Helping Others Find Financial Freedom through Franchising

Valentines photoJane Stein is President of Your Franchise Is Waiting, a consultancy firm which helps people in various stages of reinvention discover the possibilities offered by business ownership through franchising. She shares her somewhat bumpy ride from corporate financial services to self-employment and why she loves nothing more than helping people get out from under the corporate shackles.

I was a senior VP of Investments and Certified Financial Planner with Smith Barney (now Morgan Stanley) for more than 20 years in Houston, Texas. I got married at 35 to my 42-year-old husband and cranked out two adorable boys – time was a wasting afterall.  When you have a full time stressful job (is there one that isn’t?) it truly takes a village.  We relied heavily on the kindness of not only strangers but also family and hired help.

Our second child was all of 4 weeks old when I felt that something wasn’t right. He didn’t make eye Boys at the Lakecontact (when he nursed!) and seemed to be in perpetual motion. I knew he had autism. This was 1997, and autism was just starting to be on the radar, as opposed to the full blown epidemic it has since become. Being the kind of person who believes “everything worth doing is worth overdoing,” I jumped into overdrive and surfed the internet until 2 am every morning researching every possible intervention known to man. We did gluten- and casein-free diets, sound therapy, supplements, skin brushing, as well as the traditional speech, occupational, and “floor play” interventions. By this point, my son was living in the back seat of my car and therapists’ offices. Needless to say, it was a crazy ride.  Not so great for the marriage either, which is another story.

Should I stay or should I go?

Then along came 9/11 and after struggling to get out of bed for six months, I was diagnosed with PTSD. I realized that I was seriously burned out and had not enjoyed what I had been doing for years. I was tired of the same conversations day in and day out and wasn’t learning anything new. I felt that crushing feeling of “is this all there is?” and of life being fleeting. I wanted to spend whatever time remained raising my own children (at this point, we had two full-time nannies) and living in a place where they could play outside without being covered by mosquito bites from head to toe in minutes. We Jane Steinresearched various cities that met our criteria (should be safe and have clean air and water, an educated community, and four seasons) around the country. We assessed our financial picture and where we could cut back, and took a leap of faith. We relocated the family to Boulder, Colorado, which had good public schools and more than its fair share of quirky kids. I figured mine would fit right in.

There’s only a few times in your life you will experience your soul talking to you. It’s tricky because it doesn’t come from a thinking place. Sometimes it goes against what you think you want. Those times are gifts – your soul is never wrong.  It will never steer you off course, in fact I believe it is pushing you TOWARD your course.

Cut to ten years later when my oldest was leaving for college, I began to feel restless and Jane Steinrealized I was bored, bored, bored. Hiking, golfing, going to lunch with friends and volunteering did not fill me up.

I did some deep thinking and realized I:

  • love working the way some people love weekends,
  • need an organizing principle in my life: for me it’s work
  • wanted to build another empire if I could – I missed the challenge.
  • missed having discretionary income to be more generous in my philanthropy and, let’s be honest, to spend.

There’s more I could say, but at age 58 I did a lot of research and exploration of various career options and eventually relaunched – as a franchise broker.

I work from home connecting people in transition into businesses that are a good match for them based on their investment parameters, skill sets, and income and lifestyle objectives.  Walking people through the steps of reinvention is very rewarding.

“There’s only a few times in your life you will experience your soul talking to you. It’s tricky because it doesn’t come from a thinking place. Sometimes it goes against what you think you want. Those times are gifts – your soul is never wrong.  It will never steer you off course, in fact I believe it is pushing you TOWARD your course.”

I love learning about new business concepts every day. I get to try to connect people to their dreams of self-employment and hopefully open the door to what will be their future financial security and the satisfaction that comes from “steering your own ship.”  Now I help people invest in themselves, instead of managing their passive investments, and it’s much more exciting and empowering for them.

This is a business I can do from anywhere there is a phone line and an internet connection.  There’s no reason I won’t do this well into old age.

Stepping past the fear 

Personal reinvention is hard.  Things have to be pretty miserable for you to overcome the hurdle of inertia and fear. But there can be great reward in taking the leap. Transitions are a part of life. Most of us will experience quite a few in our lifetime. The best ones are the ones you initiate yourself. It’s a great feeling to chart a new course. In facing your fears, ask yourself – in a year, will my situation improve if I do nothing? If the answer is no, you and I both know what the right move is.

