Building A Mission-Driven Flip-Flops Brand – Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 53:08)

PODCAST AUDIO

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Intro

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops shares the story of building and growing a mission-driven Flip Flops Brand after completing his tour of duty.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm By Verne Harnish

Book: Steps Ascending: Rise of the Unarmed Forces – By Matthew “Griff” Griffin and Leo Jenkins

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops

0:00Guest Introduction
0:59Guest Personal Story & Military Tour Experiences
10:12How to develop the military discipline
13:59Creating a business with co-founders
15:48Combat Flip Flop Mission Statement
17:43Leading with a mission
18:36Market for Combat Flip Flops
19:44Manufacturing
22:30Financing
26:31Shark Tank Experience
28:56Sales Boost after Shark Tank Appearance
30:23Running out of inventory
31:41Fulfillment
33:52Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)
35:51Team
37:30Copywriting
38:12E-commerce Tools suggestions
40:35Customer Acquisition
42:37Seasonality
45:29Biggest Failure
47:54Rapid Fire Round

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops

  1. Do you have any book recommendations? Business entrepreneurship in 2021? And why? (Response: Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm by Verne Harnish)
  2. An innovative product or idea and the current ecommerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about. (Response: Crypto)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend? (Response: Text Expander)
  4. A startup or business (in ecommerce, retail, or tech) that you think is currently doing great things (Response: Black Rifle Coffee)
  5. A peer entrepreneur or business-person whom you look up to or someone who inspires you. (Response: Elon Musk)
  6. What is the best business advice you’ve ever received, or you would give to others? (Response: Raise money. Hire well. Solve problems)
  7. Do you think about an exit strategy? (Response: It’s a couple years down the road, but it is something that comes to mind often)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks:

Hey there entrepreneurs My name is Sushant and welcome to TrepTalks. This is a show where I interview successful ecommerce entrepreneurs, business executives and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses. And today, I’m really excited to welcome Matthew Griffin, also known as just Griff, to the show. Griff is the co-founder and CEO of combat flip, flip flops, a footwear and apparel company that sells goods manufactured in conflict and post conflict zones. Griff is also a former Army Ranger serving for tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the company uses their profits to aid the areas in which they’re made as part of their mission to encourage peace through trade and business over bullets. And today, I want to ask you a few questions about his entrepreneurial story and some of the strategies and tactics that he has used to start and grow his business. So thank you so much for joining me today. Trep talks, Griffith.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Thank you for having me here. I’m excited.

Sushant Misra  

So I know that you have a very interesting story. You were an Army Ranger, and you did tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I also believe that you got the idea or you came up with the idea for combat flip flops while you were serving. And

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

it was a few years after, but, you know, the military is What first got me going over there. It’s what kept me going back. So yeah, the idea was formed after my time in service.

Sushant Misra  

So what, what motivated you for that? Can you share a little bit about, you know, your backstory, you know, how did you get into military? And what was it like serving in Afghanistan, Iraq?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Yeah, so I’m a military brat. So my father was a 20 year retired Army guy. It was pretty apparent to me in college, or in high school that my parents couldn’t afford my college that I was going to go to because I was a good student, I want to go to a good school. So I had to get a scholarship. So it was either get a scholarship, join the army, use the GI Bill, or go do a mix of the two, which was West Point. So I went to West Point, the United States Military Academy, and I graduated in 2001. And I became an artillery officer. So big cannons dropping big bombs. That was my specialty. And then September 11, happened, then I was resolved to go into special operations as an Army Ranger into the 75th Ranger Regiment. Got there. And you know, I grew up just like the rest of us be all that you can be get an edge on life in the army, serve your country do all of these things. And you believe that you but the figureheads in DC are telling you but the military generals are telling you but then when you’re actually there on the ground living in villages, you see, it’s much different than you were told for a decade plus time. And what I saw was that we weren’t fighting radical groups, we weren’t fighting all of these other things. We were fighting poverty, and a lack of literacy. And there’s nothing that a bomber bullet can do over those two things. I saw the same thing. I did three tours to Afghanistan, lost a few friends did a tour to Iraq, lost a few friends. And at that point in time, I’d been in for about five years, and I decided what we weren’t doing as a nation wasn’t working. So I wasn’t going to continue doing that was fruitless. That was it. So during that time, I also got married, I had two kids. So life was really busy. I was 27 years old, with a couple of kids in diapers, I had no idea what I was going to do. And so I got up and took a job as a home builder, as a site construction manager. So I wasn’t an entrepreneur, or when I first got out, I didn’t have this idea. But I was always into entrepreneurial books, when I was in the military, especially when you’re in special operations. There’s a lot of mandatory reading lists for different top-tier Special Operations units. And I’m sure you guys see him in the movies, but they have reading lists. And so when you see one of those guys reading a book, you look over you go able to book the reading, and they go, Hey, man, here’s the reading list. And so here you have these top, the top military Special Operations, super ninjas, and they’ve got a reading list. And when you read through about 75% of them are business books. And so that’s where when I was on deployment in between missions, I just started reading business book after business book after business book. And I really found that the entrepreneurial lifestyle was something that I I felt I was capable of doing, and aim toward, but I didn’t have the skills or the experience to do it. So I got out of the military. I took a job as a home builder. I was doing really well in that until the market crash in 2008. I lost my job. And then I took a job as a military sales director for a company working to put clinics and doctors and pharmaceuticals in developing nations in difficult areas. And they hired me to talk to the military guys and the contractors because this is 2008 Obama just got elected contractor started going to Iraq and Afghanistan and they needed pharmacies. They needed doctors, they needed clinics to support their operations. And so I would go to these areas to see what they needed, solve their problems, and then sell them the stuff to solve their problems. So I was a sales guy, essentially. But I was traveling all over the world doing it. And everywhere I went to these conflict zones, it was a very much different story, it was a very different experience. Because I didn’t come in on behalf of the US government, I came in on the test of a commercial company. And I was hiring locals, I wasn’t carrying a gun, I didn’t have body armor, I could shake hands, I could hug, I can meet people, I could sit down, I could break bread. And this is something that most Westerners will never experience in these nations, because they just don’t have the opportunity to go there. And see the other side of the 95% of the culture that’s not depicted in the news. And that really changed me as a person seeing that. And what I learned was the areas that are needing security, need more business, I’m an artillery guy, I’m a map guy. And so when I go to a country, and I go, Okay, it’s a dangerous country. And I just look at where all the attacks are going on. They’re usually in clusters. And they’re in three clusters. They’re around government buildings, military compounds, and convoys, and reporters. Those three, and what people understand is Afghanistan is a huge country, those areas that are taking the attacks are probably the total of like 10 to 12 square blocks. So you have the rest of the country you can work in to stay away from those certain areas. And the areas that didn’t have any attacks for the areas that were flourishing. With small business. The guys who work in those stores, if it’s bad for business, it’s bad for family, and they just don’t let anything go down on their street corner. And so I was in Afghanistan, I was in Iraq, I was in Jordan, I was in Kenya, I was in Sudan, I was in the DRC. I was in all of these different places. And it was the same story over and over again. So that thought kept occurring to me is why are we continuing to send armored vehicles and jets, and bombers and drones and all of these other things, when we should just be sending entrepreneurs, we should be working with businesses to create jobs on the ground, putting people in schools, so that way, they have a more educated workforce, because people would rather make money than they would fight. But unfortunately, in places like Afghanistan, and Iraq, only business is fighting.

