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Intuit to Acquire Mailchimp for $12B (intuit.com)
579 points by marc__1 2 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 392 comments

This kinda feels like one of those acquisitions where all the special sauce that makes the acquired company a great company is the exact opposite in the acquiring company.

That is, from all I've heard, Mailchimp is a great company to work at, and the founders definitely had the "scrappyness" that let them become so successful without VC funding, and their customers really like them too.

Intuit, on the other hand, is basically the poster child for "regulatory capture" company. Also, since employees don't have equity (though I'm assuming they'll get fat bonuses for this), it's bound to cause some level of strife in the company.

For anyone who (like me) didn't know the first thing about intuit, I looked them up on Wikipedia. Some highlights:

> Intuit offers a free online service called TurboTax Free File as well as a similarly named service called TurboTax Free Edition which is not free for most users

> Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, has lobbied extensively against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) creating its own online system of tax filing

> [I]nvestigations by ProPublica found that Intuit deliberately steered taxpayers from the free TurboTax Free File to the paid TurboTax Free Edition using tactics including search engine delisting and a deceptive discount targeted to members of the military.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intuit [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TurboTax

It's worse than that. They lobbied to create the situation where taxes are so complicated that most people need software to figure it out.

Taxes were complicated long before Intuit, its designed that way to benefit the wealthy. If it were simple they couldn't cheat.

Intuit lobbied to keep the tax system complicated. In theory the IRS could do your taxes for you and ask for corrections. For most people, they have all the information needed to do taxes and would save people a lot of stress and money.

Yeah prefilled tax forms are like defecto in Europe.

Think you mean defacto :-D

It has also the defect of not just calculating, it takes it from the source, and employers are obliged to comply. It's less headache for tax payers, but makes it harder to not pay. Which until so long ago wasn't even an obligation.

Soon we will be getting the automatic calculation, for a fee, and taken from source. It's already starting to happen, medium and other digital economies are doing that. Forced to collect from source , and they pass on the cost of the system to tax payers.

If we don't attack the idea of tax, I think it will never end.

Just like taxes can be used to kill people in foreign countries, it can be used to save people from fire and illness, educate them, etc.

When you try to defect from paying tax, you may have in your mind the people not killed with your money, but others in society will (correctly) recognize the people not saved with your money and wish to punish you. This is basic tit-for-tat group behavior. Tit-for-tat makes it possible to solve the prisoner's dilemma cooperatively.

I don't think the downvotes should necessarily be interpreted as punishment, though, it could also be because people think the above rationale is so obvious that your post has negative value (little information, noisy).

I would gladly take the positive aspects, but it isn't obvious to me those are significant, I think they are part of the problem.

I'm sorry if the questioning of taxes is noisy information, and I glad you took the time to answer with arguments.

I agree there is a group behavior at play there. You mention education, my own education was nearly in full paid by tax payers. I only had to sustain myself during all these education years, and I spent the rest of my life re educating myself, which came at lower cost but greater effort than getting educated by non government funded bodies.

Fire and health are different issues, which I'm sure would also be handled better than with public funds taken by force.

Informational maybe, but the taxing system we have today wasn't what founded America and made the great country it had become. We can look at specific issues such as turbofax and questionable lobbies, but these are plugged onto a taxing dogma that would need to be discussed more than the intricacies of its implementation.

I appreciate your explained view, I can only agree with what you've taken the time to point out.

Oh, those who think taxing is legitimate, downvote all you want. Take a moment to explain this to those who refused from the get go to go around the world spending a portion of this money to bomb millions of people, costing over 2 trillion dollars in Afghanistan alone, money I think would have been sufficient to fund a hospital for everyone who needs it in the entire continent.

Looking at the behaviour of the United States government, I sympathise with the anti-tax Libertarian types. The obscene misuse of tax money while infrastructure crumbles is plain to see. Dollar for dollar, American citizens seem to get less for their tax than most other developed countries and far, far more of it goes towards the military budget which, as you point out, is used in aggression.

But don't make the mistake of thinking the American experience is the universal one - one of the reasons these anti-tax arguments fall on deaf ears internationally is that a lot of countries actually do use tax to look after their citizens to some degree. One of the reasons Libertarianism never caught on globally is because there's little appetite for dismantling government institutions that are, for the most part, working.

The problem isn't tax, it's the behaviour and culture of the government.

I don't make that mistake. Here are a few different countries i live in demonstrating the same issues:

France: over 20% vat, about 50% on income for median pay. Uk: 20% vat, over 40% of median pay. Malaysia: 10% gst Vietnam : 10% gst, over 33% income

Those aren't the only taxes, just the most obvious ones. Western and Asian countries, from very developed, to somewhat developed, and under developed. Please show me where those taxes have benefited the people.

Any tax critic in here is always downvoted. I only ever saw 2 comments as a response. Why is it most dont see that taxes are just a way to fund barely checked agencies causing either havoc, or failing at their task?

You're not wrong. Please don't conflate taxation as a concept with the actions of a corrupt plutocratic prison state like the USA.

In the more socialist capitalist countries, taxation is an effective way to mitigate the effects of the parasitic merchant class.

Like where? I m happy to look into a few you would consider a success.

Yep, filing tax in The Netherlands for many people has become a 5min. click-through + submit experience.

Those don't exist in Germany. I don't know about other countries, but that's already 10+% of Europe where they're not a thing.

If you have only wage income in Germany, as I understand it, there is no need to file a tax return. So you are correct there is no “pre-filled form.” But the system is simple and automated enough that a great many people don’t have to do anything.

Maybe we are talking about different things, but you can definitely pre-fill your tax form with employer and social security data in Germany. In that case, you only have to add information if you want to claim deductions higher than the "Werbungskostenpauschale".

Things usually only get difficult when you are self-employed or have difficult deductions.

Sure, you can do that, or you can have a software do that. But you won't get it filled out by the state + "sign here if everything looks okay".

Plus you always need extra forms for savings etc.

I think this is a case of UK=Europe, even though UK's claim of not being "European"

Not sure what you mean here, in the UK we do not have to do anything for our taxes. They are automatically handled, and in the rare case you need a refund, it's automatic and if you paid less for whatever reason, they just increase your taxes over the next 12 months or whatever.

Ehm… no?

For W2 employees yes, but they don't have the info on self-employment and business income, which is quite a lot of people.

I know, and I don't disagree with that. Intuit has been an boil on the ass of tax code, but it's got a lot of boils.

In France taxes come pre-filled. Cheating is equally simple: you just "forget" to fill additional fields.

No, TurboTax seems like a clear case of lobbying where millions are inconvenience just so that a handful of executive keep an underserved revenue.

What makes taxes complicated for an average Joe in the US, who's got a job and doesn't engage in some complex activities that are more useful to the top 0.1% ? I used to do my own taxes in the UK and while the process is fairly straightforward (would never pay anyone to do it) but the terminology in some cases is outright silly. Now I'm in Lithuania, where I could file my tax returns just by logging into my online banking. It'd be interesting to see how it's on the other side of the pond.

Nothing. It's basically just an exercise in copying info from a few sources into a web form.

Once you have your W2s (basically an annual pay stub) you can click through any of the free tax services in under an hour. If you have mortgage interest or student loan interest add however long it takes you to get those forms (they usually mail you a form telling you what you need to know for your taxes that year) or dig up the PDF version on your online account with the creditor. I just magnet the forms to the fridge as they show up at the beginning of the year and file once I have them all.

Those free tax services exist because they lobby the government to keep it from offering free filing itself so companies can push paid services to free filers who don't really need those paid services.

Yes and? That doesn't affect the answer to his question. Regardless of who's letterhead the guy who built the web form's pay stub is on the process is still the same. Having to click "no" on a few more screens doesn't make it much more challenging.

Maybe there's no "design" and it's complex as an emergent phenomenon from never being refactored as new rules were added year after year; the result benefits those who can pay others to figure it out, basically the rich.

Isn’t most of the complexity associated with itemized deductions, which at lower levels of income default to a straight-up standard deduction?

Or are you referring to some other provisions?

1. Your employer already reports how much you made to the government. 2. At the end of the year the government could just send you a summary and give you the ability to apply deductions.

The above case would cover 99% of people.

Instead you have to do a whole bunch of song and dance using some third party and hopefully the numbers match.

They could also assume that not filing assumes standard deduction. The government is already told about nearly everything. The weirdness comes if you work two jobs or are self-employed, which is why the quarterly estimates exist.

So the biggest complexity is in terms of capital investments as opposed to income.

Basically if you are paid money and put that money in the bank, you pay yearly income taxes on the income the money earns.

If you are instead given a bunch of stock shares, you don't pay taxes on the stock when the price goes up, only when it's sold, which leads to all sorts of possible ways to side step paying taxes, or put them off and then paying them in a lump sum, or paying interest on loans secured with the stock, where the loan isn't considered income for tax purposes, etc.


> Isn’t most of the complexity associated with itemized deductions

I had to laugh a little at this, its like saying, "CPUs, isn't that just a bunch of switches?" Yes, you are correct. But it's been nearly a century of wealthy people hiring lawmakers to create hundreds of thousands of esoteric deductions that are only accessible to people who own business that they can fiddle with, aka rich folks.

In the grandparent post you were excusing Intuit’s lobbyism by using a what-aboutist look-the-other-way argument to appoint a different entity (collection of “rich people”) as the designated tormentor for tax code complexity.

