ActiveGrowth Manifesto

November 8, 2017 ​- 62 Comments

There are many websites you could be visiting and many blogs you could be reading. So why spend your time here, on ActiveGrowth, instead of out there, where hypey content, distraction and funny cat gifs beckon?

There are 3 good reasons to be here. ActiveGrowth stands for 3 things, above all else. There are 3 things that, in my entrepreneurial journey so far, have given me an unfair advantage over my competition.

This post is about those 3 things.


Watch the video at the top of the post to get the main content. Below is a summary of the points, for reference and for those who prefer reading over watching.

Principle 1: If You Wanna Make Money, You Gotta Sell Something

In online business, perhaps more than anywhere else, the most alluring promise is "quick and easy". We see an endless parade of books, products and marketing fads that promise a new shortcut to quick and easy results.

Building a business sounds complicated and really, why bother with all that? Isn't it much more appealing to use [latest automation software thingy] to auto-post scraped content to [latest social media fad] all day and make money on autopilot?

Why bother with product creation, software development, bug fixes, customer support and all this complexity that real businesses have to deal with? Why bother, when you can just create a bunch of simple niche sites and earn money from AdSense clicks?

You get the idea: there's no limit to business models that try to avoid or shortcut past all this "real business" stuff. And they're alluring.

They're also, for the most part, doomed to fail.

On ActiveGrowth, the first principle is a simple creed that will help you circumvent all this nonsense: the foundation of a real business is a product. The way to make an online business work is to create something people want and/or need and then sell it to them, directly.

I call this a value based business.

The antidote to get-rich-quick nonsense: create a valuable product and sell it directly to people.

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The Many Faces of a "Product"

When I talk about "products" or "offers", that can mean many things. For example:

  • A digital product like an ebook.
  • An information product like an online course.
  • A membership or subscription service.
  • Software or SaaS (software as a service).
  • A service based business like a web design service.
  • A coaching business.

What all these products have in common is that they are uniquely created by you and you sell them directly to your customers.

This is the crucial point. You're not earning a bit of a kick-back from ad clicks, you're not promoting other people's products as an affiliate, you're not tied up in a multi-level-marketing scheme and trying to recruit more sellers... you're simply selling something useful to people who want it.

Screw Passive Income

One of the problems with a value based business is that it doesn't sound much like passive income. And everybody loves the idea of passive income!

You know what? Screw passive income.

First of all, look at Pat Flynn (SmartPassiveIncome) and Tim Ferriss (4 Hour Work Week). These two guys are the icons of passive income. The very embodiments of the concept. And guess what: they both work their asses off, every day.

If that's the reality for them, what are your chances?

On a more serious note: the real problem lies in the pursuit of passive income. If the only way you're motivated to work is because of a promise of passive income in the future, you're not going to make it.

When you work on your own product and with your own customers, it's easy to find enjoyment and fulfillment in your work. You're creating something of your own and something that has meaning to your customers. Customers you're in direct contact with.

Working on something you care about helps you get through the inevitable hard times. It helps you get through those times when there's lots of work, but no money yet.

If money is your only motivation, you'll not last very long through those "no money" periods.

What it comes down to is this: the pursuit of passive income doesn't work. For most people, it just leads to being passively broke.

The pursuit of passive income (and shortcuts to it) will lead you to being passively broke.

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Principle 2: Your Personal Skills & Character Define Your Business

Building a business out of thin air is difficult, creative work. It's an extraordinarily challenging task and to conquer it, you must become an extraordinary person.

You have to develop your own skills, mindset and character to the point where you have:

  • more initiative
  • a stronger drive
  • better work ethic
  • a more strategic and long term way of thinking
  • more grit/willpower/stubbornness
  • and better communication and leadership skills...

...than is ever expected of anyone in an "ordinary" employee role. That is what I mean when I say you need to become an extraordinary person.

In an employee role, you may be highly skilled and motivated, but as an entrepreneur you need a whole set of skills and character traits on top of what an excellent employee would have. Most people don't have this and most people don't do this.

The point here is that you cannot disconnect your character and skills from the success or failure of your business. You can't be lazy and scatterbrained and build a company that's highly effective and focused.