Sushant Misra  

I think I think that’s yeah, that’s, that’s very true. You know, when people don’t have when people have families, and they don’t, they don’t have jobs, and they don’t have a means of feeding them. And in the media, and, you know, on the internet, they see that, you know, other nations of the places, especially in the West, there’s a lot of, you know, wealth and money. And I think that that probably leads to some, a lot of it, you know, I think it’s easy to get people to fight as a way of employment if they don’t have any other options. One thing that’s very, pretty good,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

I mean, firsthand experience, we would catch guys. And we bring them back, and we sit them down in interrogation. And they’re not radicals, they’re not extremists. You ask them why you’re doing what you’re doing. And they just look at us and go, how else am I going to feed my family? That’s the only way that they can feed their family is to fight.

Sushant Misra  

When, you know, that’s really interesting. So when, you know, as as a person who’s living in the West, and I think a lot of people who are in the West, when they think about countries like Afghanistan and Iraq and things like that, you know, most people would even be very well hesitant or worried about going there. Because, you know, as you said, the war was occurring in certain places, every everywhere else was good. But even then, I think there’s a certain perception that if you go there just because of you know, everything seen in the media that beheadings and things like that people think that there is a certain animosity in the people against anyone who’s coming from the west. When you are going there as like sales intrapreneurial capacity as sales and not as an army person. Did you ever feel like you know, did you ever fear for your life? Or was there any animosity from people, you know, looking at you as a Westerner and treating you differently?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Yeah, actually, there was one time once, and it was it’s in the book. So I wrote a book about our adventure. If you guys want to check it out, it’s called Steps, ascending rises on armed forces. You can find it on our website and on Amazon. Okay, but we had just taken delivery of our flip flops and we had them in the back of a Bongo truck. So it’s a flatbed truck. And we were riding down Jalalabad Road in Kabul sitting on top of our flip flops in these bags. And we had our photographer in the back and he was taking photos and we were taking photos. Just you know, just a cool look. I mean, it’s just the Afghan mountains in the background, busy street loads of flip flops. And some guys rolled up on us behind a motorcycle like stop taking photos of us, you’re just exploiting us. And that was the only time we’ve ever had any animosity demonstrated because most of the time I understand if you’re there, and you’re on the street and you’re not fearful, and you’re doing business and you’re buying goods, and you’re exchanging services, and you’re helping people, they’re generally going to welcome you.

Sushant Misra  

One thing that I was very interested in learning from you is about discipline. I know that the army and the armed forces, when they recruit people to be part of their organization, discipline is a big part of that. Can you share a little bit about, you know, when you went through the whole process, your education process, military process? How did what were some some of your experiences of, of getting that discipline in the military? And, you know, people, regular people, that’s, I mean, that’s one thing that they struggle with quite a bit are there? Or is there something that you know, I can do, as someone who has not been in the military, to, to become more disciplined in my life,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

there’s, there’s a very famous phrase in the military, and it is this, embrace the suck. Just embrace it. being disciplined sucks. It is not an easy way of life, it is not a comfortable way of life, you’re going to get up earlier, you’re going to work harder, you’re going to get yourself on a schedule, you’re going to watch all of your friends, we meandering lives, so So but if you want to get ahead in anything when I came from a wrestling background in Iowa, and the only way that you got to that top slot was being being disciplined, being in the weight room longer, working on your moves harder, spending more time dropping more weight. And in the military, it’s the same thing, they’ve only got so many slots for guys going into the Rangers. And if you want to get there, you have to, you know, learn your skills better, you have to run faster, you have to be able to do more pull-ups, you have to be able to work better as a team. And all of those things take more time and just sucks. If you want something that you have aspire to it, you just have to sit there and go, I’m embracing the suck. I’m going to take it in and I’m going to hug it. I know this sucks. But I’m doing it and it sucks. Because in the end, I’m going to go get what I want. And that is the only thing that I can say about discipline. I don’t think the military gives you any discipline, I just think it uncovers the depth of your discipline. And unfortunately, most people just haven’t had the experiences that guys like us have had. And so they’ve never had anything that’s uncovered the depth of their discipline. And I will have to say that the only thing that’s gotten close enough to it or probably exceeded it, the desire for discipline is running a small business. I have to be more disciplined as a small business owner than I had to be, as in the army, I wouldn’t say as a as an Army Ranger because lives are on the line. But it became to you take that off the table. You have to be more disciplined. As a small business owner, there’s a lot more moving pieces around, you got a lot more pieces in play. Yeah, there’s just new problems that come at you. You didn’t need to know you need to learn more often. And so you have to be very, very disciplined about being a small business owner.

