SoJo's v1.0 Beta site is finally up and I am immersed with a great feeling of pride and accomplishment! This is SoJo's first big milestone and one worth celebrating.
The following quote has been our guiding principle:
"One piece advice I would give to people just starting up that I wish knew is that success is less about the idea and more execution. Don’t wait until you have the great idea or have refined all the plans, just get something up and start iterating." - Ben Hatten
Knowing nothing about web design or development, it has been a challenging process to facilitate discussions and lead a team to reach milestone. Hours of brainstorming sessions on key requirements, mock-ups on whiteboards, creating specific feedback through Powerpoint illustrations, to a final implementation on a live site - and this is just the beginning! (Having team members in different cities forced us to be creative in our communication efforts).
In technology they say everything will take twice as long and cost twice as much money. Since we had no financial resources and this site was brought together by part-time volunteers with multiple commitments outside of SoJo, it is fair to say it has taken us much longer than anticipated to get here. That being said, we still respected our deadline of releasing the closed Beta in July. Goals were respected on the content side as well, as we have over 100 articles online and there is tons of content in the pipeline waiting to go up. Although this site is far from perfect and is missing many elements, it is still a great starting point. As SoJo says: its less important where you start, or how you start, what's more important is that you start your journey.
A victory-dance is in order for Team SoJo. We pushed hard to make it this far and are excited about the possibilities moving forward. We hope you stick around for the ride!
Invites will be rolled out to closed Beta testers in stages over the next week. We will be Beta testing the site throughout the Summer, so if you have not yet signed up
, you can do so here
and preview a work-of-art in the making. Big thanks to those who supported us and shared feedback to achieve this milestone.
SoJo has taught me to respect tiny details, as they do matter. Much of the formal literature and anecdotal advice on entrepreneurship states that leaders/entrepreneurs should focus their time on the big picture and the organization's vision rather than get stuck in the trenches of implementing the smaller details. Although true once a project has been established, I would have to disagree when it comes to start-up mode. In start-up mode, there is little distinction between high-level and low-level work. In my books if a task is essentially to launching our Beta site, then it goes on the "must-do" list.
Manually going through code to change hyperlinks that were incorrectly cited is just as important as creating the high-level vision of the site to satisfy multiple user requirements. Although there is a team, if the best way to reach an end goal is by doing the work yourself - then that is the course of action you must follow. As the founder and the individual who is ultimately responsible for the proper implementation of this venture, I must be willing and prepared to do everything. This includes teaching myself the basics of the coding language in order to make changes on the site, even though my strengths and comparative advantage (economics lingo for the activity that is the most efficient and effective use of my time) lie elsewhere.
Interestingly enough, for someone who had a serious fear of technology and up until recently only used the computer primarily for word processing and the Internet for email, this learning curve has not been as painful as one would anticipate. Don't get me wrong, I sincerely dislike reading and modifying code, however I am thrilled to see SoJo's vision begin to materialize and see the online platform start to come together - that has driven me wake up extra early in the morning to get in more computer-time.
I cannot understate the importance of passion, as that has fuelled my commitment to SoJo and my willingness to do whatever it takes to bring it to life.
If you are in start-up mode and are in the trenches, rest assured that we all must do stuff we don't like or feel is not the best use of our time. At the end of the day, if something needs to get done, responsibility lies on us to find a solution to achieve that goal.
Late last night we changed our Twitter handle from @_SoJo_ to @The_SoJo. Changing twitter names is highly frowned upon in the online world, as we've been spending the past few months building credibility and gaining publicity around our old name. We were noticing many incorrect references to our name, as tweeters (including SoJo team members) would forget to include the _ at the end of our name. This lost traffic was unacceptable and thus a change was made. Ironically, @The_SoJo was part of our initial brainstorm list of names. We stuck with @_SoJo_ to create a language-neutral name, however since our website will be housed on http://theSoJo.net, it makes most logical sense for us to be consistent on all of our outlets.Although it will take time for our new Twitter name to get widely adopted and picked up in online searches, we are optimistic that this move will be beneficial for in the near future and beyond.
