EPISODE 129

The seeds of a business are often sown through a frustrating search for a product or a solution to a problem. Such is the case with Heather Reier, Founder and CEO of Cake Beauty. Well before natural, vegan, cruelty-free beauty was a “thing,” as Heather sought healthy skincare products, the ones she found smelled terrible, had awful packaging and were totally unappealing. She hit the kitchen, started mixing and created a line of natural, nourishing skincare and haircare products that are as fragrant and effective as they are girly and fun. Listen to Heather’s WBMB podcast to hear how she launched, grew, sold and currently runs Cake, and share all the entrepreneurial lessons she has learned along the way.

Jodi KatzHey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. I am so happy to be sitting with Heather Reier. She is the founder and CEO of Cake Beauty. Welcome to Where Brains Meets Beauty™.
Heather ReierThank you, Jodi, happy to be here.
Jodi KatzThis has been several months in the making.
Heather ReierIt has, I know. I think we first spoke last January. It was cold out, that's all I know.
Jodi KatzAnd we had such a great conversation, so I'm so glad you were able to make it to New York to join me on the show today.
Heather ReierYeah, me too.
Jodi KatzSo, I want to dive into all the amazing things that we talked about in our pre-interview, but let's start with one of my favorite questions, which is how are you going to spend the day today?
Heather ReierSo, today after this I'm going to go to a Walgreens store and take some video because we have new product launching there this month, and then I'm headed to the airport back to Toronto.
Jodi KatzOh, how many days have you been here in New York?
Heather ReierSince yesterday, two days.
Jodi KatzAnd what did you do with your time?
Heather ReierYeah, size, met with the media yesterday on some new products we're launching. So, it was great, yeah.
Jodi KatzDid you do a lot of prep for those jeans?
Heather ReierNot so much because I know the products inside and out. It's usually a great conversation. The editors are always so lovely. So, it's not so bad.
Jodi KatzYou have some of the products sitting in front of us now and it smells really good in here.
Heather ReierMm-hmm (affirmative), of course. Would you expect anything less from Cake?
Jodi KatzIt's a nice ... so, let's talk about you. This is what today's interview is all about. You started your business over 15 years ago.
Heather ReierRight.
Jodi KatzWhy?
Heather ReierA couple of reasons. I saw a niche in the market. I wanted to create a brand of beauty products that combined natural, nourishing, cruelty-free, which 15 years ago was not a thing at all, nobody cared. And anything that was natural, nourishing, vegan, smelled terrible and was ugly, ugly, ugly, right? So I wanted to combine that concept with girly, sassy, and fun. So ignorance is bliss. And I hit the kitchen, and started mixing it up myself, and with the intent of creating a business. So it wasn't one of those stories, like I make amazing raspberry jam and suddenly it's a business. No, I did it to create a business and take it to the market.
Jodi KatzWhat were you doing before that?
Heather ReierWhile I started Cake, I was working at Roots Canada, which is, I don't know if you're familiar with ...
Jodi KatzYeah sure, an apparel company.
Heather ReierThey're a Canadian apparel company and retail operations with them.
Jodi KatzSo your whole career was in fashion before this?
Heather ReierAnd before Roots I was working for a company that owned and operated hair salons, so kind of in the beauty space a little bit, but I was in operations with them and yeah. So then I went onto Roots and while I was at Roots, started dabbling in the kitchen.
Jodi KatzSo what does operations mean at a job like Roots are at the salons?
Heather ReierThe retail stores operations, so managing, coordinating marketing with supply chain design.
Jodi KatzSo I would imagine that as you do business with Walgreens and other retailers, that this comes second nature to you at this point.
Heather ReierYeah. But it's all ... it's like a learning thing for sure. Because it was different when you're operating your own retail stores, like with roots, versus dealing with buyers, shelf space, how you fit in, retails, things like that.
Jodi KatzSo 15 years ago you're cooking this up as a business?
Heather ReierYes.
Jodi KatzWhat made you think that this would be a viable business?
Heather ReierYou know what? It was intuition, really. I thought, "I want this. My friends seem to want this," and I think a lot of businesses start that way. It's just I see a niche, there's nothing else out there like it. Why doesn't it exist? So, really at the beginning, I just had a feeling that it was going to work.
