In today’s episode of the Learn to Code With Me podcast, I talk with Yasmine Mustafa, the CEO and founder of ROAR for Good, a hardware company that provides wearable safety devices for women.
Yasmine majored in entrepreneurship at college and then joined a consulting company. While growing their blog, she got the idea for her first company, 123LinkIt. Her next business idea, for a piece of wearable technology, came to her while she was traveling.
In this episode, we discuss Yasmine’s journey from college to serial entrepreneur. She shares with us how she came to lead Girl Develop It in Philly and reminds us how important it is to do market research before creating a product.
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
Laurence Bradford 0:06
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Hey, listeners! Welcome to the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host Laurence Bradford. In today's episode, I talked with Yasmine Mustafa. Yasmine is the CEO and founder of ROAR for Good, a hardware company that provides wearable safety devices for women. She also started the Girl Develop It chapter in Philly. In our conversation we discuss Yasmin's journey into tech how she became a serial entrepreneur and much, much more. If you want to learn how to take that first step to becoming an entrepreneur, this episode is for you. Remember, you can get Show Notes for this episode plus more information about Yasmin at learntocodewith.me/podcast. If you like the show, make sure to subscribe on whichever podcast player you listen on. And if you're feeling particularly generous, a review would be awesome as well. Thanks so much and enjoy the show.
Laurence Bradford 1:30
Hi, Jasmine, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Yasmine Mustafa 1:32
Thank you for having me.
Laurence Bradford 1:33
Could you introduce yourself to the audience?
Yasmine Mustafa 1:35
Sure. My name is Yasmine Mustafa and I am the CEO and co-founder of ROAR for Good.
Laurence Bradford 1:40
Awesome, I'm so excited to have you on and Yasmine and I actually connected a while back several years ago, and we'll talk about this i'm sure during the show about how we can't get through girl development and fell to Philadelphia. But first I kind of like to rewind even further back in your past. And could you tell me how you first got into tech?
Yasmine Mustafa 2:00
Sure, yeah, it was, you could say happen chance and purpose, perfect. Perseverance. I can't say that word. I was back in college, I had to do an internship as part of my major and I was doing one I didn't really like. And a friend of mine was doing one that he loved. And it was time for him to leave. So he referred me to it. The the teacher that I had didn't let me switch over. So I decided to just go for it anyway and did both on top of going to full time and that company, it was an early stage technology firms. So they worked with very, very early tech entrepreneurs, basically helping them launch their idea off the ground, helping them build their business plans and the financial models and the go to market strategies. And that was my first foray into technology.
Laurence Bradford 2:53
Awesome. And what did you study when you were in school? Because you mentioned an internship.
Yasmine Mustafa 2:58
Good question. I changed majors four times. So my first major was mechanical engineering. It was actually my dad enrolled me into the school as an engineer because he was a mechanical engineer. I hated it more so because he forced it upon me. And my first semester I fell in love in with graphic design after taking a Photoshop class. So I switched, he stopped paying for my tuition. And as much as I love graphic design, I ended up switching from that two semesters later because I was a perfectionist back then, and I would stay at the computer lab fixing every little pixel spending hours and hours. One day, the power went out after working on this one project for eight hours. I had not saved anything and the next day I walked into admissions and changed my major. I changed it to psychology because I've always been fascinated with why people do what they do and people watching and then After realizing that it would take me a long time to really get into the field because most of the time you need your masters. And I was paying my way through school I switched with to entrepreneurship because I figured with that I can do anything that I wanted.
Laurence Bradford 4:15
Yeah. Wow. And how long did it take us in to finish school? I'm switching majors like a few times.
Yasmine Mustafa 4:22
It took me seven and a half years and it was a mix of switching majors and also a mix of going part time while I was working full time. I had a lot of trouble initially going to school because I had learned while I was applying to school that I was actually considered undocumented. So I was filling out my college admissions papers came across a field asking for my social security number. didn't know what it was as a 15 year old junior in high school, went to my parents, they went to an immigration lawyer. And lo and behold, a couple a couple weeks later, we find we find out that we were actually considered undocumented Even though we had been brought in as refugees from the Persian Gulf War 12 years prior, so it was a big mess. But it all ended up working out.