I surmised that complexities introduced by that group are irrelevant in calculating standard tax return costs, as no one requires a low income earner to deal with vagaries of obscure deductions. It’s mainly Intuit who should be blamed for beefing up those costs.

You seem to agree with that statement in your subsequent comment, so I’m no longer sure about the insight you are trying to drive through.

Is it just a trivial “taxes are complex, man” thesis?

> In the grandparent post you were excusing Intuit’s lobbyism by using a what-aboutist look-the-other-way

I did nothing of the sort. You inferred your own narrative and are now blaming me. Know what that is called?

I must’ve misread. My apologies.

Agreed, and to make jobs/keep people employed.

> its designed that way to benefit the wealthy

"Design" implies intent requiring coordination and effort on the part of a group of people strategically situated to deliver a result. "To benefit the wealthy" identifies a clear and well-defined objective as the focus of such activities.

Who came up with the original idea to "design" a tax code "to benefit the wealthy"?

Was it more than one person? Names please.

What were the design principles? No hand-wavy stuff, looking for specific objectives, etc.

Over what period of time?

Can you provide a year-by-year (or close enough) summary of the progression of this design and how it met your stated purpose?

How? By this I mean: How was such a coordinated effort organized and run over, presumably, decades and through various generations of politicians participating in the process.

And, for all of the above, documentation please.

I remain puzzled about whether people just stay stuff like this or actually believe it. You don't have to make too much of an effort in digging into these ideas to fully identify them as nonsensical. Yet people believe this stuff without having one shred of proof, evidence, history or documentation. Not very different from folks who believe the COVID vaccine injects you with tiny little robots the government can use to control you (one of the things people say and I don't really know how to react other than to shrug and wish them well).

I'll add my own observation to this: No, the US tax code is not designed to benefit the wealthy. It is based on incentivizing behavior through tax breaks/credits.

For individuals the simplest example is the ability to deduct your mortgage interest from your income. Another example is the 30% solar system tax credit (I think it's down to 26% now).

At the business level you get such things as Section 179 tax credits, which allow you to reduce your tax burden by as much as 100% of the purchase value of qualifying business property. For example, when we purchased our last Haas CNC vertical machining center and all the tooling and software required to design, program and run it, we got a Section 179 tax credit of nearly $250K.

The theory behind these incentives is to promote behaviors. We bought equipment. The tax code treats this as a desirable behavior because it creates jobs. The options were: Send the IRS a check for $250K or send them $0 and use that money to buy additional machining capabilities. This is what is called a "no brainer". Everyone wins.

This is why businesses can seem to pay zero taxes. Well, if they invest enough money into things the tax code wants them to put money into, they get to pay less taxes. Yet, in certain circles, this is treated with blinding ignorance; the headlines often reading company "x paid zero taxes". Nobody bothers to understand any of it.

For the record, I don't like the idea of using the tax code to control behavior. I think this is (was) a terrible idea. It gives politicians tools they should not be able to access. Taxation should be as simple as possible, to a limit. The problems start once you try to simplify it. For example, "You must pay 10% of your income". OK, someone sets up an LLC and pay themselves very little. They pay very little in taxes. This is a very simplistic example to say that one of the reasons for which the tax code quickly gets convoluted is because, in software developer terms, it has to be a massive chain of "if-else if" statements in order to address all permutations and limit cheating to the extent possible. Once you start down that path you end-up with never-ending complexity because we don't have a way to control it.

Perhaps a simpler approach would have no income tax at all for anyone (state of federal). All the money needed to run governments at various levels comes from taxing transactions. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of options here. For example, tax every electronic funds transfer; tax every single imported good; national VAT, etc. Not a simple idea. There are no simple options. Maybe that's my point. It wasn't designed to benefit the rich, it turned into a monster that requires more and more "if else-if" statements to be added every year because we find more and more conditions that require evaluation. It's crazy. Not sure what they right answer might be. Not sure there is a right answer at all. And, no, what they do in (country) "m" has no bearing whatsoever on what is done or should be done in any other country. Tax codes evolve almost like natural selection, they respond to evolutionary pressure and each makes sense (to the extent possible) within the nation it evolved from.

That was a lot of extra words around the crucial bit:

> It is based on incentivizing behavior through tax breaks/credits.

Who do you think has time and money to spend lobbying for new tax breaks to their benefit? Hint: it's not the poor

It’s everybody. Politicians lobby for breaks for their constituency, as well as increasing taxes to raise revenue. Companies lobby for breaks for their industry. Issue groups lobby for breaks (or taxes) to encourage behaviours they want to see. Even the poor do this, albeit typically via unions or other collective means.

It's a comforting thought, but I can assure you the poor have virtually nobody lobbying on their behalf. Not having disposable income and all.

They really do. Unions, churches, charities.

They really don't. You're misusing the word "lobby".

Churches and charities don't lobby politically for poor people, they take them on as a righteous burden to bear. Some churches and charities are even used as tax breaks for rich people.

Unions used to, to some degree. They've mostly been neutered and have very limited political capital.

That’s a “no true Scotsman” argument if ever I’ve heard one. You can’t say nobody helps the poor, then disparage the significant amount of help people do give.

I belong to a church, and the minister frequently represents vulnerable people in the local community to politicians. He’s also sponsored by the church to attend events campaigning on behalf of low-paid people in the UK. And we contribute to a fund which publishes articles and runs events to raise awareness about homelessness.

If that doesn’t count as lobbying for people then I don’t know what does. I do wish it were more effective.

It's not a "no true Scotsman" argument because "help" is a vague term to begin with.

Lots of churches say nice things while extracting maximum revenue from their congregation. Can you point to any actual political changes that have occurred as a result, or is it just some nice words?

I get the feeling I could write a long list with everything religious groups have done to help the poor - from the abolition of slavery, to Sikh Gurudwaras providing food, to groups like “Christians Against Poverty” campaigning against excessive interest on payday loans - but somehow none of that would count.

This isn’t going to be a popular comment, yet, it has to be said because it is painfully obvious reality escapes some.

Here it goes:

The poor do not elevate the poor out of poverty.

If you want to chip away at poverty you have to create incentives for entrepreneurs, investors, business people and, yes, the rich, to engage in favorable economic activity. One of the simplest ways to do this is through the tax code. As much as I hate using taxation to promote behavior, that’s the best way we know so far.

We have lifted more people out of poverty through these methods than any other way.

Be careful what you wish for, because government has never, in the history of humanity, elevated the poor. Quite to the contrary.

For one, taxes are levied by governments not the free market. China has lifted 800 million out of poverty and wasn't because they all of a sudden decided to collectively pull their bootstraps. The free market is what doesn't alleviate poverty, quite the opposite.


> China has lifted 800 million out of poverty and wasn't because they all of a sudden decided to collectively pull their bootstraps.

The disconnect in what you are implying here is astounding.

China elevated massive numbers of people out of poverty precisely because they turned violently capitalistic and entrepreneurial when it comes to business, far more so than likely any other society on the planet. The main decision their government made was to get the heck out of the way.

I can understand that people who might not do business directly with Chinese companies likely lack an understanding of what things look like. Well, I do, have been for decades. I am sad to say doing business with Chinese companies can be massively easier than with US companies. The entrepreneurial spirit and drive in China is incredibly strong and refreshing to watch. You actually want to do business with them because they want to get things done.

If you think government has the power to raise 800 million people out of poverty in complete isolation of a massive step change in business activity you don't have even the most fundamental understanding of economics.

This is one of the most perplexing things I continue to experience on HN. This is a Y-combinator related forum. You'd think people voicing opinions here would have a modicum of business and economics chops. You'd think that, at the very least, they would devote a bit of time to doing simple math before forming opinions. And yet, what you see here time and time again are comments such as yours, which reveal a deep disconnect between even the most basic understanding of how the world operates and the importance of business.

FDR’s New Deal certainly helped a lot of poor people in the USA, as did the roll out of the welfare state and NHS in the UK, and pensions in Germany.

That said, government intervention is not sufficient. It must come with structural improvements, and not just be free handouts. And too much help can also be counter-productive by crowding out the very thing it’s trying to nurture.

> FDR’s New Deal certainly helped a lot of poor people in the USA

Not quite. As is usually the case with such programs, people tend to form opinions based on what is easily and externally visible. Reality isn't every that simple. The truth of the matter is that the not-easily-visible aspects of this plan harmed the poor and middle class for decades. Yes, lots of people were busy, but, no, it didn't elevate millions out of poverty and into the middle class.

This article touches the surface of some of the issues:


Reality is not described by a single variable, it is a complex multivariate problem. A program that promises more jobs is never without consequences. The details are always in the unseen variables that don't make it into political speeches or headlines. Nobody talks about them, and yet, that's where reality lies.

If you give a starving person food so that they might live, and then the number of people who depend on free food goes up, did you do a good thing? That's an ethical question with no "right" answer.

I suspect most libertarians and those who lean to the right would say "no, you saved one person but weakened the system as a whole, and thus you have created more hungry people". Whereas socialists and those who lean to the left would say "yes, because saving a human life when you can is always a good thing".

As I see it, the biggest problem in modern society is that we've stopped respecting the right for everybody to have their own view on issues like that, and instead come to believe that "the other" is so wrong that they must be corrected at all costs. I believe the Cato Institute is just as guilty of that as AOC's horde of Twitter followers.

> The poor do not elevate the poor out of poverty.

What a bizarre, paternalistic take. This is the same sort of narcissistic logic that led to Reagan's golden showers^W^W trickle-down economics.

