Brett Hurt

Hurt Family Investments; Chair, Edgecase; Founder of Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics; Father, husband, traveler

Oct 18, 2014

How I define the soul of entrepreneurs: you change the world (part 3 of 3)

This is part three of a three-part series on entrepreneurship. The parts:

  1. 'Is it too late for me to start my own business?', and other sheepish questions (Lucky7 post)
  2. Who this new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs are and the new Golden Age of tech (Lucky7 post)
  3. How I define the soul of entrepreneurs: you change the world

Part Three

You create the future. Others dream about it, some write about it, many read about it. But the rare few actually create it. You are one of those rare people, and you are to be cherished by humanity for being so brave to define the future for all the rest.

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." - George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

You create the jobs. There is no company that anyone goes to work for that didn't have a brave creator at the beginning of it all. Your company can grow beyond you, but no one at your company today would be there if it were not for you giving birth.

You define the soul of the company. It was your unreasonableness, your "craziness", your dream, and, perhaps most importantly, your values that were seeded in its birth. Others can lead and tap into that soul, but if it weren't for you there would have been no soul in the first place.

You know the triumphs and the defeats like no one else. You have ridden the emotional highs and lows like no one but other creators can understand. The company means more to you than it can mean to anyone else - because you were there at its inception. You were in the hospital room for its birth, along with perhaps a few other proud parents (your co-creators). The parent has the most history with the child, even when the child grows into an adult. It is easier to be the grandparent, cousin, or just the friend, acquaintance, or bystander.

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Oct 6, 2014

Dear Bazaarvoice, the love of a founder never dies

To: The Bazaarvoice team, both past and present

Dear Friends (for I consider each of you to be just that),

My most sincere thanks to each of you for some of the most memorable, fascinating, and uplifting days of my life over the course of the last decade.

As my time on the Bazaarvoice Board of Directors draws to a close today, I look back on what we achieved together since this company was created over nine years ago with a combination of pride and humility. Pride because together, we built something from the ground up that revolutionized how transparently commerce would be conducted. And we did it incredibly well, expanding all over the world and winning the trust of thousands of clients and many partners. Humility because I will never take for granted the great privilege it has been to lead, to serve, to learn from all of you, and to be part of our outstanding culture.

In life and in one’s career, there are periods that shine for one reason or another and for me, the most transformational period has been my Bazaarvoice years. And that’s because of all of you. What we created together is one of a kind. The effort and skill it took amazes me. The devotion and care you brought to your work, the spirit of inspiration I saw thriving around me, and the eagerness to take a big risk on a new idea will inspire me for the rest of my life. I mean that with all of my heart.

One has to look forward as well as back though, and as deeply as I have loved my time serving with you, I have confidence that Bazaarvoice has many great days that lie ahead. The same spirit of ingenuity that drove us at the beginning still churns today. The excellence of our team is unquestionable. The soul of Bazaarvoice is very much intact and the heart beats strong.

I plan to continue watching, applauding, and taking great pride in your successes as one of our largest shareholders and a most loyal fan. But most of all, I will remain grateful to all of you, every day of my life. The love of a founder never dies.



Sep 18, 2014

Three need-to-meet startups at to see the future of digital retail, plus the latest from Bazaarvoice

Every year I look forward to the Annual Summit. It brings together the smartest experts and entrepreneurs working in the digital retail space for discussions about the state of the industry and solutions to some of our biggest challenges. It’s an expansive showcase of innovation and insights.

There are a number of companies exhibiting this year that I’m excited to speak with, but I wanted to highlight three in particular that all of my retail friends should check out: Edgecase, Shelfbucks, and Together Mobile.

In the interest of disclosure, I’m an investor and/or advisor (Hurt Family Investments portfolio) in all three of these companies (and also a former three-term member of the Board of Directors). But there is a reason I’ve been impressed by these companies and believe in them and their value - and think retailers and brands should as well. They are all transforming multi-channel shopping in important ways. They are focused not only on conversion (still a primary pain-point in digital shopping) but also revolutionizing the customer experience.

