The story of Sophia Bendz doesn’t start with her years as the global marketing director for Spotify. Nor is it about her success as an angel investor. Or as an investment partner at the VC firm Atomico. It’s not really about that she recently started as an investment partner at Cherry, a German-based firm specialised in seed investments, although that has created the usual buzz in the industry. As I get to know Sophia, I understand that what is interesting about her story, is what makes her stand out among many venture capitalists; it is having a humanist perspective on many of her investments, thinking about how money can do good, for society or community — and female entrepreneurship is one of her passions.
— There is strength in sisterhood. My sister has taught me what it means to have someone’s back. I want to give back the same thing to the women in my life. There are more things we share and have in common and that unites us more than separates us. At the end of the day, we are all just trying to figure things out and it’s at times pretty complex and hard. If I didn’t have my tribe of women to share and debrief with, I don’t know where I’d be. I feel widely grateful for all the women in my life, says Sophia in one of the many conversations we had during the preparation of this article.
— I get excited about the idea of more women stepping into their power and grabbing a seat at the table, I can’t wait to see what that will lead to. I’m inspired to help enable and support more women to consider a career as a start-up founder or as an investor and I’ve been thinking about ways to scale it.
And let’s get the figures straight. Only 1.3 % of venture capital invested in the Nordics went to female-only founding teams.Only 5.8 % went to mixed teams. The remaining 93.9 % of the €3.2 billion invested annually went to male founders. This is according to a fresh study published in late autumn 2020 by Danish venture capital firm Unconventional Ventures, backed by UBS, Startup Sweden, Almi Invest, and Nordic Innovation.
Besides female leadership and entrepreneurship, one of Sophia’s passions in her professional life is to find raw talent as it emerges and builds companies from scratch. This was one of the main reasons Sophia wanted to work at Cherry. She realised her operational experience was even more valuable when investing in seed companies that were earlier in their journey. Atomico invests in A-rounds and beyond, and Sophia will remain as an advisor and head of the angel programme.
— I want to listen, ask a lot of questions, understand who they are, and bet on their potential, rather than just go on to the financial details. With my background, especially at Spotify, I can bring experience from PR, communications, and marketing and be a bit more tactical on supporting them in building brand value. This I cannot really do with later-stage investments, then they’re more mature and the financial structure of the deal is more important than the vision of the founders. And of course, having done angel investments for many years and working at Atomicoalso gives me relevant experience in how to pitch investors, deals, and become desired as an entrepreneur.
Sophia comes across as grounded, low key, and keen to underplay herself in a way that is typically Swedish. To boast about oneself is not seen as socially acceptable in a society still heavily impacted by the Social Democratic heritage of svenska folkhemmet, which roughly can be translated to Swedish as ”the people’s home”. The folk hem vision is that the entire society ought to be like a family, where everybody contributes, but also where everybody looks after one another, and where saying that you’re better than others is not comme-il faut, or proper. Having said that, it is clear that Sophia is a strong, confident person who knows what she wants and what she can contribute with — and that she likes to laugh a lot.
This mix of humbleness and strength comes from growing up with her parents, and older brother and sister, two dogs, and matching apple trees in the villa garden of Täby, an affluent and calm neighbourhood north of Stockholm.
— I was a geek for sure, playing classical guitar, doing agility with the dogs, and I dreamt about becoming a fine art painter. In a way, I tried to be as different as possible to my elder sister, who was a typical rebellious teenager. I spent time gardening, haha! My parents gave us all a lot of love and encouraged me and my siblings to explore life and trust ourselves in the choices we made. That Sophia is close to her family is apparent in most of our conversations, she also references two relatives as great inspiration. Her aunt Gerd Bendz became one of the first female professors in chemistry in Sweden and Sophia’s maternal grandmother, Margit Nordlander, educated herself to become a doctor and later became a professor while raising six kids.
— They both took pride in their work and needed to fight for the right to get an education. My auntie was a free spirit who lived life on her own terms and who was one of the sharpest and also most humble and caring people I know. She lived with her partner Julia and got married in1996when it was finally allowed to get married as a gay couple. She travelled the world and never stopped being curious. In one of the last conversations I had with her, we talked about a course I took in astronomy and she was captivated and asked to borrow my astronomy literature. She was a bright shining light in my world when growing up.
