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_Staff at the Digitial Media Zone facilitated a day-long trip to Kitchener to visit a tech incubator similar to the DMZ called Communitech. A parallel exchange of tech incubators had never happened before in the region, and the goal of this trip was to learn from the other companies who are operating at a similar stage and forge collaborations. SoJo is a huge supporter of collaboration, so when I first heard of this initiative thought it was a brilliant idea. Despite enthusiasm for this initiative, I initially opted-out of the trip, as I felt it difficult to justify an entire day out of the office.  In less than 5 days, I will be in London, England for an intense networking trip.

However upon further reflection and on less than 30 hour's notice I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. Although I missed an entire day of doing important SoJo work at the office, it was an incredibly productive day in other respects. Some of the key highlights include:
  • Connection to a Philanthrokidz: a company being incubated  by the Accelerator Centre that shares a parallel mandate to SoJo - empowering youth to make a change in this world through technology.
  • On behalf of SoJo, I've been invited to participate in the Canada 3.0 Conference steering committee to talk about engaging youth in their programming. The hosting organization of this conference,  the Canadian Digital Media Network is based in Communitech. Having an in-person meeting although us to undoubtedly strengthen a valuable relationship.
  • Received offers from other incubated companies to tap into their professional networks to source potential applicants for our Product Lead role at SoJo. Some of the best team members come through referrals and Waterloo has amazing talent, so I am thrilled to now be tapped into those networks.
  • A senior analyst at Communitech with significant web experience offered to help advise us through some of our product challenges.
It is important to focus on core operational work. SoJo would not have released its public Beta on time had we not made that our only priority. Although we have a lot of operational work to complete, we are also looking to expand our team, build partnerships and carve out a space in the sector. Identifying and pursuing unconventional opportunities is the way to build a rich network of individuals who will help us achieve our goals.
 
 
We are actively looking for Partner who will join the team and oversee the technical evolution of the SoJo site and all product features. Making SoJo intuitive and custom to each user's unique needs is no easy feat, which requires exceptional talent and passion.

Bringing on a technical Partner is a big deal for a tiny start-up like SoJo. Not only will this individual be the second full-time staff (next to me) to join the team, they will be entrusted with significant responsibility and authority. Up until now, I've been actively involved in orchestrating and developing the public Beta, including teaching myself to code. The product has now reached a point, where it requires someone with a more specialized skillset to bring the product forward, as my time is better spent on the content and business side of SoJo.

Linus joined at the right time to bring the private Beta public. He was a superstar and taught himself many new skills to implement the necessary features, which led to an incredibly successful launch. Linus is not an expert in Wordpress and Web development. He joined SoJo to build experience, however has realized that his interests lie elsewhere and needs will focus his efforts on other priorities. Linus will maintain the existing site until we recruit a new technical team member, who will build it further.

This is a unique position, as we're looking for someone who is passionate about SoJo's vision and who has the necessary skillset to make it happen. Please help us share the job posting in your network and wish me luck!

 
 
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_Today SoJo released its first Inspiration e-Journal (our version of an e-newsletter).

Creating a meaningful e-Journal requires both technical skill in developing a visually appealing product as well as taking a strategic approach to the content included. In an environment where we are constantly bombarded with unwanted emails, it is important that SoJo's Inspiration e-Journal actually serves our audience, and is not just another nuisance email that gets deleted.

We decided to use MailChimp to create the e-Journal, as it is the best free tool for creating professional looking email messages. Trevor, having no technical skills in anything web-related, was insistent on creating the layout, as he was eager to use this as an opportunity to acquire new skills. He invested 5 hours in learning the ropes of MailChimp through video tutorials and playing around with templates. After a few more hours of collaborating and working through the kinks together, we finally created a template that is simple, clean, and effectively displays the content.

As for the content itself, we brainstormed ideas for theme, purpose and desired reaction from our readers. From there, we decided what actual content to include specifically. It was challenging to develop a theme that serves the need of an incredibly diverse audience. We believe that the SoJo e-journal is an important tool to boost engagement within our community. In order for it to be as effective as possible in achieving this goal, it was important that the e-Journal complement and be a seamless extension on our primary online platform.

The purpose of our Inspiration e-Journal is to inspire members of our community to take action. We hope that our readers get inspired by powerful quotes, by following the journeys of their fellow SoJo-ers, and by the featured content on the SoJo site. Also, it is an opportunity to remind readers that they are a part of our growth and development.

Back in November of 2011 (when it was decided that SoJo should create an e-Journal), we decided that the first edition would be released by mid-January 2012. Later, we agreed to target the week of January 16th as the inaugural release date . Despite minor hick-ups including a MailChimp outage, rigid templates requiring customization and very limited time, we stayed committed to respecting our deadline.

As with everything SoJo does, this e-Journal is a work-in-progress. We are open to adding in new sections, changing the tone of the content, and pretty well any alteration that may better inspire our readers to take action.