I mean, I agree about entrepeneurs. Historically, the thing that has lifted communities out of poverty has been entrepeneurs in that community that contribute back to it. In other words, the poor very much elevate the poor out of poverty.

The rest of your comment (e.g. "and, yes, the rich") is just weird apologetics for people that don't need it, and can pay for it anyways, so why are you wasting your time doing it for free?

> What a bizarre, paternalistic take.

Really? I can understand if the truth might be offensive to you...yet that doesn't mean it isn't true or that the statement is mean-spirited or paternalistic.

Try to start a company without money and see how well it goes. I mean, you are reading this an a forum run by Y Combinator. Easy questions: In the history of humanity, how many sizeable companies were financed and launched by the poor? I think the number is pretty close to zero. In the context of the history of business, less than a rounding error.

> Historically, the thing that has lifted communities out of poverty has been entrepeneurs in that community that contribute back to it.

This is a fantasy. The best you are going to get in this scenario are a smattering of small businesses that will produce low and mid skill jobs and low wages. While it does happen, the percentage of these businesses that make it big is but a rounding error. There are examples, like the pizza joint of fast food restaurant that went national. Think places like Dominos and McDonalds. Rare, very rare, and we might even argue about who they actually elevated and where. Most local businesses remain small mom-and-pop entities incapable of elevating communities, as you put it, out of poverty. There are entire towns we can use as examples of how what you say simply does not work.

> In other words, the poor very much elevate the poor out of poverty.

No. Save very rare corner cases, the only way you elevate large numbers of people out of poverty is through massive external investments. This means people or companies with money come into a town and make very large investments that results in large numbers of jobs as well as opportunities to ascend through the ranks.

Please post a link to a business school study that explains how a 100% poor community without external investment elevated itself into the middle class. Since you say that this is "historically" the case, there ought to be thousands of such studies for you to pull from, hundreds, certainly. All I want is one.

"It's everybody" just does not capture reality.

I got a tax benefit semi-recently by buying an electric car, about $7500. It was the largest I've ever gotten. Compare that to one small crumb of Trump's tax deductions that was covered by the New York Times. A $70k tax deduction for hair styling.

It's just not the same. Wealth gives you an outsized influence on politics, which lets you accumulate more wealth, at a faster rate than those poorer than you.

I don't think your perspective is accurate.

Every celebrity hires armies of people to look after them. They sell their image and likeness. Everything about their public appearance is part of their business. In this context, paying $70K for a hair stylist is not different from paying $70K for a personal trainer, beautician, tanning service, nail service, massage, etc. Their business has expenses and parameters not found in other businesses.

I pay a service to come clean our office, CNC and electronics manufacturing shop. This becomes a deduction. Trump, Bill Maher or Dua Lipa don't have that deduction. They have stuff like hair and clothing.

I have a friend who is a real estate agent. Part of his tax deduction profile includes such things as washing and detailing his car as well as some allocation for clothing. My wife is a doctor, she gets to deduct work clothing, safety equipment, seminars and other business expenses.

Yes, the tax code is a rotten mess. I agree with this 100%. I would much rather have a nominal flat tax and no deductions of any kind for anyone. Our current tax code wasn't the result of a conspiracy to benefit the rich. It's the result of decades of pushing and pulling by a bunch of different groups, each with a different objective.

Where the little guy gets screwed is that the individual has very few deductions, while businesses have tons. That's the bottom line. This has nothing to do with the rich. You can go form an LLC today --HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!-- and access deductions you could not as an individual. None of these deductions have "rich person" written on them. All you need is an LLC, which isn't that expensive or difficult to create. And all you need to be a business is to sell a few items per year on eBay (or whatever).

Simple example: I can deduct business mileage use of a vehicle when going to see clients. An individual can't deduct miles driven to and from work. I think this is wrong. Yet, again, it has nothing to do with benefiting the rich, you don't have to be rich to have access to these deductions, you just have to be on the side of the tax code that enables access to them. If you are puzzled by the possibilities, talk to a tax accountant and ask them if you would benefit from forming an LLC and, if you did, how you should use it.

if we return to the original test case, then, who is lobbying to make taxes not require turbotax?

Doing a bit of sea lioning at the beginning there buddy. Who specifically won a football game? And when? And who came up with the idea? The outcome is the result of all the actions of all the members, coaches and owners of the winning team, and of the losing team that was working against them, over the entire duration of the game. It's an emergent, complex/chaotic system. But the winning team intended to win.

You can't claim that taxation is a complex subject, yet begin by asking simplistic questions about it. Even then the concept is easy to understand, and expected rational behavior: the wealthy evade taxes because they like money and use their considerable resources to get it done. It's a fact that has thousands of years of historical precedent.[1] It's a pattern of behavior well documented in books, documentaries, and research on the subject. It's even part of the backdrop for dramas based on historical events, like the French Revolution.

It doesn't require any conspiracy, only self interest. Even then, the wealthy do have yearly economic summits where tax policy is discussed. Why would you assume it's about how to raise their own taxes instead of the opposite?

> Can you provide a year-by-year (or close enough) summary of the progression of this design and how it met your stated purpose?

There's a fairly good summary at Brookings.[2]

> I'll add my own observation to this: No, the US tax code is not designed to benefit the wealthy. It is based on incentivizing behavior through tax breaks/credits.

Yes it is. Even narrowing the focus to their personal income tax after it's loopholed through corporate tax shelters, the extremely wealthy pay have a lower tax rate than workers earning $45k.[3] Workers who make $140k pay as much into social security as the richest people on earth who also have US citizenship. What's the benefit to society having less money for shared infrastructure, and what's the benefit of rewarding people who find a way to avoid paying into that?

> And, no, what they do in (country) "m" has no bearing whatsoever on what is done or should be done in any other country

Eliminating the chance to learn from other nation's policy mistakes and successes is a terrible idea.

[1] https://medium.com/lessons-from-history/when-governments-can...

[2] https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/funding-our-nations-pr...

[3] https://www.propublica.org/article/you-may-be-paying-a-highe...

> You can't claim that taxation is a complex subject, yet begin by asking simplistic questions about it.

Are you the only one identifying some of the sarcasm in my post? Good.

The idea of the tax code being "designed to benefit the rich" is beyond ridiculous. This is as ridiculous as me asking a simplistic question about the origins of any part of of the rotten stinking mess this tax code has become.

I'd much rather have a flat tax system with no deductions at all for anyone.

I would also propose that taxing businesses is wrong. Why? Because you tax the employees of the business already. Taxing the business stinks of double taxation and removes capital that could be used for growth and to create more jobs over time.

Think of it this way. Let's say ten people as a group product furniture and sell it. They make money and pay themselves salaries. They also pay taxes. However, let's pretend they can do this without forming a legal entity we call a business. The just do the work, pool the money, pay themselves salaries, pay expenses, pay taxes and life goes on.

Now we come along and say: Wait a minute! You are working together to make tables. Because of that, we are going to take another 30% in taxes out of all of you. It isn't enough that each of you pay 30% in taxes, we want 30% from what remains.

Sounds silly, doesn't it? Well, it is. At least I think so. Could be wrong.

I agree that Intuit has done some shady things with tax lobbying, but it's naive to credit them for the ridiculous state of the tax code. There are plenty of other cooks with far more sway stirring that pot.

This is a really good point. Intuit profits off the complex tax laws, but the real beneficiaries are the wealthy. Any proposal to significantly simplify the tax laws are gonna be met with huge resistance from the rich and powerful, primarily because their taxes will certainly increase. Bezos isn't gonna allow his taxes to increase just so the rest of us can have a simplified tax code.

Not just the wealthy or tax companies. https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2019/04/03/709656642/epis... is a good episode explaining some of the behind the scenes on our messy tax situation.

This is not really true. Intuit et al. make money from pretty simple tax laws that apply to most people, who use their consumer-grade prep software. The idea was the government could prefill your taxes and for this huge segment of the population that would be it; the rich or complicated returns could still be filed by accountants and specialized software. Intuit makes a huge amount of money off these relatively simple returns though, so instead lobbied to provide "free" tax software to the same target segment. It turns out their free software is anything but and they used it as a marketing ploy to funnel poorer people to paid versions. Having the IRS predefine your taxes would be far more efficient and wouldn't cost rich people any more. The tax code is complicated because of it's scale and interactions; neither impacts most of these basic returns.

Similarly big companies benefit from complex regulatory regimes that their staff attorneys can easily handle but startups can’t.

Many people can't even figure out easily what to fill into the boxes, even with software.

"Government: You owe us money. It’s called taxes.

Me: How much do I owe?

Gov’t: You have to figure that out.

Me: I just pay what I want?

Gov’t: Oh, no we know exactly how much you owe. But you have to guess that number too.

Me: What if I get it wrong?

Gov’t: You go to prison"


You have to be pretty obviously flouting tax law to have it become a criminal case.

Apart from that, IRS workers are just like workers at any other job where throughput is a primary metric: They just want to close cases quickly with a resolution. That may mean penalties and interest rate if you screwed up or were actually trying to avoid what you owe. They're not taking you to court and prosecuting for $100k if you're working with them to fix things though. In the end, they don't much care if the settlement takes 10 years to pay off $200/month at a time as long as they can close the case as resolved.

Source: 1) I have a friend who was an IRS lawyer and then a tax attorney. 2) I know someone who went bankrupt and came to long term multi-year agreement to pay $50/month.

up to the prison part, it is largely accurate. The punishment is just more likely to be penalties and expensive audits.

