This week on the show we have Stephen Stanwood, a trademark attorney, who founded his frim Stanwood.law in 2019. He’s based in Campbell, California but serves clients nationwide.
2:50 First year in business
4:05 What do you refer to a trademark attorney
5:05 Your why
6:10 Trademark Reg. No. 5,960,923
10:38 Three basic buckets of marketing
14:09 Importance of niching down
15:24 Not knowing what to expect when opening your own firm
21:43 Social impact
Watch the video here.
Jim’s Hack: In Jim’s office they have a big map and they put pins all around the world representing who they’ve helped in his immigration practice.
Stephen’s Tip: The Gary Vaynerchuk podcast.
Tyson’s Tip: When you know someone is going to try to get under your skin, don’t let it affect you.
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This is The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux.
Let’s partner up and maximize your firm.
Welcome to the show.
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Tyson, how are you doing, my friend?
Tyson: I am doing all right. I have got another busy day. I’m on the road again. I had a long day of depo’s yesterday. And now, I’m actually going to sign up a wrongful death case. It’s kind of a tragic story but. How are you doing?
Jim: I’m good. It sounded like you were in a heated exchange in your deposition yesterday. I was glad that I wasn’t there.
Tyson: Yeah, and it’s all on video, too. So, if you everyone want to watch it, let me know because I video all of my depo’s now. It was quite the experience. I’ll leave it at that.
Jim: All right. Well, speaking of video. For those of us in the Guild, we’re Live in the Guild, pushing out today’s interview with our friend Stephen Stanwood.
Steven, welcome to the show.
Stephen: Hey, good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jim: Yeah, let me give a little brief introduction about you. I think you and I connected on Twitter.
Stephen: I think so.
Jim: You have a really great website. I encourage everyone to check out your website and how you’ve organized your social media. I think you have a real nice approach to things. You’re a trademark lawyer in the San Jose area, is that right?
Stephen: That’s right, just south of San Jose, in Campbell, California.
Jim: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about your journey, maybe undergrad. I’m wearing my Cardinals hat and you were mentioning about how you grew up in Evanston and are sort of a Cubs fan. So, we’re just going to skim right over that. And why don’t you just tell us a little bit about how you got from Evanston to San Jose?
Stephen: Yeah, I am more than sort of a Cubs fan. I’ve been an addicted Cubs fan for decades and decades at this point. We can talk the whole time about the Cubs, kind of, to start and how good they’re looking but I’ll spare you all that.
I was born in Chicago. Went to undergrad back in the University of Chicago, down the south side. Lived in Chicago for a couple years. Worked on a political campaign. Moved out to DC. And then, ultimately, went to law school out there. Came back to California when I met my wife out here. This was never a place I thought it was going to live but it’s delightful and I’m so glad that I’ve set up shop out here. Now, I work for small firms.
All through law school, I worked every semester of law school, basically. And then, for several years after that, and I got to the point where starting my own firm wasn’t an abstraction anymore. I said, “What if this wasn’t the long-term plan? What if this was next week?” Talked with my wife about it and launched my firm, Stanwood.Law which has been live, what, about nine months now. I’d like to say I’m in the first year of a 40-year journey and it’s going great so far.
Tyson: So, tell us about the last year. How’s it gone?
Stephen: It’s wild. I mean, I didn’t really know how to set expectations, going in, so I just sort of defaulted it with pessimistic like, “what if nothing happens? What if I try to get this thing off the ground and nobody calls, nobody hires me for anything, and I don’t make any money?” I’m committed to it for two years, at least, was my resolution about it. I was like, “Whatever happens two years. Done.” And nine months in, it’s just been so far above and beyond. I mean, I’ve worked with attorneys in, I don’t know, like 15 states or something already. Done a ton of interesting trademark work for a ton of different people.
I guess, I’ll just say upfront, my firm is a little unique in that I’m not sort of run-of-the-mill trademark lawyer who brings in business clients and files trademark applications and things like that for them. What I’m trying to do is build, really, an expertise-based business that helps other lawyers.
So, a lot of business lawyers will kind of get into trademark situations. The client doesn’t want to hire another trademark lawyer, at that point, and the business lawyer doesn’t want to say, ”I’m not really an expert in these things”. So, what I do is I come in, at that point, and I’ll write things for the main attorney, or I’ll help out in the opposition, or an infringement proceeding, or things like that. So, I’m building a writing business around that sort of expertise concept.