Jodi KatzAre you that positive and most aspects of your life?
Heather ReierI think so. I'm kind of a glass half-full person. I always look on the upside because I think if you didn't, when I was running the business, I'd be, I often say, under my desk in the fetal position going, "Oh my God, this is going to be terrible." There's always an upside to everything. So I think if you don't approach it with positivity, it's kind of, you're putting that out into the universe that it's going to come back and work out. So yeah, it's kind of how I approach most things.
Jodi KatzI find it's very easy to be half glass full when there is money in the bank. Those times in my business where there haven't been money in the bank, it feels really impossible.
Heather ReierYou know what? I've been there, believe me, the business ups and downs over the years. But I always felt like it could be worse, you know? It could be worse. And so although they are lots of times when it was tough and there was no money in the bank, and, "Holy crow, it's payroll on Friday, and what are we going to do? I guess I'm not getting paid again." Those years, they do happen, but the business is still around. People loved it. And I often used to even go to a place of, "Well at least I've got my health." It sounds a little cliche, but I always did, "Well, what's the worst that can happen here?" You know? So not to say that there weren't stressful times and you're thinking, "Holy crow," but it was either, "Well, we can get through this, get up and keep going or close it up," you know?
Jodi KatzRight. So as an entrepreneur, I often think about that, like I have two options. I can just keep moving forward, even if it's uncomfortable, and doesn't feel good, or I could just stop. And stopping doesn't feel like an option.
Heather ReierNo, no, it didn't. It never was an option, absolutely wasn't an option. It was a succeed and hit the goal or nothing. You're right. And I think that's something that all entrepreneurs have in common, because at the very heart of it, there's a resilience that I think all entrepreneurs have. If you don't have it, it's never going to work. You've got to just ... success is the only option, and success might look different for you than it is for me. And it's not always a pile of money in the bank, it could be other things too.
Jodi KatzYeah, I had a moment of clarity at the food store, like a year ago and I ran into a friend who asked me how work was going, and it wasn't going ... maybe it was two years ago. It wasn't going that great, or it wasn't meeting my expectations, or whatever I thought it should be. And I was working a lot and not making a lot of money. And I said, that to her. And then I'm like, "Wait a minute. But if the money was the most important thing, I would've just gotten a job somewhere." And in the food store, in the soup aisle or something, I realized this is not about the money. I am so wealthy and freedom, I am wealthy and other things that it's not ... that's not the goal for me.
Heather ReierIt's not.
Jodi KatzAnd it changed my perspective on a lot of stuff.
Heather ReierYeah. And did it help you kind of move forward and get through this difficult time easier, and more successfully probably?
Jodi KatzYes, absolutely. Once I released this pressure on myself that success for me equals money, which I guess I was just in my head thinking it did, but in my heart it really didn't. Once I was able to break through that, everything changed, everything.
Heather ReierAnd then the money comes interestingly enough.
Jodi KatzAnd better work and the better partners, and the team.
Heather ReierAnd you're fulfilled, everything because the perspective changes. I couldn't agree more. It's amazing how little money matters, unless you can't pay your bills, that's, I mean, fine. But it's amazing how little that means, because we don't do it for the money, right?
Jodi KatzRight. I was so grateful I had that moment, and it's like, it's etched in my brain. So it was going back through our notes of the conversation we hadn't really many months ago and there were so many things I'm reading like, "Wow, this was free therapy for me talking to you." So many different parts of, like when you were looking back and looking at mistakes, or challenges and one of the ones you spoke about with me was splitting up with a business partner. So walk us through how this got started with the partner, and how it devolved.
Heather ReierYeah, it was early on that she departed the business, and it was a difficult time because she's a brilliant, lovely, great person, very talented. And we started the business together and like probably a lot of partners, we didn't have a shareholder's agreement, and we just had this dream, and we didn't have a clear delineation of who would do what, which I think is, don't do that. That was probably a mistake. So shortly after launching, probably within a year and a half or so, she decided she wanted to leave the business. And so, it was difficult. It was difficult because there was a friendship there, and a partner, which it's lonely at the top by yourself. So there was a huge upside to having a partner at the time. So it was a difficult time. But I was very committed to sticking it out with the business. I really saw the vision of where the brand could go, and I hunkered down and did it with no partner.