My wife is currently facing a fine because she had some extra income in 2020 that the local IRS don't understand. Not that it's illegal, shady or remotely fraudulent: they just don't understand how could she earn some small money (around $500) doing X when she mainly does Y.

The "solution" they deem as legal is to create a whole new bussiness dedicated to do X, or refuse to do it. And to my eyes X and Y are related (like doing a security audit to a web and building a web), but IRS don't think so.

There's another form you can fill out for extra income... I don't know your situation but it's likely you didn't fill out that form but someone on the other side of that transaction did.

If it's basically pass-through income from a business then you fill out (in the US) a Schedule C. And you do one for each business like that. And you also have to separately fill out the medicare & social security taxes, paying both the employer and employee side of it.

It sounds complicated, but paying about $100 for the TurboTax edition that handles small businesses will make it fairly easy. Yep, they've got strong regulatory capture in this space, but business income isn't always straight forward so I would consider ~$100 well worth it. Though I'm sure that some dead-simple home businesses really wouldn't need it.

The fear people have about going to jail over taxes is not really supported by the statistics. It turns out people who work for the IRS aren't stupid and recognize it's hard to pay taxes from jail. Most people who get nailed that way knew exactly what they were doing.

PDF: https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-pu...

That vignette is meant to be sardonic, not realistic. The point is that the government absolutely could just file your taxes for you and send you a check or a bill, if they weren't lobbied by tax prep companies like Intuit and extremists like Grover Norquist.

That's a popular view, but only true for people who don't have any deductions, depreciations, business expenses, mileage, etc. For a large group of people, the IRS can run the math only after you submit the full list of inputs.

In sane countries, the "popular view" holds, as it should. Not so much in the US, though. The IRS knows how much I make, I want them to send me a form that says "we think you made this much, if that's true and you have no fancy deductions, sign here".

Then I just sign a form and return it instead of slogging through the bullshit that Intuit et al has lobbied for.

This doesn’t preclude the government pre-filling and giving you the option to amend. It would save everyone time, even the people who amend because some information would already be pre-filled.

You could always apply to a refund based on that information. But the government already has 99% of what is needed to file your taxes, they are just not allowed by the lobby of tax preparation.

It's a reductio ad absurdam joke

Ef the gouvernement! I know! not very constructive, but the topic is too depressive for any constructivability

It would be more than likely they lobbied to KEEP tax laws complicated and fight any changes to simplify filing. They were complicated decades before intuit ever showed up on the scene.

Edit: I'm being downvoted for THIS particular comment? lol is intuit monitoring this thread or something?

They've been at it for decades, so it's probably going to be hard to figure out how much they're responsible for. We've got a Tax Code of Theseus paradox. How much do they have to change it before they're responsible for the avalanche that follows?

Compare to, for example, Twitter and Facebook. All they did was amp up grievances that already existed, some centuries old. No one can agree on how much fault they deserve for the consequences even if it's clear they played a huge role in the current state of things.

I think much of Intuit’s “regulatory capture” is on TurboTax, and it’s offering for small businesses (Quickbooks) is actually a very competitive marketplace with other actors such as Square, PayPal, Wix, and Stripe actively expanding into each other’s markets.

In the next decade there will be market capture for one or two companies of the entire sub 50 employee retail business market segment. Everything from food trucks to floral shops will have one monthly subscription that covers pos system, employee scheduling/payroll, invoicing, tax, and much more in a platform of tools that resembles AWS or Azure. This is clearly Quickbooks expanding into fulfilling marketing needs for their clients.

Keep in mind it’s competitive in two ways. If businesses running Square have a competitive advantage because of tooling compared to businesses running Quickbooks than Quickbooks will suffer more churn and lose in the long run to Square.

http://Pilot.com (no affiliation but I've worked with some of the people there) is directly trying to compete with QuickBooks on QuickBooks playing field. Problem is, QuickBooks is the standard in the industry, like Adove Photoshop or Microsoft Windows in the 1990's. Square has the advantage that they already have the data, but then they don't have the same incentives to compete on bookkeeper tools.

It's important, though, to understand exactly what that "regulatory capture" entails. See https://www.propublica.org/article/inside-turbotax-20-year-f... :

> Internal presentations lay out company tactics for fighting “encroachment,” Intuit’s catchall term for any government initiative to make filing taxes easier — such as creating a free government filing system or pre-filling people’s returns with payroll or other data the IRS already has. “For a decade proposals have sought to create IRS tax software or a ReturnFree Tax System; All were stopped,” reads a confidential 2007 PowerPoint presentation from an Intuit board of directors meeting. The company’s 2014-15 plan included manufacturing “3rd-party grass roots” support. “Buy ads for op-eds/editorials/stories in African American and Latino media,” one internal PowerPoint slide states [ https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6483061-Intuit-Turbo... ]... Based on publicly available data and statements by Intuit executives, ProPublica estimates that roughly 15 million paying TurboTax customers could have filed for free if they found Free File. That represents more than $1.5 billion in estimated revenue, or more than half the total that TurboTax generates. Those affected include retirees, students, people on disability and minimum-wage workers.

Note as well that Intuit recently acquired Credit Karma for $8.1 billion - a company whose business model relies on granularly predicting what financial products will be most profitable when offered to consumers.

At the end of the day, it's often impossible to avoid using Intuit's B2B solutions like QuickBooks - as others have noted, they're an industry standard. But in the packed market of email service providers, is this the company who will set the most robust ethical boundaries on how to use a treasure trove of highly-actionable PII and purchasing data? Do we want to contribute to feeding our customers' data to such a company? That's a choice that those of us choosing ESP solutions should make with eyes wide open.

Ahh, that's where I've heard of them: QuickBooks.

And Mint

Afaik, they bought Mint.

In 2009

Having worked at a company that was acquired by Intuit, they gave fairly substantial retention bonuses that vested over the 3 years following the acquisition that ended up being about 4x the value of my original pre-acquisition stock options, though the retention bonuses varied greatly and not everyone got that much. So I’d expect that Intuit is taking care of the employees that are considered key to Mailchimp’s business.

Softening the shock to Mailchimp employees with money would work to some degree. But if they kill the culture then it won't help in the long run.

They don't need them to stick around for the long run, only for now. This game has been played over and over through the decades.

I hope for intuit's sake they don't forget the fat bonus. It's an amazing place to work and I'm happy to have helped make Ben and Dan rich, but no skin in the game works both ways. I had no hesitation leaving, same with a few others I know that moved on.

Intuit gets a bad rap now and with good reason. But I read their book detailing their startup history about twenty years ago, it was quite interesting. Was as scrappy as any story you've heard here. Had to get out of Microsoft's way also, if memory serves.

You bring up a good point. It's be really nice to see how much of an overlap there is between MailChimp and Intuit users.

Thanks, I wasn't previously aware of these reports.

Why is everyone complaining about taxes being regulatory capture when email is becoming also becoming a monopoly?

It is literally impossible to start up your own email server now and have it accepted by major email hosts like microsoft and gmail now without your emails ending up in spam or even worse, completely dropped.

People should be asking why email is so broken that companies like mailchimp exist and is being bought for billions.

> It is literally impossible to start up your own email server now and have it accepted by major email hosts like microsoft and gmail now without your emails ending up in spam or even worse, completely dropped.

I am 100% ignorant on the subject. If you have a moment can you provide the 30k foot view of what has changed to make this the case?

codexon did a pretty good job but it's little more: the three main consumer email providers/hosters (google, microsoft, and yahoo/aol) don't have a great way to fight spam so use IP reputation, what this means is that if the IP address that you use to host your email server doesn't have a good reputation they will silently drop emails you send to their users and neither the recipients nor the senders (you) will ever know.

Only real way around this is to instead host your email server with them, aka Office365 or gWorkspace. This basically breaks the federated aspect of email and turns it into a siloed SaaS offering from two of the big cloud providers. AWS can also be used to send newsletters but doesn't really do consumer email hosting (they don't have a good client), and you're still tied to a SaaS cloud provider.

The view is that most emails are becoming centralized to come from a few places. So email hosts like microsoft and google take shortcuts to stop spam by untrusting any IP they haven't seen sending emails for 5 years (this is just a random number, no one knows what the real filters are).

I'm not sure if anything has changed in the last two years after is stopped self hosting email but I ran my own server for 6 years and never had any issues with ending up in spam.

If you ran an email server 8 years ago your ip would have accrued enough reputation to bypass filters. It also seems to depend on how much email you send.

Downvote me, I don't care, but I'm just replying to this in the hope that it gets highlighted even more than a simple upvote.

> become so successful without VC funding

Does HN live in a bubble because of ycombinator where they think it's unusual for companies to be able to self start?

It is very unusual for bootstrapped companies to hit a billion+ valuation.

It is very unusual for 'tech' companies founded since 2008, but Mailchimp was a web design company founded in 2001 that stumbled upon a capital-efficient business model before they needed to raise capital.

The 'unusual' part is more that a company this old and profitable has a traditional 'exit' vs. being run as a cashflow generator for the duration of the founders' lives.

Why do companies have to reach a billion in profit for it to be considered a tech company to you? This is the bubble.

> employees don't have equity

Is there any more detail on that? I'm not sure why they wouldn't.

We do this at my company - I think maybe we do better …

exactly how I feel about this too

I had Intuit as a client. In the consulting I do I hear gripes fairly quickly.