Laurence Bradford 5:12
Oh, my goodness, I feel like I maybe read that somewhere in an interview with you, but I totally forgot. I had no idea that's even more impressive. So kudos to you. I mean, that's amazing. And that must have been really difficult to time. But I'm sure it sounds like obviously, you made your way through and we'll get you now. You're doing so many awesome things.
Yasmine Mustafa 5:29
Thank you. It was definitely one of the most challenging parts of my life and things eventually did work out.
Laurence Bradford 5:35
Yeah. So. So okay, you mentioned throughout college, you were working full time you were working part time, you're going to school part time going to school full time, after your first like four way or foray in tech to through this internship and the experience you mentioned before? What was kind of your next move, then? Did you stay in tech? Did you switch industries at all or yeah, what was that like?
Yasmine Mustafa 5:58
Yeah, so at this consulting company right after school, they actually ended up hiring me part time. And then I moved into full time A few months later. And then I actually worked my way up the partner a couple years later, and I really loved it. And looking back, it was a great experience for me because I got to meet a lot of entrepreneurs doing very different things in technology amongst different verticals hitting different target markets. I was able to get exposed with berarti of industries and and startups really quickly within the span of three years, which just made me fall in love with the industry. I would remember being on the opposite end of an entrepreneur that was sharing the latest idea and thinking to myself, you know, one day I want to be you I want to be on the other side of the table. And what got me into my first startup was while I was running that technology company, I decided to start a blog to build fault leadership and help grow our own In our company name, and I took it from a couple hits a day to a few hundred, eventually making it to the top 100,000 blogs according to Technorati, which was a blog directory that mattered, you know, 10 years ago. And someone along the way told me that you could make money while you were blogging. And as a broke entrepreneur as a blue as a broke consultant, rather, I was very intrigued by the ideas.
Yasmine Mustafa 7:28
So I remember looking into it, adding some ads up on the site, not quite sure if I did it right. And kind of forgetting about it. And then I wrote this one blog post. It was the silliest blog post I had ever written. It took me like 20 minutes compared to the usual hour and a half. It was on the top 20 entrepreneur or the top 20 quotes for entrepreneurs. Of course, that was the post that blew up and it was on the front page of Digg and it was on stumble upon and it was everywhere. And I think we got maybe 15,000 18,000 hits the day that it was everywhere. And then 45 days later, I got two checks. And I think all in all, they totaled maybe like 151 70. But I was like, Whoa, you know, I made money. And this is kind of cool. Let me see if I can make more money from from this. And I tried to find a way to make the whole affiliate marketing process a little bit more streamlined and really couldn't. In order to add an affiliate add to your site, you have to go sign up for an affiliate network, you have to wait to get accepted, you had to go sign up to the specific advertiser when you get accepted again, find the product keyword and then get the link and add it to your site. It was a very, very cumbersome process and I decided to just automate it and I gave my notice at the consulting company and one off and started working on that.
Laurence Bradford 8:55
Oh, wow. So you so okay, so, real quick, what year was this around? What year was this?
Yasmine Mustafa 9:00
This was 2009 my first day at this company was April Fool's Day. 2009.
Laurence Bradford 9:07
So you left the other company you were at two. Was it? Were you starting your own company or you were like running your blog and moreso monetizing that.
Yasmine Mustafa 9:17
Yeah, I was running a blog and monetizing it through the consulting company. And then I decided to leave and start my own company creating software that would automate the ads so you didn't have to go search for them yourself and couldn't wait to get accepted and so on.
Laurence Bradford 9:32
God and I see that now I'm like, also period your LinkIt, at 123linkit.com so that must have been - Yeah, I was. Okay. Cool. So you went from there to to I'm starting your own company. And Okay, so that was like the okay, so that was like your for I guess you said you were partner at the at the previous one. But that was like your first solo.
Laurence Bradford 9:53
Yes. Yes. So what was that like? And I also want to know, and we're sort of like, we're just jumping ahead but whatever. So cuz now you're the founder of ROAR for Good. And I'm so curious, like, what were your experiences like starting company like in like 2009 versus starting when later in 2014? I'm sure obviously you're much more seasoned. So I'm sure you had learned a lot that you could apply. But was there anything that was easier or different? In those two instances?