You can't be lazy and scatterbrained and build a company that's highly effective and focused.

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Skills & Mindset

On ActiveGrowth, we don't just post about the latest tricks, tools and marketing tactics. We also post about how to be more productive, how to think strategically and how to communicate with and manage a startup team.

More importantly, I it as part of the purpose of this site, to provide you with strategies that will help you become an entrepreneurial badass. Marketing and business know-how are not enough. Habits, skills and mindset are just as important.

Also consider this: your skills and mindset are an asset no one can take away from you. Business models change, opportunities come and go, but if you are excellent at learning new skills and you have the right work ethic and mindset, you'll always do well.​

Principle 3: Own Your Platform, Own Your Brand

This is one principle that manifests in two ways. To explain what owning your platform means, let me first illustrate the opposite:

If you're a YouTuber, you don't own your platform. You may be very successful on YouTube and make a lot of money from their ad-revenue sharing program, but you'll always be dependent on YouTube. If they make a change that causes you to lose revenue, you can't do anything about it. If they suddenly close your account without warning (happens more often than you'd think), you can't do anything about it. You just lost your business from one moment to the next, and all you can do is complain and be upset.

If you understand why 3rd party platforms are inherently unstable, check out this post: Instagram Created a Monster

Owning your platform is the opposite of that. It's when you host your own content, in a way no one else can interfere with. It's making sure that you set up your business in such a way that it's never dependent on one single 3rd party that you have no control over.

Of course, you'll still use 3rd party tools. But you protect what you own. You can use YouTube to host your videos, but don't send visitors to the YouTube video, send them to your own website, where you embed the video. Don't try to grow your YouTube subscriber base, grow your own mailing list, instead.

From this follows the concept of owning your brand. The opposite of this would be something I did quite a lot in the past: I used to build small niche sites and monetize them with AdSense or affiliate links. I'd get traffic to them (sometimes a lot of traffic) via SEO. These sites made good money, but they were faceless middle-men to my visitors. A visitor would click through from a search result, spend only a brief time on my site and then (ideally) click on an ad or affiliate link.

No one ever remembered my site. And I had almost zero return traffic. When Google changed its algorithm to remove sites like mine from the results, my earnings from these sites dropped to zero and I had nothing to show for my work.

If you build a brand that people will recognize and come back to, you are no longer vulnerable like this. Even if you get banned from YouTube or lose your search traffic, you'll have an audience of fans and people will find other ways back to your site.

As Kevin Kelly postulates in his legendary post about 1,000 True Fans, owning your brand doesn't mean that you have to compete with Coca Cola or become a world-renowned superstar. What matters is that you connect with real people, not just anonymous traffic that passes by your site for brief moments.

Create and own your brand. Don't be a slave to platforms you can't control.

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The Craft, The Brains, The Tech & You

In summary, the 3 principles are:

  • The Craft: creating good products that people want to buy from you.
  • The Brains: developing the skills and mindset that make you a highly effective entrepreneur.
  • The Tech: using the right tools to build and grow your own platform.

This is what I believe to be the most effective, lowest risk and fastest approach to building a real, sustainable online business, created for long term growth.

It's what I have focused on in my own development as an entrepreneur and I attribute my success to following these principles. If you want to learn more about this and you agree that this is the way to build a business, you're in the right place, here on ActiveGrowth.

Shane's Signature

About ​Shane Melaugh

I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.

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  • Adam Preiser says:

    Wow this all “hit home” with me. Off and on in my life I was directly trading my time for money, even though it always knew it would me a means to an end.

    Out of every business venture, I can say with 100% confidence, what has worked best for me is putting effort into building a personal brand. No one can take that away from you.

    It just grows and grows if you are willing to stick with it, be consistent, show up. Not for a month, or 6 months, but be willing to stick it out for years.

    Right now it’s 10:30pm, i’m working! This morning I started working at 7:30am, thats 15 hours straight, but it really is a joy when you love what you are doing. It really doesn’t even feel like work, it feels like a blessing.

    If I have any advice to give people, it is to stick it out, constantly make changes to improve, and you will figure it out along the way. Don’t wait until you have it all figured out to start, because you are never going to figure it out. Heck the “Passive Income” people you talked about don’t have it figured out.

