EPISODE 122

Any entrepreneur will tell you that your brand is your baby. So when you go to sell it, whether willingly and lucratively or not so much, you’re losing a bit of your soul. Our guest, Dr. Gregory Brown, Founder of RéVive Skincare, has lived through this more than most, as his company was bounced around from owner to owner. Along the way, he faced personal challenges that would have flattened most of us, including getting sober and living an authentic, open life. Listen to our full conversation, inspiring for every entrepreneur…and everyone else!

 

Jodi KatzI am so excited today to be sitting across from Dr. Gregory Brown. He is the founder of RéVive Skincare. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™.
Dr. Gregory BrownThank you for having me.
Jodi KatzI am very excited because this marks a very special moment for our show. We're recording in our brand new podcast recording studio in our brand new office, and you're our very first guest in this new space.
Dr. Gregory BrownExciting. Thanks for having me.
Jodi KatzThanks for being patient while we work out the kinks.
Dr. Gregory BrownSure.
Jodi KatzSo, for our fans, we're sitting in a room just surrounded by acoustic paneling and sitting at a table with hot pink microphones.
Dr. Gregory BrownYes, love it.
Jodi KatzSo I'm excited to talk with you because, so many reasons but, one is that many, many years ago when I was a freelance copywriter I worked on RéVive.
Dr. Gregory BrownThat's what you said. That's amazing.
Jodi KatzIt was so long ago. I was almost a child. And I don't even remember who I worked with but it was a lot of copy for events. You must have been very active in your practice, throwing a lot of events to support the brand. And when Elana Szyfer took over as your CEO I was like, "Oh my God, that's so cool," because I know her and I knew the brand. So I'm so happy to have you as a guest.
Dr. Gregory BrownGreat. It's good to be here.
Jodi KatzSo I'd love to go back in time with you.
Dr. Gregory BrownOkay.
Jodi KatzThere's been a lot of action in your brand recently, but I want to go back to the time when you thought, "I should be the founder of a skincare brand." So take us back.
Dr. Gregory BrownSure. Well, as you know, I'm a plastic surgeon by training and certainly never set out to have a skincare brand. It takes too long to be a plastic surgeon to begin with. But during my training I took a couple of years off and spent time with what was then the infancy of biotechnology in the Bay area, San Francisco, with a company called Chiron. They were all basic scientists. And they had just developed human proteins recombinantly and that was a whole new industry, the biotech industry. And some of those human proteins had never been available for research before and I was very interested. I had just finished spending time on the burn unit at Mass General where I trained in general surgery. And burns are devastating injuries and usually if somebody doesn't survive a burn, it's because the burn can't be skin grafted quickly enough and they get sepsis and succumb. So the thought was that if there was a way to decrease the time of exposure without skin grafts, that it could decrease mortality.

So, these molecules were important for healing and actually since they were available in larger quantities, we started doing experiments on them, human experiments. And sure enough, long story short, we're able to show that we could make wounds heal faster. And that was a really important concept. It's used in burn wound therapy today to grow skin and tissue culture for difficult wounds. They're called growth factors. They're human, they occur in tiny quantities in the body and that's why very little experimentation had been done before the biotechnology industry came along. Then it was able to make large quantities.

So what does that have to do with RéVive? That's a good question. It actually has a lot to do with it because the physiology is very similar. In order for those wounds to heal faster, increased cell renewal has to occur. And in order to stabilize or reverse the signs of aging, increased cell renewal has to occur because one of the things that happens as we age, the skin cycle, especially the epidermal cell cycle slows. When you're 20 years old, you completely replace your epidermis about every three weeks. From cell division, the cells divide on the bottom, they go to the surface and they're exfoliated. That's one cell cycle, it maybe takes three weeks. As you age, when you get to be my age, it may take six, eight, 10 weeks. And that's one of the reasons we get that dull, lackluster skin of aging.