Jim: So, Stephen, we have a lot of members in our group. What kind of things would we possibly refer to a trademark attorney like you or our friend, Joey Vitale?
Stephen: Yeah. I love Joey Vitale. He is another person who’s doing amazing stuff all over social media. If you don’t follow him on Twitter, and LinkedIn and places like that, you’re missing out on what he has going on.
So, if you’re like a small business owner, I’d go to him and say, “You know, I want to file a trademark. I want to get my get my brand protected.” But if you’re an attorney, and you have a client who has stumbled their way into a brand dispute, somebody’s opened up shop across the street with similar name or, more commonly, you file a trademark application, or they file a trademark application on their own because it’s fairly straightforward and easy to do, we can talk about the merits of doing that on your own but that’s kind of here nor there because a lot of people do, and then you get stuck. The Trademark Office sends you a letter back that says, “Hey, we got all these problems,” and you’re kind of looking bad and saying, “I don’t know how to get past this. Let me know. Am I stuck? Is this it?” And that’s where you can call me and bring me into the fold because I do a bunch of them and know sort of my way around the trademark system.
Tyson: Wondering more and more about, when we have guest on, is their why. So, why did you choose this path? What is your why?
Stephen: I think I’ve always had kind like a creative and entrepreneurial drive. What scares me more than anything is complacency and I started to feel that after a few years working for other firms. Loved the people I worked for. Loved the mentorship. Worked for great firms. Had great experiences, but just felt myself settling into that sort of nine to five, or nine to six, or whatever it is routine where you’re checking in the morning, and you roll along, and you write some stuff. And then, you check out at night.
I’m super young. I’m 31. And I’ve always had the drive to create something and build something really, really specific. That’s sort of all areas of my life. Especially in law, I felt like I was leaving a lot on the table if I just settled in right away to this routine. And I wanted to try interesting things with social media, and brand building, and also that really, really specialized kind of trademark work that I wanted to do. I wanted to really, really narrow in on that and see where it took me.
Jim: Well, it’s apropos that we’re having Stephen on the show today because I have some breaking news. I haven’t even told Tyson this yet.
Tyson, can you see us on camera or can you not?
Tyson: No, I’m driving.
Jim: All right. Well, I will show Steven so.
Stephen: Don’t look at us.
Jim: This right here is the official trademark that Joey Vitale did get for Maximum Lawyer. So, we are now the prime holders of registration number 5,960,923. We have our own trademark for Maximum Lawyer, so that’s pretty exciting.
Stephen: That is awesome.
Tyson: Really cool.
Stephen: Yeah. Congrats to you guys. Congrats to Joey.
I feel like one of the satisfying parts of trademark law versus other kinds of laws is that, you know, there is an endpoint, like you get to a registration or you don’t. It has a gold seal on it and everybody feels good.
A lot of the litigation cases that I worked on, early on, inevitable conclusion. It’s like everybody sits in a room for nine hours and you have to have some kind of agreement. Then, everybody just kind of goes their separate ways and it’s like– you know, that’s good enough to move on but nobody really, really feels good at the end, so that was kind of a bummer to me.
Jim: Joey’s working on some other trademarks for us right now. What should our members be thinking about as far as their firm name or if they have a tagline, what are some good basics that you can give our guys and gals, in a minute or two, that they should just be thinking about when they’re talking about their own, I guess, intellectual property?
Stephen: Yeah. I mean, there are probably trademarks everywhere you look.
Think about how you built the brand of your firm. You can kind of break that down into its smallest component parts – names, logos, slogans – all potentially trademarks. Also, don’t get hung up on the fact that there are a lot of trademarks that you can’t necessarily register because you’ve picked a generic name if you’re just some kind of generic law office.
When you’re naming your firm, you want to name it something distinctive from a trademark perspective, right? You don’t want to just pick your name, or pick your field of law, or pick your area, or something like that because that’s not something you can necessarily exclude other people from doing. So, start at the very beginning. Think about how you want to build your brand. And then, work with a trademark attorney, like Joey, to build some strategy around that.