    Love the manifesto, great work!

    • Thank you, Adam!

      I totally agree about the personal brand, as well. Although there are other forms of branding, the personal type has been very good for me as well.

      And I remember seeing some of your first videos, when you had basically no subscribers or viewers. It’s really awesome that you kept grinding it out and arrived at where you are now, Adam. Congratulations for that!

  • Kevin Barham says:

    Hi Shane – I love this video and have bookmarked it for future reference.

    This really resonated with me. I have been building my skills for the last 10 years – I think that ‘taking action’ with my own products is long-overdue but certainly is the next, essential, step!

    I have always avoided getting tied to someone else’s platform but didn’t have the clarity that I now have – Thank you.

    Keep ’em coming – I always enjoy your content.

    • Thank you for your comment, Kevin!

      It’s also worth noting that when we are very experienced in an area, we tend to suffer from the curse of knowledge: we underrate our own experience and expertise relative to everyone else’s. The things we know seem obvious to us. :)

  • George Burroughs says:

    That was great Shane and provides me with clarity. Thanks!

  • Excellent post Shane, I agree wholeheartedly with you.

  • Shane

    I totally dig what you wrote and it came at a really good time for me. I’ve been continually bombarded with offers of shiny new objects and ways to automate or cheat the system for Instant auto magic results and it’s been distracting me from actually doing the work.

    It’s great to be reminded of the simple truths and what I really need to focus on for heartfelt meaningful and lasting success.



    • Hello Shanti,

      Thank you for your comment! It’s great to know that the message got through and I really hope that this will help you be less distracted and more focused.

  • Excellent post as usual Shane.

    You have an inherent skill for taking something that at first appears to be complicated and turning it into valuable and straightforward insight.

    Keep posting because a lot of us enjoy reading your stuff!

    • Thank you very much, Colin! I’ve been working on my communication skills for years and it’s very encouraging to get positive feedback like this.

  • Excellent content. I have been following you since the start of Thrive Themes and I try to act on as much info as I can. Recently started a podcast and debated offering a product but I really don’t think there is a way around not offering one considering my brand. Thank You

    • Thank you, Angela!

      I encourage you to take that leap and I hope very much that the content here will help you succeed.

  • Stephen Holt says:

    Great post and not boring in the least, I found this very useful and inspiring. This makes perfect sense and is a manifesto I can believe in.

    Thank you Shane and I look forward to your next post.

  • Donna Johansen says:

    Good post….I’m done with shiny objects…too many sitting around on my hard drive….now I look for something of value that I can offer…..I feel like giving up but this confirms my suspicions that I can do it better

    • Yes! Ridding yourself of all the shiny objects and distractions is one of the best things you can do for yourself. :)

  • Love the manifesto, Shane! Here’s my version of the 3 principles you raised:

    1. Give lasting value – Improve people’s lives beyond a fleeting moment
    2. Grow yourself – Become more so you can give more and do so with joy
    3. Be your own boss – Own your headquarters, don’t rent from a fickle landlord

    Love all your musings and every Thrive product! So happy I came upon you and your team 2 years ago :)


  • Shane, I am very grateful that you believe in creating something and sending it out to the world before it is perfect. The reason is because this message WAS perfect for me at this time. I am new to entrepreneurship and frequently feel the anxiety that comes with the uncertainty of starting a business as well as overwhelm from having too many options in front of me. The message presented here is clear and calming because it is so commonsensical! Funny how it can be common sense yet go directly against the grain of the trendy online marketing tips out there. That’s one of the reasons I trust it so much. Thank you for sharing with credibility and confidence.

    • Thank you very much, Mark!

      I hope your comment is seen by many perfectionists, who would not have published a piece like this. :)

      And I agree with your point about this: it’s strange how something so straight forward just goes against all the hype and advice and so on that almost everyone in this space seems to be touting. The good thing is: there’s an opportunity in that. When everyone’s chasing after the latest fads and looking for those “passive income shortcuts”, running around like headless chickens, you can stand out by blazing your own path.

      • I’ll plan on doing just that! Thanks a ton, Shane.

