All Xero Gravity episodes
Hosted by Elizabeth Ü and Gene Marks
Is crowdfunding the real deal for jump starting a new business, or an elixir that turns out to not be so magic?
We uncover the answers with the help of bakery bon vivant, Lenore Estrada, co-founder at Three Babes Bakeshop, whose Kickstarter campaign has helped put her and her partners make great dough.
You’ll learn about the countless opportunities crowdfunding can bring your small business, how how far it can take you, and what potential traps you need to be aware of. And you’ll hear Lenore’s story of what work is involved to make crowdfunding work for you.
So what’s the right crowdfunding recipe for you? Put on your thinking cap (or chef hat) and listen in as we throw everything but the kitchen sink your way, on Xero Gravity #24.
Small Business Resources:
Hosts: Gene Marks [GM] & Elizabeth Ü [EÜ]
Guests: Lenore Estrada [LE]
You’ve just tuned into Xero Gravity: a podcast for small business leaders and entrepreneurs across America. Now to your hosts, Gene Marks and Elizabeth Ü.
EÜ Welcome to Xero Gravity, our weekly podcast for small business owners and their advisors. Our topic of the week is crowdfunding, and whether or not this might help solve your revenue woes.
This week we’ll be talking with Lenore Estrada, she’s co-founder at Three Babes Bakeshop, which successfully funded their launch with a Kickstarter campaign that raised well over their target of $10,000 dollars.
My name is Elizabeth Ü, I’m the Education Specialist here at Xero, and I’m joined by my co-host, Gene Marks.
GM Yeah, I’m here Elizabeth. Sorry, I was running a little late as I’m making a big tub of coleslaw right now because I want to crowdfund it for $85,000! What do you think?
EÜ I’m in — I love coleslaw!
GM Yeah. This guy last year, he raised like $55,000 making coleslaw. He asked for $10; he set a goal on Kickstarter. He said, ‘I’m going to make some, oh, potato salad.” And he says, ‘Oh a $10 goal, if anybody wants a bite of potato salad.” And it became viral, and the guy raised $55,000 just to make potato salad. So as you can tell, this conversation is really important over the next hour. You’re going to learn a lot about crowdfunding, and I think it’s something that, look, you might not be making potato salad, but it could be a big benefit to your business or your startup.
EÜ And I think one of the other reasons why this topic is very important to talk about, is that there are several misperceptions that people have about crowdfunding and what it can do. And there’s also several risks involved. So we’re going to cover all of this and more in the next few minutes with our guest, Lenore Estrada.
GM Yeah I mean, Elizabeth, you’re the expert on crowdfunding. You wrote a book on financing and I’m kind of curious as we go into this interview, what are some of the biggest issues that you think get forgotten about by business owners or startups. What are some of the myths about crowdfunding that you think people are going to need to know, that we can discuss?
EÜ Well I think the biggest one is that crowdfunding is just one of several tools that are available. There are several different forms of crowdfunding, which I think is where one of the biggest misperceptions come in. Today we’re primarily going to be focusing on crowdfunding campaigns where you give people prizes or rewards based on the level of support that they give you. So we’re not actually going to be talking much today about securities-based crowdfunding. That would be crowdfunding-related loans or selling equity or even doing something like revenue sharing. That’s a different topic that we’ll save for a future podcast. But again, I think that the myth of the crowd is another one of the big misperceptions, and I’m sure that Lenore will have some interesting stories to tell us about how she attracted her crowd.
“I think it’s important for most people to have some kind of a plan for how they’re going to make their Kickstarter campaign successful. And by that I mean for us we set a goal that we actually thought was reasonable. If you’re going to set something that you think is reasonable, make sure you take the time to sketch out what that means to you?”
GM Are there any crowdfunding websites that you would recommend? I mean of course we know the big ones, right? The Kickstarters and the Indiegogos. But in your travels, have you ever bumped into any other interesting sites or communities that you think would be of interest to our listeners?
EÜ Well, Barnraiser is one that’s particularly geared towards the sustainable agriculture and food community. So do check out Barnraiser if that’s a niche you’re a part of. But there’s also other things that are on the edges of this form of crowdfunding. Kiva Zip is another peer-to-peer lending platform that was part of Kiva.org and it split off. And they recently received a half a million dollar grant from Google. And so the Kiva Zip is definitely one to pay attention to.