Jodi KatzSo I'm reading this as I'm actually having conversations with a friend from my relationships here in Beauty about starting a business together. And I'm like, "Oh this is really timely that I'm rereading that," right?
Heather ReierYes.
Jodi KatzAnd of course, think that having defined roles as probably one of the the best measures of having success with a partner. I'm a solo entrepreneur now, so this would be totally new territory for me. So even for super early stage businesses that are listening to this, what should they write out? What's the most important things to have on paper and signed?
Heather ReierI think, I mean obviously a shareholder's agreement through a lawyer, but beyond that, to have a really honest discussion of what you each bring to the business. And I think it's often not clear at the very beginning because if you have two people that both love the spotlight, and I want the accolades, and I want to get out there, that might be a little bit of a challenging dynamic, and the ego can get in the way. Ideally if it's ... I think the most successful partnerships that I've looked at from afar is usually one is an individual that's maybe more of an introvert, a little bit more of a back office person, both partners equally strategic in where the business needs to go. And the other one is maybe the one that brings a little bit more color to the energy of the brand, and the company, and they balance each other out. And one does ... focuses on things that perhaps the other could do, but doesn't want to do.

So I think definitely having those honest conversations, and because often I think in any relationship in business, in work at all, you're attracted to people who are like you. You like working with people that act like you, talk, behave like you. But sometimes, I think in a partnership situation, that can be a recipe for success. That's actually not what you want. So we get along so well, we're just the same, we have the same perspective can be dangerous, I think.
Jodi KatzOkay, this is good advice for me, as I start to think about this. Okay, so fast forward ahead, your business started in your kitchen, and then you got acquired by a giant corporation?
Heather ReierRight, yup.
Jodi KatzWhat was in between those spaces?
Heather ReierNothing much. A lot of things. I mean, I almost sold the company twice before. Thank goodness I didn't, because it's so clear how that wouldn't have been the right fit for me. So between that, I started with bath and body products, then went into hair care, so expanded the category, changed the distribution model.
Jodi KatzFrom what to what?
Heather ReierPardon me, from independence. It started with independent beauty boutiques to a higher, and it was at a retailer called Holt Renfrew in Canada, which is kind of like your Saks Fifth Avenue, a very high poshy retail store, and the price point for Cake was quite high at the time. So from there, took it down to ... and at the time, too, when I went into a Holt Renfrew, I would be on the floor selling the products every Saturday and the Cake brand, if you can imagine, was among Greylin, and all that the lovely poshy brands. And it was quite ... I hate this word, because the thing is overused, but it was quite disruptive in a way to see a brand like this in an environment, and it worked really well.

So I was able to connect with customers. They were ready to see a brand like that in that environment. And then went from Holt Renfrew to Sephora, took the price down a little bit. And even when I entered Sephora, there weren't a lot of indie feeling brands. And it worked really well, and we carved out a niche. And then from there went to a shopper's drug mart Walgreens booths model, which we're in now, which is, everything in the US here is $8.99, a really accessible price point, so that changed a lot. Lots of innovation, lots of ups and downs with the business, gaining accounts, losing accounts, a couple babies, a marriage, lots.
Jodi KatzHow old are the babies now?
Heather ReierNine and seven.
Jodi KatzOh cool, such a fun age.
Heather ReierYeah, they are. It's great. Yeah, really good.
Jodi KatzSo let's talk about these price shifts, because that's actually something all entrepreneurs ask a lot ,when they meet with my team, and they're scared, right? People are scared to change prices. So going from a Saks level, department store level, all the way to $8.99 a piece, what was your thinking around that, and what gave you the courage to make those changes?
Heather ReierYeah funny enough, I don't even see it as ... it wasn't frightening to me at all, and I don't even know if it was courage, other than making sure the margin would allow for it. So, as the business grew, the economies allowed it to happen. That was exactly sort of ... I mean, I won't pretend back with the whole Renfrew days that I had that clear vision exactly what's going to happen in 2013 is this. But I did know, I thought what was really compelling is to be able to position Cake in an environment where we stood out and looked a little bit different.

