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Jeff Standridge: Hey guys, welcome to the Innovation Junkies podcast. I’m Jeff Standridge.
Jeff Amerine: And this is Jeff Amerine back for another episode.
Jeff Standridge: Back for another episode, indeed, and we are so glad to have with us G. Dennis today. G has been in the healthcare industry for over 15 years, both as an executive and as an entrepreneur and innovator. In 2018 she founded G2G Healthcare Solutions. Has clients that include health systems, venture capital funds and healthcare services companies. She served as the vice president of operations strategy and innovation at Baptist Health Systems of Arkansas, where I had the opportunity and the pleasure to meet G and do some work with her. She’s also co-founded and operated a successful healthcare educational content company. G it is a pleasure to have you with us today.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for inviting me. Thank you Jeffs. Plural.
Jeff Standridge: Jeffs that’s right. Plural.
Jeff Amerine: You only have to remember one name with us, right?
Gre’Juana Dennis: Exactly.
Jeff Amerine: Nice and easy.
Jeff Standridge: Well, the only difference is ours are both spelled with two Fs, but in mine the second F’s silent. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
Jeff Amerine: The humor doesn’t get any better than that just so that you know.
Jeff Standridge: Yeah. Yeah. So G we like to start off these podcasts with a little bit of a random musing, and we never know what it’s going to be until we get together and decide beforehand. So today the random musing is what’s the worst thing you ever did as a kid, either high school and below, elementary, high school, or what have you and by the way we all share.
Jeff Amerine: That you’d admit to publicly or otherwise.
Jeff Standridge: That the statute of limitations has run out on.
Jeff Amerine: I had to have some clarification on that one.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Well, the one that comes to mind is you guys may be… Yeah, you’re old enough to remember this before Chuck E. Cheese, there were was ShowBiz Pizza.
Jeff Standridge: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Jeff Amerine: Brilliant.
Gre’Juana Dennis: So I think I was eight. And me and my cousins were having a party there. And in the balls we thought we were… You know the ball section-
Jeff Standridge: Yeah. Yeah.
Gre’Juana Dennis: … where you jump in the balls. Well, we were doing our backflips and our thing in there, and these other kids were coming in and we were like, “No, this is our time and our space.” Anyway, so these other kids did not respect that we thought we had at least 10 minutes of… we were practicing our gymnastic moves and whatever. Because I actually didn’t grow up in an environment where I could do gymnastics. So I was trying all kinds of stuff that you couldn’t do safely anywhere else. So anyway we were doing all of these things and we got kicked… Ultimately we got kicked out of ShowBiz Pizza. At eight years old, my mom still remembers it to this day she’s like, “How do you get kicked out a showbiz pizza?”
Jeff Standridge: Now you really make me feel like a criminal.
Jeff Amerine: Oh yeah.
Jeff Standridge: Jeff your turn.
Jeff Amerine: All right. It’s kind of a long list. I’m trying to decide if it’s some of the stuff that we did on Halloween, where we always felt like that was kind of a clandestine operation. Maybe some of that will stay classified. But the worst thing I ever did in terms of really bad was I was scratching out as we used to say in the old days from a parking lot in reverse, in my dad’s pickup truck and managed to impact a tree in reverse about 40 miles an hour. We survived, no problem, nobody hurt. Thankfully we hit the tree or else we would’ve been flying off the back of a mountain. But if you remember the scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High where Spicoli wrecked the Camaro of the football player. And he comes up to the football player and he says, “Dude, don’t worry about it my brother’s got an awesome set of tools.”
So my first thing to ask for from my friends who were still in the area is, “Anybody got a hammer? Maybe I can pound it out.” Now the remarkable thing is and it’s a testament to Toyota engineering is I was able to drive this thing home, even though the back end of that little Toyota truck had a big V in it. And the next conversation with my dad who was former military was one of those classic things I’ll never forget, rest in peace my dad was an awesome guy.
