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Techstars Blog

27th March 2015

Techstars partners with Pledge 1% to support entrepreneurial communities worldwide

Techstars is excited to announce a partnership with Pledge 1% and is encouraging its 500+ portfolio companies to get behind the movement as well. As part of Techstars’ overall commitment to building a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, Techstars has built a relationship with Pledge 1% to help build stronger companies and communities.

Pledge 1% is a corporate philanthropy movement dedicated to making the community a key stakeholder in every business. Pledge 1% encourages and challenges individuals and companies to pledge 1% of equity, product, or employee time for their communities. We took the pledge and we hope you will too!

Pledge 1% founding partners include the Salesforce Foundation and Atlassian, two companies that know first-hand how pledging a small portion of future success today can have an enormous impact tomorrow. In 2014, they came together with the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado to accelerate a shared vision of every business around the globe integrating philanthropy into its corporate DNA. Nicole Glaros, Partner in Techstars Ventures, is on the board of Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado and has been closely involved in rolling out Pledge 1% nation-wide. Take a look at what she has to say about getting involved.

Why pledge?

Companies and their employees today want to be civically minded and aligned with a social mission that prioritizes having a positive impact on the world.

How does Pledge 1% Work?

Individuals and companies can go to www.pledge1percent.org to learn more about how to create a culture of giving through resources, case studies, and best practices. Visitors can also pledge equity, employee time and/or product directly on the website. Pledge 1% facilitates making an equity pledge easy to implement, connects companies with local resources to empower employee engagement programs, and helps companies to further define and respond to community needs.

Who benefits from the pledges?

Pledgees choose the cause, focus area and nonprofits to receive the realized value of their resources based on their community goals and company and employee interests. The Pledge 1% movement is fully funded by its founding partners, so all realized benefit from pledges goes to the causes that pledgees support.

Be part of the movement. Build giving into your culture today. Contact dipti@pledge1percent.org to learn more.

25th March 2015

Localytics raises an additional $35m in funding

We’re psyched to release this new short video, Where Are They Now? on Localytics, who just yesterday announced $35 million in venture capital, bringing total funding to around $60 million.  Localytics, a predictive app marketing and analytics company, went through Techstars in 2009. They stayed in Boston after the program ended and now have additional offices in London and San Francisco.  Watch this short video to learn more about Localytics and some of the key factors that they attribute to their success.

Learn more about Localytics here.

Want to apply to Techstars? Check out the schedule here.

24th March 2015

Extreme Bootstrapping: Story #2 in the Techstars “Bend the Curve” Blog Series

Welcome to the Bend the Curve blog series on Techstars.com! We are excited to announce the hottest new book for entrepreneurs, Bend the Curve, authored by our very own Andrew Razeghi. (More about Andrew below.) In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has tirelessly captured the brilliance and insights of over a dozen of our most sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders that you can use on your journey.

Over the next few weeks, we will release short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read about Jeremy Smith and Extreme Bootstrapping. Check it out and come back next week for the next installment!

Bend the Curve
Chapter Two excerpt: Extreme Bootstrapping

Everyone is familiar with the image of the bootstrapper. Duct tape in one hand. Ramen noodles in the other. Jeremy Smith, co-founder & COO of the popular on-demand parking app, SpotHero, defines bootstrapping as: “Financially hacking your life to allow yourself a desired lifestyle while you grind day in and day out in search of Ramen Profitability.

Few have mastered the art of the lifehack more than Smith.

In this chapter, we’ll talk about:

  • Bootstrapping as a lifestyle
  • Checking your ego at the door
  • Inspiration happens when you least expect it
  • Crowdsourcing (the new way and the old way)
  • Never taking your eye off your bank account
  • Abundant and cheap forms of startup capital
  • The importance of a technical co-founder

“After leaving corporate,” recalls Smith, “I took five months off to enjoy life and find direction. At some point in that time I got into online sales and tried some pretty crazy things. One time I went to the bank and pulled out 75 $2 bills that I ended up selling on an eBay auction for $185! I even received positive feedback from the buyer, WTF? I pushed the envelope even further by going into baby bottles, steel canisters, textbooks, electronics, designer dresses and belts, and dog clothes. I didn’t care because it was a ton of fun and I started to learn the opportunities in running my own small business.”