The only gripes I heard were not really gripes just an expression of the challenge of grappling with the legacy of TurboTax. The team seemed intent on finding new ways to manage the complexity and they seemed very open to new tech.

Everyone seemed happy to be working there. The few managers i interacted with seemed to really care about their teams. The most surprising thing I experienced was how grateful some were that they weren’t working at Hooli across the street in Mountain View. I didn’t understand this sentiment till I wandered over to Hooli’s campus. Everyone there seemed as depressed as the folks on a particular insurance campus in Lansing Michigan I visited. Not scientific, just sharing my lived exp.

Here are some numbers I dug up:

Mailchimp has ~13MM users and 800k paying customers. In 2019 they had revenues of $700MM. In 2020 they had EBITDA of ~$300MM.

They are fully bootstrapped and have taken on zero outside funding.

wow -- the founders are going to make out like bandits. No outside funding means no dilution.

If the company can afford to offer competitive and attractive salaries to its employees, why would they offer equity? If I am a business owner and can afford to pay my staff well, why would I give up a portion of my company to the employees when I don't have to?

This is not some great injustice or a company acting in any kind of morally questionable way. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that in the grand scheme of things (not just the tech bubble), offering equity to employees is the exception, not the norm.

Giving employees equity can help to keep everyone aligned to the same goals. Early on in my career, I worked at a startup that paid its employees very well but did not give them equity. When the sales team pushed through a monster deal with some vaporware in it, we technical people hated it, because for us it just meant more burning the midnight oil to deliver overpromised shit, and no additional compensation. Churn among devs was huge, the codebase eventually became weighed down by technical debt, and the company cratered after a few years.

If they would've been more generous with equity (even at the expense of base salaries), I think we would've been high-fiving each other when the sales team closed a huge deal instead of cursing them under our breath and plotting our escape.

I think there's a valid question here, but it's framed as if the only standard is, 'what can I get away with'? Where do you see the nuances and what do they lead you to?

As Sean Connery once said, "What can you do with eight billion that you can't do with five?"

Maybe they could have gotten some great employees by giving out more equity. Or maybe they tried and couldn't find them so they sold.

While it's nice to hire great employees, Mailchimp provides an API to send email. It's not like they're trying to solve cold fusion. Actually, wait, how many employees does Mailchimp even have? Let's check the press release...

>Founded in 2001 and based in Atlanta with offices in Brooklyn, Oakland, Vancouver, London, and Santa Monica, Mailchimp has 1,200+ employees

Sending email must be much harder than I thought.

Mailchimp isn't an API to send emails. It's a WYSIWYG email marketing newsletter creator. If you've ever made an email newsletter that looks nice you'll understand how that is very valuable to a lot of companies.

Add in all the usual ops, customer support, business to business client management for bigger accounts, marketing, and so on and its not hard to see how it can need quite a lot of people.

Mailchimp isn't _only_ an API to send emails. They do have an transactional email product (formerly called Mandrill).

Not giving equity to employees is fine by me - but it can certainly be “questioned” from a moral standpoint. (Though I think you mean “morally questionable” as euphemism for “morally wrong”)

Selling to Intuit is not fine by me - and i consider it morally questionable in both senses of the term.

Arguing over which part of late stage capitalism is morally questionable is a bit like arguing over the correct length of curl in your powdered wig.

If they had gone public instead, Intuit could just as easily have bought up all the shares and reached the same end goal.

OK, I'll bite. I am one of three owners of a roughly £1-1.5M pa t/o company in the UK (depends on the wind direction.) We've operated for 21 years now - it's IT Services, mainly consultancy. We've always offered a few Class B shares to time served employees in addition to salary. Not many shares but some.

I'm not too sure what on earth "late stage capitalism" means but I do know that my little firm trundles on quite happily and works slightly better for the extra incentive that directly contributing equals directly earning. We have never insisted that shareholders need work extra hours or whatever. I kick people out of the office if they work too late. Work life balance is important.

Is offering or not offering equity something that can be considered within the realms of "morally questionable"?

A business is a business and a contract is a contract. When you take up employment within a business, you engage with a contract. If the contract offered is not one you like, you are not obliged to accept it. The last two sentences are rather polarised and I accept that the real world is rather more nuanced when you consider individual cases.

Can you really call a mutually agreed equity arrangement as "morally questionable"? You might as well describe working for a salary as morally questionable too. Anyway, whose morals are we considering and what standards do they espouse? Morals don't live in a vacuum nor do morals stay attached to a single concept. Your "morals" may well not be the same as mine!

We (my little company) are quite boring, rather small and won't ever feature in a how to take over the world, unless 10^-3 unicorn suddenly becomes exciting.

Congratulations on your success in life.

I wasn't criticizing people like you (although this thread does seem to have hit a nerve). I was critizing the assumption that you are morally culpable (or indeed praise worthy) for how you run your company.

You are able to be a good boss and that's great. In fact it's probably good business to be. But you could just as easily have been born the inheritor of a sweatshop garment factory in Bangladesh and unable to make a profit unless you employed children under appalling conditions.

The economic conditions dictate the possible relationships with employees. As profits decline (late stage capitalism) in different economic sectors the options narrow.

In the future your economic sector may become the target of a wave of consolidation. If a competitor starts buying up all the competition and adopting a more aggressive business model with lower prices you will be forced to adapt.

"In the future your economic sector may become the target of a wave of consolidation."

It's called Microsoft 8) Oh well, this MD rocks Arch Linux on his laptop and workstation. I put up with Exchange thanks to Evolution (and recently: Kmail.) I login via winbind-nss and leave a trail of Kerberos tickets wherever I go.

"I was critizing the assumption that you are morally culpable (or indeed praise worthy) for how you run your company."

Sorry, I read your comment differently.

Giving employees equity is a form of funding. If a company is bootstrapped and profitable, they can just pay employees money instead. In theory this should mean Mailchimp employees were paid more money than employees doing similar work where they were given stock options.

Giving early employees equity is often a form of incentive.

If giving an employee 1% of equity improves acquisition valuation by 2%, then it was probably a good move, as the remaining shareholders got 1% more than they would have otherwise.

It gets less intuitive with multiple people: what to do if one founder owning a valuable small business adds a salesperson and a UI guru, each of whom adds 10x the valuation to the company?

The main problem with equity is that it is extremely difficult to value how much a person will increase a future valuation by (ignoring complications with voting rights etcetera).

It’s like funding in the sense that you can get an engineer who demands (for example) $200k in comp for $100k cash and $100k in stock options, saving the startup lots of cash in the beginning.


An aside as an engineer founder, I have always thought of accepting stock instead of wages is more like gambling.

1. You are concentrating your risk instead of diversifying.

2. As a minority shareholder in a private company you have virtually zero choice over any critical decisions, and the other shareholders have financial incentives to screw you.

3. You may influence technical outcomes, but even there you often realistically have limited financial incentive to improve profits. Unless you are an early employee, the amount of work you need to do to increase valuation by 10% is probably actually not worth the extra effort you put in for the $ you might get out.

4. Most people grossly misprice equity - ordinary shares are worth much less than the preferential shares an investor gets. Even though you are investing the equivalent of cash, you don’t get preferential shares. This is misrepresented everywhere, and certainly a startup has no financial interest in telling you the truth.

5. It is a high risk investment. That is fine for a VC which can spread their risk over many investments to get the industry average. It is a bad bet individually because even if you could invest your time in 10 startups, your variation in profit is still high. (Assuming one in ten startups is successful, which I highly doubt). Even VC funds are OK with ‘high’ variance because LPs are usually looking for diversification (especially non-correlated diversification with the rest of their portfolio), and the VC partners still get their tidy 2% even if the fund tanks.

6. Engineers usually seem to believe that they can pick a winner to join. VCs with decades of experience fail all the time, so the majority of engineers are just fooling themselves (or more truthfully, being fooled).

Everyone that thinks taking equity for a lower salary needs to compare the difference with DCAing (dollar cost average) the extra salary into TQQQ,UPRO,SOXL. Might be higher profit and less risk.

All good points. Which is why the stock comp would have to be multiples of $100k to equal $100k in cash in my eyes.

Of course, if the startup ever goes public, you'll make out like a bandit on that amount of stock! But more likely, as you say, you'll be left with only the cash component.

This is accurate. TC was ~25% higher than I would get working in SF. Plus I got to invest it how I liked.

Except that’s explicitly not how the free market works. Employees would be paid at the rate their services clear at in the open market. If you’re paying more than that, it’s because you want to attract people above the average/ clear.

No, I’m saying they’d pay more cash than a company paying cash + stock. Total comp EV should be same for same position.

What? You give stock as a way to manage retention of talent not funding. Mailchimp benefits from a market (GA) not saturated by competitive hiring.

Suppose you could pay an employee $200,000 or $150,000 + stock options.

If the two options were rationally considered equal that would mean the missing $50,000 NPV of the employee’s salary would be paid by future investors once they bought the shares. Either in an IPO or in this case by the acquiring company.

Options are also a method to retain and incentivize talent, but they’re certainly a form of funding.

An employee will pick $200,000 over 150,000+options.

I think you’re missing the point of the explanation, the figures are examples.

That's not true at all. Lots of folks choose (IMHO incorrectly) to take the options.

Above market salary is also a way to retain talent.

For retention, you can do deferred cash bonuses. Doesn’t have to be stock.

The founders weren't really building the company with an exit as plan A, so stock option programs would have been a waste of time and full of lies.