  • Dale Maxwell says:

    Hi Shane, Great thoughts in your video
    One thought for you to consider in future recordings. The drumming on the table, not so good, it came over the recording to the point I noticed the sound.

    • Yes, good point. That’s a downside of filming in a new location. I didn’t have any previous recordings and mistakes to learn from. I agree that the sound there can be pretty distracting, but I hope it’s not too bad. :)

    • Jeff Berry says:

      I thought the finger noise was appropos.

  • A GR8 recording which forced me to open a new window add the urls or ‘products’ I own and re-think WHY I created them in the first place & how to leverage what I know now in the re-marketing and rebranding of the tools.

  • Hi Shane,

    Thanks for this! Great as always! And, speaking about personal branding, you already have the Hero status for me. So, wherever you go, ActiveGrowth or XYZ, I will follow you.

    Question about the Manifesto thing: It would be great if you could devote a new podcast to why an entrepreneur should make a manifesto and how you should do that. That would be really great! I thank you already for that in advance!

    • Thank you for your comment, Harry! And thank you for the suggestion. We’ve been working on new podcast episodes and I’ll add this to the list of ideas. :)

  • Larry Rampulla says:

    The Manifesto resonated brilliantly as Shane Melaugh intended for it to do. However, I’m struck more by the skill of Shane who sliced and diced an Internet meme into focused reality. Shane disrupted accepted thought to reverse engineer passive income into myth. The Manifesto was worth the price of admission, but the thought process revealed is priceless.

  • In my brain this post is like “heck yeah!” If your business does not provide primary value to people, then you could be questioning your role in society at some point (e.g., midlife crisis?), and if your business model heavily relies on other businesses, then your financial security is at stake.

    In addition, people offering products generally has a broader view than professionals collecting paychecks. The former encourages taking more risk to attain long-term prosperity, while the latter tends to think in terms of squeezing the most out of their time.

    That being said, passive income is almost always a misnomer anyway, but the idea of focusing on eventually-passive stream of income is not wrong, and it just speaks to why we should build products instead of focusing on other quick money like displayed advertising.

    Either way, when it comes to online business, Shane Melaugh and Anik Singal are pretty much the only people I elect to follow. These people really got something to offer, so follow them closely!

    • Thank you for your comment, Thomas!

      Yes, I agree that the concept of “passive income” has some validity, it’s just poorly named. I’m all for uncoupling your income from the hours you put in. But in practice, this is about leverage (getting paid more for the time you invest).

  • Thank you for your thoughts on the pursuit of passive income. I had to stop and think about this.

  • This is so awesome stuff. Thank you for your wisdom and your personal skill to get straight and clear to the point. I started out as a customer looking for an easy to use WordPress theme. At Thrive Themes I found so much more than that. The coaching you and your pals deliver besides of themes and plugins is priceless. I’ve become a true fan of Shane Melaugh. And with Hanne I’m in love anyway.

    Keep on thriving.

  • Hi Shane,

    This is a very timely and useful post about creating authority sites and not falling for get rich quick trap. I want to know how to gain entry into an authority niche where there are already established players. How can I gain authority/get buyers in such a niche.

    Thanks and Regards

    • Hi Vimlaksh,

      Thank you for your comment. If you’re interested in building authority sites, that’s really not my specialty. You should check out the guys at Authority Hacker. There’s no one I would trust more to learn from, about this topic.

  • Hey Shane,

    finally a new video of you. I am already missing the podcast and I am listening over and over again.

    I love the manifesto and I do strongly agree.

    What makes me miss a point is, that I already have been close to burn out (2 times) and when I feel, stuff is getting critical I am rowing back with my efforts and take a break. This harms the (online) business.. a lot.

    However, taking your advice from the podcast, I have build quite an audience within my sector (financial education). I have private clients and I am giving seminars once a week with 3-5 persons. Furthermore I startet to give talks (thanks Hanna!) and more and more people are hiring me.

    No coming from digital, going back to offline and wanting to combine the two, I still feel that I am not able to work +12.

    Do you have an advice on that? I guess its about productivity ;).

    Thanks a lot, your content is gold!


