How to Grow Your Business By Designing & Executing Systems & Processes

There are SO MANY aspects of the real estate game that one could focus on, learn more about, and execute on. 

One thing I’ve picked up from entrepreneurs both in the real estate industry and other fields is that systems–learned over time–keep one focused, motivated, and in a place where they can effectively measure their progress.

It is so easy to get pulled in 10,000 directions when exploring, starting, and growing in the real estate game.  If you’re in a place where new systems can help you in your business, here are a few ways to build them:

Task Tracking

Whether it’s on a white board, calendar, software, or good old notepad, daily/weekly/monthly task tracking can be very helpful when faced with a monumental to-do list. If you’re inclined to track tasks on your computer or phone, here are a few great resources:

  • Wunderlist – This is a wonderful tool for organizing project tasks with multiple people.
  • Asana – Similar to Wunderlist, this program can effectively organize project tasks with multiple parties.  Starting a business or have a business partner? Try Asana out to keep tasks front of mind.
  • Snail – Mac App that times and tracks tasks on your desktop.
  • Do One Thing – If you’ve got a Mac, Do One Thing could be a useful app for your desktop. This app keeps one task in front of you (via the top of your desktop) at all times.  It’s simple (it reminds you to do one thing).
  • Google Calendar – I’ve got 2 calendars (personal & work) synced to my phone and email.  When I need a reminder of future calendar items on my plate, they are at my fingertips.
  • Google Drive – This is a fantastic resource because you can keep documents, spreadsheets, and notes in the cloud and access them on any device with an internet connection.

Block out Buckets of Time

Our modern work day is a jumbled mess. If you’re like me your day could quickly turn into this if you aren’t careful: meetings, emails, calls, reading, following up, research, planning. With all these competing items, it can be very difficult to properly organize one’s time.

I’ve learned to love organizing buckets of time throughout my day.

Here are a few examples: try not scheduling any calls until after 10am, focus the first 2 hours of your day on your most important project, keep every day after 4pm (when possible) as time allotted to long term goals/thinking/planning.

Organizing my days into buckets has helped keep me sane when I’m faced with so much day-to-day work.


I both love and hate email.  Despite being an effective means of communication it is unfortunately a necessary evil of our modern working environment because it can quickly zap your time and energy.

If you’re faced with a never ending inbox, try this: only check and reply to email at set times throughout your day (maybe it’s 8am, noon, and 4pm).

I picked this up from a developer recently when I got a reply from him. In his signature it read: “I only check my email once in the morning and once in the evening. If it’s urgent, call me at this number: xxx-xxx-xxx.” While I haven’t gone to this extreme in email checking, I thought this was brilliant and I’ve tried to adopt the mentality in my own email habits.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with email, it might be worth a try.


Looking for a technique for measuring and improving your productivity? Give these methods a try:

Everyone works at different paces and through different systems.  The above strategies, tools, and techniques may not be your cup of tea. If you’re looking to implement new systems into your day, try testing a few things out. See what works. Then try to build and grow off that foundation.

Properly built systems could help you achieve more in your real estate career.

(note: a version of this article recently appeared on BiggerPockets)

Five Unconventional Real Estate Developments

There are times when we wish we could be flies on the wall at various places and just observe what’s going on.  I wish I could be a fly on the wall in the development offices that built the projects below. They just had to have some very interesting discussions about breaking away from the norm (and likely some painful ones about if it was even possible).

We’re keeping it simple and sweet. Here are five unconventional real estate developments:

Moho – Manchester, UK

Developer: Urban Splash

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Moho looks like a normal apartment building. However, under its belly lies a cutting edge construction technique that’s gaining momentum in many real estate sectors–prefab.  Once the super structure was erected, prefabricated module living units were inserted into the building to complete the project.  These units, built on a factory floor, were pre-assembled craned in! While engineering and design time increased on the front end, this made construction and scheduling quicker and more predictable over the design/development of the project.

Tokyo Apartment Building – Japan

Developer/Designer: Sou Fujimoto

This 5-unit apartment project oozes Japanese design across many levels.  Its quirky stacking of A-frame housing volumes, white aesthetic, and simplistic spaces aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, one can’t knock its originality–there has to be a waiting list for this one (likely keeping those excel models happy and on target).

