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Lisa Jacquiot: Product Design Manager At Airwallex

30th November, 2023 | 35 mins, 31 sec

On this episode of Digitally Diverse, host Ellen Bennett talks to Lisa Jacquiot, Product Design Manager at Airwallex. From the vibrant city lights of San Francisco to the serene waters of the Great Barrier Reef, Lisa’s journey spans the globe in pursuit of her passions. Her interest in UX design took root at Glassdoor, prompting a mid-career shift. Venturing to Australia for new experiences, she polished her skills at a startup in San Francisco before settling downunder. However, the onset of COVID forced her to adapt once again. Despite the challenges, Lisa found an opportunity and secured her dream role of leading product design for Airwallx. Now based in tropical Cairns, she oversees a distributed team across time zones and discusses the challenges of managing a distributed team.


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Please note: this transcript is auto-generated.

Thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Digitally Diverse, where we take a deep dive into the career journeys of the movers and the shakers of the Australian design and tech industry. So today we are lucky to have Lisa Giacchio here with us, the Product design manager of Airwallx. Thank you so much for joining us.

No worries. I’m happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

I would love to have a bit of an overview of your journey so far. Lisa, where have you come from? What’s been the twists and turns of your career to date? Cool. So I’ll keep it short.

I helped in France originally, but left to the US when I was 18 to study finance at the University of San Francisco. And then one thing led to another, I ended up staying in the US to work and found a job at Glassdoor as a French product specialist. And so what that involved was just launching Glassdoor in different French speaking markets.

So Switzerland, Belgium, France, of course, French Canada, et cetera. So these were my first steps in the product world, and then as part of that, started working with UX. Designers thought what they were doing was way cooler than what I was doing, and ended up going back to school for design part time at UC Berkeley Extension, and then transitioned into design at Glassdoor, and then continued onto design with Miyagi, a small retail software startup, and then continued on at Airwallics, where I am today.

Awesome. And so did you start at Glassdoor? Kind of like when it was just starting to get off the ground or how long ago was that? Yeah, so that was in 2014, if I remember correctly. We were maybe employee number 360, something like that.

So the company is way bigger now, I think. Well, they’ve been acquired by indeed. So it’s a huge thing now.

But, yeah, France was the first country where Glassdoor expanded. Non English country where Glassdoor expanded, yeah, it was the very first steps of international expansion, which was pretty exciting times. Yeah, really cool.

And now you’re at airwallx. You started there when you were still in the States, right? No, actually, I missed that part of the story while working at Miyagi. So Miyagi is Australian based, but they had an office in San Francisco, but most of my team was based in Melbourne.

And so I moved over in January 2020, right before COVID to be closer to the team, and then stayed with them until November 2020, where I joined Air Wallets. So started with Air Wallets fully remotely during COVID a story that a lot of people have, right? I guess. Do you consider it good timing that you came just before the lockdowns or bad timing? Well, it depends how you see it.

I mean, obviously, I don’t think I ever got to know Melbourne and its full potential. I just have a very biased view of Melbourne and didn’t really have a great time, so that was probably bad timing. But then that led me to try and escape Lockdown and move to Cairns, where I am today.

And I don’t think I would be where I am today and I wouldn’t have discovered things like scuba diving on the Great River Reef had I not moved. So I’m actually very happy with where I’m at today and I don’t think that would have happened without COVID and Lockdown, to be honest. Yeah, definitely.

And it’s kind of had a huge impact with a lot of people who are in your position as well. There’s so many designers that I chat with who are living in that Sunshine Coast area upwards and it’s really cool that they can still have that amazing work life balance, but still be able to work on some really cutting edge stuff. I’d love to know a little bit more about what you are doing at Airwallx.

What kind of role do you have as the manager of product design and what kind of problems are you guys tackling at the moment? Yeah, sure. So, just a bit of background on Airwallix, we’re cross border payment platform, trying to help businesses scale globally. And then on top of cross border payments, we’re trying to become the one stop shop for a finance team when it comes to managing their spend.

And so that’s what my team focuses on, the whole spend management side of things. We look after products like the Airwalks corporate cards, the expense management solution that sort of comes with that. We’re working on a new Bill Pay product and we’ve got a few other top secret projects that we’re working on.