Yasmine Mustafa 10:23
Sure. Yeah. But the common thread is that I was a non techie building tech companies. So the very first 1123 link it I was a non coder, non software person building a software company, and now with the bore Ummah, I'm not a hardware person building a hardware company and both of them both the company's stemmed from a personal experience and that made me want to create what I was doing because I couldn't find it anywhere else. But to jump back Yeah. 123LinkIt is actually what led me into Girl Develop It And I had a lot of challenges running the company because I had trouble conversing with my developers, they would come to me and they would say, I could do it this way or this way, which way do you want and just not knowing anything about technology? I would say, Well, you know, you tell me what I should be doing. And you can imagine that led down one path to another path where everything just kept getting messed up. And we would launch updates that were very buggy.
Yasmine Mustafa 11:32
And it was, I was just not doing very well running this, this company. And I learned about Girl Develop It actually, even before that, I tried teaching myself how to code and it didn't, I didn't do a good job. I wanted to throw my laptop out the window. I started a beginning coding club in the area that was going well at the beginning, but then existing developers took it over. It was a Ruby on Rails. Elle's coding club and eventually, I just let them take it because I couldn't even understand what they were saying. And then I learned about girl development in New York and I hopped on a two hour mega bus there to take a two hour class and a two hour mega bus back, because I was so excited about the possibility of learning with other students and, and other beginners at a very affordable cost. And I just I fell in love with it. By the end, I learned how to build a website. I took a few more classes and learned more about from front end back end technologies, databases and was able to kind of understand how things worked. And I remember going up to the founder and saying, hey, you should bring this to Philly distribute everywhere. And six months later, we brought it to Philly and that was, I want to say it was the summer of 2014. late summer, early fall.
Laurence Bradford 12:55
So sorry, could you say what year that was again?
Yasmine Mustafa 12:58
It was 2014.
Laurence Bradford 12:59
That was a that was 2014 when we brought it in -
Yasmine Mustafa 13:03
five years ago. You're right. No, it wasn't - five years ago. 2012.
Laurence Bradford 13:08
Okay. 2012 I was going to say I was like I remember taking girl development classes in Philly before then. I felt like you guys are already quite established at the time to like, it wasn't like a brand new chapter. So yeah, that that would make sense of like, 2012 Yeah, no, that's so exciting and that you were like, so when you starting girl have other classes and I feel like most listeners probably know what girl velvet is. I mean, it's like a huge national international organization that has coding workshops and related for for women. But when you first went it was only in New York at the time?
Yasmine Mustafa 13:40
It was only yeah, it was one it was the first chapter was founded there by two women who they found themselves as the only female developers that are in their class and, and one of them would get heckled every time she would ask a question and of course, that she that she was very bummed about it and she met other women who had the same experiences who ended up dropping out. So she said, You know what we should form an organization where women feel comfortable learning how to code where they can ask any question and, you know, have it be done in a judgment free environment. And she, you know, they want and joined together and started it. And now it's, I want to say over 50 cities, just in the US alone, so it's really exciting to see how it's grown.
Laurence Bradford 14:27
Yeah, amazing. And when you were the chapter leader of the girls development in Philly, were you at the same time working at 123LinkIt or I should say, still the founder of 123LinkIt?
Yasmine Mustafa 14:39
I was Yeah, I was doing both at the same time.
Laurence Bradford 14:42
And now of course you're do it you do many things. You are now an advisor for Girl Develop It like the whole organization. You're also of course the founder of ROAR for Good and you're also on the board of directors at Code It by Kids. So I have to ask -
Yasmine Mustafa 14:58
just a quick correction advisor. Just for the Philly chapter
Laurence Bradford 15:01
Oh okay advisor for the Philly chapter okay, for girl development Philly, okay great. But nonetheless you have a ton on your plate of course you know life outside of all these wonderful work things that you're doing. So how do you like how does your normal day look like the managing all this stuff on your plate?
Yasmine Mustafa 15:20
Well, everyday is never the same, which can be exciting times and frustrating all the time. So today, we have a photoshoot at roar. And I was supposed to be a lot more involved with it. But we had mobile app testing to do we had a couple meetings that has to do with forecasting for building more Athena devices. Yeah, it's hard. It's hard to give a typical day because you just never know what what each day is going to bring. You know, it worked yesterday, which was Memorial Day. But yeah, it's it's very hard to answer that question.