So I had the idea, could we stimulate the cell cycle in aging skin? So that was kind of... To use those molecules that were important for burn wound healing, could they also stabilize and reverse the signs of aging? I did a whole series of human studies. Volunteers. Long story short, we're able to show that and actually patented the concept of growth factors to reverse aging in skin. And then RéVive was slowly born out of that.
Jodi KatzYou were in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky?
Dr. Gregory BrownYes.
Jodi KatzIn the '80s, is that right?
Dr. Gregory Brown'80s. '90s, and early 2000s.
Jodi KatzWhy Kentucky?
Dr. Gregory BrownIt was my home. My parents were there. Only child. I trained elsewhere. I trained in Boston and Atlanta, but I went back there. So that was how I ended up there.
Jodi KatzAnd at that time, what were your patients asking for? Were do these cosmetic solutions or-
Dr. Gregory BrownIn the early days I did a lot of reconstruction, but as my practice matured, more and more aesthetic and that sort of thing. And certainly aging is part of that.
Jodi KatzAnd what did you learn about yourself when in Kentucky in the '80s and '90s as a plastic surgeon?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, Kentucky is very conservative and I had lived in more metropolitan areas. It was a little difficult to go back. But it was my hometown. It was easy to start a practice because I knew so many people, in that sense. But it was a different lifestyle.
Jodi KatzTell me about that.
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, I was raised a Southern Baptist, which is a very conservative religion, and Kentucky is very conservative as I mentioned. I happened to be a gay adult male so that was difficult. And that was in the time of AIDS. There was no cure for AIDS at that time. So it was very, what I thought, maybe not, but I felt like patients would be scared to have a gay surgeon because he might be able to give them AIDS, which there was no cure for. It was a death sentence 100% of the time. So that was an added pressure. And that might've been true in New York or Atlanta. I had a job in Atlanta, I could have stayed there. But it seemed to be more, at least in my own mind, more pressure in Kentucky that way, personally.
Jodi KatzSo you lived a life that was not super authentic at that time?
Dr. Gregory BrownYes, I did. I was engaged to women twice. Luckily for them and me, I never got married. But in those days, especially in the '80s, even today to some degree, but nothing like it was then, a lot of men in my situation lived an inauthentic life. Even our candidate for president who's gay, today, he talked about until he was in his 30s lived a not authentic life. Pete Buttigieg.
Jodi KatzAnd what sort of emotional pressures did that put on you during that time?
Dr. Gregory BrownA lot. Because when you're not living an authentic life for who you are, there's all kinds of pressures because you're not being honest with the world or yourself. So dishonesty is a hard way to live. So yeah, it was a lot of pressure. Plus add to that, practicing medicine.
Jodi KatzRight. So you would wake up every day and make conscious decisions to interact with female friends in a way that feels very familiar even if you're not feeling that way about them? You actually choreographed these moments for yourself?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, luckily I had some female friends that understood my situation and they were helpful to me that way.
Jodi KatzSo you were honest with them?
Dr. Gregory BrownI was honest with them. Yeah. And so that helped. But it still was a lot of pressure. Because that was before social media and I certainly, I was in the era of physicians that did not advertise. So really the way to build a practice in those days was to go to social events, take part in community events and all of that sort of thing. So that was a big way to build your practice. And so yeah, that was just an added pressure.
Jodi KatzRight. So you had to keep up appearances as a heterosexual man?
Dr. Gregory BrownYes.
Jodi KatzWere you able to actually have a personal life that was fulfilling at the time?
Dr. Gregory BrownMinimal. Minimal. Not much, no. The older I got, the better that got but-
Jodi KatzAnd your family, were you honest with them?
Dr. Gregory BrownYou know, like any good dysfunctional family, they knew, but we just didn't talk about it. As long as I didn't, as I lived like they wanted me to live, we didn't talk about it. And I was what I call King Baby. I was an only child, the first person to go to college, certainly to medical school, Harvard, all that stuff. So they all, they didn't want to go there.
Jodi KatzWere there other people you could talk to like other physicians who you felt comfortable being honest with, who you could share this with?
Dr. Gregory BrownNot really. No, no, it was pretty clandestine.
Jodi KatzYeah, it sounds really lonely.
Dr. Gregory BrownIt was, yeah. And so I worked all the time. Part of it I think, I sublimated a lot of those energies into, I had a busy, successful practice, [inaudible 00:10:00] quickly. So that was never quite enough. So then I started, long story short, RéVive. So I do think, it came out, I don't know if I could say positively, but I did sublimate a lot of those energies into other directions.
Jodi KatzMm-hmm. So I'm in our intake call you were incredibly honest and open with me about your life and as you're sharing now. And decades ago you couldn't be honest, right?
Dr. Gregory BrownCorrect.
Jodi KatzAnd now you had told me what would the point of the interview be if you weren't completely honest, and I'm grateful for that. You talked to me about the pressures of running a business and how it led to addiction.
Dr. Gregory BrownRight.
Jodi KatzSo I'd love to dive deep into this because this is a topic that a lot of people don't talk about. And it's as much a part of your life as anything else.
Dr. Gregory BrownRight.
Jodi KatzSo tell me, where did the addiction begin?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, I am 15 years sober this month actually.
Jodi KatzCongratulations. That's awesome.
Dr. Gregory BrownThanks. But I've learned over the years, at first I thought the addiction was because of what we just talked about, the pressures of that. I did develop rheumatoid arthritis so I did have a reason to... I was addicted to pain medication, not alcohol. I never really drank. So I had... There's a drug called Ultram that's supposedly not addictive for pain that I did get addicted to. But I think looking back these many years later, some people are just wired for it. I think I was one of those people. There is some heredity in my family of alcohol, my immediate family, no, but uncles, aunts and all of that that had addiction issues. So I'm not so sure. You know, there are a lot of people that go through the same pressures and never have an addiction problem.

