Earlier today, SoJo was accepted to be a client with MaRS Advisory Services
, operated in collaboration with Social Innovation Generation.
What does this mean?
They will provide us with advice on business planning, help us figure out our funding strategy, and provide legal and intellectual property issues. We will also get access to market intelligence, among other helpful resources. These services are provided to us free of charge with the goal of helping us make SoJo a reality.
Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? Patience was required – it took us over 4 months to seal the deal from when we first approached them for support to finally receiving the official ok and discussing next steps. I was also forewarned about the backlog of client requests, which means it may take us a while to connect with the experienced advisors and derive value from the resources available to us.
Regardless, SoJo is at a place where we can really benefit from experienced advisors to guide us in the right direction, ask us the tough questions and provide us with the critical feedback that is needed to build the right foundation that will enable SoJo to be amazing. We are now entering a new phase: our idea has been validated; we’ve started building a community of supporters; and are ready to move forward.
Next phase is figuring out how we bring our site together, where the funding will come from, and developing a plan to launch the Beta. It is my hope that these services can help us in this next phase, and subsequent phases.
I will keep you posted on the evolution of our relationship with MaRS, the value that we derive from working with them – and of course, will share everything learned on the SoJo site for your benefit.
Don’t have access to a MaRS-like advisory service? Don’t sweat it – that’s why SoJo is here. We hope to build a site that will provide you with the information, tools and resources you need to get your idea up and running – and hope to connect you with other similar off-line networks and individuals who will provide you with that extra support you may need.
Being an online platform, I never thought the geographic location of the organization or its team members mattered. After-all, SoJo was started with founders in different cities and we pride ourselves in not being limited by geographic boundaries to get up and running. The users of SoJo will be everywhere - so why should it matter where we [as an organization] are physically based?
Over the past 7 days, I experienced an overload of meetings, conversations, connections through various events and rendez-vous in Manhattan. It only took a few days for me to see how powerful and prominent the internet start-up, technology, media and social innovation communities are. After witnessing the vibrancy of these networks in NYC, I asked myself the question:
Would SoJo be more successful if we based ourselves in the Big Apple?
Knowing that such rich and vibrant communities exist in NYC and SoJo penetration in the city will be integral to meeting our goals - I had the foresight to reach out to a handful of Canadian friends who are well connected in the States. To my disappointment, not a single introduction was set-up from a Canadian referral, yet I managed to coordinate an entire week of meetings on my own. I signed-up for events, introduced myself to total strangers and set-up follow-up meetings later in the week. Someone at an event suggested I connect with the Canadian Consulate and a few days later I was having with the Technology and Innovation Officer who connected me with more people – and so the domino effect kicked in… No hard feelings on my Canadian friends, but this further demonstrates the importance of a physical presence.
Funding, partnerships, advisors, referrals to supporters all stem from relationships. It is much easier to establish relationships in person with face-to-face contact. The population and dynamics of NYC allow for larger clusters of people and resources which will undoubtedly increase the probability of meaningful connections arising.
Don't get me wrong, I love being based in Canada and am extremely mindful of everything that has been accomplished in the past quarter – progress I don’t think would have been possible as a lean start-up in NYC.
As exciting as these conversations have been, and the value received from connecting with like-minded individuals – I am equally excited to go back to Canada and get some serious work done and make SoJo one step closer to reality.
Recognizing that powerful forces exist in NYC, I hope to be back again soon…
Sitting on the train en route to Grand Central terminal reflecting over an intense weekend of excitement, sharing, talking, networking, disappointment and optimism...
After weeks of anticipation, the Unite for Sight conference at Yale finally arrived Friday. I was excited to have a slot dedicated to presenting SoJo to a public audience for the first time. With a game face on and a stash of freshly minted business cards, I was ready to tackle the crowd and share with a community of like-minded individuals what SoJo is all about!
The weekend was important. When you are running a lean start-up, and right now we are VERY lean, it can be difficult to justify the costs of a trip down to Connecticut. Because of this there seemed to be added pressures to get the most out of the event. I approached the conference with an open-mind, but definitely had some goals I hoped to achieve.
Goal #1- Tell as many people as possible about SoJo, get them excited about what we're creating. Ultimately, motivating them enough to sign up to test our Beta when it goes live (Quantity)
Goal #2- Connect with like-minded people and identify synergies that may be helpful in making SoJo amazing (Quality)
As I stare out the window of the train, I reflect: did I accomplish my goals?
I have mixed feelings over how successful my networking efforts panned out. Walking the fine line between the quantity of encounters and the quality of the connections is always a challenge. Perhaps this time, my expectations were unreasonable.
With over 2000 people in attendance and sessions spread out over multiple buildings, further complicated by the intense wind and rain, it was actually really hard to meet people. It seemed that everyone had an agenda and sessions were lined up back-to-back. As a result, the majority of my initial informal interactions where restricted to a lot of awkward hallway chats. I was surprised and slightly disappointed by the number of people I connected with.
Wishing that I had more man-power to "divide and conquer" among the delegates, I wrote a message yesterday to my partner-in-crime who is currently scuba diving on an island in Honduras! Hoping on a plane wasn’t quite an option, but it was important to keep him in the loop regardless. Back working the floor at the event, I'm pretty sure I handed out close to 100 business cards. Not bad, but up against a total attendance of 2000 delegates, it felt like peanuts.
When we talk about the connections made, those dots are all over the map.
There were the people that looked at me like I was crazy. I approached them with enthusiasm and excitement to get them involved in my new venture, but was shut down without even having the opportunity to be heard.