So much of the experience of multi-channel retail in the past decade has been focused on social engagement and multichannel infrastructure. While those are of course necessary solutions for retailers, we can already see a trend emerging for the next great leap in the space, and those innovations are being led by wholly rethinking the shopping experience -- what it truly can and should be as we begin correlating shopper’s experiences across the online and offline divide.

These imperative experiential trends are evident in the three companies below. Edgecase’s unique mix of machine learning and human curation to produce an agile, adaptive online platform takes us beyond filtering for a more natural and intuitive shopping experience; Shelfbuck’s innovates in the opposite direction by bringing online comprehensiveness to stores with their out-of-the box beacon ecosystem; and Together Mobile bridges both experiences by integrating user-generated content into a their mobile-first marketing platform to add robust, curatable content around brand’s commerce owned-media properties.

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Sep 11, 2014

What I've learned about eating animals - and what the future holds (Part One)

This is Part One of Two in a series about our love for food, cultural practices, nutrition, the way we treat animals, what the Torah (Bible) says about eating animals, and where I think the puck is going (that last part is the one bit about entrepreneurship, or future forecasting what I believe will be a very lucrative opportunity for the right entrepreneurs). This is more about what I've learned about these topics over the past four years in adopting a mostly vegan diet - than my typical Lucky7 posts about entrepreneurship (with the notable exception I just mentioned above). I will not be offended if you stop reading now, and you now understand the context if you continue to read this post. I want you to know what you are getting into before you proceed; I believe this post will be a Matrix-type learning for you ("take the red pill, Neo") and once you know the truth you cannot "unlearn" it. You have been warned. :) Having said all of that, this is a topic that I'm very passionate about. My drive to write this post comes from the many questions I get from people about my diet, so I'm writing this post to openly share what I've learned and this will also be more efficient - and comprehensive - for me than telling bits and pieces of this learning each time in conversation. My drive also comes from losing my father to a heart attack because of his diet. He was too young to pass away, and I miss him very much. I wrote a tribute to him here - he was an amazing entrepreneur and man.

Before I begin, I would like to thank my good friend, Ryan Cush (one of our best for many years at Bazaarvoice and an executive of Food on the Table, recently acquired by The Scripps Network), for discussing and reviewing this series with me. He is a wise and good man, and I always enjoy collaborating with him.

Part One

I can't remember the exact date, but it was in 2010. We had a monthly speaker series at Bazaarvoice and I had invited Rip Esselstyn, the author of The Engine 2 Diet to come speak. He gave a terrific speech - one of the most passionate I've seen. His signature line was "real men eat plants because they want to live a long time for their families". His speech rewired my thoughts about food - that I, like him, could be plant-strong. Rip looked the part - he had achieved many athletic milestones as a plant-strong triathlete. He looked good, lean and strong. I took the 30-day challenge and volunteered to lead the Bazaarvoice "Engine 2" Tribe. Around 50 people at Bazaarvoice joined me.

In all truth, the challenge was very hard. Eating is something you do at least three times per day. I had to be very conscious of what I ate. When traveling, this compounded matters. My mind played tricks on me - replaying "facts" that had been taught to me as a child, like "Doesn't your body need meat?" and "What about the protein?". Rip had addressed these questions in his talk but I had been taught by society for so long that I still asked myself these questions. But these questions were merely a disguise for what I really wanted - the taste of meat again.

The results were astonishing. Rip had suggested we take a cholesterol test at the end and my results came back so low that he said, "Now you have the blood of a world-class triathlete." I felt great. I had stayed 100% plant-strong, even with lots of travel, for 45-days straight (the challenge was 30 days). I had lost around 15 pounds and weighed around 183. The results for the other 50 Bazaarvoice people were also amazing. Some people had dropped 25 pounds and looked better than I had ever remembered them. Most importantly, they felt great too. I knew there was no going back - we had learned something very important. You could eat plants and survive - and thrive. Bring on the veggies, please.