Tyson: I’m curious about naming. Are you seeing any trends with changes in how firms name their firms? For example, you know, 30 years ago, it would just be a bunch of lawyers’ names on the door. But are you seeing a shift in the change of names as the more specific, you know, The Injury Law Firm or Traffic Law Center, things like that?
Stephen: I see some of that. I mean, there was this– I feel like there was a big talk about that a few years ago, where it’s like, “Oh, you know, the new thing is giving a firm sort of a novel, interesting name,” but sort of the basic undercurrent of just the name or just the practice area has remained pretty strong.
I mean, I’m as guilty as anybody, right. I’m a trademark lawyer who runs a firm that’s called Stanwood Law. So, I think a lot of people just do that as the default and that’s fine. It’s just, you know, other Stanwood’s in the world, potentially, can do the same thing.
Jim: One of the fun things about practicing trademark law, like you, or immigration law, like me, is that we get to practice in all 50 states because it’s federal.
Stephen: Oh, sure, yeah.
Jim: Talk a little bit about that when it comes to marketing and communicating with potential clients, Stephen.
Stephen: I think that’s a big reason why I do so much on social media, and so much video, and so much LinkedIn stuff is that I’m casting a really broad net because I can jump in and help attorneys who work anywhere and sort of just naturally better to the people I know, offline and relationships I had before. Like, I do a lot of work in California because that’s where I’m based, but I’ve done work for attorneys in Chicago, and Florida, and Alabama.
I have this long-term goal now of, you know, “Can I work with attorneys in all 50 states?” If I can get up to 15 or 16, or wherever I am, in nine months, it’s like who knows where I am a year from now or five years from now. That’s really helpful, I think, because as you build up a national practice, obviously not everyone can do it because of the way that law and certification works, but if you have the luxury of building up a national practice, that just gives you a broader net of people who you can get referrals from and give referrals to.
So, you encounter random people looking for– somebody in Dallas, Texas. This happened to me, I don’t know, a week or two ago. Like, “Oh, I’m based in Dallas, Texas, really looking for a trademark lawyer who does this one specific thing based in Dallas, Texas,” and I was able to leverage the network that I have going to find a specific person to send that person to right away.
Tyson: So, I do have some questions about your marketing because you heavily leverage social media. So, is that your main way of getting clients or do you get clients in other ways as well?
Stephen: I have three basic buckets? I have the social media bucket which I think is more of a long-term play brand building, you know, getting out there in the world, having people know who I am and what I’m up to and that leads to interesting things like, you know, I don’t think I’d be on this podcast if not for the social media things that I’m doing. That’s kind of a long-term networking and also professional development play, like you can learn a lot just by listening to really interesting, smart people who are out there talking about trademarks every day. That’s the social media bit.
The second bucket is people I know, from the area here, from working in the business litigation/trademark space, the first several years of my career here. That’s a big chunk of my work.
Then, the third bucket. This is like the Rick Perry thing where you say three things and then you forget what the third thing is. The third bucket is these online platforms that specifically exist to connect lawyers to other lawyers because that’s the nature of my work. I use things like Lawclerk and some of the other marketplaces to go and find really specific projects where, what I was describing earlier, a general business attorney has sort of stumbled into a trademark situation that they needed an extra set of hands on, so I do a lot of those.
Jim: Nice. I love it. We are big fans of Lawclerk here. I just dropped another project on them. I was talking to [inaudible 00:11:59] the other day. That’s a great way to sort of– especially if, like you said, find the exact things that you’re looking for.
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Jim: All right, Stephen. Now, one of the things I like about your website is that you’ve really embraced what it is that you do and you’ve included famous trademarks of entities that you like. Like, you had one for the dreaded Cubs and one for a nonprofit that you worked for. Talk about why it’s important– and Tyson and I talk about this all the time, why it’s important to niche down and why your website doesn’t say, “I do trademarks, and estate planning, and car crashes.”
Stephen: That’s just kind of axiomatic to me, especially because I’m casting a net as broad as I am. Especially when you’re running a national practice, if you’re the only lawyer in town and somebody’s looking to hire the lawyer in town, maybe it makes sense to have that sort of broad based practice where you do a little bit of everything – general purpose. But if you’re trying to get attention online, and a lot of us are, then you have to have a specific story that you’re telling. I mean, what do you do specifically?