— Other women who have inspired me are Frida Kahlo because she symbolises that inner power we desperately need sometimes. The way she struggled, never gave up and allowed the pain to transform into something meaningful and amazing. I also find huge inspiration in Ruth Bader Ginsburg for her way of creating systemic change by using the law as an instrument for positive change. So elegant and massively impactful.
After finishing high school Sophia worked for a bank, Handelsbanken, for a year, after which she went on to study finance and international marketing at Stockholm University. She also did a stint in New York for an exchange programme, a city she would return to years later when working at Spotify. While Sophia had more artistic dreams, her first real job was for Deloitte, working with risk management.
— I dreamt about the arts, becoming really good, creating and painting. I didn’t have a clear goal, I’m from a family of lawyers and doctors so when I got older I decided to not pursue higher studies in art. Working at Deloitte was good though, but I left when I realised it was super strict. I didn’t want to be tamed, too controlled, or too slow.
Sophia started at Prime PR, a communications agency based in Stockholm, Sweden, that has fostered a generation of creative communication experts. There she learned the real fundamentals of how to build brands, communicate well, and handle media.
— I was only there for a year, but I had the time of my life, working with brands such as ikea and sas and I got a crash course in pr and journalism. Then I met Martin Lorentzon.
The music streaming service Spotify is a phenomenon on the global tech arena, and it’s one of those case studies that is taught in business universities; how to scale fast, aim for growth, stay true to your purpose, and have a truly agile approach to development. The company was founded in Spring 2006 by Daniel Ek, former cto of Stardoll, and Martin Lorentzon, former co-founder of Tradedoubler.
As it happened, serendipity led Sophia to meet Martin at her brother Johan Bendz’s birthday party.
— I bumped into Martin, who was then working at Tradedoubler, where my brother also worked. He he’d heard I was great at pr, and he said: ”I have this music project, I think you should join, we must do lunch.”. This was in 2006 and they hadn’t even registered the company. I joined full time early in 2007. And we were around ten people at that time and we were laughing at the fact that I was the only one that couldn’t code.
Sophia and I met several times for this feature at her office at Alma, the members’ only office space on Nybrogatan in central Stockholm. Funnily enough, during our first conversation out in the central yard, we sat a couple of metres from the first office of Spotify, a small flat where the first founders and their team met to disrupt the music industry.
Why did you want to change your great job at Prime PR for the unheard-of startup?
— I wanted to explore the unknown, stretch myself, do something new. I’ve always been good at not picking the easy route. The salary was worse than at Prime, but they offered a good option programme. And in the end I didn’t have much to lose, I was 25 and ready to explore.
What did you do in the first year?
— When I joined there was no brand, no strategy, no webpage, or plan for how to market the service, so I really started with a clean slate. Internally we had this debate for why we needed to build a direct to consumer brand, there were ideas that we should be the matrix of music, not even build a brand. So I gave them a passionate presentation where I argued and explained what a brand is and what it could do to Spotify.
Did they understand?
— Initially, there was an intense debate. But we were all young and some marketing lingo was not really understood by the coders for example, so they questioned me.
What was the main argument to go direct to consumer?
— Basically that a brand matters. You can easily pay 3 dollars for Starbucks coffee but you wouldn’t do the same at the gas station, so I argued it would be valuable for us to build a brand, because the brand itself is an asset. Later, when we had conversations with big isp s such as Telia for example, they literally said to us that they wanted a deal together because of our brand value.
How fast did you grow in the beginning?
— There was only a small group of engineers when I joined, and then rather quickly we recruited people in sales, marketing, legal, so perhaps we grew to around 50 employees in the first year. The beta test launch was in October 2008 and from there onwards it just accelerated. The real growth came later though when we started to go into new markets.
Coming from a PR background, suddenly you were responsible for the whole brand and marketing platform, also working in a very data driven environment, how did you experience that transition?
— I put most of my efforts into the brand strategy, which I enjoyed the most. It was the soul of the company and I loved to pick Daniel’s and Martin’s brains on why they founded Spotify, translating that into concrete brand values and execute on it, repeat it, guard it and create this consistent voice. Being data driven made us more precise, we could understand exactly where the money was going and it also created this state of mind, that when something didn’t work, we just took another direction. And when we didn’t have data, we had Daniel, who had a natural born instinct on what the users wanted and how people behave online.