Like everyone, my connection to food began as a child. I was a very skinny kid growing up. People said I had a great metabolism. I ate whatever tasted good, and that meant a lot of meat. My father would regularly bring back red snapper from his fishing trips. I ate a lot of fish. I ate a lot of steaks. I ate a lot of lobster. My father said my diet would motivate me to become wealthy one day because "I ate like a king".

Like many young men, I wanted to change my body when I hit puberty. I wanted to start dating and I thought that adding muscle would help. This was the era of Arnold Schwarzenegger, after all. It was time to Pump Iron. I worked out like crazy. I ate a massive amount of food. Looking back, it was so wasteful. But it worked. I went from around 140 and 6'1" when I was 14 to around 225 and 6'2" by the time I was 20. I have the stretch marks on my arms and chest to prove it; I grew that fast. It took a lot of maintenance. I needed to be at the gym at least 90 minutes almost every day. It worked, though. My dating situation improved significantly. It eventually helped me meet and marry my dream girl - we met at a gym. I knew that working out would always be a part of me. It felt good to be strong. It felt good to accomplish such a transformation.

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Aug 10, 2014

The founding of the UT Discovery Fund

When I was an undergrad student at the University of Texas at Austin I very much wanted to become an entrepreneur. During those years (1990-1994), however, there was almost no support for entrepreneurship at the University. I didn't feel "developed" enough to pursue my dream, so I decided to go into consulting instead and became an entrepreneur a few years later, while I was earning my MBA.

In September 2013, I began my tenure as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Texas at Austin. I was proud to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, who taught at UT Austin his entire career. Instead of imposing what I thought the community would be need during my time as EIR, I took a lesson from building Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics. I created a team of four very influential and entrepreneurial student leaders and asked, “What does the student entrepreneur community need?”. The four were Taylor Barnett, Verick Cornett, Dan Driscoll, and Jonathan Van. We became the “Office of the EIR”. Nick Spiller joined our team later and right after graduation he joined UT to continue the charge as an entrepreneurial catalyst across the school.

This approach was very effective - the students, after all, were my customers and who better to tell me what the customer needed than the customer themself. Two core problems came up frequently during our first meetings. The community was hungry for mentorship, which we did our best to solve by setting up weekly EIR and guest EIR office hours, and a need for seed funding, which is why we started working on the UT Discovery Fund.

Our team had peers at the Dorm Room Fund and Rough Draft Ventures, so we knew it was possible to have a student run fund benefiting student run ventures. We wanted a peer-to-peer capital source, with student leaders from across campus working together and funding starters, builders, and makers on the Forty Acres.

In my recent Lucky7 post, the new Golden Age of Tech, I wrote:

Today, most people — anywhere in the world and with purchasing power — are online… and online is portable. We all have a supercomputer in our pockets (and a rare few of us wear them on their faces — me not being one of those). Your ability to reach the world market has never been greater or more efficient. The price and speed at which you can launch a new business because of cloud services like Amazon’s Web Services or Google’s Cloud Platform has never been lower or faster, respectively. The price to experiment — and potentially create something valuable that the world needs now — has never been lower (both in terms of time and money).

Data shows the global youth are increasingly more entrepreneurial — both out of necessity as well as benefiting from all of those that came before them (and the access to those lessons in today's age of the networked "global village"). While the costs of experimenting have gone down, they aren’t nonexistent, and with most students taking out five-figure loans to pay for school, finding and obtaining the additional capital to start your company is often extremely difficult. As my good friend and one of our initial investors at Bazaarvoice, Josh Kopelman, said, "Just because it takes less capital to build a company now, doesn’t mean it doesn’t take any.”

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Jul 12, 2014

Who this new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs are and the new Golden Age of tech (part 2 of 3)

This is part two of a three-part series on entrepreneurship. The parts:

  1. 'Is it too late for me to start my own business?', and other sheepish questions (Lucky7 post)
  2. Who this new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs are and the new Golden Age of tech
  3. How I define the soul of entrepreneurs: you change the world

Part Two

We live in very interesting times. It's 2010 and I'm at a family reunion. We've just barely survived the most cataclysmic global financial crisis in the modern history and one of my cousins asks me, "How can tech be doing so well while the rest of the economy is doing so poorly?". I did my best to answer but the question kept eating at me. I remembered Michael Porter's Harvard Business Review article about the Internet being the sixth force - and how it would disrupt all of the previous five forces cited in his famous strategic model.