I'm not sure why I'm supposed to be upset about this. If they chose to work for a "startup" which didn't offer incentive equity, they don't have equity. Presumably they had good salaries to compensate.

This. Don't like the terms then don't work there. Startups are invariably setup for founders not later employees.

There are other ways of structuring bonus and non-salary compensation besides "equity" which honestly can get employees just as stuffed in an acquisition as firms without any equity. The silicon valley model is not the only way to frame success.

Doesn't is say "$300m of “employee transaction bonuses” (or 2.5% of the deal)" ?

These may have strings attached that vested stock would not.

Netflix also doesn’t give much equity*, no one seems to complain about that.

* they do allow employees to buy options with a portion of their salary and included a 5% stock option a few years ago.

Ellen Pao still chasing clout, I see -- no better way than riling up the Twitter masses. So what if employees have no equity? The business was profitable enough to pay them a fair market salary, it's not like they were indentured servants. What stops them from building their own $12B exit?

I hate this selective criticism; for goodness' sake, she was the CEO of reddit -- a company with ethical controversies every other week, but she attacks MailChimp? Give me a break.

Ad homonym attack against the messenger doesn't address the substance of the objection. In this case, I'd rather get $3 million vs *not* getting $3 million (which seems like a not-unreasonable payout for an early senior engineer at a startup with a $12b exit). You can argue that they knew what they were getting into, but that's still gotta leave a bitter taste for some.

The objection barely warrants addressing. A founder says "I'm keeping the equity and I'll pay you X salary." Employee says "OK." Nobody's exploiting anyone in that exchange.

At a point in time before Mailchimp was clearly a success (and thus equity would actually be worth something), most engineers would jump at a salary-over-equity compensation scheme because it's common knowledge (at least around here) that equity is a lottery ticket that usually doesn't pay off.

> Ad homonym attack against the messenger doesn't address the substance of the objection.

There is no substance to the objection. They aren't entitled to anything, they didn't negotiate anything, and they shouldn't get anything. Her argument is akin to saying that the Uber driver that dropped me off at the gas station is entitled to part of my lottery winnings because the ticket I bought happened to have the jackpot numbers.

The position is both logically inconsistent and severely asymmetrical—we are only talking about this because MailChimp did have a successful exit, not because they failed miserably (as literally hundreds of startups do on a yearly basis). Even as a staunch capitalist, I'll be the first to say there are plenty of problems with corporate tax law, offshore tax havens, money laundering, etc.

But this ain't one.

You either get in as employee #3 with real equity, or you join as employee #5000 with good salary, benefits, stability, and work/life balance.

Anything else and you're a chump. Since there are a whole lot of employee #50, and #35, and #110s out there apparently many people really don't know what they are getting into.

I dunno if I agree with this. If you're early on in your career, jumping in as employee #20 can be an optimal time to learn a whole lot by working directly with all the key senior people in the company. If you're later on in your career, an employee #20 is likely jumping on board to work with people they know and trust.

From a strict compensation perspective, you are probably right, but even then, it is probably less stark than it was ten years ago, what with seed rounds and series A sizes being so massive that salaries are a bit more reasonable at this stage too.

Ad hominem - amusing error though, to use homonym in place of its own homophone :)

Even more amusing that your comment can be considered ad hominem itself, which makes it a strange loop ;)

Clarification as my parent comment gets downvoted: there is a good HN rule - "assume good faith". In my comment I haven't claimed that the parent comment was ad hominem, I just claimed that if it would be considered as ad hominem it would create what's called a "strange loop", which is amusing (as all strange loops are amusing IMO).

I often see the comment on HN that "equity is worthless, make sure your cash salary accounts for that". So when that was done here, why the sour grapes?

As another commenter pointed out, there was obviously a fair agreement here: work for Mailchimp at X salary and no equity, or don't. Nobody was forced into anything, and if no equity was offered, then I'm sure the salaries had to be competitive in the market. Nobody would be stupid enough to work for them otherwise.

It's simpler than that - she's a VC and is raging about the fact that Mailchip isn't owned by any VCs.

This isn't reddit. A reddit villain isn't automatically a HN villain. Also, she wasn't universally disliked there, and it's been a few years since she left.

Doesn’t matter. HN is simply a more well behaved Reddit with a higher average intelligence per user.

From reading the room I’d say Ellen Pao is typically seen as a minor villain around here. Definitely not a hero.

Ellen Pao made a statement of fact, that rank and file “employees have no equity”. There was no criticism or attack fundamental to the factual statement itself.

Of course it was meant as a criticism, why else would she post that?

What is the basis of the criticism? The employees of MailChimp knowingly and willingly entered into an employment relationship that did not include equity in its compensation.

They have no reason to be unhappy and MailChimp doesn’t owe them anything other than the salary and profit sharing that was promised. Regardless of who the new owners of MailChimp are.

There are multiple other possible motivations for Ellen’s post other than criticism.

The company is paying out $300M in employee bonuses instead.


Ellen Pao sucks. Didn't she fire a Reddit employee who had cancer?

800 employees, per google search. So, USD 375,000 per employee on average. Not a bad payout for the employees.

>>The business was profitable enough to pay them a fair market salary, it's not like they were indentured servants. What stops them from building their own $12B exit?

That is the thing, we are seeing an extreme negative view of basic capitalism, people tend to believe founders and capital have no value believing in a socialist utopia where by all the workers get an equal share of the "means of production"

>Ellen Pao still chasing clout, I see -- no better way than riling up the Twitter masses.

and this is why i'm against unions in tech - the people like she will be the bosses.

They were already making out like bandits. They have near zero capital costs and their company is essentially running itself (im exaggerating, but you get the point). Assuming each of the founders had 33%, it means they are each essentially taking in $100M/year in salary with no end in sight towards that either slowing down or it decreasing. This is a simple math formula for them - cash out $4B now, setup a family office and then never work again or never work again and just bring in $100M/year. They'd get to that exit by ~50 anyway.

Too bad they closed a bit too late. The proposed tax plan now has QSBS benefits limited to 50% of gain (vs 75% or all) if AGI is > $400k. Those founders will be happy, but not as happy as would have been a day or two ago.



QSBS caps at $10m. That's a drop in the bucket, relatively speaking.

If Ben and Dan split it 50/50, that's $6b each and they would each be looking at $1.2b in capital gains tax.

It is up to $10 million or 10x your tax basis. Also, double that if you are married. More if you gift to children. Hopefully their bootstrapped funding has been carefully crafted to track tax basis!

about 1000$ per user? is that the value of our privacy? probably because each user uploaded their address book?

Not quite - many of their customers are paying $$ a month for medium to large marketing sends. Their biggest customers probably count for 30% of the overall revenue.

It's unusual seeing a company that sells goods and services for money be valued highly in silicon valley ;)

12,000,000,000 / 800,000 = $15000 per paying customer

(12 billion purchase price / 800000 paying customers)


But can't fault them. Congrats to the entire mailchimp team! You all deserve all the rewards, especially for bootstrapping.

Hope everyone there made out like bandits, and may this give them the financial freedom to pursue new passions in their lives.

For those curious about the founding story, How I Built This did a podcast with Ben Chestnut (released July 12, 2021): https://www.npr.org/2021/07/09/1014699766/mailchimp-ben-ches...

Small tidbit: mailchimp was a major pivot into SaaS (before that was a phrase) from another already successful services business (building websites). The team realized scaling a software product was a better idea than selling their time.

Spoiler: only the two founders are making out like bandits. Mailchimp employees aren't given equity.

Wow, the salaries look very meh, especially considering there's no equity. They must have really good work-life balance or something.

When we were a flat engineering team, profit-sharing and growing it was an amazing place to work because everyone was very good at their job and cared about making a lean and self-sufficient profit machine.

From 2015 on the corporatization took over, the flat hierarchy was completely discarded in favor of multi-tier CwhateverO monster departments, team fragmentation and purposeful reassignments, and basically a 100% annual employee count growth mandate.

That's also around when the big raises and bonuses stopped, and everyone was assigned to a role and level which has a set salary value range etc.

For me 2018 was the end of my patience for it, but I think some are trapped believing in an older version of themselves.

To be fair, much of what you describe is just part of becoming a mature company. At some point, flat can't work anymore. At some point, the impact of individuals is diluted and the number of people needed is so high, that outsize rewards become impossible or risk being sure signs of inequality.

As much as I appreciate equality goals (what role, level, value ranges are there for), and believe their benefits outweigh their costs, they function by lowering ceilings and lifting floors. The only way to earn outsize bonuses these days is to be directly tied to outsize earnings (e.g. commissions), and that's hard to do with engineers.

The engineers route to that kind of risk/reward dynamic is by founding / joining something early (that actually grants options) and trying to make it huge.

"mature" is the wrong word here. We were "mature" for a decade before this expansion. We had no debt, big profit margins, and our customers loved us so much we didn't need advertising to have exponential growth.

Our decision to "grow up" was more a decision to try addressing non-email markets, and hire so many people and buy so much real estate that profit then depended on that choice.

Now they have half the talented staff because of boneheaded management decisions, half the loyal customers because the team stopped being able to address their needs, etc. If that's "mature" to bankers or VC's then I'd call them over-mature.

That’s fair, but you have to recognize that couldn’t have lasted forever. Your space was on its way to heavy commoditization, like software spaces almost always are.

Ignoring the shifting sands would’ve likely meant a more gradual decline, instead of an unpleasant growth, and would’ve almost certainly yielded less than the chosen path.

