Anthony O’brien is a chemical engineer specializing in food R&D, tincture, topical, vape formulations, manufacturing, scaling chemical processes, cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavor chemistry. He currently oversees product development and manufacturing and branding for Ignite’s CBD line.
Today, we’ll be talking about the future pads for the hemp and cannabis industry and all about the behind the scenes, the challenges of CBD and cannabis entrepreneurship plus powerful advice to budding entrepreneurs in this industry.
I definitely think brands and companies should be hiring more technical people, filling more chemists and biochemists and engineers and all sorts of different types of scientists and kind of bringing the people that the brains of the other industries into the cannabis industry. – Anthony O’brien
Some Topics We Discussed Include
2:02 – His journey to the cannabis and hemp industry
4:13 – Exciting news from his line of work
10:25 – Products they distribute for cannabis
13:31 – Staying steadfast amidst the buzz about the vape cartridges
15:02 – Challenges in his key role
17:51 – The income goals they’re aiming for right now
23:30 – Concerns about the changing landscapes in the cannabis industry
24:56 – Words of wisdom
People Mentioned / Resources
Connect with Anthony O’brien
Connect with Sonia Gomez
Sonia Gomez: Hey guys, Sonia Gomez here coming from Denver, Colorado super excited to be on another episode with you of The Hemp Revolution podcast where we are sharing and telling the stories from behind the scenes of the entrepreneurs who are pushing this incredible industry forward.
Today we have an incredible guest a chemical engineer who is specializing in food research and development for teachers, topical vape formulations manufacturing and scaling chemical processes for cannabinoids terpenes and flavor chemistry. Anthony, our guest for today oversees product development and manufacturing and branding for Ignite’s CBD line. We’re going to be talking about the future pads for the hemp and cannabis industry and all about the behind the scenes and the dirty dirty on the peaks and valleys of CBD and cannabis entrepreneurship. Put your hands together and help me welcome our good friend, Mr. Anthony O’Brien. Hey, what’s up Anthony!
Anthony O’brien: Hey everybody! Great show. Great to be on here. Excited to talk today.
Sonia Gomez: Yeah, me too. I’m excited to hear more about Ignite.Why don’t you give us a quick and dirty on who you are and what you are doing in the cannabis and hemp industry right now?
His Journey to the Cannabis and Hemp Industry
Anthony O’brien: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I appreciate the the bio you gave on me. I work for Ignite, we’re a large CPG cannabis brand. We sell lots of CBD products across the United States and the United Kingdom. We also sell THC cannabis products in California, Nevada. Big oversell the formulation and product development for our CBD line. I manage our manufacturing operations. I assist all of our marketing to make sure all the branding is correct and accurate. I do a lot of the quality control as well. So doing all the full panel testing as the goods come off the line and just try to strategize and just understand what products consumers want.
Sonia Gomez: Can you share with us a little bit, I think there’s a lot of folks here who are looking at potentially making that corporate cannabis jump and trying to figure out how they can leverage their existing skill sets to get that ideal position in the space. We also have folks who are like, should I start my own brand and business in this industry? And I’m like, be educated, be empowered, know what your options are. So from your perspective, somebody who’s made that jump with your professional training and certifications, what do you think were the some of the challenges that you faced and trying to make that corporate cannabis jump? Or have you always been in cannabis and hemp? Talk to me a little bit about that journey and what your considerations were?
Anthony O’brien: Yeah, that’s a great question. So I started in the polymer chemicals industry. So polymer manufacturing. I also did a job in the food R & D space, which is kind of gave me a lot of insight on how formulations work in the cannabis side, like how to make edibles and tinctures and stuff. But yeah, it is a little different entering this space, obviously, because it’s so new. Really doing your due diligence on companies in particular, I always I leverage LinkedIn to enter the space which I love, actually just being able to connect with your future boss or somebody higher up at a company want to directly through LinkedIn is extremely powerful.
But yeah, like really doing your due diligence on who the company is what they do, if they’re actually real, if they’re still going to be around in one year, that’s really important. But yeah, if you leverage LinkedIn and get a like a 30 minute meeting with a manager, director in your department that you’re thinking about, and just kind of understand where their company is going where they need help, and then maybe schedule a follow up call to kind of explain how you can contribute. That’s a really great entry point into the industry.
