In this, the final episode on the Metaverse – or is the Metaverses – we discuss what the Key Players are doing in the space, as well as the so-whats for entrepreneurs and investors. As you, our listeners are accustomed to, only straight talk and “straight shooting” in this duology on the Metaverse.
- Intro (01:34)
- Section 1: Key players (02:02)
- Section 2: So-whats for entrepreneurs and investors (22:36)
- Conclusion (30:35)
- Bertrand Schmitt, Entrepreneur in Residence at Red River West, co-founder of App Annie / Data.ai, business angel, advisor to startups and VC funds, @bschmitt
- Nuno Goncalves Pedro, Investor, Managing Partner, Founder at Chamaeleon, @ngpedro
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Welcome to episode thirty, our second episode on the metaverse. In episode 29, we talk about our definition of the metaverse, we talk about the key enablers for the metaverse. This episode will have two section. One, first section around the key players. And we will have a section about what it means. The so what for entrepreneurs and VCs. Nuno, should we go into the key players?
Section 1: Key Players (02:02)
And a very good segue to what the key players are doing around the metaverse or the metaverses and all these different technologies. And maybe sticking to Google again, not because we dislike them particular. I think we’ve shown them a lot of fondness in the past. But we’re starting with another failure, Google Glass, which I already talked about earlier. I love those glasses. They were so cool. There was so much promise in it and then nothing. It was just like, nothing’s gonna happen. Sorry guys.
For me, it was also an example of something that was hyped way too much, way too early, and totally out of context. When you have something for total geek that are only going to touch the most crazy early adopters of all, why do you start to brand it?
I remember they were showing off celebrities at modeling shows. It was like crazy. It was as if it was going to be mainstream next month. It’s like, wow, a lesson of how to set expectations wrong, as if they did everything they could to make sure it was really going to fail. Because the expectations are so disconnected from the reality of how bad it was. Bad maybe is a strong word.
It wasn’t that bad for what it was. I think it’s more the point of what you’re making, yeah.
As we see today, it was at least 10 years too early. And you know there is something in history when people tell me, “Oh yeah, we’re just 10 years too early.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s not much, ten years, I guess.” I don’t like it when people make it wrong by 10 years. There are so many things you could do instead, especially in our world of tech, where in some ways I feel it could be predictable. Google Glass, total fiasco, because it was 10 years too early. But I said 10 or maybe 20.
The jury still out for this until we have something really working. What was about this other company that was promising crazy shit and ultimately went nearly bankrupt?
Magic leap, yeah. By the way, I don’t know anyone there. I’m telling our friends just as a way to not throw them under the bus. Yeah, Magic Leap.
But Magic Leap is a fantastic company. I was from very far smelling a rat. I will call it a rat when you burn billions of dollars and you don’t deliver at all anything of value, at least value connected to how much money was invested in the business. I wish them the best in their new version, just focused on enterprise. But there was so much bullshit.
And I’m frustrated because some of these companies are so much actively destroying value. And they have a lot of people who put years of their life, in this trying to make it work when ultimately there was not much if anything. And it’s easy to create hype but it’s another thing to deliver. There have been constantly shocked.
And for me, what something typical is when you’re very secretive about it when you promote too much hype, you are very secretive of how it works. Typically it doesn’t end well. Either you are fully secretive, like Apple and you wait until it release, and I respect that 100% or you are very more transparent. You have to be transparent.
So in a way, people probably do not like us to talk about Magic Leap because it’s making their metaverse effort look in danger. But I would say that the life of tech there has been a lot of promising companies in some ways that go bust. And a few years after that, you have the real thing coming up. So I don’t want to hold ourselves to Magic Leap. But that’s also a sign of a market going too hot.
Just a couple of notes. One, I think they’re now led by Peggy Johnson. We’re not buddies, but I have a lot of appreciation of the work certainly she did at Microsoft. So a lot of respect there. Hopefully, they’ll be able to really make a business out of the enterprise side. A couple of points. One is they’ve been a ton of companies that have risked quite a lot of money. And even in the AR space, which is what this sort of portrays a little bit more closely to ODG, HoloLens in the end who ended up at Microsoft. But honestly, they really haven’t made much with it, to be honest, either.