I personally get quite peeved when I am automatically added to an organization's mailing list to which I never signed up for or authorized my consent to receive emails. As such,  SoJo's Inspiration e-Journal adheres to a strict opt-in policy. If you're not already, you can be added to our e-Journal distribution list by clicking here

 
 
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_Exhausted and completely fried from a day of 8 very long meetings, I'm starting to recognize the importance of placing more value on my time. Most of the meetings were directly valuable for SoJo: Strengthening relationships with existing partners, building the foundation to new partnerships, designing new programs, seeking business guidance from an advisor, and an informational interview with a potential new team-mate were among the positive meetings.

It is one meeting in particular that got me thinking. For the past few months I've been informally advising the development of a new program that will support the social entrepreneurship sector as whole. It is a rare opportunity to shape the development and design of a new initiative that can significantly impact the social innovation sector in Canada as a whole. Further, I was very pleased to know that my expertise in this sector is valued and recognized.

Time is at a premium however - and if SoJo is not getting value out of these exchanges, I personally do not have the luxury to invest many hours of my time sharing my insights and thoughts. Circumstances would be different if SoJo was a cashflow positive or revenue generating company, or if I was a semi-retired professional. Right now however, SoJo is building its foundation at record speed and with very limited resources.

I try not to see every exchange in absolute or as transactional terms -- because they are not. You never know where a conversation can lead. Many individuals have been very generous with their time, and have advised SoJo in its early days as well. It only seemed fair that I reciprocate.

Earlier today however, I pushed back. The questions were never ending, where I was giving a lot and wasn't able to see if I was going to get anything from the other end. After a couple of hours of my time used for 'fact finding purposes,' I felt it was appropriate to share my perspective and where I was coming from. As someone who has a difficult time saying no, pushing back was not easy. Surely enough, I did not handle the situation as tactfully as I would have liked.

I may have potentially jeopardized a valuable partnership for SoJo. I may have spoiled my reputation as an individual who is willing to give and contribute to the welfare of the sector without seeking immediate gain. All that being said, my focus my lie first and foremost with the interests of SoJo. It is in the best interest to both SoJo and the community we are serving that I be more mindful of how my time gets allocated and remain focused on achieving our goals.

 
 
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_As of today, SoJo will be officially incubated by Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone (referred to as DMZ). We are excited to be in an environment that will provide us with the necessary technical, business and administrative support needed to bring SoJo through our next phase of development.

Although today is only the start of our journey in this incubator, it was a long road to get accepted. Multiple pitches (we were not accepted the first time we applied) and months later, the day has finally come when we can finally start working in a community of like minded individuals.

Located in the heart of downtown Toronto, DMZ currently incubates 27 digital media start-ups. I'm looking forward to co-working with other talented young entrepreneurs: seek their guidance as we build SoJo and also encourage them to think of society while they build their products and grow their companies. The mentorship, workshops, networking and visibility provided by this space will also be invaluable for us.

And of course, we finally have a proper office. There is no doubt that a proper workspace is important for productivity and overall happiness. Over the past 6 months, we've been bumped around between three different temporary offices and spent many hours at coffee shops. It is great have a proper base, so we can focus our energy on growing SoJo.

SoJo is the first company to join the DMZ this year. Being the "newbie" feels like the first day of school; I came into this space without any of my colleagues, don't know anyone here and don't yet have a proper desk set-up. I know it will take time to get settled, be acquainted with the other individuals and feel like I'm part of this community. For the time being though, I'm excited for this opportunity and hopeful that our experience with the DMZ will be integral to SoJo as we endeavour to achieve ambitious goals in Phase II.

 
 
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_As a follow-up to a post I wrote last year about romanticizing the struggle, I am encouraging everyone to focus on their personal wellbeing as they build their social ventures. Not only does SoJo want to inspire and empower its community to take their ideas for social good into action, we want you to know that it also possible to keep your sanity in the process.

There is no doubt that 2011 was great for SoJo. When reflecting however, it is clear that I worked myself on overdrive at an unsustainable pace, which came at the expense of my health and overall wellbeing. A week ago today, I set my personal new year's resolution to achieve success with SoJo without driving myself into the ground.

In parallel to delivering on all of SoJo's goals this year, I look forward to focussing on other areas of my life which are equally important: time with friends and family, cooking, and overall personal wellbeing.

Admittedly, I did not do so well in my first week, as I am writing this post on a Sunday night, did work over the weekend and most evenings this week. It is my hope that writing out my resolution and sharing it with you will serve as a reminder, but also another way of holding myself accountable to actually doing this.

Some strategies for achieving success without working around the clock:

Work smarter, not harder: There will never be enough hours in a day. It is therefore important to set reasonable working hours, have the discipline to abide by those parameters. I am hopefully that simple time management tricks such as checking my email fewer times in the day, not scheduling meetings in my most productive working hours of the day, and taking regular breaks will help me to achieve more in less amount of time.

Let go of perfectionism: Chasing perfection in one task comes at the expense of starting a new task. We learned with releasing a less-than-perfect public beta that embracing imperfection is good. I will continue to embrace imperfection.

Set more realistic timelines: Last year I found myself underestimating the time required to complete a task and as a result over-committed myself, forcing me to spend longer hours working. I will therefore make an effort to be more generous with the time allocated to projects and leave more buffer-space to keep my sanity intact.