Sushant Misra  

Definitely. So I want to shift the conversation to towards combat flip flop a little bit and your business. I know that you started this business with a few co-founders, I think there are three CO and co-founders. Can you share a little bit about your experience? Because a lot of the times when I talk to people, create co-founding a business is always challenging because you have multiple people and you know, sometimes visions don’t align after a certain time and things like that. Can you share your experience about working with multiple co-founders? How do you manage the relationship? And how do you make sure that your visions are aligned? And what can others learn from your experience?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

So my co-founders are my brothers. But they’re not birth brothers by birth. One is my brother in arms, Donald Lisa, he was on my team and the rangers and he’s been the longest friend I’ve ever had my entire life. Ride or Die thick or thin. If it comes down to it, I know he’ll work his ass off and he’ll get it done. The other is my brother in law. Andy Siri is great human being came through. He was a professional painter for a large number of years as anti-war as they come. But exceptionally disciplined and probably one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met in my entire life. And the three of us came together around this idea Billy is great at direct response and advertising. Andy is great at design and operations. I’m great at sales and marketing. And so between the three of us we had everything we needed to start the business and I think that would be co-founding and I have to say like we’ve gone through our ups and downs. I mean, nobody can drive me to seeing red anger faster than Lee. Nobody my business partner and in Nobody drives him faster to anger than I do. But that’s one of the relationships and Andy, my brother who sits in the office opposite of me, he sits there and he watches it happen. He knows the triggers, he knows when it goes off. And we’ll be angry at each other for a little bit. But we just let it simmer, let it go. And then we just get back to doing business. There’s been a couple of times when our visions haven’t aligned. And the one thing that’s brought us back as our mission statement, and will be when we go back to our mission statement, we all sat down and decided what was important to us as a business. If there’s ever a difference in opinion, which one aligns best with our mission statement?

Sushant Misra  

And you came up with that mission statement together at the beginning, what is the mission statement,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

to create peaceful for thinking opportunities for self-determined entrepreneurs affected by conflict, our willingness to take bold risks, community connection and distinct designs communicates business, not bullets flipping view and how wars are won. Through persistence, creativity, and respect. We empower the mindful consumer to manufacture peace through trade. That’s our mission statement. And then they every person in our company knows it, we only have five. So it’s not very hard. But if you ever faced with the decision, and there’s never any of the founders standing around, what’s the decision that aligns most with the mission statement? That is the most correct answer. So that’s, that’s that’s how we do it. And there’s a question in here later, I’d when you send me the prep questions, which is going to lead back to this, which we’ll discuss later. But yeah, we’ve we’ve managed it fairly well, you know, we’re really tight as people, we try to have as much empathy as we can, as a small business owner, you’re going to mix family and business, and sometimes somebody is going to be down because of family issues, and you got to pick up the slack for them. It’s other times you’re down, and they got to pick up the slack for you. And it’s just a matter of having a lot of empathy between the founders to understand where each person’s at, where they’re able to contribute to the business to that point in time, and how you guys can all work together to still accomplish your goals while being regular average human beings trying to raise families.

Sushant Misra  

I mean, that’s very interesting. And I think that, would you say that, given that your business is so driven by a mission and a purpose, is also the reason why your business is successful? To a certain extent? Because when you think about your products, like having flip flops, or you know, apparel and things like this, there’s a lot of options in the market. Do you think that your story and the mission and the social aspect of your business is what resonates with a group of people that allows you to drive the business?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

It 100% is, when we first came out, when we first launched, we’d never actually made a pair in production. We sold about 4000 pair in 72 hours. And that was because it got dropped and all of the military and the tactical blogs and everything out in those networks. It was advertised the people that would understand our mission and why we’re doing what we’re doing and respect the the street cred that Leah and I have and the unit that we came from to understand when guys like us get behind the mission. We’re into it, we’re doing it. And the military and tactical community have been the ones that have been supporting us since 2012. They’ve really been the ones who who understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, and they’re willing to support and join what we call the armed forces.

Sushant Misra  

And is that your main market? Is that has that been your main market? And has that evolved? Since the beginning,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

that that has been our main market, we had a successful Shark Tank appearance, which I’m sure you’re going to ask for, ask about in a few minutes here. But when we when we did that we scaled out really quickly because you get national attention, and then also diluted our core pool of our data. And we tried to scale out to everybody. But what we found was that you can’t make everybody happy. And that’s that’s advice from Mark Cuban. He said you can’t make everybody happy. And so we had that expansion. And what we realized is we were trying to advertise to everybody, and it wasn’t working. So we just went back to advertising to our core customer. And all the system started going green again.

Sushant Misra  

Now, I want to talk a little bit about the manufacturing side of things. Of course, you know, you’re manufacturing your products in Afghanistan, in Lowe’s, in Colombia, can you share a little bit about how that process started? You know, and also given that you’re getting things from three separate countries, is it difficult to manage? How do you manage this?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

I’ll have to say it’s the same process that everybody uses when they’re manufacturing stuff in China. If you’re manufacturing offshore, everybody uses the same processes. It’s not that difficult. Our relationship in Afghanistan started through the nonprofit that we support aid Afghanistan for education The executive director owned a textile factory to employ women. And that’s how we started manufacturing textiles they’re in our design process simply goes down to you, we take a couple photos of things that we like, we do a couple renderings on some SketchUp, or some artwork, and we send them the items or the ideas that we’re thinking of, and they quickly manufacture prototypes, take photos, send it back to us. And then that will repeat that process a couple times until it gets to something that we think would be market ready. And then they take it to DHL. They drop it off, they ship it on our account. We get it here, we look at it. If we have any feedback, we send it back to him. If it’s good, we clean it up, take photos of it and get it ready for sale and place orders and tell him to start producing Columbia a little bit different. We started making flip flops in Afghanistan, but it’s financially unfeasible to manufacture flip flops there because they don’t have the raw materials. They don’t have rubber trees and Evi extruding facilities and leather tanneries. So if we were to continue manufacturing flip flops in Afghanistan, they’d be $120. And we didn’t go under as a business. So we looked at our mission statement, Colombia fits our mission statement. And so we manufacture in Bogota, Colombia, we’re all of our material suppliers are within about a 20 mile square radius of our 20 mile radius of our finishing facility. So it’s a really low carbon footprint, we can actually fly down there, it’s exceptionally safe, we go around, we meet with all of our suppliers, we work with everything, there we go, get our finished product on and then when it’s time to ship it’s get it on the UPS truck, either get it to the airport or get it to the port and ship it up to us. And Laos, we work with another aftermarket manufacturer, they make high end jewelry. And so we just work with them on one of their lower designs, and they do all the import export. So again, it’s not anything different than anybody does with China. It’s just a lot of work on the computer a lot of back and forth. And then if we can we take factory visits.