Laurence Bradford 15:54
Yeah, no, no worries. I just, I just am always so impressed by people who like are Yeah, right. their company and they have all these things and then switch as well. So I
Yasmine Mustafa 16:03
Do I do believe that if something is important to you, you make the time to make it happen. If it's really a priority and you want to do it, you will make the time and if things are not a priority, you won't make the time if you're busy.
Laurence Bradford 16:14
Yeah, very good point. I think that could also be applied to like, well, anything, including learning to code, right. And, of course, a lot of listeners are teaching themselves how to code or teaching them some other kinds of tech skills, which is actually a perfect transition because you were the chapter leader for the GDI, Philly. And I remember when I was taking classes, it was the biggest chapter in the United States. And I think I forget how you guys gauged the size, but maybe it was members of the meetup or the number of events that you were holding regularly. So you of course interface -
Yasmine Mustafa 16:47
I think that New York was the biggest we were the most active so we would have multiple classes a week, whereas others might do one every week or every two weeks. We we just kept cranking out all kinds of classes. Front End development back end development mobile eventually databases we just didn't stop.
Laurence Bradford 17:07
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Laurence Bradford 18:13
Yeah, no, that's, that's awesome. And I remember taking like so many workshops in such a short time in the film at the affiliate chapter I think I took like, like seven or nine in like two months or something something pretty crazy. But for people that are teaching themselves how to code and whether they're, you know, at home, like on a computer, like doing classes online, or they're doing workshops, like girl development workshops, what are some of the biggest stumbling blocks that you would wit that you'd witness? And then what is some advice that you have in overcoming those?
Yasmine Mustafa 18:44
I would say what I witnessed the biggest obstacles I witness are, I would say really two, one was this mentality where some of our students didn't want to ask for help where they felt like they could figure it out on their own. And then they would get frustrated and get upset with themselves for not figuring it out, for example, and it would just deterred them from moving forward in the whole class. So more of a personal not wanting to ask for help type of mentality that unfortunately, really did hold them back and moving forward. And I would say the other one was trying to learn alone can also be a frustrating experience. One of the benefits of girl development that one of the benefits of classes provide and the workshop is that you learn with others. And then you can converse with them when you get stuck on something. Learning how to code is just like learning a new language. It's it's difficult, it's gonna take a lot of work and a lot of practice. And when you don't have someone right there to quickly ask them a question or to even just laugh about an issue that was really small That took hours to problem solve or or debug that you come to a problem to that you don't you know, you can get easily tripped up or discouraged and not want to continue.
Laurence Bradford 20:11
Yasmine Mustafa 21:16
Yeah, that's a good question. I realized an hour ago that today, four years ago today, I went on my trip that inspired Gore. So right after I became a US citizen, I and sold my first company, I, the first thing I did is I booked a six month trip outside the country, and I was backpacking through South America. I went to Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru spent a month in each country. And for me, it was really more so to kind of take a break. It was the first time that I was able to not be held to my circumstances, but have the freedom to do what I wanted to do. And I decided to Take full advantage of it. as amazing as it was the it was really eye opening because every place that I would go to and every place that I would stay, I would either hear stories or talk to people that would share an incident of a time they had been attacked or abused or harassed. And it was just relentless. And I remember coming back, it was late November of 2013. And living downtown and my neighbor went out to her car when she was suddenly grabbed from behind and grabbed into an Al Ali and severely beaten and assaulted. And that was you could say the inspiration behind roar and where the idea first took place. And initially it was women use pepper spray and tasers and knives to protect themselves.