GM That’s great, that really is.
EÜ I can’t wait to talk to Lenore, so we’ll be back just after these messages.
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EÜ So Lenore thank you so much for joining us today. We’re really glad to have you, and I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about the state of your business currently. I understand that you have a new business kiosk opening in January, but I know that you don’t yet have a physical space to call your own. So how are you currently selling and producing goods for your customers?
LE Yeah, so first of all, thanks for having me. My business partner, Anna, couldn’t be with us today because she is busy running our holiday production in the kitchen. We are pumping out about 5,000 pies this holiday season. The way that we get our pies to people has been the same for pretty much the whole time we’ve had the business. When we launched the company we really had no money to start with. So we’ve had to keep everything very asset light. So we found kitchen space that we can rent and then we sell in these pop-up concepts. And right now we have a stand that’s Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market here in San Francisco, every Saturday.
We sell a fair number of pies that way. We also let people pick up pies at the kitchen. We deliver around the Bay Area, and then for the holiday season we’ll ship several thousand pies.
GM So Lenore, is it true that everybody listening to the podcast will get a free pie? Is it, did I hear that right at the beginning, or was that...?
LE If they order at threebabescakeshop.com…
GM I’m just kidding!
GM As long as they have a credit card they can get a free pie!
LE Or actually, one of our biggest clients is this company called SoFi, special finance. And they run this thing where if you consolidate your student loan in the 4th quarter, you get a free Three Babes pie. So if anyone has a loan to consolidate and wants to do that, they can get a free Three Babes pie.
EÜ Oh wow! And are you shipping pies all around the country?
LE We do ship our nut pies all around the country. So salty honey walnut, bourbon pecan and bittersweet chocolate pecan.
EÜ My gosh, those all sound so good! So our topic today is crowdfunding, and I understand that you started your business with a crowdfunding campaign. Tell us a little bit about how that happened?
LE We did. Anna and I, when we decided to start the business, really had nothing to invest in it, and we also kind of didn’t know if we were going to like it enough to keep going long term. And as you — as most people probably know — the restaurant industry has pretty poor margins and a lot of people fail in the first year. A big reason for that is it’s just pretty expensive to start up, and a lot of times people pump a bunch of money into a retail location and then just can’t like make it work in time to build a customer base, and build a brand, and then they shut down.
So for us, we wanted to sort of see if it could work before deciding to invest years of our time and our money, into the business. So we decided to run a Kickstarter campaign. It was almost 5 years ago and we didn’t raise very much actually, we only raised about $10,000 dollars which is, really it’s kind of a miracle that the business worked, because it’s not a lot of money to start a company with. Initially we just wanted to try having a pop up pie shop for the summer. So we found this commercial kitchen to rent in South San Francisco, at the time that was like $600 a month, really cheap. And then we found a shipping container that wasn’t being used in the mission and rented it for $40 bucks a day on the weekends.
We set up like a mini pie shop inside and sold pies by the slice and whole there. And yeah, it gave us kind of a chance to figure out if people liked us, if we liked doing it, and it actually worked, so we ended up sticking with it. Now I think we’ll probably clear about $1 million dollars in sales this year, so…
EÜ That’s brilliant!
So I want to know how you came to choose Kickstarter, compared to all of the other crowdfunding campaign platforms that exist?
LE At the time, crowdfunding wasn’t something that as many people knew about. I knew someone who was in Brooklyn who had a bakery and who had done a lot actually — started his business and then purchased ovens and like other stuff — made possible through Kickstarter. So that’s why we did it, and I think only later did I even hear about Indiegogo, or some of the others. So I think it was like pretty early on in crowdfunding, which is why I used Kickstarter.
EÜ So it’s actually very difficult to run a crowdfunding campaign prior to actually building your crowd. I think one of the most common misperceptions about crowdfunding is that if you build it they will come. Like this crowd will magically appear. And in fact, most of the successful campaigns actually have a track record prior to running their first campaign, and they have a big crowd whether it’s because they’ve already had a retail location, or they already have — like you were saying — a booth at the Farmer’s Market or some sort of online presence. So given that you were so successful, almost twice as successful as your goal, how did you build your crowd prior to launching the campaign?
