Escaping the 9 to 5 with Pete Cann
The Laughter Man, Pete Cann is on a fun-filled mission to bring the positive benefits of laughter to the world. Since discovering Laughter Yoga, company owner Pete has transformed his business and family life and now wants to share his infectious secrets and get the planet laughing along with him.
*Resources mentioned during the episode*
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The Laughter Man
Anna: Hello, everybody, and welcome to this month’s interview. I’m here with Pete Cann. So, Pete, let’s dive straight in. And can you tell us a little bit about what you were doing before and what you’re doing now?
Pete Cann: Yeah, sure. So first of all, Anna, thank you so much for having me. My name is Pete Cann, the Laughter Man, as you can probably see behind me here. And I’ve not always been the laughter man though, Anna. I used to… No. I say I used to, we still own a chef agency, have done for the last 12 years, supply chefs to pubs, restaurants, hotels, hospitality, sort of Bristol plus probably about 50 miles. And it was 2016 where I discovered laughter yoga, which is sort of what got me into to being the Laughter Man. And so 2019, I’ll tried to keep this quite short and concise, but 2019, I started not working on a Friday. That was my mantra. Don’t work Fridays. And I started using laughter on my Fridays. So I was like, “Right, who can I approach? What businesses, et cetera, to start bringing laughter yoga to their teams?”
So that started slowly. And then obviously when COVID came along in March 2020 and shut down hospitality overnight, I dived into laughter yoga as a mental tool for myself and my wellbeing because, as you’re aware, no one could control anything that was going on. And especially where our business was sort of turning over one and a half million for the last couple of years and then literally… And so Chloe and I were in a real spot really, where we just couldn’t… Oh, so really, you know when you know what’s happening. So you go, “Well, we can judge that.” But actually, actually, no. We can’t judge anything. So it was, like I say, I used laughter yoga as a coping mechanism to get through those first few months. Started laughing online with people.
And after sort of six weeks, I got a booking. Someone want to pay me to laugh online with them. And then it just snowballed from there. And now I am the Laughter Man. Like last week, for instance, I did a session for Fujitsu, I did a session Nandos. These are sort of the size of the companies that are booking me at the moment. And the chef agency is, I point over this way because that’s where the other office is. Chloe was in the same office as me, but soon realised that actually, it’s quite hard to work when there’s a guy laughing all the time. And yeah, so the chef business is slowly bubbling back up again. But now I’m sort of more of a directorship over there. So we have a weekly meeting, but most of the time, I’m sat in this office or stood in this office, laughing.
Anna: Amazing. I guess the first question has to be, what is laughter yoga?
Pete Cann: Yeah, sure. So laughter yoga is a concept that basically we don’t need humour and we don’t need jokes to laugh, okay? And your body doesn’t know the difference between fake and real laughter. So what we do, we do lots of different breathing and fake laughing exercises. And within about five to 10 minutes, the real laughter just comes from nowhere. And it’s just this wonderful wellbeing tool that, I mean, the first time I did it, I remember, I just couldn’t stop laughing. I was literally doubled up in stitches and you know how you feel when you have that laughing fit? You feel really energised, you feel really content and clear in the mind. And so yeah, it’s this practise, where basically you can laugh for no reason. And a lot of people look from the outside, thinking it’s weird. And it is a bit weird.
It’s a bit wacky, it’s a bit silly. But hey, it works. It really does work and yeah. So that’s what it is. And yoga bit always gets people a bit like, “Are we doing downward dogs? Are we doing yoga mats? Do we need any of that?” It’s like, “Well, it’s not.” It’s all about the yogic breathing. So it’s all about deep, deep breath, deep yogic breathing. Because actually, especially when we sat down so much, 20% of our oxygen just sits in our lungs and we hardly ever breathe that out. But obviously when you laugh, you’re exhaling that oxygen from your lungs and you’re getting fresh stuff back in, which then ultimately gets endorphins flowing around the body and yeah, just makes you feel really good about yourself.
Anna: Which, I think, we can all need. We can all do with some of that, can’t we? It sounds very organic. So it doesn’t sound like you were sort of, “Oh, I’m fed up with this work and I’m going to do…” Obviously the difficulties of the economic situation and the hospitality industry. And then how did you discover laughter yoga, did you say? Or you just happened to, someone brought you along to a session? How did you come across it?