Also, there were the people that didn’t attempt to mask their skepticism. It was written all over their face: "you think you have a great idea, but I highly doubt its going to work – I invite you to save your breathe…"
SoJo is obviously something I am very passionate about. To this extent, I'm so excited and invested in SoJo - that I sometime perceive an attack on SoJo is an attack on me. Indeed, the human psyche can be quite fragile, but I need to learn not to take the doubt and the skepticism expressed by others personally, because I know that there will most likely be more before SoJo is officially live.
Note to self: grow a thicker skin.
Admittedly, when looking at certain aspects of the weekend that didn't go quite as planned, it is often easy to overlook the positive interactions that did happen. I have to give the successes credit, because they definitely were there.
Indeed, there was a host of people at the event who were inspired by SoJo. Some even went out of their way to pin me down to ask more questions. They were genuinely excited for SoJo and I have a feeling many will join our growing community of early adopters.
Achieving Goal #2, that of forming quality connections with the people I met this weekend, may take time. That’s ok, because making SoJo amazing is an evolving project. So I didn't reach all 2000 delegates, but I am excited about those whom I did connect with. Relationships cannot be built instantly and I'm optimistic that some connections from this conference will pan out down the road. I must be patient and persistent...
Finally, I was reminded this weekend of the courage it took to put SoJo out in the open. Although it is potentially more challenging to share an early-stage project with the mix of supporters and skeptics alike, the feedback and input received from all parties will undoubtedly make SoJo better and ultimately bring us closer to achieving our goals.
If you were at Yale this weekend - thanks for listening and engaging with me. I really enjoyed connecting.
If you have a half-developed idea, know that it won't be easy- BUT it is rewarding to share with a community that can provide feedback and assistance. Its part of the process of turning an idea into action!
Lastly, Trevor will soon return to home to Canada from his travels in Central America. Look out future events, the live SoJo story-sharing power is soon to double!
(On behalf of SoJo)
By every stretch of the definition, SoJo is a lean start-up – and since we have not yet defined our inflows of revenue, we must be responsible with our financial outflows. The limited funds that we do have are bootstrapped by the co-founders and will not last very long. Instead of being discouraged, we are embracing an entrepreneurial spirit of getting others to believe in your vision – even before you have any results to show for your actions – and being resourceful to gather the support and resources necessary to execute on that vision.
Although SoJo has not yet received its first injection of funding, we remain focused on our goals and achieving our vision.
So how does a lean start-up push forward on a slim budget? Answer: We’re getting tons of in-kind support!
This includes professional advice that saves us hours of online researching, a workspace at a high-tech firm, shared bandwidth on project management tools, such as Smart Sheet, working with an incredible team of student designers from OCAD like Daniel
and reaching out to friends like Michael
who lend off their technical expertise to help us get our website up and running.
I don’t see this in-kind support provided to us as charity, but rather a manifestation of camaraderie. Our supporters know what it is like to be in start-up mode, are excited by our vision and take pride in knowing that they are an integral part of a very promising start-up, which is in its infancy. That’s exciting – and we’re more than happy to share ownership (and future bragging rights) with all of our supporters.
SoJo is extremely grateful for its early-supporters who have been generous to share their time and resources with us. To sweeten the deal, some of this support was offered to us without even asking for it!
Our insights to share with you: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, share your vision with others, and let people know where you need help – all without expectations of something in return. You never know who may be inspired by your vision, who they may tell and the wonderful things that will come your way.
[Let it be known, as evidenced by our previous posts, we don’t have it all figured out and still have many unanswered questions. That didn’t deter amazing individuals from offering their support...]
Can you use a pepper grinder to learn to bowl?
Don’t scratch your head too hard…because, you can’t.
But, as I recently found out, you can use Twitter to learn Twitter.
After SoJo joined the bursting social network ecosystem earlier this month, it was time to develop our voice. True, the first tweet was out of the way, but then there was the second one…arguably even more difficult. And really, we needed a plan.
As a team we held a couple of discussions about how we wanted to engage on social networks, what kind of posts would be most important at this stage and really what SoJo could add to the social media space. By the end of the chats we emerged, with a list of questions that would put a frown on the face of even the most dedicated Walmart greeter (ok, maybe an exaggeration, but you get the point).
A central theme when translating an idea into tangible action: there will undoubtedly be moments where key knowledge is missing and cannot be found within members of your team. Indeed, we quickly discovered that instead of banging our heads, we had to find people who had that knowledge we were lacking...
Out of curiosity, I was randomly scanning through SoJo’s follower list on Twitter and picked up on key words in people’s Twitter profiles related to social media expertise… I quickly connected the dots and sent a DM (Direct Message) to a couple of SoJo’s followers. Within half an hour I received my first reply. “For sure, happy to help. Please see your inbox :)” replied Tom of StartSomeGood.
Via email, I asked him a few specific questions whose answers were very helpful in developing our social media strategy. I made sure the queries were short and to the point. He responded a few hours later with some great insight, tips and strategic experience.
[Tip: When asking for help, frame your questions in a way that makes it easy for the respondent to answer]
Sometimes its amazing how the answers you are seeking happen to be right in front of your eyes. In this case, we were trying to figure out how to most effectively use Twitter as a tool to build early support for SoJo. Turns out it was Twitter that taught us how to Twitter!
[Tip: Be creative and don’t be shy to reach out to your extended online social networks for help… SoJo will provide more tips & tricks on social media and everything else you ever wanted to know when we go live, stay tuned!]