But, yeah, just really exciting stuff. We’re really trying to service SMEs from 200 plus employees all the way to bigger corporations. And so, yeah, there’s few different challenges that comes with trying to service companies of different sizes.

What kind of drawed you to joining Airwallx? Was there a particular project that they were working on or what kind of was the catalyst for that? It was COVID I was probably looking for a change, something a bit exciting in my life that wasn’t just baking. We all tried to make bread. Yeah, exactly.

So I was just looking for something exciting, looking for a change, and Airwallix is an Australian unicorn and so I thought, okay, probably a good place to be. I know they’re moving really fast and just growing really fast, so I thought in terms of career progression, that probably would be a good place to go to. And they had just launched their corporate cards product, so the whole business accounts team actually didn’t exist at the time.

And shortly after I joined, I started working on this expense management solution from ground up. So, yeah, I just knew that there would be a ton of exciting projects when I joined and that was sort of what pushed me to join? Yeah, no I can understand that especially at that point when there was so much growth and so much investment going on in startups they obviously have had such an exciting roadmap ahead it makes sense that you’d want to just see what all the fuss is about almost and get involved. Yeah I just wanted to be a part of something exciting really? Yeah cool.

Now Lisa I’m sure that you can’t really disclose too much about the next twelve months for our rolex but can you fill us in on some of the things that you and the team have got going on at the moment? Yeah, for sure. So, like I said, we’re really trying to be the one stop shop for businesses when it comes to their financial solutions. And so we’ve got a couple of products on the roadmap that we’re building from zero to one, which is really exciting.

But as part of that comes challenges. Like, at the moment, information architecture challenges. Where does that all fit? Within Bia? How do we position these new products in relation to the products we already have and so driving alignment can be really challenging as a team and making sure that we all have a common vision in terms of where we’re going and what we want to build is a challenge that we have at the moment.

So we’ve got lots of customer calls scheduled, a lot of review sessions with stakeholders, these sorts of things to really make sure that we’re all happy with where we’re going. And then from a cultural perspective, as know, we’re growing as a team. And we’ve got people based in Australia, people based in Singapore, people based in San Francisco.

So as we’re working on these complex projects, it’s know, how do we make sure that everyone feels included and everybody has a voice and we’re collaborating in a way that is inclusive of everybody. How does that kind of show up? Obviously I know that differences in time zones is probably the thing that comes up day to day but is there any other initiatives that you guys have to make sure that everyone’s collaborating and feeling included? Yeah, well, on a day to day basis, obviously we try and schedule meetings at times that work for everybody and if someone can’t make it, obviously documentation is really important so making sure that we’ve got notes. We also have shared forums where we share work async so that’s one way that we do it.

But otherwise we’ve got some rituals weekly just to make sure that we have these checkpoints regularly during the week where everybody can come together, sort of meet face to face and have that voice or have a forum for that voice. So we’ll have Friday design review like just typical design rituals. And then another thing that we’ve been doing is launching a design guild so that’s a forum that it’s not necessarily related to work.

So we don’t come in there talking about current projects that we’re working on, but it’s more about sharing, about design, trying to get people excited about what’s going on in the industry, bringing in people from outside airwallics to chat so guest speakers to share about what they’re doing, bring people together that way and build that culture that way and that unique sort of airwallics design. Voice. Yeah, yeah, that’s great.

And I think it’s always really smart to bring in some outside or external perspectives right, because that is only going to make the product and the work that you guys are doing internally a little bit more polished. And it’s great to have all that stuff going on internally, but sometimes it does become a bit of a bubble. So bringing in some fresh ideas is always good too.

Yeah, for sure. Especially. I’ve been at the company for almost three years now.

We’ve got a lot of old timers as well. We tend to get stuck in our ways of doing things and things that just, we think, work within Airwallics. But I always find it helpful to hear from other people and get some ideas for things we might be doing better.

I’d be curious to hear what your education path and how it translates now into you did a Bachelor of Finance. Obviously you’re now working in a fintech, but not necessarily on the finance side of things. So can you walk us through how your university journey has led you to where you’re at now? Yeah, it was a very go with the flow sort of journey.

Like, I didn’t have any plans when I started uni. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I actually started doing business school in France and that was sort of very generalist program. And two years later I was, you know, I’m still in my home country in my hometown, I just want to go see something else.

