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Ep 23: Craig Martin. On tuning high-traffic WP sites, creating one of the first travel podcasts & growing an all-remote consulting business

Ep 23: Craig Martin. On tuning high-traffic WP sites, creating one of the first travel podcasts & growing an all-remote consulting business

Host: Sean Tierney | Published: February 3, 2020

Craig Martin of Performance Foundry is one of the most long-standing partners of Pagely having helped to resolve performance bottlenecks and tune high-traffic WordPress sites. In this conversation Sean interviews Craig about what’s involved in diagnosing performance issues and resolving performance scaling issues, Craig’s long history of nomadic travel and how he’s built his company to be location-independent, how he won the Lonely Planet award for Travel Podcasts and more. Enjoy!

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Show Notes

0:00:50   Welcome and context
0:03:15   What does Performance Foundry do?
0:05:22   Lessons learned from 5daydeal.com
0:08:38   What are you doing to handle traffic spikes?
0:17:32   How do you quantify the potential cost of downtime for clients?
0:19:14   Can you share any stories of results you’ve been able to obtain for customers?
0:22:05   What determines the cache-ability of a site?
0:26:50   What are the most common mistakes that you encounter with your clients?
0:29:58   Do you have a playbook that you follow for each engagement?
0:33:30   Can you tell us what Indie Travel Media is all about?
0:38:10   How did you win the Lonely Planet Best Podcast Award?
0:39:30   What did you get out of the nomadic travel lifestyle?
0:43:32   What was the experience like of being on the road with your significant other?
0:46:44   Have you learned anything being a long-time podcaster that was unintuitive or unexpected?
0:50:28   How did you monetize your podcast to sustain your travels?
0:54:42   Any advice you can give to someone who is just entering the podcasting game?
0:57:29   What is one book that profoundly affected you?
1:02:07   Your favorite tool or hack that saves you a lot of time, money and headaches?
1:02:56   One piece of music or artist that speaks to you lately?
1:03:35   What important truth very few people agree with you on?
1:06:33   If you could go back in time, what advice you’d give to your 20-year-old self?
1:08:28   What is your favorite wine?

Show Transcript

Sean: 00:00:50 Everybody. Welcome to the podcast. I’m your host, Sean Tierney, and I’m here today virtually with Craig Martin. Craig is owner and managing director of Koru Group. Koru Group is an umbrella holding company for Performance Foundry and Indie Travel Media. Performance Foundry is an agile, full service internet company specializing in online growth and revenue strategy, website design, development performance and conversion optimization. Craig has bootstrapped this from part-time consulting gig to a team of 10 with no sales or marketing budget. Indie travel media is a travel publishing company leading the charge on travel, podcasting and professional blogging. Craig has been podcasting since 2006 one the Lonely Planet best podcast award and was president of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association. Craig is a Kiwi from New Zealand, a lover of coffee and wine and has been traveling full time with his wife Linda since 2005. Welcome Craig to the show!

Craig: 00:01:48 Hey Sean, great to be here. Thanks for having me on.

Sean: 00:01:51 Yeah, absolutely. And this is for the people listening. This is a take three. So we we tried once, I think we had a technical issue and then this the last time the tool that we were using Zencaster had a little glitch but third time’s a charm. Super excited to have you back on the show and looking forward to this conversation.

Craig: 00:02:09 Yeah, it just gets bitter and bitter, right?

Sean: 00:02:13 Like the fine line that you’re such a fan of. So I was going to give people context. So you’re, I’m actually in your time zone finally. You know, we’ve talked before when I’m on the opposite side of the world, but I’m in Koto Thailand right now. And you are in New Zealand?

Craig: 00:02:26 Yeah, that’s right. I’m an Oakland New Zealand at the moment, so we are pretty close. We’ve talked before when you’ve been in Lisbon and I’ve been in, Oh, let me think now in Prague. I think. So we’re just an hour away there and we’re a couple of hours away now and one day I think we might get both the city and the times are lined up and actually be able to buy each other some beers.

Sean: 00:02:51 Yeah, I would very much like that. I too am a fan of good wine. So we’ll dig into that at the end. So in terms of this episode, and I think how we get the most out of this for our listeners, you have been one of the longest running partners of Pagely. I looked back in our support tickets and I know there was one in October of 2014 so we’ve been working together for some time now. Can you tell our listeners just kind of what you do in a nutshell and your service and you know what that value prop is?

Craig: 00:03:25 Yeah, absolutely. So I was a couple of years before then I was doing some work in digital publishing. We had indie travel media, we had a bunch of different brands. We were growing that. And then my wife Linda decided she wanted to go back into full time study and get her master’s degree. And the, one of the ways that we were making money is what is now kind of cold influencer marketing. So go places and we would get comped or we would get paid to go somewhere and promote it. And with Linda going back into full time study, that just wasn’t going to happen. So I had been doing a little bit of consulting to travel companies deemos and other travel publishers and bloggers and that kind of ramped up while Linda went back into studying. So one of the first things I realized was that for the smaller companies, their primary problem when it came to getting their business off the ground you know, people are talking about SEO, people were talking about conversions, but their real problem was with the foundation that their site was on. It was, it was their hosting was kind of the root cause of so many issues. So we, you know, started looking for a great partner to help us with hosting, tried building our own thing first and realize that that was, that was too much and we’re lucky enough to shortlist Pagely and begin working with you. And I think it’s been a great partnership since then.

Sean: 00:05:06 It has been a great partnership. Are there any, you know, the one that comes to mind that I know that you helped us with and you’ve helped us on a number of clients. It’s bi-directional too. So we’ve sent you folks and you’ve sent folks to us to host with us, so it’s a good relationship. Can you, are there any that you’re able to talk about? The, the one I’m specifically thinking of is the one that does the flash sales?

Craig: 00:05:28 Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Five-day deals. So they are a great site. They run five day sales for digital products, especially around photography, videography and small business development. And they run these flash sales in just a few times every year and they give away a portion of their income to charity. And you can give an idea of the scale the business by going and having a look at how much they’ve managed to give away to charity in the last few years. It’s quite phenomenal and we’re really happy to be a part of it. So when they came to us they were just crashing every sale. Right. And when you’ve got a five day sale and you send out that marketing email and the, you know, the site’s down before you’re generating any income, you’re in a lot of trouble. So the,

Sean: 00:06:32 Yeah, well the nature of what they’re doing, if you think about it, it’s so spiky and it’s, they stand to lose the most at the, you know, like if they get downtime during one of those flash sales at the point where it’s like all of their customers come in and the window of those five days. And so it’s just hyper critical that their site not go down. Right. They have everything to lose at that point.