So there’s been a lot of these sort of false starts. I think what was particularly, I wouldn’t call egregious, but particularly significant about Magic Leap was 2.6 billion, just incredible. It sort of edifies a little bit the case of companies that over promise and under deliver very good salesmanship on behalf of the founder, CEO, and people that are really running with the company.
And then sort of this huge delta, what I was mentioning as vaporware early on, this huge delta between what they are promising and what it actually can do, which is not necessarily very positive for the expectations of the world and consumers and others. So I don’t know, hopefully they’ll make a go at it that works well for enterprise. I’m sure they have a lot of tech that they’ve developed over the years. They better have given all the money they raised.
But it does exemplify these types of companies that are to your point, Bertrand, secretive, arrogant, aggressive, we’re the best things since sliced red. And then you go a little bit under the hood is like, I really don’t get what’s special. And they’re not the only one. I don’t think they’re going to be the last one, such as the price of tech innovation.
I’m deeply respectful of deep tech, but I feel that Magic Leap is one of these companies that went a step too far in terms of what they promised to investors and the reality of the technology and the business. And at the same time, you could argue some of these investors might have only themselves to blame. I don’t know. I’m still deeply troubled when I see that. In some ways, if you think about it, at the time it was a time when journalists were friendly to tech, I guess.
But people were not questioning much, to be frank. It was just accepted at face value. And I was still shocked about that. Going to a player that I must say I’m much more impressed what they have delivered, it’s Facebook. If there is one player in the metaverse, at least today, that is open and public about what they build, it’s Facebook. I mean, they built on Oculus, of course, but it has been very impressive. I mean, they went all the way from buying the best company in the space at the time with Oculus to investing huge amount of money since 2014 in that space.
And not just money, but AI research. So a lot of pretty precious resource. And it’s pretty impressive to see everything they have done. And to be clear, they are probably, at least from my perspective, the best working product with Oculus Quest 2. The only issue obviously, is that it’s not a massive success to the scale. It’s really needed to make a difference. At the same time, it’s costing this year around 13 billion of spend. One-three.
So of course, Magic Leap with 2.6 billion of funding and nowhere to run when you are facing a player who can spend 13 billion a year in that space. And I’m very thankful because in a way they are pushing all alone, by themselves, the space.
For all the crap I give Oculus Quest 2 etc it is a pretty good device and it’s sort of the closest we’ve had to real mainstream-ready VR experiences, right? So they’ve put money where their mouth is. They’ve made it evolve as a product. The experiences they’re creating in terms of software, I think are still… Jury is still out.
We’ll see where they head and if they really scale. Maybe they’ll be the guys that’ll hit it with the next Oculus Quest and that will sort of untap the whole world. Or then again, it will be our friends at Apple, and they’ll come out of nowhere. They’ll just launch it and it will sort of work. We’ll see.
That’s a tough part because if we look at computer history, Microsoft was very early in mobile. I had a Microsoft at the time. I forgot the exact name, and I’m sure I will be wrong, but it was called HPC, one of the first iteration of a windows mobile. Then they had a pocket PC and a palm PC. It had so many things every year to change branding.
But my point is that being first doesn’t guarantee you a spot. And that’s exactly what happened. Actually they had too much baggage, were not ready to make the move quickly to a new approach. Instead of having a dedicated slimmed-down version of Windows, what ended up winning in a way was an OS built from the ground up for more powerful devices. That was iOS based on macOS, and that was Android based on Linux.
They made the wrong choice. And when you are 10 years too early, you are making the wrong technological choice because you cannot afford anything else at the time and you create baggage. And when the time is ready to go big, you might be too slow to react. Actually, that’s a very dangerous game.
I’m also worried that in the way Facebook acquired Oculus maybe not just for the right reason. I think they realized, clearly saw, that it was a big mistake for them to have missed mobile and they had missed [inaudible 00:08:57] initially as an app and they corrected course quite quickly, but initially it was a mess. But they missed the part of running the platform. And for them, they were still a young company to invest in that.
But ultimately missed a mobile platform, discovering that they don’t really have a seat at the table, not owning a desktop, laptop platform, not owning a mobile platform, not owning a TV platform. It was like, okay, what is left? Or it’s this VR stuff. Is that the remaining piece left? So let’s buy it and let’s spend shit load of money in the hope that it’s going to be the next platform. And therefore, because I’m controlling that platform, I would be the one to benefit the most from it. And no one is going to disintermediate me.
