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"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." - Henry Ford

SoJo's entire team came together for the first time less than 4 weeks ago. It is safe to assume we kept together, as yesterday SoJo had an incredibly successful official launch. With primarily remote and virtual interactions, everyone worked together as one cohesive unit to create magic.

While still in bed at 5:45am, with great anticipation I checked out newly released http://theSoJo.net. The first thought that came to mind as I was browsing the completed product: SoJo has the most incredible team. I couldn't be prouder of the product we released and of the incredible people who were instrumental in bringing it together.

The chemistry found in our team is something quite special. Although incredibly diverse, what unites everyone is their passion for SoJo. Even under a high-pressured environment with super aggressive timelines and a multitude of mini-setbacks, I did not hear a single complaint. Everyone owned SoJo and took it upon themselves to achieve their individual goals to meet a shared milestone. It has been a pleasure to see everyone grow over the past few weeks. New skills were acquired. A deeper understanding of the product was gained. And an even greater sense of belonging to SoJo was felt.

We have a team that looks out for each other. In order to do well (and to make the world a better place), we need to be well ourselves. Just shy of midnight, the night before the launch, editor Marc and designer Bill physically escorted me out of the office. After 15 continuous hours of plugging away, they had the foresight to remind me that I, too, am human.  

To celebrate the launch and UNESCO's endorsement, SoJo hosted its first ever party. Invitees were primarily partners, supporters and users of SoJo. Overwhelmed by a room packed with great energy and pride, I was humbled and in awe by the outpouring of compliments geared directly towards the team.

Last night, after seeing the team interact with each other at the bar and reflecting on what was accomplished over the past few months, did I acknowledge for the first time the intangible, yet beautiful team culture SoJo is fortunate to have. It feels as though this culture organically built itself over the past few weeks.
Rare and a further testament to how amazing Team SoJo is!
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Toronto-based SoJo Team - Photo taken by Calvert Quatch
 
 
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It is with great joy and excitement that I announce SoJo's public launch and official endorsement by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”). The launch is the next step for SoJo becoming the leading online resource for social innovators to turn ideas for social change into action.

In its beta phase, SoJo has reached over 15,000 social innovators since November 2011. The official launch of SoJo provides more resources and information for individuals looking to turn their ideas into action. The service provides a step-by-step guide to achieving social change. SoJo is a self-guided online resource for individuals to use to develop ideas allowing those at the intersection of social change to find exactly what they are looking for and at any stage in their journey.

The endorsement by UNESCO represents a validation of the work that SoJo has been doing in bridging the gap between those looking for help with their ideas and the necessary educational tools and direction that SoJo provides. “The Canadian Commission for UNESCO is proud to support SoJo and believes that it is an innovative initiative that will have a multiplier effect by providing a platform to bring together social innovators who can collectively work toward finding solutions to global challenges”, said David A. Walden, Secretary-General of Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

SoJo dropped the word Beta, has over 500 unique resources and online tools, and is ready to help you bring your ideas in action! Check out the new site at http://theSoJo.net

With the launch comes a more robust web platform. SoJo is now equipped to upload more content, build more partnerships, and grow our community. The product team will now focus on developing the backend technology that will organize the knowledge found on SoJo in an intuitive and interactive manner. We have ambitious goals are excited to see SoJo's vision begin to materialize. Stay tuned for more exciting updates.

Read our coverage in The Globe and Mail
For more details on the launch, please see our Press Release


 
 
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In 24 hours, SoJo will officially go live.  
The site works, and has been working for the past 6 months -- so in many ways this launch has much more certainty than our beta launch last Fall. That being said, there is definitely more pressure and expectations are much higher this time around. We've received feedback from our users, built credible partnerships and are eagerly awaiting this next phase of SoJo.

The mandatory features were decided at the beginning of the month, however the "things to fix" list only seem to keep on growing.

Over the past week, I've spent between 10-16 hours/day (including weekends) at the office. Its amazing how fast time goes, as I've gotten completely lost in the world of SoJo. As I write this post, looking into the window, I see hundreds of people watching a movie outside, and hear the blasting music of the bar below -- and shocked at my abilities to focus with an office situated right in the middle of one of the busiest urban squares in Canada. SoJo's team gets stronger and better by the day. Everyone's dedication and commitment to achieving this common goal is humbling. No 2am email exchanges (we're improving), regardless, I'm pretty sure that everyone on this team has pushed themselves in ways they couldn't even fathom only a few weeks ago. Whether it be acquiring new skills, getting submersed into a new culture, or working in marathon-like stints, or simply a renewed sense of connectedness to SoJo.