Yasmine Mustafa 22:54
But you have to actually what I thought the issue was is that you take them out of your pocket. your purse for them to be useful. So I saw with Fitbit and Jawbone being really popular all those fitness trackers, I thought, well, why not make it readily accessible and make it wearable. And the first product idea that I came up with was actually called the Baselet. Mason bracelet, I just thought we'll just take pepper spray and make it so that it's right there on your wrists and actually ended up being a really bad idea. I did about I want to say, four to six months of market research, just talking to every woman I came across and doing surveys online. And just asking women, what do you use? If you use anything at all to protect yourself? What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? And just finding out that most women actually don't like what's out there. That one, they're afraid that they're going to use their own device against themselves accidentally. So for example, use the pepper spray, maybe when it's well Do out and it whips back and hits them in their own eyes. And to me, this was the most popular response. It was, I'm afraid that I'm going to be overpowered, and my own self defense tool used as a weapon against me. And then to add to that, we found out that today, self defense tools, not only have they not innovated in the last 80 years, but they've all been made by men for women, not really taking into account their needs. And anyway, after all that research, we collected all the data and we decided that to be successful, we had to build a wearable that looked good, that could be discreet that cannot be used against the person were wearing it that can help deter an attack and get help when needed. And that's how we eventually came up with Athena. And I don't want to make it sound like it was an easy process because it was about 18 months of development to come up with the N factor before we went to manufacturing One of the examples I'll give is that it used to be a bracelet. And then we did mock self defense classes. So we had women come in, we had an instructor come in, they perform, you know, common attacks grabbing by the arm coming up from behind. And we learned that the worst place to wear a safety device is on your wrists. And if you can guess why it's because now you only have the opposite hand to activate it. So if you're grabbed by that hand, or even the other hand, how are you going to try to get to it and we change the form factor so that it was a pendant, and it was worn using magnetized clip, for example. So it was a lot of building prototypes. Initially, they were and they were 3d printed at next fab, which is a local fab but make your space and just having different women wearing it going to sororities and women's groups talking about it. And asking one question, it was always the same question. Why would you not wear it? Why would you not use it? Thank you. Collecting that feedback and going back with our industrial designer and engineering team to redo the next iteration of the prototype, and so on and so on until we got to what we have today.
Laurence Bradford 26:10
Wow, that's that's such a I mean, it's like such an amazing I can't I mean, like such kudos because I seriously cannot even imagine making like a physical products like that is just especially one that is as complex as what you guys created. So I want to hear a little bit more about like it like it tells you it's called Athena, correct. That's like, okay, I
Yasmine Mustafa 26:31
I realized I didn't talk about what it does, so I'll --
Laurence Bradford 26:34
I clicked over to your website. So I'm like seeing it and whatnot. But yeah, if you could explain a little bit of how it works and yeah, what it does, exactly, that'd be awesome.
Yasmine Mustafa 26:42
Sure. So Athena, we are calling a kind of a next station today. Self Defense tools. It's an alternative to them that you can use when you feel anxious, like you're walking home late at night, or when you're in trouble to get help and you can think of it as an alternative. A modern day version of life alert. So you wear it in which way you want on your pants pocket purse. And if you're walking home late at night, for example, you can triple tap it and it will send your location your GPS location to pre programmed friends and family. And they can watch over you until you get to your destination until you get home for example, emergency mode is just that if something were to happen, it can also sound a 95 decibel alarm and in addition to sending your location and in about eight weeks or so it will also be able to call your 911 center so that you can get help immediately. So whether it's falling and breaking your arm, think of it as maybe an alternative to OnStar or you know something more serious happens you can use it to get help immediately.
Laurence Bradford 27:52
Okay, so there's like three sort of modes. It's out this that well, there was going to be three in three suitors that one were like the year contacts can get your GPS like location, they can kind of like watch you getting home or see like your location or where you are. The other one is like the I forget the word to use, but kind of sets off the actual alarm. So there'll be like notified more aggressively. And then the last one would be actually calling 911. Like from the device.
Yasmine Mustafa 28:21
Yeah, and the last one is actually coupled with a second one. You just choose whether or not you want to turn on 911 or not for that mode. Some people don't like the police, some people don't want to don't want 911 call. But once you download the application and pair your Athena connected to your mobile device, you get to choose the different modes that it has that best fit how you would like to use it.
Laurence Bradford 28:44
Wow. So there's a mobile app, which of course makes me makes total sense it just like did consider that and the mobile app that goes along with the wearable. And you Okay, you pair so it's kind of like I bow I can relate to an apple watch because I have an Apple Watch. It's like I haven't like it kind of like go off my phone. You Yeah, cool, cool. So Wow, yeah, that's really awesome. And yeah, you've been working on this for a while. So that's like really exciting. And I'm the website is really awesome. I just was like, looking back, I think I went to it a while ago when you first were launching, and I just went back in, it looks really awesome.