When I decided to leave the financial services industry, I woke up every morning feeling free. After a while, that feeling was replaced with a sense of adventure. I was going to reinvent myself – again. Investing in a business is a bold move. But it just might be the right move.  And remember, women make great entrepreneurs!

Interested in learning more about franchising? You can connect with Jane on Facebook and  LinkedIn.

Julia Westfall: Building a Community of Women

Julia_westfallJulia Westfall could easily have coasted to retirement. She was 59 years old and had a good job as director of finance and human resources for a marketing and communications company in Bethesda, Maryland. Her twin daughters had started college. She absolutely could have coasted.

But then Westfall read an article about something called Hera Hub and was intrigued. It sounded like the sort of thing she wanted to be involved in. “I wasn’t really interested in retiring; it wasn’t something my husband and I ever talked about, other than planning for it financially. I always saw retirement as something far off in the future, regardless of my age.”

So Westfall began doing some research early last year on Hera Hub – a work and meeting space where women could connect and collaborate – and then reached out to its owner, Felena Hanson, who is based in San Diego County. Many Hera Hub members are professionals who had previously worked from home but found it isolating, or wanted to continue working at home part-time but also needed a space to hold meetings or meet with clients one-on-one. Westfall learned Hera Hub has three established locations in California, but more importantly, Hanson was offering franchise opportunities.

Westfall continued to do her due diligence. She scrutinized her own finances, had a franchise attorney look at the contract, and even went to San Diego to meet Hanson and tour the Hera Hub locations. Impressed with what she found, she signed the franchise agreement after three short months.

“This struck me as an amazing opportunity to do something to help women in small business. I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses over the years and gotten a great education along the way. At this point in my career, Hera Hub seemed like a really exciting way to use that experience.”

Westfall admits there have been some who questioned her decision to buy a franchise rather than starting her own IMG_2811business. She responds, “I didn’t want to do all that branding work; reinventing the wheel. I found an existing opportunity that really suits me and my vision. I’m all about taking advantage of what someone else has done and using what they’ve learned. The franchise option was very attractive to me.”

But Westfall is still a trailblazer, as the Washington DC space is the first franchise for Hera Hub. “That intrigued me, too. I kind of like being first at things. It’s a challenge and I feel like I can make a difference for the people coming up behind me.”

Signing the franchise agreement was only the first step, after which the real work began. Westfall needed to find a location for the business and also to build brand awareness and educate people on the concept of shared workspace. When it became obvious that finding the right space wasn’t going to be easy, Westfall decided to open a temporary location so she could get started as soon as possible.

Westfall recently signed a lease for her permanent location in the Friendship Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. Hera Hub refers to its décor as “spa-inspired,” but don’t show up expecting a pedicure. The space is serene, quiet, and conducive to working, and private offices and meeting rooms can be reserved as needed.

IMG_2858Hera Hub also hosts evening workshops, programs, and events, where members come together as a community to learn from and support each other to the extent that they choose to.

“It’s a great group of women,” Westfall says of her founding members. “One is an artist. Another woman has a proofreading and editing company. There’s a website designer, an art curator, a business coach, a woman starting her own private equity firm. That’s what’s so great about Hera Hub – it’s real mix. This gives us the opportunity to make connections, support each other, and pass along some individual perspective.”

Eventually, Westfall would like to have about 120-150 members of different membership levels. At that point, she

Julia with member and artist Diana Ludet
Julia with member and artist Diana Ludet

would consider opening other Hera Hub offices in the DC metro area.

Westfall reflects on her age and why she isn’t ready to retire. “The advantage of me being 60 is that I’ve already done so many things, and your experiences make you who you are. I don’t think I would be as successful if I had done this at 40. I would have missed 20 years of experience. This is the right time for me. Also, being older, my husband and I have had the chance to establish ourselves financially.

“I’ve also had people ask if I’m buying this business for my daughters. I’m not. Sure, if they get out of college and are interested and have something to offer I would welcome them, but this business is for me. Although I guess I do want them to know that they can do whatever they want to do, at whatever age they happen to be.”