Pete Cann: So I was at a festival. So we go to a festival called WOMAD in the Southwest and have done for years. And this one year, ’16, I was walking through the Arboretum and I heard laughter. And I thought there’s a comedian on stage, let’s go see who it was. And I was greeted by 100 people, lying on the floor, laughing. I was just like, “Whoa, right. I know I’m a festival, but what’s going on?” And there was a sign saying laughter yoga daily, at 11:30. So I remember, I went back and saw Chloe, my wife and the kids and said, “Look, daddy’s going to do laughter yoga tomorrow, do you want to come?” And they’re like, “No. It’s all right, Pete, you go and enjoy yourself.”
So the lying down bit, was the end of the session. So when you do a full in person session, it’s about 40 minutes long. So you do all these laughing and breathing exercises and then you lie down and you just can’t stop laughing because everything’s touching the floor. If you think, you’re like that and when you’re laughing, everything’s wiggling and jiggling, and you’re obviously hearing other people laugh, which obviously sets you off as well. But then you have like this calming moment, where you sort of bring everyone down. It’s like, “Right, everyone just take a deep breath in.” And I remember vividly this lady next to me, went… Like that. And it was just like, boom, off we went. And the whole 100 people just starts laughing again.
And it’s yeah. And then you do a meditation at the end of it, where it’s just like a nice deep grounding meditation. So it goes to the spike of a high of laughter and then just calm back down. And I felt like when I came back to the field, I felt high, if I’m honest. I remember seeing Chloe, she looked at me and she’s just like, “What are you on? It’s 12:30. And I was just like, “This is laughter, literally.”And since, having a laughter practise, I don’t drink anymore. I haven’t drank for nearly two years. I haven’t done any other sort of things that I might have done in the past because I use laughter as that natural endorphin rush, basically.
Anna: And you did something else a few weeks ago, didn’t you?
Pete Cann: I did. I did a little run as well. A little run, so I ran the-
Anna: Little run.
Pete Cann: Little run. So yeah, I ran the London Marathon as well. So yeah, which again, is another endorphin rush. Maybe not at 22 miles, it wasn’t. But it was-
Anna: It requires a bit more effort than 40 minutes of laughter, I think. But yes, similar benefits maybe, I’m not sure. Okay, and I guess that moment when you thought, “Okay, I’m going to lean into this.” What was that about? How did you see the business potential of, “Oh, I can do this. I can actually become an expert and I can create this as an income stream.”
Pete Cann: Yeah. So do you know what? I think the first time I saw it, so I know this is an organic thing… Can you hear the blender in the background or not?
Anna: I actually can’t, no.
Pete Cann: Fantastic, fantastic. Well, that’s good then. That’s good, so-
Anna: My whole house was shaking yesterday, they were drilling. I’m pretty sure people could hear that. But I can’t hear anything. I can only hear you, really focused on you.
Pete Cann: Brilliant, brilliant. So yeah, so when I first discovered it, and then it was 2018, then I like ’17, I went back and did all four days of this session. And I was like, “Actually, I need more of this.” And that was for my wellbeing. And then I started using it as a mechanism for when I was at work. Basically, I would laugh in the morning with some people online and then be able to sort of create my email for the week, create some video content, create marketing material, basically. Because when you laugh, your creative brain opens and all of a sudden, you’re just from writer’s block, you’re like, “Yeah. Wow, wicked.” And it’s a lot of energy.
But then in 2019, I started looking into it a bit more and just sort of seeing what everyone else was doing in the world, because laughter yoga is a thing, it is out there. There’s a lot of people that do it. But no one I could see was really marketing themselves as well as, and brand identity as well. So it was a very much, I think, I’d taken the 12 years of business that I’d learn and don’t get me wrong, day one of my business was very like, “Yeah, we’ll go out and work and we’ll get paid nothing for it. And this will be really good because we’re working for ourselves.” But you grow. And so I basically came along with the marketing head space of just thinking, “Well, wait there, if I offer this for free to a company, but let me bring a video guy with me or let me video it on my phone.