When I started my firm, I was like, “Okay, I’m definitely going to be in trademark law, but I think I can niche down even further than that and be a trademark lawyer who helps other lawyers in these particular trademark situations,” like that’s pretty specific. And when somebody’s looking for you, you want them to get your website and say, “Oh, you know, this is exactly the person that I need for X, Y and Z.” You don’t want them to kind of get lost in your website amidst like dozens of other similar looking websites without really a clear reason to pick you versus anybody else because then you’re just sort of hoping they throw a dart at the board and it lands on you rather than somebody else.
Tyson: So, I’m always curious, whenever I’m talking to people that have started firms, and they always come up with things, they’re like, “I didn’t really expect this, or I didn’t expect that, or this really surprised me.” Have you experienced anything like that since you’ve started your firm?
Stephen: I think so. I mean, I mentioned earlier the pessimism I had going in. I literally don’t know what to expect next week. I don’t know like, what’s going to fill the time and my days. I don’t know who’s going to come up?
I’ve been surprised by just how many people have come out of the woodwork and how many people have been– really, I’d spend a lot of time engaging on social media, and just how much how gracious people are, especially people who are veterans in the industry, who you look up to, who you’re learning a lot from day in and day out. People who are willing talk people. People who are willing to share their experience with you. It’s really just fairly warm and welcoming community.
And I’ve been really thankful for that because I feel like, obviously, one of the downsides of being a solo or working from home, like so many people are doing now, is that you lose that social connected aspect of being in a firm. And I think that’s a big part of where social media can step in, is to build a support structure for you, as you’re going through on this journey, because one way to get mixed up pretty quickly is to feel like you are just totally out, on an island, on your own, and that you run into struggles that nobody else has faced. I’ve been so thankful for the communities that are out there bringing people together.
Jim: Stephen, are your cases– are they all like one off’s or are there things that you can systematize about the help that you give to lawyers and people who find themselves in trademark disputes?
Stephen: A lot of them are– trying to give you a percentage here but just I’ll be sort of off the cuff, maybe 80/20. I do a lot of one off’s but then there’s another core people who I’ll do a project for and they’ll come back in a couple of weeks, or a week, or right away and say, “Oh, yeah, I also have this other thing that’s been pending and I didn’t really know how to handle it. Can you do something on this for me?” So, I do have that good core of clients who are coming back with similar projects.
Tyson: [inaudible 00:17:14] that a weekly newsletter that helps him keep in touch with his clients and that’s pretty effective for him. To me, it seems like something like that would be pretty effective for you, especially with business clients. Do you do anything like that? Or what are some other things you do to stay in touch with your clients?
Stephen: That’s a good question. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about and not done that good of a job with yet. I had a monthly newsletter going just because it felt like the thing that you do and it was recommended to me – podcasts and things like that.
I don’t know. I’m kind of ambivalent about it. I appreciate the compliment about the website earlier, by the way, too, because I’m also sort of ambivalent about the website because so much of my– I guess, it’s good to have there as sort of a standalone resume that people are going to go double check, right? Because when somebody hears your name, they’re going to Google around for you, and they’re going to look at your website, and they’re going to look at your LinkedIn profile. They’re going to look at maybe Twitter or whatever else you have going on, to get a sense of who you are and what you’re doing.
So much of my business comes in and so much of my contact with clients is either email, or messages on social media, or phone calls. I don’t know how much utility I found out of that monthly newsletter so far but I am, definitely, all the time engaging with all sorts of people all over the social media landscape so I have like [inaudible 00:18:32].
Jim: Let’s back up a little bit. Are you capturing all the contact information of everybody that reaches out to your firm so that you can continue the conversation in some way?
Stephen: Yeah. I mean, I have spreadsheets going. It’s just me. There’s sort of a fundamental modesty to what I’m doing, building a firm that’s designed to be an expertise solo firm for a long time. I’m not trying to scale up as quickly as possible and bring in other people or things like that. So, it’s at a level where I can manage a lot of it. Like, I know who’s reached out to me. I know who I need to follow up with. I know who I need to check in with to see what they have going on. But I haven’t, I think, had a lot of the same struggles that people who are just looking to field all these phone calls and triage all these potential clients. It’s a little bit different than that.
