014: Founding Startups, Fractional CMOs, and Facing ChatGPT with Mosheh Poltorak
Mosheh has done marketing for many startup businesses over the years and has learned a lot from those experiences. He now runs a fractional CMO firm (don’t worry, we define what that means) and is pushing the use of ChatGPT and AI as powerful tools in the marketing world. In this episode, he also tells us his key tactic for a successful mentor relationship.
Key Points + Topics
- [2:55] Mosheh went to college originally intending to major in neuropsychology. Ever since, the unifying theme across his career has been trying to figure out the brain and how it works. However, he changed paths when he realized he would need to attend many years of med school. He became a business management major and, upon graduating, found marketing to be very appealing, especially to his interest in psychology.
- [4:00] He always envisioned himself working at a startup, and that’s how things started for him right out of college. He and some colleagues cofounded a very ambitious startup in 2011 trying to create a virtual currency (a la BitCoin). He learned a lot and failed along the way. After the end of that business, he received a call from Daniel Cotlar (another guest of the Digital Marketing Mentor). Daniel asked him to come and check out Houston. After consulting with his friend, Danny Gavin, who lived in Houston, he moved to town and began work at Blinds.com (also checkout our episode with Founder Jay Steinfeld). During his time there, the company was acquired by Home Depot, so he got to experience working for a smaller business and a huge nationwide brand.
- [6:05] Then, chasing the Startup feeling again, Mosheh moved to Braincheck, which was a software as a medical device company. He helped them turn their product from one market to another that was more reliable and profitable. He helped raise venture funding and organize their marketing strategy. Then, Covid hit, and things went into hibernation, and Mosheh left the company. Then he needed to decide which direction he would go from there. He wondered if he should return to consulting or a new startup. There is a lot of risk in startups. There are a lot of sacrifices and opportunities working in that world. Eventually, he landed on the Fractional CMO model. To him, this was the best of both worlds. He gets to work with different types of companies, and things are always fresh. A smaller, newer company working with a fractional CMO opens itself up to many of the benefits of a CMO and their experience that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.
- [10:10] Many of Mosheh’s family worked or works in the legal realm. His grandfather was a judge. His father, brothers, and brothers-in-law work in law. Growing up, it was a foregone conclusion he would also follow that path. He even took the LSATs and was preparing his package to apply to law school. Thankfully, he had a moment of self-reflection and clarity in which he realized that was not what he wanted to be doing. So, he turned to marketing and startups, and the rest is history.
- [11:45] Mosheh didn’t realize he enjoyed the merging of left brain and right brain work until later in his career. Eventually, he saw that he got as much enjoyment from analyzing data in a spreadsheet as from working with a graphic designer on creative elements. In a startup environment, you get the opportunity to wear many hats and experience many different elements of a business. In more established, larger companies, you can get a bit pigeonholed, which is just perfect for some people. Mosheh appreciates that he got the startup experience early on and discovered what he liked and didn’t like. Since he put himself in positions in his career where he could be involved in both sides of thought work, and as a result, he has thoroughly enjoyed his career.
- [15:25] Mosheh did attend a yeshiva, an Orthodox Jewish college. He admits he wasn’t a star pupil, but he did learn a lot, including the Socratic method and how to think and approach problems. He’s learned that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. There are lazy questions – something you could easily source yourself or a question for which you don’t listen to the answer. Many people, though, are discouraged from asking questions. At the start of his podcast, Mosheh got feedback from some people saying they didn’t understand many industry terms and acronyms in the episodes. So he started adding definitions to the opening of his episodes. Once this was implemented, he received feedback from so many others who had the same confusion but simply didn’t want to ask about it., but certainly appreciated this new feature.
- [19:08] To Mosheh, a mentor is someone who’s done “it” before and can guide you on your journey. This is to distinguish between a coach and a mentor. A coach can be a good coach without having any experience in the field in question. A mentor, however, is someone whose experiences can help you learn, and they can hold you accountable and help guide you.
- [20:35] Daniel Cotlar is one of Mosheh’s most influential mentors. One of the most significant impacts was bringing him to Houston to work at Blinds.com. His presence in Houston may be what has triggered many of the subsequent career moves. Watching and learning from him how to lead and work and help others has been a big influence on Mosheh.
- [28:30] When it comes to mentoring others, Mosheh finds the one-on-one meeting to be vital to a good work and mentor relationship. They should be scheduled, have an agenda, and be adhered to religiously. He has seen it work quite well where the mentee owns that agenda and sets the topics. There needs to be a significant component of wanting to know what the mentee wants and needs from their career; otherwise, you’re just a taskmaster.
- [29:15] He also believes you should be honest and direct with your feedback. Though, he does admit finding the balance between honesty and diplomatic delivery can be hard to find. You can’t withhold critical feedback just to spare someone’s feelings. You also shouldn’t deliver critiques without reading the room and sharing it in a way that can be truly helpful, not hurtful. Radical Candor is a book he recommends to managers and mentors alike.
- As a mentor, you should always ask for feedback. And implement it! At first, your mentee won’t be very forthcoming. But it will get easier as they see you are open to the feedback and truly change based on their comments.
- [35:00] Mosheh has always had a “jump in with both feet” approach to life and his career. He believes you’ve got to just try and fail at things. As Jeff Bezos has said, decisions in life are like doors, and most doors are two-way doors. So it’s not like most choices you make can’t be turned around, and you can try something else. Very few things are truly permanent decisions. Plus, you’ve got to do new things. If you’re building a startup that’s going to be successful, you’re going to be doing something that’s never been done before. So you need to always be open to learning.
- [41:00] As a fractional CMO, managing many different clients and mentees can be very complicated. At his company Grwth.co, each of the CMOs max out at four clients per person. Each person generally gives each client one day of work per week. Practically, Mosheh implements time-blocking, so he will block off one afternoon to focus on working for one client and another for a second client. However, he also communicates with all his clients daily via Slack and email.
- [46:55] When it comes to AI and ChatGPT, Moshes absolutely believes you should be using them. It’s going to make all of us better marketers. Will people abuse it? Absolutely. But any business can gain from using it. He does think we’re simply scratching the surface of its possibilities right now. It must be used as a tool, not a crutch, to be effective. He believes we need to spend our time learning how to be human (because we are) and learning how to work WITH AI.