No stress. Just work. Work completed this morning felt like it was done ages ago. Too busy to think about stress, which in many ways is really good. The key to motoring through in these conditions is to eliminate all distractions that are within my control. When every minute is precious, all non-launch related activities and communications have been placed on hold. At the office, I've been referred to as a machine, as I am always seen plugged into my computer, not phased by the hustle and bustle often seen in this vibrant workspace.

In less than 48 hours, we're going to celebrate this victory in style. So temporary spurts of intensity are ok.
The nervousness that existed less than 10 days ago has since channelled itself into an extra dose of energy and excitement.

 
 
What do you stand for? In the first conversation I had with Joann Lim, one of SoJo's earliest partners and content contributors, she asked me what I stood for. I struggled to answer that question with coherence. Up until that point, everyone asked me what SoJo did, how we were going to make money, who we seek to serve and our goals.
No one ever asked me something so intangible and personal.

Joann further explained:
Our core is essential in helping us maintain balance and stability especially when life fluctuates. When we don’t have clarity on our internal core (values & beliefs), it can lead to falls, stress, trauma, and burnout.  As an individual, identifying the core of who you are is essential in helping you develop a solid foundation in which your life can grow and flow. It helps guide you in making decisions and taking inspired action to move forward. Your core is something which reflects the essence of your being and is one in which you should be proud to share with others.

About three months later in the middle of January with Sharpies and a blank piece of paper, I scribbled some thoughts. These thoughts reflected my core values, and ultimately SoJo's core values:
In early April I revisited that piece of paper and typed out a list of nearly 30 statements that embodied SoJo; lessons that I learned, things that I believed in, values, inspirations, and desired states of being.
Two months in the making, that plain-text document got refined, was edited by the team and received an exciting face lift from Bill to become what it is today, SoJo's Manifesto:
For SoJo, this document represents what we stand for as an organization, our core values, and guiding principles. It is a collection of words that, I hope, every team member, user, partner and supporter identifies with in some shape or form. As Joann told me: Meaningful work comes from an alignment between your personal values and those of the organization you are with. As in any relationship, the deeper the connection, the stronger the commitment. And commitment is essential in moving through the peaks and valleys in our development as individuals and/or organizations. This manifesto is SoJo's mission statement. As we navigate through an incredible amount of ambiguity, uncertainty and challenges, it is my hope this manifesto will keep every individual that makes up SoJo, and SoJo as an organization unified and centered.

Making change is not easy. I encourage you to invest the time to reflect, and ask yourself:
What do you stand for?

Read Joann's article on SoJo to learn how to create your own Manifesto

 
 
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In a start-up, there is lots to do. With only a few people involved, skills don't always match what is currently need to be done. With the upcoming launch 5 days away, and super limited resources (time and human capital), everyone is expected to do their part to achieve communal goals.

Since joining the team, Victor has been monitoring user behaviour online via various analytics tools. As of this week, he is also now working with the content team to get the Toolbox in top shape before the re-launch. He just completed part one of sourcing all of the tools, he now has to put them online. The Toolbox is one of the only sections on the new site that remains in HTML (the other sections have templates, making it easier for editors to add the content).

Victor has never worked in HTML, but because he updated the Toolbox he is best positioned to transfer all of that content online. So, I decided to invest the time to train him on the basics of HTML. Over the course of our conversation, not only was I able to instruct him on the basics of coding logic, but that he very painlessly understood it all, and quickly.

What started as a leap of faith has since translated into great relief, as I am now reassured that the Toolbox will be complete in time for the launch. Moreover, I was overwhelmed with pride for two reasons:

(1) SoJo has an incredibly smart team, with people who are able to learn how to code in one afternoon!
(2) A year ago, I knew nothing about web languages and prior to SoJo avoided almost everything to do with technology. I now find myself able to teach basic programming skills, even virtually over Skype. When you are working towards achieving such a large vision, it is difficult to see the little wins/progresses along the way. Today is a living testament to how much I've grown through SoJo.