I started doing these little videos and then people started, like their eyes sort of pricking up and their mind a little bit thinking, “Actually, this is a thing.” And soon, I suppose, looking at all the other laughter yogis out there, now there’s two types of laughter yogi. There’s the businessy type and there’s the spiritual type because ultimately, yoga is a spiritual thing. But they don’t know how to market themselves, bless them. And they’re lovely, lovely people, and I’ve just come along from sort of nowhere and just gone, “Boom, this is what we do.” And what was quite interesting actually is when it was World Laughter Day in 2020. So I did this, there’s a giggle phone. It’s a exercise, right, Anna? We should do it now really, right?
Pete Cann: Where you get your phone, it’s the funniest thing you’ve heard all day. You put it to your ear and you just start laughing like this. So there’s this exercise called the giggle phone and what I did, I decided to take it from here, put it to my ear and then pass it on. And then I passed it around the world to, it was about 900 people in the end. All these different laughter yogi people, it went to like nearly 78 countries. So I’ve just got this hour and a half of this video of just people laughing and passing this phone. And I sort of just, all of a sudden, realised at that point I’d, “Wait a minute, I’ve gone from nobody knowing me to actually, everybody wanting to be on my video.” So it was sort of quite quick there, that I knew that actually, there was a… I’m just digressing a little bit here, aren’t I?
Anna: No, no, not at all. To be honest, you’re sounding like a marketing genius to me. So it sounds like you really saw an opportunity. You saw a problem that you could solve in a way, and there are benefits that you can bring with that. You saw that actually, there’s a bit of a niche, and I’ve told you this before I think, I always think of you, I always give you as an example to my clients of an incredible niche. I’d never come across it before and I 100% associate at this with you. And now I know more about it. You’d be the first person, of course, I’d recommend for that. And the fact that you were able to create a viral video is the dream for anyone in marketing, right. So, that all sounds very easy. Can you talk us through some of the challenges you came across in the last year or so of getting this up and running and actually generating an income from it?
Pete Cann: Yeah, sure. So I think the, okay, so first challenge was I suppose, just believing that I could do it. That was probably my first challenge, at the beginning. And especially, no disrespect to my lovely wife, Chloe, love her to bits. But she was very much like, at the beginning, “It’s not for everyone, Pete. Not everyone wants to laugh for no reason at all.” Which was fair. But then I went out was the mindset. it’s like, “Everyone needs to try this because it’s amazing, it makes you feel good.”
And then I started. So that was the first challenge, it’s sort of getting over the fact that don’t try and push it on everybody, just push it out there and just naturally, people will be attracted to what I’m doing. The second challenge was then monetizing it. So working out, I mean, when I first started going out, I was like, “Right, half an hour session, 97 pounds. Let’s just put it out there.” And like people. “Yep. Yeah, yeah. Right.” And then I put it up to 147, then I went up to 187, then I went up to 247, then I went up to three and I’m losing. And then I was like, “Bang.” So I took my, I suppose-
Anna: Calibrating kind of.
Pete Cann: Yeah, exactly. And then sat at 247 and just believed in my own abilities. And don’t get me wrong, there are times where people go, “Well, that’s really expensive.” And I’m like, “That’s fine, but that’s what I’m worth, for coming and do this for you.” And then I think well, the other challenges has been, I’m all or nothing, Anna, that’s the way I am. So as soon as I started sort of thinking, “Right, I need to market this.” So I started a podcast virtually straight away. That was all actually off the back of the giggle phone, actually. I was like, “Right, I know all these laughter yogis, so I’m going to interview them, start a podcast. And just interview laughter yogis.”
And then quite soon realise that actually, these laughter yogis don’t really know what they’re doing when it comes to sharing and all this stuff, but anyway. But I’ve got this podcast now, I started blogging, then I started doing a YouTube channel. Sort of trying to do it all. And one of the other lessons I learned probably about six months in, was actually, YouTube’s a hard nut to crack, the way I was doing it. Because a lot of people, well, not a lot of people, but the person that I was talking to, who was helping me with sort of guiding me into the YouTube world. Was like, “I really think this is going to take off, Pete.” And it just didn’t.
And I was throwing nearly 1,000 pound a month at this thing, just to it proper edited and stuff. And so I suppose what I’ve learned is that you just work out what channels work for you. Because again, I had someone managing in my Instagram account for me, off the back of Clubhouse. It was all, yeah. Just, I was everywhere. I was like, “Right on clubhouse, I’m on Instagram, I’m on…” And again, sort of my outgoings were more than my incomings for probably a couple of months. It was just like, “Wow, this is all level. It’s fine. I’m not making money, but I’m getting exposure-
Anna: Breaking even, yeah.