LE So again, we actually did none of that. We literally launched the campaign the day after we came up with the idea for the business, or maybe a week after. I had a really different experience from what you guys are sort of indicating is the norm. I mean for us, we had no money so we sort of had to make this happen. We spent zero dollars on our video. We originally had a third business partner and a good friend of hers put together our video; we shot clips of us making pies on our iPhone and kind of us talking about it. You can still see it on the Kickstarter website — it’s pretty funny — we were so young. And yeah, I think we probably sent this guy a pie as a thank you for sticking the video together. And then we had like a launch party here in San Francisco. We like rented a space really cheaply and like let people come and taste test the various pies. That actually was pretty expensive, so that was one of the things that we like didn’t really think about. We spent a lot of money on this party and then weren’t even raising that much money. Let’s see — it really was like tweeting about the Kickstarter and having to post on Facebook, and email all of our friends about this project we were doing to raise the money, which was what helped us build our following. We didn’t do any building of our following at all, like zero, before launching our Kickstarter campaign.
And launching the Kickstarter campaign is really what launched the press explosion that happened when our business started, that has really sustained and buoyed our business this whole time.
GM I love the story, I love the story, it’s so cool. You know, Lenore, I have to ask you as well, I’m going back to something that you said a little earlier...
GM So you had a $10,000 dollar goal and you raised $17,000. You also said you had a couple of bigger contributors that kind of gave you a kick start on Kickstarter — is that a fair enough?
GM So out of the $10,000, what do those bigger contributors contribute, about how much of that?
LE Oh gosh, I think we probably had two people that gave over $1,000 dollars, and then we probably had maybe two or three more people who were people we knew, that gave $4-500 dollars. I thought the interesting part on the thousand-dollar level — some of those people were people we didn’t even know previously. So one of the prizes was doing a dinner party at someone’s house, and someone bought it and ended up using it as his wedding dinner. And so we did a catered private dinner at his house and had pies for all the courses.
GM That is such a great idea!
LE Yeah, he just found us. And I mean for us, when we launched the business, the first day we got a story in Daily Candy National about our pie subscription service. And then the phones rang off the hook. We sold out of all of our pies. The first day we had to pull an all-nighter to make any, then old out the second day, sold out the third day. So we pulled four consecutive all nighters. We sold out by 10 or 11 am every day. We had calls from all over the country, and then on the fourth day, Food & Wine Magazine calls us. I’d like gone four days without sleep; passed out that Sunday when we sold everything. And then woke up the next morning at 6 am and it was Food & Wine on the phone saying they wanted to feature us in their holiday issue. Literally, the only reason any of those people found us was because we had to do a lot of work to publicize our Kickstarter campaign. So through doing the steps it took to get the money raised on Kickstarter, we actually generated all of this early PR for ourselves which...
GM I love this, I love this!
For people that are listening right now and are looking to start a Kickstarter campaign, and you’re looking to raise $10,000 dollars, look at all the publicity you can get, besides the financing, just the incredible publicity that you can get from a successful Kickstarter campaign.
LE Maybe, I think it depends on your business. I have some friends that have raised $1 million dollars with their Kickstarter campaign, and those people are primarily people who are offering something that like allows them to really just use their Kickstarter campaign as a form of pre-sales. So I know a guy who recently launched a Kickstarter campaign, and he definitely met his goal, his like secret goal. He set a goal of, I think, $30,000 or something really low on Kickstarter. But he really wanted to raise millions. And he has this underwater drone. And so I know a bunch of people who actually purchased it, and then I met this guy at a dinner party.
Another company who’s done something like this is Nomiku. They make an immersion circulator which, for restaurants, this piece of equipment used to cost in the thousands of dollars. They created one that you can clip onto the side of any pot to make it into an immersion circulator, and you can get them for $200 bucks. So they sold this thing on Kickstarter for a couple hundred dollars, and a lot of people were interested in buying this and so they were able to raise the money very easily. I also know a lot of other people who have spent a lot of money on Kickstarter videos, and then have not been successful, not raised the amount of money they wanted to. It’s a big letdown for them, and also it means that they don’t get even a portion of the money that they were trying to raise.