Guest + Episode Links
Danny Gavin 00:05
Hello everyone. I’m Danny Gavin, founder of Optidge, marketing professor, and the host of The Digital Marketing Mentor. Today, I’m super excited to have a special guest who’s actually a childhood friend of mine as well, Mosheh Poltorak, who’s Founder and Chief Growth Partner at Grwth.co. That’s growth without the O. Grwth.co helps early stage startup businesses with Fractional CMO services. To help with strategy, vision and growth for those who don’t know what a fractional CMO is, it’s an experienced C level executive retained on a part time basis at a fraction of the cost of a full time CMO Mosheh’s particular focus is on the intersection of marketing and product and the overlap of data and customer experience. Before Growth.co, Mosheh successfully grew and helped launch businesses as a team member within multiple verticals like healthcare, technology and e-commerce. Finally, Mosheh is the host of the Product Market Fit Podcast, which personally I love, and today we will be going through Mosheh’s mentorship journey and digital marketing in the startup world. How are you Mosheh?
Mosheh Poltorak 01:56
I’m great. Thank you so much for that wonderful intro. I’m really happy to be here, Danny. Thank you.
Danny Gavin 02:01
Yeah, it’s awesome that two guys who you know were in camp together when they were 14 years old each have their own podcast and have the ability to continue that friendship both on a personal and professional level. Not everyone has that.
Mosheh Poltorak 02:14
Yes, and i’m very grateful for that. You were the first person that I called when I got a job offer or wasn’t even an offer at that point. It was just an exploratory call from someone here in Houston. And I didn’t know anything about Houston except for the Houston. We have a problem from Apollo 13. So you, I hung up on that call and I called you. I was like, hey, Danny, what’s going on in?
Danny Gavin 02:33
Houston, yeah, I feel like you were kind of the forefront of that move. And as you know, once you moved here, you know, other family members moved here, but also a whole community has started to groan. Yeah, ticker row here in Houston, which has been absolutely remarkable.
Mosheh Poltorak 02:47
The beginning of the downfall.
Danny Gavin 02:48
I’m just kidding. Depends which way you’re looking, right. Upside or downside? Let’s start off with your educational and work background. How did you get here? Let’s rewind.
Mosheh Poltorak 02:57
To I guess we’ll start a college. I went into college thinking that I would actually go into neuropsychiatry, which was a field that I was fascinated by in general, I think the unifying theme. Throughout my career, my life is trying to understand how the brain works and how people think. I quickly realized that you need to go to medical school to do neuropsychiatrist. I was like, no, I’m not going to do 10 years of schooling. So I then changed my major, nearly double major actually, in psychology and business management and finance was one class short of that second major in psychology and just didn’t work as my schedule. I was working at the time, but I’ve taken a lot of psychology classes and marketing just seemed like. That perfect fit of exercising both sides of my brain understanding, you know, the softer side of how people think, empathy, creativity, and then the left side of the brain of analytics, data-driven decision making and seeing patterns. So that’s kind of how I fell into marketing. I had some experience early on when I after I graduated in the startup world, I always envisioned myself as a as a startup founder and an entrepreneur something probably. Came from my childhood and from my father’s background. He’s a scientist turned entrepreneur. You’re building things from scratch or from the early stages. Really appealed to me, so I got to experience that in a very ambitious. Startup that I had cofounded with a few other folks back in 2011 We were trying to build a virtual currency, as it’s still when Bitcoin was about Buck 50 at the time. And had we put our money in Bitcoin instead of into that startup would be a very different story at this point. But learned a lot, failed along the way, and got to experience what that was like at the early stages. As I mentioned, I got a call, you know, after that had gone belly up. In spectacular fashion, I was doing consulting for startups and for different companies in the financial services and payment space and retail, and I got a call from an acquaintance who I had just. Met at a conference a couple years back. He had seen a write up about something I was working on the blog and reached out to me. What are you working on? Hey, you know you want to come check out Houston. And I hung up with him and I called you and what’s going on in Houston? It turns out, you know, that was Daniel Kotler, the CMO of blinds.com A fast growing ecommerce business in Houston at the time I think there were around 100 million or so in revenue. So I came down here, checked it out, checked out the community, the city you know fell in love and I joined that company and held a few different roles there. And during my four years with blinds we were acquired by Home Depot. So I got to go through my first you know, kind of public company acquisition and experience working for the Home Depot essentially and seeing how you know a Fortune 100 operates and you know. There’s a lot of interesting learnings there. After a while, though, I got that startup bug again, and I went to a startup called Braincheck, which was a software as a medical device company building neurocognitive testing. This was. A fantastic science and technology, but they didn’t have a business and I was brought in together with CRO Jordan Weinstein. Together we pivoted the company from the concussion space and working with athletes and pivoting it, to working with seniors and dementia and selling the software to physicians, clinicians and eventually to hospital systems. That was an amazing. Experience as well. We had raised a venture funding and found product market fit and we’re growing. And then COVID hit the company, kind of went to a little bit of a hibernation mode. Sales marketing was mostly disbanded. So I was at a crossroads and I thought to myself, you know, do I go back to consulting, which is something I’d done earlier in my career as I mentioned, but always felt a little bit. Transactional and mercenary to me. On the flip side, you know, do I go to my next startup? There’s a lot of sacrifice and risk that goes into working for an early stage startup. As we see now, you know with all the job cuts and losses as an employee of a of a startup, there’s a lot of sacrifices, whether it’s work life balance, financial benefits, etcetera. And I kind of landed on this fractional CMO model, which to me seemed like the best of both worlds, I. Could be embedded in a team and see the outcomes that disputes of my labor and see things through. However, I get to kind of spread it around and work with multiple companies at a time, even multiple industries and it keeps learning fresh and obviously it diversifies the risk as well. I had worked with fractional CF O’s chief financial officers in the past, was familiar with the concept but hadn’t met any fractional CM O’s before that in the last. Two plus years really, it’s exploded and now it seems like everybody’s doing it, which is great shows. It shows that there’s real value to this kind of leadership delivered in a fractional way where you’re getting a lot of the benefit. I’m not going to say all the benefit of a fulltime CMO, but for a company that is early stage and maybe can’t afford a fulltime CMO or isn’t ready for it yet, it’s a great way to tap into talent and strategy that otherwise you wouldn’t have access to. And what I find most often is that they start with. A lot of tactics, whether it’s with an agency or junior hire and don’t have a strategy to direct those tactics. So that’s where a fractional CMO could be really beneficial. So I’ve been doing that for 2 and a half years. I started on my own as a fractional CMO, and then I expanded and launched growth. Dot co as a hybrid consultancy slash agency where we have multiple CMOS now. And we also have some execution capabilities as well in house. And that’s where I’m today. And I also have the podcast as you mentioned. A product market fit? That’s a recent endeavor.