And if you look at what happened with Facebook recently, were robbed 25% of market cap in a day because of an announcement acknowledging the cost of depend on the iOS platform to do your business. It’s estimated the cost to be a 10 billion loss for 2022, I believe, because of the changes Apple made to the platform.
So there is real value to own the platform. The problem it’s not because you spending a shit load of money in a platform that your platform is going to win. Unfortunately, markets are not working like this. And I’ve heard people were saying, “Yeah, they can keep putting billions. They can pay developers to do their apps and that’s what they are doing.”
Microsoft did exactly the same with windows mobile. They paid developers millions to put the app on windows mobile and look at how it served them. It didn’t serve them well. So I’m not a believer that cash is the only thing that make it work. It goes beyond that.
And maybe switching to Apple. You already talked about VR and what will come out of the can there. Their mobile devices are probably the number one mobile AR devices in the world. And by probably, I mean for sure. They’ve developed a lot of things that enable developers to use their APIs and to make the experiences seamless.
There are a couple of areas. Obviously, they’ve gotten more into the entertainment space. We talked in the past, Apple TV Plus and a few other things. They’re doing this Apple RK thing, but that’s more sort of a wrapper rather than actual play into gaming.
I would say the only thing that is interesting to me that Apple is not an app company. They run people’s apps. They dominate on the app store, but they’re not an app company. So the only thing I would say is their gaming plays are nonexistent. They’re not a gaming company. They have not actively gone after that. And maybe it’s a notion of we are the app store and we are the platform, so we can’t be that. But I don’t see how they get out of being a hardware company in this world of metaverse, metaverses, if they don’t go into app stack, or if they don’t go into gaming, if they don’t go into a couple of other things.
Again, it might be that’s where they want to be. They just want to be a hardware company, an enabler. They have a lot of the underlying platforms that these things will run on and that’s it. We’re happy with that, right? But it’s still an interesting conundrum and question mark I would have for one of the greatest companies, or certainly one of the companies in one of the most incredible bull runs of all time, how do they sustain it?
But I would definitely say hardware, maybe they have a shot, and let’s see what comes out of there. But certainly, they haven’t made enough movements on the application layers to really decide any excitement around being the builders of the metaverse or metaverses.
For me, it’s very interesting how they’ve built a step-by-step ARKit, augmented reality API, or development kit. It has been more impressive year by year. You see that constant investment, which makes absolutely no sense for Apple if they were not going to make an Apple Glass at some point. So it’s a pretty strong bet that it’s going to deliver something because when you see the apps using ARKit today on the app store, it’s a complete joke. There is no apps with a new level of success whatsoever.
I’m not even sure Pokemon Go is actually leveraging the ARKit because it predated Apple ARKit. You see if you develop on Android you need to support another system. For me, it’s really a clear sign they are going to deliver at some point some level of Apple Glass. And the good news is that they will have working APIs that people know. There might be some apps, but right now it’s a clear disaster in terms of success on the iPhone. No one is building any AR app of interest again, beyond Pokemon Go. It’s not a good sign.
And I guess that Apple will be perfectly happy to stay in a position where there is a taxman, where there is a policeman for the metaverse, where they are your bank. I feel that all the pieces of the puzzle for them run that and let somebody find a killer app. It’s a fine position for them.
Honestly, Google can play part of that game as well, certainly in terms of enablement and ownership of the operating system in the app stores. So it’s not just Apple’s to play. We will see what happens with Apple. It seems like it’s still in a hardware company. That’s where they’re going to make their money. And then owning the OS and then owning the app store will make them, as you mentioned, the taxman. Not my words, yours.
Moving to Microsoft, starting with the big one, obviously, the Activision acquisition, the largest ever acquisition, if it fully goes through, of a gaming company.
Microsoft, this is the funny piece of it. A lot of people don’t think about Microsoft and consumer and gaming, but they are the guys, right? I mean, not just in terms of the fact that they have the Xbox and they have console, but they own a lot of gaming developers and significant gaming developers. I was just thinking through it.
There’s only four games that I still play on console. One is owned by Sony. The other one is Agnostic, it’s an independent gaming developer. And as of now, two are going to be owned by Microsoft because I play Call of Duty and I play Forza Motorsport and that’s it. We’re done. So Microsoft, I will have to get the Xbox.