Yasmine Mustafa 29:12
Thank you. We just launched the redesign. In late April, we worked with a freelancer called Brian house that was just amazing. He did this interactive demo that I really like. So you can actually see how Athena works directly on the website. And to give you a better idea of all the feature sets, and so on, so I'm really, really proud of it. And the I would say that my favorite part of roar, and what we're doing is the social impact piece. So we're not and the reason is called for for good is that we're not just looking to build products, we really want to make a difference and we really truly believe that we can. And the way that we structured the company, it's a certified B Corp is that for every sale, we take a percentage of the proceeds 10% and invest them in nonprofit At teach empathy, because what we learned is that most attacks against women are due to gender inequality and discrimination and that the underlying core is lack of empathy. And that if we teach kids when they're most impressionable about consent and respect and healthy relationships directly correlates with decreasing harassment, abuse and attacks against women. So really, really excited about the potential of what that could bring. And I like to say that Athena is a short term solution to existing self defense tools, but really the long term it's really the education that's gonna have the biggest impact.
Laurence Bradford 30:42
Wow, that's that's so awesome. I didn't again learn I didn't know that about the organization. That's really great. I'm sorry about that you're donating to these organizations is really awesome. So then what are your future plans like with Athena and with war for good do you one day want to have like multiple products are you going to be looking more at Like preventing it from the source. So when you mentioned empathy, yeah, like, what are your plans?
Yasmine Mustafa 31:05
Yeah. So right now, we did a crowdfunding campaign last October that did really well. We have about 10,000 pre orders that we just started shipping in late March. So we're shipping the stages. We're going to be done by late July. And we are talking about the next generation a product. So right the right now we're talking about adding a cellular chip. So you don't need your cell phone, for example. We're also talking about doing a monthly partnership with different nonprofits where every month let's say we work with a local nonprofit, all donations will be sent to that nonprofit and a percentage of local sales center that nonprofit right now, it works, where we're working with one actually, we're working with two different partners, but switching it so that we can collectively share and do more empathy education across different organizations. So really, really excited about that and how We want to eventually make it so that it's embedded into clothing. So we're talking about that and what that could look like so that if you're going out you know, if you wear yoga pants a lot, it's embedded right in the materials so you don't have to worry about having a different wearable for example, there's a lot of different potential and the biggest is just focusing down on what exactly we're going to be doing.
Laurence Bradford 32:26
Yeah, that's yeah, that's so cool. embed into clothing. It's really awesome. That's that's I've never yet heard of that yet. But that's, yeah, I mean, wearable everything right. Like there's so many kinds of wearables nowadays, and I could definitely see that being a use case and people find that really useful. So thank you so much, Jasmine for coming on. Where can people find you online?
Yasmine Mustafa 32:46
They can go to ROAR for good are R-O-A-R-F-O-R-G-O-O-D.com and it's roar like I am woman, hear me roar.
Laurence Bradford 32:56
Awesome. Thanks again for coming on.
Yasmine Mustafa 32:57
Laurence Bradford 33:04
I hope you enjoyed our conversation. Again, the Show Notes for this episode can be found at learn to code with.me forward slash podcast. If you're listening to this episode in the future, simply click the Search icon in the upper navigation and type in Yasmine's name. It's spelled like, Y-AS-M-I-N-E. And the last name is M-U-S-T-A-F-A. If you liked this episode, head on over to my website, learntocodewith.me, where you can get even more awesome code related content like my 10 Free Tips for Teaching Yourself How to Code. Thanks so much for tuning in, and I'll see you next week.
- If you don’t know what you want to major in, try a few different courses until you find the right one.
- Learning to code is like learning a new language; it’s hard and it takes time. It’s easier if you have someone to talk to, so you can thrash out ideas and keep your focus.
- If you’re creating a new product, make sure you do a lot of market research; it’s important to know what’s going to work and what your market wants from your product.
- Just because you aren’t trained in software, that doesn’t mean you can’t build a software company. Ask your network for advice and take some courses to build your knowledge.
Links and mentions from the episode:
- ROAR for Good
- Girl Develop It
- Coded by Kids
- Yasmine on Twitter @myasmine
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