Sushant Misra  

Right now your product line includes flip flops, jewelry, and some apparel.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Apparel, me makes shoes to make shoes also.

Sushant Misra  

Okay. I’m allowed to ask you a little bit about financing. I know that you went on Shark Tank, but before before Shark Tank? Did you was it? Was everything bootstrapped? Or did you put your own money in there? How did you finance a business at the beginning?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

So we started the business. And luckily, I had a decent job. Or I could throw cash at it. When I couldn’t throw any more cash into my savings because my my partner was getting mad, I would hit I sold all my guns, I sold a couple motorcycles, I sold my hot rod. Yeah, when when you’re really an entrepreneur and you want to go after a goal, there’s no thing that exists in your life that is more important than the goal as an entrepreneur. And that thing usually has $1 value. And if I understand its value is better in my business than sitting in my driveway or in my garage, then I’m going to sell it and I’m going to put it into my business. So I did that, you know, I contributed money, I sold things we had as much money as possible. Then we got a couple of small angel investors, right at the beginning people who believed in us and then we got one small seed investment from a small local VC firm that was veteran owned. And that kicked us all the way to shark tank and then that’s where we got hit that next level. And then luckily, we haven’t taken any money since we found a good banking partner that’s actually willing to work with us because most banks for businesses our size won’t bankroll you especially when we make products where we make them and we found a bank that works with mission driven businesses and they supported us their organizations called craft three so if you’re looking for a mission driven if you’re a mission driven business like for financing checkout craft three

Sushant Misra  

do you would you recommend that anyone who’s creating a business before before they go out like you know anyone who’s creating maybe, let’s say a product based business instead of just putting it out there as like some random brand, you know, the branded and put it out there? Do think that it’s worth thinking about just taking some time and thinking about how they can you how that can help towards a mission or how they can create a certain story that would that would resonate more with people rather than just putting out some some random brand name out there.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

I think it does. I mean when you create a product so real products solve real problems. People want flip flops and aren’t made in China right now. They buy our flip flops. That’s that solves a problem. People want flip flops that lasts a long time. It solves our problem. People want military flip flops that supports their lifestyle that solves that problem. So real products, solve real problems. And then when somebody comes to Your product, then they have to make a decision whether they’re going to buy yours or competitors. So now you need your differentiators. So ours come into quality materials, our design, our mantra, our vibe. And then we have our philanthropic initiative on top of it. And if somebody spends 40 bucks to buy a set of flopper Raiders, not only getting badass at a flop Raiders of a lifetime mission, but they’re going to feel good about buying them every every time they put them on their feet, because they know a little girl went to school for a day. So that’s our that’s our differentiator. You don’t feel that when you buy, you know, some of the other big brands that are out there, we have that differentiator, and it’s embedded in all of our products throughout our entire business. And it’s something that you need to work on or think about. And if you have a market that you’re marketing to, and there’s something that’s relevant to that market, from a philanthropic standpoint, consider those initiatives as a portion of your business.

Sushant Misra  

Makes sense? I’m very excited to ask you about your experience with Shark Tank. I watched the Shark Tank video on YouTube and it was entertaining. I think your pitch was very, very compelling. Can you share a little bit about how did you get the opportunity? What was? What was the reason behind it? Was it more of a financing? Or was it more that you wanted to leverage the expertise of these these business people? And yeah, what was your experience like with Shark Tank?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

They called us. Okay, so we didn’t even apply. We had a really good news media hit by a guy named Wes Siler and Gizmodo, and one of the producers, right, it, got ahold of my phone number somehow called me invited me onto the show. And he called me it’s, it’s, it’s again, it’s in the book, but he called me super late on a Tuesday night, and I didn’t pick it up. And then I went to voicemail. It was, Hey, my name is so and so from the show. Yeah, I should, I’d like to invite you into Shark Tank, and I called him back immediately. Oh, IMDB. And first, make sure it wasn’t a joke that my friend was playing on me. And then I called him back. And we sat back and forth. And I only seen the show once or twice before. And it seemed to me like American Idol, where they thrashed somebody on national TV for entertainment value, and I watched him thrash small business owners, get them to give up on their ideas and shame them in public. It just wasn’t anything that I was into. I was like, I don’t think so. You know, figure it out. And I told my business partner Donald day, the next morning, and he goes, Are you Hi, you call him back? Right now you tell them you’re going to apply immediately. And so that night i i applied, they have a six or eight page application form. And each page is two or three questions. But you know, you know, third of a page have like open space to fill everything in. And I might have made it to the end of line two on one of the answers. They were really short, really abrupt, direct. And to the point I sent it to him that night, and he called me back the next day is like, Oh, this is the best application we’ve ever had you guys or you know what we’re going to introduce to the producers. And so then we, we dropped everything we were doing that year, we spent three months training for the filming. And we just went down there. And our goal was to bring on cash on because you need cash to run the business but you bring on some professional mentorship that would actually help grow and scale our business. And Team Cuban has been spectacular. They helped us with Amazon a few other things. You know, Keven where’s our stuff all the time out in public. So that’s been fantastic. And it’s it’s been cool. It’s been a great experience. And it was really a windfall event for us that took us to the next level. But it’s not one of those things that we lean back on. You don’t find it paste pasted all over our website. But it is cool.