We also learned from this experience that nothing is really set in stone, so although not advisable, it is still possible to make changes to almost everything - including a Twitter handle.Our advice to you: Do not have an underscore (_) at the back of your name. It is very easy for people to forget to include the _
which translates directly to lost traffic. Click here to read an earlier post on how we set up our twitter account
SoJo's greatest challenge since inception has been technology. We have been lacking technical skills on our team and considering we're building an interactive and engaging online platform, if un-rectified this could be very problematic. We experienced serious issues hosting our landing page, delays in getting the closed Beta launched and a disconnect with implementing the Design Team's vision. So you can only imagine the daunting task of implementing an online platform such as SoJo with our organization's current resources.
Armed with a startup mentality however, we were not deterred from this challenge. In a startup, there is a lot to do, there are few people and our skills don't always match what is currently needed to be done. Put another way, in a startup there are many of hats to wear, and not all of them quite fit.
Dan A, who is leading the implementation of the closed Beta site, has been forced to teach himself PHP and CSS (the coding language we're using). He came onboard expecting to do high-level planning of site, and is now deep in the trenches of code! (He is also a full-time student in the midst of finals). On the flip side however, we have been in frustrating situations where some team members' expectations were not in-line with SoJo's expectations and as a result have under-delivered - which has led to setbacks and negative consequences for the entire team.
Despite the ingenuity of some, an organization can only go so far without the right skills and talent on board. I am in awe and commend the resilience and perseverance of those on our team who have eagerly stepped up to the challenge of teaching themselves new skills and rolling up their sleeves in pursuit of realizing SoJo's vision.
We've reached a point however, where we desperately need more help...
Those of us involved on the technology side are incredibly thrilled to welcome Linus as the newest member of SoJo's team! Based in Vancouver, Linus will take a lead role in creating the online platform, and incorporating the feedback from our Beta testers as we iterate and evolve the site.
We're looking to release our closed Beta by the end of the month, so Linus has arrived at the most opportune time.
My words of wisdom if you are struggling to find the right people: patience and optimism. Reach out to as many networks as you can think of and create an environment where someone new would like to join your team and project. Also recognize that there is a lot of luck and timing at play too.
Today SoJo got its first taste of mainstream media coverage. The Globe and Mail Small Business section ran a feature on Toronto's Hottest Young Entrepreneurs
. I was featured among a group of distinguished young entrepreneurs which came with a small profile online and a video clip no longer than 15 seconds.
When notified of the feature early this morning, I honestly did not thinking this was a big deal, went on about my day and did not tell anyone about it... halfway through the morning however, with the visible increase in traffic coming to SoJo's social media sites, followers, and mentions online; it became clear that this was more than a post online.
From Shenzhen to New York - I received messages from friends who read the feature online. LinkedIn invites from total strangers, and the list goes on.
When measured against a comparable static period of time, traffic to our blog went up over 500% and the number of unique visitors to our site is through the roof. (to be fair, we have yet to send out our first press release and have yet to reach to out to the masses online). Our challenge is now holding onto this momentum and engaging these new visitors to stay with us through to our launch.
Two observations were re-enforced today: - Information is increasingly being consumed and disseminated online.
As we are building SoJo to ultimately become the premier source of information for helping youth start social ventures and spreading the stories of others, we are excited to use various online tools to help catalyze social change. - Media is powerful.
Learning how to leverage media to further advance the mandate of SoJo and reach out to more users of the platform is exciting. Once the platform is live, we plan to actively engage all forms of media to help us spread our message.
Today's feature in the Globe and Mail came out of the blue and was not planned - imagine how powerful our presence will be once we create and roll out our marketing plan. In the meantime however, important to remain focused on launching our Beta site so we have something to talk about.
An entrepreneurial journey is a rollercoaster. There will be ups and there will be downs. You cannot predict when the storms will hit you - as an entrepreneur (or someone starting a project) you need to remain focused on your goals at hand and humbly acknowledge that the rollercoaster is part of the deal you signed up for.
