Today on the show, we have the founders of BUD: Risa Feng and Shawn Lin. BUD is a global virtual platform for Gen Z and Gen Alpha to create and share 3D interactive experiences. It is also one of the world’s largest 3D item markets.
Before founding BUD, Risa and Shawn were colleagues at Snapchat where they worked as interactive and software engineers. Risa graduated from Cornell in 2017 with a degree in Computer science and math. With a deep interest in computer graphics, she started building her own indie game since college. After graduation, she joined the Snapchat AR team as an interactive engineer working on frontier AR experience and the developer community Snapchat’s AR engine.
Shawn graduated from Rutgers with a major in Computer Science. He interned at Meta in 2015 as a software engineer working on video-ads recommendation in the news feed. In early 2016, he joined Snapchat full-time, where he worked on Android performance optimization, rewrite, and friending recommendation.
Hans Tung 02:26
Great. Welcome to the show. Risa and Shawn, we’re very excited to have you. I think you’re the first pair of guests we have on the show that fits into some of the hottest buzzwords these days. For people who have not used BUD before, how would you describe what is BUD?
Risa Feng 02:49
Sure. Yeah. So first of all, we are super excited to be on a show and share our journey and vision on creating BUD. So we think of BUD as a global virtual UGC platform that everyone can create and share their own 3D interactive experiences.
Rita Yang 03:07
Wow. So it sounds like 3D content is a lot more intimidating for users to generate compared to say, a TikTok video. So who are these creators currently on your platform? And how did you first find them?
Risa Feng 03:21
Right? So when we first started, we really want to build a platform that can truly democratize the creation of 3D content. So when we are, you know, designing the creation tool, we really want to lower the barrier of entry for creating. So, our creation tool is mobile native, and it’s very intuitive. Our creators do not need to have any past coding or modeling experience at all. So as a result because it is just super fun and easy to carry on. But most of our creators are casual gamers, or even non gamers. So, we don’t really go out of our way to try to find them, they often just kind of naturally emerge on a platform as our user base keeps growing.
Rita Yang 04:03
So can you give us an example of the type of 3D experience people create on the platform?
Risa Feng 04:11
Yeah, sure there’s a great wide range of a variety of experiences. Because our philosophy is to design the creation tool such that we have a high degree of freedom, so creators can get to create whatever they want. We don’t provide any templates. We provide basic primitives like cubes and spheres. You can go whatever you want. The types of experiences kind of range from like social experience. We have creators building like birthday party for their friends. And we also have, you know, very game like experience such as like, you know, some RPG game or like adventure games. So those are kind of popular on our platform, and Obby. Top 1 experience is definitely Obby. So because the creation tool is such high degree of freedom. So our creators can actually create whatever they want.
Hans Tung 05:06
I remember when we first invested musically, they did lip sync well. And that was what allowed them to shut up to, you know, top three, top number one on the screen. There’s for social apps in the US. You guys only been doing this for a few months, and you’ve shown up as high as number five. In the US, what do you think what you guys did right to make that possible?
Risa Feng 05:31
Yeah, we’re gaining a lot of traction very fast. And I think this really goes back to how Photo Video native are in nature, our product is because when our users or creators when they play or create, but they can easily produce very visually attractive content, they can then share on other social media platforms. So for example, two weeks after we launched, we saw we actually saw viral growth in different regions around the world, and maybe on tick tock, and a lot of the viral growth is actually coming from organic generated play videos shared by our users.
Hans Tung 06:08
Yeah. Obviously, we mostly became part of TikTok and take up a much bigger early on was trying to debate is Musical.ly or TikTok a social network? Or is that social media ends up being more media rather than a network and the that broadcasting elements extremely strong? It in a synchronous or asynchronous? So I’m curious. How do you define BUD?
Risa Feng 06:39
Yeah, so we think of it actually as a new thing. So is not technically you know, like, past will be seen as social media or social network. Because this media is so new, it’s a 3D experience. And by nature, this type of experience is social, because you can invite your friends to play and your escape plane is so on its own, this media is actually very, very powerful. So we actually think of birth as a digital space. And we want everyone to create and contribute to this place. So they can create, they can explore, they can help, they can even make a living on this place. That’s kind of the vision we have for bikes. And because it’s such an early stage, and we are just scratching the surface. So, our philosophy is we provide a most fundamental tool and see what our community can build on top of it.