Jim: I don’t know. I’m going to push back a little bit on that. I’m going to push you a little bit on that. I mean, I think you could get a little bit of help and scale it in a way because some people might contact you and might not hire you right away, but they might want to remember like, “Hey, who’s that guy in Campbell? That guy that does trademarks? What’s his name?” So, I think that you want to have some way whether it is a monthly newsletter or something.
And as you’re starting out, I think you could tell stories of things that you come across but also there’s so many weird things in the news when it comes to trademarks. I mean, there’s interesting stuff. I send a lot of it over to Joey just, “Hey, this is some weird– like somebody died or something, or somebody’s suing over some kind of a trademark. Like, here in St. Louis, we had this as a nerdy high school kid who came up with this Buttface brand, and it had the North Face brand but it was– whatever NorthFace has like and [inaudible 00:20:13]. They reversed it, right, to make it look like a butt. So, just things like that. I would find that stuff interesting, as a lawyer, and you could just have one, even if it’s just for lawyers.
Stephen: I think I had something like that going on. But, certainly, the videos that I make are all just interesting trademark stories that remind people that I’m out there and remind people of what I’m doing – this kind of work. So, I guess, that’s my main outlet.
With the newsletter, specifically, [inaudible 00:20:38]. I was going along and doing it. And then, we got in the middle of this year and George Floyd happened. I took a step back and I was like, ”What am I doing? It doesn’t– I think I had the moment a lot of people had where it doesn’t make sense to be sending out a newsletter about trademarks right now. I have a lot of personal and political feelings about my own life and what this means and what it means for the world. I don’t know how to share those in a business way. So, I just kind of froze up and I regret that. And now that I’ve sat down and thought about it more thoroughly, I would’ve done something differently. But since then, I’ve just been sort of stepping back and retooling how I want to communicate in a whole lot of ways as I [inaudible 00:21:24].
Jim: I appreciate that. Yeah, sure. That makes sense.
Tyson: So, I just had an idea. I don’t know if it’s a good idea or a bad idea. So, let’s all talk it through a little bit. I mean, it sounds like you have some sort of a desire to have a social impact. So, you know, like TOMS shoes for every shoe that they sell, like giveaway a set of shoes or whatever? Did you do something like that for like an underprivileged area, whatever community you pick? But could you do something like that? You know, you get a trademark, you give a trademark?
Stephen: Right. That would be really interesting. Like, maybe you file a trademark. And then, you like, do one for somebody for free.
I mean, I’ve been doing a lot of work with law students just on the mentoring side and talking them through what they’re struggling with right now, which is a lot of the people are graduating and not being able to take Bar exams right now. So I’m sort of following the diploma privilege thing more closely and trying to just step people who are a little bit behind me through the process and making them feel like “it’s going to be all right” as best I can. So, that’s been my main outlet so far. But some sort of like really concrete thing baked into a corporate mission especially for, I think, organizations looking to scale more like TOMS shoes has done. I think that’s really interesting.
Jim: All right, Stephen. So, we’re going to wrap up here pretty soon.
For my last question. I’m going to ask you, one of my favorite questions, which is the Dan Sullivan question, which is, Stephen, if we were to have you on this podcast three years from now, and we were to look back on these last three years, what would have to have happened for you to feel like you’ve made progress in the direction that you wish?
Stephen: It’s a good question. I’ll fight the premise a little bit by saying that– you would probably call me out on this, too, but I don’t go overboard with the goal setting, and growth, and scaling in the way that a lot of people do because I think that sets you up to just work towards those metrics and maybe short change other things that aren’t measurable, right. What gets what gets measured gets managed. Who’s that, Peter Drucker? So, I have sort of a more– I don’t know, haphazard is a negative term, but more organic way of approaching the whole thing.
I feel like if I’m continuing to grow my base of clients, if I’m happy with the work that I’m doing, if I’m able to, as I’m doing now, keep it to a fairly dull roar. I mean, I work very, very hard, but I can also turn it off on weekends, and turn it off to go on vacation, and things like that. And if I’m still positive presence in my life with my wife and my family, that’s it for me.
Tyson: And that answer is completely fine. There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
Stephen: [inaudible 00:24:07].