Craig: 00:06:54 Oh yeah, absolutely. Cause you know, they’ve got they’ve got the work they’re doing around marketing and then they’ve got their partners that are promoting it. And you know, it’s bad for everyone if there’s marketing going on, mapping activity people’s reputations are on the line. If they’re like, Hey, go over here and see this. And what they’re seeing is a, a blank browser screen with things not responding. So, you know, the nature of those flash sales. And I think it’s true for a lot of sales is they’re kind ofU shaped in terms of their,utheir demand. So there’s a whole lot of activity and sales and hits right at the beginning of the sale and a whole lot of sales and activity right at the end of the sale as people realize it’s going away. Uand so we’ve seen this across a lot of eCommerce stores that,uit’s really especially true in cases like this.

Craig: 00:07:56 And then there are, there are kind of bumps and boosts, you know, over the time as different people are doing mail-outs or changing up their ad copy and things like that. So yeah. So it’s really super important that the ciders is up, especially for the first kind of three to five hours in the last three to five hours and the, the sites getting hammered, right. And then a couple of days later you’re back down to almost no traffic again and you’re just in maintenance mode. So, yeah. So extremely spiky and you know, every, every database call counts when you’re trying to, to look after that and keep it stable and steady.

Sean: 00:08:38 So can you talk about like what types of things are you doing in advance of one of those flash sales to help them get prepared and to be able to weather that traffic spike?

Craig: 00:08:48 Yeah, that’s a great question. And we approach it from kind of a few different. So one of the things we do is we put together an estimate of how much traffic the site owner thinks is going to be generated. And then we kind of model through what that looks like. Well, if so many people go to the landing page and so many people complete an add to cart and so many people click through this carousel or this video and so many people are doing a, B and C, we kind of model out that funnel and quite a basic way doesn’t have to be too complex, but it gives us idea of where the moving parts are going to be. And then we feed all of that into a load testing service. And we walk through those different scenarios and then we basically tell the load testing system to go and throw all of this virtual traffic added.

Craig: 00:09:51 So we get these really sharp, a five minute bursts of tens of thousands of virtual users going through and interacting with the site. So it’s not just a loading the page, you know, which is okay, but it’s actually going through and interacting with form elements and dynamically interacting with the database by adding and removing things to the cart and end going from, so we can’t load test the actual point of payment cause I think that the credit card processing companies would get a little bit, a little bit annoyed at them and their sandboxes aren’t really designed for that kind of stress testing. But yeah, so we do that all the way up to that point. And then what we’re doing on the, the other side of that, while all this traffic’s being thrown at it, we might have someone in operations from your side sitting in looking at this to have a look at all of the, the hardware and making sure that’s handling it.

Craig: 00:10:51 Okay. And then our engineers on our end are looking at the performance of the application in real time and they’re looking for the bottlenecks. So we use a tool called new Relic and that gives us all of the performance metrics in real time down to, in some cases the the line of code or the database call that’s causing a bottleneck. And then we can go in and kind of engineer solutions for those bottlenecks and smooth them out before the real traffic comes in. And hopefully everyone has a great experience. And we’ve been working with five day deal for several years now and we haven’t had any downtime on the site during sales. So touch wood that continues and but yeah, it’s a really cool and fun thing to do when we’re preparing for all of this. And you know, it takes a lot of people looking at different stuff to make it happen. I think it’s worth noting something that you

Sean: 00:11:53 Said. So not all load testing is created equal. You guys are actually simulating real like interaction, like you said, like throwing 10,000 people at the homepage is not really how the site is going to be used. You’re actually modeling, you know, expected behaviors of people clicking through the homepage, clicking through a product, putting it in their cart and actually doing the activities that are going to then generate the other database requests and the other load on the server that more closely you know, mirrors what the, what they can expect in a real situation. And so by doing that, and then, like you said, simultaneously, you’re looking at the diagnostics in real time while that’s happening and you’re able to down to like what a query level, like you’re, you’re able to sleuth out at a pretty granular level what’s going on and where those bottlenecks are.

Craig: 00:12:44 Yeah, absolutely. And that’s where we have a lot of fun because there’s you know, there’s some things that you’re like, Oh, if we just changed the sitting or remove this feature, then we’re going to get a whole lot of wins. And then there’s kind of a business decision of whether, you know, feature a is worth, you know, the cost of having additional hardware or additional risk. And in some cases we’re kind of modeling out, well, if we do start to have issues during the sale, what features can we turn off to, you know, to sustain traffic or especially with a lot of third party API. As you know, we’re going out, we’re talking to payment processes and CRM systems and advertising systems. And so we’re trying to offset the risk of what happens if, you know, what happens if a fails, what happens if B fails? And so, you know, software now so interdependent. But yeah, with this modeling we’re able to see or get an idea, people still do strange things, but we’re able to get an idea of what we expect might happen and then we’re able to start kind of identifying where the risks are and where non bottlenecks are. And that’s what smooths things out during the actual sales themselves.

Sean: 00:14:06 Yeah. Well, and I think something that sets you guys apart is you’re able to see it both from the technical lens but also just the pure business sense. You know, economics of, Hey, like this is what’s breaking this social share call. You know, this icon that you have on there is making, you know, it’s hitting Facebook’s API and that is the bottleneck. And so for the duration of the sale, it probably makes sense to disable that so that the site can withstand it and then will reenable it when it goes back to baseline traffic. But it’s not critical to have that functionality during the sale. Let’s just make it work and this will minimize your hardware costs, blah, blah, blah. Like you’re able to see it through the economic lens, which I think is kind of the, I don’t know what, from my experience, what sets you guys apart with other companies there?

Craig: 00:14:51 Yeah, I mean that’s something, as a business owner myself, that’s something that’s really important. And if I know there’s something that is a kind of a vanity metric and isn’t impacting directly impacting return that’s something that I love to hear about because I can switch that off and save money and save hassle. And yeah, there’s a couple of things I’m just thinking about there as we’re talking. One of them is around that social share counts for such a simple thing. It’s something that’s actually quite difficult at scale. And so it’s remarkable how many of the off the shelf plugins that are available, they work really well up to a certain number of page views but then when you’re getting a whole bunch of requests, some of them recount things on every single page load. So that completely destroys the capability and therefore the scalability of the site.