Sonia Gomez: I was like just that’s really powerful advice. Because I think that there’s a really bad misconception right now for the industry I would say has a bad reputation for being quote unquote cash rich, and I’m I’m probably I’m probably it’s probably my fault in the sense because I’m always like how many of you were thinking about getting involved with this incredible exciting cash rich industry, but at the same time and managing expectations by saying like, you can’t come into this space, which is a pretty tight knit circle of people right, especially in cannabis.
But in cannabis and hemp this is a relationship based business and you can’t come out with your cup and be like, Yo, what can I get? I’m so smart. What can I get from this industry that’s cash rich and charged, you know, two, three times more than you would if it was another business, you really always have to you have to come into this space asking the question, what value can I bring? And so doing that sort of self check in self evaluation to make sure that you’re bringing that real value is major. What are some of the most exciting things that you’re doing in your business right now, Anthony, I love that you’re working on the formulation side. And something tells me you probably get to work on innovating formulas quite a bit. What excites you most about what you’re doing right now?
Exciting News from His Line of Work
Anthony O’brien: Yeah, that’s that’s another great question. Well, it’s really exciting to see the Ignite CBD line scale globally. So launching United Kingdom was super exciting getting into all of the doors of distribution this year. So actually being in retail stores is super exciting as well. But some exciting product innovation stuff is definitely playing around with all the cannabinoids. So, again in 2018, the farm bill passed and we know which legalized hemp. And in the beginning of the year though, the primary the primary role ingredient was just dirty CBD distillate or CBD isolate.
However, now I get to play with CBN distillate CBG isolette, CBC isolettes, and all these crazy cannabinoids and I can make my own special ratio product. So it’s just really special. It’s really new, it’s really exciting that it’s really exciting and challenging. And I can’t really Google a lot of this stuff. It’s kind of just a lot of trial and experimenting. So I would say that’s probably the most exciting part of the last few months of what I’ve been up to.
I can't really Google a lot of this stuff. It's kind of just a lot of trial and experimenting. So I would say that's probably the most exciting part of the last few months of what I've been up to. - Anthony O'brien Click To Tweet
Sonia Gomez: Oh, yeah, man. I’m super excited. One of the things I’m old hat right, I like to say that I’m an old hat. I’m originally from the humble hills like originally, I was born in Santa Cruz grew up in Northern California. My husband’s getting ready to go back up to– my mom still owns property over in Mendocino county my husband’s getting ready to do the trip from Santa Rosa, where they’re getting ready to have the Emerald Cup this weekend and go all the way up to Seattle to check out you know the temperatures on the industry out there and I’m a little bit nostalgia on the old school way of like, man did we really want science to come in here and pick mother nature apart trying to discover what was going to be the most beneficial is like my old mindset. Just trying to stay true to the grassroots of this whole thing.
And then at the same time the innovation entrepreneur side of me and was like fuck yeah, man here we are, like ripping this whole thing apart trying to figure out what aspects of this thing are really creating the transformations and I really believe and I want to dive into like what you think the future landscape of this industry is going to look like? Because my personal opinion is and I’m already starting to see it with some of my clients and friends, I believe that we are moving into a time for customized compounds. I think that we’re going to start to use genomic testing, genetic coding and really understand like what our bodies as individuals need rather than creating base formulas that are for a quote unquote, condition, we’re going to start creating formulations that are for the condition of the person. What do you think the future from a science and formula base, what do you think the future of this industry is going to look like? Let’s say three to five years from now.
I definitely think all the marketing is going to be more data driven and scientific driven, which it really needs to be because consumers are really confused right now. - Anthony O'brien Click To Tweet
Anthony O’brien: Yeah, that’s a really hard question to answer. But I definitely think all the marketing is going to be more data-driven and scientific driven, which it really needs to be because consumers are really confused right now, especially just with so many brands popping up every day and just trying to really basically advertise the same products in different ways. So it can confuse consumers. I definitely think the formulations will become more advanced. For example, we pretty much have three categories on the market right now right we have isolate CBD, broad spectrum CBD and full spectrum CBD. But that doesn’t really give you a good insight into what that actual formulation is right. So definitely having more ratio based products compounded products that are kind of backed by data, or focus group studies for certain companies will be extremely powerful.