The Bullitt Center – Seattle, WA

Bullitt Foundation

The Bullitt Center is billed as the greenest commercial building in the world. That’s an ambitious charge to take on.  From our pals over at Wikipedia, it’s easy to see why:

The Bullitt Center is designed to be the greenest commercial building in the world when completed in 2012, qualifying for classification as a “Living Building” by the International Living Future Institute. The Bullitt Center is designed to have a 250 year lifespan. With construction begun in July 2011, the building is designed to be energy and carbon neutral, with a water and sewage processing system that allows the building to be independent of municipal water and sewage systems. Energy neutrality is achieved with a large solar panel array on the roof of the building along with energy conservation measures that will cut the building’s energy consumption to approximately 1/3 of a typical office building of similar size. Although the building will be connected to the electricity grid and may at times draw more power than it produces (especially during the winter), at other times it should produce enough surplus to “repay” such withdrawals, yielding annual energy neutrality.

adAPT NYC – New York

Developer: Monadnock Development LLC

Micro apartments are all the rage these days in cities like New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. With density rising, rents reaching astronomical levels (I can attest to that here in SF), micro apartments–units under 350 square feet–are becoming more viable in dense urban centers.  adAPT, developed initially through submission/competition, is a strong collaboration between the city, developers, architects, and planners. As one of New York’s first micro apartments, it’s breaking new ground in multifamily development.

Mill Valley Cabins – Marin CA

Feldman Architects, (private client)

While this project wasn’t developed (it was built for a private client), its design and execution are at the heart of eco-tourism development both in the US and abroad.  The project exemplifies a move towards experiential, sustainable living.  The condensed footprint is enhanced through smart design moves. Elements such as building orientation, use of glazing, and a clever floorplan elevate the tiny space and make it feel bigger. The result is a thoughtful, well-executed project with characteristics that are quickly becoming attractive to many travelers looking for more ‘experience and substance’.

4 Ways to Think Like an Entrepreneur in Your Next Real Estate Venture

A version of this article previously appeared on BiggerPockets.

Any way you approach the real estate game — there’s an entrepreneurial angle to it. Whether you’re a seasoned real estate developer with years and years of experience or you’re taking on your very first project, we’re all entrepreneurs here.

Why is that?

Simple: we take something that needs improvement (a vacant parcel of land, adusty old apartment property, etc.) and inject value into it.  We transform our physical world. How is that not entrepreneurial…and exciting!?

We marvel at successful entrepreneurs because, against all odds, they’ve built, created, and transformed industries.  However, few pry into the inner workings of their growth to tease out exactly how they took on such ambitious endeavors.

4 Ways to Think Like an Entrepreneur

There’s a wealth of knowledge one can learn from studying how entrepreneurs operate. Many of their techniques and modes of operation translate into the real estate realm.  Here are a few ways to start adopting entrepreneurial hallmarks in your real estate investing, developing, selling, brokering, and acquiring:

Iteration – minimum viable product. The idea behind this is to develop what’s minimally acceptable in the market and then iterate from there. Too many times people, companies, and organizations stress over perfecting their product or idea to the Nth degree.

There’s a problem with perfecting for the sake of perfecting: when focusing so much on perfection, one can oftentimes have blinders on to competition, market trends, and demand.  To avoid this, don’t focus so much on perfection. Get your real estate deal functional and operational with a minimally viable product mentality. Then grow and iterate from there.

Want a good example? Look at the first iPod:


Now look at the latest iteration:


Had Steve Jobs and Co. attempted the latest iteration first, they’d still be developing (and losing out on the market)!

Where does this most impact my world?! Pro formas and conceptual design! These essentials of the development world take time. They’ve got many moving parts and unknowns. Yet they can’t be perfected in one pass.  My hunch is that your business can’t be perfected on the first iteration either. In order to properly do one’s due diligence and build a successful project, one must iterate…not perfect on the first try.

Paranoia—startups are paranoid about the status quo. They’re edgy, uneasy, and constantly seeking change. As real estate professionals, our world is constantly changing. Taking on a “paranoid” perspective keeps one on their toes and adapted to the ever changing market.

For example: are you “uneasy” about hedge funds flooding your local rental market? Many are! That “paranoia” is healthy because it keeps one nimble and attuned to newly forming market opportunities.