Fast forward just four years later and a five-year old company, WhatsApp, is bought for $19 billion by Facebook, a company that itself is only ten-years old at the time but worth a mighty $170 billion. Just two years earlier, when Facebook went public, the media was asking for Morgan Stanley's head - and sometimes Mark Zuckerberg's or David Ebersman's (CFO of Facebook) head - for what was perceived at that time as an overpriced IPO. Except that it wasn't... and any investors that held on to their IPO stock should now be very happy campers.

When five and ten-year old companies are valued at $19 billion and $170 billion, respectively, sometimes I hear the "bubble" word. This is a word that has very personal meaning to me. I lived through the ultimate "bubble" popping when I lived in San Francisco from 2000-2003. I remember going to Starbucks and the barista lamenting that they used to be one of the heads of marketing at (remember the sock puppet?). I remember how one person I knew, Tony Perkins (the founder of the VC blogging network AlwaysOn), called the ball in his book The Internet Bubble in November of 1999. Almost no one believed him at the time, and then - WHAM - it happened. It was very painful. I had to let 70% of our people go at Coremetrics while our dot-com client base very rapidly dwindled from 100 clients to 2. We survived... barely... to fortunately thrive later.

But today I believe we are in the opposite of a bubble - I believe are in the new Golden Age of tech. While it always makes one nervous to make a forecast like this, I think the years ahead will be some of the best ever for tech entrepreneurs. And I've been putting our money where our mouth is on this with Hurt Family Investments and our growing portfolio.

To understand why, first you have to understand what is happening with exponential, digital, and combinatorial technologies. The book review I wrote on The Second Machine Age explains this - and the book itself is a must-read on this topic. We live in an unprecedented time and everything is speeding up - and not just with Internet technologies. When I was a kid I would tell my elementary school teachers that computers would transform all industries. That as they speed up, all industries would change more quickly. I was too young to use words like "disruption" but that is exactly what would happen - at an accelerating pace. Whether it is the "Internet of things", smart-phone and tablet adoption, the social revolution, 3D printing (including food and organs), personalized medicine, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and machine learning, or any number of fields computers are rapidly changing, it is happening... everywhere.

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Jun 28, 2014

'Is it too late for me to start my own business?', and other sheepish questions (part 1 of 3)

This is part one of a three-part series on entrepreneurship. The parts:

  1. 'Is it too late for me to start my own business?', and other sheepish questions
  2. Who this new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs are and the new Golden Age of tech
  3. How I define the soul of entrepreneurs: you change the world

Part One

It's March of 2013 and I'm at Wharton serving as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence when I get a question that baffles me. I'm speaking at the Penn Founders' Club, where all University of Pennsylvania students are welcome as long as they are fervently working on a real business while they are in school. I've just wrapped up my opening comments and it is time for Q&A. The baffling question: "Have all of the really big ideas already been thought of?". I couldn't believe it when I could see the student was being serious and not just pulling my leg, and I was fired up. I passionately describe how the world always needs entrepreneurs to drive it forward, and there are always ideas - everywhere - if you just look hard to find them. I talk about how I just read the book Abundance, wrote the longest book review of my life on it at Lucky7, and there are thousands of great ideas in the book for entrepreneurs to solve the world's biggest problems. A few months later, Waze gets bought for $966 million by Google. A few months after that, Snapchat gets a rumored $3 billion offer from Facebook, which I wrote about in this Lucky7 post on valuations. And then almost a year after receiving that question at Penn, WhatsApp gets a firm acquisition offer of $19 billion from Facebook, one month after Google buys Nest for $3.2 billion.