And for Westfall, Hera Hub can open doors at any age. “You always know that these amazing women are out there – especially in an area like Washington DC – but now I get to actually build relationships with them. That’s where I’m getting the most benefit – getting to know these women who are at all stages in their businesses, all different backgrounds, different education levels. I probably never would have crossed paths with most of them without Hera Hub. I’m very grateful for that.”

Tips from Julia Westfall
  • Whatever your business, find a community of people who care about you and support you.
  • Figure out where your strengths are, and be honest about your weaknesses. Then find support in those areas where you’re not as strong.
  • The pressure to achieve work/life balance can be intense. It can be hard to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of it, but it helps to see work/life balance as something that’s spread over your entire life. Sometimes it’s more about work, and sometimes it’s more about family, and that’s okay.

One-on-One With Alicia Syrett, Angel Investor and Start-Up Advisor

squareAlicia Syrett is the Founder and CEO of Pantegrion Capital, an angel investment vehicle focused on seed and early stage investments. She serves on the Board of NY Angels as the Chairman of the Board of HeTexted and her past and present advisory board roles include Enerknol, iFunding, Cuipo, The Pitch Deck, Beauty Booked, Cissé Trading Co. and Willa. A recurring panelist on CNBC’s PowerPitch, Alicia was voted one of Wharton’s “40 Under 40” young alumni and has been featured on Fox, MSNBC, Inc, Associated Press, Huffington Post, and USA Today, among others. She mentors start-ups and students alike and is a member of Women Corporate Directors. 

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Kathy Lindert: The Mortgage Banker Who’ll Put You Under Her Spell

KathyLindert-head-shotKathy Lindert wants you to take her to bed. In fact, she has slept with thousands of men and women and swears it’s okay because her husband is good with it.

You see, Lindert is a hypnotist who helps people overcome any number of issues ranging from smoking to fear of flying. She records all her sessions and gives them to her clients on MP3 or CD.

“The last thing you hear, read, see, or do is what your mind works on, and so I want that to be you. I want you go to bed and listen to my voice. So tell your partner, I’m 52 and really cute, and I’m going to teach you a lot of things because I’ve got a lot of experience,” she says with a laugh. “But seriously, it really works because when a person is relaxed, they are able to change.” (more…)

Trusha Patel: Swapping Commodities for Cumin Seeds

Trusha Patel
Trusha on location in India with ginger farmers

Trusha Patel has a passion for spice and finding just that right flavor as she cooks has always offered her sanctuary from the stressful life of corporate law. And now she has made it her mission to bring those high quality ingredients from the farms of India and Europe to your table, helping you transform all kinds of dishes in ways you could never have imagined. “A simple thing like adding a little ginger and cinnamon to smoothies or even black pepper to orange juice can turn good into exceptional.”

Born in Kenya to Indian parents, Patel moved to the UK as a child. Fulfilling her childhood dream, she studied law at the University of Manchester and, after training and qualifying with Linklaters, she moved to Credit Suisse First Boston as an Associate specialized in banking transactions. After one year, she was recruited to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) in London where she spent the next 8 years as a front office derivatives lawyer.

“It was a trading floor position. Basically I sat among the traders and marketing guys, working with them on the transactions. I got a lot of exposure as to how things are really done. The trend at that time was very much on credit derivatives and everything that basically triggered the economic crisis. That’s what was driving the volumes, driving the revenue for the bank, all these high-end, multi-million-dollar transactions.”

It was a lucrative career, but it all started to come apart in 2008 with the lack of liquidity in the market. “It was all about cheap credit, cheap loans, and the bigger corporations leveraging off that to make money.  I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was ten. I was pretty senior and successful, and at the time it was everything I had dreamed of,” she recalls.

Once the crisis took hold, CIBC’s focus was to mitigate its risk. It was not going to be easy as – of all Canadian banks – it had the greatest exposure to these types of transactions. Patel’s job centered around managing the losses and reducing inventory, essentially deconstructing all that had come before.

Two years earlier, after a trip to Canada, Patel and her husband had applied for permanent residency under the Canadian Federal Skilled Workers Program. “We were looking for a lifestyle change and wanted to open some options for our future. Since I was working for a Canadian bank, it seemed like a good idea.”

So it was providential timing that the residency applications were approved around the same time CIBC started cutting jobs and repatriating staff.