Craig: 00:15:49 So thinking about some of that architectural stuff of where are we getting data from? How long can we hold it for? And do we really need to be writing to the database in order to get something like a page count, which is a vanity metric in most cases. And so, yeah, it’s, it’s good fun. And then the issue of scalability and casing, you know, you talked about throwing 10,000 visits just at the homepage. All that’s gonna test as how good your your casing is, right? So it’s that first visit or that uncaged visit that allows you to see the true speed of the page and see what’s happening with the database calls that are generated with the PHP calls. And with the Java script that you know, you get to see that uncaged. And then when you put cation on top, that should be a scaling tool rather than a speed tool. It allows you to serve that second to 2000000th copy of the page you know, very, very fast and with low resource usage. But when you’re looking at page speed technically you’re really wanting to look at those uncaged page views and uncaged queries and try and fix that up as much as you can. So

Sean: 00:17:09 If you had to, I know I’m kind of putting you on the spot with this question, but if you had to do some kind of just quick back of the napkin math for someone like a five day deals, do you have any idea impact wise, you know, what, what is the cost of downtime for them if, if, if all this traffic hits at once and suddenly their site goes down during, you know, the very first part of one of these flash sales. Have you guys quantified what that loss would represent to them?

Craig: 00:17:37 We have at various times, but I don’t think that’s something I could, I could,

Sean: 00:17:42 Oh yeah, yeah. I mean maybe you’re not at Liberty to share, so yeah, that’s, that’s fair enough. I mean, it just seems like in terms of scoping this out, it’s the whole ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure type of thing. Like it’s just with spending a little bit up front. Yeah,

Craig: 00:18:01 It’s huge. And it, it scales with you know, scales with the size of your business, the amount of, not only sales risk but also reputational risk that can come from having downtime or having something that you’re actively promoting that is performing poorly that is, you know, something you want to avoid as much as possible.

Sean: 00:18:23 Yeah, that’s actually a really good point. So it’s beyond just the opportunity costs in terms of transactions, what you lose in hard revenue in that moment, the brand damage associated with something where all eyes are on you and suddenly you don’t work for 10,000 people who are looking at your site and you’ve lost that. You get one shot to make that confidence. So it, it’s, it decimates that, that brand reputation there.

Craig: 00:18:49 Yeah, I mean there’s, there’s always those, those different aspects to, you know, to looking at a site or a feature or a, you know, a marketing campaign like that. And there’s the, yeah, the purely transactional and also the, the relational and a and brand and they all flow together. You know, different people might have eyes on different parts of the puzzle, but really they’re all,

Sean: 00:19:12 You know, they’re all part of the greater whole. Yep. I had in my notes school food handler I think this was a seasonal business. Does that mean anything to you? Are you able to talk about them as an instance?

Craig: 00:19:25 Yeah, absolutely. So they’ve got a similar issue of, of lumpiness of resources but a completely different model. So they’re an educational provider providing food handling courses for places around the States. So to get that kind of government approval for cafeteria workers and things like that, and they’re providing the you know, the education and management tools to allow the the cafeteria managers to make sure everyone is, you know, in the right place and, and up to date. So the interesting thing with five-day deal is that we know the traffic’s coming and we know on what dates the traffic is coming and we can plan that out with an educational provider. Flight school, food handler. We don’t know when the traffic is coming, you know an area manager might decide to call in 300 or 500 people to do their training on a quiet Friday afternoon or that traffic might be spread out over a couple of months.

Craig: 00:20:38 So we never know when that’s going to hit. And when the, you know, the, the larger groups of people might all be logging on concurrently and a membership sites and e-learning sites. What happens is that the types of traffic and the types of resource usage a model really differently than say a publishing siting newspaper or a popular blog because people who are doing e-learning, almost all of them are almost all of their users on the site at any time they’re logged in to the site. Whereas with a publishing or blogging site, almost everyone isn’t logged in. So that impacts your capability and the amount of data reads and writes that are going into your database. It impacts it in a really significant way. So all of that concurrent traffic that’s sitting down to do, you know, course one Oh one, they’re all individually reading and writing to the database and database calls are the slowest thing in a WordPress. And so, yeah. So there’s a lot of our resource and compute power that goes into that simultaneously. So yeah, really interesting and different kind of case of you know, crunch scaling.

Sean: 00:22:07 Can you unpack that term for the people listening who are not familiar with what cacheability means? Can you just maybe kind of define that and

Craig: 00:22:15 Explain that? Yeah, absolutely. So cation or caching is when you are able to store something that has previously been a dynamic result and you’re able to store it in such a way that you don’t need to do all of that dynamic work to to figure it out again. So I’m pretty sure that if we said, what’s one plus one, most of our listeners would be able to answer that question without even thinking about it. So we can say that that’s cached. But if you ask, what’s the square root of 573. Okay. Thank you that one person who answered that no one has an idea and it would take a lot of work or going and grabbing a phone or asking Siri to do that work for us. But if we could pull that out of our brains as quickly as we could pull, what’s one plus one?

Craig: 00:23:15 That would be the equivalent of, of caching or cation? That answer. So in WordPress, what happens when a user comes and visits a page, there’s some stuff the browser does and then it goes off to the server and the service starts kind of going through lines of code and fulfilling its instructions. And there’s a, PHP is the main processing language and it’s going to go and ask the database for various bits and, and then all of that turns into some HTML and that appears, you know, they get shipped back to the browser and the browser processes the HTML and, and shows us the page results. So when we’re talking about casing, there’s a couple of different things. One is to get PHP out of the way. And so we can just keep that HTML layer. Are they liable? So when the browser asks for it and go, Oh, I’ve got that on file, here we go.

Craig: 00:24:15 And the yeah, we can also catch some of those database requests as well. So instead of going off to the database and having to rummage through the file cabinets we’ve got it right. There are really to go, a useful metaphor I like to think of is casings. Like having a great concierge at a hotel. You know, if you go in and you say, Hey, who’s playing at the theater tonight? If they can tell you, that’s great, you get that answer straight away, you’re happy. Can I get tickets? Yup. We’ll get some for you. Great. Get that answer straight away. But on the other hand, you know, if it’s uncaged, it’s, it’s like going up to the front desk at a hotel where someone’s half asleep and not paying attention and asking the same question. If you get an answer at all, it might take a bit longer.