Resourcefulness—entrepreneurs, mainly the successful ones, are notorious for doing more with less.  Adam Lowry, CEO of Method Products, once said a business mantra of his is to ask: what would MacGyver do?

Never before has there been so much available to us as real estate pros. We have a wealth of knowledge and resources at our finger tips (many of which is free).  So on your next deal ask: what would MacGyver do? It may help you look at it in a new way.

Failure—yes I said failure! Entrepreneurs push the limits of what’s typically acceptable in the business world. With this, one’s bound to fail once or twice (or many times). For example, it’s been said that James Dyson failed over 150 times before finalizing his very first vacuum—150 times! It’s well documented that the Wright Brothers took five sets of parts out during a single test flight knowing they’d fail.

The point of the exercise, if failure comes your way, is to learn what went wrong and grow as a real estate pro.


So there you have it with four ways to inject an entrepreneurial mindset into your projects and deals. Many of us are here because we love what we are doing. We wouldn’t have it any other way.  If that’s the case for you, the points above likely aren’t foreign to you. You’re likely nodding your head and thinking there’s nothing revolutionary about iteration, paranoia, resourcefulness, and failure in real estate.  This stuff is second nature to many because it comes with the love of the real estate craft.  However, if not, rest assured that you can easily adopt the points above into your business as well.

Emerging Trends in Commercial Real Estate – An Interview with A Student of the Real Estate Game Founder Joe Stampone

Joe Stampone Blog BioJoe Stampone, founder of, is one of commercial real estate’s top sources for emerging trends in the industry. I’ve been a huge fan of Joe’s writing ever since a real estate developer recommended his site several years ago.  Similar to Joe, I was still in school then and nearing graduation (and facing a challenging real estate market).

It became pretty obvious right away that Joe cared deeply about learning the craft of real estate. Because of this deep curiosity and passion, A Student of the Real Estate Game has become the go-to resource for what’s current and on the horizon in commercial real estate.

I love seeing how A Student of the Real Estate Game has grown and evolved. However, Joe’s emphasis on “student” still rings true. Since Joe writes about, researches, and interviews some of the top leaders, emerging entrepreneurs, and strategic minds in commercial real estate, I’ve been eager to hear about what he’s learned as a student of the real estate game and what’s currently on his mind.

So without further ado, here is an exclusive interview with Joe Stampone!

Real estate degree programs are as popular as ever and many recent grads are fresh to the workforce this summer.  You launched your website while in grad school. Looking back and learning what you’ve learned since then, what would you tell yourself when you launched your site?

My advice to recent grads is not to worry if your first job isn’t the sexiest, most sought after role. We can’t all be rainmakers at real estate private equity funds. In real estate, there is no linear career path. Use your network and find a job. Don’t be picky; you can learn a lot in many varying settings.

When you inevitably do land a job, you should move vertically, horizontally and jump around within your own company, while being open to outside opportunities, if you want to be successful.

The best advice I received is that in real estate all you have is your reputation, so don’t ruin it. Peter Linneman once wrote “in order to build a great reputation, always do the very best you can to fulfill what you said you would do, help others simply because you can rather than because you believe it would indirectly benefit you, and do this for the next thirty years, and you will have a great reputation and network.”

Easy, right?

Your site is, in my opinion (and many others), the place to gauge what’s current and upcoming in commercial real estate. What are you most excited about right now and why?

What I love about real estate right now is all the start-up tech companies with great founders. A few of my favorites are office search engines 42Floors and thesquarefoot, data firm Compstak, financial analysis tool Valuate, and 3-D modeling company Floored.

However, what I’m by for the most excited about is crowdfunding for real estate. Two of the leading sites are Fundrise and Realty Mogul.

What makes this interesting is what’s happening with the Jumpstart of Business Startups (JOBS) Act. The JOBS Act allows companies to solicit publicly for funds from individuals in return for equity or debt. Last week, the SEC went a step further by lifting the ban on general solicitation as they were asked to do in Title II of the JOBS Act. However, this only applies to accredited investors. The rules governing the part of the JOBS Act that deals with non-accredited investors have yet to be written. Once they are, things will become really interesting.