In start-up everyone must often wear multiple hats. All of them may not fit on the onset, however that should not stop you from learning how to make them fit. You may be surprised to see what is possible.

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Screen shots of both computer screens side-by-side via Skype
 
 
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I woke up this morning thinking it was a Friday. It is actually a Monday. This is my body's way of telling me that it is exhausted, as I started my week drained as opposed to fresh. Last week felt like a blur, which gets me a little nervous thinking we have only 10 days to pull so many moving parts together.

SoJo has an incredible team, however I am now realizing that it takes full-time effort to orchestrate and guide an entire team towards achieving this mega shared goal. From publishing new content, converting the old content, and creating an editorial process; training new recruits; managing external partner relationships; creating a solidified brand, ensuring SoJo is consistently communicated across all platforms; and of course all of the technical developments on the website itself : there is great diversity of tasks at hand.
All non-launch related activities have been put on hold until July.

Hiccups are inevitable. Last week the SoJo website and inbox went offline unexpectedly for a couple of hours, due to a server migration error. Some of the intermediary goals that were set for Friday are still unmet. With very little buffer space, our launch roadmap is ripe for a domino-like disaster. That being said, I am energized and reassured by the team's collective passion and dedication in ensuring that SoJo officially launches on June 28. Majority of SoJo's team members have full-time jobs elsewhere, and SoJo is a part-time activity. Concurrent with other commitments, everyone is working in overdrive, pulling their weight to get it all done.

Last year I blogged about the concept of Romanticizing the Struggle, and not driving yourself into the ground. Although my head is filled beyond capacity with things to do, and my body is exhausted, I do not feel like I'm "struggling." The inbox remains untouched on Saturdays. I am sleeping at a reasonable hour, and the computer stays at the office overnight. Rather, I see my current situation as getting so consumed in the work, that I get lost in it. An extra dose of adrenaline in anticipation for the launch is fuelling me. Being immersed in the Digital Media Zone community definitely helps, as many other entrepreneurs share a similar energy and drive. This is a big improvement from our beta launch, where I worked alone at 2am on my dining table.

SoJo is more equipped than ever to bring the platform to the next level. Let the countdown begin!

 
 
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Now that SoJo's content site is going out of Beta, we will be more aggressive in building the Brand of SoJo as being a credible and legitimate destination for guidance and support. Design is integral in building our brand, and showcasing all that SoJo has to offer. Our designer Bill is tied with two major projects for the launch, and does not have the capacity to work on other detail-intensive design needs. 

In early May I went on a mission to source a talented junior designer to work with SoJo for the summer. Last Monday, we were ready to welcome a designer for a summer internship with SoJo. Unfortunately a family urgency forced this individual to decline the internship, and we were left with an empty position and less than 4 weeks to launch.

Everyone on the team is working in overdrive, and there was no time to do another formal recruitment process to find another designer. I was disappointed, however did not have time to let myself get affected by this setback. Later that day I contacted other entrepreneurs in the Digital Media Zone. This is a collaborative workspace, and I was completely overwhelmed by the support that flooded in. The next day I had a list of potential candidates. One week later, our new designers, Katie and Shuchi, are already working on two SoJo projects.

Although the position was originally intended for one person, two candidates stood out above the group. They came from very different backgrounds, had distinctly unique design senses and in many ways possess complementary non-design skillets. With only a 30minute interview and one design assignment, this was an incredibly difficult tough decision to make within a few minutes. Knowing both individuals can add a lot of value to SoJo, I trusted my gut and decided to welcome both of them to the team.

It does takes more effort to manage workplans and ensure the internship is a meaningful experience for two people, however my thinking was that the co-design process would actually enhance the quality of work of each individual. They can use each other as sounding boards, learn from each other, and build valuable collaboration and team-work skills. Design is often seen as an individualistic activity, so we're experimenting with this idea of co-designers.

At first impression, it seems crazy to recruit new talent a less than 3 weeks away from a product launch, however I learned that it is possible to recruit under incredibly tight timelines, and in order to accomplish the former you need to act fast.