Did you look at other companies when building the culture?
— In the beginning, we were trying ourselves, but I got inspired by reading every blog post by Seth Godin, listening and talking to people in the industry, and trying to understand how they solved problems. I remember downloading Zappo’s manifesto, for example, it’s a great read that I highly recommend. It’s about identifying what principles and values you hold holy at your company.
What were your hardest challenges back then?
— Always the feeling of having a knife against your throat, with super aggressive competitors, always running, always trying to be better, never relaxing, and juggling with the media constantly trying to question our revenue model or contracts for example. It was challenging to explain the revenue model to the artists and easy for them to get headlines questioning it, so that took a lot of time to manage. And of course, managing the global expansion. Before I left, Spotify had launched in 56 markets.
How do you build a global brand?
— You have to figure out why you matter and what you want to achieve. Make others feel that what you do is important and the more markets you add, the more consideration you have to take to local flavours, but the risk is also you can become bland as a brand. One recommendation is to piggyback on other trends or discussions that are ongoing in society. When we launched the music industry didn’t act fast enough and didn’t understand tech, and at the same time, in Sweden at least, we had The Piracy Party advocating for all content to be free. So in that small storm Spotify came out as a player that was easy to like — these relatively young kids, fixing something that was broken and that a lot of people said was impossible. We were seen as underdogs challenging the status-quo, which media is always keen to write about.
What would you say contributed to the success of Spotify?
— We focused on solving a hard problem in an easy-to-use way. We quickly realised that we had to keep things simple, especially since we started to target a consumer audience.
We collaborated across the different development teams internally in order to offer the best possible product experience. We were very fast to adapt to external feedback and iterated consistently. Initially, we built our communication around ”all the world’s music for free”, which served us well pr-wise but when we grew and matured we changed our brand promise to, ”the right music at the right moment”, which also reflected back on how the product evolved. We gradually became a music service tailored to your specific needs and wants, with the algorithms learning and predicting your behaviours. Our product teams were always developing the next best new features, doing internal competitions and hacks.
During Sophia’s tenure at Spotify, she relocated to New York. Living there for a couple of years, she spearheaded the future brand development, an important and challenging task when entering the notoriously competitive us market. Back then, Spotify had around 3,500 employees and had turned into a different kind of company to the one she joined years earlier. After eight years of sprinting a marathon, Sophia felt the itch to do something else, so she decided to take some time off to rest her brain. She left Spotify and moved back to Sweden, consulting with start-up founders on brand strategy and continued to do angel investments, something she had started in 2010.
During these years, Sophia also went through a life-changing period. Out of respect for people close to her, she doesn’t want to specify exactly what happened, but it shook her to the core as a person, mother, partner and heavily impacted the course of her life.
— I’ve been through a lot of darkness and taken myself out of it. It has given me a higher sense of appreciation for the light. I also find comfort in knowing the dark, it doesn’t scare me in the same way as it used to and I’m not afraid of other people’s darkness. I’ve also been bad at saying no, I was saying yes to everything before. It served me well for many years, but it started to eat me up and I needed to allow room for myself. Every no is a yes to yourself!
How did you handle the crisis you went through?
— I worked on myself and focused on what I could control and accepted what I could not control and became much kinder to myself than I used to be. I started to meditate, went to Vipassana retreats, studied myself, and did a lot of reading. One book that has really spoken to me is The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. The core message is the same as you learn while meditating; you are not your thoughts. They are just mental images passing through you, you don’t need to take action, it’s just your monkey brain rambling. Imagine if your thoughts would be words coming from a friend, ”you are stupid”, ”you look fat today”, ”you’re not a trained investor.”. You’d probably think that person is horrible and you would end the relationship. Kind of funny how much shit we accept coming from our own thoughts.
I can totally relate to this, and I’m practicing meditation a lot myself, although in the Zen tradition and not Vipassana. But talking about Buddhism, are you religious?
— I had a very science-based upbringing, not very spiritual. Formal education was important but we didn’t talk much about the development of the soul. I think parts of our society are a bit starved on spirituality. Even though I’m not religious in the traditional sense, for me spirituality has always been there, close to my art and my inner world. It’s also why I love gardening. A year in a garden gives you a taste of life really, you have it all withering, death, decay, hibernation, traces of life, buds, flowers, lushness, and butterflies. It’s a spiritual experience for me.