So as strange as this may seem, that may be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It was very difficult to go through at the time. But having come through it and been in recovery all these years, it's made me a much different person than I think I would've been. I was never, I was raised in a religion and I never did not, not believe in some sort of a creator, but it wasn't a big part of my life. And of course in sobriety, that's a huge part of your life, a spiritual... I mean the way I got sober is through a spiritual solution and so it's become a big part of my life.
Jodi KatzAnd what did addiction look like for you? How was it part of your every day?
Dr. Gregory BrownIt started out slowly. I would maybe at the end of the day, instead of having a drink, I would have two pills. Then I decided... RéVive had grown because I was practicing and RéVive out of my office at the same time. So I realized even before the addiction kicked in that I couldn't do both. Medicine, at least for me, is too much of a commitment to be sidelined by anything else. So I made the conscious decision, because I had rheumatoid that I would retire from medicine and then do RéVive full time. But then the addiction really kicked in once I didn't have the responsibility of medicine. And maybe by the end, by the time I went to rehab, I was taking 20 pills a day.
Jodi KatzOh my goodness. And did your friends know?
Dr. Gregory BrownNo. That's the strange thing about a lot of addicts. Most people knew I had a personality change. One of the women that I worked with closely, she thought, "Oh my goodness, does he have AIDS? He's changed so much."

My parents, I remember when I told him my parents that I had an addiction problem, my mother said, "Oh thank goodness. I thought you had AIDS."