Hans Tung 07:33
How’s it different from Roblox? or similar?
Risa Feng 07:39
That’s a good question. Yeah, actually very different. So for Roblox, for example, you have two groups of people, you have the developers who are developing the games, and you have the majority of the consumers who are consuming the games. Yeah, but on our platform, our creators are consumers. So we don’t, we don’t see this two separate group, because one of the major you know, the fun of playing BUD is you can easily generate or create your own thing. There’s definitely different levels of creators, you know, there are top creators can create amazing experiences, like infinite worlds, and you can join their like casual creators who create like, you know, three 3D prompts, or just those tiny experiences for their friends. But the philosophy is everyone actually has the chance to create whatever experience they want to create. So that’s one of the key differences here.
Rita Yang 08:33
Yeah, I’m curious, when you first design the product, obviously, you need user or creators to come on board and then create things that they can share and invite their friends. How do you balance, you know, between allowing enough freedom for them to feel you know, there are there have been creatives and versus providing enough tools, that sounds to be a really nuanced point to strike?
Risa Feng 08:58
Definitely, there’s a balance here, because if you provide your like very sat preset templates, it’s definitely very easy to use. But then the content you see, as is kind of all the same. But if you you know, go all the way to you know, professional coding tools, such as you need to do code, then a lot of people can do that. So definitely, there’s, there’s a lot of smart product design, and a lot of hard work and talking to user that goes into on what the right balance is such that users can actually create have enough freedom, and at the same time, it’s easy to use. Yeah, I’ll pick an example here. For example, we don’t provide any preset PGC 3D props. Our 3D item marketplace is also entirely UGC. So, we believe that’s very important because if you rely on us providing the process, then there’s definitely less magic in his world. So we believe If that we can make the tool so easy to use that everyone can kind of help us cold start the marketplace. And that’s what we see when we first launched our products.
Rita Yang 10:10
So this 3D item marketplace is an intentional move when you design the product.
Risa Feng 10:15
Yeah, it’s very important. Because if you want to build a cool 3D experience beneath it, you need a strong support of the 3D item marketplace. Yeah, but what was interesting here is we don’t provide any prompts. We let our users build the 3D item marketplace on their own kind of what we do with everything. We truly believe in the power of UGC.
Hans Tung 10:38
And so, guess is the marketplace more of a C2C, then? And then how can you prevent fraud and make sure that the transaction goes as smoothly as possible?
Risa Feng 11:08
Yes. So actually, for now, all the prompts are free, we haven’t started any monetization product yet. So you can imagine, whenever a creator create a prop, they can publish on our platform, and other user can try to get it for free. But once you made that transaction, you can actually put those products in your own experience or made it as your profile picture that’s very popular. And a one key thing we did is we make sure we give credit to the owner of the prop. So if you use someone’s prop, in your experience, you can actually see the credits underneath the experience. That’s very important. Because the young generation really care about, um, you know, the digital ownership.
Hans Tung 12:00
Has there any been any issue about credit not being, you know, done properly, or any abuse that happened on platform?
Risa Feng 12:09
For now? Actually, I think not yet. Because we are such a new product. Yeah, we’re too new. And people are just super excited that they have the chance to create, but I’m sure in the future, that’s a key area, we will make sure we need to do, right. Because you know, when you create a thing, you really need to feel that you own the creation of your own OEM imagination. Yeah, so So that’s very important. And we try our best to make sure you know, the, as the community grows, we have the ownership right.
Hans Tung 12:43
Different platforms have different balancing strategy obviously. For someone like YouTube, you know, they want to make sure that that YouTuber gets the average advertising dollars. If it’s something like Little Red Book, then the influencers are not being paid initially. Some people create for profit, some will create because they genuinely are interested in in a topic, how do you think about monetization for you?
Risa Feng 13:14
we definitely think monetization is actually key to our product. Because as of right now we are we already were just in the early stage, and a lot of our creators are just happy to create, because, first of all, they really enjoy the creation process, then also, they enjoy kind of all the positive feedbacks they get on our platform. But we think to close the incentive loop, we need to have the monetization product so that our creators have better incentive to create better content because they can actually, I won’t say make a living, but they can actually monetize on their creation. That’s, that’s one thing we constantly have in mind. And I’ll probably work on a lunch motivation product soon.