This flow state you can enter while meditating or just doing something relaxing for yourself, when do you reach it at work?
— It happens in meetings with founders who are so engaged and they are communicating their vision and we are super excited together, and then time just flies.
Now that you’re on the other side of the crisis, what is your driving force?
— I’ve seen that it’s possible to create change and elevate yourself, seen it from the inside and it has given me newfound strength.
When did you realise that you could do whatever you want?
— I feel freer and freer the older I become, being free is one of the most beautiful things you can be.
The freedom Sophia talks about is not only spiritual but also being able to control the course of her professional life, and one way to find freedom is to be financially independent. Having profited from her early year option programme at Spotify, she had money to invest. Her first ticket as an angel investor into a new startup was Tictail, started by her friend Carl Waldecranz, who’d been running the production agency Superstrikers that Sophia had already engaged already at Spotify.
— When his agency was bought by Identity Works he realised that it was hard for small companies to create websites so he started Tictail and asked if I wanted to invest and be an advisor. Tictail was sold to Shopify in 2019, and since it was my first angel investment years earlier, it proved to be a good one.
The word on the street was that Sophia was so-called ”smart money” — an angel investor with an executive background and industry expertise that she happily shared with founders. In parallel to her career at Spotify she had gradually built her own investment portfolio. This led to a breakfast meeting with Niklas Zennström, who had started the venture capital firm Atomico in 2006, after having successfully selling Skype to Microsoft.
— We had a long interesting chat about life, good and bad investments, great companies, technology, and got along really well. I was already 15 angel investments in and had years of experience at Spotify but hadn’t planned to become a vc. But I got really inspired by Niklas, especially how capital can help the course of how we develop the world. And at that time I was pregnant with my second child and we were joking he hired two for the price of one
What was your role when you joined Atomico?
— Initially, I was an ’executive in residence’ — a position in vc firms where you usually don’t commit full time, but you support portfolio companies with your expertise and help scout deals. It was an incredibly stimulating environment and an exciting experience, I enjoyed finding and supporting talent.
What was the expectation of you? What did you bring in terms of money?
— I generally don’t disclose the investment levels I do or how much I have committed to the vcs I work with, but I’d done some successful angel investments and of course, I brought my experience from working at Spotify. After two years as an executive in residence, I was offered the opportunity to become a partner, being responsible for the Nordic operations of Atomico and leading the Atomico Angel Programme.
So becoming a partner at a VC firm, what does that bring?
— That you have a really exciting job, where you get to meet a lot of entrepreneurs and you commit more time and resources into the fund. Being a partner also brings more responsibility, you are constantly under stress, there is a lot of people trying to raise money, and you need to say no to the majority of the requests. At Atomico we have looked at around 3,000 companies per year trying to raise capital from us and we do around 10 investments.
It seems very hard to enter the VC world unless you have a track record of investments or if you have a lot of money, do you have any tips for how you can become a relevant recruit for VCs?
— If you are a student at university, you could start a ”dorm room fund” becoming the best at scouting new talent at university and investing in small tickets so you gradually get experience and build your own track record. It doesn’t really matter if all those investments are successful or not, it will show vcs that you have a good deal flow, way-of-thinking, and experience at evaluating startups.
What about middle-aged people that want to enter the VC world but don’t have much money to bring?
— Make sure you communicate your experience, what’s the value you bring as an executive, and do you have access to good deal flow, how’s your network, people need to be good at communicating their own story so it’s easy to understand the value add you bring.
What is the challenge with venture capital today?
— If you look at the industry more broadly, the majority of all investments go to male-led founders and the majority of investment partners at vc firms are also men. When we have more women as partners, they will, in turn, attract more female founders, who when they become successful will start to invest their own money, creating this positive spiral in the ecosystem. The lack of female entrepreneurs and female investments is a challenge, I mean, half the world’s population is female! Not only is this a problem in the world of investments, but also creating huge biases in, for example the development of ai algorithms and how we are building society. If we believe technology will play a big role in how society is built in the future then we need to make sure to back men and women equally.
Is there a difference between male and female founders?