So, people knew that I was different, but nobody really, strangely enough, knew that I was taking 20 pills a day.
Jodi KatzHow interesting, right? That you could be so reliant on this medication and no one knew it.
Dr. Gregory BrownBut addiction is that way. It's the devil.
Jodi KatzRight. So I think a lot of people probably think of addicts as people on the street, right?
Dr. Gregory BrownNo. There are a lot of people in your life today I'm sure that have some, a lot of people have a lot of addictions that aren't chemical, but even chemical addictions, yeah.
Jodi KatzSo how did you know when it was a real problem?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, I sort of knew. I mean I knew this, but you lie to yourself. And so one day I had to go actually to a business meeting in Dallas and I decided I wouldn't take pills. And I became suicidal.
Jodi KatzIn that one day?
Dr. Gregory BrownYeah. And I didn't know... I mean I wasn't even sad. I just wanted to jump out a window. You know, it's insanity. It's total insanity. But I got a massage, I called my parents, I did everything and I still wanted to do it. So finally I called the house doctor at the hotel and I said, "I had a headache. Could he call me in some medicine?" And soon as that took the medicine, the suicidal tendency thoughts went away, and I knew that was a moment of clarity. I knew that I had a problem. So I came home and within a week I went to rehab.
Jodi KatzSo, is this unusual that somebody sees this for themselves. That it's not like friends or families sitting them down and saying, "Wow, there's a real problem here"?
Dr. Gregory BrownI think ultimately, even when there's an intervention, the individual has to come to a point that they... Because a lot of interventions don't go well and don't end well. But I think the person that's addicted has to come to that. Yeah. To ever really get sober. I mean they talk about a bottom. My bottom wasn't, it was an emotional bottom more than it was... I didn't really lose a lot of things monetarily or any of that sort of thing. But I certainly was bankrupt from a spiritual standpoint, emotional standpoint.
Jodi KatzSo the suicidal feelings really freaked you out?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell that's really, yes it did. It got my attention and then I knew I had to deal with it.
Jodi KatzAnd what was the process that week before you, when you came back from Dallas to leaving for rehab?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, I knew that I couldn't go to just a institutional cinder block wall rehab. So I actually went online, and I had read years ago about a place in Malibu called Promises, where a lot of, at that time, celebrities went. So I called them and they had a bed and I went. And it was great. It changed my life.
Jodi KatzBut you did this for yourself, which I just find so fascinating, right?
Dr. Gregory BrownBut I knew I had to.
Jodi KatzDid you think that if you didn't you were going to die?
Dr. Gregory BrownYeah, I was at a rock and a hard place. I couldn't take pills and I couldn't not take pills. So yeah, I knew that something had to give.
Jodi KatzAnd I'm curious about that conversation with your family or with your friends when you told them you have a problem. Were they surprised?
Dr. Gregory BrownThey were very surprised. Yes. I had a partner at the time and he was very surprised. They all thought, they knew I was not quite myself, but they were blown away when I told them what it was.
Jodi KatzAnd did anyone say to you, "No, no, no, you're fine"?
Dr. Gregory BrownI think if it had been alcohol they might have. But when you say you take 20 pills a day, nobody can say that's fine.
Jodi KatzRight. And you were able to access 20 pills a day because you're a physician?
Dr. Gregory BrownYes. Yes. Those types of pills were not even schedule 2, they were schedule 3. So we used to just, when they first came out we would give them to patients just... Well, they always had a prescription but they weren't really like an opiate.
Jodi KatzRight. So they weren't classified as super scary and dangerous pills?
Dr. Gregory BrownNo, no.
Jodi KatzSo access to them was way easier.
Dr. Gregory BrownRight.
Jodi KatzWow. This is really fascinating because I think a lot of people don't realize that you can be completely functioning, right?
Dr. Gregory BrownI was. Totally. Going through life. The people closest to me didn't know. Yeah, it's scary.
Jodi KatzAnd what was the burden of that secret like?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, it was a living hell in a way. Because I'm a physician, I was intelligent enough to know this isn't normal and it can't go on forever. We talk about addiction as insanity and it is. When you hear what people do to feed their addiction it's obviously not sane.
Jodi KatzAnd if you could give anyone advice who's a friend of someone who comes to them and says, "I have a problem," what would you tell them?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, I would be loving and nonjudgmental and tell them they don't have to live this way. They don't have to do it. There's a solution.
Jodi KatzCongratulations on 15 years of sobriety.
Dr. Gregory BrownThanks.
Jodi KatzThat's really incredible.
Dr. Gregory BrownThank you.
Jodi KatzI'm going to shift gears. Completely opposite direction.
Dr. Gregory BrownOkay.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about your business bouncing around from owner to owner.
Dr. Gregory BrownSure.
Jodi KatzMaybe a little bit of insanity in that as well.
Dr. Gregory BrownThat's been an interesting path as well. But I was sober, and I got sober in '04 and really RéVive took off. Once I had stopped the medicine and went to rehab, then RéVive grew exponentially. Profitable. Big numbers. And people. If you remember in '07, early '08, it was a little bit like now, sort of a gilded age. People were coming out of the woodwork wanting to buy the brand. So ultimately I was talked into selling it. And for me-
Jodi KatzWhy do you say, "talked into"?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell it was my baby, it still is. I didn't want to sell it, really. Although it was more money than I ever thought I would have from practicing medicine, which is a good thing. But at the same time you sell a little bit of your soul.