And so the US just happened to have transfer programs, so they transfer your credits over and you don’t have to start your bachelor’s from the very beginning. And I just specialized in finance because I thought that within business, that’s what would open the most doors, having that sort of analytical background. At the time, I thought, well, HR marketing, all this is a bit of fluff.

It was my opinion at the time I might be thinking differently today, but that’s how I was thinking at the time. Yeah, you can put it into use in so many different scenarios. So, yeah, I totally get it’s.

It’s a handy skill and background to have. Yeah, exactly. And then I ended up in product, really by luck.

So at the time, after I finished studying, I really wanted to stay in the US. But I needed a visa, a work visa to stay there. And the only way I could get one was if I had skills that locals didn’t have.

And so the only skill I had was the fact that I spoke French. So that’s how I ended up at Glassdoor, launching Glassdoor in different French markets, and that allowed me to stay in the States. So starting in product was totally random and lucky, I would say.

And I ended up loving it, but I didn’t know I would, like, landed in it. Yeah, just sort of landed in it. And then similarly, I sort of landed in UX.

So as I said earlier, I started working with UX. Designers thought they got to do the cool stuff, they got to talk to customers and really shape the product experience and got to be creative in how things looked like and behaved. Yeah, I talked know, going into UX forever.

And then a mentor of mine was like, look, Lisa, you’ve been talking about going into UX for maybe two years now. Maybe you should do something about this. And so that’s how I finally decided to go back to school part time.

And, yeah, everything after that was just sort of, again, going with the flow, taking the opportunities that showed up and, yeah, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at now, to be honest. Love that. And I think you mentioned that you did part time at Berkeley.

Yeah, correct. What kind of program was that? Yeah, so it’s actually with UC Berkeley extension, so slightly less prestigious than UC Berkeley. I don’t want to take the A.

I think it’s called professional Program and User Experience, and it’s geared towards full time professionals. And so all the classes were after 06:00 p.m. When people get off work and you can take as long as you need to complete the program.

It’s seven classes, 14 credits, something like that. And yeah, it took me about a year and a half. It’s actually a lot of work.

Just even taking two classes per semester was a lot. Yeah, glad I got it done. And it really gives you good foundations of UX.

So I had considered going to doing boot camps, for example, versus this more complete program. And the feedback that I had gotten from the internal team design team at classdor was that bootcamps didn’t really give you that good foundation and the time that you needed to absorb all the knowledge and apply it and, yeah, I’m really happy I went that route. It was a good program.

I think that’s so true that comparing the boot camp between something that’s a little bit more formal, sometimes it gets mixed reviews with, like, what’s better and what do you learn more and what sets you up better for success later on. And to be completely honest, I’m pretty mixed myself with what I would recommend students to do. So, yeah, it’s interesting that you kind of did something that was almost in the middle, like, not quite a full on bachelor’s program, but something that’s a little bit longer than your three month boot camp.

So would that be something that you would recommend to people wanting to get into design sorry. Doing that sort of part time program and then moving out to design, doing something part time. Yeah, I definitely would.

I think what helped me eventually land a job in the industry was first having some sort of product knowledge, given my experience at Glassdoor, and then combining that with an education that was a bit more formal than just a UX bootcamp. And then the fact that it was part time allowed me to work with the design team internally and ask them for projects on the side. So I was doing that on top of my regular workload.

But, yeah, it was just good to have school on one side, then actual real life UX projects to work on without being fully part of the UX team. And it was low impact stuff, but still gives you a sense of how you might work with engineers, with other PMS, with other designers. How do you integrate a design system within your work? How do you set up a figma file or at the time, sketch? So, yeah, it was just really good practical experience to have in addition to the part time studies.

Yeah. That’s great that you were so lucky that you were able to just reach out to someone internally and be like, hi, how can I help? Yeah, it’s true. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have done it otherwise if I wasn’t working in a company that had a design team.

I think it’s really hard to get into the industry otherwise. Yeah. It makes the aspect of who you know, in the industry, it is really important to be able to network and to be able to ask for help and ask for the professionals and the leaders in the industry to ask them questions about their career and what you can provide value with at that stage in your career.