And the other thing is, Kickstarter takes a lot of fees, plus having to fulfil on prizes is something you have to be really cognizant of. I think for us, we probably spent more money on the rewards we were giving people than we actually made with the Kickstarter campaign. We just fulfilled them over a longer period of time. So we just weren’t as thoughtful as we should have been, about how, logistically, we were going to fulfil the things we were offering. So I think like those are challenges of Kickstarter that people need to consider as well.
EÜ I was going to ask you how you handled pricing. I know many wildly successful crowdfunding campaigns that have sunk the ship because people didn’t spend enough ahead, thinking about what it was actually going to cost them to produce their prizes. Or a lot of people in their early days — particularly when shipping and handling wasn’t built in to the back end of the platform, when people sunk themselves because they really didn’t understand how much it was going to cost them to ship — didn’t realize that people around the world were going to fund their campaigns and...
LE Totally — that’s a big problem.
EÜ ...be on the hook for international shipping.
LE Yeah, for us, we make a fresh product. So one of the prizes we offered was like a basket of freshly-baked goods delivered to your doorstep. And then people in Boston or New York are ordering this and want the prize, and it’s incredibly difficult to fulfil it. Even if going to Boston or going to New York to find a kitchen where I can make a bunch — like a cornucopia of baked goods — it just really isn’t feasible to fulfill. So yeah, I really caution people against spending a lot of money on your Kickstarter video, or paying that much money for consultants to help you with it, unless you really think that person is going to be an additive in raising a tremendous amount of money.
EÜ Right, right, and I know that another misconception about crowdfunding is it’s an alternative to traditional bank financing or a venture capital, when really it’s essentially a marketing and sales approach. It’s not necessarily a way to get funding for something other than the product that you’re selling via Kickstarter, or giving away as the prize, unless you have a wildly different approach and you’re giving away prizes like you mentioned, such as the catered dinner party or an apron with our logo on it. If you’re actually using Kickstarter as essentially a pre-sales platform to sell something in advance, you can also end up with some significant cashflow problems early on. So did you find that it was hard for you to get money in the till in the very beginning, when you were just fulfilling those prizes?
LE Yeah I guess we did. I actually think Kickstarter is pretty good for doing things like pre-sales. I think a bunch of friends of mine who’ve been successful are people who, for example, try to do this underwater drone company or the immersion circulator at Nomiku, or gosh, someone else who started a seats company (and you need a chunk of money to do your initial run). I think that Kickstarter can be great for that. If you’re purchasing something or you know how much it’s going to cost you to get a thousand suits made in another country, and then sell them here, or you get a bunch of underwater robots manufactured somewhere, you know what that cost is. So if you can raise more than that and then sell it to people — great. I think Kickstarter can be great for that. For us, we’re trying to run a business and produce these goods ourselves. And so I think it was just, it’s a more complicated business model than buying something from someone else and then reselling it. I guess the first several months we had a lot of sales, we just didn’t understand yet how to bake at scale or run a business. [Laughs] I feel like we’re still figuring that out.
GM So you know, 20/20 hindsight, what would you have done differently?
LE So keeping the options simple, and in line with what we already were planning to make and sell for the business, we were going to have prizes like a sweatshirt with our logo on it. But actually, the first day of our Kickstarter campaign, we had a third business partner and she told us the day after we had launched our Kickstarter campaign that she didn’t think she wanted to be a part of the business anymore. She had designed the logo and then she was considering being part of the business, and then decided to leave. And then we didn’t have enough money to buy the IP for the logo she had designed. So we were just thought, well we can’t really use this on T-shirts until we take care of this ownership situation. So we immediately had this legal situation that we couldn’t resolve, and so we had all these angry people who wanted T-shirts and we couldn’t give them to them. So things like that actually ended up being the biggest headache.
So I think I would have just made it really straightforward, and we would have offered pies or slices of pie to people. But we were able to deliver on this dinner party, so I guess that was fine too. I probably would have tried to raise $20,000 — I think we could have done that.
EÜ So I wanted to ask you, you had mentioned these legal issues that you had early on, and I know that Kickstarter has changed quite a bit since you’ve done your campaign, but now there is a clause saying that you could be sued if you don’t actually fulfil your prizes. Were you at all concerned about what might happen if you somehow fell afoul?