The talented people and half the customers would’ve likely bailed either way.

Context: at least some of those salaries are in Atlanta, where you can make 1/3 of a west coast salary and still live a pretty nice life.

Atlanta is only recently getting high paying engineering jobs in volume. They've been able to compete with quality of life and profit sharing up until now.

Oof. Hope there are some nice bonuses to go around, then.

From what I heard from friends, it was a great place to work. But I guess most of that will change when the corporate overlords decend and start optimizing things.

> From what I heard from friends, it was a great place to work.

Not in the scheme of things, especially with regard to comp. Plus, they had a shitty PHP stack that was a spaghetti web.

I desperately tried to convince my Atlanta Mailchimp friends to quit and join me at a pre-IPO company. No takers. After our IPO, I made a life changing amount. Enough to retire before 30. They got paltry "bonuses" every year.

Mailchimp had some weird cool aid that made people like working there despite there being plenty of better alternatives. I just wish I could have convinced my friends to leave.

Working at a company that actually makes and pays cash is better in all ways than a pre-IPO startup that might potentially go that route and earn you some money then.

A company can just be a great place to work. No cool aid necessary.

My salary alone was better than Mailchimp comp. SF wages in Atlanta. Plus, we were already unicorn status and growing rapidly.

It would have been a solid choice.

That’s possible, and probably a better idea if you’re optimizing for comp.

But there’s a lot to be said for staying to work at a company you love and enjoy, especially if your compensation is already enough for a very comfortable life.

This may come as a shock to you, but for most people life is not just about money.

What a non sequitur

My read was that founders were self-taught coders, and that describes the friends who worked there as well.

Imposter syndrome is a bitch, when there's always someone better than you out there, so there's probably a lot of Kool Aid in making people feel like they've made it, are part of the tech party, and are valued employees.

And working customer-facing is always a cooler cocktail party gig than being a master of the universe behind the curtain at Oz. For some.

Different folks optimize for different things. I doubt they'd turn down you buying the next round of drinks, and for some people... that's enough.

Rumors say that there is "$300m for “employee transaction bonuses” (or 2.5% of the deal)"

... divided among 1,200+ employees.

...spread over three years

Basically Mailchimp did nothing to enrich the Atlanta startup community with a bunch of people making nice exits via stocks etc.. Instead it is another example of the Atlanta startup sharecropping model. A few years ago a reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle referred to Atlanta as the Bangalore of the South. Up until a few years ago, salaries didn't really compete with other locations and most companies that were opening up engineering offices in ATL did it as a cost cutting measure (IE: Bose, Pandora/Sirius etc..) COVID has opened up opportunities for developers living in Atlanta to have other options that are more lucrative.

Mailchimp had run it's course. It was a marketing play, and e-mail marketing has become a commodity business. Atlanta is, at it's heart, a marketing town. But even there, that can only take a marketing company so far.

They did nothing to enrich bunch of people with making money via exits because they never raised funds and were doing profit sharing https://mailchimp.com/culture/investing-in-people-through-pr...

Mailchimp is also paying out $300M in bonuses https://twitter.com/Shubham/status/1437532055173226499

Bangalore has changed. There are so many high paying dev jobs in Bangalore now where you take home salary after taxes + rent would be more than that of many US and European cities. People are no longer incentivized to take a massive loan and immigrate to US. That ship has sailed.

could you name me a few companies whose take home is more than many in the US? I'd love to return :)

All big names. But you will need to consider PPP.

And, QoL too. Bangalore has salaries comparable to US median salaries for the same role if you are doing PPP. But if you include QoL, the balance tilts to the US locations.

How does staying away from your parents and family for long periods of time in a completely diffrent timezone increasing the quality of your life?

Could anyone give me some insight about how to start an email service like MailChimp? It seems to me like the only way to send emails is via a service provider. When I try to get a hosting server to send emails myself, it seems like all of the server ips have been blacklisted and flagged as spam.

I run an email forwarding services https://hanami.run so I can share quite a bit about this.

Oppose with what many said, delivery to gmail.com is easisest. Now, where it's land is another question. Their spam filtering also very quick to learn.

icloud and hotmail are the worst because no way to get unblocked. You just fill in the form and wait in the dark. If you got luckly enough, they work on your ticket and unblock the ip. And here is the thing, they outright reject connection so your email cannot event reach the spam inbox.

So when launch a new IP, you should check on https://ipcheck.proofpoint.com and https://sendersupport.olc.protection.outlook.com/snds/data.a...

Any host providers that are cheap are most liklely has their IP blocked by proofpoint or microsoft already.

My strategy was to use server on Hetzner, then try to buy float IP then I can attach to any server. I have to try like 40 before I was able to get a pair of IP that aren't blocked by proofpoint/outlook.

Then I tried to warm up and build reputation by having a bunch of inbox email each others like 100 email per day then up to 1000 email per day.

Even with that I got blocked by proofpoint for no reason time by time...

So it's hard but with right strategy you can still do it. Just take more time and plan to build up and keep good reputation of your IPs.

That's really interesting and insightful, thanks.

But if I can offer a suggestion, it sounds like you were blocked by proofpoint while actively trying to spoof legitimate traffic in order to avoid detection by proofpoint. That's hardly "no reason at all," despite your having the best of intentions.

Nice work. I was thinking you might have had to go as far as to get your own subnet and even Autonomous System, to get clean IP's.

Is this viable in 2021 without huge resources? Can you go ipv6? What's the startup cost of an AS like? I assume there's the technical cost, but what about actually getting an AS assigned (time/money?), etc?

Depends on what huge resources counts as, and where you're located.

Last I checked (which was a while ago), APNIC has enough IPs to give new applicants two /24s with justification which will get you started without spending a lot of time/money in the IP resale market. If you're in ARIN or the RIPE regions I think you need to go to the market (but also need to justify, so you're looking for a single /24 to start). I don't know of it's accurate, but blog posts and auction sites seem to show about $15,000 for a /24, which is kind of a lot, but doable. You'll also need to arrange some hosting somewhere that you can credibly BGP with at least two networks to justify having an AS... There are some providers that will tunnel you to an internet exchange point and services like Vultr that might help you get started without a lot of investment.

And you'll need to learn BGP on the job. But I think you can do a lot with a simple unix box, you may not need a giant cisco router these days.

You can do it small yes. ARIN et all will gladly allocate you ipv6, but finding a transit provider with full support is a bit more tricky. The ARIN fees to start up are a few hundred.

That's incredibly insightful. But what made you buy your own server, ip etc instead of using say SES? Was it the cost thing or are you getting better delivery rates doing this?

When using SES, you cannot set FROM header to anything. The FROM has to be either an whitelisted email address or a domain that you own and verified with SES.

When forwarding email, we are receiving email from unknow domains. If we rewrite the FROM headers then the DKIM will invalid, so service will have to rewrite the FROM and clear out DKIM.