So I was ... and be able to get the products in the hands of as many people as possible. So it made a lot of sense for me to start very less accessible to make it feel a little bit more prestige in terms of the brand vibe. But I always had an intent of bringing it down into a more different distribution channel. And I think also following the trends of the market, people are shopping differently, obviously, than they did 10 years ago with the high and low sort of vibe, buy everything that you're wearing at Saks Fifth Avenue, you pair it with a Target skirt, or whatever. I think that's just how people are changing. And I just wanted to get Cake that visibility into wider audience.
Jodi KatzSo when you named the brand, I'm kind of shocked that Cake was available as a trademark name.
Heather ReierI know, right? It's funny because I don't actually remember any other names in the running. So it's funny, I've never actually contemplated that, because it was probably again that positivity, "Well of course it's going to be free. Why wouldn't it be free?" And it was free. So because there weren't any other names.
Jodi KatzIt's really astounding. All the like nouns are taken, right?
Heather ReierRight.
Jodi KatzSo we have to take nouns and mix them with other nouns or fake spellings to be able to get something trademarked these days. So it's incredible that you're able to find this nice, pleasant four letter word that's available.
Heather ReierIt suited it so well, yeah, yeah. A nice tall K in the middle, yeah, the look of it, I loved it, yeah.
Jodi KatzWere you always as positive as a child?
Heather ReierI think so. I think so. Yeah. I was always pretty positive that things would work out, that everything was okay. I always ... I mean, gosh though, there's a thousand attributes that are not great of me, I'm sure. But there was always a sense of ... and it's just compounded as I've gotten older, like gratitude. Like, "I'm so lucky that I have this not that. Things could be this versus that." So, I think so, and I think I'm more and more now as an adult, pretty positive.
Jodi KatzAnd is your team representative of this positivity, the team in the office?
Heather ReierYes. Yeah. Really, I mean, pretty ... the energy in the office is very positive, very collaborative. It's nice. I mean, not that ... I mean there are days, of course, where everybody feels like they're ready to pull their hair out. And not to say that I'm always positive, because there's lots of times, "This is never going to work." You have moments of that, but when you can kind of dial it back, I think it's important, because I think we're doing ... this is serious business, but is it? I mean, we're not solving world hunger here. So I think if you get it in perspective, then you're more positive, and then ironically the business follows, and everything else sort of falls into place without ... you can't be too nuts about it.
Jodi KatzSo that idea and perspective has been really important to me, not just with the running the business, but how I spend my time in my business, as it impacts my family. And realizing that my goal through my work is just to spend more time with my family, right?
Heather ReierYeah.
Jodi KatzSo how do you balance these two things?
Heather ReierYeah, I mean, especially now since the acquisition two years ago, I'm able to even balance it a little bit more because it's very clear. Lucky for me, there's a really fantastic robust team that supports the day to day, so I'm less involved with the nuances, which is great. So it allows me to be at, actually sadly I'm missing my son's track meet today for you, but don't worry, there's another one. But I'm able to be-
Jodi KatzThere's many other ones, and they're all very long.
Heather ReierThey're all very long. I've never been. This is the first year he's joined the cross country team. Anyways, but I'm able to participate in that, and be home when I can be home. And so it's ... because I also think, I don't know if you do too, but the better I am at ... if I'm able to take time for both, I'm better at both, motherhood and work. So it wasn't always like that, certainly. The last few years I've been able to have that flexibility, but it's important to balance it out, because I mean these little people are everything, right?
Jodi KatzSo do you ever find yourself getting sucked back into the details, like the minutia? Does your body like pull you in, and suck you into it and you realize, "Oh wait, I don't need to be involved in this anymore?"
Heather ReierNot anymore, but shortly after the acquisition, the first year after the acquisition, for sure. It was bizarre to me not to know what's coming in? What's this? I think I was feeding off all of the nuances and the details of the business, everything. I mean, because I used to look at, I mean, cash and everything constant. It was just something ... it was a habit I got into early on, right? So it was difficult sort of pulling it back. And it was an interesting dynamic, because I wanted to pull back, but I couldn't, you know what I mean? So it took some time. So now, almost two years post, I'm able to get into the details to the level that I want to, and it's been better for me, because you probably know you're more creative when you're not in the muck as much. So ...