His personal life started changing as well. “Mark got me into hosting couchsurfing guests. In any given week I would wake up to a crew of travelers sleeping in my main room.

These guests became my built-in group of friends to explore the city with while I lived on funemployment. Most of them were bootstrapping poor so I got used to doing all the fun free things to do around the city. I got into salsa dancing, biking the Lakefront Trail, hitting the beach, going to museums, cheap stand up shows, and a whole bunch more. I got pretty into all the free hacks this city had to offer. I moved into free drinks and food all over the city by checking out websites like brokehipster.com. You would think this would get old, but those were some of the best days of my life. I could get everywhere, explore, and eat at most places for free.

“The free movement occurring in my life was an important factor in shaping my social consciousness and my beginning in giving back to everyone else. I hosted, cooked, and acted as a tour guide for all of my couch surfers. When I moved out of that apartment, I posted all my old stuff, food, and clothes for free pickup on Craigslist. In general I would offer a helping hand in any situation I could. I love working out and so I would help all my buddies move out of their apartments too. They loved the help and always had things leftover that I would then take to my place. That helped me outfit an entire apartment with furniture and electronics for two years. Now that I was a world-class vagabond, I was ready to enter the world as a bootstrapping entrepreneur.”

Want more? To order the book visit: http://fgpress.com/bendthecurve/

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant and angel investor. He is a limited partner in Techstars and integrally involved in the Chicago program. Andrew is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.


He is also a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.

23rd March 2015

Challenging the Status Quo in FinTech: Announcing Cohort 2 of Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars

The financial services industry continues to transform, with our second cohort addressing major markets around bonds, investment banking, insurance, Bitcoin, blockchain, and beyond. While some founders are tackling inefficiencies they’ve personally experienced in finance careers, others have spotted opportunities to bring their expertise in security, fraud, or IT change to the fintech world.

Following a very strong first cohort in 2014, we were intrigued and excited to read through hundreds of applications submitted from over 60 countries. Throughout the selection process it has been a sincere honour to get to know many amazing and passionate founders across the industry, and it is never easy selecting ten startups with so many impressive companies being built.

As Day 1 is now upon us, those joining us for this 13 week adventure have moved from parts of the world near and far ranging from Australia to Nepal to Sweden, San Francisco to New York City, and of course the UK with a strong gravitational force for FinTech in London already.

All are challenging the status quo. All are here to advance the finance world, whether building a startup for the first time or as a founder who has taken three of her companies public already. Without further ado, we are delighted to bring together and welcome our second cohort of Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars, London 2015. Let’s begin!

The Ten Companies

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 3.09.18 PM Basestone provides cloud-based collaboration on major construction projects, creating data streams from the field that impact loan and insurance pricing.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 3.43.17 PM Blocktrace provides immutable ledger for diamond ownership & related transaction history verification for insurance companies, claimants & law enforcement.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 3.10.41 PM Godesic – a project management platform for IT infrastructure change-over in the financial services industry.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 3.46.19 PM LiquidLandscapedata visualization for creating linked, immersive data exploration environments used by traders
Origin A new marketplace for large corporations and institutional investors, using technology to facilitate direct debt and bond issuance
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 3.34.30 PM PQ Solutions Provides cyber security that uses cutting edge encryption techniques designed to beat attacks by quantum computers.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 3.36.24 PM 1 Ravelin Provides data science and machine learning with a merchant’s fraud profile to deliver pin-point accurate online fraud detection.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 4.17.02 PM Safello – a Europe-focused Bitcoin exchange with plans to expand into payments.
Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 4.18.36 PM Stockfuse – a gaming platform that quantifies talent through simulation, currently used by banks to identify and find future trading employees.
Startup #10 Has elected to remain in stealth mode until a later date, stay tuned.