Danny Gavin 08:46
Such an amazing journey. And you literally like, I’ve had all these amazing stops along the way, whether it’s from a startup to like huge corporate buyouts and it’s just amazing. So it really provides you with this well, roundedness. And one point I wanted to just add on like from the agency side, I was talk about working with an agency. It’s kind of like a marriage and you need to have two equal partners. And often a company they’re like really quick to hire that agency, but they don’t have that internal person to meet the agency from that perspective. So I found in scenarios where there has been some sort of fractional CMO or fractional marketing person, it’s helped the agency tremendously as well. So I can definitely appreciate that from my perspective.
Mosheh Poltorak 09:27
I hear people complaining oftentimes about their agency, or they feel like they’re spending a lot of money and not delivering results. And then I asked them, like, what? Part of the goals that you set for them and you know, there’s kind of like this question mark of you know, we want revenue, but like what are they specifically tasked to do and what’s the strategy and agencies, for the most part, there are bad agencies that will intentionally not do anything for you. But most agencies are trying to do good work, but they need to know what they’re aiming for and they need to be managed and directed and you know, having that relationship and having someone who has been there and done that and can help from your side and oversee the agency is important.
Danny Gavin 10:09
Ok. So I want to roll back a little bit. I know that there’s a lot of lawyers in your family and you worked part time I think at a law firm during college. So was there ever any pressure like you got to go into law, obviously you went into marketing, what drew you to marketing and kind of defend the people who maybe said naturally you know your last name is this and you should become a lawyer?
Mosheh Poltorak 10:28
That’s so funny. The I actually took the lsats and I prepared. My application for a law school, because it was a foregone conclusion that you know, my grandfather was a judge. My father works in law, two brothers and a brotherinlaw are lawyers. It was just kind of the automatic path that I would follow. And I studied for the Lsats and I scored relatively well and I was preparing my package for law school. And I’m very glad that I had a moment of clarity where I said, you know, what am I doing? Why am I doing this? You know, this is not really what I want to be doing and. That you know, kind of pivotal decision changed the course of my life. You know, who knows how it would have turned out. But I think that i’m much happier in my chosen profession than I would have been as a lawyer. So you never know. You mentioned earlier about the stops along the way and the journey. The journey is always bumpy and twisted and there’s never a straight line, for better or for worse, right. And those opportunities sometimes. Come from you, from places where you would never expected and you have to have a plan, but you also have to be flexible to go along with the opportunities that come your way.
Danny Gavin 11:38
You mentioned before that kind of what draws people to marketing? Is this like left brain and right brain thinking? We’ve seen that when you have that sort of brain, it’s very beneficial when it comes to the marketing space. How did you come to realize this about yourself? Like was it an outside realization?
Mosheh Poltorak 11:55
It was. Later on, it wasn’t. It wasn’t in. The beginning of my career, where I fully understood why I enjoyed what I was doing, it was just kind of like, let’s try to do all the things and we’ll figure it out along the way. And I could equally have as much fun, you know, analyzing a set of keyword performance in the spreadsheet as working with a designer on a new campaign, or, you know, something similar that exercises the right brain, that the creative side as well. I’ve also been lucky enough that when you work in a startup environment, you get to have much more experience, much more quickly. So i talked about, you know, some of the downsides and risks of working at startups. And obviously I’m not trying to turn people away from it. There’s a lot of upsides. And one of those upsides is the breadth of experience that you get because when you work in a established company, especially when you get to much larger enterprises and Fortune 500 Fortune one hundreds, you mostly get pigeonholed in a specific position. And for some people, that’s wonderful. You know, for kind of a Craftsman personality where they want to do something the same thing every day, really well, that’s fantastic. But when you want to explore and you want to learn lots of different things, I don’t think there’s anywhere better than a startup to be able to just try on different hats and do what needs to be done because there’s nobody else who’s going to do it. So if you, if you want to do it, just go do it. And if you like it, great. Now you’ve added something to your tool belt. So having that experience early on and being able to, you know, I was leading. Marketing and product development for the startup that I had mentioned, currency, working with engineers, working with designers, working with the sales team, sketching out wireframes for the application at the same time, working in Google Ads for lead Gen. Everything was pretty new and. I got to experience all of it and I got to see what I liked and what I didn’t like. And i quickly realized that I would be very bored in a very pigeonholed position. So if I was a fulltime analyst, often times get lost in the spreadsheet for hours, and I love that. But if I had to do that every single day for 8 plus hours, I would get bored and I wouldn’t be able that other side of my brain would kind of atrophy. So get putting myself in positions where I can have responsibility and direct involvement in both sides has been. The key to my enjoyment of the roles that I’ve had.
Danny Gavin 14:12
And I’m sure that helps a lot of our listeners because a lot of people don’t necessarily know what they want exactly. They may know exactly what they don’t want, but exactly what they want sometimes takes trial and error and getting your feet wet and trying things out. And you know from your journey sees that that’s a one successful way of getting to where you want to go.
Mosheh Poltorak 14:35
I would argue it’s the only way, but maybe somebody has kind of plotted a course and followed that course to a tee and found success and good for them. But from what I’ve seen, both individually and for companies and startups especially, trial and error is really the only way. It’s you take action and you learn and you make sure that you have a tight feedback loop to implement those learnings and then you take the next action where I’ve seen both from personal experience and from others. Where failures is almost guaranteed is where there’s inaction, where it’s just a.
Danny Gavin 15:09
Paralysis, the sturdier it is, if it goes over that speed bump, it’s going to snap into two, right? But when you got good shocks and you’re ready to go up and down, it definitely helps. Before we move into the mentorship discussion, I like to ask this of my guests who have a yeshiva or Tom Motical background. Do you feel like that sort of training and learning and understanding how to look at something like 50 different ways? Do you feel like that has given you an advantage in the workplace now?