Pete Cann: And then all of a sudden it’s just like, “Wait, there, I’m losing money now. This is costing me money.” And I was starting to really sort of feel it and sort of then decided to take the decision to switch off the YouTube channel and switch off my Instagram marketing team, basically, who was running it. And just start doing things that, wait there. I know LinkedIn works, I know going onto podcast works. I know this works. And actually, just focusing my energy on A, what I really enjoy doing. But B, what I know is going to actually get me customers into my pipe, basically.
Anna: I guess there’s a bit of trial and error that comes there, because I’m like you, I also got very excited by what everyone says, you need a podcast and Instagram. I was on Clubhouse briefly, and then also took a step back. Saying no to channels is quite hard, isn’t it? Especially when you’ve already started. It’s all very well to start from a clean slate and focus. But once you’ve got it, it’s quite a big, brave decision to step back.
So, that sounds amazing that you’ve done that. I guess, have you, through those challenges of sort of mindset and monetization and then focus, it sounds again, like something that you’ve just discovered through trial and error and you’ve learnt or have you worked with someone who’s advised you? Have you been part of community that have support? Where have you got the support? I’m sure from your wonderful wife, Chloe, as well. But where are you getting the support to get you over these hurdles?
Pete Cann: So obviously we know each other through The Preneur, so that’s one community that I belong to. But I’ve also, when I used to belong to a marketing company called The Entrepreneurs Circle, and then off the back of that, I’ve met loads of business owners. So actually, I’ve got quite a lot of sounding boards out there. And I’m quite open to just picking up the phone and just saying, ” Hey, look, I’ve got this idea,” or people, just asking. Sometimes, Anna, my problem is I listen to people too much. That could be a bit of a… And I just go, “Oh, I’ll go over there. Yeah. That’s-”
Anna: And do that, yeah. Shiny object syndrome, absolutely.
Pete Cann: So yeah, but I think my heart as well, is something that I do believe in the feeling that I get from things as well. So if something doesn’t sit right, I’ll just pull the plug on it because actually, it’ll make it… And going back to the YouTube, it was like, it wasn’t just the money, it was a lot of energy that I was putting into this. And as soon as I pulled the plug on it, all of a sudden I just had this time. And I just remember walking around the house a little bit, Chloe, bless her, is in the other office, just getting on with her work. And I was just sort of lurking around and she’s like, You all right?” And I was like, “Yeah, I haven’t really got anything to do today.” She’s like, “Well, you can make lunch.” I was like, “I’ll go make lunch then, not a problem.”
Just thought about all this head space, all of a sudden. And I think it’s really important to actually have that head space in business, definitely, because we can all do 70, 80, 90 hours a week, quite easily, especially when it’s a passion project, you can get really sucked in quite quickly. But you need that space to be able to step back and actually look at what’s working and what’s not working. And I think again, going back to the YouTube, that was definitely a realisation, it’s just like, that’s all costing me a lot of money and it’s costing me a lot of time. Whereas actually, now when the money comes in, I’m now starting to A, pay myself. B, the game plan is I’m going to put our children through school, basically, with my laughter. So the main business will pay, I say the main business, the chef agency’s going to pay our lifestyle. And then I’m going to laugh our kids through school. Even just for the-
Anna: You need a bumper sticker saying that, I think, amazing.
Pete Cann: Exactly. Laughing kids through school. Just think, I just got, yeah, that issue of like when one of my, Neela, my oldest friend goes to her like, “What does your dad do?” She’s like, “He laughs.” She was like, “That’s it.” But I don’t know if you saw, I got onto a big stage.
Anna: I direct, very big stage, yeah. [crosstalk 00:18:24] packed audience.
Pete Cann: Yeah. So again, that was something that, off the back. So I mentioned The Entrepreneurs Circle, so that was that company basically. And just again, it’s something that I can see me doing, that’s where I see myself, is on those stages, on those big auditoriums, just energising the audience. And that was the first time I’ve ever done anything that big. I’ve DJed in front of that many people before, in my past.