LE No, I mean at the time there was no clause, no such clause like that. So I think it was more just the spiritual bad feelings of having your customers be angry at you. We have customers that are emailing us really angrily about not getting their sweatshirt yet, and you know, we can’t really tell them all the details about what’s going on behind the scene, just keep saying, “Hey, we’re sorry, we’ll get it to you as soon as possible. Having that bad feeling from someone who’s supported you was its own punishment. So yeah, that really sucked, but I wasn’t worried about our legal implications at the time at least.
GM Lenore, I have one other question: during the summer the SEC actually relaxed a lot of its laws for crowdfunding campaigns, where both accredited and unaccredited investors can help put in money with websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. They won’t be liable if there’s any problems, you know, with the people raising money. Do you think that impacts your business in any way? Do you think this could be an opportunity for your business?
LE Yeah, we get pitched constantly by various crowdfunding platforms, by various companies that try to set up small businesses with equity investors in a crowd funding-esc way.
LE We get pitched by a lot of business that try to facilitate this happening for us. So yes, we are definitely aware of a number of tools out there that exist, or even about platforms like CircleUp, things like this. And I guess that it can make sense for some people. I think that, just like Kickstarter made sense for us in the moment when we didn’t really have another option. If we had savings or friends and family who could have like invested directly in us, I think it probably would have been preferable to do that and set up things properly from the beginning. But if you don’t have that kind of access to relationships or resources, you do what you need to do. I think it’s great that there are various tools that enable you to have a shot, even if you previously wouldn’t have been able to.
I think for us at this point, we would much prefer to have investment from people who we have relationships with, who already know our business and who can help us grow. We’re very lucky. I think we’re able to get amazing meetings with veterans from the industry who just have super interesting, applicable experience to apply to what we’re doing. Because of that I think we probably wouldn’t be as interested in doing a crowdfunding equity type deal. But I know some companies like Ben & Jerry’s for instance, I believe that they did — what’s it called?
EÜ A direct public offering.
LE Direct, yeah, DPO, yeah exactly. So we considered doing that, but I think it just depends on each business’s own situation and set of relationships and opportunities.
EÜ Right, right. And I know that Ben & Jerry’s DPO was part of a very long slippery slope that ended up with them selling to Unilever over the wishes of the founder. So once you start getting into the equity or loan — any of the securities-based crowdfunding platforms — you really need to consider what your long term goals are. I love what you’re saying Lenore, about how it really depends on who you have access to and what your community is, and who they are and how they want to support you. And I know that for businesses like yours, many food businesses, I mean even a lot of the small craftspeople and manufacturers that are on Etsy.
There are so many different crowdfunding options nowadays, and so many more of them even when you had your successful campaign. But is there any sort of final bit of advice that you’d love to leave our listeners with in terms of how to prepare for their crowdfunding campaign, or prepare themselves for the inevitable emotional roller coaster that it can entail?
LE I would say that what’s important for most people is to have some kind of a plan for how they’re going to make their Kickstarter campaign successful. And by that I mean, for us, we set a goal that we actually thought was reasonable. If you’re going to set something that you think is reasonable, make sure you take the time to sketch out what that means to you? Who are the people that you think may contribute? How much do you think those people are going to give? What percentage are you expecting are going to come from people that just find you on Kickstarter? Maybe ask some people who have run a Kickstarter campaign that’s going to be similar to yours, what their experience was like.
I met with a woman two weeks ago who was trying to raise $20,000 dollars and had a hard time. It was for a book project she was doing. And she ended up actually pulling it off, but when I met with her she just didn’t think that it was actually going to happen. She was, I think, more than half way in and hadn’t even raised 30% of what she was hoping to in total. My advice to her was to contact some journalists and get some PR out there to help her. But yeah, depending on you and what your financial background is like, who your friends are and what kinds of relationships you have in the media or in your industry, you may be able to raise, you know, $5,000 dollars. You may be able to raise $5 million dollars. So it’s just important to actually put some thought into your plan and then show it to some people to see if it’s reasonable before launching into it.
EÜ That’s key.
LE Yeah, I think doing the exercise of thinking about where these sources of funding are going to be, and how much — if all goes well or if all goes poorly — you think you can raise. Doing that exercise will be helpful in making it actually happen for you.
EÜ Great, well thank you so much for your time today. This has been a really illuminating conversation. We’re so glad that you were successful, not only five years ago with this Kickstarter campaign, but that you continue to grow and thrive and feed all of us these yummy treats.