Jodi KatzSo, I did a pretty good job about two years ago, getting out of the minutia, and literally the first week I tried doing this, I sat on my hands like this. Because I'm like, "I don't need to respond to this email. So and so is going to take care of it, maybe they're not going to take care of it as quickly as I would, or exactly the way I would," but I sat on my hands for a while, and then it really worked. And then this summer we were so crazy busy that I got caught back up in the minutia, and I just like realized a few weeks ago, "Wait a minute, I don't have to do this."
Heather ReierNo, no. And I think it's funny that you mentioned that somebody was going to do it, maybe they wouldn't do it the same way you would do it. That is one lesson that I did not learn until the last year or so with this new organization I was in, and I wish I would have learned it sooner. Because I thought, "Well, everybody should be doing it the way I do it, and responding the way I do it, and looking at things the way I'd ... " and that caused a lot of anxiety and stress in me as I ran the business. And then now looking at these great talented people that are involved in Cake day to day, they don't really do it the same way I do.

Again, once I get all it got over the adjustment of it all, I think, "Oh, so there's more ways to do it than just Heather's way. Okay, I got it," you know? So that was a really key learning. I wish I would've learned that years ago.
Jodi KatzIt's hard, I think, when it's your baby and you've done every job in the company, and then you have not just people doing the job, but layers of the people doing those jobs.
Heather ReierYup, for sure.
Jodi KatzIt kind of messes with my brain a little bit.
Heather ReierMm-hmm (affirmative), I get it.
Jodi KatzBut, I guess my team didn't need to tell me to leave it alone, but I was able to tell myself, "Leave it alone, Jodi."
Heather ReierMm-hmm (affirmative), good, that's great. It's really good.
Jodi KatzYeah, I try to be self aware with this stuff, because I don't want to be in the minutia. It's just, it's so easy to get sucked back in. I want more time for, like you said, having the brain space and creative space. So, okay, let's talk about the marketplace that you're in right now, the industry marketplace. You have strategics inventing their own, I'll put in quotes, maybe, "Green-washing," maybe green and clean up short brands. I don't have super confidence that there's always truth to these stories when a strategic just invents their own brand. And here you are trying to do your green and clean your way. So tell me about what it feels like to be focused on your priorities, and have all these other players come at this from maybe more of a marketing perspective, than a authenticity perspective.
Heather ReierThat's a really great question. I think ... I try not to pay too much attention to it in, the sense that, let it throw me or the brand off kilter at all, because they're always going to be there. They're always going to be making claims that I think, "That's not true," you know? But I guess I think it's good that there's more regulation, that there's ... and people are ... their feet are being held to the fire on what they're trying to do, and what the natural claim, and vegan claims that they're making.

But really what I've learned, and I haven't always been like this, but really just keep an eye on, try what I'm doing, and not try to focus too much on what all these other guys are doing, because there's ... you're right, a lot of the big huge brands are coming out with independent brands that are meant to feel independent, and not part of them, and they've got this vibe to it. And for a millisecond I'm shocked, and then I move on from it, because there's always going to be tons of us.
Jodi KatzRight. So what are your goals for the brand moving forward?
Heather ReierThe goals are to continue with international distribution. We've had a lot of success with that, particularly in the last ... since the acquisition, which is great, but also expanding the categories, which is really exciting for me because Cake at its very heart of it is a brand that's beyond a specific category. We're not a hair brand. We're not a body brand. We're not a makeup, necessarily. We're sort of that beauty brand that has ... is meant to feel this effortless vibe that I had in my brain when I started in the kitchen. So more categories, and more distribution, and really focused on connecting with our consumers in really authentic ways, and really important, the principles of the ... that grassroots philosophy I had at the beginning. So that's sort of what I'm dreaming of.
Jodi KatzAnd what sort of things do you want to learn, now that you have the room in your brain to focus on growing?
Heather ReierThat's a great question. You mean in business, or in anything?
Jodi KatzI don't know. I mean, I have a bunch of coaches and therapists. I feel like I'm not always aware of what the journey is, but I find myself on all these awareness, journeys, learning journeys in the business, skillset learnings that the universe is giving me, sometimes the hard way.
Heather ReierYeah, yeah. I think I'd like to continue learning. And it's interesting, what I've learned, a lot watching some people that I work with, is how to be a better leader, and what that really means and how to inspire the people around you. I'm not sure ... I think some people come by it naturally not that ... I'd have to ask people that used to work with me, but I think it's really important to figure out, to learn how to be better at that. So that, I want to hone that skill. I like to hone my writing skills. I like to be a better writer. I don't know how I'm going to do that, maybe just practice, and just really take this time to try to be a bit more present, and mindful, and creative, and open and I'm ready for that.