Tyson: All right, so we do need to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to go to the Facebook group, get involved there, just a lot of great discussions every day. There’s a very interesting one recently, but there’s a lot of great conversation going on every single day. Guild prices are going up very soon. So, if you want to check us out, go to maximumlawyer.com.
Jimmy, what is your hack of the week?
Jim: Well, I always like talking to people like Stephen who have big plans and a very firm understanding what it is that they want to do.
And I also like talking to people who have a national practice. And one of the things I was thinking about, with Stephen, as he was talking about doing work for people in different states is one of the things we’ve had great success with, here in the physical office, is we have a big map and we put pins in all around the world, really, where we help people either come to the United States or, if they’re here in the States, we’ve put pins in their states for the work that we do for people in the United States. I’m wondering if you could do like an electronic version of something like that on your website because I think that the more that people see that you’ve helped people, maybe from their town, or their state, or their area, that sort of helps them see that it’s feasible, that Stephen can work with someone in Delaware, even though he’s in San Jose.
I’m always pushing people to do more client success stories, because I think those are the greatest endorsement of the skills that you have. But I think, especially in a visual practice area like you have, that might be something that’d be really helpful.
Stephen: I think that’s brilliant. And I’m literally writing down client website map because, if I don’t write things down, I forget them and I definitely want to do that. So, stay tuned to the website. It’s coming.
Tyson: All right. So, Stephen, we always ask a guest to give a tip or a hack of the week. Do you have a tip or a hack for us?
Stephen: I do. I’d’ say that probably the biggest influence shaping what I’ve done with social media and what I’ve done with video is the Gary Vaynerchuk podcast, very polarizing figure out there in the world. Big internet entrepreneur kind of guy who I never knew anything about until, I don’t know, nine months ago or a year ago when I started thinking more deliberately about entrepreneurship and about the internet. He is like an internet entrepreneur. He’s very brash. He’s very loud. So the first couple of times I listened to him, I was like, you know, “Who is this guy? Just some marketing guy who I don’t trust or believe in at all,” but then, for whatever reason, I picked up the stuff again a second time, and then the third time. After that, you fall into a pretty deep hole because he’s just created a ton of resources for anybody looking to build a brand online, so that is where I would start.
Tyson: Jimmy is a very big Gary Vaynerchuk fan. I mean, I like Gary. Honestly, he’ll probably love hearing this. I don’t have enough time in a day to watch all of his content and listen to all of his content. He produces so damn much of it.
Stephen: No. Nobody does.
Tyson: Yeah. And I guess that’s the point. I mean, it’s effective. Just it’s kind of a little too much at times but it’s fine. I mean, he knows what he’s doing. At least, he seems like he does, so he’s made a lot of money doing it. I’m a fan as well. It’s just I can’t watch all of his content so.
So, my tip of the week is, it comes from– as Jim mentioned earlier, I had just the most difficult deposition with another attorney yesterday. And we had a long screaming match, back and forth, in the middle the deposition regularly. But here’s the thing, even though I did it, I only yelled to make a point because I knew, going in, she was going to be a difficult attorney to deal with. And so, I had a stated goal in my mind to just not let them get under my skin, right. She was very abrasive via email, so I knew she was going to be abrasive in the deposition. And so, I just knew. My goal was to, you know, I can work her up, but not to let myself get worked up.
And so, the point is, we all run into jerks in this world and just don’t let them get under your skin. Just know, going in, some people may try to get under your skin but just know, “Hey, keep your calm. Everything will be okay.” It’s because something’s going on in their life, affecting them. And it’s not really that they’re attacking you. It’s something going on with themselves. And so, don’t let that affect you. Don’t let other people affect you because, otherwise, it’ll really just bring you down. So, there’s no point in that.
But Stephen, thanks so much for coming on, man. It’s been a lot of fun. I wish I could have seen you via video. Unfortunately, I’m on the road. But thank you so much.
Stephen: Really appreciate it. I love what you guys are doing. You’ve definitely brought a lot of value to a lot of people through the community you’ve built, so very good.
Jim: Thanks, Stephen. See you, bud.
Tyson: Appreciate it.
Stephen: All right. Take care.
Tyson: See you, guys.
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