of plans and mega plans

Majority of the countries in the developing world, including Kenya, have established long term blueprints that guide their social, political and economic agenda. Kenya has Vision 2030 blueprint which aims at ‘transforming Kenya into a newly industrializing middle income country providing high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030’. Rwanda has ‘vision 2040 master plan’. Uganda has ‘vision 2040’. Saudi Arabia has ‘vision 2030 plan’. Nigeria has ‘vision 2020′. China is now on ’13th long term development plan’ (2016-2020), and there are other five year plans that have been established since 1950s; these plans are linked with one another despite the changes in political regimes. These plans have played a role in mobilizing a country’s resources and focus to a more promising future that everyone can look forward to. What has been the progress of Kenya’s vision 2030 so far? Maybe that’s totally different blog post. The essence of these economic master plans is to guide a country despite the changes in political regimes. This is because  politicians have a tendency of making short term decisions that only seek to make them re-elected while leading a country to nowhere. There must be someone willing to sacrifice short term gain for long term gain as in the case of Singapore with Lee Kuan Yew.

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We can borrow a lot from such especially in startups. When a startup is on mission, then it does not stop until achievement of the results. I think this is something that is overlooked and could help us a lot. In 2006, Facebook turned down $ 1 billion acquisition  offer from Yahoo the reason being as Mark put it   “They (Yahoo) did not properly value things that did not yet exist so they were therefore undervaluing the business”. In this case, it turned out to be the right decision because the market value of Facebook now is the region of $300 billion. There are other many startups that turned down acquisition offers from other established companies but the explanation given by Zuckerberg stood out for me. It seems he had a longer term view of what Facebook could grow out to be and did not want to sell out for short term gain.

Another example I saw is from Marvel Movie Studios. I’m a superhero movie junkie and I like both  Marvel and DC Comics franchises. When Marvel was making the first Iron Man in 2008, they tried to imagine how the story would play out in future. The directors say in this video that  they look at the big picture and see how things can relate between movies. For example, they are now making Avenger Infinity War, Part 1 coming out in 2018 and it is a culmination of Avengers franchise which they have been setting up since Avengers 1. The Avengers Infinity war will see the avengers meet the guardians of the galaxy and it’s a story that has been building up since the start of Avengers franchise. We’ll see how this plays out. What I see them doing here is that one event is a set up for the next and building the possibilities that could happen in future even if these possibilities are not clear at the present. I know that these examples seem far fetched, these guys were not struggling to quickly make money from their creations in order to sustain themselves. But maybe we can learn a thing or two from them. “We tend to overestimate what we can achieve in one year and underestimate what we can achieve in 10 years”. -Bill Gates.

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vibrant Kenyan startup scene

Since the dawn of M-PESA, Kenya has attracted international attention as a hotbed of innovation. In this post I briefly highlight some of the startups that are tackling big challenges in Kenya in an innovative way. For me this represents the possibilities that we can still acheive if we became innovative and proactive.

Twiga Foods: a business to business supplier of fresh farm produce

Twiga has two main aspects: the supply side (farmers) and the demand side (vendors). In the supply side,as explained by the founder, Grant Brooke Twiga collects data from farmers and creates value for a certain commodity at a certain time in future. Farmers are able to get better prices and have some certainty about what their produce will cost even before it is ready. On the demand side, the vendors are able to get constant supply of produce from Twiga which is delivered to them directly.With oversupply, vendors are able to sell at fair prices and Twiga also is able to advance short term credit to reduce instances of inflation which is brought about low supply of products. Currently, Twiga has a portfolio of bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes.The company’s aim is to increase the product range.

Website: Twigafoods.com

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Sendy. Founded 2014. 

This is a provider of on demand, door to door delivery and transportation services in Kenya.
As explained in the Digital Kenya Book It’s ‘An Uber-style motorbike delivery service providing  mobile phone platform that aggregates and distributes demand for deliveries by matching requests from customers with the company’s network of crowd sourced delivery couriers’. With the dawn of eCommerce and online purchases, Sendy has developed an innovative model of undertaking last-mile delivery services to customers after they have bought products online, think companies like OLX and Jumia, they depend on Sendy to make last mile delivery to customers.

website: https://sendyit.com/.