Microsoft has great games. I was a happy user of Flight Simulator, of course. Latest Flight Simulator is very, very, very, very impressive. If you want to talk about metaverse or the ability of flying all over the globe in real-time based on the real earth, that part is quite amazing. I’m not sure about the big success of billions of users, but it’s amazing.
It’s a player that really has gone after the software layers. They’ve figured out where their sweet spot is. They’re still incredibly big in enterprise, but then on the consumer side and in gaming, they’re significant. They’re powerful. They have some scale to them that enable them to do a lot of things. So I don’t know. It’s interesting to me, obviously, despite the ownership also of the console and the console play.
But it’s interesting to me what they’re going to do going forward with Activision. Maybe we’re all going to be shooting people all around and that metaverse of ours. Cool, I don’t mind. I like Call of Duty. I love the experience. It’s better than shooting people in real life. There’s definitely something exciting about what Microsoft is doing. Again, a lot of hits and misses, HoloLens.
I don’t think they’re using much of their original acquisition there, to be very honest. I heard back in the day that they weren’t using almost anything from their original acquisition. There was a lot of an IP play around it that they had obviously sort of effectively bought it to have IP defensibility on a lot of things that they were trying to do. But honestly, I’ve heard that and then on for a long time. Anyway, we’ll see.
I remember initially they created also a good hype, at least delivered the working product compared to Magic Leap. But in terms of success, I think it has been really bad in terms of units shipped. And going enterprise on this type of product, good luck to find a use case and companies that are willing to take a bet to believe it’s truly transformational for their teams. It was not an easy one. I guess we have heard some rumours, like everyone that they might consider dropping HoloLens at some point. And then of course they said, “No, we’re not dropping.”
But we’ll see where it goes. But it’s not a great place to be. Definitely looks cooler to be clear in terms of product, but it’s sort of place at some point, how do you really move from hype to reality to execution? It’s not an easy one. I’m a big believer of trying to understand what are the use cases? How are people going to use in real life? How different is it from how they do stuff in general, how they use tech products?
Typically people forget that phones, for instance, moved from a fixed-line phone to an ugly big mobile phone, transportable phone, to a mobile phone, to a smartphone. And it took 100 years. Here if we talk about AR VR transformational objects that are moving from zero to one in 10 years. I don’t think anything moves so fast. And that’s very big part of the issue is that people didn’t have any time to adjust to this, so it would take time.
Two final notes on the consumer side, at least from my end. One, a company that we’ve mentioned in different ways already, but just to again, reemphasize Epic Games. If there is a company that has a shot at creating metaverses relatively quickly, they’re the guys. They own Unreal. We talked about Unreal earlier, one of the dominant platforms around the space. They own Fortnite, one of the dominant games. They are very active. They buy a lot of stuff.
They own an app store.
If you bet against them, probably sure you’re going to be wrong. They’re going to do something really cool. There’s going to be, at least in my opinion, a metaverse that they will create. The second one, which we haven’t talked at all, and it’s interesting that we haven’t talked about them. So the apps in this case makes it even more interesting to talk about them, is Tencent because they are such a huge owner of gaming assets and they have such scalability on a lot of their other businesses.
Interesting to me to see what Tencent is going to do. Are they going to do anything? Are they just going to continue acting as holding company for a bunch of great gaming developers and having great results? What are they going to play in this game and where will they fit in the value chain?
Let’s not forget that Tencent owns a piece of a Epic Games also.
Whatever. Yeah, I say potato. I say potato.
For sure, Tencent is a big, smart company, and they managed to extend very strongly beyond games. Of course, they tried to position the metaverse, but we see how it goes. No Epic, of course, a big fan of these company says, I’ve done so much in gaming in 3D for years. Sometimes it might be too aggressive.
But anyway, let’s talk briefly about the metaverse at work. And I think for me, at least the first expression of the metaverse at work is probably Zoom, because it has changed so much how you interact with people businesswise or friends in such really able way. Because before Zoom, doing online meetings was very difficult and painful. And I think they managed to change that. Of course, there is still room for improvement, no question. But I wanted to make a shoutout. It’s maybe the most basic version of the metaverse for me. They managed to build some things that changed work.
It’s not the 3D world, though, and it’s not fully virtual, maybe not metaverse.