This is going to have a big impact on the real estate industry. First, it’s moving the investment platform online. Instead of mailing thick binders full of legal documents and tracking down paper checks from investors, the investor could make the full transaction online—everything from reviewing the deal, to signing legal documents, to sending an electronic check. This allows real estate companies to reach hundreds of investors in the time it used to take to reach one.

Crowdfunding also allows real estate companies to tell their story on a new platform – the story of the business and the story of the deals they do is really important. Real estate companies will need to figure out how to become brands beyond the real estate business. I wrote about this in a recent blog post.

Real estate is a clear passion that has to be more than just your day job. What are you reading on Saturday mornings?

Throughout the week I’m constantly reading short digestible news articles; that’s how Globe Street, NREI Online, the RE Alert, and the Real Deal are designed. On Saturday’s, where I have a few uninterrupted hours, I like to read articles with a bit more depth and substance.

Right now, I’m reading an article from the March edition of the Institutional Real Estate Letter on the 7 Megatrends that are changing the direction of institutional real estate.

While I think the short blog-style articles are great, if often requires a deeper dive to truly understand macro trends that are impacting the real estate business.

As a student of the real estate game, what aspects of the game are you digging into now, in the future?

As mentioned above, I think crowdfunding is going to change the status quo. I’m personally preparing by building up the ‘A Student of the Real Estate Game’ (ASotREG) brand and thinking about doing a few interesting small-scale projects in the near future. I want ‘ASotREG’ to be known beyond real estate.

A few other macro trends I find interesting that are greatly impacting the real estate business include the increased focus on intelligent and sustainable buildings, the impact of global urbanization, the rise of e-commerce, and the shrinking (changing) demand for office space.

Very intriguing with expanding and further building the ‘ASotREG’ brand. I’ve loved following your site over the last few years.  Can you elaborate on what you’ve learned with building your brand to this point and how you’d like to grow it in the future?

The ASotREG brand is a story, although it’s a story about me, not the brand. Every brand has a story which includes expectations and history and emotions.

I want people to love the memory of how ASotREG made them feel once. It’s hard to explain, but I want these posts to inspire and get people to think about the future of the real estate business.

More than ever, we express ourselves with what we buy.  People also express themselves based on what they read and what companies they invest in. I want people to feel __________ that they read ASotREG and eventually invest in my deals.

You’ve researched, wrote about, and interviewed some of the top entrepreneurs in the real estate industry. What characteristics, mentalities, and/or qualities stand out from these interactions? 

I think there are a few traits that successful investors in general share:

  • They have a sense of urgency, passion, and commitment to their vision that most people don’t have.
  • They pay a lot of attention to risk, understanding not just how much they can make, but how much they can lose.
  • They go for batting average, not home runs
  • They’re honest and have integrity

I’ve actually created an ‘isms’ page on my blog which contain my favorite real estate/business quotes – I call them ASotREGisms.

Finally, (and candidly), how do you find the time to keep up with so much going on in commercial real estate?!

I was watching a Seth Godin interview and he was asked how he manages to get so much done and Seth responded that he doesn’t watch TV and he doesn’t take meetings.

Well, I take lots of meetings and watch my fair share of TV. Blogging can be time intensive, but the writing comes pretty easily because I write about topics that interest me. It may be a deal I’m currently working on or a something hot in the news. The time-intensive aspects include the technical component of the site, promoting posts, responding to comments/emails, and fixing any bugs.

I find the key to being productive is to do one thing at a time. I try to write for an hour or so during times where I know I’ll be uninterrupted. Early Saturday or Sunday morning or late in the evenings are great because there are no emails coming in and my phone’s not buzzing.

It’s gotten to the point where my days are spent in meetings and answering emails and the evenings and early mornings are when the real work gets done. I use that time to be creative and make something meaningful.


Joe, it has been an absolute pleasure to work with you on this interview. Thanks so much for jumping on the hot-seat for us!

Want more? Follow Joe on TwitterFacebook, and at A Student of the Real Estate Game.

Joe Stampone Blog Facebook

Re:think Balconies

Re:think series: We’re taking a look at developments that think a little differently about specific real estate topics.

Today, we’re talking ’bout balconies!


Who doesn’t like a good balcony?! This little sliver of an oasis can be valuable real estate–treasured outdoor space that allow us to escape the hustle and bustle.

However, balconies can be dull, under-utilized, and lacking in execution. This can happen for many reasons (from an afterthought in the development process to value engineering to legal restrictions and so on).