Rita Yang 13:58
It actually reminds me of the play to earn game we have been discussing a lot lately. You know, Axie, actually. So for for platforms like that you would always have a decision to make between the percentage that divides between play to earn and play for the joy. I don’t know, how do you guys think about that when you are thinking about your monetization product?
Risa Feng 14:25
We really believe in the power of UGC. So even for monetization, we want to provide monetization tools and give it to our creators and how to monetize it’s up to our creators. So even creator believing, you know, like, I can monetize based on Play to earn, he can put that in in his or her own experience and try it out. But we don’t we don’t have any limitation on how the creators can monetize. So I will say we take the UGC approach. We give the creators the tools they need to monetize, and how to use it, how to price it right? How to make sure your fans are happy. And at the same time, you can monetize. We keep that to the community so the creators can decide how to use it.
Shawn Lin 15:13
You can think about each creator as the individual games to do, they can decide whatever monetization strategy you want is out to the community.
Hans Tung 15:22
Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah, even implement that kind of mechanism. That will be that will be fun to watch the impact.
Risa Feng 15:31
Yeah, we are excited to see and, and one of our philosophy is, because this product is so new. And this type of medium is so new, we really believe in iterating super-fast. So even if we have the big idea is well, we are we are trying to launch the monetization product and keep iterating on what is right and what the community can do. So, it’s not like you know, we think this is the right way. We are we are going to iterate as we are building the product and talking to the users. Yeah,
Hans Tung 16:05
I want to ask questions about how you guys met at Snapchat inside of each time you have to do this. But before I do that, I want to see if we tie some more question.
Rita Yang 16:14
I have a question about your users, Gen Z and Gen Alpha. Can you tell us you know, the different things about them that has made BUD a new exciting platform for them to play on versus the existing players where they can, you know, share their content and thoughts?
Risa Feng 16:32
Yes, they are definitely a very interesting group.
Rita Yang 16:36
Both of you are Gen Z, by the way, right?
Risa Feng 16:39
I’m Gen Z, but I’m not Gen Alpha. Yeah, so we are I was at Gen Z and Gen alpha, we are kind of the first generation that I will say Gen Alpha, for sure, they grew up in this type of media, like they play games, or they play 3D experiences, they were like five or 10 years old. They are very familiar with this type of media, they know instantly how to play. Giving them the chance to actually create such media, I would say so, it’s, it’s a really nice move, because they are familiar and they can actually move from the consumer side to the creator side. And what we see is all over the world, this generation, they are very creative, and they are very talented. And especially if you are you know, between like 10 to 20 years old, in your, in your younger, younger years, you have so many ideas you want to build. And they are that we are seeing that in our product, because they have crazy ideas that even I cannot think of so that’s really fun. It’s a fun group.
Rita Yang 17:45
So for them, video or Instagram photos, or taking YouTube videos are not enough for them to express themselves is that a fair understanding?
Risa Feng 18:08
I will say is not enough, but they definitely have such a high I would say high creative energy. And because you know, video and images, they are flat screen media, and there’s a lot of limitation to this type of media. For example, if I shoot a video, we can watch it together, but you can’t really feel you know, together when we are doing it. So, and also in 3D experience, you know, for example, just just the meaning of sound is actually 3D sound. So, when you are next to me, you can hear your friend coming from your left. So that is very important. And that’s on the impressiveness of this type of media that they really adore. And they really like
Rita Yang 18:53
is your current user base overlapping with you know, Instagram with TikTok?
Risa Feng 18:58
Definitely, actually yes, because a lot of our users are actually casual or even non gamers. So it’s a very different demographic compared to I guess a lot of the very hardcore gaming products. They are young and they’re very digital native, so they know how to how to play around with this type of media so that’s kind of on the demographics we are seeing on our products
Hans Tung 19:32
my kids I’m not sure if my kids are smart but they’re definitely on Roblox quite a bit in each week my wife and I get pinged of the pay for Roblox. So we end up buying Roblox stock.
Shawn Lin 19:55
Yeah, those users are digital, native, mobile native, they play next Roblox or Minecraft growing up, so that counts is reaching apps switching apps. Maybe they create something bad and post video on tick tock that’s how we gather viral growth.