    • Thank you very much, Michael. I promise: new podcast episodes are coming soon. :)

      Regarding burnout: I’m familiar with that as well. And this is one of the things I am still working on, because I’ve always had a tendency to just take on more and more work.

      It is indeed about productivity. The way I see it, the goal is to work with greater intensity, for shorter durations. This is how I get the most work done.

      I will definitely be publishing more about this in the coming months.

      Congratulations on getting those speaking gigs, by the way! :)

  • Mary Grisolia says:

    I absolutely loved this Shane. It’s a great reminder and a tool to get back my feet on ground and pay attention to what’s really important. It also actually made me feel really good about myself, for what you described as the right skills and personal traits needed to be a successful entrepreneur. I caught myself nodding and thinking “YES! This is me!”.
    I’m sharing this with other people I care about.
    Thanks again :)

    • That’s great, Mary. Good to hear. I think these are skills that could take a lot of time to cultivate for someone who’s still stuck in the “make money fast!” trap, so it’s good you already have these.

  • Hi Shane,
    es ist witzig, hinter dir “Bierwelt entdecken” zu lesen :-)
    Es gibt doch auch immer mal ein paar deutschsprachige Follower ;-)
    Birgit (aus Deutschland)

    • Thanks, Birgit!

      A local bar owner was kind enough to let me record a few videos in the off hours, hence the beer slogan in the background. :)

  • Hey Shane,
    thank your for this very interesting (not at all boring) video. What touched me is when you said that we find ways to avoid creating a product. I planned to create a big product. I created the detailed summary but I did not begin writing the content. I have a lot of things on my todo list : create article each week, answer to comments, improve my website, etc… because i want trafic. And I have a lot of trafic but… I don’t sell my prospect a product because I don’t take time to create it. trafic but no money. So what you said is true : I found ways to avoid the hard part : create my product. So : thank you ! I will clear my todo list and keep one thing only. Have a nice day.

    • Thank you for your comment!

      Yes, this is a familiar problem. We often feel the most resistance against the things we most need to be doing.

  • Jonathan Chase says:

    Great post Shane. Personally I get most of the traffic to my page from my YouTube vids and sell most from Amazon? So they have their uses ;-)

    • Hi Jonathan,

      I’m not against using 3rd-party platforms as tools to help your business grow. The questions I’d ask myself in your situation are:

      1) What if I lose most or all of my YouTube traffic over night?
      2) What if I can no longer sell on Amazon, all of a sudden?
      3) What if both of those things happen at the same time?

      Does any of those scenarios put your business at significant risk? If the answer is “now”, then you’re fine. If the answer is “yes”, then I’d work on a plan B, which means your business can go on, even if the platforms fail you.

  • Thank you Shane for this very informative post that shakes us up to realise the common sense of it.

    Have you thought of expanding on this for people to be even more taken or shown the right direction?
    Such as showing people how they come up with correct products their particular audience would want, and how they would develop the right skills and mindset to be a highly effective entrepreneur .

    Just think many would benefit from bite sized steps to follow

    Thank you again Shane

    • Hello Dave,

      Thank you for your comment!

      I want to do more to help people grow their own businesses and learn from my approach, yes. Really, the only “problem” is that ActiveGrowth is a side project and because Thrive Themes takes up so much of my time, I can’t publish as much here as I’d like to. But one thing I want to do next year is publish a few courses that go into more depth and are more step-by-step than what fits in a blog post. :)

  • Michael F says:

    I strongly agree with your positions mentioned in this great video….
    it is really courageous and confirms being on the right track with you and the ActiveGrowth Community, thank you so much for sharing your point of view and experience, keep on doing that great job you are doing, greetings from Austria

    • Thank you, Michael! I’m glad this message resonates with you and I wish you all the best on your entrepreneurial journey.

  • Great insights again as usual, Shane! I’ve been following you since 2010 — the year when we first conversed and get to know each other. From then till now, you’ve grown massively! Cheers to you, Paul, and your entire awesome team!

  • Great post, Shane. I have had a Thrive membership for years, and you are one of the few people I really trust.

    I totally agree with all you said, and I know from personal experience that it is all true. I started out with internet marketing 7 years ago, and it was with my own product, selling Thai Massage training courses online. All my colleagues told me it could not be done. My thousands of students tell a different story, however.