Yeah. Kudos to you for actually making it happen and putting yourself out there. Yeah, I feel grateful that they allowed me to contribute because I think about some of the designs that I made back then in 2014 and stuff that went onto the home page, too, like giant buttons on a cover page.

It’s just very ugly stuff. I’m like, I can’t believe you let me do that. But thanks for the experience.

It was great learning experience. Yeah, that’s how we learn, for sure. So, Lisa, you mentioned before that you were intrigued with product at Glassdoor and that’s what you wanted to get into.

You knew that then. But is there anything else that compelled you to start a career in design and tech? Well, not really at the start. So, as I mentioned, I was in San Francisco at the time.

It’s the Silicon Valley. And so a lot of the internships that my classmates were doing and all of the job opportunities that they took after college were in tech. Just because that’s the sort of opportunities that was in San Francisco at the time.

So I sort of followed the same path. But then once you get into it, you realize that you really are at the forefront of technology and what’s happening in the world today, which is a super exciting place to be in. And I also thought that Tech in San Francisco was at the forefront of just employment.

You know, being able to work in a hybrid model, work from home a couple days a week, for example. Coming to work in flip flops, like coming to work as you are sort of thing was in my mind very novel as I had a new know that I really enjoyed. And when I was comparing this to some of my classmates from France that went into say, consulting or finance and that had to work with suits and just it just didn’t match my personality really.

So I just felt like I had found a good home, if that makes sense. Just identified with the employment practices and yeah, just again, the exciting projects, being at forefront of technology, I just thought that was really exciting and so I just decided to stay for that reason and also because it pays quite well. I have to say it doesn’t hurt.

That really shines a light, especially in those mid two thousand and ten s. Two thousand and ten s where you’re right, like the Silicon Valley. It was almost like the shining light that everyone wanted to strive towards.

Like oh, you know, if you work in tech, if you’re wearing a t shirt and shorts to work and it almost glamorized being casual. Yeah, I feel like a lot of places have tried to emulate that since and offer some of the perks that matter now. But Facebook back then would try and make people stay longer at work by providing every meal under the sun that you could possibly imagine and do your laundry for it’s.

I have to say I practically lived in the office and I loved know, we had meals provided, we had a gym, we had a kombucha tab, a beer tab, we had ping pong tables, we had video games. It was just great. And we also had dogs in the office.

I think that was major contributor to my happiness at work. Game changer. Yeah, absolutely.

It’s just having golden retrievers running around. Yes, it’s just a golden era now that I think about it. Yeah, definitely.

And I guess looking at where you are now obviously in Cairns and working remotely know looking very beachy with your for those who are just listening on audio lisa is just chilling with her little seashell necklace on and just like living the life up north. And I think those flexible perks are still there if you are wanting them at a lot of different companies around the world now. So it’s great that you’ve realized that’s really where you want to stay and they are non negotiables and to just jump at any opportunity that you can that fits around your work life balance.

Yeah, for sure. And I feel like I can be more productive and be there for my team more if outside of work, I’m happy and fulfilled and doing what really makes me happy. So it’s win win for everybody, I think.

Exactly. We briefly chatted about your education pathway and how that translated into tech and where you are now. Would you give any advice to students potentially wanting to start a career in technology and what would you recommend? Yeah, I mean, if people know that they want to get into tech, I think going into school for engineering or data science, even HCI programs, I think it’s human computer interaction programs for UX opens a ton of doors.

Just great to get the foundations really early in your career. But then there’s a lot of people that don’t necessarily have technical backgrounds that can still go and work in tech. So, for example, at Airwallics, we have a huge commercial team that sells our solutions and you still need to be a bit tech savvy and understand what we’re doing, which can be a super interesting and fulfilling job and still in tech without necessarily having that technical background.

Similarly, you have all the other support functions like marketing and HR, finance, et cetera. So yeah, many ways to go into tech without actually being a nerd and without being the typical engineer. Yeah, exactly.

That’s what I was trying to say. I totally get that. And those people are just as important to any tech company as what the engineers are.

Oh, absolutely. If we don’t have a commercial team, there’s no one to sell the product for us, so then we don’t have the money to hire the engineers and the designers that are building the products. So, yeah, everybody’s important and I’d be curious to hear what kind of lights you up and motivates you to do what you do day to day.