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BitPesa: Founded 2013.

Bitpesa is one stop platform for sending and receiving international payments to and from Africa. Everyone agrees that the international payments systems are tiring, complicated and expensive. Bitpesa is leveraging on the new era of digital currency to enable seamless transactions from anywhere across the globe. Currently, Bitpesa does not only buy and sell bitcoin but also enables small business to make international payments directly to local bank accounts. Bitcoin is a form of digital currency which is held only electronically and can also be used to facilitate international payments.Bitcoin is currently being used mainly to facilitate payments but there is also the debate whether it can fully replace the existing currencies such as the dollar, shilling, or Yen to become it’s own form. But the technology behind it is even more fascinating, the block chain which allows for creation of digital ledger. There are ongoing developments on this front and I think there are a lot of possibilities.

Website: Bitpesa.co

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iCow

ICow is a mobile phone based agricultural information platform for small holder farmers. Farmers receive information through SMS on how to improve their farming methods. What I liked about this platform is that when you read about them, you have a feeling that they have an understanding of farming dynamics in Kenya: small-scale farming where farmers undertake multiple activities-planting maize, beans, cattle farming, goats and chicken.  If farmers are able to receive better and relevant information about their farming methods, then I think they can increase yields. What I am not sure of  is their pricing model.

website: icow.co.ke

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BRCK. Founded in 2013.

Builds connectivity devices that can be used where electricity and internet connectivity are problematic. One of its main devices in The BRCK which as they say in their website is “a rugged, self-powered, mobile WIFI device which connects people and things to the internet even in areas of the world with poor infrastructure”.  It is a modem made for harsh environments not just in Africa but other parts of the world and it can connect upto 20 devices and seamlessly switch between WiFi, 3G,4G and Ethernet automatically. Even during blackouts, it comes with device that provides up to 8 hours of use. Check more information on their website : https://www.brck.com.

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By any measure, this is list is not conclusive. There are many other startups doing well in Kenya. For example, there is M- KOPA solar and Straus energy.  According to its website(http://solar.m-kopa.com) says it has connected over 400,000 customers with solar power. The alternative form of energy company says it has its eyes on 1 million customers and it’s target market is off-the grid customers mainly from poor households.

On the other hand, Strauss energy aims at ‘integrating energy generating technology into the basic building materials’. This is a modern alternative to installation of solar panels. It entails fitting energy producing cells into the parts of a construction. These building materials capture sun rays and convert it into solar energy. This eliminates the need to install a roof and then a solar panel. What is even better is that different surfaces can be fitted with energy generating materials, pavements, windows etc. Check out http://www.straussenergy.com.  I think this is very innovative considering that in Kenya we have more months of sunshine every year than say, USA, where we have another similar company, Solar City, spearheaded by Elon Musk.

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Going forward, I think the startup landscape in Kenya is poised for even further growth. Weza Tela was  recently acquired by AFB for $1.7 million becoming one of the main startup exits in Kenya. Toyota   also recently  invested $3m in  another Kenya startup, Seven Seas technologies with 9.5% stake in the company. Such developments continue to make the industry robust. With more equity funding as well as exists either in terms of IPO or acquisitions, the Kenyan startup scene is poised to continue to grow. It’s just a matter of time before Kenya produces a unicorn (billion dollar startup).

 

self education

Joi Lto in an all famous Ted talk advocates for learning over education. He says “education is what they do to you, learning is what you do to yourself”.  In the modern world we have seen time and again a group of armatures making something completely different and change the way things are done. Furthermore, nowadays we don’t need a lot of resources to make something meaningful. We just need the drive and a general idea about what we want to achieve. “Compass over maps” meaning it is better to have your true north or an idea about what you want to achieve rather than a detailed plan of how to achieve it. You can figure it on the way. Joi Lto concludes his talk by saying that instead of stressing about trying to predict the future, we can just focus on now, build and improve constantly, instead of waiting to have all the resources or to have everything figured out. Use of simple tools and focusing on being connected, always learning and super present. You can find the full talk here.