Sushant Misra  

And when when you were this is something that I always asked when when you had your show. Did you see a bump in your sales just because a lot of people saw it

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

or, you know, we folded a full website retool, we were on. I think open cart as an E commerce platform before was an open source, website based platform that was easy and cheap for us to get on. Then we finally made the jump to Shopify, and we made sure their servers can handle it and they kind of laughed at us when they about their servers being able to handle a shark tech event. And we process three quarters of a million orders a minute during Black Friday, you’re fine. So when we saw the because we’re on the West Coast, you know we couldn’t see the airing until West Coast time but we knew it was airing on the East Coast. And so we had a command center set up with big screen TVs and we just saw all the influx and traffic we had 44,000 concurrent users on our website. And we did more business in 17 hours than we did need tire previous year and in 36 hours be eclipsed our entire company’s revenue so it was it was a huge rainfall event we aired in February and at full production we backorder until the end of May. It almost as if it were on purpose we shipped the last backorder and then they rerun again We got backordered at the end of August. So we had, you know, good six, seven months of back orders at full production, which was spectacular.

Sushant Misra  

Well, during that time, I think the biggest challenge for you was just because you ran out of inventory. So your back orders, and now you got to get more inventory. That was the biggest challenge that you faced.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

That was the biggest challenge that we faced. I mean, we had our product line dialed in, everything was good. We just needed inventory on the deck, when we aired on Shark Tank, all of the inventory that we currently had at the time would have sat on my desk. We didn’t have very much we had gone through a holiday sales, you know, we were just slowly building up inventory for spring. And we got a call in the middle of January that said, Hey, you’re going to be airing in two weeks. So I immediately hung up the phone, I called a buddy of mine who’s got some money. I was like, John, I need 50 grand right now. He’s going to think about I was like, No, we’re not getting off the phone until you tell your assistant to wire me $50,000 immediately. And you know, luckily, he was a good friend of mine. And he he he did me that solid and you’ll be paid him back a percentage on it. So he made his money back. But it’s just those calls you got to make as an entrepreneur when you’re when you have those windfall events coming your way.

Sushant Misra  

Now, for physical products, a big part of the business is the fulfillment aspect of it. Can you share a little bit about how you fulfill orders? Is it? Is the shark team helping you with that? Or is it more of an in house as a third party logistics and any challenges that you face any any lessons that others can learn from you.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

So this is where I’m gonna say you have to just get really good at spreadsheets. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to be really good at looking at your cost and cost analysis specifically when it comes down to shipping and logistics. So we’re based in the Pacific Northwest outside of Seattle, the majority of our customer bases in Southern California, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, New York, Washington, DC. So they’re about as far as you can get away on a map. And when all of our products had come into the country, they would come into Florida and they would have to get trucked all the way to Seattle, for us unpackage everything, relabeled it and then ship it back out. So it was expensive on the way in and expensive on the way out. So our inbound freight and outbound shipping costs were exceptionally high. So my brother Andy is a spreadsheet ninja, he looked at everything. And he says we should really move our warehouse to Florida. So we found a third party logistics facility in Florida, that we worked with for two or three years. And then they scaled out of being productive for us, they just took off like wildfire. And we were a small company, and we weren’t getting the attention that we needed to run our business successfully. So it was a it was a happy little accident. So we ended up moving warehouses in Florida, a couple 100 miles north to Jacksonville. But by doing that, we actually shrink our zones or zone rate on shipping to our Prime customers in Florida, Texas, California. And we saved a lot of money just by moving warehouse up north. So we do everything online. Everything comes in from Colombia, Afghanistan into the East Coast stays on the East Coast ships to the east coast. So that keeps our our inbound freight and outbound shipping costs down. And that’s all spreadsheet work. But what it will have to say is if you are considering doing that, and you move your stuff to one of those warehouses, watch everything like a hawk. If you’re not there to stand over what’s going on, you’re going to get errant shipping charges, Miss packaged boxes, everything else, especially as you’re coming in, there’s a lot of fees and things that rack up. And if you’re on top of everything, it’s gonna take you a month or two to get it smoothed out to where it’s at steady state flow, but you have to be watching it like a hawk.

Sushant Misra  

Do you ever try Fulfillment by Amazon? Because I’ve heard that usually. It’s the most cost effective form of fulfillment. Did you ever try to go that way?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

So we we’ve been on and off Amazon? And yeah, our main thing is we Amazon charges a fee on your products if you sell on Amazon, it just it does. So we make we’ve been selling out of our product for years at full margin. So I’m not going to put products in the Amazon warehouse to have them take a percentage to sell the product that would have sold anyway. With that being said, we did just restart on Amazon again. With a singular product, we’ll probably put two or three products on there and that’s going to be about it and we do Fulfillment by Amazon for any or Amazon stuff because when you’re an FBA you’re going to see your volume increased significantly versus trying to do merchant fulfilled.

Sushant Misra  

By the way did Goethe COVID affect your business? Did it positively affect your business or?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

We were watching it from December of 19 we We tend to keep an eye on the global pulse just because we’re shipping stuff all the way around. And so when it started coming up on the radar, we started making contingency plans. And we didn’t know how it was going to go. And so we had to, we clamp down really hard through the first quarter on all of our expenses and all of our spending. And then all of a sudden, you know, everybody was at home, they don’t need shoes anymore. They want to flip flops, they didn’t want to buy stuff made in China, and we were the only game in town. So they, our sales took off, we had a record year last year. And it’s it’s a struggle to say that given so many other businesses are really hurting, but we were prepared for it. And it’s been a really good thing on the day that they did that face covering. You notice it was like late March, we sold six months worth of our scarves in about three days, which was really cool.