But I walked in very meekly and I said, “Pop, I backed the truck into a tree.” And so he’s walking out this has maybe 11 or 12 at night, he’s walking out thinking it’s going to be a little dent. And he says to me when he sees it, “Son of a,” fill in the blank, “it’s totaled, it’s totaled.” And I thought, “My life is over at this point.” This is a 16 year old, I’ve driving less than a year and I thought it’s finished. Nobody got hurt thankfully, even though it looked like one of those scenes out of Fast and Furious, I can still remember the slow motion of all this stuff coming off the dash and out of the… Anyway, that was probably the worst thing I ever did.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Well, I’m feeling really good about my showbiz pizza.
Jeff Standridge: Well, you’re going to feel really good when I get finished. So I had two that I was going back and forth between, actually three. One was the very first time I was on a band trip and I ever ate at a restaurant that had cloth napkins. For some reason, I stole a cloth napkin and my mother found it and made me send it back with a letter of apology. And I had breakfast at that restaurant the other day and it reminded me of it. And she remembered it because I asked her about-
Gre’Juana Dennis: That is amazing.
Jeff Standridge: Or the time we had a bake sale at school before the junior play and my buddy and I got together and instead of chocolate chips, we use chocolate Ex-Lax in the brownies that we made.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Oh, my… Now that is good, that is good.
Jeff Standridge: But the worst one. The absolute worst one that my mother still gets angry about when she… I’ll be 55 this year and my mother still gets angry about it. Was when five of my buddies and I were suspended from the basketball team because we mooned one of our teachers.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Oh dear, man, I’m feeling really good right now.
Jeff Standridge: That would be criminal behavior today this was of course-
Gre’Juana Dennis: Absolutely.
Jeff Standridge: … in the 80s, ’84 or something like that.
Gre’Juana Dennis: I was doing classic eight year old bullying you can’t come into the ball’s jumping thing, you guys were like-
Jeff Amerine: It’s the kind of stuff where we probably would have been locked up.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Right.
Jeff Standridge: Just to give you an example. My wife gave me a 50th surprise birthday party back five years ago, of course, four and a half years ago. And she framed or I actually have the laminated letter from the school superintendent that’s in a scrapbook and she had it framed and was out on display because she had all my memorabilia. My mother got angry again. She got mad all over again about that situation.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Oh wow. Deep.
Jeff Standridge: Anyway, all right, well, we’re here to talk about innovation. So innovation in healthcare particularly G because that’s where your background is, and that’s how you and I came to know each other was by innovation when you were in that role at Baptist Health Systems. So let’s talk about what you do today. How do you spend your time today?
Gre’Juana Dennis: Sure. Kind of in a variety of ways I’m functionally a consultant, but also a very active investor as well. So G2G solutions is essentially just an LLC in which I do a lot of different functions. I still act as a strategy consultant for Baptist Health, very actively involved in not only their investment activity but also their strategic growth activity. So I still work with the management team in a pretty ongoing way, but I also work strategically a lot with venture funds and I’ve got one significant private equity client, which I really help them look at what types of companies should they be targeting, what’s the next generation of private equity healthcare going to look like? So I help them with the way that they evaluate, the way that they think about what their healthcare investment strategy ought to look like. And then I also work with the ESO environment, which I’m excited about because that’s kind of where the rubber meets the road.
That’s where I see a lot of… It’s interesting. I see a lot of… Jeff, you and I can relate to this to some extent too because I think I’ve sent some of this your way. It’s a combination of like junk and some crazy things. You’re like, “You think you’re going to do what?” But then you run into some people that are on to something and so I like to spend some time there too, especially because I feel like healthcare, especially with innovation is so inaccessible. Healthcare is the last frontier in my mind, maybe education, but healthcare is amongst the last to really innovate and think about how to transform. And so it makes it really hard for innovators to access the system and understand the complexity of it. So I like to stay very involved with where the rubber meets the road entrepreneurs try to like create a path to help them understand the complexity of the space.
Jeff Standridge: So are you focused in any particular area, digital health, therapeutics, diagnostics or is it?
Gre’Juana Dennis: So, well, the larger answer is no but yes. So from an investment perspective, we typically are looking in the more digital area, diagnostic is okay. There tends to be a little bit of a longer runway with diagnostics, with med devices, that kind of thing. But from an investment perspective digital tele-medicine data is where we’ve probably put most of our capital the last several years. When I spend my time on health systems stuff, or when I’m consulting with health services companies, typically, it’s like process oriented. How can we improve the way we understand our customers? And sometimes I’m able to bring in some of those digital solutions, or think through how do they improve upon what they’re trying to do. And then if I’m working with like a real, a smaller entrepreneur that can be whatever, like if it’s an entrepreneur that’s super early stage. I’ll take anyone on if you’re smart and interesting to me, that kind of thing.