I think you’ll see more, unfortunately more pharma groups coming in more larger companies kind of doing more like active pharmaceutical ingredient development around the cannabinoid side. And I also think that people are going to start to understand the other compounds in the plant as well. Not just the cannabinoids, but how the terpenes play a role, how the flavanol chemicals play a role, how various other chemical constituents play a role. So I think you’re pretty spot on when you say things will become a little more compounded and tailored to maybe an individual and their needs. Gene editing is pretty prevalent on the hemp breeding side this year that the CBD plants that were being harvested so they’re really cool. They pretty much have like 18% by weight CVG instead of CBD and they did that through crisper cast nine gene editing so I think you’re from what you said you’re pretty spot on and kind of where the directions heading at least.
Sonia Gomez: It’s so exciting to see the evolution from the cultivators side too. I think I had I’ll just speak for myself, you know, because Who else knows?– That’s what I know best. But for myself, I always felt like the farmer would be pretty resistant to the evolution that the people who are committed to cannabis would stay committed to cannabis and the people who are committed to hemp would stay committed to hemp. We’ve created this whole you know, microchasm so this what the happy medium I guess of the cannabis cultivators who have jumped into hemp, genetically modifying the plant to make it you know, cannabinoid rich in these other areas besides THC. Whereas here in Colorado, we’re up against a landscape. And I’m sure out in California as well, we’re up against a landscape where people are just like blowing out the numbers of THC to create and it’s almost like I call it alien weed. It’s fucking alien weed like you can’t smoke that shit without going to fucking space. You know what I mean? And it’s not the candidates of my childhood. I really liked my purple and my kush.
Nowadays, I get the wrong strain. Watch out– like that kids have to be cleared out of the house because I am bleaching it. I literally feel like I just it’s crazy. So, but I’m excited to be on the flip side. I’m excited to see the innovation and cultivation on the other side because I’m sure it gives you really the best formula come from the best product like products and ingredients, right? It’s not like Gerber baby made billions off of that commercial we’re like oh the best baby food starts with the best ingredients that are grown to the best farms, right? And it’s the same thing with formulations for Ignite. Tell me a little bit about the cannabis side of things. What products are you guys distributing for cannabis? That’s exciting.
Products they Distribute for Cannabis
Anthony O’brien: Yeah I don’t deal too much. In that division, I help out occasionally but we, we sell flower in pre rolls grande eighth, and we sell only sell disposable vape n 0.3 grams 0.5 gram of KC distillate and we sell different types of hydrocarbon extracts. So like live resins, different types of sauces, but that’s the, you guys sound like a standard product portfolio and we kind of we’re trying to roll that out into as many rec states as we can. So right now we’re in California and Nevada and then hoping to get into like the Michigan the Iowa is the Colorado is a tough one especially, so we’re like the Oregon’s and Washington’s but really trying to get into as many wreck legal states as we can. That kind of makes sense and has been an opportunity.
Sonia Gomez: Yeah, I love that. Tell me a little bit about your guys’s and I know you’re primarily working on the formulation side. What was the this whole buzz around vape cartridges? Talk to me a little bit about how you guys– Did you guys shift your business did it shake your cage to start to see this whole vaporizing scandal come out into the marketplace. Place or did you guys stay steadfast and still continue down your trail?
Staying Steadfast Amidst the Buzz about the Vape Cartridges
Anthony O’brien: That’s a good question. I think during the scare, sure it might have impacted business a bit, but it became pretty clear that the culprit of the outbreaks was just people buying 5-10 THC cards off. God knows who. And it contained dirty distillate with pesticides and microbial contamination as well as just cutting agents that are meant to be vape. Just like what you heard of Vitamin E acetate, but our formula is here to acknowledge for our CBD and THC lines are really clean. We sold 10s of thousands of units, everybody loves them, no health complaints. And we only use ingredients that have at least on data or historical, you know, vaping from consumers. So we’re pretty much back full force. Our products again are really clean and we’re not really too concerned with them.
Sonia Gomez: Nice I love that I really enjoy vaporizing, I believe that it is the most effective and probably the cleanest way for you like smoking I’m a rude scroll, I’ll always go for smoking. But at the same time like if you’re looking for a clean delivery system that’s not going to compromise your respiratory system, I would certainly go for a vaporizer. So I’m glad that those are still available because it’s also the fastest way to impact like, I have anxiety, I if I want to go to sleep or whatever, like I’m going to reach for an [inaudible] so I don’t have to wait 45 minutes for that shit to kick in. You know what I mean?