LE Thank you very much, have a great day you guys.
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EÜ Well what a great conversation with Lenore Estrada, who’s co-founder at Three Babes Bakeshop. She really knows her stuff regarding crowdfunding and lots of other small business start-up tasks as well, don’t you think?
GM Yeah you know, I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting it to be so good. I mean yeah, she runs a bakeshop, but I didn’t know how much she was going to know about crowdfunding, but she knows a ton about crowdfunding. So I learned a lot from that conversation.
EÜ Yeah, this is one of those fundraising platforms that really does lend itself well to folks who are coming into a small business that’s maybe not their first career, and they have quite a bit of savvy from some other part of their life, and then here they’re using Kickstarter — or other crowdfunding platforms — to figure out whether or not this is something they want to do full time.
GM Yeah I agree. Elizabeth, you know more than me because you’ve written about this and you’ve studied this. Are there any companies out there or types of businesses that you think would be bad for crowdfunding? It seems like everybody could be a candidate, but maybe I’m wrong.
EÜ Well I think that it really depends on what you’re doing. I know that there’s a lot of interest in crowdfunding for nonprofits. But regardless of what type of business you’re in, I do think the key — and although Lenore and the Three Babes Bakeshop had a different experience around this —I really do think it is key to build your crowd ahead of time. So when I’m giving workshops on crowdfunding, my advice is usually that you know where at least one third to a half of your funding is going to come from before you even launch the campaign. So the campaign is really step 9 out of 10 steps of doing a fundraising campaign.
And nonprofits understand this very well. But I think a lot of folks who are new to business crowdfunding think that they’re just going to build this video and put up the campaign and then people will come. But no, especially given what you said earlier, you really want to know where a lot of that money is coming from, before you even push the button.
GM Yeah I mean in Lenore’s case, she was looking to raise $10,000 dollars, she ultimately raised $17,000. But she knew it was there even before she started her crowdfunding campaign. I guess that’s a really important thing to do before you start a crowdfunding campaign; you just don’t go into it with a zero basis.
EÜ That’s true. And one of the things that she mentioned, which I have never heard before and is totally brilliant, is that even though she knew she had all the money in the bag, when she got close to that $10,000 mark, she had some of her big funders pull their money out of the campaign so that it looked like they were just shy. Because as she said, like psychologically people really want to be the ones that help push it over the edge. And we’ve heard that a lot, that there are people who are watching their favourite campaigns. They’re looking out at the day of their deadline and they’re wanting to see if it’s going to make it over. And if that’s going to encourage more people to put their money in — what an amazing trick!
And she still got checks from those people — just not through the crowd funding platform — which meant she didn’t pay any of the fees. So that was totally genius!
GM I loved that! That really was great advice. It’s really not about the financing, is it? I mean this is more of a marketing exercise than anything else.
EÜ Yeah, it it does depend on how you treat it. If you’re using this to sell something that is, as Lenore mentioned, in line with her business model, then she wished she had had more simplified prizes and sold pies through the crowdfunding campaign. But if you’re looking to use this as a financing model, it’s something to bring in money that isn’t just going to manufacturing the goods that you’re providing as part of your day-to-day business. If you want to purchase that oven or if you need that money for something else, then you have to be really careful about the prizes you’re giving away; more token prizes, token rewards, and not something that is going to cost you very much to produce, because you need that money for the oven.
GM Yeah that makes sense, that makes sense. Well anyway, it was a great conversation. She really knew her stuff, and I got to try one of her nut pies.
EÜ I know, I’m drooling as well. I’m wondering if she has gluten-free options for those of us who can’t handle gluten.
I can’t wait to see what new things happen in the crowdfunding world. The last 10 years have been quite an amazing adventure just watching it from the sidelines, seeing all the different new things that have been coming online. Again, what an excellent example we had with Lenore and the Three Babes Bakeshop. I can’t wait to see what they’re doing next, as well.
GM I want to thank everybody for joining us.
EÜ We’ve been discussing crowdfunding and whether or not this could be the magic revenue wand. I’m Elizabeth Ü, Education Specialist here at Xero, and thank you also to my co-host, Gene Marks.
GM You are welcome, and thanks everybody for listening.