Sean: 00:25:08 Yep. And you referenced two different types of caching. I think it’s probably important to differentiate those. The first one with the PHP that’s basically front end caching. So the actual rendered webpage going to the browser so that that’s one thing. But then you also referenced database caching. So completely on the back end, just minimizing those database calls and having an intermediary that you can pull that faster if it’s our, if that look up has already been found. Those are actually two separate things. But ultimately I liked how you described it because it is any form of caching is just minimizing that workload that you have to do in the back end to get the result that you’re going to deliver.

Craig: 00:25:50 Yeah, that’s right. And I think Paisley’s put together some really great technologies there so we can move one. Ah, what a lot of people doing WordPress’s they install an occasion plugin to do that work for them and that’s a good solution. But the Pagely hosting environment actually removes that step altogether and it brings the casing back to the server and back to the kind of the technical network of AWS. And that is so much faster because once again, we’re removing workload from WordPress and letting the server do it directly. So that’s, you know, just one of those little incremental gains in the Patriot system. And when you’re dealing with the holiday of traffic all at the same time and wanting to scale, that does make a huge difference.

Sean: 00:26:42 [Inaudible] Absolutely. And

Craig: 00:26:44 We also do the readiness for the database caching. Yeah. We don’t have a solution for both.

Sean: 00:26:50 Cool. Well, so what are the most common mistakes that you bump into, I guess when you’re evaluating a new client? Like are there patterns that you see people failing to use cash maybe is one of them, but what other types of mistakes do you

Craig: 00:27:02 Commonly encounter? Yeah, I think that that is, you know, that’s one of the first steps is to, to see what that, that hit rate is on cash and make sure that you know, everything that that should be cached as being cashed. And then after that we start to go down all sorts of rabbit holes. But some of the things that we’re, we’re looking at is looking for a code that’s redundant, are quite often there are spiritual plugins in a site that do almost the same thing and, and have some overlap. And so if we can identify those, and it might be because there’s a particular display that something gives, you know, or particular way of, of doing feature a, that’s fantastic. But then there’s another plugin that’s also trying to do feature a. And so that creates problems. We are kind of the code is doing something and then redoing it and then redoing it because of different plugins.

Craig: 00:28:06 So if we can identify those overlaps and, you know, show the the technical cost versus the, you know, the business cost of maybe having something that’s a little bit less perfect that, you know, it can all happen without overlap. That can be a really powerful way of doing things. And there’s stuff that creates workload on every page load. We talked before about social sharing and that’s something that if you’re displaying live social sharing counts that is very intensive for very little benefit. And so we look at ways to kind of mitigate the effect of that. And basically anything that’s counting anything can be problematic and slow. And so there’s ways to, to offset those. And we’re looking at a lot of the stuff in real time using this application performance monitoring tool. And so we can see, you know, Oh, this one plugin is using 60% of all of your resources.

Craig: 00:29:13 So what is it towing and why is it costing so much? And sometimes, yeah, they’re, they’re tiny little non-business critical features that have just been either poorly written or have been written, but they’re not tested at the scale that the, the websites running at. And we see that all of the time that a plugin that that worked well when there were 5,000, 10,000 views they’re struggling when the gets up to a hundred thousand views a month. And so, yeah. What, what got you so far won’t always get you the rest of the way or you know, can sometimes become a bottleneck or a stumbling stone as you’re trying to take that next step and your, your site’s growth.

Sean: 00:29:59 So when you begin an engagement, do you guys have a, like a standard playbook by which you diagnose and approach problems or is this more of an art form that you’ve just had so much experience you kind of adapt and use, you know, draw on your past experience to formulate hypotheses and test different things? Like how do you approach each engagement?

Craig: 00:30:24 The first steps are often quite obvious because there’s a problem that’s presenting itself. And so, you know, that problem might be a, a lack of stability site going down, crashing. It could be that a certain part of the system isn’t working as planned. Like eCommerce orders not being sent out correctly. Or it could be, you know, just maybe traffic is, has stabilized and dropped off and hit a plateau and we’re looking for a way through it. So there’s often like a, a problem that’s presenting to the client. And so what we’re looking at first is, okay, what’s the fastest way to, to solve that particular problem? That’s the biggest known pain point. And as we’re doing that, we are kind of gathering a whole lot of background information. We’re starting to get an idea of where the strengths and weaknesses of the project have been. And then, you know, we can often see opportunities to keep on adding value, keep on adding improvements. And in quite a few cases that’s actually meant that hosting bills have been able to come down and you know, get downgraded because we’re removing or reducing the amount of complexity in the code. And then in other times people haven’t been able to, to downgrade their hosting, which is always a pain. But it’s always good when the reason for that is that their traffic has started growing again and they’re getting more throughput.

Sean: 00:32:07 Yeah. Well, and that’s, this is something that bears stating is that we have a unique relationship in that I think most hosting providers will paper over issues. Like the one in particular, I won’t name names, but they’re notorious for just throwing hardware at scaling problems because they stand to make money in that situation. Pagely is, has a little bit different mentality in that we would prefer to solve the root problem there. Even if it means we, you know, they run on lower hardware because it’s just easier to maintain. Like the support costs goes, their uptime improves. Everything about it is just a more pleasant and experience. And our model is not such that we’re making a huge amount on the hardware like ours are, our money is made on the, on the platform fee itself and the service charge. So, you know, we’re aligned with the customer in that we would love to see our customers have lower hosting costs because it just means it’s going to be easier to maintain.

Craig: 00:33:04 Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And it, it creates healthier businesses and healthier client relationships. How, when the how do you say the reward for doing the work is aligned between the, you know, the, the business that’s there and the work that you’re doing? If the benefits are all lined up in a row, then everyone’s moving in the same direction and that’s great.

Sean: 00:33:30 Cool. All right, well I want to shift gears. We’re talking a lot about the performance Foundry stuff. You have another company, you are an early podcaster since 2006. Can you talk just a little bit about indie travel media and what that company is?