Jeff Standridge: Very good.
Jeff Amerine: What are some of the cooler things that you’re seeing in terms of innovation that are going to be game changing that you can talk about. I know there may be some things you can’t, but what are you seeing that’s exciting at this point.
Gre’Juana Dennis: There’s a lot that I probably can’t talk about specifically. I think though, if I would say the things to watch are the folks who really are… who stay closest to the patient. So as you guys probably know and Jeff you’re a healthcare guy, especially Jeff one, Standridge, you’re a healthcare guy too so you know this but… In my view, those who stay closest to the patient will win this game regardless. You’ve got a lot of activity, you’ve got data activity, who’s going to transform the way we take in information? But all of that fancy information, if it doesn’t get to the place where the provision of care happens it’s kind of mute. Then you’ve got data that can transform operations, same thing. If you don’t understand healthcare operations and how they operate and the gazillion systems in which they’re operating, that data is as just another data point that sits out externally.
So I think there’s all of these fantastic things, but the ones that are winning at least so far are the ones that really hone in on how to engage a patient, how to improve an outcome and just stay closest to the patient. Which if you think about it, philosophically, that is the essence of any really healthy business is staying close to a customer. And in healthcare you’ve got multiple customers. You’ve got stakeholders that could be doctors or health systems or insurers and payers. So that can be more complicated but I am seeing that the companies that stay closest to the patient are the ones that are breaking through faster through the healthcare bureaucracy, because there’s so much bureaucracy it’s so hard to be an effective healthcare entrepreneur just really is. I’m hopeful that over the next several years that’ll get easier but honestly it’s tough.
Jeff Amerine: Hey folks, we’ll be right back with the episode. But first we want to tell you about a limited opportunity to take advantage of our strategic growth diagnostic. For short time only we’re offering a free strategy call to see whether or not our unique diagnostic tool is right for you. Go to innovationjunkie.com/diagnostic to learn more.
Jeff Standridge: So if you talk about there where we’re winning or the companies that are winning in healthcare, let’s go back and look at where you think you just mentioned all the stakeholders, health systems acute inpatient care, outpatient, primary care, specialty care, payers, et cetera. Where do you think we’re between a rock and a hard place? Where do you think we need innovation the most in healthcare?
Gre’Juana Dennis: Man, if it were up to me I just blow the whole damn thing up. It is a need of just a blow up. Honestly, Jeff, I’m not going to lie to you I would say all of them need it equally because the reality is with healthcare is that all of these pieces are so interdependent and interconnected and you can’t innovate one without innovating on the other. So this is why I say, and it makes the process so complicated for innovators to understand that’s why I say those who stay closest to the patient at least at this juncture they are winning. Because that’s the one thing, not a payer, not a provider, not a doctor, not an accountant can argue with. If you can create any mechanism that helps a health system or provider improve an outcome with a patient that is indisputable, but everything else because there are so many stakeholders in this very complicated system, it can get a little murky and difficult to innovate.
Now it is very possible, but you have to have a lot of guidance. And that’s honestly even why 15 years ago when I got into this healthcare stuff, I was going, I will tell you guys, I was like going straight to, especially since I had these connections and resources, I was going straight to Stevens going, “Oh my God, you guys should invest in this and you should invest in this.” And the doctor that I was partnered up with had those connections as well and no one wanted to touch it with a 10 foot pole, partly because they didn’t understand it and the second thing was too many stakeholders.
The interdependency of all of those stakeholders makes healthcare so difficult, but I think that’s going to change over time. But what the landscape has shown now is that patient impact outcome will still win. So it’s kind of like if you think about it in the retail game or any other game and I’m sure you guys use the Lean Canvas and all these other primary ways that you say, “Do I understand my customer?” I’m telling you in business school, this is all we focused on was customer, customer, customer. If you don’t learn anything, understand how to understand your customer, those who just focus on that at least at this juncture are being successful in healthcare.