Jodi KatzI love the idea of being more mindful when I have a thousand things in my brain, and being a better leader. I started thinking about that, and have started this exercise of actually sending emails that are full sentences.
Heather ReierInteresting, I get it.
Jodi KatzSo to our clients, of course full sentences, proper grammar, but when I'm rushing to my team like, "Blah, blah, blah," I just shoot off a text, or shoot off an email, and it might not even make sense. In my head it makes sense. And I think that the smallest thing I can do is take four more seconds, and write out this as if they're a client, right? Because they are, right? We're all working together collaboratively, and they should receive things that are fully thought out. So I've just started doing that, just taking a few more seconds.
Heather ReierThat is great advice, because I think it's easy to take that first granted, and just shoot off a text, but to the recipient it feels different if it comes in a different sort of way. I'm going to do that too, that's great.
Jodi KatzWell, we have clients who also reach out to us over texts, or however, whatever works for them. And when we get a text that was either the voice texts, where it doesn't make sense, because it didn't pick up the right words. But like, "What does that mean? I'm so confused. So why am I doing that to my team?"
Heather ReierYes. Yeah, to be more clear, and yeah, yeah.
Jodi KatzAnd as a mom of two kids, I'm wondering if when your kids talk to you, are you able to actually like listen to all the words? Sometimes I find myself like totally zoned out in a workplace or another place as they're telling me something about this video game, and blah, blah, blah.
Heather ReierI think, like I kind of touched on a minute ago, that's been a big focus of mine, to try to be really present. Again, I haven't always been, but to be really to listen to what they say. So I try to do that, put the phone aside, listen to what they're saying. And sometimes you can feel your brain going duh, duh, duh, somewhere else, and zoning back in. But I try to. I really try to.
Jodi KatzI find I'm totally comfortable admitting ... I find that when they're talking to me about something that is like another language to me, let's say these gamers, or something related to games that I don't understand, it's so hard for me to bring the focus back to that, because it's ... I don't understand it. But I like what I'm hearing, like I have to make ... be mindful about bringing my thoughts back to them, because even if I don't understand it, I can still be listening, and I can learn.
Heather ReierLearn and maybe more interested, because it's probably ... because like you, I mean there's some things I'm just that this don't care about it. I'm not interested in whatever. But it's interesting, too. Funny enough, my oldest is a big into hockey, like any self-respecting Canadian, right? And I remember thinking when he started hockey, "Oh, I'm just ... I am never going to be into this. This is going to be ... I'm going to spend my ... " and funny enough, I made myself. We talk about the Leafs, and we talk ... and I'm a for real hockey fan now. So it goes to show. It's interesting maybe, I took the time to try to figure out his interest, and listened to so-and-so's points, and so-and-so got a breakaway, and it used to be like duh, duh, duh in my brain, and now I'm into it, and now it's our thing, you know? It's interesting how that can happen.
Jodi KatzYeah, I think it's the shift between the age they were, where I was really involved in everything they did, right?
Heather ReierYes.
Jodi KatzNow I'm not involved in much, because they're much more independent, and my husband actually has suggested the same thing, like, "Well pay attention to the things that our son likes." And he's really into Funko Pops. Do you know what these things are?
Heather ReierI don't.
Jodi KatzThey're these plastic collectible characters. Now that I mentioned it, I'm sure you've seen them around.
Heather ReierYeah, okay.
Jodi KatzSo he just has walls of them, collects them.
Heather ReierOh, fun.
Jodi KatzAnd they each have values. It's kind of like a stock exchange kind of value in the Funko world. So I'm trying to find my way through Fonkos, which is way easier for me to then video games.
Heather ReierAnd then in a year from now, you're going to have your own Funko collection. I love it. Yeah, that's funny.
Jodi KatzWell, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today.
Heather ReierThank you.
Jodi KatzIt's so great to see your face.
Heather ReierYeah, you as well, thanks very much.
Jodi KatzAnd if you liked this interview with Heather, please subscribe to our series on iTunes. And for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @WhereBrainsMeetBeautyPodcast. Thank you.
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