Mosheh Poltorak 15:37
I don’t know if my father is going to be listening to this. I’m going to admit that I didn’t really do so well in your shift. Wasn’t the star student in the Talmudic Academy where I had learned the Socratic method is I think a really important way of thinking and way of learning. So I don’t know if this probably comes from learning the Talmud and being taught to think in a certain way. I’ll give you a funny story one. Time I had a meeting with this is a Salesforce and they were we were a customer of theirs and they had come for I guess it was the annual business review or whatever the meeting was this director of customer success, forget her name. She was trying to explain something about how this new application worked and I asked why why? Why does it work that way? And she went another and then I asked again like why couldn’t couldn’t it go this way? And then after like the third or fourth time, she’s like you’re just like my 5 year old. And I took that as a as a moment of pride in my career. And I still think back to that you’re just going to ask and keep asking until you get to the source of the truth. Because a lot of times we assume things to be true and we don’t think from first principles and we don’t kind of go to root cause. So maybe that comes from, you know, kind of Talmudic thinking and reasoning yeah And if you think about it, that’s why it’s like, so weird that the culture is not to ask questions. Like, people apologize. Oh, I’m sorry for asking this question. It’s really the opposite, right? The people who ask are the ones who actually get further. So I don’t know how we can switch that notion, but I’m constantly trying to do that in my classes.
Mosheh Poltorak 17:13
In your classes with your employees and with your kids, like I tell my kids, it’s not, you know, you got to ask the number one thing. That we need to be teaching kids is to be curious and to ask and to explore. I used to have a saying that with my team and at work there are no stupid questions there are lazy questions. So don’t ask me something that you can easily Google or don’t ask me something and then not pay attention and then ask it to me again. But there’s another thing that is a stupid question. Never be afraid to ask, you know? And it comes up all the time. I’ll give you another funny example with my podcast I. Interview founders. And we talk about startups and growth and US marketers. We love our jargon and our acronyms and all of that. And I didn’t pay attention to the fact that, you know, we’re using these terms and people may not know them. And I got this feedback from a couple of people that, you know, I love the episode, but I didn’t understand what that term meant or what that thing was. So I had to look it up. So my first reaction was, oh, they’re not my target market. They’re not my target audience. You know, my target audience would know that. But after hearing that a couple of times. I decided, you know what, let me start off each episode with definitions and I put it into the intro role. You know, any terms or jargon that we use. And I heard so much feedback that like, oh, I love that you’re defining things because nobody does that. Everybody just assumes. And people are afraid to ask. People don’t speak up. So yeah, I definitely encourage people that I work with and clients, employees and in general ask. Don’t be afraid, don’t be shy. There’s much things a bad question yeah and I definitely have to give credit to you for putting that definition of fractional CMO at the beginning because that’s definitely inspired by you. Thank you. Like another just witty comment, but you mentioned, you know, you don’t necessarily like lazy questions, but with chat gbt, maybe every question now is lazy, but we’ll have to talk about that later.
Mosheh Poltorak 19:00
We’re definitely gonna talk about that, but absolutely you should be using chat gbt for sure exactly so Mosha, how would you define a mentor?
Mosheh Poltorak 19:08
A mentor is, in my view, someone who’s done it before. And can guide you along the way in your journey. And the reason why I say that is to distinguish between a mentor and a coach. You can be a really great Coach 2 marketers and never having been a marketer. Whereas in order to be a mentor, I feel like you have to have a significant overlap in your experience that usually it’s people who have been farther along in their careers who’ve been where you are. But frankly it’s you can have peer mentorship and. You know, Danny, I’m not just saying this, but you know that I come to you a lot of time for advice and mentorship and you know, you’re a close friend and I consider you a mentor in a lot of ways. So finding people that have that overlap of experience, that can give you another perspective, that can give you perhaps experience from their journey that you can learn from. Maybe not copy because everybody’s journey is different, but learn from what worked, it didn’t work for them. And also sometimes holding you accountable that may or may not come with. That specific relationship. But sometimes if you have a mentor even just the fact that if you have a scheduled let’s say monthly check in with your mentor, that’s going to force you to kind of have some accountability to whatever it is that you’re working on. So that’s kind of how I think about it as relates to and i’m not saying not to you know as a as a negative to coaching. I think that coaching as it has very important. Role to play, but I see it as different for mentorship.
Danny Gavin 20:31
So you mentioned Daniel Kotler being one of the guys who brought you down here to Houston, texas, but you’ve also mentioned in the past that he is the person who had like the most direct impact on your career. Being your former boss, I’d love to talk why. And, you know, how was Daniel a mentor to you and how was it successful that relationship?
Mosheh Poltorak 20:50
I mean, he’s had the most direct influence on my on my life and career because, you know, he brought me down to Houston, so. Just living in Houston, I don’t know if it would have happened if not for that faithful call. He was my boss for about four years at blinds.com He also, you know, at various points in my career since has helped me whether introducing me to potential clients and other people. So just, you know, as a debt of gratitude to him for what he’s done to my career outside of the mentorship aspect of it just. You know, he’s helped me in a lot of ways and I would say in a way that that’s not quid pro quo at all, right? So there’s you, there are people that will help you and expect something in return. And there are those that help because they can or because that’s their nature and whether or not you have anything to give back to them doesn’t come into their equation. So I’m extremely grateful to him for all the help and opportunities he’s sent my way. Through the years. But there’s also the mentorship aspect of it, of he’s someone that really successful marketer and entrepreneur that I look up to in what he’s accomplished in blinds.com having worked directly with him, but also in his role as an investor and a board member and an entrepreneur since leaving blinds.com watching him, learning from him, having the opportunity to interact with him and gain some of that knowledge via. Osmosis and we never really had a formal mentorship relationship. I don’t know if you have thoughts on formal versus informal mentorship. There’s I think there’s a role for both but i never had you know that kind of relationship with them where we had that formal aspect of it. Okay, I’m taking you as my mentor and you’re taking me as your mentee and it sounds silly but I think that that’s actually important ritual when it comes to mentorship that you. Go both sides, go into it with the intention of yes we’re entering into this relationship. I think it changes the dynamic and you know happy to dive into that if you want to go on that tangent but we you know he was my boss for a big chunk of the time that I was at blinds or he was my boss’s boss and you know seeing how he operates seeing how he works with others and leads has taught me a lot. Yeah, definitely. You know, I had to pick one and definitely happy him.