At the end of 2009, the couple relocated to Canmore, about 1 hour outside of Calgary, Alberta. Unable to practice law without retraining, she carried on working for CIBC but on a consultancy basis. Her husband was less fortunate and found it very difficult to find work. Reluctantly, he returned to the UK to work for a British bank. “We were having this long distance marriage, which was not in the plans, but we had to adjust to the situation. He was doing months there and a few weeks off in Canada. It was a very difficult time.”

Patel speaks openly about how she wanted to make the transition from the banking sector. “I felt pretty toxic about what was going on and really wanted to break free from it. I was on the lookout for something else.” Cooking had always been her passion, an escape. “I would lose myself in it without thinking too much, it would take me away from my long, long days in the office.” She had a special affinity for Northern Indian cooking as it recalled days spent in her mother’s kitchen.

Initially she thought she could open a modern Indian restaurant and catering business and conducted some marketing research but quickly it became apparent that “Canmore was not ready for that. There were people who didn’t even know what a samosa was!” But even aside from that small issue, Patel found she was having to adapt the ingredients of her favorite dishes to what was available locally. The quality of spices was particularly disappointing, “The dishes I made in the UK always needed additional seasoning. Even switching to more organic sources was not doing it for me, they just weren’t delivering the same flavor profile.”

Taking things into her own hands, she begin experimenting with her own blends and, encouraged by her husband, decided to sell them at a local Trusha Patel cinnamonmarket stall with tasting notes and advice on spice pairings. When they were quickly snapped up, Patel knew she was on to something. She began researching different spices and the buyers from whom they could be sourced. She was particularly interested in understanding the relationship with the farmers and how the spices were harvested and processed.

It took a further eight months to get all her suppliers on board, but the real challenge was establishing the business and dealing with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). “It was a completely new industry and new country for me. All the labelling rules, the bureaucracy involved in setting up the business, getting my organic certification, understanding what could be said and not said according to the CFIA, the little nuances or things that may be misinterpreted by the consumer… it all took me more time than finding the people I wanted to work with,” Patels explains.

There were other hurdles too. She learned a hard lesson by spending a lot of marketing dollars early on at a trade show. While interest at the show was high, the sales conversion was not great and the expected orders did not materialize for months. “After that, I just got on the phone and started cold calling. It was difficult. I’m not a salesperson. I’m pretty reserved. I took the rejection so personally. My husband was my savior because he coached me on how to respond to people and we even did some mind-mapping to help with my response to people’s feedback.”

But after a slow start, the Spice Sanctuary emerged undeterred. The production line was launched, the website was live with an online store, and bloggers started to mention her range. By the end of 2013 Patel was listed with 50 outlets and had built up a relationship with wholesalers. “Purveyors of Fine Quality Spices and Seasonings”, the Spice Sanctuary imports an exclusive range of premium grade organic spices, blends and rubs as well as Pukka-branded teas.

The best news came when her husband landed a job in Calgary and the couple was “finally able to have a normal life”. They celebrated by traveling to India to meet her suppliers and the farmers. “I came back recharged and in full-speed-ahead mode.”

Trusha Patel“We got a gelato company on board, a popcorn manufacturer, executive chefs, and even a brewery uses our spices. Sales have doubled. Right now we are listed with 75 stores but my target is 100 by the end of this year. Being featured on The Marilyn Denis Show was especially fun.”

Does she ever miss law? The 40-year-old spice guru’s response is swift and unequivocal “No! It’s been tough to wait two-and-a-half years to see success and get buzz around the products, but it’s finally coming and I know I am on the right track. I have full job satisfaction in what I do right now.”

 

Tips from Trusha Patel
  • Always give things in life your best shot. As long as you know you have done your best, that’s what matters.
  • Make sure you have a support network (family or friends), someone who can give you perspective. Someone who knows you and gets you back on the right track.
  • Travel and see the world. It will enrich you in more ways than you might think possible
  • Life is too short so don’t be afraid to laugh, cry, believe and feel the beauty around you as much as possible!

Aud Melås: Banking, Bulldozers, and Brewing Beer

Aud-1 2 (2) There are not many successful business women who would give up a well-paid and prestigious position at a successful start-up to move to a small Norwegian town – population 350 – to run a hotel. You might even call Aud Melås crazy, as she thought she was at the time, but there is a method to this ambitious woman’s madness: “I’ve lived in this role of change for so long it’s natural to me. It’s something I just do because I’m a very curious person. I love to learn new things. I hate to get stuck.”