Craig: 00:34:24 Yeah, that’s a real fun one. And yeah, we kind of have, my wife Linda and I, we finished university and we spent a couple of years teaching English for two reasons. One was to, to pay down our student loans and the second one was to prepare us to go and be able to travel and live overseas. So here we were in our early twenties with a couple of years of English teaching behind us and we started to travel. So that was back in 2005 and we bought one way tickets to Europe and just went, you know what, we’ll be gone for three to five years. When it stops being fun, we’ll move back home. And it was 13 years before we decided, you know, what, maybe we should go and remind our parents what we look like and spend some time with them. And so out of that whole journey, kind of an extended overseas experience within the first year, first six months, really, we hadn’t made so many dumb mistakes.

Craig: 00:35:34 We had not validated train tickets. We had tried traveling on the last day of university holidays on the train. We had overpaid for all sorts of things and you know, as well as the normal travel stuff, we were yeah, doing it as selves, we’re doing it low budget. We were backpacking around Europe teaching English to, you know, keep us going and we were just making a whole lot of mistakes. But we’re having a whole lot of fun and we are sitting with some friends in London and you know, talking about this and we are saying, you know, we’ve never seen any of this in a travel magazine or a guidebook. All of the stuff that we’ve read or you know, they, it hasn’t prepared us for the reality of going and traveling. And we said, you know what, we think we might do a travel blog or something like that.

Craig: 00:36:29 We should, we should share this with people and help them go and travel. And our friend Paul said, well, you don’t want to do a travel blog. There’s already like over a hundred travel blogs. The entire market is saturated. You’re, you know, don’t, don’t worry about it. Forget that you should do a podcast. And we went, yeah, yeah, that’s what we should do. We should do a podcast. And then we had to stop and ask. So what is a podcast? And so that was how we ended up podcasting. And it’s kinda crazy that we were talking about, you know, blogging, being oversaturated with you know, a hundred or a couple of hundred blogs and now I’m sure a couple of hundred blogs around travel get created every single hour. So it’s a huge and growing amount of people publishing on that. But yeah, we ended up, I think we’re the third travel podcast in the iTunes store that wasn’t being run by one of the kind of publishing houses. But yeah, it was great fun. And we’ve had such a lot of unjust, Linda and I sitting around a microphone every few weeks and talking about what we’ve been up to, interviewing people and just trying to share tips that inspire and help people to go and travel.

Sean: 00:37:51 Nice. And so you are being early in the game, I think podcasts are basically becoming at the saturation point where blogs are now. Like you said, it’s, you know, there’s a new podcast every day but being so early you swooped up a lot of listeners, I’m assuming like you one, that lonely planet podcast award what, how did, how did that come to pass?

Craig: 00:38:16 Yeah, that was huge. So that was that was 2008 I think we, we won that, which is absolutely crazy to think of how long ago it was and yeah, it was a competition that lonely planet ran and they, they had it for all sorts of new media and there were some great people in the podcast section. And you know, it’s very collegial because everyone’s trying to figure it out. Everyone’s doing this thing for the first time. And so there were a lot of great shows and people that we were an email conversations with that were also in it. But we managed to, to come through and win, which was great because it was something that I could show my parents to help them understand why we were homeless and unemployed, you know, floating around the world. All of a sudden it became, Oh, other people know this exists. Right.

Sean: 00:39:14 Yeah. Well this is something that we share. You know, I believe that I was a part of a program called remote year that took me all over the world and I was working for Pagely that whole time. I’ve since then traveled quite a bit. I’m now in Thailand and I’m moving around. I’ll be in Bali next month. So I do appreciate this nomadic existence. In terms of what it gets you maybe in your own words, what has travel, what does that existence meant to you? What do you get from that style of nomadic travel?

Craig: 00:39:46 Oh, so much, so much. I mean there’s I mean relationships spring to mind. We’ve got friends in a couple of hundred cities around the world and that’s just insane to think that I could travel to dozens and dozens of places and within a few hours of arriving a be sitting down for, for food and drink with someone that I know and someone who I enjoy to spend time with. That is, that’s amazing. That probably wouldn’t be the case if it wasn’t for my wife Linda, who’s an extrovert and is great at forming those relationships. I’m more the, the sit behind the computer keyboard kind of introvert [inaudible] we wouldn’t have that if it wasn’t for her, but for me personally, I get a whole lot of creativity and a whole lot of energy from new, it doesn’t matter what the new is, if it’s new architecture, new food, new flavors, new smells, and also new people, I get a just such buzz and so much creative energy from that, that when I’m in the same place for awhile, it doesn’t matter how great or, or novel the city is, there’s something that just begins to kind of slow down a little bit inside me.

Craig: 00:41:12 And travel just kind of breaks that open again and gets the brain really fizzing.

Sean: 00:41:21 Yeah, I would, I would 100% agree with that. In my own situation. It just like, I felt like a jumpstarted me, I was kind of in a rut and it kind of just revitalize and, and like you said, the new sights and sounds and smells and exposure to all these different cultures just kind of like woke me back up from an adult slumber. I don’t know another way to put it, but it was just kind of like slumbering through life and just that experience really did a lot to, to break me out of that rut.

Craig: 00:41:52 Yeah. We’re really privileged to be living in a time when it’s never been safer to travel. It’s never been cheaper to travel. It’s never been easier to travel. And with a digital work, that kind of stuff that we do, you can bring that with you. And not that you want to be sitting working all the time as you travel, but there’s something really different about going away for a vacation for a long weekend or for a week and going somewhere and renting an apartment for a couple of months and becoming a, a temporary local. You know, there’s something really different about that. And you know, unless you’re a, a journeymen in the middle ages, you know, it’s, it was very unusual for you to, to go and do that. People weren’t used to it and businesses certainly weren’t use to it. And now there’s this whole, the, the travel industry and also kind of the remote living and digital nomad industry has cropped up to support people. So yes, never been easier.

Sean: 00:42:53 Yeah. And I agree it is a different way of seeing a city instead of parachuting in for a few days and doing the touristy things, you know, you’re there for at least a month and you have your breakfast place and you people start to recognize you and you, you know, have conversations with the locals and you, it becomes your home for however long that is. And it’s just a totally different way to travel. So 100% on the same page. I was going to ask you, so with Linda, you know, it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be an amazing way to develop a relationship. It’s got to also be trying at times. I would imagine. I mean, what was your experience being on the road with your significant other and how did that work?