Danny Gavin 23:10
Yeah, and I agree with you know, Daniel also has been a big part of my life. He gave me my first internship, happened to be at blinds.com also. So he definitely, I owe him a lot of gratitude because where I’m at today also he has he played a role. So I think it’s amazing just to have someone like that in our community who literally is looking at how he can help others grow. And we are going to actually have him on an episode coming up soon. So you guys will get to learn more about him. But yeah, i agree with you. I don’t think a mentor has to be in an official capacity. I think everyone should have an official capacity mentor. But I mean, we all need those people that we look at, study, see their success kind of, you know, how can we model after them both in the good that they do and maybe some of the mistakes that they made that we can learn from and not do. So I think it’s nice to have a combination of both when you’re going through your life both professionally and personally.
Mosheh Poltorak 24:07
100 % and I think that going back to the formal versus informal mentorship being that he was my boss kind of complicates it because it’s hard sometimes to have your boss be your mentor because there’s you know, you have a different dynamic to your relationship. So yes. So since he was my boss we didn’t have that kind of formal mentorship relationship where you can have with someone who’s maybe not your direct supervisor. And you don’t have that dynamic with them. But to your last point, you need to be learning from everybody. And I can point to bosses that I’ve had that were a vast wealth of learnings on what not to do. And you know one person comes to mind that was hired and had left within three months. And obviously it wasn’t a great match for either side. But I learned a ton from him in that short period just by way of you know. Talking to him and observing, you know his strong qualities because everybody has the strengths and the weaknesses. And if you just kind of look at people as binary, good or bad, then I think most people would fall in the in the negative category because we’re all mixed bags. But if you just look at, you know, what can I learn from this person, what can I take away. And sometimes it’s you know just what not to do. Then you’re growing and you’re learning.
Danny Gavin 25:23
We’re definitely all a shade of grey yes so now that you mentor others both within Growth Co as well as junior marketers at your client firms, are there any specific routines or processes that you utilize to promote a good mentor mentee relationship?
Mosheh Poltorak 25:38
So process I think that the one-on-one is the most important meeting that you need to have as a manager and as an employee. So this is again you know this is a manager employee relationship not necessarily a mentor mentee relationship but. There needs to be a big component of that within the dynamic. Otherwise you know you’re just a taskmaster, right? You’re not responsible for the person’s growth, learning and career advancement. Then all you do is give orders and you know they may or may not follow them, but they certainly will not be loyal and creative and go above and beyond. So making sure that you have that aspect within your oneonones. You treat the one-on-one seriously and are religious to the schedule. Often times I see that people look at that as kind of like the easiest thing to move on the calendar because like, oh, it’s just one other person. And you know, we do it every week or every other week. So it’s not a big deal if we skip it, but it needs to be done religiously and it needs to have structure to it. You should have an agenda. I’ve seen it work really well where the actually, the employee or the mentee owns that agenda and comes to the conversation with. Some specific things that they want to talk about, what do they want to work on overall? I think this is true for management in general, not necessarily mentorship, but you need to understand what people want and what they need. I think that is a necessary baseline to having trust in relationship that you can’t be a good partner to somebody in their career path and helping them along their career path if you don’t know what they want in their career. So talking to people and understanding what it is that they want, I think that it’s such a mistake that employers. Go into a relationship and there’s that question of like, what do you see in three to five years? And you know, if you say anything other than working in this role of this company, then you’re a trader. No, absolutely not. I don’t want people that are that they see that their life mission is to be this role. I want people who are ambitious and they will outgrow me and they will go on to do amazing things. And my job is to help them get there however I can. And they’re going to in turn, provide value. During the time that we’re together for however long that may be, so understanding where does they want to go and figuring out how can I help them get there. Whether it’s within the business, giving them opportunities that will hone a skill that they need for whatever their goal is, whether it’s finding them training courses, mentorship, opportunities to get the gaps filled, and whatever it is that they’re looking for. So you need to know what they need, what they want, what they need, the second component. Is to be honest and direct in your feedback. To be honest here it took me a while to find that balance. I kind of early in my career probably was too to the point and didn’t have a lot of patience for beating around the Bush and thought, you know, if it’s true then say it, but you need to have a little bit of. Balance and going to the other extreme of just kind of being lazy, fair and protecting people, quote unquote by not giving them constructive feedback is very harmful to them and to the relationship. The key is giving honest, direct feedback that comes from a place of trust that they know that you’re doing it from because you care about them and you care about their advancement and their growth, then it will be accepted, right? There’s a you’re saying that words that leave the heart enter the heart if you share something with somebody. Because you want them to improve and you’re not attacking them, you’re not saying something negative about them, you’re giving them honest feedback that’ll help them grow. Usually it works well long term and I think that both of these concepts are much better explained and more articulately described in the book Radical Candor, which I think is one of the best books for managers, really helped me as a manager and as a leader change my practices. I think the third component. Of successful mentorship and manager employee relationship is to ask for feedback as well, to see it as a twoway street. Not just giving feedback, but asking your team member, your employee, your mentee for their feedback. And at first they’re not going to be very forthcoming. But if they see that it’s truly a twoway street. And that you’re receptive to constructive feedback and there’s no punishment or retribution for it and that it’s welcomed and even acted upon right. If they see if they give you feedback and. That you don’t act on it and they see that once, twice, three times, not going to get feedback anymore. But if they see that you’re working on yourself because you’re also human and you’re also growing, and you accept their feedback and you thank them for it, thank them profusely for it, right? Let go overboard, because it’s so uncommon for people to give and ask for feedback. So if you do that and you’re true to it, then again you have that trust in the relationship that it goes both ways.
Danny Gavin 30:23
Yeah, those three points are so powerful, especially number one, I had a conversation recently with Jay Steinfeld about really understanding what people want in their careers. As we both know, he created a lot of leaders and people who did very successful. And he stressed that fact. Like he wanted to know if people was this just a stop, you know? And he felt that when he knew that was the case, he would push them even more. And it ended up being that some of those individuals actually stayed longer than he even expected. So I just thought that was fascinating. So definitely that is a popular opinion, but like a scary one, right? Because, you know, you don’t want them to say, yeah, I kind of want to leave here in four years. And with the honest and direct feedback and like tempering that I just have a funny story. One of my first client engagements was with Fiesta, which happens to be a large supermarket chain here. I did a like a little engagement looking at their digital marketing platform, came ahead and sat at the table to present all my findings. And I didn’t read the room and I literally came and like trashed a lot of different parts that weren’t really doing well. Didn’t realize that the guy literally sitting next to me was the one who’s in charge of all of that. And it was, you know what I did find out? I was extremely embarrassed. Never meant to hurt him. But it was kind of like, that was my big, like, learning lesson. Like, ooh, like, you’ve got to be careful. It’s good to be honest, but you have to be tactful. You don’t always have to open everything up and, you know, got to be a little bit more. I know we’re not talking about politics. But a little bit more political in how you present something.