For example, how about this:

boring balcony 1

or this:boring balcony 3

First let’s clear the air: not every project can push the limits of design, engineering, and ingenuity. Yet as several projects below reveal, a little unconventional thinking can go a long way.  Here is a collection of projects that show that, despite various constraints, balconies can bring out the best in a real estate development:

First, any residential project designed by Bjarke Ingels

Want a project that pushes development boundaries; ask Bjarke Ingels to design it for you! The famed Danish architect incorporates massively clever balcony design into almost every residential project his firm gets its hands on.

First example: VM Houses, developed by Per Hopfner and designed by Ingels’ PLOT in 2005. The main attraction of this project is its razor sharp balconies that extend from the facade. (I couldn’t hold back on this one…definitely thinking ‘outside the box’!)

bjarke ingels 3

bjarke ingels 2

bjarke ingels 1

Straight from our pals at Wikipedia, this quote speaks volumes about the importance of a collaborative working relationship between developer and architect for such an ambitious project (which was Ingels’ very first commission):

Høpfner’s son Peter explained how cooperative Ingels turned out to be, always ready to adapt his plans if the costs were too high. “VM may look crazy,” Høpfner remarked, “but it came in on budget.” He believes the project’s success was due in part to the frequent discussions the architect had with the developer in his role as general contractor.

Next up, Ingels’ Mountain Dwellings.

The next big residential commission for Ingels and PLOT came right next door to the VM Houses.  Mountain Dwellings, completed in 2008, takes on a much different character than VM, but has an equal curiosity with the balcony and outdoor space.

bjarke ingels 9

bjarke ingels 7

bjarke ingels 8

W57 – New York

Bjarke Ingels is invading the States! His first project in the US, developed by Douglas Durst, should set new standards for NYC residential development. Coming soon to the Big Apple, W57 carves out balconies from the twisting and turning pyramid.

bjarke ingels NYC 1bjarke ingels NYC 3

519 W 23rd St – New York

519 w 23rd st 4

HL23 may be the gem of the High Line development explosion in recent years, but its slender neighbor to the west packs a lot of punch–especially with its clever incorporation of balconies.

519 w 23rd st 6

519 w 23rd st 3

Budget constraints, high profile location, a design behemoth next door, and numerous regulations–it doesn’t get much more challenging than this to design and develop a well-executed project. Yet, the developers and designers behind 519 W23 used the balcony as a strong focal point in their project because of these constraints. 

The balconies, which are built from relatively inexpensive materials, are a direct result of designing and building within a very strict budget. However, because of their graphic impact, the balconies thoughtfully elevate the development.

519 w 23rd st 5

Aqua Tower – Chicago


Magellan Development Group set out to change the Chicago skyline with the Aqua Tower. Advancements in digital modeling technology–paired with more efficient concrete form-making manufacturing methods–gave the Aqua Tower team the ability to create this flowing facade. Form meets function as each balcony is seamlessly integrated into the facade.

aqua_tower 4

aqua_tower 6

Marina City – Chicago

marina city 2

Let’s turn the clock back 50+ years for this project (located down the street from the Aqua Tower): Marina City.  Bertrand Goldberg’s urban mega development of the ’60s used concrete forms in similar ways to the Aqua Tower, yet the fiberglass molds were repeated over and over to form the corncob pattern seen above.  The repeated balconies (which are very generous in size) become the face of the development. Interesting fact: the repeated concrete form work used for the balconies greatly sped up construction time. Some floors were built in less than one day!


The project became such an icon of its time, brands and advertisers quickly took notice. (I smell another article topic brewing!)

marina city 4

marina city 5

Casa Mila, Barcelona

Gaudi Casa Mila 2

Turning the clock back another 50+ years, Antionio Gaudi was a visionary well ahead of his time at the turn of the century. Casa Mila, in the heart of Barcelona, fully displays his genius. The balconies of this building organically protrude from the facade (almost a century before computers made these forms much easier to design and build).

Gaudi Casa Mila 1

Balcony as product 

Let’s look at a few ways balconies are treated as a product.

This window system from Farko turns a sky light into an instant balcony:

Farko Balcony

While conceptual, here’s a retrofitted balcony design dreamed up by architecture students for existing buildings.