I’m from a business perspective, I’d love to hear from you what has been some of the challenges in your key role and Ignite’s company? What are some of the challenges that you guys have been up against? As a business owner in the cannabis CBD space.
Challenges in His Key Role
Anthony O’brien: Yeah, that’s a really great question. One challenge that a lot of consumers don’t really see unless they’re in the industry is all of the packaging regulations and how frequently they change. So you know constantly having to overlay packages with just new stickers and icons that need to be on the air and then each state may be different and there’s specific rules and what they want on the packaging. So, getting all the packaging compliance everywhere it’s being sold as low key a challenge honestly. It really is. And you wouldn’t think so you’re like, Oh, it’s just a box with some words on it, but it’s more of a challenge than you think. So–
One challenge that a lot of consumers don’t really see unless they’re in the industry is all of the packaging regulations and how frequently they change. - Anthony O'brien Click To Tweet
Sonia Gomez: I love it. You’re like Loki, that’s a challenge.
Anthony O’brien: Another really challenging thing is finding people who actually say they can do, what they are saying they can do. So, different suppliers who claim they have extracts were different manufacturers who say they can do things and most of the time, it’s all just the front. They’re their middleman or brokering something or lying or deceiving.
So, really being patient and doing your due diligence on who you’re working with, where you’re getting your raw ingredients, making sure everything is actually what they claim to be has been a challenge. Everybody just kind of saw this industry is a goldmine. Everybody just hops in and speaks of buzzwords, and since the industry was so young, there’s not that much of an established vetting process or like supplier list or brand list. So, definitely like I said, partnering and using the right people has been a challenge but we’ve been able to navigate through it.
Sonia Gomez: Nice, I love the I didn’t realize that raw ingredients was such a challenge like I had to say expected manufacturers to have that shit on. I was like, you guys are the people, right? Like, why don’t you have this stuff? But my girlfriend who’s been in raw ingredients sourcing for about 35 years is like the main source for vape and a lot of like everyday mainstream brands that you see in here of every single day. And she’s been in business for 35 years. And I love her. She really brought me up to speed on the whole, like, raw ingredient thing. She’s like, Oh, no, did you can’t get A, B and C and D and if you do, it’s usually x [inaudible] from such and such country like China or whatever, and it’s not great quality. And I’m like, No, like, I can’t I couldn’t believe it. I was admittedly naive when it came to that particular subject matter so and I also have to agree with you that people just saw this as a green rush and came in just running their mouth. I’m totally guilty of it in the very beginning myself of being like, Oh yeah, we can totally figure that out and realizing that my contacts didn’t actually have the capability to take on the volume that they had to make specific adjustments to be able to cater to the demand and like it.
My husband and I have been in this space for 35 years. So understand that when we came out of the hills and into the mainstream, you know, it was to support legislative development, we owned and operated one of the first licensed dispensaries, we moved to online publication because there was just zero education on any of it. And we didn’t realize that like, wow, to serve the masses, you really have to have a specific kind of capacity that most people just don’t have and wish they had and their mouth runs faster than their legs can carry and wow problem. So we had to everybody had to upgrade their contacts to upgrade their cup capabilities. And I think now we’re starting to see the sort of that third tier, that third wave that stabilizing the industry a bit more.
For you what do you think? Well, let me I’m going to ask a different question. Before it Ignite’s brands, what do you guys hope to accomplish in the next six to 12 months with your brand? And I’m asking from both an impact perspective and an income perspective, what are some of your guys’ goals in the next six to 12 months? I measure success in those two categories by the impact that you’re making with your products but also in your community? And then what is the income goals that you guys are shooting for right now?
The Income Goals they’re Aiming for Right Now
Anthony O’brien: Yeah, great question. Ignite is going to be one of the first few brands to really release some truly unique products. So we have we’re coming out with some like CBT tinctures, CVG vapes as well as CBN full spectrum tinctures and CBN full spectrum babes kind of with customized terpene profile so we’re kind of seeing beyond the CBD craze and more on the cannabinoids craze. So we’re going to be one of the early brands or at least some of the other minor cannabinoid, heavy and heavy and CBG CBN type formulation so that’ll be really exciting. We have some really cool delivery systems coming out on the nanoemulsion tincture side so you know for axing, bioavailability, increasing your onset speed, all that great stuff will get to be kind of a thought leader in that.
