emails + skype + oops, just got a text – Mr. Obnoxiouscon 2000 can only be who HE is.

Juggling is a natural component of being an entrepreneur.  Taking the leap from full-time employment to full-on entrepreneur is rife with uncertainty (and doing both even more so).   I have never had the problem of doing the focused 45 or so hours weekly for The Job; plus finding 15 to 20 hours for The Venture.  The work ethic element of doing both is not the problem I or many other ‘secret entrepreneurs’ face.
The problem to solve daily? The core of the daily problem goes back to that one certainty (as with anyone starting a business):

There will be hiccups.  If you’re a tad unlucky, you get the hiccups AND the extra challenge of facing the fact that it’s not easy being a serial entrepreneur working in a day job where you feel unappreciated and unloved.

And as I’ve willed myself out of negative mindsets in situations like this at different times in the last 12 years, let me share some pick-me-ups I’ve picked up from experience and from Entrepreneurs I love:

3 Key Mindsets shared and worth passing on…
(Absolutely relevant to business owners, serial entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs-in-training, or secret entrepreneurs)


1. Revisit “The Why” –  Often if need be.

Go back to The Core Objective of why you are doing what you’re doing.  Why? Do you KNOW what it is you’re doing all this for?
What IS the End Goal for the sacrifices of extra hours of work while working a day job?  Many of us need that bit of inspiration on How to be an Entrepreneur at your Day Job ; and yet we do know “The Why”: Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.

Switching off that light switch in your head that says “I am a self-starting creative entrepreneur” is near impossible.
However the reality is this: at some point in your entrepreneurial journey (if you weren’t born with the proverbial silver spoon in your mouth),
you may have to be fully employed for a period.  The beauty about this mindset though, is that you can apply entrepreneurial spirit wherever you are.

In the words of Richard Branson, “If you are frustrated with how things are done, go and try something different, get fantastic people around you who share your beliefs and passion, and do it better…Screw it, just do it.”

 

Photo Credit: Lucia Giacani

Photo Credit: Lucia Giacani


2. Do the ‘Unapologetically Vicious Time Blocking’ Thing

Imagine dedicating several hours to a single task every single day.  Too easy? Too hard?
It’s all relative, isn’t it?  Not really.

Planning time off gives you something to look forward to on Thursdays (or whatever stress day has appeared out of the blue), this seems obvious enough.
But time blocking for at least 1 single ‘Big Picture’ Task a day may be enough to truly save your mindset.

A myriad of successful people from LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner to Guy Kawasaki often impart secrets about keeping it simple. As simple as the importance of blocking time during the week to think, to create, to re-hash and re-group each and every activity.  Time blocking saves lives, trust me.

Consider this: If you identify your top priority everyday and dedicate the first 4 hours of your life that day doing everything possible to make it happen, then you will find yourself getting more done.  You could even– over some time– positively influence other peoples’ behaviours who would then stop being the aforementioned Mr.10-Emails-a-day guy.  Time blocking is so infectious that those who come at you with the mid-week jabs may come to understand the value of maximising meeting times as opposed to chasing each item several times during the week.

Definitely worth a read about this is The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results (Bard Press, 2013), authored by Gary Keller who says unabashedly: “I guard my time fiercely without apology…It may sound extreme but it’s one of the simplest and most effective tactics for anyone to live by.”

stay_focused_by_joe_lynn_design-d4w6mls3. Focus FCS Style

LinkedIn shares are up 300% since its IPO in 2011.  From various articles I read, dissected and correlated on this company since I started my LinkedIn account in 2008, I have always felt that key to their success  is their focus and content strategy.  In the words of LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner: he attributes their hyper growth to a number of things, including FCS.
Weiner shares via BloombergTV: “…FCS – we talk about focus so much we created an acronym:
F – fewer things done better;
C – communicating the right information to the right people at the right time;
S – speed and quality of our decision-making.”

The simplest things in life, the most basic of mindset-shifts can help the brands like LinkedIn– and it can help your brand.
Now before you say they’re far too big a company to compare yourself to, I say: Yes, if you are a serial (or secret) entrepreneur, YOU are a brand.
You may be thinking “…Focus, right…sure that’s simple.” I tell you what, give it a go.  Focusing on the right thing at the right time never hurt anyone.

So ok, today is Thursday and I have tasks to rip into, ideas to threshold test, new worlds to conquer.  It is after all, a day that came as a gift one day, to a child that had no idea it even existed.  I bet you can find your ballet class, something to look forward to.  Everyday can be Thursday, and tomorrow is well, another day.  If you stop to think ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’, you may be utterly surprised that the worst is not all that, as Steli Efti declared on “Entrepreneurial Happiness in TED Talks.  Stay happy.

Kristina is a digital strategist for Marketing Thought, VJ, and part-time ninja.  She is also the Content Editor for Build British Business where she blogs about entrepreneurial journeys and startup trends in the UK.

We’ll Work For Wine

Trading goods and services without the use of money has been around forever. Early civilizations relied on this kind of exchange as most of them had no form of cash. And when the Americas were colonized,  the Europeans used bartering with the indigenous people as the locals had no desire for printed money. They couldn’t eat it and they had nowhere to spend it. To them it was just paper. The practice of bartering is still in use today, but to a much lesser extent, simply because it is very hard to give someone change when they want to pay for a chicken and the smallest thing they have to pay for it is a cow. But aside from the implications of keeping spare chickens as change, I think it is a practice which is way too often overlooked by companies short on cash flow but flush with stock (be it intellectual or warehouse stock).

Even as kids we knew the value of bartering. Do you remember back in school when you would swap your juice for chips, or cookies for Twinkies? Even as children we had a very real sense of the comparable value of things. To the kid who gets cookies in his lunch every day, that elusive cream-filled gooey cake treat is worth maybe a week’s worth of cookies, but he also realizes that his friend might feel completely different. To the Twinkie kid, cookies might be a really nice change. After all, how many Twinkies can one actually stand? The value of any given product in a barter system is based on how much the other person values what is on offer. A heater in Alaska is worth way more than an air conditioner, but the same can’t be said in Texas. It’s all relative.

Some would argue that bartering won’t work for everything. And that is probably true. That is why money was invented in the first place. With money the problems involved with bartering either disappear or severely diminish. You no longer have to find people who want what you have and are willing to barter their stuff for whatever you are offering. Carrying coins is also a hell of a lot easier than carrying cows.

But the mark­eting services industry has been using bartering for years. For instance, businesses often trade goods or services for advertising space or marketing. Newspapers offer ad space, shops offer the side of their building for billboard space, film producers offer product placements – the opportunities are virtually limitless. Sponsorships and promotions work the same way. If Coke buys the uniforms for a kids sports team, the teams can agree to put the Coca-Cola logo on each jersey and hang banner ads in their local sports park.

And while we designed the ad above to be a cheeky spot for the Marketing Thought social media page (see here), we will actually work for wine. As long as it is a decent quality Red in lots of at least 4 cases. The concept is not entirely new to Marketing Thought, we have arranged contra bartering deals for restaurant vouchers for w2eat.co.nz, traded ad space for a Peugeot scooter, and we know a flight partner that contras everything they do in marketing for flights (but we have to keep who they are a secret). Of course money is better for paying the bills, but sometimes the barter system suits what you have to offer.

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