Mosheh Poltorak 31:52
You reminded me of a funny slash embarrassing story. Early in my career I did something similar. As I mentioned, I was doing consulting and thinking of myself as this hotshot. I know everything and I was hired to help with a acquisitions. This conglomerate was buying an ecommerce company and they were merging operations. So I helped with, you know, kind of the integrations of systems and processes and. S o p ‘s and all that stuff. And I met with the CEO of the acquiring company and I told him, I have this, I have a proposal for this really great improvement to one of your processes. It’ll save you a bunch of money. And he gave me a reaction that i wanted to crawl under the chair. But he was right. He’s like, how can you recommend an improvement to the process where you haven’t been here seeing the process. How it’s done today, right? So just because you thought of something from a desk from another city doesn’t mean that you know how it works and practicalities. You got to first learn and listen before you can recommend improvements. And that was a valuable lesson to me as well. You know, sometimes you think you know, but if you didn’t experience it and learn what what’s existing before recommending improvements, then you’re going in there with a lot of hubris and not necessarily a lot of value.
Danny Gavin 33:14
And I’m sure that’s why now you’re such a good fractional CMO, because you listen 1st and then you insert where it makes the most sense.
Mosheh Poltorak 33:22
What’s funny, not to go on a tangent here, but sometimes clients will want to do like a shorter engagement to start with. And I will push back because the first part of any engagement is the learning phase, and if you try to skip that or shortchange it, then it’s not going to be successful. So why would I go into an engagement where? You’re basically going to pay me to learn and then the engagement’s over. There’s no value to either. But so that’s how our engagements are always structured. It’s, you know, we go in, we learn from you, from your data, from your customers and from there we can build a plan in the strategy and go and implement it. But if you skip that, then there’s no value.
Danny Gavin 33:59
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Mosheh Poltorak 35:04
I’m not. Well, I appreciate you saying that. I’m not sure if that’s fully accurate. I guess you just got to try it and fail if you if you’re wrong. There are i think about this statement from Jeff Bezos. I don’t know if he invented it or adapted it from somewhere, but he talks about two way doors versus one way doors. Most decisions in life are two way doors. They’re not. One way door that once you go through it, you can never undo it. So that’s the way that I try to think about most engagements, most tests, marketing, startups, business. It’s just about testing and learning. So if you know, if you don’t, you’re fearful to start. If you’re fearful to experiment, then you’re just going to sit at home and have great ideas and not implement anything. In order to find what works, you need to be able to experiment. You need to be able to just. Going to dive in a little bit into the deep end and figure it out and learn. Businesses are similar in the sense that if you’re building a startup, most of the times if it’s if it’s going to be a successful startup, you’re doing something that nobody’s done before, right? Because even startups that exist in categories that have existed previously, that they have to be innovating somewhere. If it’s not in product, it’s in distribution or in messaging or whatever it is makes them unique. Otherwise, then they have no reason to exist. So by definition every startup is doing something that has never been done before or accompany that combination never existed before. Looking at it from that perspective and approaching it with an open mind of you know, we’re here to learn. I’ll give you an example that’s fresh in my mind because we’re right now proposing a project to a startup fascinating technology preproduct market fit and the proposal you know is really, it’s a test unlearned project is what it is and. The CEO wanted like, he’s like what? What can you guarantee me if you know, it’s a big investment for startup. Early stage startups don’t have a lot of money. You know, what can you guarantee me? And maybe I’m a bad salesperson, but I’m like, I can’t give you guarantees. I don’t know exactly what we will accomplish at the end of this engagement. What I do know is that we will test rigorously in a in a methodical way. We will iterate quickly and we will learn as much as we can within this engagement in order to move you along towards your goal of reaching product, market fit and succeeding. Perhaps other consultants or agencies or marketers might go in there with the, you know we can guarantee that you’re going to achieve. And you know that in the SEO world everybody you know you know guaranteed first page results and any if they tell you that run, run for the health right, because there’s no guarantee. You can only guarantee the inputs and the methods being sound that you come up with good hypothesis. You have a good method for testing those hypothesis and you’re rigorous about the feedback loop of taking those learnings to iterate. That is where you can guarantee the results. That’s up to the market and the tie of your hands, I think yeah No guarantees. We’re on the same page. I was actually having a conversation this morning with a young single mom who’s looking to really grow her business. And she was talking about, like, you know, how do I get more clients? And I was really stressing the fact, like, you have to have this approach where you’re not guaranteeing results, but you’re guaranteeing that you have the experience. That you have the way of approaching the problems and you’re going to do your best to get to where you need to go. And I think that was like open opening to us. I don’t think it’s like a bad salesman. I think it’s the opposite. I think if you’re honest and open and people see that you’re true to your word, you can actually do a better job acquiring customers.
Mosheh Poltorak 38:37
Well, hopefully this prospect is listening to the podcast and they sign, so we’ll find it. We’ll find out if they if they appreciated my honesty or if they signed with someone who gave them a better guarantee.
Danny Gavin 38:48
You’ve done a fair amount of inhouse digital marketing work with blindscom, braincheck currency, and now you offer a sort of consulting agency aroach in marketing that is also still inhouse. You’re kind of existing in the Gray space. So what are your thoughts on the agency verse in House marketing and do you prefer one over the other when it comes to particular skills? What are some of the key differences in your experience?