So, I had a wealthy older partner, a minor shareholder, and he's the person that made growth factors and that's why he was my partner. Because in those days you couldn't buy growth factors. He said, "We're going to have a recession and we should sell." I didn't believe it but long story short, we did end up selling in the spring of '08, just before the market crashed. And in retrospect, I might've lost the business during those, it was a bad time for at least two or three years. And the company that bought it, they really tried. But the company, RéVive, and the other company they bought with us never really did extremely well under that management. And so they sold it again to a bigger strategic, just about maybe two years, two and a half years ago now. And RéVive really suffered under that management.

And then a private equity company came along and they wrote me and said, did they think it would be, could they buy it? And they talked to the strategic and so long story short, everything worked out. I put money in, they put money in. Our CEO did, our COO did. So 18 months ago we bought it back.
Jodi KatzSo let's talk about selling the baby through those years. So owner one and owner two. Did you have any role in the business during those time periods?
Dr. Gregory BrownI did. I stayed on with product development. I always have done PAs, which are called personal appearances at our retail stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks. I've done those all along. I've done some press, but we were always overshadowed by bigger companies and the family of those owners.
Jodi KatzSo were you essentially an employee at that point?
Dr. Gregory BrownI was a consultant. I was never an employee. But I had an office here in New York at one of the strategic's main office and that sort of thing.
Jodi KatzBut you didn't have a seat at the table?
Dr. Gregory BrownNo.
Jodi KatzAnd what does that feel like? Because we hear about it every day, "Founder selling their brands. Brands-"
Dr. Gregory BrownIt's not fun. Now that I have more of a seat... I'm on the board of RéVive. So it makes a difference. It's hard to tell. I just talked to somebody that's thinking of selling their business over the weekend. And you can't really, it's like surgery, you can tell somebody what surgery is going to be like and what to expect, but until they do it, they can't know. And the same is a little bit true about selling your business. You can tell them, but until they do it, they can't know. So it's a difficult thing.
Jodi KatzBefore we started recording today we were talking about you don't have your name on the brand, right? So you didn't actually sell your name.
Dr. Gregory BrownCorrect.
Jodi KatzBut we see it all around us, right? People establish brands using their first and last name. Decades later they get into situations where they don't own their name anymore.
Dr. Gregory BrownAnd that's a bad place to be. A lot of people get a lot of money for their name but once it's gone, it's gone. And you can't get it back.
Jodi KatzIt must be so painful on so many levels, right? Because we identify ourselves with the babies that we create, right? Our entrepreneurial endeavors are part of us and part of our soul, as is our name, right? Our name has value and meaning and we all work very hard to, how many of us have a good name and make it mean something. I think it just must be torture.
Dr. Gregory BrownYeah I know several people that's happened to and yes, it's very difficult.
Jodi KatzSo you were a consultant to your own brand, the founder consultant to your own brand through two life cycles of different owners who weren't able to achieve the growth that you would have hoped. In addition to not growing, was there anything that actually really was devastating to the brand beyond the lack of growth?
Dr. Gregory BrownThe good news through both of those was that it was kind of ignored. And that may sound strange, but the reason that was good, our formulas weren't tampered with. Our distribution wasn't changed. So we kept our tight distribution with the luxury specialty retailers. All of our formulas we own. So those weren't, I hate the phrase, but dumbed down. So that turned out to be a good thing, especially now.
Jodi KatzSo it's almost like it was in a winter slumber?
Dr. Gregory BrownYeah, a little bit of a hibernation. Yeah.
Jodi KatzSo maybe the headline for the summary of this episode is, "It's good when your brand's ignored it and when it's sold from buyer to buyer."
Dr. Gregory BrownWell maybe, as ironic as that sounds and... Rich Gersten who is head of the private equity that we're involved with now, he always said that, "One of the biggest kudos for RéVive is the fact that it survived all that." And I think that's true. That says a lot about it, that it went through all of that and didn't go away.
Jodi KatzSo, after all these years, what is it like now to actually have a seat at the table again?
Dr. Gregory BrownIt's been exciting. It's been a great 18 months. We have a dynamic team. We have an amazing CEO, COO, [inaudible 00:26:35] very involved. We've seen it turn around in a short period of time. So I'm glad I weathered the storm. As you know, a lot of founders, when they sell, they just can't take it. And I get that. I totally get why they have to just step away, but for whatever reason I stayed. So I'm glad.
Jodi KatzYeah. And to be able to trust that the universe... Well I don't know, did you trust that the universe would take care of the brands when you sold?
Dr. Gregory BrownI sort of did. I felt like... I'm really a glass half full person, especially since I'm in recovery now. And I've always just had this sense that there would be light at the end of the tunnel. So, and it was really a 10 year period. Yeah.
Jodi KatzAnd having trust and faith in the unknown and the uncontrollable is close to impossible for most people. What can you extract from your recovery process that can help somebody through that?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, that's what recovery is, that you have to... I call it creator, I call it God. People call it other things, higher power, whatever, people. But you have to trust that we're not in control. When you think about it, in reality, as human beings, we don't have a lot of control over many things. We certainly can't control other people. We think we can. We try, but we can't. We can't control institutions. We think we can. We can't control the weather. So in reality you have to trust that there's some benevolent thing that's looking over everything and it will ultimately, maybe not in the short term, be what you want, but what you need and will turn out for the better. And so that really, that thought process has kept me in the game.
Jodi KatzSo what do you think, looking back now, the universe has given you as a gift other than the financial transaction of selling the business? What do you think that the universe has given you as a gift when you were not having a seat at the table and these brands maybe weren't being managed? What do you think you needed at that time?
Dr. Gregory BrownWell, what I just said. I think I had that way of thinking about things. I thought that, well, I was treated well, I was respected. I didn't have a lot of power or say in what happened, but I was never, except by the last strategic, they were bad. And I won't say who it is. But the first big company, they really tried and they... And the last, the second strategic, they made it very obvious they didn't want the brand. They just had to take it because they bought it's sister brand. So from the get-go we knew that they really weren't going to do much for it. But again, they didn't hurt it other than neglect it. So that was a good thing.
Jodi KatzSo I just wonder if at that moment the universe gave you this ultimate test of like, well, you don't have control, and you actually don't... Well, we all know we don't have control over things. But here's a situation where you actually don't have control anymore. You're not the boss. You're not the owner. And to have to move through that is a gift, right?
Dr. Gregory BrownIt is. It's a lesson. And in the very early period of not owning the business, I was complaining and talking and, "They're not doing it right. They're not doing it the way I do it."