Fast forward to a month ago and I see a question on Quora that catches my eye - Life: I am 35 and I have not achieved much in life. Is it too late?. The top two answers out of 176 and counting have a combined 4,900 "upvotes". I especially found this graphic compelling:

Too Late to Start

And then you have the billboards, of which this one caught my eye years ago. Henry Ford failed miserably with his first startup, the Detroit Automobile Company, which he started at age 36 but then... at the age of 38 he founded his second venture...:

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Jun 23, 2014

A quick review of 'The Second Machine Age'

Last year, I recommended Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think as my book pick of the year and wrote an abundantly long review of it. There are thousands of good business ideas in that book for entrepreneurs that are destined to change the world (I also wrote about Elon Musk being my current pick as entrepreneur-of-the-decade as he defines the ethos of this mindset better than anyone I can think of in today's age).

This year, I'm recommending you read The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies as a compliment to Abundance. To choose a word from the title, this is a brilliant book. It is written by two MIT professors that I am fortunate enough to call friends, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

Second Machine Age

Like Abundance, the book walks you through our current age and is quite optimistic about what technologies the future will bring. It defines the second machine age (with the first being the Industrial Revolution) as an age defined by exponential, digital, and combinatorial technologies. With exponential, think Moore's Law. With digital, think about prices becoming lower and lower with no degrading of quality. And with combinatorial, think of Facebook and how it brilliantly combined several technologies that were products of the first two traits - digital and exponential - into something new and very valuable, very quickly (because we are all networked together like never before, thanks to the Internet, and therefore new digital technologies can take off very, very quickly).

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Jun 17, 2014

The impact that just one teacher can have on you

I had a very special experience in the last few weeks of my time as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at McCombs. I reconnected with Rick Byars, who was my MIS333K professor (my undergraduate major at the University of Texas at Austin was MIS), in time for his legendary end-of-semester speech. He invited me to attend and speak for five minutes at the end of it.

To put this in context, when I was in Rick's class back in 1994 it had a huge impact on me. First of all, it was the most practical class I took at U.T. and, as a result, the one I remember the best. It simulates what it is like to be a technology consultant by giving you and your small team a large project to develop, test, and "deploy" by the end of the semester. It is the most time consuming class I took at U.T., by far, but at the end of it you have an incredible feeling of accomplishment. And then, at the end of the semester, Rick surprises you with the article below and his talk about it. You had no idea it was coming, and the shock value is what makes it a very special experience. You can't help but thinking, "Is this for real?! Was this really Rick?".

Rick Byars article

Rick's big point is that the journey of life is the reward. And it doesn't have to be scripted by your parents, your boss, society, or anyone else. It is your journey and yours alone. It doesn't have to be a straight line. It is your line. There doesn't have to be a "logical" progression. It is your progression in the journey.

I remembered this talk when I was at Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group, who I joined right after I graduated from U.T. Austin. While I can say some good things about my experience working there for two years, I can also tell you that I felt "maxed out" after a year. I was, frankly, bored. And I was frustrated that I had not followed my dream to start a business upon graduation. I didn't feel ready and I underestimated my ability to "learn the ropes" quickly as I went. It also bothered me that Deloitte was charging our clients around 10x more per hour than they were paying me. I believed that I could do this work on my own and probably charge a similar hourly rate to theirs, and I needed to prove that to myself. I was looking for a way out - I, in short, felt somewhat like Rick did at IBM. Thankfully, at Deloitte, they would pay for some promising people's MBA education if they returned post graduation. I saw the path and I convinced Deloitte that I could be one of those people. Deloitte gave me the opportunity to test my mettle. I was accepted to Wharton, and I began my first business - consulting - at the end of my first semester. I cleared around $250-$350/hour per project, and I felt more career freedom than ever before. There was no going back (you can read about my journey in my first few businesses in this Lucky7 post) - I was now solidly on the entrepreneurial path. Rick's class prepared me for Deloitte, which in turn prepared me to launch my own consulting business. As I would tell U.T. Austin students that would visit me during EIR office hours, this is a great way to prove to yourself that you can be an entrepreneur. Do the job that you did for an employer on your own, as a consultant, to start the entrepreneurial journey in a lower-risk way (it has limited upside, though, as I wrote about in my state of tech entrepreneurship in Austin post).