 

23rd March 2015

Meet the 2015 Cohort of Techstars in Austin!

We are excited to announce the ten companies that will be joining Techstars for our 2015 program in Austin. We kicked things off this week on March 23rd and are looking forward to three months of awesomeness, capped off by  Demo Day on June 17th. Save the date and grab a ticket to attend here!

This is the third program in Austin, and we’re fortunate to have many of our 2013 and 2014 Austin alumni on the ground as well as ~100 incredible mentors. Thank you, mentors! We’re grateful for your support over the last couple of years and your continued time and guidance. We couldn’t do it without you.

We love this city and know 2015 is going to be an amazing year for both Techstars and Austin.

Without further ado, here’s the Techstars 2015 Austin cohort:

 

Play fantasy sports with athletes and brands for their charity of choice.
The marketplace for hunters and outdoorsmen to rent leases from land owners.
A powerful analytics dashboard that’s actually easy to use.
HR Analytics platform that helps businesses make sense of all their disparate human capital data.
A simple way to implement and manage all iBeacon interactions.
A marketing platform for mobile games.
SelfLender helps consumers establish and build credit.
A toolkit for developers to debug, test, and monitor APIs in development or live production environments.
Delivering intelligence to fashion brands and retailers for critical merchandising, planning, and promotion decisions.
A beautiful visual discovery platform for apparel from brand-generated content.

21st March 2015

How to Get Accepted into Techstars

This post was originally published by Katie Roof on foxbusiness.com.

Startup founders know Techstars as a prestigious accelerator program, an early stage mentorship opportunity which helps startups kick ideas into action. With locations throughout the world and partnerships with large corporations, Techstars identifies founders with talent and vision.

Techstars CEO David Cohen spoke in a video interview with FOXBusiness.com and described what it takes to be amongst the 1% of applicants that get accepted. The program has launched some rising stars in the startup world, including Classpass and Sendgrid.

Techstars is “looking for amazing people with big ideas and some momentum on that idea,” Cohen said. He said they evaluate founders on what’s “motivating them to change the world” and that ideally, their passion comes “from the heart.”

With locations in Colorado, Chicago, London, Berlin and more, Techstars mentorship programs span the globe. The team has also launched accelerators in conjunction with Disney, Nike, Barclays and Sprint.

The programs last three months and in addition to mentorship, the startups get receive an initial seed investment in the company. Techstars also participates in subsequent financing rounds and recently raised a $150 million fund for early stage venture capital.

Techstars is headquartered in Boulder, Colo.

“We are creating quite an ecosystem across the world of both funders for venture capital as well as mentors who help the companies,” Cohen said.

20th March 2015

Where Are They Now? – Simple Energy “Hiring the right people”

Check out our new video highlighting Simple Energy, a company making a positive impact on the world. Simple Energy is changing how millions of people think about energy and how utilities engage with their customers.  It has saved enough energy to take a city the size of Boulder or even Salt Lake City completely off the grid!

If you’re in Boulder next week, come see Simple Energy Founders, Yoav Lurie and Justin Segall, speak at Entrepreneurs Unplugged Tuesday, March 31st at 5:30 p.m.

Simple Energy is a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company that uses behavioral science, big data analytics, and digital marketing techniques to change how people think about energy. Essentially, they incentivize consumers to save energy with targeted messages, personalized insight into energy consumption, and rewards.

The Simple Energy story is part of our video series on the growth and learning lessons from Techstars companies, Where Are They Now?

Congratulations to the Simple Energy team!

Where Are They Now? - Simple Energy “Hiring the right people”

18th March 2015

Here’s what ‘fail fast’ really means

As entrepreneurs, we’re all familiar with the phrase “fail fast,” but what does that really mean? And how do you put it into practice? In addition, what is a “pivot;” can it be done without abandoning everything and starting over?