Risa Feng 20:09
Yeah, they use it as a wholesome product. Yeah. They create on and then took a screenshot and shared on TikTok. Yeah, that’s kind of how they play how this generation kind of play and navigate on the digital world.
Hans Tung 20:23
They definitely play with each other a lot, even if they don’t know who’s heard of them before they become friends from playing. And then they share, share and chat and so forth. And then it’s just interesting how that’s the relationship is being built a complete online complete virtually, and they’re feel very comfortable with
Risa Feng 20:43
Yeah, totally. And I made so many friends just play on been all over the world. And sometimes, I feel I’m closer to them than my actual real-life friends. Because we play together. And I see, you know, like, I see her in my experience, and we are all jumping and doing emojis together. Yeah, that’s kind of different. It’s very different. It’s
Hans Tung 21:05
very good to know someone a lot more because of interacting, playing and showing different sides of you together. And many, many of them seem very comfortable playing or creating a switching the roles back and forth very easily.
Shawn Lin 21:19
Yeah, that’s for sure. Gone are the days where your way Your friends have to live a block away. You can hang out with your real efforts in digital community, or you can meet new friends who share the same interest. That’s pretty exciting.
Rita Yang 21:34
The obvious password for this is Metaverse. Yeah, I’m curious. What’s your guy’s view on that?
Shawn Lin 21:44
Yeah, this is a big topic. We think the metaverse is the next iteration of mobile internet, and Mark Zuckerbeg called it embodied Interne. Instead of viewing content, you’re actually in it and creating. Essentially, we think it is medium shift from images and video to 3D interactive experiences. Just like the internet. Metaverse is not one product, or one company has infrastructure ware, middleware and content experiences. It’s still early days, but it’s emerging. And we actually have excited about that.
Risa Feng 22:16
So we don’t really talk about the metaverse, because when we first started, the word Metaverse isn’t this popular. So essentially, what we are seeing is, there is a medium shift from images and videos to this 3D interactive experiences. I think that’s what we are seeing. And that’s kind of essentially how we are building BUD to democratize this type of this type of 3D interactive experiences.
Hans Tung 22:45
We live through a web1, then web2. There’s a clearly web3, it just it’s a different thing than the first two generations. Yeah, every time you see my kids playing on Roblox, it just is a very different feeling.
Risa Feng 22:57
Yeah, it’s very exciting and super fun. Because I work in the computer graphics. Since I will say I’m interested in space, since I was like, really like a young kid. I love computer graphics movies. And in college, I did AR VR research. And after college, I joined Snapchat working on AR. So I know how this industry actually are developing really fast. And there’s so many exciting opportunities there. So yeah, so we are super excited about this space. And we are just in the early stage of it.
Hans Tung 23:30
How do you guys decide? I’m assuming you guys met at Snapchat? How did you decide to leave, stop? And then saw the company doing this?
Risa Feng 23:39
Yeah, so we are colleagues at Snapchat. So I met Shawn at Snapchat. And yeah, so when we first started, we kind of have this vague idea. But we do have a strong belief that there is a medium shift from traditional media to more immersive media. So actually, during our first year, we didn’t land on this idea right away. We tried so many things, we started prototyping. So we started with avatar, that’s kind of I would say that’s kind of the most obvious place to start. Because obviously, you need a digital identity in any virtual space, you’re going to go so we started with that. Yeah. Then we started to think of, you know, like, what can you do with the avatar? So, in the first year, we try so many things. We try like Avatar based interactive comics. We try like mini social games to have your avatar eat them in the in the games, however, then we realize there’s a problem here. We realized our users keep asking for more content. And no matter how fast we can generate is never enough. Yeah, it’s never enough. We can never keep up with their consumption pace. And our users also, on the other hand, keep telling us the game ideas they want us to build. They have so many crazy ideas they’re seeing like can’t build this can’t go down and one interesting feature we have very early on in our prototype is, we have a very simple MVP products that allow users to create their own avatar accessory. Very, very simple, very, very MVP but lacks so many features. But once we launched that our community loved it. So even by then, with a very small user base, we reach 100k creations in like a week. So that’s amazing. And we started realize how powerful it is. And important it is to empower this young generation to create their own stuff instead of us generating and they are just consuming. So that’s kind of how we gradually landed on the idea of, you know, what we are seeing right now.