Mosheh Poltorak 39:10
As a marketer, since I know that the money audience are, you know, digital marketers and potentially early in their career, I would say to try both. I think that there’s benefits I’ve seen having hired, I haven’t worked in a traditional agency internally, but I’ve worked in their clients. Obviously, I’ve hired people from agencies. There’s a lot of benefits that you get. Working in an agency that all you do is a specific area of marketing every day for dozens of clients, you’re going to be much more advanced in your knowledge of a given channel or an area of expertise than you would be as a as a marketing generalist. In house. There’s benefits to working at an agency. There are downsides, depends on the agency and the culture of that, of that agency. Working in house depends on the size of the company. You may have a broader scope of work, again being able to wear different hats and explore different areas of marketing. But you have less depth in your knowledge because you only have one case study to really experiment with, right? So if you want to learn, for example I don’t know Google shopping and you work in house at an ecommerce company, you should be running experiments every day, but all of those experiments will be within one. Category within one brand as opposed to if you were an agency, you might be able to do across categories, across geographies, across all different types of variables. That changes your scope of learning. So there’s pros and cons on both sides. In general, if the company asks me, I think that early on it makes sense to outsource. Once you get to a certain size you it makes sense to start insourcing specific roles. I think that there are certain roles that are easier to outsource than others. So for example, social media. Is a tough role to outsource. I know that it is popular and sometimes it works well, but a lot of times the core of social media success is brand authenticity and it’s hard to outsource that. It’s really hard to translate that to someone who’s not in there on daytoday basis. So again, it depends on the category in the brand. There’s no, again going back to the twoway door versus the oneway door. Most things are going to be temporary. So hire an agency, grow with them. Until it makes sense for you to then hire an internal resource and come up with a with a plan to part ways with that agency. And the same thing with internal hires. You may hire somebody and the company scaling and now you need to hire somebody above them or beside them or maybe you need to replace them and that’s fine. That’s life, that’s evolution. That people shouldn’t see things as a permanent you know this is my one and only marketer forever. This is my agency forever like. Your company is hopefully evolving. If not, you have other issues. Look at those relationships as evolving as well.
Danny Gavin 41:53
The nature of fractional CMO would, I assume, lead to you having numerous mentoring relationships running simultaneously and dealing with different companies. As you work with many different clients and different verticals, how do you keep everything organized in your mind so you know you’re giving the right advice and guidance in the right situation?
Mosheh Poltorak 42:09
That’s a. That’s a tough one. First of all as a fractional CMO I. We Max out myself and the other CM OS on the team have four clients per person, so we’re not spread across dozens. Each client is getting typically one day per week, some more, some less, but that’s usually the standard engagement. So it’s again, it’s a manageable number, it’s not a huge amount from a practical standpoint. I personally use time blocking, so I will have dedicated on my calendar. The first half of Tuesday is this client. The second-half of Tuesday is that client and you know blocked out throughout the week focused time to dive into that client. Of course every single day I’m interacting with almost every single client because email slack, whatever you have to be available and responsive. But the focused work happens at designated times and that kind of allows me to get into the head space to really focus on a specific account or client. I personally work across different industries. I don’t know if we have time to get into the pros and cons of that. It’s a huge challenge that you know you and I have talked about before about the benefits of specialization and the drawbacks of it as well. So i work across clients that are very different. So it’s hard to mix them up because they’re not even in the same industry sometimes some of our CM O’s are more vertical focused so. You know, I have somebody who’s really good at D2C and I have somebody who’s really good at specifically SAS. They will work mostly with the same type of customer, of course, not a client, not necessarily in the same vertical, of course, with competitors, but there’s a lot of benefit also to sharing learnings. And that’s really one of the values of, I would say, as a fractional CMO. You’re getting the knowledge of all the learnings I’m getting from all my clients, not just from what I’m learning. With what I’m working on your account, and I would add to that as well, with the growth. Dot, co there are fractional, c m o i don’t know if you call them networks or agencies, but basically they’re just a marketplace and they’ll match you with somebody, but there’s no interaction beyond that, right? So you find them through this network and then you work directly with the CMO and the CMO has no integration with that firm. At growth. Dot co, we all collaborate with each other on all accounts. So yes, we have our specific clients that we’re the CMO on, but we have meetings where we talk about, we know what are the challenges across all accounts, what are we learning and sharing that learning. So there’s definitely a 1 + 1 – 3 aspect that I aim for as an individual CMO, but also in what I’m trying to build with growth. Dot co.
Danny Gavin 44:59
Yeah, it sounds like an agency to me. I’m just kidding. But you know, we at optage we use fractional, not CMO, but CEO, Chief Operating Officer, and I’m a big believer of the fractional model. I know some people are scared of, Oh my gosh, they’re like you know dealing with four companies how they can actually have time for me. But you know I’ve seen it work really well and I and I know you know some of the companies that you work with and they’re really happy with. So I think it’s definitely a model that can work for businesses and you just have to be willing to jump into it, but there’s no reason to be scared of it works well in a lot of situations.
Mosheh Poltorak 45:33
It works well like most things, if the expectations are set up. Right ahead of time and it’s a good match. I just had a an instance recently where I had proposed an engagement and declined. You know, they said we went, we wanted to, we decided to go in another direction and I responded, you know, would you mind getting on a 5 minute call? I just want to chat with you about, you know, your decision making and he didn’t want to. And I understood from his response that he assumed that I was calling him to try to convince him to sign on. So when I finally got him on the phone. And, you know, I told him, it is not in my interest to convince you. If we’re not a match, I don’t want to work with you right it only is my benefit if it’s in your benefit. Otherwise, you know, we’re both going to be miserable. So that’s not why I’m calling. I’m calling to learn about, you know, how. What did you think about our proposal? Was there anything we could have done better? You know, again, always asking for feedback, trying to learn from that. But I’m not trying to convince you, not at all. If it’s not a match, by all means, i’ll even refer you to someone that may be a better match for you.
Danny Gavin 46:28
It’s so important, especially in situations where you don’t win. You know a certain contract to follow up and find out what happened. Sometimes people don’t want to give you that feedback, but when they do, it’s extremely valuable.
Mosheh Poltorak 46:41
And that’s true. That’s true if you don’t, if you, if you lose a contract, if you lose an employee, if you lose a customer, it’s tough and people are often afraid to have that conversation. But if you can get that feedback, it’s some of the most valuable feedback.
Danny Gavin 46:53
So now the bonus round, kind of the release of chat gpt has reopened the minds of the business world to the use of AI and business and marketing. To keep everything relatable to our listeners, let’s try a real world example. How would you utilize chat gpt and AI for your marketing efforts?