Be more organized: Working at the last-minute to deadlines forces the body to work on overdrive and much harder than it otherwise would. I hope to plan more and avoid last-minute crunches.

 
 
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_I am currently in the thick of creating SoJo's strategic plan and budget for Phase 2. An ambitious vision requires an equally ambitious plan of attack. SoJo now has to deliver on all the promises made last year, while finding the necessary financial resources to sustain the organization. It is safe to say the expectations and pressure have increased exponentially.

We ended 2011 feeling amazing. All of the our efforts over the past year culminated with achieving a major milestone: launching the public beta. The fruits of our labour were evidenced by a strong uptake online, overwhelmingly positive feedback from various stakeholders, and significant press coverage.

As I begin 2012, I find myself overcome with anxiety and a bit of fear. Interesting how the perspective changes overnight. When one milestone comes to an end, you feel like you're on top of the world. But as you endeavour to start a new chapter in your journey, and set to achieve a new and larger milestone, the perspective changes instantly. I'll be completely honesty when I say I'm as daunted as I am excited, as I have no idea how Phase 2 will come to fruition and what is even possible.

Feelings of fulfillment are short lived in this universe. Perhaps that is a good thing. As it forces you to stay grounded and remain focused on the journey that lies ahead. The vision is a moving target, and we must continue to keep on working.

Although a forward-looking attitude is necessary, equally important is not to forget all the positive feelings that came when our last milestone was achieved. We are starting this next Phase with a lot more support and energy than the first one. That should not be lost and it is my hope that all the positive energy that surrounds SoJo will give me the strength needed to overcome the bigger challenges that lie ahead.

 
 
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_2011 was a great first year for SoJo. The idea of SoJo (Social Journal) came off paper and finally started to materialize; we converted the cynics by launching an incredible public Beta on very limited resources; and to top it all off, we received phenomenal external validation from major media outlets, including a feature in
The Globe and Mail
. 75 blog posts were written last year documenting our story in real time.

Thus far, within 5 weeks of launching, SoJo has a community of 3000+ individuals eager to build social ventures. You're not alone, and SoJo will not rest until we reach our objective of supporting 100,000 youth in their journeys of changing the world. 2012 will be a significant year for SoJo, and we will work hard to get closer to achieving our vision.

As we say goodbye to 2011, I very eagerly welcome Phase 2 of this next leg of our journey.

Over the next week, our team to will be working on SoJo's strategic plan for Phase 2, as well as outline our long-term objectives for the next couple of years. In the first half of 2012, SoJo will be committed to iterating on the current public Beta, with the goal of releasing a more interactive and robust second version of the tool; increasing our reach, by building more strategic partnerships and participating in outreach activities directly with our community; all while focusing on user engagement and satisfaction with SoJo.

My anticipations and aspirations for the upcoming year include: expansion of our team; revenue generation; gathering valuable intelligence that will allow us to build an intuitive tool to better support our users; and of course, a much larger global community of young social entrepreneurs.

Yesterday I made a call to action to our readers, urging that they hold themselves accountable to bringing their ideas to life in 2012. SoJo is still in its infancy and we are publicly holding ourselves accountable to our users by documenting our aspirations, plans, and actions every step of the way, here on this Blog.

Although planning and personal intuition are valuable, there is no way of predicting what the next year has in store. It is our hope that you continue to be inspired by our story and bottom-up approach of making change happen.

Rested and rejuvenated from a relaxing holiday season, I'm ready to handle the uncertainty, setbacks and challenges that are inevitable. Equally so, I'm excited to embark on Phase 2 of this very exciting journey and look forward to more victory dances, more milestones and bigger accomplishments.

If you were with SoJo last year, we sincerely thank you for your support to get us through our first Phase.
If you are just joining us now, welcome aboard! Phase 2 promises to be nothing short of eventful and rewarding. We hope you're ready for the ride!

 
 
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_Traditionally celebrating the new year involves creating lists, making resolutions and delivering promises that we rarely keep or hold ourselves accountable to.

Make this the year you hold yourself accountable to taking your idea to action.

Today is the first day of a new year with endless possibilities. SoJo encourages you to make 2012 the year you challenge yourself in new exciting ways. We are excited for you to take action: to step out of your comfort zone; put yourself out to the world; and to make the change that you've been dreaming about.

The journey that lies ahead of you in the new year will be an exciting one, should you decide to pursue your passion and actively commit to building your social ventures. Let SoJo be your virtual cheerleader and support as you endeavour to bring your ideas to life.

Our hope is that you begin this year with a forward looking attitude excited about possibilities with many hopes and aspirations. Don't be shy to dream big, to believe in yourself and your abilities to deliver on those dreams. Equally important however, is to hold yourself accountable to taking action and delivering on your goals.

SoJo is your starting point; we are committed to creating a strong community of young social entrepreneurs and iterating our online tool to better meet your needs. All we ask is that you keep a positive attitude and hold yourself accountable to taking action.

The world needs you and we are thrilled to be with you, alongside this exciting journey. Together we can achieve great things!

SoJo wishes you a very happy, action-packed, exciting, and meaningful new year!