Also kind of in the 12-month landscape really kind of defining what broad-spectrum means to consumers. We kind of want them to understand what chemicals are putting in their body so that’s probably our other third role. So really coming out really unique cannabinoid skews coming out with custom effect profiles and then kind of giving more consumers educational my boy broad and full spectrum in our kind of our innovation and consumer goals. And then on the revenue side well we’re pretty big brand already but we want to ideally five x our revenue this year get into about, 10 global markets and hopefully go public on the US stock exchange may be in the year two
Sonia Gomez: Wow, that’s amazing! What incredible I love that. Incredible goals. Are you guys building any sort of philanthropic work in house or are there things that you guys are giving back to right now?
Anthony O’brien: Yeah, we always try to do things around the holidays, donations of specifics coming up. I can’t speak on that again. That’s not really my life department. But now we definitely always try to think of that. Well, yeah, I mean and you know back to the revenue and business goals really just want to become one of the leading see not only CBD but cannabinoid brands as well as just a lifestyle brand. That’s kind of what Ignite is. We don’t just sell cannabis products we sell merchandise, we sell social influencers so we’re trying to really become like a new wage popular lifestyle brand. So you know, that’s kind of our big picture.
Sonia Gomez: Love that! For yourself, what are some of the things that you think about or I’ll even say worry about with the changing landscape of the industry, having goals and aspirations and knowing that you’re aligned with your team to achieve these things is certainly the comfort for you. But I know being a business owner and I know for a lot of the business owners even consumers who listen to our show, there’s always something that we like. There’s always that concern or consideration that keeps us up at night. For you, what is something that you think about or worry about with the changing landscape in the industry?
Concerns about the Changing Landscapes in the Cannabis Industry
Anthony O’brien: I really worry about big players taking over monopolizing this. That’s always been a concern. It’s a concern on your end as well. But, and just kind of what, when a massive player comes in and takes up a good percentage of a market and certain vertical what happened then to all the people who were employed in the space and, how did the product shift and distribution shifts? So it’s worrisome just kind of on how drastically the industry could change. That’s kind of where it’s a little concerning.
I really worry about big players taking over monopolizing this. That's always been a concern. - Anthony O'brien Click To Tweet
Sonia Gomez: I couldn’t agree with you more that I think about that all the time. Like one of my biggest competitors learn green flower and I got nothing but love for my people in the industry like I only say competitors because we have a similar business model. And he gives me a lot to strive for. I think our impact is a little bit bigger, but somehow he’s been able to raise $20 million for an education development that is only like it really his business model is like self beneficial, he doesn’t trickle down and pay the people who contribute to his content. And the people who are consuming his content are paying a lot for it. So it’s, I mean, he’s making a mint, but he’s definitely coming at it from a corporate perspective.
So it takes a lot of that personal connection out of it. And I’m already watching like because I collaborate with a lot of the content contributors as well. I’m already seeing a lot of people feeling like, quote-unquote left out of the evolution of the growth of the company and feeling like wow, I really contributed a lot of value in the very beginning there, and I feel like I should have, more of acknowledgment, right? but they don’t. And so I can’t help but feel like that could very quickly become the reality here is bigger businesses come in and there’s more money that the soul of the industry that is really shaped us as who we are might be compromised. And I’m always wondering and thinking about like, what can we do to keep that grassroots like feeling? But also like, who doesn’t want to make money, right? Like, we all are working our asses to make money.
So but again, the two components of conversion are, what’s the impact that we’re making and how does that translate into revenue. I think is big business comes in here. We’re going to be like, switching that from how much money can we make and still keep a good impact? So I have to second that with you. I’m always concerned about how the connection and collaboration with our customers going to change as we have to compete with big business, and who are going to be the brands that get that sell out or get bought out by big business? What would be a couple of key pieces of advice that you would offer a budding entrepreneur in this space or even an established brand who is hitting a glass ceiling or a brick wall and needs to break through, from your perspective working in this incredible business that’s you guys are really on a great trajectory is to succeed right now? What would be some key one or two key pieces of advice that you would offer somebody who’s maybe a couple of miles behind you on this road?