While studying for her degree in business economics at the Norwegian Institute of Banking & Insurance and the Norwegian School of Business, Melås was working at Sparebanken Hedmark (a savings and loan bank) in the town of Hamar, Norway. Upon graduation, she took up a full-time position as a mortgage and tax advisor at the bank, and, by age 24, her career path in the banking sector lay solidly before her, but she wasn’t sure she liked what she saw. When they offered her a promotion to a management position, she thought, “If I say yes to this, I’m most likely going to stick with banking for the rest of my life. So I asked myself ‘What are you going to look back at when you are 50?’ Are you going to say ‘I wish I had’ or are you going to say, ‘wow! I’ve done a lot of interesting things in my life, not all of them went well, but at least I tried,’ So, I chose the latter, declined the promotion, and decided to return to school.”

Melås informed her (very supportive) employer of her decision and left with a “four year leave of absence” instead of a termination and even a scholarship to help pay school fees.

Looking for an English-speaking environment coupled with warm weather, she followed her life-long dream of moving to California. She did some undergrad work at the University of San Diego and started the MBA program there. On moving to San Francisco, she finished the MBA with the University of Phoenix and – in order to remain in the US – took a position at Civic Bank of Commerce outside San Francisco as a credit manager and later VP & Manager of commercial lending at California Bank & Trust. Despite earlier misgivings about staying in banking and finance, altogether Melås spent 15 years in the sector.

One day she got a call from a former employer’s HR Manager about an opportunity to work with an online auction start-up for heavy construction equipment. They were seeking people with talent to build up the business. “I said to her ‘Are you crazy? I don’t know anything about backhoes or bulldozers!’” Melås laughs. The woman agreed but added, “But you do know about finance and building networks.” Melås declined the high risk venture but the woman was persistent, calling her for three months.

After some reflection and on hearing the company’s new name, Ironplanet, she decided to go for it. “I knew the company was going to be a success. It was the right name. Building business is something I really like to do. I believe the name tells you a lot. And besides, the business plan was excellent,” she reassures.

In the meantime, the business-savvy Norwegian had negotiated a good package in terms of options and severance so she felt confident to change tracks. “Once I took the decision, I moved very fast. I didn’t hesitate. Clearly it was a life-changing move because if I had not left, I would have stayed in the banking industry.”

And so there she was, co-founder responsible for risk assessment, supported by a staff of only ten, with the goal of selling excavators and the like online. It was overwhelming starting from scratch to build the behind-the-scenes infrastructure, but Melås saw the potential in the online auction business and stuck with it. It was a good call. E-bay tried unsuccessfully to buy Ironplanet in 2002 and today it’s the world’ largest online auction platform for heavy construction equipment.

After 4 years at Ironplanet, Melås got her second interesting phone call. This time from her brother, a psychologist based in Norway, with the “opportunity of a lifetime” for his sister and her American husband, Evan. He had found a small 8-room inn with an indoor/outdoor café situated in an ideal location — Sognefjorden, Norway. “Frankly, I thought he was off his rocker. I could not believe he would seriously think I would want to leave this fantastic company that I love so much to start working in the hospitality sector.”

That evening she recounted the story to Evan, laughing as she imagined herself running a B&B at the end of fjord in Flåm, almost 5 hours by car from Oslo, the capital of Norway. Her husband’s response nearly knocked her off her feet. “Well, I might be interested,” he said. Evan’s Silicon-Valley- based graphic design company had suffered during the 2002 crash and in the meantime he was making ends meet as a carpenter and a mortgage officer. “Basically he was miserable,” Melås recalls. “Norway has always been a fairytale country for Evan. So naturally he jumped at the chance to start over and do something new. But I remained unconvinced.”

Knowing that his wife was the key, together with Melås’ brother, Evan starting plotting how he could change her mind. They called in the big guns with comments like, “your mother is not getting any younger”. It took three long months but she finally agreed to visit the inn, examine the balance sheets, and talk with the accountant about the health of the business. In early January 2004, Melås met the owners. At 5pm, it was already pitch black. But not dark enough that she couldn’t read the look of distrust on the owners’ faces: “I knew they were thinking … ‘oh this American woman will ruin everything.’”

