Over the past 5 days I was forced to stay at home, away from the office (and people), to give my body the rest it needed to recover from a flu-like bug. I've gotten more sick over the past 6 months than ever before, which serves as an ever constant reminder that the body needs to come first.
With the boredom that came with sitting at home without a computer, I indulged in movies. The closing dialogues from a movie I watched last night went along the lines of:
“The only real failure is the failure to try.
The greatest measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."
March, April and May felt very unstable for me for a number of reasons: six months into our public launch, the product was not progressing as quickly as I would have liked; after months of interviews I was starting to lose hope that a good technical person can join our team as a Product Lead to push SoJo's vision forward; we let go of exceptional editors who weren't able to commit the time SoJo needed; the pressures of building a product that will generate revenues were growing with no clear direction in sight; I was rejected from a handful of promising fellowship applications; all while feeling busier (and partly burnt-out) than ever before. Without a doubt, I was in a lull, and it is reflected in the lack of activity on the blog.
Admittedly, I was shy to share these challenges on the blog - and with our team - as I was hopeful things would pass, but in reality these fears and challenges continued to pile up. I thought it was normal for someone in my position to worry, but SoJo is a moving ship and I did not want the optimism amongst our team and supporters to fade. It is imperative that everyone to continue to be excited about our long-term vision, and not intimidated by the short-term hurdles. This is a difficult balance to strike, while trying to be open and transparent at all times.
Not only does being ill force you to rest, it also gives you a chance to reflect and ponder. Triggered by the quote above, and an extended weekend of being with alone with my thoughts, I found a renewed sense of clarity and hope.
As a natural achiever, I've always "tried" (put effort into something) with the expectation of a certain return. After continuously putting oneself out there, trying relentlessly and seeing no results, it becomes really easy to internalize those feelings and view those efforts as a failure. In some ways, I felt a lot of my efforts over the past few months were a failure, as I didn't achieve the results that I had expected. Upon further reflection, I now acknowledge that those unrealized expectations were actually disappointments, and not failures.
Entrepreneurship (and life) is a series of ups and downs. Disappointments are inevitable. I used let myself get down with disappointments, wallow and build useless negative energy. I'm now learning the true test of resilience, learning how to extract the good from disappointments, the lessons learned, and converting that negative energy into positive energy to fuel me for the journey ahead. There will be bad days, and lulls are part of the process. Learning to accept and push forward truly is the best measure of success.
The next time you feel like things just aren't working out, try to remember:
“The only real failure is the failure to try. The greatest measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."
Earlier today Facebook, a privately held company, went public on the NASDAQ. The IPO (Initial Public Offering) of Facebook has been widely discussed in mainstream media for weeks. And for good reason too, as apparently one out of every seven minutes online is spent on Facebook.
Everyone has been drooling over Facebook's valuation of $104Billion dollars. Some (including myself) think this valuation is inflated with a lot of hype, some are mesmerized with our changing world, and how a virtual company can be worth more than McDonalds, Nike or Goldman Sachs, and others dream to build a company like Facebook.
However you chose to interpret Facebook's valuation, there is no doubt that expectations towards technology companies are increasing exponentially with time. With such high valuations, and companies like Instagram getting sold for $1billion within a year and a half of launching, reality is getting distorted. We've created these unreasonable expectations, where analysts and bloggers expect new entrants to have 1million users overnight, and grow their companies 10x in value instantly. Through SoJo, I feel this pressure directly, and more generally am concerned for the state of the industry.
Disclaimer: I am not among the 845million month active users on Facebook and have issues with their business model. That bias aside, I can appreciate what the company has done. 8 years in the making, Facebook created a brilliant product that meets the needs of its users. There are many things SoJo can learn from Facebook's product development path, namely around being attuned to the needs of users and continuous evolutions. I'm nervous however, that SoJo currently operates in an environment that is not as patient.
In 2004, Facebook would not have had 2.7billion Likes & Comments
per day, and likewise, it is unreasonable to expect new entrants to do so today. Internet usage has changed, however iterations and growth need to evolve organically.
SoJo has approximately 2,000 active users within 6 months of launch. That is a huge number when you think of all the individual people we are supporting in their journeys of making social change happen. In the tech world however, that number is peanuts. The impact on the individuals today feels negligible, when everyone speaks in thousands and in millions.