In this post I share some of the people that have embraced the essence of self-education. All they have is curiosity, urge to learn and keep improving constantly. These kinds of people are called autodidacts and they are all over us today. There are famous people in history who did magnificent things through self-learning.  Leonardo da Vinci and Charles Darwin are some of the most famous examples. In the current times, it is almost a necessity to constantly undertake self-education if you want to be excellent in your craft.

Julius Yego: Yego is referred to as the YouTube athlete. He learnt how to throw javelin by watching YouTube videos. In 2015, he became the first Kenyan to win a gold medal in a championship event and went on to win silver medal in Rio Olympics in 2016. The guy shares his amazing story with  Go Pro.


Sean Parker: Sean co-founded Napster,a peer to peer file sharing internet service that mainly focused on sharing music online. The company was however shut down for copyright infringement. He went in to found Plaxo, an early social media platform and he was later pushed out. He then joined Facebook in its early days and became the founding president. He made his fortune here and is now focused on his foundation which aims to find cure for cancer. Sean Parker did not go to college but spends time gaining knowledge about his areas of interest.

Meet 15 year old kevin Doe from Sierra Leone who made a community radio generator.

In Kenya,  we seen on TV young people making unconventional airplanes, cars etc. Take John and Benjamin,  two 21 year olds who made a limousine out of an old car. They say in this article that, they found online material showing that a limousine could actually be made by stretching a normal car. Armed with information from online sources and curiosity, the two who are students from Nairobi Technical Training Institute have made a functional limousine from a Nissan B14.
Serena and Venus Williams at 12 and 14 already knew that somehow they would end up playing Tennis.

Nassim Taleb says that “Knowledge gives you a bit of an edge, BUT tinkering (trial and error) is the equivalent of 1,000 IQ points. It is tinkering that allowed the industrial revolution”.  More and more universities are undertaking massive open online courses (MOOCs) and therefore the trend towards self-education is set to grow. The area of computer science is registering high level of self-learning. Nowadays there are open courses from MIT open courseware and other online learning platforms such as Udemy, Khan Academy, Code Academy, Coursera. If you want to start a children’s school, Peter Diamandis suggests that you should aim to instill more curiosity, imagination and help them to become more confident in their abilities and when they are more confident,they are wiling to work harder and be more creative. Education should instill more curiosity.I hope as a country we forge this path.

forging your own path

Majority of young people getting into the job market have a hard time knowing exactly what they want to do. Choosing a  career path that is fulfilling is one of the most important decisions that a person has to make. However, sometimes it is not easy knowing which direction to take. Over the last couple of years, the career path for most young people has gradually changed. The job market requirements are constantly changing in the age of technology and innovation.The best way is to be incredibly awesome at whatever you do. But how do you do that? I found an insightful podcast from Keith Rabois, a technology titan in Silicon Valley who has worked in many companies such as PayPal, LinkedIn, Square and Slide. He is also a venture capitalist with many years of management experience.

From the podcast, Keith mentions that one of the key things to develop over time is to find out what you can be really good at. This may not manifest early in your career but progressively. Ultimately the aim is not only to become good at what you do but “the only one who does what you do“. In other words, leveraging on your strengths and passions and defining yourself depending on what you think you are awesome at. At first the focus is not on the title because it might not even exist but the work that inspires you. Over time, know how to define what you do and become incredibly awesome at it.  I found this quite awesome way of looking at it. To become such a person may mean working in different settings or even within one organisation depending on circumstances. It also means constantly repackaging yourself to reflect the type of work you would like to be involved in. Keith also talks about other things such as risks, challenges in the workplace, stress and hiring people. You can listen to the podcast here. I can relate Keith’s views with this  post by Harvard business review which talks about focusing on getting work to do rather than a job.This is because a job maybe scarce but there is plentiful of work to do. Working on areas that interest will ultimately make you incredible at what you do. Personally, this was illuminating and will work on that in the months to come.