Craig: 00:43:36 Yeah, it’s weird. We’re kind of reverse engineering that at the moment I guess because for such a long time with been together for, you know, 80% of our waking hours and for some weeks on end, almost a hundred percent of our weekend waking hours. We’ve been, you know, sharing the same space and over the last and now over the last 12 months, six of the last 12 months I guess Linda’s been back teaching again back in the English second language classroom and she’s been loving that, but it means that we get up in the morning and we go to different places all day and then we come back together in the afternoon or the evening and, and see each other. And so one of the things we’ve discovered to our delight is there are stories about our day and about our interactions that the other person doesn’t already know. And that’s mind blowing. That is one of the strangest things that we realized his kind of come about over the last three months or so.

Craig: 00:44:44 We did try to settle back into Auckland, New Zealand, which is our home. Try to settle back in from last Christmas, but by the middle of the year life happened and we ended up going to Prague and central Europe for three months. So that was that was a break. We didn’t quite make it, but the, yeah. Traveling and being together all of the time is now just something that we’re so used to that what I guess most couples thinking about normal life you know, that, that’s what’s strange for us. And it was also long ago. I really wish I had some insight about what made it work back then. But now it’s just automatic for us.

Sean: 00:45:29 Yeah. Well it’s, it’s certainly a unique way to build a relationship. When I think back to the people in our group, a couples formed, there were two couples that, that joined the program. They’re, you know, having already been together. And it was interesting to see the ones that split up and the ones that stayed together and the ones that stayed together, it just seemed like it was a crucible. It really forged the relationship to be stronger than it could have been otherwise. So it’s like if it works out, it’s going to really work out and if it doesn’t, it’s just going to, it’s going to tear it apart. So

Craig: 00:46:00 Yeah. Yeah. Go, go back and give a praise to the couple that we did some pre-marriage counseling with way back in the early two thousands and yeah, they, they helped us see how to communicate and how to talk in a way that was quite clear and had an negotiate things. And we got together young world dating as teenagers and got married when Linda was 19, and I was 20. And so we just kind of leaped all of that communication skills stuff. We, we just lapped it up and, and learned it and embedded it and it’s stood us in really good stead.

Sean: 00:46:44 Nice. What have you learned being an early podcast or you’ve now had probably arguably more experienced than anyone at this, what have you learned in the course of doing that? That was unintuitive or unexpected maybe that you thought it was going to be one format or you thought one thing about it and then you’ve since pivoted or changed any lessons there?

Craig: 00:47:09 Yeah, absolutely. There were a lot of the beginning and then over the last couple of years things have been changing a lot in the podcast world and it’s been fascinating to see and we’re kind of behind the curve on that a little bit because all of that energy is going into performance Foundry. And so we, we haven’t quite adept it there, but some of the things that we thought when, when podcasting was kind of brand new, we thought, Hey, we want to get, get in and out of this podcast with the least fuss, the least personality, the least kind of blah, blah, blah, and jump straight into the meat of the topic and then get out again as quick as possible. So we were really wanting to respect people’s time. And go, Hey, they’re listening to us. They our understanding or our hope was they want to learn how to travel and they want the kind of tactical advice on how to do something.

Craig: 00:48:07 And so we were recording podcasts that were kind of four to seven minutes long. It was like bite size in and out, in and out as quick as possible. So after a, I dunno, three or four months of that, we decided to do a survey and ask people what they thought and we’re like, okay, do you want your podcast to be five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes or 20 minutes plus? And like, 100% of people said 20 plus. So like, okay, I guess we’re learning something. And all of the like qualitative feedback was talk more about you, talk more about yourselves, tell us more about what you’re doing or like, Oh, this is, this is different from what we thought. People coming here for the instruction manual, they’re coming for the stories. And yeah, it’s, it’s very important to us and to our purpose that we’re not just creating a kind of vicarious travel experiences, but we’re actually helping enable people to get out and do it for themselves whenever they, you know, they’ve, they’re able bodied and, and able to go and do it. We want them to be able to do that. So doing the, I guess the education and the tactical tips is still a major part of the show, but now we’re also telling the stories, talking about our experiences and when we have guests trying to open that up for people as well and, and share those experiences too. So yeah, that was something that was shocking and kind of embedded the need to ask your clients what they want and sometimes you’re surprised by that.

Sean: 00:49:48 Yeah. Well, I like, I like your mentality of keeping it very centric to enabling others to do what you’re doing versus look at me kind of vanity type thing. You know, it’s, it’s, it reminds me of, there’s a book called badass by Kathy Sierra and her whole shtick is very much like how do you help others to be more badass? And when you, when you start with just that simple premise, it takes on a whole different just or flow, you know, it’s all about like, what can I convey that’s going to help them be more badass? So I love that. That’s your philosophy there.

Craig: 00:50:25 Oh yeah. That’s, that’s a fantastic way of putting, I love that. Cool. Do you guys monetize the podcast or do you like, does it sustain your travels or how, how is there any kind of revenue stream with it? It did for several years. So we started it in I believe late 2006 2007, it was running full time. 2008 was when we won that lonely planet award. And it was at that point that we had kind of built enough of an audience that we thought we could try making money off it. Now, no one was doing that at this time. Now, almost every podcast you listen to has ads that are read out by the host or an auto inserted. And you know, the sponsorship of podcast is not something odd or unusual. Back then. It was a completely different, you know, it was still the domain of hobbyists and while some people were starting to put ads in and there was some kind of fledgling companies that were going in and beginning to negotiate, negotiate those deals it was real kind of wild West stuff.

Craig: 00:51:42 And so, yeah, we were trying to figure it out and we were doing a lot of direct sales to tourism organizations and and tourism companies and trying to, you know, get them on board. But I think we’re about five years ahead of our time because when we went to them, first of all, we had to explain, you know, who we were as nice. We knew that. Then we had to explain about podcasting and in many cases we also had to explain about the, the whole idea of digital influence. So that whole idea of independent publishers, bloggers, podcasters, now Instagrammers and tic talkers, YouTube is that whole idea of leveraging those personalities to promote a product or a brand that, that did not exist. So we had to, to sell that idea as well as sell ourselves in our ability to, to execute it on it and our our little audience, which was tiny then compared with podcast audiences now.