Failure can take many forms. It could be a feature, it could be product-market fit, it could be the business model, the choice of a cofounder, a hire, or the whole idea of starting a business in the first place. Fail fast does not apply to all of these categories. Let’s break it out.

Let me start with the things that fail fast does not apply to. If you do a lot of market research, are passionate about an idea, start a business with your best friend, work at it for a time, but struggle to get the business off the ground, does that mean you should fail fast and shut the business down? Of course not. Most of the world’s biggest businesses stumbled around for a while before finding the right formula to take off. As the CEO of a very successful company once told me, “It took me 10 years to become an overnight success.”

Similarly, if you are building a business and things are going great, but you don’t get along with your CTO cofounder, do you just jettison them and find a new person? Maybe not; building a successful business can be stressful, and you should invest the time to work on your relationship with your CTO. If you don’t, you’ll hire another one and have the same problem with them soon enough.

Fail fast isn’t about the big issues, it’s about the little ones. It’s an approach to running a company or developing a product that embraces lots of little experiments with the idea that some will work and grow and others will fail and die.

Not sure if your product should require users to give a lot of information before starting to use it? One approach would be to talk to a lot of people, get all the different points of view, assess their opinions, decide what to do, schedule it on the product roadmap, develop and test it, and then release it. Or you could just get something out there and if it doesn’t work, fail fast, pivot, and try something else.

Can’t decide if your target market is group Fortune 500 CEOs or soccer moms? You could do a market analysis, talk to stakeholders, conduct focus groups before going to market. Or you could just try it out, and if it doesn’t work, fail fast, pivot, and focus on the right group.

Agonizing over the unproductive inside sales person you hired? Give them one more chance? Give them more training or coaching? Wait until the product is more mature to remove customer objections? Maybe. Or you could realize that you made a bad hire and that you should fail fast, pivot, and move on.

These are examples that illustrate a way of doing business day-to-day, week-by-week. It’s not a meta view, it’s an approach. Develop a culture of experimentation, be willing to try stuff, do it quickly. But if it’s not working, be willing to fail fast and pivot.

This article originally appeared in Venture Beat

17th March 2015

The Techstars Code of Conduct

Techstars was founded in 2007 and since then we’ve funded more than 500 companies. These companies have been trusted with the obligations that come with more than $1.2B in follow on funding from angel investors and venture capitalists. Techstars is now funding close to 200 new companies each year. There are also now over 1,500 founders who have participated in a Techstars accelerator. Some of these founders have seen great success, some have tasted failure and some have even gone on to found their next companies.

Lately, we’ve all been reading about some bad behavior by startups in the industry. We’ve heard about startups stealing contact lists and spamming people in the name of “growth hacking.”  We’ve seen companies posting fake comments and using hidden identities to discredit their competition. While we can’t fix the behavior of others, we have decided to be clear about behaviors that are not acceptable to us here at Techstars. That’s why we have published the Techstars Code of Conduct.

This is a living document managed by our community. We’re including the current version below in this post so that others can see what we expect of Techstars companies. Just as importantly, it’s the behavior that their business partners, customers, and employees can expect of them.  Techstars is for life, so the benefits of being part of our ecosystem will always be there throughout each founder’s entire career as long as they continue to earn the trust of their community.

We have reviewed the Code of Conduct with founders of Techstars companies as well as many of our mentors. Each new Techstars company will receive this Code of Conduct when we fund them.  I’m proud of the integrity and behavior that Techstars alumni have displayed historically, and that they are committed to doing business by this Code, now and into the future.


Techstars companies must hold themselves to the highest standards as part of the Techstars community. We recognize that each of us is an ambassador for Techstars and for each other. Integrity in each of our companies is central to protecting our reputation for each other and for future companies. As part of the Techstars global community, we realize that we are living in public and need to act appropriately at all times. Therefore, those who do not abide by this Code of Conduct will be removed from the Techstars community and will no longer have access to the associated benefits.