Jeff Standridge: And, and that is swimming upstream in healthcare-
Jeff Amerine: It is.
Jeff Standridge: … because it’s-
Gre’Juana Dennis: Absolutely.
Jeff Standridge: … generally been about the experts, it’s been about the-
Gre’Juana Dennis: Exactly.
Jeff Standridge: … physicians and the providers and to some degree the payers, right?
Gre’Juana Dennis: Absolutely.
Jeff Amerine: G, I’ll give you one that’s kind of interesting to your point. I think it highlights your point. So there’s was a company based in Oklahoma that was started by a GI specialist and his whole premise was colonoscopies… Recently, I think there was a it may have been an AMA recommendation that you should start getting colonoscopies earlier at age 45. And it’s a high rate of death and a lot of times they don’t catch until it’s much later stage. He said part of the reason why there’s apprehension for going in and getting colonoscopy is because the prep is so awful. It’s an awful process, it makes a lot of people sick.
So he’s formulated based on a lot of peer review research, food and a regimen that includes food that has the same impact as some of the harsher chemical preps that you have to take. And what he can show through the work that he’s already done is people don’t cancel because they’re sick or not feeling well-
Gre’Juana Dennis: No.
Jeff Amerine: … and they don’t avoid the prep. So it’s a better patient experience, it’s also better for the docs because they’re making more money by virtue of the fact that people are actually showing up for these appointments. But I think that speaks to you’re thinking.
Gre’Juana Dennis: It speaks to the point. Absolutely. I love companies like that because that’s a part of the healthcare ecosystem that you can impact and you can touch.
Jeff Amerine: I may have to send you their pitch deck.
Gre’Juana Dennis: No, I would love that actually, because, well, yeah. I have two friends now who are avoiding colonoscopies for the reasons you said so it’s real. But that’s also if I tell any entrepreneur who’s like, “Man, I’m wanting to get into healthcare, got all these ideas.” It’s like you got to have enough sense to go what can I actually impact? But you can march into anybody’s office and they would say, “That makes sense.”
Jeff Amerine: Exactly.
Gre’Juana Dennis: And they also have enough data to support that that fact is true. People do cancel because they hate the prep and that’s easy. And so healthcare is a prime example of the innovation cycle with this thing will be 15 years. So we’re at the beginning. So the tip of the sphere looks like it’s some underhanded softballs. It’s stuff like this that keeps the door open though. So I love these, I love those types of opportunities to look at it, introduce in because part of it is too Jeff two, culturally bringing something from the outside in is also part of the innovation process. It’s like I got to get people accustomed to some of these ideas got to come from the outside so if they’re a little like, “Hey, these guys have got a different innovation prep idea.” That helps that it’s like not too huge. You know what I mean?
Jeff Standridge: Well, that’s a prime example. We like to talk about our primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders, primary being the end-user, secondary being the economic decision maker and tertiary being the influencers or saboteurs, right?
Gre’Juana Dennis: Right.
Jeff Standridge: And so if you think about this particular innovation, everyone wins, the payer wins, the provider wins and the patient wins.
Gre’Juana Dennis: I love that. I might have to steal that. That’s exactLy what I… I think though you need in early stage healthcare innovation is the kind of thought like that. I run into so many people who actually do have the right idea but I’m thinking, “Do you think you’re the only person that knows how to do this?” There’s a reason it doesn’t get disrupted. And so it’s like you kind of have to… To properly disrupt healthcare is going to require unique understanding.
Jeff Standridge: Yeah. That’s good. That’s good.
Jeff Amerine: Follow up for you related to some of maybe the experience or what you’ve witnessed through the pandemic. It seems like the case for telehealth has probably been amplified over the course of the last year. What are you seeing and what are your thoughts about that?
Gre’Juana Dennis: Well, I would say it’s a function of what perspective. So the case for tele-health for me has always been strong, but I came through the door thinking that way. But from the health system perspective it was strong, but I’ve seen it weaken quite a bit since the COVID numbers have started to go down, you start to see folks revert back to what they like. The challenge is we’ve seen the demographic shifts are becoming a little bit more hard to ignore. So meaning millennials would prefer to not step into anyone’s clinic. But before it was more like anecdotally we couldn’t necessarily prove that. And so the cool thing is now you can prove it, it’s forcing those who are responsible for the provision of care to think about the fact that they can’t just serve as one model and healthcare is notorious for servicing one model, it’s like one size fits. That’s its biggest problem is a lack of segmentation ability in my view.