This is how the process went:
June 4, 8am: SoJo is left with an empty design position
June 5: Referrals for potential applicants start coming in
June 5, 5pm: Emails are sent to applicants requesting an interview
June 8, all day: SoJo conducts back-to-back interviews with applicants
June 8, 8pm: Applicants are provided with a test
June 11, 10:30am: SoJo deliberates
June 11, 11am: Internship offer letters are sent to successful candidates
June 11, 4pm: Positions are formally accepted, interns have been oriented and are good to go!
June 12, 9am: First meeting takes place.


 
 
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On Saturday, June 2nd SoJo hosted its first ever team meeting. A year and a half into operations, this first team-wide meeting was well overdue. Although we've had tons of meetings in the past, all of the meetings were centred around discussing a certain issue/task. Up until now, there has not been an opportunity to regroup everyone, share our vision, and talk about SoJo with no agenda other than to give everyone a better understanding of how they fit into the team. With so much anticipation for this meeting, I was both excited and nervous. Extremely excited for the opportunity to finally bring the entire team together, but slightly nervous about a less than desired outcome.

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With 3 virtual participants and 12 Toronto-based participants, we miraculously found a date that matched everyone's schedules. Steph was forced to leave an hour into the meeting, after feeling really ill. Thinking she was in bed, to all of our surprise she logged into the video conference and participated remotely for the rest of the meeting. The meeting lasted 5 hours, however time flew by so quickly that we all left wishing for more.

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The Digital Media Zone was a great venue, as it was free and the staff here diligently ensured all of our technical needs were met without a hitch. The day started with an informal lunch and get-to-know-each other icebreaker activities. Everyone was on a mission to determine the oddest foods eaten by their fellow comrades and shared with the group the top of their bucket list.

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We played picture games and told stories about SoJo, which will become the script for SoJo's next video. A skills development session on Networking was much appreciated, knowing that there are no shortage of events that SoJo will be participating in.

The bulk of the Agenda centered around better understanding SoJo. As most of our team is new and works remotely, it was imperative that we have an informal conversation about the organization, share how we got to where we are today, where we are headed, some of our challenges, and big things to look forward to. I am confident that everyone on the team now has a better understanding of SoJo and is even more excited about shaping its future.


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Being the first time that everyone met each other, that too in one place, we were all marked by the differences and dynamism found within the team. It was equally clear however, that the diversity of SoJo's team will be one of its greatest strengths. At a loss of words, Trevor finished the day by saying, Hell yeah, let's do this; representing the renewed energy and excitement felt by everyone onboard.


 
 
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Announced at SoJo's team meeting this weekend, SoJo's next product launch will take place on June 28, 2012. We deliberately launched a bare-bones, half-developed Beta on November 26, 2011 with the goal of getting a product on the market. Over the past 7 months, we've collected a lot of feedback from the 1000s of individuals actively using SoJo, grown our team and have a much clearer understanding of the direction of the product implementation plan. It is time that we move into our next phase of development.
What can you expect in SoJo v2.0?
The overall design and layout will look the same. New category pages will be added, enhancing the navigation and making it easier to find relevant content. 100s of new articles and videos will be added online. The Getting Started section, which was never addressed in the initial launch, will be an interactive and comprehensive starting point for users who seek additional guidance.

The biggest changes will actually occur on the back-end of the website. The public Beta was assembled in a very ad-hoc fashion. No one on the team had experience with the platform, and we were all forced to teach ourselves the necessary skills to bring the product together. The site was deliberately built in that manner, as we had a deadline to meet, and a site needed to go live. That being said, I am extremely proud of public Beta and the team that worked around the clock to bring it together. We have since recruited the necessary talent and will optimize the backend code, so that the platform has a more robust foundation moving forward. The most noticeable difference for the users will be faster load times, and an overall better user experience.

Decision to leave BETA behind
SoJo is guided and co-created by our users, and changes will continuously take place. The word BETA is often attached to products that are still under development. Although we will always be "under development" the decision to drop BETA was more strategic.  SoJo currently offers a lot of value to its users, and I am confident that it will add even more value after this new release. By calling ourselves Beta, in many ways we are downplaying our strengths and what we offer presently. We can hide behind the word BETA forever, however it is time we put ourselves out to the world, an truly embrace imperfection.

SoJo will be more vulnerable to criticism and attacks, as expectations will inevitably increase. SoJo tells our community to Opt for Courage over Fear; this is exactly what we are doing. We have less than 4 weeks to bring this together, wish us luck!