— There’s a difference at least in how they’re viewed. In a pitch meeting, female founders often get judged that they’re taking too much risk, a vc would normally see that as a positive trait from a male founder. I want to broaden the view of power and where power lies in ownership. I have seen many female founders being disproportionately represented in the cap table, meaning how much they own the company, and it’s incredibly frustrating to see. I see the uprise of female entrepreneurs as a super interesting business opportunity, they are normally an asset class that’s overlooked and underrated. And there are untapped opportunities in sectors such as in femtech for example.
What do you define as ”femtech”?
— Femtech is about services and products by women for women usually, measuring hormone cycles, breast cancer detection, post-natal advice, diet, and training, etc. It’s tailored after the female body and interestingly but not surprisingly there is much less scientific research done on the female body than the male one. We function differently when it comes to how hormones affect us, etc. There is a big uprise in femtech, it’s estimated that it has a us $50 billion potential in 2025, so I’m happy to have a few investments in that field.
In 2019, Atomico established their angel programme, an initiative spearheaded by Sophia, by then an experienced angel investor with more than forty startups in her own portfolio. Some of the companies that have received private angel investments from Sophia include Daye, Sana Labs, Oura Ring, Climateview, Vira Health, Grace Health, Kharma, Hedvig, and Simple Feast.
In the first cohort of the angel programme at Atomico, twelve individuals from eight countries participated. According to Atomico, the high percentage of investments into female-founded companies and purpose-driven companies confirmed that angel investing is a powerful tool for solving tech’s diversity problem, and also for solving some of the world’s biggest issues.
You’ve previously said that this angel programme is unique, could you explain how?
— A traditional angel or scout programme, which is common in Silicon Valley, for example, is a way for vc firms to stay informed about the best new deals. In order to do so, they need to stay close to the best angels and then give them money to invest on their behalf. Usually, these angels are ex-founders, operators, or existing founders, mostly wealthy white men. When we established the angel programme at Atomico, I wanted us to engage pockets of talent we normally wouldn’t come across, approach people standing deep in other ecosystems outside of the traditional investment community, instead trying to find sector experts, community builders, and operators with more diverse deal flow. So in the first cohort, 8 out of 12 angel investors were female, in the second cohort more than half. We also have a more ethnically diverse group of people than you would usually see in investment, giving us more business opportunities since they open up new doors.
How much do the angels get to invest and what kind of startups have received funding?
— Each person in the cohort gets us $100,000 to invest at their own free will, of course following ethical frameworks, but generally, we trust the angels to do what they believe is the right investment. Angels have invested in companies in femtech, climate tech, entertainment, food waste, health and wellbeing, and more. The angels then get a carried interest in the investment they do individually but also benefit from the success of the whole group.
Have there been any challenges running the angel programme?
— Normally, if the big fund that is behind the angel programme, doesn’t do a follow-up investment, that could then question the legitimacy of the angel investment in the first place, it’s what’s being talked about as the signaling risk. However, since Atomico only does A-round investments it’s actually two steps away, it hasn’t really been an issue.
If someone wants you to invest as a private angel, what do they need to do?
— Send me an email, tweet me, understand what I’m passionate about, etc. Normally I get a deck with a few slides, the core problem, potential, and solution.
And what are you generally looking for in a founder? How do they get through the needle eye?
— They need to have the relevant experience that has led them to the insight that there is an opportunity where they are building a company and are passionate about that opportunity. They also need to have a strong drive, big ambitions, and clear convictions. They also need to be disciplined, have a clear moral compass, work hard, and be great storytellers. One of the most rewarding things in my job is to see someone realise their own potential. When someone is figuring out their magnificence they can come into their own power. It’s something really powerful to witness. I trust my intuition, it’s not just a gut feeling or some energy I feel, it’s a massive catalogue of stored experiences that have given me the ability to understand and read the case or situation instinctively, without the need for conscious reasoning.
It usually takes two to three years to deploy money, then you create the new fund and they usually exist for five to seven years. The big VC firms have several funds rolling in parallel and the exit is some sort of liquidity event, IPO or selling the company. So from that perspective, you leaving Atomico for Cherry VC after less than five years, that can be seen as a bit early since the VC model is giving a lot of incentives to stay?