So that is changing but what has been a little discouraging is how quickly it reverted backwards. With that being said, when I put my investment hat on it is probably the most active space going on right now. Millennials clearly love it and it’s clearly efficient. What we’ve learned though is that as the COVID infection rate has reduced, so has the utilization of telehealth and that tells us a lot, but it also tells us a lot more generationally because millennials have clearly continued to say we prefer not to have to come into any office for care or whatnot. So from an investment perspective though, even though healthcare systems and health systems utilization of telehealth technology is reducing, we don’t see that from an investment side is something to worry about at all because the investors are looking obviously towards the next generation and we’re looking what’s coming over the hill, then that’s kind of the difference in the two worlds that I live in.
It’s kind of like health systems live in what I feel like there’s always this conventional… like the things that are phasing out, and then the more active investment world is like what’s coming. So it’s always kind of, I always feel like I have one foot in the canoe and one on land.
Jeff Standridge: Or one in the speed boat and one in the canoe.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Exactly. But the investment world is doubling down on telehealth technology and it’s not just in regular applicability, it’s like how do we re-engineer this technology to do other things? And so I would say at least in my personal investment fund company that we personally oversee, telehealth investment is probably maybe 60% and pre-pandemic it was 20.
Jeff Standridge: So let let’s talk about the world of data analytics, machine learning, natural language processing, AI and what you’re seeing there. I know you and I have some shared interest in that area as well.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Yeah, man, that is super exciting. My sense there Jeff is that it’s still going to take a little while. So it’s interesting the project that we worked on together, it’s kind of reared its head again in some different ways or whatnot but the reality is there. Is again, that’s the difference between what the systems are ready to do, but what the investors are ready to do. The systems, the challenge is the systems are responsible for the provision of care. So the machine learning and let’s say in any project where you can produce new insight, you’d say, “Oh my God, that’s massively valuable,” which it is. But in healthcare unless you do something with it, how valuable is it? So this is the weird mismatch with healthcare is that I think I’ve had a conversation with my private equity and venture guys over the years. There’s this sense that we know how slow traditional healthcare is, but at the same time when we try to take off without them it doesn’t work because they are responsible for the provision of care.
So we can go innovate all we want, but if we can’t bring it together at the right time we don’t create the magic or the outcome that we’re going for. So you’ve got the technology, the data, which is all we like to talk about and in invest in. That’s one of the reasons I keep my foot in one of those canoes or speed boats and one on land because you have to bring the people who deliver care along.
Jeff Standridge: We were just talking a few moments ago that and we were talking with him about it in the context of marketing, but it applies to healthcare’s world is the technology, the availability of data and the capabilities that exist far surpass the ability of most marketers to implement them. And I think that’s what you’re saying the same thing, the technology, the data, the machine learning and analysis capabilities and the talent to analyze data and to create decision support systems far exceeds a healthcare system’s ability to implement it on a broad scale.
Gre’Juana Dennis: And to add onto that, to implement it in the way that is economically feasible and that makes sense. These guys aren’t completely crazy, they don’t adopt a lot of this stuff because they’re not incentivized to.
Jeff Standridge: Yeah. No that’s right.
Gre’Juana Dennis: As an innovation executive in the health system, I was thinking, “Good Lord.” I’m like, “Great.” I see all of this opportunity but you know what truth be told all my CEO and my management team saw was things they couldn’t pay for. And so there is fundamentally that’s that blowing up reform thing that’s happening and it’s not just federal reform or regulatory. I do think that one of the things that’s been great over the last several years is that the federal government has loosened up the space to be more creative when it comes to creating different payment models so that you can innovate. Because the payment model in healthcare is the fundamental reason there’s not enough innovation. However, you also have to be a little bit incentivized to say, “I’m going to blow this up and do this differently.”