Words of Wisdom
Anthony O’brien: Yeah, great question. I think in focus on innovation, focus on products that are unique or better, right? Just the core entrepreneurship principles like what is your value proposition? And so that’s kind of my advice to existing brands what’s your plan to innovate and be different. And be better advice to people entering an entrepreneur entering in this industry, if you just definitely stay away from just a CBD brand, that’s your big idea, you’re going to late for that, unfortunately.
I definitely think brands and companies should be hiring more technical people filling more chemists and biochemists and engineers and all sorts of different types of scientists and kind of bringing the people that the brains of the other industries into the cannabis industry. I think that’s a that’s an interesting play and much-needed play as well. And really just spreading the education as well. Like if you feel like you have a good understanding of certain concepts related to cannabis or cannabinoids, like being open about how you feel and your thoughts in forums and online is really important we’re looking for people and influencers and you know, people just doing like what you’re doing, you know, lean on and trust and get information from
Sonia Gomez: such great pieces of advice. I think my words of wisdom that I will connect to that is ditto and do and diddle. You just gave like such great pieces of advice. I think I think influencer networks are underutilized right now. And I know because I have dozens of influencers who are reaching out to me daily asking like Sonia, how can we help this movement our crew is asking us about they’re just trying to figure out how they can be a part of the movement leveraging their network and I am working to bring on brands who want to get connected to the right influencers. And what I’ve been doing is pairing brands with brand ambassadors. So that there’s that direct match and I’m coaching the brand ambassador to be more effective in their the way that they’re distributing products on behalf of these brands. And I cannot tell you, it has been such an incredible marriage.
So I’m kind of the queen, even ambassadors as far as cannabis and hemp movement goes we have a million followers was 76,000 subscribers, we’re, you know, opening new channels for distribution all the time. And so people are looking to me for that type of guidance and we have been testing the strategy on Instagram and Tick Tock and Facebook and depending on the demographic that you’re serving, we’re seeing incredible results. So if you’re a brand out there, and you are looking for ways to connect, to capture and connect and convert an audience without having to spend a ton of time and money on risking your social media and website, you definitely should look at influencer marketing.
It’s such a powerful strategy. And then finally, I will say I will have to agree 1,000% that innovating beyond what’s already there is your only goal when getting into the space you have to bring on people who are like Anthony, who have the technical background to be able to contribute to the innovation of your products so that you’re not another brand. Those are my words of wisdom. I’m super grateful for your time today. What are some final words that you have for our community before we end today’s interview?
Anthony O’brien: Not much else. It was a pleasure. Right? You guys have a great viewpoint on the industry and it’s so cool to hear about everything that you use Sonia and your team is doing so I really appreciate if you ever need any other consultation or advice or just want to catch up again feel free to reach out.
Sonia Gomez: Heck yeah, you’re going to my speed dial my friend, I’m really excited to be connected to you guys and to continue to celebrate your guys’ success. And for me, this podcast is a way for us to start building relationships. And so I extend the invitation vice versa if there’s anything that we can do to support your celebration of releasing new products or your know your philanthropic efforts, or if you’re going to be at specific events, please let us know and we’ll continue to be a voice for you guys and just really happy to continue to celebrate the way that we are creating change in this industry, through the products and the people that we serve.
So really appreciate you and we will continue to build our friendship over time and for those of you guys who are listening, thank you so much for being a part of this incredible community and when you share content like this, you are helping us to be a part of the impact we are creating for millions of people’s lives around the world as you like and share content. Just like today’s interview we’ve been able to impact hundreds of millions of people and quite literally are moving the needle for legalization and how we are helping cannabis and hemp become a mainstream, widely accepted conversation and solution for the way that you care for yourself, the people that you love and the conditions you may be suffering from.
We are beautiful human beings and I am so grateful to have you guys a part of our community if you’re a person looking for products you can trust. Check us out at medicalsecrets.com and your existing brand looking to break through the glass ceilings for marketing, banking, stable supply chain formulations, any of the things that make your business go check us out at theemeraldcircle.com or happy to help. Thanks so much for being on with us today. And you guys, I’m your hostess with the most of you guys, this is The Hemp Revolution.
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