But just me, a microphone, and just my skills, it was a little bit like, “Whoa.” But the energy that came from that audience and also, I’ve had five jobs off the back of it already. So it shows that actually, if you’re out there and you’re present, and also, what I do is it’s how I make people feel. People remember how they feel when they’re in my company. So it’s, yeah, it ticks all the boxes, Anna, for me.
Anna: Do you know, that’s such an important reminder, just going back to what you said, and I’m so happy to hear that it does tick those boxes and that you’re able to balance those two, to be able to do what you love and make a difference, while also having the other income still going. As you said, taking a step back and actually having time to see what’s working because it’s so easy to get into the reeds. It reminds me of when I initially, tentatively, sort of outsourced a few of my blog scheduling, social media emails, my week suddenly opened up and I wasn’t doing anything.
I thought, first of all, “Amazing. But also, secondly, now I get why I’m not earning a lot of money because I’ve just been spending all my time just doing sort of the backend stuff that doesn’t really get any clients.” And it’s such a powerful thing. And it’s so easy to, I’ve got to be on Clubhouse and I’ve got to do videos and I’ve got to do this, hustle, hustle, hustle. And not have that elevated perspective. So that sounds really important and insightful. What are the best parts of your lifestyle right now then? I think you’ve already given us a bit of a hint, but what would you say now versus where you were a few years ago?
Pete Cann: Okay. So the first thing is definitely laughter. I do laugh on Clubhouse every morning, Monday to Friday, for 10 minutes. That’s all I use Clubhouse for now. So it just sets me up, sets me up for the day. And if I don’t laugh, I actually feel the difference. So my lifestyle, that just doing what I love doing. So I think sort of rewind back to the moment where I went, “I could actually make some money out of this.” It was this like where I, A, it’s ticking a lot of boxes.
It’s ticking the showman. I used to DJ, I used to make people feel from making different music. But also, a bit centre of attention. I’m not going to lie, I like to be… But also how I make people feel. But actually, this thing came along and went, “Right, this makes people feel good. If you use this, you can make people feel good. And actually you can do all these things.” And it was just, yeah. So basically, I’m just doing what I love doing and yeah. And getting paid for it, which is-
Anna: It’s the dream.
Pete Cann: It is the dream, it is the dream. And don’t get me wrong, I still, I’m chasing a little bit, right? I’m going to chase that, I’m going to chase that. And I’ve just got to be a bit conscious because I am chasing squirrels a little bit, still. That shiny, “Squirrel.” Oh, I’m off over there. But it’s working out like, I suppose, going back to like the Upreneur and the ecosystem side of things, which has been really useful to go… Because I sort of knew it anyway, get my book, I need a book. That’s my next big thing. But getting on stage and then getting my behind the scenes stuff going. So I’ve got different ways people can pay me money for laughter, basically. And obviously the closer they get to me, the more they pay, basically.
Anna: And what advice would you give someone, perhaps like you, who unfortunately, was hit during the pandemic or on the more positive side, started thinking, “Hey, maybe I could turn this sort of almost hobby into business,” or they have that idea? What advice would you give now, looking back on that time?
Pete Cann: I would say, plan in your mind, take a day off or a few hours off, a day is better, just get out of your own head and just work out what you want your life to look like. I actually think like, I think it’s quite a deep thing. But where do you see yourself doing? What would you really, really, really want to do? And it’s not going to happen tomorrow or the day after. But if you know what that destination is, everything that you’re doing is just going to aim to that destination. You’re not going over to the left or the right. You’re just aiming straight for that vision. And that’s my advice, is have a good vision and a vision… I’m a big vision board man as well. So I know exactly. The London Marathon has been on my vision board for the last three years. There’s a big tick on it now. So yeah, and believing in it.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be hard. It is going to be hard and if you’ve got the money coming in and somewhere else, then try and take time out a little bit. Yeah. So say, I don’t know, you’ve got a full-time job, but you’ve got this passion project on the side, do the evenings and weekends on the passion project and then try and maybe do one day less a week with the main job. And then slowly bring your passion project in. And then once you’ve done your numbers, once you reckon you’ve got two, maybe three months of yeah, capital in the background, just yeah, I would just bite the bullet and just go. COVID did it for me, just whipped it out and I had to do it. But just do it, just believe in your own abilities. Because if you had been paid to do what you do as a passion, there’s a demand for it.