So there was a woman that worked for us, I really like her a lot and she said, "Well quit." And I thought, "Well I don't want to quit." But what I did learn from that is that the only thing I can control is my reaction to the situation. So I changed my tune and ultimately the universe came back and this is where we are today. So I think the thing we do have control over are the people we surround ourselves with and our reaction to situations. So, those two things are really important. And I think if we do the next right thing, then the universe ultimately will reward us.
Jodi KatzI try to teach my team to think about how important is this thing that you're dealing with, right? Most of the time it's not. Maybe it feels big, but if you put it into perspective, or how important is losing a client, how important is not getting the new client? How important is a client being unhappy with the photo shoot? In the end it's just not really important. And I think when we refocus our attention on what is important, the people we surround ourselves with as you mentioned, the joy we have in our work. Seeing the sunshine, being out in the sunshine, it really puts things into perspective and makes work way more fun.
Dr. Gregory BrownAbsolutely.
Jodi KatzWhich is my goal.
Dr. Gregory BrownYeah. Yeah yeah.
Jodi KatzSo, my last question for you, and now that you are back at RéVive and have partners who are investing time and money into it, what do you want to do with it? Where do you want to take it?
Dr. Gregory BrownI want it to be a global brand. I want it to be... You know, RéVive is branded, but not really. A lot of people don't know the brand. So we are primarily domestic. We have very little penetration around the world so there's a huge opportunity for us to grow. And that's what I would like to see. Yeah.
Jodi KatzWell, you'll be racking up your frequent flyer miles, right? For all those public appearances.
Dr. Gregory BrownRight.
Jodi KatzWell, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom-
Dr. Gregory BrownThanks for having me.
Jodi Katz... and your story with me today and with our listeners. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Dr. Brown. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes. And for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram at Where Brains Meet Beauty™a, podcasts.
Dr. Gregory BrownThanks.
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