Innovative Balcony Design 1

Have a project on the books and want a few more projects to be inspired by?

How about this one:


This one:

tokyo balcony

And this one:

denmark balcony

Brian Smith from The Space Creators chats all things entrepreneurship, coworking, and growing an innovative development company

Space Creators 2

I’ve got one goal with Skype chats–reach out to interesting real estate professionals doing interesting things and chat about what they’re up to.

Guess what?!

Today is no different!

We’re chatting with Brian Smith, founder of The Space Creators–a Denver-based developer that specializes in creating innovative office spaces for entrepreneurs, young companies, and creative individuals.  Brian has turned many heads since his first project in 2009 and, as you’ll see from the chat, he’s got a strong vision for how to grow his innovative development shop further.

Brian’s been named one of Denver’s 30 Under 30, one of Under30CEO’s entrepreneurs to watch, and has garnered many accolades in between. I am thrilled to sit down and chat about how he grew his business and continues to look for creative ways to develop new and exciting projects.

So stay tuned and thanks for joining in our java chat!

If you’re in need of space, want to check out a fun event in Denver, or want to learn more about what The Space Creators is about, check them out here or via Twitter here:@space_creators.

Young Developers Club – Growing Real Estate Developers Quickly Turning Heads

These emerging and evolving real estate development companies are breaking the mold of how, when, and what can be built.



Crowdfunding in the real estate industry is taking off. Fundrise is one of the leaders in this space. On top of developing projects through their development company (WestMill Capital Partners) the guys behind Fundrise are creating a new way for other developers to raise capital for their projects. Forward thinking developers are quickly utilizing this new platform to help fund their work.

The Space Creators

Space Creators 2

The Space Creators simply does what their name says—they create space. This co-working developer is rapidly growing in the Denver market by offering unique and flexible office space for growing companies, artists, and creative individuals/groups.

What sets them apart? On top of developing compelling projects, they haven’t cut any corners when it comes to growing active communities around their work. Just check out their community page here:

By taking a holistic approach to supporting their tenants, The Space Creators has been able to rapidly expand.

East River Partners

River East

East River Partners acquires and develops residential projects in and around some of the most desirable neighborhoods of New York City. Through their $25 million ERP Fund I, they are quickly establishing themselves in the New York real estate scene—turning many heads in the process.

Are the neighborhoods they develop in high stakes? You better believe they are! Luckily East River Partners is backed by a team with an already impressive development pedigree.

JDS Development

JDS Development

Few real estate developers are as ambitious as JDS Development. The New York-based development company recently closed on a $172 million land acquisition in Manhattan. The two-acre site, slated for two 37 and 47-story residential towers with 800+ units, is expected to finish construction in 2016. This isn’t JDS Development’s first major project either. The company, lead by managing partner Michael Stern, has been partnering with some of New York’s most prominent real estate developers on lofty projects for quite some time.


In Dev

In-Dev is a San Diego based design and development firm that takes a unique approach to creating their portfolio (they design what they develop). Led by a team with a diverse background in design, construction, development, and finance, the development company is rethinking the way architecture, development, and construction are practiced.

In Dev 2



Co-working has a new force—the brand. Not only is co-working growing in popularity amongst entrepreneurs and young companies as a modern solution to their office needs, WeWork is a force within this niche market because their brand is rapidly becoming part of the dialogue. After looking at their portfolio of projects and spaces, it’s easy to see why WeWork is quickly establishing itself in high barrier-to-entry markets.

Two Trees

Two Trees

Jed Walentas and Two Trees Management have been a fixture in New York real estate circles for years. The company’s portfolio—which includes projects like The Mercedes House and The Clock Tower Building—are some of the city’s most desirable residential addresses. Their latest projects are helping redefine the New York skyline in innovative ways.

mercedes house

clock tower

Beaver Brook

Beaver Brook

Let’s remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of the urban real estate world for a quick moment. The gang behind Beaver Brook would likely not consider themselves real estate moguls. Yet, their work—producing small, purpose-built structures in the forests of upstate New York—is a nod to the essence of designing and building. Through their individual projects and their design-build school, the Beaver Brook team injects a sense of purity into the practices of design and construction.

Beaver Brook 3

Beaver Brook 2

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Do you have a growing company you’re excited about? Tell us about them!