Rita Yang 25:49
Risa and Shawn, was leaving Snapchat a difficult decision for you at all, being the first time founder, you know, finding your own company, is it a difficult decision?
Risa Feng 26:01
For me, not at all, because I always consider myself to have a pretty strong startup spirit. Because I really like building things and creating things. And so it wasn’t a difficult decision at all. It was something I always wanted to do. So, once I found the right co-founder and the right timing to do it. I just kind of went for it. Yeah, so it wasn’t like a struggling moment or anything.
Shawn Lin 26:28
Yeah, for me, I really enjoy my time at snap, met a lot of talented coworkers. And so how come it works, but I’m, I’m always optimizing for growth in your tech stack start out is the most the most is the fastest way to grow. So not difficult for me at all.
Rita Yang 26:45
So besides an entrepreneur, you’re also an artist, a creator? And, you also create a lot of the experience on BUD as well. How do you see this two sides of you act in sync?
Risa Feng 26:59
Yeah, so the art and technology kind of always have been my passion since I was young. I do a lot of drawing, painting, and a power user on my, on our on our platform. And most importantly, I really love seeing how the art and pack these two worlds cross over and make magical things like it and many movies and games. So as an entrepreneur, now I feel lucky that I can still build a product that I truly believe in, and actually have the chance to empower more talented creators to create their own magical worlds and make these two worlds meet. So yeah, so I’m happy about it.
Hans Tung 27:39
I would just say, what are the things that keep you up at night, as first-time founders, things are going well, it seems to have great product-market fit. Lots of users are coming, they enjoy your product give you a lot of feedback, the model players end up becoming creators. What are the things that keep you up at night?
Risa Feng 28:00
It’s working well, because we’re hard working. And so obviously, we are the type of founder that really believes in either writing fast. So when we see a problem, we think that’s okay, we need to iterate and work on it. So that’s kind of our mantra, I would say you’re iterating super-fast. So during the first year, we try so many things. And when we find product market fit, we soon launched globally and China. And then the pace is fast. And things start to break because we saw by viral growth so soon and there are actually many problems earlier on. And those problems, I wouldn’t say that they keep me up. Because we believe that if we try to iterate super-fast, it’s going to work out as long as we actually believe in the final vision that we’re trying to build. And we are working towards that. And in that that’s okay.
Hans Tung 29:01
So what are some of the things that you have learned from working at snap that’s useful to now? What are the things you observe, like what tick tock has done? That’s also useful to know,
Shawn Lin 29:11
I think, first of all, consumer products, it’s very important to iterate fast and listen to the feedback from users. Second, I think it’s the developer efficiency, because in Silicon Valley, people care a lot about efficiency.
Risa Feng 29:39
I think there are two things we learned a snap so one is you need to keep innovating. That’s very important, because Snapchat is actually already a 10-year product, but it still feels young, he still feels you know very, you know, innovative. And that’s one thing you know that that’s a very key thing. When we are working at snap we thought because a lot of innovation, not just, you know, like iterating on our past products features, but we try to, we try to think of new things that are more innovative and use new technology. So that’s one thing. We think we as a company, especially a consumer facing company, we need to keep innovating. And the second thing is, I guess what we learn from our experience at Silicon Valley, is we want to have a workspace that really focus on efficiency. We want to use on a state of the art, for example, like SAS tool, or code management tool, we focus a lot on that because we are either waiting so fast, and if you know the iteration just come from working late and a lot of extra work our that’s going to last, that’s not going to last forever. As we are scaling from your like a small startup to a 90 person company, we focus a lot on setting the right rules, and systems so that everyone can actually work efficiently.
Rita Yang 31:02
What’s your vision for BUD in the next five to 10 years? What do you see?
Risa Feng 31:06
if it’s not that different from what we are seeing, we really want to build a digital space for everyone. So no matter what platforms they’re on, you can be on AR You can be on VR, you can be on mobile. But the point is everyone can contribute to this digital space. They can create, they can have they can make a living on this platform. And we are just scratching the surface. And we are super excited to grow with our community.
Hans Tung 31:34
Are you seeing all your ex-colleagues leaving snap or other friends and other big tech firms leaving there to sell their own companies to tackle the space?