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P.S:It is always good to hear and learn from other peers in your industry. The Arena Kenya has organised a #Matchmentor event whereby a mentee gets a one-0n-one engagement with thriving professionals in the media and journalism industry. The concept is called speedmentoring, like speed dating but now for mentorship. The focus on this event is on media and journalism industry. Within the session, a young professional will get a chance to get career tips, know what is going on in the industry, areas that you should be focusing on and and possibly establish long term relationship for career growth.  This is an awesome platform for those studying or recent graduates in the media and journalism industry. The event is on November 26 2016 and you can get more information on Twitter or instagram You also can get all the details about the event on The Arena blog. I hope to see you there.

allure of fantasy tales

Majority of successful entrepreneurs say they are influenced by  fantasy tales and science fiction. I found this to be particularly intriguing. Consider one Peter Thiel (Paypal, Founders Fund, Palantir). Peter is influenced so much by J.R.R Tolkien book, The Lord of The Rings such that majority of his work mirrors the fictional story. Palantir is named after mythical ‘seeing stones’ from The Lord of the Rings. He also has named other ventures based on characters of the book- Rivendell One LLC and Lembas LLC.  Other such as Valar Ventures and Mithril Capital derive their names from the Lord of the Rings universe. It’s not just the naming of the companies but also influencing the work culture. For example, Palantir, from The Lord of Rings is about an all powerful magical artifact that can be able to see what is happening on the other side of the world.  Palantir, the company’s mission is to use big data analysis with the aim of making predictive insights for organizations and government agencies like intelligence agencies. Palantir even has annual gatherings called ‘Hobitcon’. Their headquarters in Palo Alto has a nickname “The Shire” (home of hobbits). Hobbits are the essential part of The Lord of the rings saga.

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the Palantir, seen here as used by wizard Saruman in the Lord of the rings in the film adaptation of ‘The fellowship of the Ring’. source:wikipedia

Elon Musk also says that he was highly influenced by J.R.R Tolkien- The Lord of the rings. Elon says that in his childhood, he was highly influenced by fantasy and science  fiction. The heroes in such type of books always felt the need to save the world. This influenced Musk and others to develop such tendencies- founding companies that ‘help save the world’.  If you follow closely stories by major Silicon Valley honchos, you will hear some line like ‘our company’s mission is to help the world become better’. They try to mythologize their companies just as in fantasy and science fiction stories. Whether this is by design or not i don’t know. But i guess, it is the case in each industry.

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Indeed, fantasy is said to play an important role in development of the brain. This article by Guardian explains that, fantasy stories help human to fill the gap between reality, knowledge and experience. Fantasy and fiction have a more powerful way of teaching us lessons in a more subtle way than other publications. Another thing with fantasy literature is that it has themes that the reader has to decipher the meaning. They make you to think and reflect upon a character and what you would do in a similar situation. There are different characters in such stories and they have diverse abilities. It is upon the reader to choose what they want to associate with. Fantasy builds curiosity. The thing with fantasy stories is that they free of misconception and limitations of this world. They don’t try to put you in a box. You build what you want without the thought that you could fail. One of the famous quotes from J.R.R Tolkien is “If more of us valued food, cheer and song, above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. All we have to do is decide what to do with the amount of time given to us“.

Africa in 2025

Earlier this month, Mckinsey & Company released a report titled: Lions on the Move II:Realizing the potential of Africa’s Economies. The report seeks to showcase some of the opportunities and challenges expected in Africa in the next decade or so. The publication paints a rosy picture of Africa’s potential and the opportunities. Indeed a background of the report shows that African countries are making progress in various issues while also continuing to face teething problems. Africa’s overall growth has slowed in the last 5 years. The main countries contributing to slow down are the North African countries mainly due to slowing economic fortunes especially in Nigeria and Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. However, in the rest of Africa, between 2010-2015, GDP growth averaged 4.4%. Productivity grew by an average of 1.3%. The decelerating economies have also been the continent’s six largest: South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Angola and Morocco.The Accelerating countries are: Ethiopia, DRC, Gabon, Madagascar, Namibia, Senegal, Ghana, Gabon, Tanzania and Kenya. Based on these observations the reality is that Africa’s countries show different aspects of growth because the underlying factors affecting economic growth tend to differ from one region in Africa to the other. Therefore both local and foreign investors cannot just use blanket assumptions in making investment decisions in the continent. Nonetheless, Africa’s growth remains promising. By 2050, Africa will contribute up to one quarter of the workforce in the world. During that time also, one in four people in the world will be African. Africa will indeed have arrived in the world stage. Which areas are leading Africa’s projected potential growth?  The report is detailed and expansive but I have picked a few of the main areas for basis of this blog post.