But Melås was impressed with the figures put before her. Although there are only 350 inhabitants in Flåm, she learned that 1.3 million tourists come through each year and all of them have to pass the inn when they get off the cruise ships and boats. There was clearly more to the place than met the eyes. The next morning with the sun resting on the snow-capped mountains, she saw for herself: “It is an incredibly beautiful place. The inn is situated right on the water in idyllic surroundings. The potential was palpable. It would seem my brother was not crazy after all.”

Copy of R. Sørensen Bilder Hotellet 050 (1)Dazzled by the scenery, business potential, and plans for expansion, Melås agreed to give it five years on the condition she would keep the house in California and they would return if it didn’t work out. A key decision-making factor was her ability to maintain the current staff. She signed on the dotted line and got on a plane to San Francisco to pack up her life. Midway over the Atlantic, panic set in. “I thought ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’ It was almost like it wasn’t me who had been to Norway. The numbers had looked great but in reality I had no idea how I was going to do it.”

The next few weeks were difficult. She had to face the fact she was leaving Ironplanet, a company she had helped build from scratch. “That was tough. It was my baby. But I had made a decision and needed to move forward. Evan had no such doubts. He was over the moon!” she laughs.

Melås had no romantic illusions about running an inn. “My aunt and uncle owned a small hotel and worked themselves into the ground…literally, as they both died before turning 70. I learned an important lesson from that. I would not want to build a business in such way that it would stop functioning without me being present.”

While her previous experience was clearly a bonus in terms of organizing, planning, putting start-up strategies and infrastructure in place, and dealing with the local bank, the first two and half years were hard going (to put it mildly). Legal issues put the plans for upgrading the hotel and building a micro-brewery on hold, but also it was difficult for Melås to return to Norway after so many years abroad. She recalls: “I don’t remember how many times I almost packed my bags to go back to California. I loved my life in the US. I had great friends, a wonderful job. The culture here was so foreign to me even though I visited every summer. Being the boss was hard as I tried to navigate the labor laws. It was much easier for Evan. He adjusted really well and picked up the language. He was adopted right away. Me? I was known as ‘Iron Woman’… let’s just leave it at that.”Aud & Evan ved Ægir ute

Once they got past the legal wrangling, the couple renovated and expanded Flåmsbrygga Hotel and went ahead with their plans to open a Viking-themed brewpub (a pub that brews its own beer), on the premises. They were only the second brewpub in Norway at the time and the 9th micro-brewery overall. Eight years after taking over the inn, a brand new production brewery and a 15-room staff house were installed.

Named after Ægir, the Norse giant who lived where the river and the ocean met and brewed beers for the gods of Åsgard, Ægir Brewery boasts 40 varieties of beer, has won the accolade of ‘Best Beer’ in Norway, and taken home three silver medals at the Australian “Olympics of Beer Brewing”. “Norwegians are usually quite modest, but if I am allowed to brag a little, we are number one in Norway in our category,” Melås says. “Unlike the US, the brewpub is a unique experience here. We are investigating franchising opportunities and looking to increase exports to the US market. Our unofficial slogan has become ‘Why not?’ as this has proven to be an effective approach up to now,” she laughs.

The five-year self-imposed re-evaluation deadline came and went unnoticed. In year six, they knew they were staying. Now, in their tenth year of operation, Melås and her husband have grown the business from a small B&B to a multi-million-dollar venture. “I would never have seen myself here. Everyone thought we were going to fail … many were eagerly awaiting a big bankruptcy when we started investing in brewing. But Evan and I believed in our dreams and in the end, it’s been a wonderful ride. We had one goal: one day we would make money while we were sleeping!  We reached that goal some years back and now we sleep very well indeed.”

Tips from Aud Melås

  • Follow your gut and dare to be different. You don’t have to be a sheep.
  • Don’t fool yourself. Running an inn is like any other business – to get to the stage where you make money you, you must work really hard. You are always working when  your friends are on holidays, you work weekends, etc. There are no short-cuts!
  • When you open yourself to change, the most unexpected things can happen.

Questions for Aud? Post them in the Comments section and we’ll be sure she sees them.