Sushant Misra  

What does your team look like right now.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

So right now there’s five of us, I, CEO. And I mainly manage all of our systems. So I have, I just look at all of the different systems. And then I run sales. And I run our marketing department. So I do all of our imagery and stuff for advertising. Next is Donald Lee. So he’s our chief marketing officer, he’s responsible for our all of our buyers or affiliates, Google AdWords, Facebook, advertising, Instagram, all of those advertising platforms and spends because outside of product, that’s our biggest spend. So he’s focused on that. And then Andy sarees, our president, that’s my brother, he runs our design and operations. So he’s the guy who makes sure all the products get made, right, and they get delivered to the warehouse correctly, and they get shipped all over to the customer correctly. And our two employees, our customer service, so that was the first employee that we ever hired was customer service. And so it’s Jill, and then we actually hired her son and her son does all of our media and imagery. So all of our social media advertising, product photography, we do that in house, we don’t outsource that. So we’re just trying to be relevant, posting new content all the time. And so that’s, that’s our team, a team of five and then we outsource our accounting and bookkeeping. We outsource our fulfillment. I think that those are the we outsource our legal. And that’s what we do.

Sushant Misra  

Who does Who does your copywriting? I saw that on your social media. All the posts had all the copy was very the language, you know, goes very well with your brand. Like it’s military language. And do you do that yourself? Yeah, I do. Okay,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

yeah, I do that. And it’s, it’s one of those things. As an entrepreneur, as a business owner, this is your idea. This is your heart and soul. So it’s got to come through on everything. And when people are looking at your product, whenever they’re reading about your product, you’re communicating what’s within you to them? So that’s the vibe we try to have.

Sushant Misra  

That’s awesome. Any any e commerce tools? I know you mentioned, you’re using Shopify now, which is, I guess, you know, Shopify is the biggest ecommerce platform, are there any tools that that help you and in really managing your business’s business that you can recommend to other people

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

in so again, we’re really guerrilla, like, gritty company, I’d have to say the best tool that we use is Google Sheets. If you’re in the G Suite platform, you know, I run on a Chromebook. I use a Google Pixel phones, everything I have is Google. So all of my systems work through and through. But for $5 a month, you can give somebody the same ability to collaborate with you on everything. So Google meats in Google Sheets, Google Docs, everything is Google for us. But the sheets are really great, because over the past 10 years, I’ve really learned sorry, my phone’s clicked on. My I’ve learned what are the priority tasks for me that I have to focus on? What are the what are the big knobs and levers that I have to look at every day? What’s our banner? Like? What’s our promotion? Like? What’s all of our sliders? Like? What are our hero products that are in there? Are we changing any collections? Are we adding removing any products? What’s our Facebook advertising look like? Have I answered all of the social media comments have I looked at our designs that are coming in have I looked at our marketing schedule, and so I literally just have a spreadsheet. On the single column A I’ve just got all of my tasks and they’re there by block of what I need to look at. And then on the top row, January 1 through December 31, that every day and I just go through on the cross that sheet and I just make all my notes in there but that gets me looking at all of the pertinent things for my business every single day and what used to take me six hours of meandering around trying to figure everything out now I have going back to your your Burg asked about earlier, I have a very disciplined process, which I’m actually able to take a look at all of those key functions of my business and roll through them to make sure everything in my business is running smoothly. Rate, identify any problems and take care of them immediately. So then I can get to focusing on the other important part of your business, which is raising revenue, and sales.

Sushant Misra  

For your marketing, I know you mentioned ads and social media and a lot of different things. How do how do people who have not heard about your business find you is a big part of your business, repeat customers who who know about your business and come and look at new products and buy it? Or is your focus more towards acquiring new customers,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

our focus is more towards acquiring new customers, once you’re our customer, you’re always going to be our customer, we make badass products, we take care of you, we pride ourselves on having the best customer service in the business. So once you’re once you’re in our fold, like we’ll take care of you. We want to keep you we spent a lot of time and effort getting you into our community, and we’re going to keep you there the best that we can. So we focus on new customer acquisitions. So for us, it’s a lot of collaboration. So working with other brands, doing giveaways, working with influencers. That’s that’s a big thing for us and paid influencers on affiliate affiliate platforms. And then we do Facebook marketing, and it’s a matter of okay, what is our current, you take Shopify, download it into your, into your Facebook, whoever is purchased our AK 47 or flop Raiders, this customer. And then you just hit the little look alike button 1% 2%. And you go, Okay, this customer, according to Facebook, or whomever looks like our previous customers, I’m going to advertise to them. And so the thing that I would say to you is you can spend yourself in a bankruptcy on advertising. All of these companies don’t care how much money you spent, they don’t care how effective you are with what you spend, all they care about is that you spend so you need to you need, you need to be the one caring about your effectiveness. So what we’ve just learned is that certain times of the year, we have to really whittle down our targeting and advertising to certain customer groups to maintain our our key metric is ro ass. So the return on adspend. So for every dollar that we’re spending, how much are we getting back? And so a lot of times, you’ll just get to go home and advertise to these guys. Well, yeah, I know you’re advertising to those guys. But it’s freezing in Minnesota right now in January. You shouldn’t be advertising to anybody in Minnesota for flip flops until probably April or so. So you’ve got to whittle down your your restraints and where you’re advertising to within those groups. Good.

Sushant Misra  

So there’s a bit of a seasonality to your business also, then,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

so definitely, there’s a seasonality. Yeah, I mean, we’re getting ready to get into the primetime season, we’re already watching our web traffic numbers come up, are already watching her sales come up. Because now it’s starting to warm up, people are wanting new flip flops for spring. They’re researching everything, and they’re finding our brand with decent advertising and imagery. And then they’re coming in and then once we get them, you know we incentivize them exceptionally hard with a new customer coupon. And then we get them in into our funnel and we try to market and advertise to them as best as possible.