Yeah, so really having the customer in mind and keeping the customer in mind is what motivates me. So it always makes me happy when I talk to a customer and they’ve been using something that I’ve designed, say, our expense management solution at Airwallics and hearing that it’s been going well and it’s simplified their work life a little bit and relieved some of their pain points. It’s always cool when you see that you have real impact on someone, so that’s really it.

And then the team, we have a great team at Airwallics. We get along really well and so they motivate me to put out my best work. Feel like that’s a really important part for me of work, is having people I collaborate well with.

Yeah, that collaboration piece and that connection with the team is so important and it makes everything flow a little bit better. Yeah, it does. On that note, I’d be curious to hear, have you had any speed bumps in your career and how do you think they’ve impacted where you’re at at the moment? Yeah, so I think becoming a manager recently has been quite an interesting, challenging experience just because the skills that are required as a design manager are quite different from the skills that are required.

When you’re just an individual contributor, you’re now responsible for a team and responsible for people’s well being and it can be quite a bit of pressure. And so I’m still trying to find my balance between being too hands off but also being too in the weeds and potentially becoming micromanagey. I really don’t want to be that type of manager.

You may have an idea of the manager that you want to be, but once you actually become one, it’s really challenging to emulate that image and you might find yourself being way more micromanagey than you thought you were going to be or find yourself being way less chill than you thought you were going to be. And so finding the balance can be challenging and so, yeah, we’ll see where that leads me in my career. Either I get better and hopefully continue in that path and if not, I can always go back to more specialized IC role.

So we’ll see. But yeah, it is a bit of an open question at the time in terms of where I want to go, definitely. And I think that’s such an important thing for people to think about when they are considering going into more of like a management supervisor leading role is just because you are amazing at your contributor role and being on the tools and smashing it.

In that regard, that sometimes doesn’t translate to being able to manage a team. And it’s not anything personal or it’s not because you’re not good at your job or a good designer or anything like that. It’s just yeah, sometimes that’s just not where people’s skills really line up.

But it sounds to me that if collaboration and listening to your team and wanting to be a really good leader, it sounds like that’s huge priorities for you. I think with that intention you’re going to be fine. Hopefully.

Let’s see, I’m giving myself a bit of time to learn the ropes of the job and we’ll see where that goes. Yeah, I think you sound like you listen to your team quite a lot and you collaborate really well with them. So as long as that stays alive, should be pretty smooth sailing, hopefully.

Yeah, but it is a huge transition. I’ve been there, done that, and it’s a really big transition going from like, okay, I know how to do my job, but now you’re also then having to help other people do their job and they do it a bit different and it’s different perspectives on how things should be done. Yeah, exactly.

Yeah, it’s tricky and it’s hard to suck at something again. Starting from zero. Because after however many years of design, I thought I was okay at my job and now I’m starting something new and I’m starting from scratch.

Yeah. I have to put myself in that newbie mindset again and just accept that maybe you’ll suck for a while. That’s fine, you’ll learn.

And yeah, it will take the time it takes. Yeah, embrace that. Yeah, embrace that.

But patience is not my forte. Well, I guess going from that, is there anything that you do regularly to keep that self care and that productivity going as well as you can? Yeah, 100%. So one of the reasons I moved to Cairns was to be closer to the greater reef and go diving as much as I could.

Diving makes me so, so happy. I think it’s really the one place where I shut off completely. You’re underwater, you’re there with fish, just not thinking about work.

I just got back from a four day trip, 300 reef with minky whales. So the whales migrate every winter and you get to swim with them. Yeah.

The interactions with the whales are really well managed. They control the interaction they come to. You’re not allowed to chase them, but they’re such curious animals.

They come to you really close. It’s just such an incredible experience. And then you’re out of service area, so there’s no one to ping you, there’s no emails, there’s no slack.

It’s just great to just disconnect. So diving has been huge to help me manage stress. And then the other thing I do which is a bit more accessible is beach volleyball.

Cool. Yeah. So that’s my social sport and just helps me to blow off some steam.

And it’s quite social as well. It is, yeah, exactly. It’s really fun.

I guess staying active and staying outdoors is really what helps me. I’m not much of a meditation person or yoga person or breath work person. I think just leaving my room is what helps me, really.