Population: The greatest weapon that Africa has is young and vibrant population.
This coupled with high rate of urbanization mean that Africa will have the world’s labour force outpacing China and India. Technological innovations are also expected to contribute to next wave of job creations in as much as it will wipe out some of them. By 2030, the workig age population is expected to be 1.1 billion, larger than that of China or India.In some of the developed countries, one third of the workfore could retire by 2025 whereas the rate of joing the workforce is low in those countries. The challenge is for Africa to develop quality jobs to meet demand or otherwise this opportunity could turn to a disaster.

Manufacturing: Africa has the potential to almost double its manufacturing potential from the current $500 billion to $930 billion by 2025.

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source: Mckinsey

This will only happen if African governments can create a conducive environment for manufacturers. Mckinsey outlines: access to electricity and road infrastructure networks as some of the main areas that need to be improved. Kenya is not short of megaprojects: SGR, LAPSSET, expansion of highways, resort cities, geothermal energy and expansion of JKIA and Isiolo airports among others. A lot remains to be seen as how the government will ensure an all round inclusion, demand and supply sides, to ensure these projects serve the purpose they are meant to. In the current state, Africa imports one third of food, beverages and other consumable products. This trend can be reversed if local companies can leverage in value addition of agricultural products. However, for Africa to match and even overtake global manufacturers several things have to be taken into consideration. Low labour costs alone will not be enough to turbo-charge the manufacturing sector. Other aspects such as labour productivity, cheap and reliable electricity, industrial land, movement of goods, financial environment among others are important. One thing I realize is that the reference to ‘affordable and reliable electricity‘ has been repeated many times in the report. Indeed electricity is important for manufacturing, urbanisation and other aspects of processing industries. The focus on connecting more people to the grid has garnered pace in Africa in the recent past. The current kenyan government focus on rural electrification is one of them. Also recall Akon’s Lighting Africa project that aims to connect 600 million people to power. Morocco is set to have the world’s’ largest solar power plant with capability of lighting 1 million homes when completed in 2018. Many opportunities can be unlocked fully with access to electricity. The next major challenge will be ensuring stable and reliable supply.
Corporate Africa: Africa has about 400 companies with combined revenue estimates of over $1 billion annually. However, still there is no Africa-owned company in the Fortune 500 companies. China has 98 on the list. Brazil and India have 7 each. Half-of the Africa’s most successful companies are in South Africa. Mckinsey report recommends that Africa’s companies should focus more on areas that are not yet fully exploited such as:light manufacturing, agri-processing, healthcare, financial services, wholesale and retail and construction. However, for corporate Africa to continue to grow, there needs to be more focus on innovation based growth models. Only 23 out of top 100 companies in Africa have expanded through technological or business model innovation. Innovation-led growth is much higher in other countries especially Asia.  Equity Bank is one of those pursuing innovation-led growth. It began by focusing on segments of the population that were financially excluded through agency banking and zero account opening fees. Safaricom also built a new business model by leveraging on mobile phone technology. CBA, has increased accounts from 64,000 to 12.9 million by end of 2015, thanks to M-shwari. It has done this by leveraging on a virtual platform and not much of opening up many branches. As Carol Musyoka put it here  in the Business Daily, we are entering a period of data pool with the launch of Equitel whereby customer behaviour will mainly be done through data analytics. There is room for such innovation led growth.

Urbanization: Over the next 10 years, an estimated 187 million people will live in cities across Africa. Urbanization has a strong correlation to GDP because productivity in cities is more than in the countryside. Higher productivity translates to higher incomes, better education, new markets etc. The challenge will however be on how to cope with transportation, decent housing and services for people.

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source: Mckinsey

Technology: The last major aspect in the report is tech in Africa. Technology is a major defining force not only in Africa but the world. Usage of internet and mobile phones present the major opportunity in this area. 50% of Africa’s population are expected to be using smartphones by 2020. In 2015, the figure was 18%. Internet has the potential to contribute up to 10% of GDP by the year 2025. This trend is mainly being seen in retail, healthcare, education and banking sectors. There are various trends in this industry that are expected to continue growing. East Africa is the global leader in mobile money, ambulances using mobile phone technology to improve response, education through e-learning, on-demand services through smartphones etc.