This is a well-known SES issue and project has to work around https://github.com/arithmetric/aws-lambda-ses-forwarder

``` For example, if an email sent by Jane Example <jane@example.com> to info@example.com is processed by this script, the From and Reply-To headers will be set to:

From: Jane Example at jane@example.com <info@example.com> Reply-To: jane@example.com To override this behavior, set a verified fromEmail address (e.g., noreply@example.com) in the config object and the header will look like this. ```

We want to forward email as it is and retain everything so we have to run our own postix in order to do that.

Yeah you're right. I just recently figured that to get the spf and dkim alignment you have to set a custom mail from in the SES too and it significantly improves the delivery. Definitely makes sense to get your own servers as per your use case.

Yes sending emails yourself is just as impossible as hosting a payment processor yourself.

Even though all the docs and technology is there, you really can't do it without the help of a big company like Amazon due to the following reasons:

- almost all residential ips are blocked.

- most data center ips are mostly blocked because there are like 100s of blacklists and every blacklist has it's own unique way of getting delisted.

- every big email provider has its own version of FBL and it's often a big black box. For example till date gmail won't even give Amazon access to its fbl(1)

- spam filtering is not an exact science and while there are things like spf, dkim, dmarc etc to ensure the authenticity of message at the end of the day it all comes down to your reputation as a sender and managing it is nothing short of a full time job.

(1) https://forums.aws.amazon.com/thread.jspa?threadID=257487

yup. I use protonmail and even that apparently gets blocked by gmail recipients occasionally. Rolling your own, you're lucky to have anyone ever see your mail

Thanks for using protonmail, email deliverability is always a battle. Let us know if you see more of this https://protonmail.com/support-form

Protonmail gets banned from email lists because their users tend to behave poorly.

> Yes sending emails yourself is just as impossible as hosting a payment processor yourself.

Genuine questions, how do companies like Mailchimp get started then?

By starting 15+ years ago, when this was marginally easier, and there was far less competition.

Mailchip is 20. Campaign Monitor is 17 (and have been buying up other email related companies/brands for years). SendGrid is about 12. Mailgun is 11.

There's a lot of competition out there, and it's not easy to overcome all the blocklist challenges - paying customers aren't willing for you to experiment with their customer's getting their email.

Mailchimp was founded in 2001, when the internet was a very, very different place.

If you were to try to start one today, I suppose you could rely on sending via another company like Amazon until you have a big enough customer base, then roll out your own infrastructure.

Get started early, hire people away from your competitors, make friends with people who work at your suppliers. It's not impossible to talk to Visa and start a payment processor from there today, but regulations and competition make that an uphill battle, even though the technical aspects are doable. Better have a sizable war chest with a long runway.

Yeah, this is the big moat that big viral email companies have. You can only get around spam filters by building reputation which takes time and volume so it's really hard to bootstrap. The shortest path would be to start with low-level managed service like AWS SES and build value adds on top of it.

It's not easy but it's not that hard. I've bootstrapped many mail servers on AWS and others and, although the initial outgoing emails might be flagged as spam AND you may have to remove yourself from Spamhaus and others, it's been mostly painless.

> It's not easy but it's not that hard.

Agreed. I think the hardest part is getting started; folks not familiar with hosting their own email just don't have as much awareness of what to do and how to do it. But take a bit of time to learn, get a reputable ISP, don't spam people, and you can do just fine without too much effort. I got a cheap VPS specifically to host email, and the worst I've had to do is fill out a Spamhaus form one time.

When I worked in email marketing in the 2000's, our director of engineering said something to me I've repeated many times.

"Everything is hard at scale."

Echoing what a lot have already said. I worked for a large email marketing provider that was acquired by Salesforce about a decade ago.

The number one thing you are selling is deliverability. The second thing you are selling is the tracking (opens, bounces, unsubscribes, etc.). Next, you are selling segmentation for subscriber lists (i.e being able to send the right message to the right consumer at the right time). You have to be diligent about your customers too, because if you are letting bad actors use your system... there goes your reputation and there goes your business.

But deliverability is the key. We had relationships with ISPs so we could fix $MAJOR_CORP's million email pre-holiday sales campaign while it was sending and we staffed the teams to do that, 24/7. This had nothing to do with programming and everything to do with company mission, reputation, contacts at Google, MSN, Yahoo, ..., and the history of having done it. We were "lucky" enough to have started as the industry matured.

* I say "lucky" because the founder's really caught this vision at the right time (2000/2001) and made it happen.

I hate to recommend what is just another service provider, but there are many cloud hosting providers that offer email sending (i.e. AWS, GCP, etc.) and dedicated email companies (Sendgrid, Mailgun, etc.). The cost to send email via any of these services is a tiny fraction of the amount you would pay to Mailchimp.

The value in what Mailchimp does is not so much just sending email, but in all the things around it, like managing subscribers, tracking opens, easily creating nice-looking emails that look good in a variety of mail clients, etc.

Contrary to some of the replies you've received here, it definitely is possible to run your own mail server with good deliverability, and we routinely did this for companies, even fairly small ones, physically on-prem and in datacenters, and cloud. It is not trivial, but far from impossible, and will likely involve communicating with a human when getting a static IP to find a good one. With that being said, I do not recommend you run your own mail server starting out, that is probably not the problem you are trying to solve.

I have a feeling that other than owning your own IP blocks so that you can manage reputation for them, a lot of it is just legwork. Finding out which providers are blocking your emails, tracking down their dispute process, using it… working with providers to make sure you stay unblocked… building relationships with them so that they are willing to work with you on that.

You also need to monitor your customers to make sure they aren’t doing things that will get you blocked.

Even the state of Utah seems to be failing at this. They recently started to snail mail vehicle registration reminders again. I signed up for email reminders on all my vehicles multiple times and I've never received an email from the state. Apparently others haven't either because the state now has a massive problem with expired plates.

My own assumption about why the system doesn't work.

The problem is that ideally mailchimp and any alternative should not even exist. 99% of the stuff they fire out is legitimately spam, usually unwanted and unrequested by the recipient.

So asking "How do I start my own spamming service and not get spamlisted" is kind of a silly question.

This is a bit cynical.

Mailchimp emails are well known for having 1 click unsubcribe by default.

There has been a huge resurgence in email newsletters for companies and content creators to have a direct relationship with their audience.

Mailchimp have done well because email seems to continually survive as a medium.

Sure, they do make it easy to unsubscribe, but every user of their system seems to sign you up without consent or tricks you in to it somehow because I do not want a single newsletter in my inbox but I am constantly unsubscribing to mailchimp newsletters.

You need to bring your own IPs and warm them up with legit emails. People abuse shared cloud IP addresses for spam, so you're going to run in to problems if you want to use them.

Ah I need to buy my own block of ip addresses? Is that what I need to do? And then connect those ip addresses to my computer that I run at home / office?

Sorry if the question is a bit noob, feel free to point me at any resources and I can do some reading myself too

Most likely you don't buy IP addresses outright. You sign a business Internet contract with your ISP that has a fixed IP address. You essentially lease that IP address from your ISP. You will stipulate in the contract that the IP address will be used to send/receive emails, because otherwise ISPs may block SMTP traffic completely.

Once you get big enough, you can consider buying an IP address prefix, getting your Autonomous System number, setting up peering, etc. For example Mailchimp seems to have AS14782.

I don't know how much it really counts as "like MailChimp" but Substack is relatively new, and seems to have found its way past the spam filters at least enough to get top-tier VC backing, so if I were trying to solve this problem I'd probably look at how they did it.


Looks like substack.com is configured for sending from Google, Mailgun, and Zendesk.

I’d guess that’s for personal, product, and customer service emails respectively.

Surely Substack uses Amazon SES or another transactional email service to actually send the emails to their user's subscribers, right?

"Could anyone give me some insight about how to start an email service like MailChimp"

It will always be a dance. I own a small IT company in the UK and have always managed to run local SMTP. I've done it for about 22 years. I could not run a Mail Chimp.

For starters, I could not live with myself! I don't do spam. MailChimp is a spammer for hire by definition. Your idea of spam and mine may be different. OK: Unsolicited Bulk Email is the key phrase. At which point are you solicited or unsolicited? Opt out or opt in? Where do you get your lists and how do you monetize this beast? How do you vet your customers or do you even care? What standards of ethics do you ascribe to?

I could possibly create another MailChimp because I know rather a lot about SMTP and own a fair few IPv4s and could cycle them and I'm fairly IPv6 savvy so I'll use that to get some more mileage. I know DMARC/DKIM/SPF and all the rest and can play those little games to up the authenticity score.

Can't be arsed to spam the world. I prefer to host recipients than senders.

I imagine its a fairly difficult undertaking nowadays. Your best bet is to probably use Mailgun or similar for the actual sending and let them deal with the reputation management headaches

My experience with Intuit's Quickbooks Online suggests that all Mailchimp users will be paying 2-3X within 3 years for a worse product. I'd plan on transitioning soon. They're awful.

No kidding. Worst company with their "advanced" tax software like proseries and lacerte. Try klavio.

Can anyone help explain why Intuit would want to acquire Mailchimp.

I’m just not seeing the “synergy” between these two companies other than they both focus on SMB.

Intuit has a stack to send invoices and receive payments from customers via email. Mailchimp has a stack that allows non-technical users to create complex emails, lists, track opens and responses. Together, this would allow a small business to build and monetize an email list of customers. They are creating an ecommerce channel via email to augment/compete with web stores.

I think this is a good point. It also acts as a diversification/only-to-gain scenario; if Intuit's main business suffers due to increased scrutiny in the tax filing space, that have another source of steady revenue.

I think SMB is exactly what it's about. I wouldn't be surprised if they go for Squarespace or Wix next.

Exactly. Intuit gets a list of and intro to all of mailchimp's customers.

Which alone is probably worth a substantial amount of the purchase price in advertising / sales time equivalency.

Intuit is also pivoting themselves to being a data aggregator, who sells products powered by that (see: Mint purchase). And they seem to realize that whoever owns the collection point wins (see: Google). Consequently, mailchimp gets them a durable product and data coverage of a difficult to target and lucrative market (SMB).

Here I am stressing out because I am going to have to figure out a MailChimp replacement for my partner's service business and now you have me worrying about the multiple non-profits that I have migrated from WordPress hell to Wix. Fingers crossed that it is Squarespace as I determined that it was a ridiculously bad option due to no backup functionality.

Intuit want Mailchimp's data.

Maybe they'll lobby Congress to make it illegal to block spam.

My guess is SaaS to SMB.

Intuit Inc. is an American business that specializes in financial software. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, California, and the CEO is Sasan Goodarzi. As of 2019, more than 95% of its revenues and earnings come from its activities within the United States.[3] Intuit's products include the tax preparation application TurboTax, personal finance app Mint and the small business accounting program QuickBooks.


I feel the same - Cue the pundits in the business press writing articles titled "Why the Intuit acquisition of Mailchimp makes sense" as if they would have predicted it years prior.

i think that _is_ synergy.

we often think of synergy being where you can apply your skill in solving problem Y to problem X even though the markets for those solutions are wildly different.

but you can also think about the "thing" as being "selling to a particular category of customer". you can cross sell, bundle, gain some forms of economy of scale.

this is basically the internet equivalent of WB Mason selling you toner, coffee, paper, chairs, and water coolers.

they are moving into ecommerce. They've acquired tradegecko last yr and rebranded it as quickbooks commerce.

Also, if you look at mailchimp recent product changes with addition of MC stores, they are positioning themselves to compete against ecommerce platforms. This could be planned beforehand to be part of the package for the acquisition.

They're sunsetting Quickbooks Commerce, though: https://commerce.intuit.com/register

It's counter intuitive, but the best acquisitions are the ones with little synergy where the acquirer pretty much invests money in the acquiree and leaves them alone to continue as they were, but with a bigger budget.

Whatever their other reasons, it seems certain they’re enriching user data for tracking and resale.

They're really into it heheheh

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