— I wouldn’t want to stay for the wrong reasons, I need to follow my instinct and go to where it feels right to be. Just to clarify, I haven’t left Atomico, I’m still running their angel programme and work as Advisor, it’s possible because they’re not competing. I can be valuable while providing them deal flow from seed rounds at Cherry. Also, I want to be where I can be put to use in an optimal way, do smaller tickets, more deals per year, and I have a lot of seed deals sent to me, which we haven’t been able to handle at Atomico.
So basically you angel invest privately in addition to scouting seed deals for Cherry and continuing working for Atomico with the angel programme, is this not a rather rare position to have?
— It’s optimised for synergies and I can support entrepreneurs from angel investment, through seed all the way to A-rounds and beyond, which at the end is good for everyone.
It is very Swedish to downplay your successes, how strategic and calculating have you been throughout your career?
— I didn’t have a plan from the beginning, but I try to lead with energies, values, and in an authentic way. When it comes to downplaying, I don’t want to over promise and under deliver, but instead, work in the other way around.
Is it possible to have a longer-term perspective on venture capital investments?
— I long for it, a vision to create and build a society accelerating long terms plans for the next 100 years, especially in the fields of sustainability and the environment. It’s cool to think about how a 100 year fund would look like and what type of investments you’d be able to do.
What are the sub-trends you see in this field?
— Tech for cleaning up the environment is a huge opportunity, where water security is one area. Access to fresh and healthy water is increasingly a challenge and linked to solutions that are about cleaning up water, measuring water quality, reusing water, etc.
Besides tech, where do you see the most important development?
— Again, in climate change. The upcoming 10 years will be game changing and my dream is that we can change the development and make sure the planet is livable. Social movements such as Metoo and Black Lives Matters are also influencing a lot. I’m thrilled to live to see this happening.
While we’re talking about trends and the future, what is your view on artificial intelligence?
— ai can help solve some of our most difficult problems and is extremely powerful and therefore something we need to treat with respect and create guidelines and ethical standards for how to use it and make sure it’s not for the wrong purposes, such as personalised killer drones etc. I believe we’ll see ai assistants in most occupations in the future and it’s something that will help us become better at what we do. Breast cancer screening is one use case where I’d rather see an ai than a single doctor to analyse my scans.
Besides work, what inspires you?
— My kids, family and friends, painting, nature, connections, growing, evolving, and when my actions lead to a real change for the better and proper and real activism.
Which magazines and news do you read and listen to?
— SvD, dn, bbc, cnn, TechCrunch, Sifted, di, Economist, Harvard Business Review. Newsmails; Femstreet, The Profile, Farnam Steet and The Information.
What podcasts do you listen to?
— The Daily, Super Soul Sunday’s, How I Built This, Miljöpodden, Dumma Människor, Babbage, Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, The James Altucher Show, The Knowledge Project, and just now also listening to the Cryptoqueen by the bbc.
Where do you think you will be in ten years?
— I hope and think I’ll be doing more of what I’m doing now but maybe in a different way.
Will you ever retire?
— I don’t see my job as something I’d want to be freed from, rather the opposite! When I’m older and my kids don’t need me as much, I hope I’d be able to be involved in fun projects and drive change, not retire and do nothing.
Is there such a thing as a Scandinavian mindset?
— I think we’re problem solvers and responsible work wise. A word or a handshake means something. Might be because we live in one of the countries in the world where we trust the government the most and have the least corruption.
You also work as an advisor to the government of Sweden, could you explain a bit about what that entails?
— I’m part of the Innovation Council the Prime Minister Stefan Löfven is running. We’re people from different parts of society that meet four times per year, discussing challenges. We’re not allowed to share the topics, but they feed into the challenges we face in society and what kind of role innovation can have in solving them. The pm is very engaged, leading the conversation himself and I’m impressed by the level of engagement.
So what is coming next, are you going into politics?
— I haven’t dreamt about becoming a politician, however, if you want to create long-lasting and wide-scale policy change, politics is an option but I think I’d be too impatient for it. Right now I use the money to create change in the world for a better place.
You turned 40 recently and are in the middle of your career, what do you expect from the rest of your life?
— If nothing unexpected happens I hope to live at least another 40 plus years. In this chapter in my life I’m planning on leveling up and going after what I want as if it’s the last thing I’ll do because it might be. I don’t have time for people without a soul or projects where my heart is not in it. My biggest fear is to not have lived fully. I’d rather take the risk than lose the opportunity. I wanna grab life by the balls! •