And that is the risk that a lot of senior executives go, “I don’t know.” Now it’s worked really well in places on the West Coast, Kaiser or Providence health system where literally these guys have just said, “You know what, we’re going to blow it up. We’re going to put the patient at the center and we’re going to design every process around it. Oh, and guess what? We think we’re smart enough to manage the economics.” And they actually make more money than anyone, but they fundamentally blew up what they thought they knew. And they said, “We’re not going to try to hang…” They didn’t do the one foot in the canoe thing and one for the other they picked a side. And I think in healthcare, that’s very hard for a lot of health systems to do for good reason and economic reasons primarily, but it does create unique challenges.
Jeff Standridge: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Very good. Jeff, you have any other questions?
Jeff Amerine: Yeah. The one that I was thinking about kind of patient centered. So there was the promise and has been the promise that EMRs, the Epics and the Cerners and the PHRs that were eventually… You were going to have this data that’s readily available, and the patient will be able to keep some of the data. And one of the hopes was that you would get this team collaboration, where if you had multiple docs or care providers that all were working on a patient’s case, it wouldn’t be this thing that seems like it’s like this a lot of times where no one really knows what the status is and who’s doing what. Are you seeing that team collaboration across clinician functions starting to manifest because of the tools, or is it still a little bit of a traditional, “We didn’t get the paperwork. We don’t know, fill all this stuff out again. We don’t understand your case.” What are you seeing?
Gre’Juana Dennis: That’s a very interesting question. I don’t know that the collaboration is actually because of the tools necessarily, again in healthcare people behave and the system behave how it’s incentivized to, especially financially. So recently I’ve kind of introduced a new partnership with a joint venture with Baptist, that took a slightly different approach that it wasn’t about the tools but it was about basically this very same idea Jeff. It’s like, how do we integrate all of these care positions? You’ll have one patient in 10 providers who can manage that. And so we’ve got this new relationship with ANUCO. And what’s interesting is that it’s working beautifully without the technological integration. The technological integration is proving to, again, probably to Jeff one’s earlier point before, I exceed where the market is and where the people are.
And it’s just the technology isn’t actually doing the integration, it’s more like we’re having to in healthcare insert a different human element that exclusively does that. But I think that’s, again, very unique to healthcare. I pray that in 10 years, this conversation will sound so different. It’s like, we would think that what we’re doing now is the Neanderthal times, but right now it really is so difficult because of the payment infrastructure and the gazillion stakeholders that keep so much red tape involved that technology is not a silver bullet in healthcare, it’s just not. And I think you can see some of that with the Berkshire Hathaway breakup that recently happened in some of these really big West Coast tech companies who I’ve know and advised and spoken with, and initially gave them my opinion that just coming in with technology is not the answer here and they kind of learned that the hard way.
Jeff Amerine: Yeah. It seems like behavioral changes to break down the institutional and regulatory atrophy really need to happen.
Jeff Standridge: That’s right. I’m going to land the plane here-
Gre’Juana Dennis: But you know what Jeff, I’ll say one more thing Jeff. Jeff being in organizational development in human person, understanding how people work and you’ve done this in your Axiom days, I think it’s very similar Jeff. It’s like understanding what motivates people and you can’t just say… You got to understand that some of this technology threatens folks, it’s threatens how they function, it threatens what they understand, threats how they function or operate their business in some cases it’s not all perceived as positive. And so I’m always keen on this notion of understand what you are replacing and who you are impacting in every way both positive and negative. And that’s one of the key components that I think a lot of the entrepreneurial community misses. And so they miss an opportunity to engage some of the resistance, all the resistance isn’t bad, some of the resistance is good. You can that resistance in a very positive way I think, if you understand where they’re coming.
Jeff Standridge: Very good, very good. We’re talking with G. Dennis. G is a healthcare innovator, investor and strategist extraordinaire really appreciate you for being with us today G. You’ve given us lots of great things to think about and lots of great things for our listeners to consider as well.
Gre’Juana Dennis: Thanks for having me guys.
Jeff Standridge: This is the innovation junkies podcast, and we’ll see you on the next episode.
Jeff Amerine: Hey listeners, this is Jeff Amerine and we want to thank you for tuning in. We sincerely appreciate your time. If you’re enjoying the Innovation Junkies podcast, please do us a huge favor. Click the subscribe button right now and leave us a review. It would mean the world to both of us and don’t forget to share us on social media.