Sushant Misra  

So what is what is next for your business? Are you it’s a part of your your work also to figure out what are new products I can launch now are you working on in on any new products,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

we are working on new products. So a lot of people have been wanting a slide. So the the flip flop of that thing between the toes. So we have a new slide that’s going to launch here in the next month, we’ve got some low top shoes that are coming out. And then we’re going to be doing a lot of collaborations on our footwear moving forward. So we do our flop Raider, which is a it’s a it’s the burly outdoor beachy flip flop, tubular nylon and rubber. So you can just beat the hell out of the thing. And it’s it’ll last a long period of time, but there’s a patch on the outside, you can change it out. So now we’re partnering with other nonprofit organizations to you know, make a custom patch for them. We sell the product and we give up, we give a portion of the proceeds to them. So that’s the that’s what we do. That’s what we’re working on as we’re always trying to find new products. And then the other thing for us is apparel is really easy to do. You know, we come up with the design, we do direct print, so we don’t hold any inventory. So we’re always just trying to come up with fresh designs and fresh ideas that are relevant to what’s going on in today’s society right now. So from the time that we come up with an idea to the time that we can publish it on our store is about 96 hours. So that’s what we do.

Sushant Misra  

And is do you use like any platforms that that help you do that, like print to apparel and ship it out? Or?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Yes, we do our design through fiber. So F IV e RR, and you can find a find a designer, you can get commercial rights to the imagery and do everything for about 40 to 50 bucks per design. And then we use prenta phi on the backend of Shopify, which is an app that plugs in and so it’s very simple for us to drag the design over, put it on a deck source out all the printers determine our costs right or copy, get it published on the website. It’s it’s very quick to do

Sushant Misra  

Now, I know that you mentioned there was some learning experience when you were switching from the the the third party logistics. Were there any big mistakes or failures or learning experiences throughout your business journey? Where it was like a big learning experience for you? Would you be able to share any any failures and what you learned and what can other others learn from your mistakes?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

I have I, I’ve said this on every podcast that I’ve been on, and I will keep saying it over and over again. But understanding the difference between a profit and loss statement, and a cash flow statement is absolutely key. You may be profitable in a month, but your cash will go red, depending on how the cash goes in and out. So that was something that we didn’t really conceptualize or put in a really solid action for about three years, and that that hurt us significantly understanding our cash flow. But now that we understand our cash flow, we’re gonna actually use it to our advantage to put the right product on the deck at the right time of the year with seasonality and plan ahead of it. So the biggest mistake that we made as a business was really, we were focused on the p&l statement for bottom line for an investor’s to raise seed money to grow, versus really focusing on our cash flow and being cash positive. Because that’s more important than being profitable, profitable as being cash positive.

Sushant Misra  

And the reason for that is that if you don’t have cash, then if you have like, demand coming up for your products, you won’t be able to purchase the products to fulfill that. Is that

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

correct? Yeah, for several years, we had to pre sale stuff. So you say hey, preorder these ak 47, flip flops, here’s 20% off if you order now, so we had a discount or product off the bat, receive those funds in, take those funds issuer deposits, build the product, pay for the product, ship the product and send it to the customer. So we would cash in on a sale, say for example, in March, but you wouldn’t really recognize it as revenue until July because of when it shifts or June or July, it’s because I’m going to shift. So again, cash versus profit and loss statement. So it was it was really tough for us to get that done. And so and there were plenty of times where we had a media hit come through. And we knew it was coming, but we just didn’t have the cash to have the inventory on the deck. So we weren’t actually able to harvest all of the profits and the donations out of it. Just because we simply didn’t have the product on the website. Give you the example, will be aired on Shark Tank, our conversion rate was right around two and a half percent, which was great. We aired on CBS Evening News on Cyber Monday 2019. And our conversion rate was six and three quarter percent. Well. Alright, so we’re three times as likely to convert a customer because we have the actual product on the deck.

Sushant Misra  

Well, that makes a lot of sense. Now we’re going to move on to our rapid fire round. And in this segment, I’m going to ask you a few quick questions. And you can answer them in one word or one sentence. Are you a book reader? Can you recommend any business or entrepreneurship book for other people in 2021? And why?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

I would recommend mastering the Rockefeller habits by Vern Harnish. Okay, that is a great book. Everybody should read it. It’s a simple Read, read that book.

Sushant Misra  

And innovative product or idea and the current ecommerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Right now I’m really excited about crypto. Okay.

Sushant Misra  

Are you good? Are you an investor?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

I’m a little bit in blockchain. And I just us working internationally, uh, seeing how currencies change, uh, seeing how people get robbed and how there’s a bunch of your corruption across everything. Blockchain technology is the perfect accounting system, and everybody will be accountable in blockchain. So I’m, I’m excited to see what that does. In leveling the playing fields. I’m excited to see what what’s going to happen with Blockchain over the next few years.

Sushant Misra  

Yeah, I think, you know, Blockchain as a technology seems very interesting, but it’s with crypto, it’s it’s like, some people are quite up on it. Some people are, you know, not so much. So it seems like quite uncertain until I think it’s, it’s adopted. More generally, in the marketplace.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Yeah, just think about credit cards in the early 70s. That was a foreign concept, but you mean I have a plastic card that somebody can take the number off of and I can buy it and it will work. Well, that’ll that’ll get that will get, you know, criminals will steal my number and yes, that’s going to happen. Now it’s blockchain. It’s the next evolution of payment. What do you mean I have Google Pay, I can swipe my phone across a across a you know have registered at a gas station. And it works. Oh my god, it’s so new, like it’s gonna get corrupted gas, people will corrupt it. And then they’ve figured out defenses against that blockchain is just the next evolution of currency. So I’m just really excited about blockchain,

Sushant Misra  

a business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend. Now I know that, you know, there’s discipline, but then there’s also productivity. I know you said Google, Google Sheets helps you quite a bit. Is there any other productivity tip that you have?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Yeah, again, I’m really simple. I keep everything in Gmail, because Gmail is faster than Mac mail. And then I have, okay, I’ll give you a really good one. It’s a Text Expander. So it’s in Chrome, it’s an extension extension in it. But if you find yourself repeating the same phrase, your address writing all these things over time, if you expand how much time you spend typing those out over a year, it’s hours. So Text Expander is where you can mash down on a couple keys. And they can write anywhere from a sentence to a couple paragraphs and have your date. So Text Expander is a tool that I used when I’m especially in sales when I’m or recruiting influencers, I have everything that I need already written out to answer all the questions they might have, because I’ve answered them so many times that I just create a little shortcut for it. And that’s what he is, is text expander that’s a that’s a that’s that saved me. Hours and hours, and especially after Shark Tank, where I answered every single customer service email, text expander was was a lifesaver.