    I have seen lots of fads come and go since then, lots of platforms come and go, lots of marketing strategies come and go, and lots of websites come and go.

    I stuck to my products, developed, expanded and improved them over time without getting sucked into all the fads (although I have to admit that I bought plenty of useless stuff over the years which I never used). I still have a thriving business based on my personal brand, myself as the face of it, and products that actually help people and are in demand. I have always worked hard at it, but it is what I am good at and what I know well. I treat my customers well, and they value what I have to offer. It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

    One of the few products which I bought and which is still around is my Thrive membership. And yours are some of the few emails which I always open because I know you will never hammer me with with gimmicky affiliate products and you won’t waste my time. I get a lot of my inspiration from you, and I am always looking forward to seeing your new and improved products.

  • Thank you Shane. Your generosity in sharing is a big help to me both through this medium and in Thrive Themes.

  • Steven Long says:

    Shane, please help. I am half way through your ActiveGrowth program and now I’ve been locked out. You system sees me as a non-customer, but I’ve joined and paid, that is why I am half way through. Sincerely, Steve

  • Hey Shane,

    Great video, I’ve just started your course ‘Audience from Scratch’, which I am really excited to be doing. I considered the ‘Creating an Online Course’ one but dithered about and when I finally decided to take the course it was closed. I’m on the waiting list for that one now.

    Anyway, I think your products, videos, and articles are the best and have been a fan of yours for a long time now. I have wanted to start a business online for ages now with not much success for various reasons.

    I believe in what you are teaching and want to build a long term sustainable business myself.

    My question is: What are your thoughts on using a pseudonym? My business is called ‘Women Specific Recovery’ and is mostly aimed at helping women recovering from addiction problems. It will probably target women who are ready to start branching out and fulfilling new goals, aspirations, and dreams.

    I am basing lots of the subject matter on my own personal life experience but was concerned about anonymity.

    Do you think it is a good idea to use a different name? I could send you a link to the site if you like

    much respect


  • Darin Johnson says:

    I consider myself just beginning even though I am not really just beginning as I bought into so many of the marketers who just sold the dream, but not the how. I really like what you talked about here. As I beleive in the idea of 1000 true fans, which is along the lines of what you talk about with building your own platform. I was looking at Kajabi, but again very limiting in what you can do:
    – Own your own platform, which means get your hosting, which the only one I use is WPXHosting. Then use Thrive Themes on it and found that it just works the best.
    – Mindset been working on this with teachers like: Jim Rohn, John Wooden, etc. Plus Jim Kwick on how to learn and teach any subject.
    – So many say ow use YouTube or FB, but I do not control it (Do not build on a platform you do not own)
    – To me this is long term and I mean I see myself as a creative for the long term. I see myself as a Blogger and writer. Eventually maybe write my own books, but for now to just blogging and develop my skills over time.

    You just hit home so many say follow my systems for 2,000 or follow this other system and pay me another 500. Ow by the way I use this system like Kajabi and it is only $200 a month and you do not own the platform. Bad idea and it is very limiting. I just think that you need to own your own platform and this idea of Manefesto is so powerful. I was not a great fan of the idea of creating your own product, but now I think this is the only way. What I do think that you should create a product then keep on re-launching it and learning from re-launching it every few months. Create your own brand been looking into this for a while. Shane been following you for a few years and you just put out so much value.

    • This kind of long term view is powerful, Darin!
      I believe that too much short term thinking is the cause of failure for many entrepreneurs. The view that you want to develop your writing skill and create your own product to learn the ropes is excellent. This is pretty much how I started as well. Many years ago, I decided to start blogging, just so I could practice my writing skill. I didn’t know where it would go at the time, but I’m glad I started!

  • I am a huge fan of yours, Shane and what you have created with Thrive Themes. The quality you speak of in the video is definitely why I come back to your information and products often. It is also an example I hope to emulate by putting more quality and value into what I offer.
    Thank you for being a great example of what it takes to succeed in business. I am in complete agreement on the importance of the three foundations to business you shared in your manifesto. Working on them daily for my business.

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