The Techstars Code of Conduct revolves around three key principles.

  1. We give first.
  2. We act with integrity.
  3. We treat others with respect.

We give first.

 

1. We help others whenever possible.  We are all busy, but when the ask is sincere and realistic, we respond and help.  We are respectful of each other’s time and are clear and focused in our requests.

2. We deliberately create a virtuous cycle. We proactively work to give back to the ecosystem by giving first to others in our community with no specific expectations of return.

3. We appreciate the help of others. No one goes it alone – startups are a team activity. We express our appreciation for the help of our customers, mentors, and others that make our success possible.

We act with integrity.

 

4. We are honest and transparent. If we say something either publicly or privately, then we believe that it is true. We do not intentionally omit important and relevant factual information in an effort to deceive others. We strive to be clear and transparent in our communications.

5. We protect sensitive information. When we are entrusted with sensitive, confidential or personal information we use appropriate measures to secure it.  We respect requests for privacy and confidentiality.

6. We communicate with our investors. We will send an update on our business at least every six months and be responsive to their inquiries.

7. If we fail, we fail well. If we are going out of business, we will notify our customers and make their data available to them for at least 60 days. We will advise every one of our investors and provide the chance to discuss what went wrong in a live conversation. If we know the company is going to fail, we attempt to return as much capital to investors as possible.

8. We disclose known conflicts of interest early. We err on the side of too much disclosure.

9. We do not steal assets or content. We encourage and respect independent, innovating thinking.

We treat others with respect.

 

10. We commit to non-hostile, open, and welcoming workplaces. We commit that employees, partners, customers, and visitors feel accepted and free to express their opinions, concerns, and needs with an expectation that they will be heard and respected.  We communicate professionally and appropriately at all times.

11. We don’t tolerate illegal discrimination or harassment in any form. We will quickly fire employees who do this, and train our employees to recognize and address bad behavior. We will ban or fire mentors, investors, employees, contractors and others who discriminate or harass others.

12. We encourage diversity. We commit to seeking diverse perspectives and building inclusive work environments, which we believe leads to better companies.

13. We stand up for others. We appropriately intervene in situations when we witness violations of this Code and report violations.

14. We are reachable and responsive. We will enable standard forms of communication so that anyone doing business with us can have a reasonable expectation of receiving a response in a timely fashion.

15. We participate in both offline and online forums with respect. We don’t cause or participate in flame wars online. We participate in respectful discourse in all forums. We do not comment anonymously or with false identities.

16. We respect our legal agreements. We do not attempt to circumvent their intentions.

17. We keep our promises. If we commit to do something, we do our best to do it. If we can’t keep our promises for some reason then we strive to make it right in any way possible.

18. We do right by our customers. We strive to deliver products that delight our customers and seek to exceed their expectations.

19. We do not attack others electronically. We don’t maliciously attack others using scripts, robots, or similar techniques.

20. We are not spammers. We do not send bulk unsolicited email nor do we scrape contact lists and abuse them. We don’t harass prospective customers who have clearly said no to us and opted out of communications.

21. We work for the benefit of our companies. We always work for the benefit of our company, not for our own personal benefit.

22. We encourage professional development. As founders, we do everything we can to ensure the happiness and professional growth of our employees.

23. We avoid gossip. We don’t share disparaging comments and rumors about others. We are constructive in our feedback and always provide it directly to the individual or company to which it pertains.

The Techstars Founders Code of Conduct is a living document managed by our community. For suggested changes, please contact us.

16th March 2015

Introducing the Techstars “Bend the Curve” Blog Series

photoWelcome to the “Bend the Curve” blog series! In conjunction with the Techstars Chicago program applications opening today, we are excited to announce the launch of this new book for entrepreneurs, “Bend the Curve,” authored by Techstars mentor, Andrew Razeghi. (More on Andrew below.)