It can be really easy to get in those slumps - expectations are not being met, progress is not happening as quickly as you like, you question whether you're even on track, and the list of unknowns only seems to increase with time. Throughout our journeys, we're going to make mistakes, de-rail and feel completely lost. The challenge is remaining rational and collected, to not allow the negative emotional energy impede us from moving forward.
Although I agree that entrepreneurship is a 24/7 job, as your mind will always be processing ideas and you will be expected to deal with certain issues as they arrive -- does that mean we are also expected to be physically working on our projects 24/7? There will never be enough hours in a day and as a result the tendency to overwork ourselves seems to be the only reasonable solution out.
When starting out, why don't enough people talk about the importance of working smarter, not harder. I don't mean discount the hard work that goes into starting any project, because building a social venture is a lot of hard work, but is it possible for the human brain and body to run at optimal capacity all the time?
Last night a friend offered me critical feedback on SoJo - which I internalized as a personal attack. It triggered a downward spiral of negative energy, which I knew was unhealthy. Clearly, something was wrong. When seeking comfort from a friend, he shared with me a few words of wisdom from his experience as a serial entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist: Diversity will make you more resilient
I think it is OK to do a pulse-check. Aside from your venture, are the other aspects of your life that are important to you in check: relationships with family and friends, exercise and physical activity, or leisure activities? Attempting to include some diversity in your routine will not make you any less committed to your project -- on the contrary, it will make you more resilient and better able to bear those inevitable rough waters as and when they hit you.
Building a team is one of the most difficult challenges any project or new organization will face. Not only is difficult to find all-stars to join the team, but keeping them engaged, motivated and dedicated so that they effectively execute organizational goals is an art that must be mastered.
Working in an environment with really tight timelines and limited (or nonexistent) virtual contact can be both demoralizing and frustrating. Although everyone on the team is building new skills and are all learning tremendously, it is still important that they feel connected and are part of a bigger picture. Moreover, even if every member of the team is focused on their individuals tasks, it can be detrimental to the organization's overall goals if everyone works in silos. Being a virtual team, we don't have the luxury of walking by someone's desk to ask a quick question, water-cooler chats to share random ideas or have a coffee to learn more about what the other team members are doing.
During the early brainstorming days of the design process, we facilitated multiple skype video chats. Since Skype's video chat service is only free for 2 people, we got creative and had multiple calls on different laptops set-up in the same room.
For the rest of the team, facilitating a conference call has been even more demanding. We are spread across multiple time zones, and due to everyone's summer schedules it has been virtually impossible to find a time that everyone can sit in on the same call at once. This week's call had 6 people who have varying internet connections and diverse background sound-effects. You can imagine how cumbersome this can be, which forces us to have limited team meetings.
Alas a solution I hope will get the entire team a bit more connected to each other and SoJo. Using Google Sites, I created a virtual workspace that includes everyone's tasks at hand, shared responsibilities, a discussion board for links to articles or ideas, a reminder announcement board and shared calendar with important dates. If used and populated regularly by all team members, this virtual dashboard has potential bind the team and ultimately get us closer to achieving SoJo's organizational goals.
There are many advantages to not being limited to physical space, including reaching out to different networks, attracting more talent to your team and reduced costs. If building a virtual team makes sense to you, don't see it as an obstacle. Rather, recognize the challenges (and potential threats) it poses and find some creative solutions to address those issues.
Dear Friends of SoJo,
Over the past 16 hours SoJo has been in the process of moving http://theSoJo.net to a new server. As a result, our email system was down between July 4 (5pm) - July 5 (9am) ET.
No one on our team had any idea that our email system was down and assumed everyone was still on vacation from the long weekend! (Thanks Alexis for reaching out to let us know).
We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused, if you attempted to sign up for the Beta site or send us an email, and kindly request you re-send your message or visit the site again.
Should we need to transition our site and/or server again, we will do so during a weekend and conduct regular tests to ensure minimal disruption to individuals wishing to get in touch with us. Thank you for your patience and cooperation.
Kanika (on behalf of SoJo)