Craig: 00:52:49 Yeah. You really had to educate, not just sell yourself, but first off, even educate them as to the whole industry before you can even do that. Yeah. Yeah. So it was great fun going around trade shows and just being met by blank stare after blank stare after blank stare and then, you know, we’re not we weren’t in media sales. We had to kind of teach ourselves how the market talked and how it interacted. And then when we finally, you know, we connected with someone that was interested and engaged and willing to give it a go. Quite often our our ask was so small that people couldn’t get sign off on it because their bosses were like, what is this? Why are we wasting time with this? Or it was the other way for smaller operations and they’re like, Oh, we can’t sink that bigger, you know, that bigger chunk of our money into something that’s unproven.

Craig: 00:53:47 And so we were kind of stuck both ways. I have, but we managed to make it work and it was my full time job for several years from 2008 onwards. And so we did manage between a kind of display advertising and a sponsorship. And then also we added in a digital sales of eBooks and audio books that we wrote ourselves or we had other people write and we published and yeah, various brands to promote those books and affiliate marketing. So it was this whole combination of different income streams that managed to, you know, to sustain a living out of it. And it paid for the travel and we’ve had a fantastic life with it. And it allowed us to stay on the road for years and years longer than we would’ve been able to otherwise.

Sean: 00:54:43 If you had to distill down one bit of advice for another podcast or who’s in your shoes, you know, back then, like now trying to monetize their podcast any tips or advice you could convey to that person?

Craig: 00:54:59 Yeah, I think that the first thing is to understand who your customer is. So some podcasts, their customer is their audience. So when they’re creating content and when they’re deciding how to monetize that they’re selling directly to the people they’re speaking with. And so that creates its own editorial and ethical issues and blah, blah, blah for people to figure out. But your, you know, you’re promoting products that you’re hoping that your listeners will buy. For some people that audiences actually are their clients already. Their customer is actually triangulated. It’s not their audience. It’s someone that wants to reach that audience. So in some cases, especially with more high value stuff, you’re actually creating a publishing product that’s designed to put some other advertiser say it’s talking of travel. It might be a conference company and you know, they’ve got their, my stuff going on, their meetings, incentives, conferences, events. And your creating a, a podcast that’s going to promote that company to the kinds of people that are going to be booking those those events and those conferences. So if you figure that out, like who’s going to pay me money and why you figure out who that client is, you can create bitter editorial, you can create a bit of product and you can better navigate the kinds of decisions around commercialization and editorial. Did that make sense?

Sean: 00:56:52 Yeah, no, absolutely. Being really conscious of who the end customer or the economic buyer is versus the listener, those aren’t necessarily the same people.

Craig: 00:57:03 Exactly. Yeah. It took us a while to figure that out and once we did a life just got a whole lot easier, you know, cause it’s simplifies the financial model.

Sean: 00:57:12 Cool. all right, well Craig, I know we’re, we’re bumping up against the one hour Mark and I want to be respectful of your time. I do just have a series of standard questions that I ask all my guests. So if you’re ready for it, I’m going to go into kind of a little rapid fire round here with you. Sound good? Let’s do it. Cool. so what is one book that has profoundly affected you?

Craig: 00:57:35 Ooh if I can have two, I have a fiction and a nonfiction. The nonfiction would be principles by Ray Dalia. I read that maybe coming on two years ago now. And it did such a good job of grabbing what stuff I felt and stuff that I was working on and working out as I went from being like a, a consultant to a small business owner trying to figure out management and all of that and it, and in life, you know, and it, it put words on, on feelings and ideas and stuff that I was working on and I can go, Oh, I that, that’s it. I do 90% of that. Do I want the other 10%, yes or no, but ah ha, here’s someone who’s talking about it in a useful way. And so it’s so affirming and so useful when someone comes along and puts, puts words around something you’re already processing. And so yeah, that was just fantastic. Yeah.

Sean: 00:58:42 I just want to chime in and 100% endorsed that recommendation. The principles book, I think one of the top three I read in this past year it sounds like you got it earlier than I did, but he did such a great job of like, I love the systems thinking like the approach that he has where he says you’re, you know, you’ve got to think of yourself like a machine and your organization, like machine and just, I don’t know, the way he articulates it and his whole like what he calls the believability weighted idea meritocracy, I believe, which is a mouthful. You know, just his whole approach to all these little ways that they’ve systematized coming up, like arriving at truth. How do they, how do they get the right answer more quickly and democratically. It just such a brilliant mind.

Craig: 00:59:33 Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Fantastic. I, I’m gonna, I’m going to turn this on you. I know it’s rapid fire. You said three books in the last year or so, one was principals. What were the other term?

Sean: 00:59:44 Oh so super thinking. The founder of the duck duck go search engine Gabriel, I forget his last name, like Weinstein, I think. He it just brilliant book. It’s a book of like 300 mental models packaged like organized very thoughtfully. And then with all these little anecdotal examples that help you really encode them and remember them and be able to recall them later and use them. And so you ended up with just this Lego kit of, you know Hofstadter’s law and Chateau Yaz principle and Hanlon’s razor and all these concepts that you can string together to make sense of the world and novel situations. I just thought it was such a, an amazing book. It’s one of these books that I just wish someone had given me, you know, 20 years ago and be able to use those mental models. And the other one I would say is untethered soul. And we’re actually doing a book club on this one right now, but Michael singer just a, a really, I’m not usually into that kind of like spirituality Wu stuff, but this was a really powerful book and it was like actionable. It was, you know, things that you can do. Just, I, I was, it was out there, but it was, it was an amazing,

Craig: 01:00:58 Awesome. I’m going to look those up. Say, have not read either of them. Fantastic. I’m sort of for the next few weeks, was going to add one, one on nonfiction book that changed my life. I reread it. I listened to it on audio book actually a few months ago for the first time in several years. And it was a novel by Terry Pratchett or sir sir Terry Pratchett, now called small gods. And yeah, it was fantastic. When I read it for the first time, it helped me develop my, my skepticism and my humanitarianism and yeah, just, just helped me put a different lens on, on life as a teenager. So that changed me profoundly for a comic fantasy novel. It was, it had a huge impact.

Sean: 01:01:57 Very cool. Nice. We will link to both of those in the show notes for the people listening so you can always get a, you can actually get links to all the resources that we’re talking about on the show notes page. Couple more questions. So what is one tool or hack that you use to save time, money, and headaches?