I often use the iPod analogy to explain my frustrations with the impatient environment SoJo finds itself in. Post-Beta launch, I felt as though some people were expecting to see the iPhone5, forgetting there were over 20 iPod products on the market that inspired the first iPhone. With unreasonable expectations and a disillusionment with reality, some of SoJo's users and partners expect to see the best now. Over the past 4 months, I significantly reduced the amount of time spent at start-up socials and events, as everytime I would leave those events feeling inferior by all of SoJo's limitations. Similarly, I spend less time "selling" SoJo to prospective partners who are looking for the "iPhone5", and instead am focusing my energy on fostering existing relationships and building the infrastructure to support future iterations of our product.
I'm fairly positive that there was not a line-up outside the Apple Store back in 2001, when Apple released its first iPod. However back then, the ecosystem (users, market, retailers, analysts) were more patient and gave Apple the space needed to be creative, iterate and create massively popular products.
Fed by the ecosystem, we, the entrepreneurs (including myself) are often our worst critics. Why are we expecting iPhone5s, when they're still releasing our first generation iPod? I believe we should uphold ourselves to high standards, and that we should dream big. Rome wasn't built in a day, so please don't expect a world-shaking vision to be realized overnight.
One of SoJo's core values is to Embrace Imperfection
. I need to walk this talk, as I'm most content when I do so. The journey is not a sprint, and I need to constantly remind myself to scale back immediate expectations. We are feeding into the type, and will continue to focus on building a product that serves our users and adds value society.
What are you doing to not feed into the hype?Sources: Facebook's IPO: What does it all mean?
, Wikipedia iPod
When meeting with this advisor about 2 months I shared some of my challenges, and on top of mind was sourcing a technical partner. 6 weeks ago she introduced me to Jesse, who was interested in learning more about SoJo. I was in the thick of recruiting for a freelancer and excited for this prospect. I looked at his CV once and quickly dismissed it as a viable prospect. Jesse's work experience has been in hardware infrastructure and IT support. Without a single web development skill listed on his CV or extracurricular leadership experience, and a degree in astronomy and physics, I assumed Jesse did not have the skills needed to lead our technical implementation, let alone take the content site out of Beta (which was my primary priority at the time).
Out of courtesy to the advisor who connected us, I agreed to meet with him yesterday. From the impression that I formed from his CV, I honestly did not think Jesse would be a fit. Going into this interview my best-case scenario was that he would know someone who was a better fit. Over the course of our conversation, Jesse surprised me in many ways. I learned that he has been building websites since grade school, is entirely self-taught programmer and that he is currently building an educational mobile application on his own time. Although not reflected in the CV, Jesse has everything I am looking for in a candidate: skills, initiative, work ethic and a sincere interest in our vision.
In-line with my initial plan, we agreed to bring Jesse on the team to oversee the product launch, and then evaluate fit and interest with staying on board with SoJo. Upon further reflection, I realized that I already judged Jesse without even meeting him. Had this CV not come through a referral, I would have never suggested an in-person meeting. Had I met him when we were first introduced, I would have saved myself hours of painful freelancer interviews and brought him on the team sooner.
Being pleasantly surprised when you least expect is an incredibly uplifting feeling. That being said, it is a much greater risk to let opportunities that are presented right in front of you slide. Finding the right balance between accepting everything that comes your way and exercising discretion to fend off lower-value activities will remain an ongoing challenge.
With a growing team that remains geographically dispersed, expanding product requirements, and an ever evolving list of action items, our team desperately needed a project management tool to get us all organized. Last summer we set up an internal communications platform
, however it was too difficult to maintain, uptake from the team was not sustained, and it quickly fizzled out.