 Creative industry: This category is not in the Mckinsey report but i believe it is one of the most overlooked sectors despite its massive potential. Creative economy is classified as one consisting of film, design, fashion, crafts, music, performing arts, advertising, literature, TV, publishing and video games. According to Kenya Economic survey as explained by Daily Nation , the creative industry is estimated to be worth 3.4 billion kenyan shillings, employing 67,000 people in 2013. I watched the Kenya national music festival that took place in Kasarani recently, and my brother and i wondered what happens to all these talented people after the show is over. What happens to the best students after they perform for the president every year in state house?  The answer: most of those students end up in university taking courses that they have no interest in and end up not getting jobs. Also, in the above article by Daily Nation, Bitange Ndemo says that “global content giants are taking advantage of our irrational behaviour and have started to archive our own cultural material such that in future, we shall buy it from them”.

Nollywood is considered as the second largest movie industry in the world after Bollywood. (in terms of of number of movies produced annually). According to African Business Magazine  Nollywood is the second largest employer after agriculture, with about 130 people having temporary jobs per movie and with capability of producing 50 movies per week. Nigeria leverages on fast production and high rate of home consumption. There is differing data about Nollywood but this article by Daily Nation says that it generated $800 million in revenue in 2013. India’s Bollywood contributes $21 billion to the economy of India. In USA, creative industry led by Hollywood is worth a staggering $504 billion having more impact than even the tourism industry, this is according to Guardian. Creative industry, especially the film industry is used to spread worldviews and cultural ideologies. Look at how much we are influenced by American movies. For us to exert more influence in the world, we need creatives to spread our culture globally. Look at the oscar-winner Lupita. Edi Gathegi is also doing great. Lupita has been on the forefront in showcasing Kenyan fashion designs to the world. She even shared ugali recipe on vogue. Check it here. I have digressed from the Mckinsey report but all in all I guess it is upon us to see how we position ourselves to drive growth and opportunities in respective sectors in years to come. The Asian tigers are slowing down, Africa Lions are on the move, let’s go hunting.

 

 

The Rock on motivation and work

I have been a fan of Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson since his wrestling days. Hardly did i miss any of his performances together with other childhood WWE superstars such as Stone cold steve Austin, Mankind, Triple H, The Undertaker etc. The Rock has since moved on to become an accomplished movie actor. This year he was named the highest earning actor in Hollywood. Few people have managed to achieve this in these two fields. I have continued to follow the rock especially on social media where he offers advice and motivation from time to time. One of his main sayings is that you have to put in the work in order to achieve the results and that means outworking your competition. Particularly, he shares some advice on work and motivation which i find important.

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On work space– The Rock says that if you are lucky to have a job that allows for flexible working environment or remote working, make your work space as productive as possible. Find a space that makes you come alive. This could be your home compound, a certain location in your house, a public workspace or anywhere that you feel comfortable.  The good thing with unconventional workspaces is that you can do what you want when you get tired: like take a nap, play a game on the laptop, play some music or eat something. The key is to ensure you have the discipline to go back to work after the break. In addition, being in such a position instills self-discipline while setting your targets because you don’t have to pretend to be working when the boss is around. Sometimes, such ideal workspaces can make you more productive than the conventional office settings.

On finding your anchor– According to the Rock, your anchor is something that motivates and energises you. It could be something that once you do it, you become more productive and focused. It could be going to the gym, reading something, watching something, eating or even talking to someone. When you find your anchor and use appropriately, it keeps you going and focused. For DJ, it is going to the gym at 4am in the morning. He says that once he hits the gym, he is energised and focused and has the ability to work up to 12-16 hours a day. For him, the gym is his anchor but for someone else it could be something else. If you find it and make it your ritual then it becomes a source of strength that keeps you going.

And finally be so good at something and find a way of earning a livelihood from it. You are more likely to be productive and efficient if your enjoy your work. Be willing to be hardest worker in that one area that you are good at. As he says, there are three things: blood, sweat and respect, the first two you give, the last one you earn. At the end of the day, work is going to occupy a large chunk of our lives, I guess the thing is make it worthy and fun. The information is compiled from Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson social media sites. Twitter @therock. instagram- @therock.