Yeah. And you’re right. There’s so much pressure sometimes to be like, oh, if you’re stressed, you’ve got to be quiet and still to get the Zen back in your life.

And for some people, and myself included, there’s just some days where sitting still just stresses me out more. You’ve got to let off steam. You’ve got to know.

Go work out or do something active or the other day, actually, over the weekend, it was really windy down here in Newcastle, and just being out in the wind, I don’t know what it was, but I’m like, oh, I feel like it’s just like blowing away the cobwebs in my just it was really cathartic. Yeah. So yeah, I totally understand know sometimes you just need to get moving.

Yeah, exactly. Especially as you sit at your desk all day. I think it’s super important to just yeah.

Yeah. Amazing. So Lisa, is there any great podcasts or media.

That you like to consume books, anything at all that you like to read or partake in when you’re not at work? Yeah, I do like to read, mostly fiction, but no great podcast recommendations. Know, if I’m interested in a particular topic, I’ll go on Spotify and Search or on Google and search for specific topics and then listen to the podcasts that come out. And generally it’s health related podcasts, particularly like Women’s Health or Fitness and nutrition, but nothing really related to design.

Again, when I’m out of work, I really try and shut off. No, that’s great. I think, as I mentioned to you before offline, there’s lots of people that I have on here that are either in Camp A where they love to talk through and listen to so many different design forums and podcasts.

And books and magazines and everything. Or it’s Camp B, completely on the other end of the spectrum where they just want to shut off, which there’s no right or wrong answer. Sounds like you can’t be all good.

Well, do you have any mentors or business leaders that you’ve had prior in your career or anyone that inspires you at the moment? Yeah, I’ve had one unofficial mentor. Her name was Laura at Glassdoor. Is Laura her she’s still very much alive, we’re still in touch.

And she just inspired me because she is a strong woman in leadership, and she had a way of leading her teams where she made me feel, and I know some coworkers feel like they really wanted to put their best work out there for her. And that’s something that’s quite hard to do, to just inspire people so much. They just want to do their best for you.

So, yeah, she just really inspired me as a leader and she’s also the one that said, hey, you’ve been talking about going into UX for a while now, maybe you should consider going back to school and actually doing something about. So really I’m really thankful for her to have given me that push to go into UX. And then there’s another UX leader that admired lot.

Her name is Julie Zuo. I think that’s how you pronounce her last name. I’m not quite sure, but she wrote The Making of a Manager Book, which is pretty much a guide for new managers going into design.

She was design manager at Facebook and yeah, lots know, golden nuggets of advice in there and I follow her on LinkedIn. Love everything she posts. So yeah, we’re just generally inspired by her.

Cool. Well, yeah, definitely I will start to follow her too. That sounds awesome.

And a little bit of a rewind onto your mentor at Glassdoor. I think that’s a really great sign of a good leader is if you’ve been working with them for a while and they are picking up that you’re wanting to move on or move on to something different, they’re not keeping you from achieving that. Some of the best mentors in my career have been people who have pulled me aside and be like, hey, you’re great, but I know that you are ready to step onto something new.

And having that personal relationship with those people really does push you to be like, hey, they care about me. And so, yeah, it sounds like that’s the kind of relationship that you had with her as well, which is lovely. Yeah, she’s been amazing and always just actually pushed me to leave her team, which yeah, a lot of people wouldn’t want to do that.

Yeah, I’m very thankful for her. Yeah, that’s great. And I guess last but not least, Lisa, I like to end the podcast with the question of if you could give your younger self some career advice, what would that be? Yeah, that’s a good one.

I think for me, it would be to not try and be so perfect. I know I have perfectionist tendencies, which actually has hired me more than helped me, because you get stuck in wanting to do things perfectly and end up not doing them at all because obviously things are never perfect. And so, yeah, I think I would focus on doing things versus doing them perfectly.

I think that’s the main thing I’ve learned over the years, which I still try and apply today, and I still get caught up in trying to make everything perfect. But yeah, that’s what I would tell myself. Love that.

I think that’s such sound advice for people at all stages of their career, whether or not you’re starting out or if you’re a CEO, knowing that sometimes good enough is good enough. So, yeah, thank you for that advice. And thank you so much for joining us today.

No worries. Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure chatting with.

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