It’s not 3D, but again, it depends on your definition of the metaverse.
You also disagree with Matthew Ball’s definition.
Another one that is 3D is Oculus/Meta/Facebook Horizon product. And they have a product called Horizon Workrooms, especially for work. It’s a social place for office that you can use with your Oculus device. I’ve heard some good feedback anecdotally. I know some people who use it with their team to work together in a brainstorming mode once a week. So I’ve been quite surprised. We’ll see if it’s more than anecdotal. But it’s one to watch.
In a more startup-y way, one company that got some traction is Gather Town. You have tried it like me a bit? Was your tech…?
Yeah, I’ve tried it. Some of my starters that tried it, they quite like it. There were very well funded, sadly, at this stage. They have several competitors, a lot of competitors that are creating sort of these custom worlds, get together environments for companies. And in some ways, it needs to be a little bit like that. We need to somehow recreate the water-cooler moments. And the tools we have today are not great at that.
We do stuff sometimes on Zoom and we just stay tuned. We go through what we call sprints or hackathons at our VC firm. And it’s strange to all be connected and we’re all on mute and doing our thing. And then we convey after 30 minutes. It’s okay, but it’s still not cool. It still doesn’t really recreate that mindset of we jump into each other’s rooms or go into each other’s rooms and have those water-cooler moments in some way.
It’s mostly web and there is a bit of a desktop app.
Section 2: So-whats for entrepreneurs and investors (22:36)
Yeah, it’s in a web experience. Absolutely. Switching gears to the last topic for those that are particularly interested about the so what. I’m an entrepreneur. I’m a venture capitalist. I’m an angel investor. I’m thinking of playing in the metaverse space. I’m thinking of potentially putting some chips on, let’s call well-positioned bets, or high-likelihood bets to win the space. The first piece of advice I always give, it’s back to the point that Bertrand was making earlier, 10, 20 years earlier, is earlier and earlier is wrong.
In this case, it’s particularly wrong because you’re at the mercy of a lot of key enablers. Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur creating a company that is sort of trying to create a piece of that metaverse or creating a metaverse yourself, but you’re lacking everything else. You’re lacking the devices that are present in the market and are mainstream to be used whatever devices they may be. It might be that you need augmented reality glasses. It might be that you need headsets for VR to be pervasive. It might be that you need holographic technology. It might be that you need a bunch of stuff that’s not there yet. And the issue is it won’t be there anytime soon, potentially for you.
So figuring out timing is pretty important because if there is no scale in your enablers, be it tools, be it picks-and-shovels tools, the underlying platforms that would support your development, be it hardware, you can’t scale at all. Think of it as like a distribution channel. You don’t have it. So if you don’t have it, you can’t distribute it. The only reason why we had mobile app only, or mobile app first companies becoming huge companies in and of themselves was that the mobile app ecosystem had exploded and the app stores had exploded and the devices that supported those app stores had exploded.
Distribution is pretty vital. And we’ve been wrong in all honesty about the advent of VR and AR and all this stuff in terms of scale for many years now. So this is not a new issue. So again, just be thoughtful about it. What sort of premises do you have in terms of scalability of your business? For me, that is something that’s very valuable, both for investors and for entrepreneurs. Final note and this is a note that I think should be very pervasive in product strategy and in strategic thinking in general, around the metaverse space.
I’ve said this at a previous episode, I’ll say it again, and this is a strategic thinking that is always valid. We always tend to overestimate the speed at which we get to a revolution in technology. We always tend to underestimate its impact. The importance of this is, you probably are going to be wrong on timing. It’s going to take much longer than we thought, but once it happens, it’s going to change everything. And if it’s going to change everything, probably the user experiences we’re talking about are very different than the ones we’d idealized 10 or 20 years ago.
Maybe some of these legacy players that have been around for 10 years or plus will not have an advantage, back to one point that you, Bertrand, made as well. Maybe they’ll just be legacy because they’ll have the wrong architecture, they’ll have the wrong user experiences, etc. So again, we overestimate speed. It’s going to take probably much longer than we think. We underestimate impact. It’s probably going to be much bigger, much more impactful than we ever had hoped for or imagined.