Craig: 01:02:16 Oh gosh. I like try and figure out what the root cause of something is and we’re ever possible deal with that instead of the, the thing that’s surfacing I think that’s true and how we approach stuff in business, but I use it personally as well. So that could be as difficult and as simple as saying no to more things or it could be, you know, figuring out and stead of, you know, instead of doing a to solve B, can I live rigid another way so I can, I can get there a bit faster.

Sean: 01:02:55 Cool. What is one piece of music or one musical artist that speaks to you lately?

Craig: 01:03:02 Oh, I think listening to a great Spotify playlist recently, which is called classical music for metal heads and it has been a lot of fun. Cause I am, I have that pretentiousness of being interested in classical music, but I know nothing about it. I’m an educated listener and that playlist has just been a lot of fun and introduced me to some new music.

Sean: 01:03:26 Cool. Send me the link to the playlist and I’ll put it in the show notes for so people can check it out.

Sean: 01:03:31 Okay.

Sean: 01:03:33 Okay. What, here’s the, here’s a tough one. This is a Peter teal question. What important truth. Do very few people agree with you on?

Craig: 01:03:40 Oh gosh. I think that the world is becoming less and less about nation States and more and more aligned with people’s it sounds a bit too fuzzy to say people’s beliefs, but something like that. I think the, the world is, is reorganizing, you know, in the same way that we don’t really care where something is from anymore. We just go online and click the buy now button and expect it to be with as soon. I think that the same thing is happening with people’s sense of identity, that we identify more with our tribes and our beliefs than we do with where we were born or where our feet are at the moment. And I think that’ll have some profound impact on the, the future of work in the future of nationhood. And that is exciting and scary. But yeah, I think that’s, is that something big enough?

Sean: 01:04:43 Okay.

Sean: 01:04:44 Yeah. No, no, it’s, it’s funny. It’s very similar to I asked this question of the founder of safety wing, which is an insurance for travelers. He has very similar response to this in terms of the world becoming more borderless and the boundaries, these geographical boundaries kind of becoming irrelevant. And it being more about like the tribes as you’re saying, the beliefs that hold people together, online communities offline communities, but like political or you know, geo boundaries just kind becoming a [inaudible]

Craig: 01:05:17 Relevant going forward. I listen to the podcast that you did with him and I really liked how he was approaching that and thinking through that. I think, I don’t know if he talked about it on that podcast, but one of the neat things that Oh gosh, it’s out of my mind, I think it’s a Stonier is doing, is offering citizenship as a service so you can w residency for tax purposes and you can get all of the, the benefits of being a citizen on subscription, right? So that is just a fantastic example of a country thinking beyond the physical constraints of what a nation is and what citizenship means. And you know, that model will have its problems, but just like city-states ended up becoming modern nations and before that, you know, fiefdoms became city-states. I wonder if what we’re going to see over the rest of our lifetime is the, the idea of nationhood beginning to dissolve and being replaced by something else.

Sean: 01:06:32 Yeah, super fascinating to think about. All right, last question here. What if you had a time machine to go back to your 20 year old self? What one bit of it?

Craig: 01:06:42 Gosh, that’s a difficult one. And it’s, yeah, it’s not one that I’m good at answering. I’m one of those people that are like, ah, the pastors taught me so much. But I think that what would I say? Here’s something I learned about three years ago that changed my life in a strange way. And that, that I started using tea tree soap instead of standard soap and I started shaving with tea tree oil instead of, you know, regular shaving foam. And that changed my complexion dramatically. And I feel a lot more confident now with fewer pimples and less razor burn and things like that. And it was one of those small, insignificant things that I think if I knew that as a teenager and I had less, you know, less pimples as a teenager, how much more confident would I have been? So there’s a, there’s a weird one. But it would probably be the, you know, I don’t think I’ve got any great philosophical bits of knowledge because the things, the philosophies as investigating the Ana round social justice around stoicism, around kind of religious and spiritual beliefs. A lot of those have stuck with me and I haven’t changed them to dramatically in some ways and, but yeah, but I think that one would have made a change in my, my confidence. Don’t know if that would have been good or bad.

Sean: 01:08:15 No, but that’s, I, I liked how actionable and like you said, who knows the ramifications of that, like a small change like that. What does that ripple into? So good stuff. I lied. I’ve got one more question for you. Given that you are a wine efficient auto, do you have a favorite type or brand of wine? Any, anyone that stands out?

Craig: 01:08:37 Oh gosh. For if you’re looking for something that maybe is easy to find, but not too many people drink, I would hit up to the Northwestern part of Spain, Galicia just up above Portugal and the wines that they have there just fantastic. Albarino is one of the, the grapes there and it’s fantastic. It’s relatively unknown, but it’s not super expensive or pretentious and it’s delicious. So it makes for a good conversation and something a bit different without being in any way out of reach.

Sean: 01:09:20 Nice. Yeah. As you know, I’m based in Lisbon and Portugal I think has some of the most underrated wine. I’d never heard of it before I got there and I absolutely, the Douro Valley, which is not far from where you’re talking about, I think just has some of the best reds. So,

Craig: 01:09:36 Oh, absolutely. Absolutely beautiful. Yeah, I think a lot of people have only drunk port when they think of Portugal, but there are, yeah, fantastic non fortified wines that are around both whites and reds and yeah, just beautiful stuff.

Sean: 01:09:52 Nice. Cool. Well, I think this is probably a good place to break it off. Craig, if people want to get in touch with you, either for the performance Foundry, like if they’ve been listening and they think they’ve got a challenge that maybe you can help them with or about the podcast, where can we send them for both of those things?

Craig: 01:10:06 Yeah. Perfect. You can find me on linked in linkedin.com/in/theCraigMartin. And then performance foundry.com and their contact form. There is a great way to reach out. If you are connecting on LinkedIn, please mention this podcast, otherwise unlikely to ignore you, but if you mentioned that in your RA and your little hello of, I’d love to connect and chat with people.

Sean: 01:10:34 Awesome. Cool. Well Craig, great chatting with you. Hopefully. I’m getting closer and closer. I’ll be in Bali next month, so who knows, maybe I’ll end up passing through New Zealand and we can meet up in person.

Craig: 01:10:47 That would be amazing. I will find you some fantastic New Zealand wines as you do.

Sean: 01:10:53 Awesome. Take care, Craig. Thanks so much for your time.

Craig: 01:10:57 Thanks Sean. Cheers.

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