Sushant Misra  

A startup or business in ecommerce retail or tech that you think is doing great things right now.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

The one that I really like is another veteran businesses black rifle coffee. Yeah, I know, Evan, the founder. And they’re, they’re a large business now with these zeros behind them. And it started with a two and a half pound roaster in his cabin. And now they’re delivering your pounds of coffee to your door every month for 13 bucks deliver, they’ve got canned drinks, they’ve got storefronts going on. They’re generating millions of dollars in donations to veteran nonprofits. And I really think that they’ve owned it from start to finish. I’m really excited about what they’re doing and how they’re growing. And I’m more excited about how many people they’re helping.

Sushant Misra  

I think someone else also mentioned black rifle coffee, I’ll have to go back and check but the name rings a bell, appear entrepreneur or business person whom you look up to, or someone who inspires you.

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Right now, I’m a big fan of Elon. I think everybody is but just his ability to I’m like one degree of separation away from him. I know a lot of guys who work with him. And so I’ve only heard stories secondhand. But his he’s got skin in the game. Yeah, he’s not dealing with all these VC investors, everything else, he invented the technology that gave him you know, the cash to be able to do all these things that he’s doing now. And when he gets down, he says the business he doesn’t have to answer to shareholders. He doesn’t have to answer to all these other people. He says, I need you to do this. I need you to solve this problem for me now. Let’s go see how he solves problems. One is great. And I just love how he’s just sticking it to the man across social media right now. Just dude needs a wheelbarrow there to move his his man parts around and he is just loaded. I got a huge amount of respect for you. And right now.

Sushant Misra  

Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know how he does it. His brain is definitely a little bit different. Final question, best business advice you’ve ever received, or you would give to others?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

And this is it. So I was struggling. I was pitching I probably done about 60 or 70 pitches at this time. And I’ve been told no uniformly. And so one guy took pity on me and offered me some advice. And this is the same advice I’m going to offer you right now. And it’s going to start with a question. What does the CEO do? And I I gave this guy a whole bunch of like darvish, catchword bingo from some entrepreneurial class I didn’t take right. And he’s like, you do three things. He’s like, you raise money. You hire well. And you solve problems. You either raise money through sales or funding. You hire people that are smarter and better than you and everything and every way. And then you solve problems. Nobody cares about your problems and your business. Like you care about your problems. You can pay somebody a million dollars and you can make zero as a founder. And you’re going to care more about that problem than that person getting paid a million dollars. The problems always stop with you. So you have to be a professional problem solver. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re a problem solver. Because every time you solve a problem, you run out one step closer to success. And your life is going to be full of problems and you should be thankful for them because it’s showing you the roadblocks to being successful. And as soon as you get through them. You’re going to get past that roadblock and you’re going to be one step closer. So that’s that’s The best advice that was ever given to me is you raise money, you hire well, and you solve problems.

Sushant Misra  

That’s great. Thank you. I’ll ask you one more question. Because I’m beginning to think about this more and more. When you have a business. Do you think about an exit strategy? Do you think you know, because business has many different levels? Right? So right now your business at a certain level? Do you ever think, how do I evolve? Like, how can I because you were saying, you know, hire really great people? Do you ever think that you can hire really great CEO and replace your job and so that you can, maybe you can start to go out and start a new business? Or, you know, you can do something else? Yeah. Have you ever think about?

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

Now I do. I love what I do. And when I’m sure you guys have all heard of TOMS Shoes, buy one, get one. We’re very fortunate. And then I knew the first employee from toms. And so when we first started our business, I asked him, you know, how did you guys grow? How’d you guys scale and they said, you know, the story will take you so far, you know, your business acumen, as a founder will take you so far. But then at some point in time, you need professional management to really help scale the business. And at that point in time, you know, Blake, the founder of Toms, they hired a guy that could fill that role, then he really focused on brand as the chief storytelling officer. And I see that still, my value in the company is I would love to see my business expand, I would love to be able to hire more people, I would love to be able to generate more donations, all those things at the hands of somebody who has more business experience knows how to make it scale and make it work. And that’s, that’s better for my team. They’re not fumbling through it like I’ve been for the past decade, and then be able to really focus on telling the story of how we’re making more of an impact. That’s where I think my value comes in as a company. And so it’s definitely something I think about but I enjoy running my business right now. I enjoy learning about it. I got two daughters in high school. You know, we’re not moving anywhere for a couple years. So it’s something it’s a couple years down the road, but it is something that that comes to mind often.

Sushant Misra  

Okay, great. Thank you so much. Those were all the questions that I had, now is your opportunity to share a little bit about you know, where people can go buy your your your products, your website, maybe Amazon, your book,

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

that so everything on social is at combat flip flops. If you want to go to our website and check out our products, it’s combat flip flops calm. If you want to follow me personally and interact with me my Instagram is at combat flipflops dot Griff GRI FF and just hit me up there. Love to hear from you.

Sushant Misra  

Perfect. And you mentioned your book, also, guy have

Matthew Griffin of Combat Flip Flops  

a book called Steps to sending Rise of the armed forces. So if you want to hear about the world’s craziest entrepreneurship story, it’s a very quick read, but you can find it on our website. And if you like ebooks or audiobooks are COVID gift to the world as we’re giving it away for free to entrepreneurs. So just go on our website, you can download the ebook, you can download the audio book, and you can listen to the crazy tale of how we started a manufacturing company in war zones.

Sushant Misra  

Thank you so much, Chris, for joining us today. Trep talks for sharing your story for for sharing your amazing story and also some of the great business insights for being so generous with your time. So really, really appreciate your time and, and your story. Thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you

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