From my perspective, as we said, timing is everything. I don’t think I would want to be an entrepreneur, investor in a VR or AR-based company because timing is just wrong. So the opportunity will take a while to develop. And you are facing the titans of the industry, from Apple, Google, Microsoft. Nearly everyone, maybe except Amazon, are putting effort there and are able to burn through billions. So good luck facing that for a while. So I would be extremely careful in that space. Sadly so in a way, but that’s a true reality.
I think that trying to think more about all these themes and beyond VR AR is something real. Is that the world is becoming more connected. We all have these devices. We are all building digital communities. Again, video is getting better. So if we forget to redesign, I feel in some ways we are indirectly building step-by-step something. Yet, if you want to rename the internet to the metaverse, sure, why not? We are putting our identity, our finance, our digital self online. And in some ways, that’s what we have been building in the past 30 years.
Putting a fresh paint on your company, on your startup, calling it metaverse, probably has some value if you are very stricken off about the game because the some ways that it went up very fast in terms of interest. Historically we have seen that moving the other way around as well. Moving down very fast. So you have to be pretty adapt at jumping ship when this stuff lose steam.
But I think that right now the wind is on your back. If you leverage it smartly, that might give you an advantage to position yourself if it’s relevant as part of the metaverse.
I think we’ve gone through probably the trough of disillusionment for VR. So there’s maybe hope that better times are to come. And to your point on metaverse, maybe we’re at, as Gartner would say, the point of inflated expectations. So there’s still a trough of disillusionment to go through it. And then we still would have to get to enlightenment and all that stuff.
So honestly, the upper layers, that’s why I think metaverse for me feels like an app economy. Feels like metaverses. It feels like stuff that’s on top of the application layers, the presentation layers. Interesting to see what’s going to be the underlying infrastructure below it and what’s going to dominate and whether blockchain, web3, internet III, whatever we want to call it is going to be the core enabler also to these metaverses.
Or if it’s going to be one of the core enablers because it brings all these out-of-the-box pieces that are very valuable for the new internet that we need. An internet that is hopefully more trusted, where there are underlying business models that can be easily deployed and where at the end of the day, there is a way of sort of compensating the different elements and the different pieces and stakeholders that are involved in the system.
So again, maybe a little bit of a plug for blockchain at the end, but certainly that might be the scenario we’re in. Upper layers for these metaverses and the layers underneath being powered by a variety of things, potentially even blockchain, or blockchains because they’re also plural.
You make a good point to go back to web3, blockchains and we will dedicate an episode or more on this topic as well. I feel that one of my issue is many definitions of the metaverse is that it sort of implies some level of central authority of centralized system, centralized platform. And I’m not really sure that’s where the world is going. I actually feel it’s going more and more to more decentralization. I’m not sure how some are thinking the metaverse. It’s very compatible with where the world is going as simple as that.
That’s for me, probably one of my biggest issue with the metaverse. And of course, when you think about metaverse, Meta, Facebook, they would love to make sure everything happens in their platform, in centralized world garden. And again, I just go back, I just feel that everything they are trying to push for, and also companies are trying to push for is more centralization. When I believe the world is actually looking for centralization at many levels. That might be probably the darkest clouds on many definitions today for the metaverse.
The product guy in me tells me the best products are normally enlightened by one person or a very small group of people. And the experiences we’re talking about in this metaverse or metaverses have to be enlightened. They have to be exceptional. They have to be the best. I fail to see a world where the dominating metaverse or metaverses are highly decentralized at the app layer, where there aren’t clear decisions made by central entities be it those entities companies or something else.
So I don’t know, I may be a little bit more skeptical. I think the silver lining is hopefully along the way, there will be other pieces of the ecosystem or the lower layers of that deployment, payments, etc, that will hopefully be more decentralized and will at least allow for more accountability. But I don’t know. I mean, I’m just maybe being too structural in my strategic thinking to say there’s no way for the types of experiences we’re talking about. Maybe there is a way, maybe someone is going to show us the way.
And this finalizes our duology on the metaverse. We have gone through the definition of what the metaverse is and our agreements and disagreements with some well-used definitions in the industry. We talked about key players and what they’re doing in the industry. We also went into details on the core enablers for the metaverse, or metaverses to happen. And we ended by sharing what we believe should be lessons learnt for investors and entrepreneurs alike. Thank you for listening to us.
Thank you, Nuno.
Thank you, Bertrand.