Risa Feng 32:06
Actually not that many as we are aware of.
Hans Tung 32:11
Risa Feng 32:13
I’m not sure? I think there are a few but but there are a lot of them are thinking about it. But I feel haven’t done yet. Yeah, I haven’t done it yet. So so I’m not so sure. Maybe they have started, but they haven’t talked to us.
Hans Tung 32:28
So what kind of advice do you have for people like that? Now that you’ve been doing this for for a couple years? What advice do you have for them as they contemplate while leaving a big company to do their own thing?
Risa Feng 32:41
I feel like startup is definitely an infinite game. If you really want to do it, you have to do it because you believe in the product, not because there’s a trend. And then you want to do it. Yeah, yeah. Because I really have a strong belief that you have to believe in your product. That’s the first that’s the first thing. And yeah, because it’s gonna be a super long journey. And it’s, it’s gonna have ups and downs. And what drives you is you want to build this vision you have in your mind, and it’s gonna take a lot of work. So I think that that conviction is very important. And the second thing is, I feel like no products are perfect in the beginning. So if you if you have the right belief, I think you just need to start and keep iterating and you’ll get it will get you there.
Shawn Lin 33:33
You want to just do it right now. There is no risk you pull me over estimated risk, and my co-founder enjoy your ride.
Hans Tung 33:42
Giving your background, you can always go back to the big tech and finance job. You know, it’s trying something new is almost a risk free.
Risa Feng 33:50
Yeah, I don’t think the risk is that high. And and also, um, even if eventually doesn’t work out. It’s a great experience to gain. Yeah, but most importantly, I think you need to believe in what you’re trying to build. That’s gonna drive you towards during hardships.
Shawn Lin 34:07
You got good at tech, you can always go back to work for a big tech company.
Hans Tung 34:11
We’re completely agree.
Rita Yang 34:22
Okay, so we’re gonna move to the Quick Fire question. Who is the entrepreneur that you admire the most and why?
Risa Feng 34:32
Yeah, so for me, I would say Tim Sweeney from Epic is one of my most respected entrepreneurs on his very technical. Even till now he is super technical. And I really respect that. And I also respect his vision for the metaverse and how he he’s thinking about this open Metaverse, and we should all contribute to this ecosystem to make it come true. Not just one company so yeah, I really respect that.
Shawn Lin 35:01
For me. It’s Justin Kan who is the co-founder of Twitch. And I think he was on this podcast before. I admire his passion and tenacity. Because back then live streaming was a crazy idea starting from chats into TV to twitch so to Amazon for $1 billion. That’s, that’s incredible wrong. And he’s our favorite founder’s favorite founder. That’s cool.
Rita Yang 35:30
So what’s a book or movie or game that you find inspiring lately?
Risa Feng 35:34
Right, so So actually, I’m a huge anime fan. I watch a ton of anime during my free time if I have some. So recently, Demon Slayer season two, I don’t know if you have heard of is my favorite is it’s very popular. And the fighting scenes in this anime are just beautifully drawn. I really enjoyed it.
Hans Tung 35:55
It’s one of my daughter’s favorite as well.
Risa Feng 36:00
I love it. Yeah, I’m a hardcore anime A fan.
Shawn Lin 36:07
for me recently, I got a chance to finish the book Super Pumped: the battle for uber. It’s a story about Uber. So found this book you can see on all the ups and downs for startup, so I highly recommend it.
Rita Yang 36:18
Cool. Last question. If you could live as any character in any world, what would it be? And why?
Risa Feng 36:31
This question is hard because you can’t be any character. This is like the hardest there’s no constraint. I will pick a witch or wizard in a Harry Potter. I don’t want to be the main characters because their destiny are too harsh. I just want to be I just want to be a random Witch and Wizard in the magical world so that I can try all the magic.
Shawn Lin 36:58
You have for me. Maybe the answer is cliche. I just want to be myself. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to define how we think about digital identity digital ownership. I’m really appreciate that.
Hans Tung 37:12
Yeah. You just want to be yourself. That’s a good answer. For that, yeah. You got a couple of each other very well.
Rita Yang 37:26
Okay. Um, thank you so much for being on the show. It was real fun. Yeah, that’s fun.
Shawn Lin 37:31
Thanks for having us.
Risa Feng 37:32
Thanks for having us.
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