Anna: That’s music to my ears. It’s so easy to get caught up in the how of what’s… How’s it going to work? Without really having taken that time, as you said. And a day doesn’t sound too hard to really envision, “Okay, what do I want to be doing?” There’s no point in going after something and then, okay, you succeed and you look around, “Hang on a second. This isn’t where I wanted to be.”
And I love the really practical advice as well, do the maths and understanding your okay income. No one’s going to force you to quit your job tomorrow, right? So if it really is something you want to do, you might have to, in the short term, work a little bit extra there. But then as you said, if you get to the point where you think, “Oh, I think I might be able to do it,” then just do it. I love that. And what’s on your vision board now then?
Pete Cann: So my vision board is, bestselling author is number one. That’s move to Cornwall is on there. There’s lots of different bits, so body boarding, and the kids are at school, Truro School. What else is on the vision board? The usual, eating green, it’s always there, it’s been there for a while. But I’ve been vegan 95% of the time for quite a long time now. And actually, one we’re talking, the biggest one is 2,000 people from stage, that’s my big goal.
Anna: Okay, 2,000 on one stage?
Pete Cann: 2,000 people from stage, yeah. So, that one that you… And actually, there’s a good chance that’s going to happen in January, February. But I’m not allowed to say what it is-
Anna: Oh, ticking it off already in January, February. That’s good vision boarding.
Pete Cann: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, but I mean, the big vision actually, is San Francisco, 2,000 people. San Francisco, because a friend of ours works for EA Sports over there and we haven’t seen him for ages. So it’d be nice to go, and we’ve never been to San Fran. But I visualise Chloe sat in the auditorium, me looking down at her, just going, “Here we go.” But then the kids are at boarding school, just for that weekend, because they’re at Truro School, which means, that’s the private school. So they’ve got the… There’s lots of facets in there, which is Cornwall. So yeah, but San Francisco is the end bit of that. But then that’s also then a springboard into The States and obviously yeah, whatever that brings to me. So yeah, no, it’s exciting.
Anna: That’s so exciting, so inspiring. But also, sounds feasible. I have no doubt that you’re going to get there. So, that’s so exciting. And also, that you’re not just, and this is again, music to my ears, you’re not just looking at business, business, business. You’re actually looking at the lifestyle for your family, where you’re going to live, your fitness, your health, and so on. So that’s great news, that you’re making all these changes, and doing so well doing it. But, Pete, thank you so much for time. I’m so excited to have learned more, in fact, about laughter yoga. I did also wonder about the yoga. So I get the breathing now. Where can we read more if somebody is wanting to join some of your sessions, maybe they work in a company where they think, “Yeah, we really need to bring Pete in. We need some of that laughter.” How can we find out more? What’s the next step?
Pete Cann: Well, I’ll tell you what, Anna, what we’ll do before I tell you that, we’ll do one laughing exercise for you and the listeners. And it’s a really easy one, but this is a feeling. So what we’re going to do is, is we’re going to take a deep breath in and we’re just going to let out a long ha, okay. So deep breath in, we’re just going to go ha. that’s all laughter is, it’s just a ha on an out breath. But we’re going to do lots of has now. We’re going to take a deep breath in and this is, if you’re listening, do this as well, please. Deep breath in, we’re going to hold it for five seconds and then we’re going to laugh for 10, like it’s the funniest thing that you’ve heard all day. So deep breath in, hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it and…
Anna: I see what you mean there. I really felt my lungs getting empty there for a moment. So that’s an unusual feeling for me. Thank you so much, Pete. What a lovely note to end on and showing you how simple it is. I am smiling and laughing, continuing on. So thank you so much for demonstrating that so beautifully.
Pete Cann: Oh, it’s my pleasure. So yeah, if anyone wants to reach out to me, best place is, petecann.com. That’s C-A-N-N for November and all my other bits are on there. But come and say hello and let me know that you’ve obviously listened to this and I would love to bring laughter to your life.
Anna: Ah, what a beautiful way to end. And if anyone can, Pete Cann, that comes to mind for me. What a great name. Thank you so much, Pete. Thank you for your time.
Pete Cann: Pleasure.
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