Mosheh Poltorak 47:10
I’m trying to incorporate it into everything that we do, honestly. I recently posted a list of positions that I’m looking for and one of them was AI Wrangler. So a friend called me. I was like, what’s the job description for that role? And frankly someone that can implement AI practices and you know, whether it’s. Better prompt writing into every process to make it more efficient. There’s no reason to be afraid of it and to run away from it and to think of it as the enemy. It is absolutely going to make us all better marketers, more efficient. If we use the right, are people going to abuse it? Absolutely are we going to see a bunch of junk content that’s trying to, you know spam the Internet and rank for keywords without adding any value of course. And we have been already for a couple of years. You know, it’s a cat and mouse game on that side. But if you’re in I would say any, really any business, not even in business, you know, I’m telling Mom i should chat tripty to my daughter and we’re playing around with it and you know we’re exploring, you know, what can we use it for? What can we use it for? What are the implications? And we’re just scratching the surface. I know that everybody’s talking about it now. It’s a watershed moment for a I. These models have existed for a few years now. You know, G PT3 has been around for about a year and a half chat g p t is based on 3 5. What’s coming is incredible and I’m very excited about it. You asked me. You know, practically if you can use it as a tool to help you be better at your job by all means do it. If you use it as a crutch to as an excuse for not being creative, not being original and really plagiarism then. You haven’t added any value, so we’re using it in content creation, in social media creation. That doesn’t mean that you know an entire post can be written by a single a I prompt. But if you know how to ask the right questions and the right followup questions, you can get really good output. I’ll give you a simple example. I gave a prompt to Chacha pity to write a blurb about a podcast episode and it gave. It gave me something that was kind of mediocre, so I rewrote it. And then I put it back into chat gbt and, i said hey i, rewrote what you wrote, tell me why it’s better. And it specifies, you know, you did x y and z you were you know, clearer about the value and you made it more interesting to the reader, whatever it was. And then i went back and I said give it another episode. I said now based on what you’ve learned, write a description about this episode and it improves every thread within chat gbt has a memory. So you can train it to improve and that’s what these other companies that are built on top of G PT3 like Jasper and copy A I and you’ve got a bunch of them. You know you have ink here in Houston. A lot of these companies that are leveraging on top of these models, they’re just building those kind of training on top of and also the prompt infrastructure on top of the language model. So you can do amazing things, content obviously processes getting more efficient, getting a little bit lazy on some things, but if it helps. To speed something up that really a robot should be doing, then give it to the robots. Why would why would we want to be doing it? So that’s my general advice that I’m telling my kids, my nieces, nephews, and I guess anybody who wants to hear me shouting from the rooftops, we need to be spending our time learning how to be human and learning how to work with a I. We don’t need to be afraid of a I replacing humans because they are not human. They would do a lot of things very well. And we should let them.
Danny Gavin 50:43
Yeah, just to add one additional point there. So I recently presented to a local news organization here in Houston and really the whole topic was SEO. But of course had to throw in, you know, chat, EPT and AI at the end. And the point was at the end of the presentation, I was like, hey, like these are some of the problems you have with your site, but let’s now fix them using chat EPT and that was fun to kind of present it in that perspective. But also like I showed them how technically chat GPD could write a thirty second news clips. Like we took one of their news articles and said, hey, imagine if we were to actually turn this into like a 30 minute visual news clip. And it’s amazing how it says, Okay, no cut to this scene and this is the quote you should get, and then cut to that scene and it was just amazing to watch these people’s eyes in the crowd like. Some were like smiling, like Oh my gosh, this is going to make my job easier. And others were like, Oh my gosh, I’m not going to have a job next week. It was just crazy to see that the difference in opinion. But obviously my point was same exactly with as you is that this is a tool. Those who learn how to use the tool are going to be successful moving forward. The ones who don’t are going to be left behind.
Mosheh Poltorak 51:51
Right, one of the first examples of AI in the wild. Generative A I, in terms of long form content was descriptions of Little League baseball games. So you know our kids are in Little League and you know that they have those apps that produce a summary of a box score, of course, right. But then they also have a long form version of the game that’s based on the box score that a I can write right. And it works perfectly for that purpose. So if your job is to write a description of a game that literally all it is you know and this team won by that many points and this was happened in the first inning and that happened in the seventh. Inning then I’m sorry but and I can do that much better and much cheaper and let them do that right. But in a I doesn’t have experience and it doesn’t have true understanding and doesn’t have true creativity so that it can’t replace in the future. Who knows? I don’t know. I’m trying to explore that on my podcast as I’m interviewing various futurists and a I ethicists and guests to understand you know what’s coming. But today, absolutely, it’s a tool. Everybody should be using it and exploring it. You have fun with it. It’s a very exciting time.
Danny Gavin 53:03
So before we finish up, let’s do our quick top three. We would love to know what are the top three scifi or AI related content?
Mosheh Poltorak 53:11
Right so I’m all about the AI theme right now, so we’ll go with that. A movie everybody should watch is Ex Machina. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. It’s a little bit terrifying. It’s very awesome. Black Mirror is a show, I think, on Netflix. That it looks at different aspects of technology in the future and shows you know some of the risks associated with it. A lot of it is AI. A lot of it is coming true today and you see different advancements. There was a company that won I think second place in technology of the year on Product Hunt. Which literally was an episode of Black Mirror. So it’s some of the stuff is not so far distant scifi. It’s coming true. And then a book that I read a while ago and I reread the dispossessed as well you know talking about similar concepts as we think about potential dystopic features. I am a techno optimist. I think that if we approach it correctly as a society we work together, we can reach an age of abundance through using these tools and using a I and everybody can be better off. But it I think it’s valuable to look at what can go wrong so that we try to avoid those outcomes.
Danny Gavin 54:15
I love those recommendations. As a kid, I remember my parents like watching twilight zone like on a Saturday night. So Black Mirror is like our generations twilight zone. Before we wrap up, where can listeners learn about you and your business?
Mosheh Poltorak 54:27
Check out Grwth.co that’s growth without the o. Dot co. That’s the company site, and feel free to reach out to us via the website. I’m on LinkedIn. Pretty active there, so definitely connect with me. I’d love to talk to anybody really and learn from others. I’m on Twitter occasionally, sometimes about marketing, sometimes about Yankees or about my garden. So if you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m at Moshe P and check out my podcast. It’s product market fit. You can find it on all the major podcast players and on YouTube. So would love to have you join me on my learning adventure.
Danny Gavin 55:04
There, Mosheh, thank you so much for being a guest on the digital marketing mentor. This podcast was awesome. We could have easily gone another hour or two, so we’ll have to do Part 2 some other day. And thank you listeners for turning into The Digital Marketing Mentor.
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