In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has tirelessly captured the brilliance and insights
of over a dozen of our mos
t sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders in this book. 

Over the next several weeks, we will release short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read the story of Chuck Templeton from OpenTable.

Check it out and come back next week for the next installment!

Bend the Curve
Chapter One excerpt: Beginner’s Mind

On May 21, 2009, Chuck Templeton, founder of the popular restaurant reservation system, OpenTable, celebrated yet another milestone for his company at the opening bell of NASDAQ. He even wore a suit (a rarity) and a tie (rarer still). The stock opened at $20 per share and closed at $32 per share (up 60%).

It was pretty cool,” recalls Chuck. “To be up there and to see OPEN flashing all over the place was awesome. NASDAQ was also promoting a bunch of OPEN stuff on the big billboards in Times Square. To see this idea I started, in my bedroom on my little laptop computer, become an idea that attracted thousands of customers, millions of users, hundreds of employees, and an IPO—it was incredible.”

In this chapter, we’ll talk about a few Chuck-isms:

  • Don’t worry. Be scrappy.
  • Manage a white-hot vision with a substandard product.
  • Get others vested in your success.
  • Recruit for uncertainty & deal with doubt.
  • Design for impact.
  • Adopt a penchant for problem-solving & a bias towards action.

Keep in mind, when Chuck started OpenTable back in 1998, most restaurants didn’t have Wi-Fi. No one had Wi-Fi. Few had computers. And, if they did, they likely didn’t have Internet connections. Not only did Chuck need to build a business, he needed to create the infrastructure on top of which he could create his business.

To understand how difficult this was, consider this: In order to win one San Francisco restaurant’s business, Chuck paid to install and run a physical Internet connection to the hostess stand. Given where the hostess stand was located—in the middle of the floor at the front of the restaurant (not near a wall)—this involved jackhammering the designer concrete floor, laying wire, and replacing the floor. It cost him several thousand dollars, but that account was an influential restaurant that many others followed. It mattered. And it worked.

Today, OpenTable serves over 31,000 restaurant customers globally and helps over 12 million diners each month find restaurants. In 2014, 16 years after a Eureka moment inspired Chuck to start the online restaurant reservation service, Priceline acquired OpenTable for $2.6 billion (or $103 per share). Technically, going public is a mechanism for raising capital.  And ringing the bell is not a business goal per se. To quote Facebook founder Mark  Zuckerberg the day he rang the bell: “Here’s the thing. Our mission isn’t to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.”

That said: the bell is symbolic. It’s an entrepreneurial waypoint—public recognition of the struggle (and payoff) associated with building the dream…

Chuck recalls: “[It was 1998 and] I was watching my wife attempt to make restaurant reservations using CitySearch, Microsoft’s Sidewalk, and the Zagat Guide, which was not online yet. She spent three-and-a-half hours one Saturday morning trying to make restaurant reservations for the next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. She left several messages, asked about menu items, etc. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’

I had a few friends that were starting companies in Silicon Valley and I thought that if they can do it, I could do it. I tried to get a job at like ten other Internet startups and no one would hire me. I didn’t have enough Internet experience (in 1998!). I had a professor in my first attempt at an MBA that said the key to being successful in the Internet world was to make the way people were doing things in the real world exactly the same way in the virtual world. This would help to reduce the learning curve for customers to adopt anything new. And so that’s what I did.

We emulated exactly how restaurant hostesses took reservations. We didn’t try to come up with some new way to do things. We just did the same things they normally did offline, online. For my market research, I hung out in a ton of restaurants, always near the hostess stands so I could listen to how they took calls. I wrote down exactly how they answered the phones when calls came in for reservations: What did they say when they picked up the phone? What questions did they ask? In what order did they ask these questions? And so on.

We designed OpenTable to emulate these actions. We made it easy. And it worked.”

To keep reading and to order the book visit: http://bendthecurve.co/  

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant, angel investor and Techstars mentor. He is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.

Andrew is also a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.