A few months ago I discovered Trello
and decided to "pilot" test it with Trevor. Since clear guidelines were not adopted, we would go back-and-forth between emails and Trello (which wasn't consulted daily). As result of being 'neither here, nor there' we did not make full use of this tool. After hearing so many people speak so highly of their experience with Trello, a few weeks ago decided to make the switch overnight and migrated all communication-related tasks directly to Trello. Trello is now being phased into the entire organization, and within only a few weeks of actively using it, I'm already experiencing noticeable differences in the following areas: Reduced EmailsControlling my inbox
has been an ongoing challenge
. There is little control over external emails, however internal communications is entirely in our hands. Email overload has resulted in many emails falling through the cracks. The costs of missed action items, and time spent following-up on tasks with team members is tremendous. By placing action items in the dashboard, instead of an email, ensures everything is kept in one place and avoids many redundant emails. Increased Coordination
There is no one person on the team that works in isolation. Some members do identical tasks as their colleagues, other people work jointly to conduct the same task. This tool has been set-up in a way that allows multiple people to essentially share one brain. Rather than making an extra step to physically check-in with someone when a task is complete, it already appears on the screen. Increased Accountability
This tools gives us the ability to break apart action items, attach an owner, and set deadlines. If people are in the habit of checking in regularly, then there should be no excuses for unfulfilled deliverables. In the past I've had difficulties holding everyone accountable to every little thing -- this tool does it automatically! This will also serve as a peer-to-peer accountability mechanism, because everyone's deliverables will be known within the entire organization. Cohesiveness
Although there is a desire to keep the team in the loop of what everyone in the organization is doing at all times, it is physically impossible to do so. A shared dashboard, provides our team with ability to check-in on other areas of the organization at their leisure. Our team should not be working in silos either, so it is my hope that this tool be used consistently for people to check-in on their own tasks as well as others, to avoid the challenges of people working in isolation.
I am hopeful that SoJo can fully utilize this tool to get our team more organized internally. Regardless of the outcome, I'll be sure to share the results of this project management tool in a few months on the blog. Stay tuned.
This past weekend I hosted a workshop at Canada's largest student-run conference on technology and business. My session was on Taking your Ideas into Action and Social Innovation. We started the workshop with a roundtable to get a better understanding of who was sitting in the room and what they were looking to get out of the session. Of the 50ish participants, I was shocked to learn that many of them knew they wanted to run a start-up, but very few actually had an idea. It is my hope that the participants from the workshop walked away with these two insights:
(1) Figure out what gets you really excited [on the inside], and let that guide your journey
(2) Use your skills, talents, and resources to create something that will add value to our world. There are no shortage of challenges and problems that need bright, innovative ideas.
Chasing your desire to find an idea so you can build a start-up won't get you very far. Ideas are everywhere. I always get taken aback when people tell me, "all the good ideas seem to be taken" (this happens more than you'd think). Likewise, I often get asked "where do great ideas come from?" In my opinion, a great idea is one that has the potential to solve an unmet social need, environmental challenge, or makes the world a better place for society. Ideas most often come from a place of fear, anger or opportunity. The thinking that leads to great ideas come from a series of experiences, that culminate and build upon each other. Great ideas should be intrinsically meaningful to those committed to executing them. Where did the idea of "SoJo" come from?
While in my third year of building Nukoko, I became frustrated by the lack of resources at my disposal. Under the pretext of my academic research, I reached out to 50 social entrepreneurs for guidance. Each respondent had a unique story, but all lamented the lack of practical, resource-based support they found when starting their ventures. In hearing their experiences echo my own, the need for a resource like SoJo became immediately apparent. What initially started as a book, has evolved into over 100 blog posts, a dedicated and passionate team, countless conversations, and lots of experimentation, to create what SoJo is today and what we endeavour to build in the future. I still stand by a post I wrote 6 months ago
: "Steadfast in Direction, Flexible in Execution" : with a clear mission and concrete goals, SoJo has a fairly good idea of what direction its headed in. The HOW is constantly changing, however our WHY will remain constant.Finding your Idea
I read an article on Vanity Entrepreneurs
this morning, which validated my thoughts that some individual's WHYs are convoluted. The desire to build something for the sake of building something, to be cool and/or famous, for an extra line on your CV, or to be rich is not a good WHY. If you find yourself nodding to any of these reasons, then I challenge you to dig deeper. Being attuned to our motivations that extend beyond "vanity" is the driving force behind spectacular ideas and a successful journey of actually bringing them to life.
If you are in search for a great idea, please continue to live your life, build meaningful connections, seek out rich experiences, and be open to listening. My research and experience has taught me that those ingredients will allow great ideas to come to you. When the idea comes, you will know. Whether or not you're ready to act on the idea is another question, but that is why resources like SoJo exist.