After starting five businesses and being the entrepreneur myself, I'm on a different journey now. One where I'm dedicated to helping others achieve their goals. You can see our emerging portfolio, and we're very thankful to the entrepreneurs that allow us to invest and hopefully help them along in their journey.

What teacher has had an impact like that on your life? I'm sure you can name one. Please tell us all about them in the comments section below.

For more on the journey being the reward, I have some simple advice for you in this Lucky7 post. Entrepreneur CEOs - this advice will especially help you.

A final word: Thank you, Rick, for your incredible dedication at McCombs. You made a big impact on me, and it was a sincere pleasure to be in one of your last classes in your 34-year history (so far) there. Seeing your talk 20 years after I was a student in your class was, to say the least, a very reflective experience. I can also tell you that your talk was one of my inspirations when I wrote this Lucky7 post on what Benjamin Franklin may have meant when he famously said, "remember that time is money".

May 19, 2014

Learnings from four entrepreneurs I interviewed this past semester - Michael Dell, Rod Canion, Matt Chasen, and Dan Graham

I joined the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the beginning of the 2013-2014 academic year. Yesterday marked my last day in this role. I kicked it off with a speech to the entering MBA class about the top-ten lessons I wished someone had taught me when I was beginning my MBA. I loved serving the University and it's students in this capacity. The entrepreneurial energy on campus is really fantastic and very encouraging for the future of both Austin and our nation at large. There is no doubt a huge trend towards entrepreneurship at most top-ranked universities and U.T. Austin is leading the way in one of the most entrepreneurial cities and states in our nation. Consider that Texas has created 70% of the new jobs in the U.S. since 2005, as reported by BBVA Compass, and you start to tune in a bit more into what is happening here. Compared to when I attended U.T. Austin from 1990-1994, where entrepreneurship was hard to find, every major college at U.T. now has its own entrepreneurial club and initiatives. In my Office Hours, I met with hundreds of students who have either launched their own business while at the University or they are actively planning on doing that at some early point in their career (I didn't become an entrepreneur myself until I was 24 and beginning my MBA, so I tell them I was a "late bloomer").

As part of my EIR post, I continued the Speaker Series that Laura Kilcrease began as my predecessor. To that end, I interviewed seven entrepreneurs and one VC during my time in this role. All of these interviews are recorded, and I should thank the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship for the funding to do this and promote entrepreneurship all over U.T. Austin.

You can watch the previous semester's interviews in this Lucky7 post, which include Cotter Cunningham (RetailMeNot), John Arrow (Mutual Mobile), Chris Pacitti (Austin Ventures), and Josh Baer (Capital Factory and Longhorn Startup).

For this semester, I started it off with a bang at SXSW with my interviews of Michael Dell and Rod Canion, the founder and first CEO of Compaq. These interviews were a great contrast to each other. Michael started Dell while attending U.T. Austin as everyone knows. His sales took off at an astronomical pace and he decided to drop out as a result. I've used him as an example for students who have visited me during Office Hours and are considering dropping out. It is a trade of sorts - the completion of the degree or the immediate pursuit of the market opportunity. If you are a student and have sales like Michael Dell did at the beginning of Dell, I think it is a rather easy decision. But most of the students that I speak with about this are considering dropping out with very little revenue. Of course, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out with no revenue, but I think that is different as we discussed in the Lucky7 post about Snapchat's $3 billion (at the time) valuation (written before the incredible bet by Facebook on acquiring WhatsApp for $19 billion). Marc had Google's experience to point to - with that astronomical rise in Facebook users, the advertising revenue was sure to come at one point. We cover a lot of topics in this SXSW interview, including trends in the IT industry, why Austin, and what Michael and Susan are focused on philanthropically. Thanks to Josh Baer, founder of Capital Factory, for securing the space at the Omni Hotel - we made this a Capital Factory, SXSW, and U.T. Austin promoted event as a result.

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