SoJo is an online platform that is community driven. Our goal is to reach as many people as possible and to make it easy for potential users in need of SoJo to find us. We imagine that most users will not come to SoJo by typing our website in their browser, but rather get linked to us from other sources/searches. Optimizing our presence online is thus key to realize our goal of the #1 referred site to help youth in their journeys of creating social ventures.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a science. There is a thriving industry of companies that have figured out how to crack the system and ensure your search results come out on top. SoJo doesn't have money to spend on SEO, so we have opted for a more organic, do-it-yourself approach. Attached is our Strategy for our pre-Beta launch phase.
Our SEO efforts will go hand-in-hand with the organization's goals. Until the site is in open Beta, we want to increase Beta tester sign-ups, traffic to this blog and buzz around SoJo. Not knowing what to do, we created a strategy to provide some order to this process. Once the site is live, we will create a Strategy on indexing the content so that it appears in searches online.
SoJo comes from SocialJournal and unfortunately there are many sojos online. We struggled to come up with a unique name that is meaningful (see earlier post
) and therefore decided to hedge our risk of using a more common name by mastering SEO to come out on top.
Earlier today I typed "SoJo" in Google and our landing page was hit #5 and blog was #7. This is impressive, because last time I checked we were no-where to be seen. Soon enough we will be #1.
Kudos to our Shad Intern Vishal who spearheaded this process! We still have tons to learn and it is an evolving process, but I am fairly optimistic that SoJo will master SEO in due time.
FOCUS is a word I've used quite a bit throughout these blog posts - and for good reason. Without focus, it is easy run in circles, to burn energy and resources without actually making any progress. Using a very technology-centred approach SoJo has been primarily focused on building the product; the past two months have been spent almost exclusively on building the Beta site: generating and editing content, leading the technical implementation, setting up analytics and communicating with Beta testers.
Now that our prototype has been created, I hope to spend the majority of my time and energy on the organizational side of SoJo. Some of our organizational tasks include: developing the business model and subsequently actively seek out funding to financially support the organization; filling the roles of Chief Editor and Product Lead within our team; and building partnerships with established organizations to ensure our platform is accessible within various networks when we do go live. These are large tasks which require a substantial amount of dedicated time and energy to effectively address.
Although multi-tasking is imperative in a start-up environment as everyone has to wear multiple hats at once, the past few months have taught me the importance of prioritization and focus. It is my hope that through prioritizing that I do not find myself in the product vs. organization
conundrum that many start-up founders struggle with. Read my earlier blog post for context on the product vs. organization debate
. So far, focusing on certain elements at a time has served me well and has helped me create some order as I navigate through ambiguity and chaos. Has focus helped you accomplish more? Share your thoughts and experiences here.
I've officially reached the point where I feel like my inbox is driving me [crazy], rather than me driving my inbox. What initially started as an effective system of filtering, flagging and storing messages has turned into a mish-mosh of conversations with no order and a great deal of chaos.
As you can see from this screen-shot, I have over 200 outstanding conversations that need to be filed away for reference or still need to be answered. A reason for this backlog is my lack of organization. For example, it happens quite often that I read an email on my phone, wait until I'm at my computer to properly respond, and by the time I'm at my computer I've completely forgotten about that message and that I did not already respond to it.
Even though I don't consult my inbox 24/7, I am stressed by the idea of having a massive backlog of unanswered emails and as a result my brain remains on emails and communications all the time. This as a result occupies my precious mental energy from more crucial tasks and it also impedes me from relaxing and diversifying (see earlier post
) which is equally important.
On the advice from someone who receives more emails than I do in a day: I need to create a new system. The new plan is to block off 3 times in the day to address emails (first thing in the morning, after lunch and before end of day).
I will continue to check my inbox periodically throughout the day and in the evenings, but only OPEN and address urgent/time-sensitive messages. Rather than answer emails in an ad-hoc fashion with multiple messages on the go, I must learn to control my inbox, rather than let it control me. Although I cannot change the amount of hours in a day, I can alter how effectively I use that limited time. It is my hope that this new system will make me more effective, with the ultimate goal of making SoJo the best online platform/resource it can be.
If you have suggestions on controlling your inbox, please share them!
Last night I met with an advisor who helped me create the outline of SoJo's first "plan."
Although I'm fairly clear on SoJo's value proposition and our objectives our "plan" hasn't been written down anywhere. To prepare for this meeting, I created an 11-slide deck that answered the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of SoJo. Because I've been so focused on executing the product, this is actually the first time since the initial backgrounder document (created back in March ) that I dumped everything from my brain into those 6 questions. It did not take long to write it all out, refining and re-wording did however. The beauty of a powerpoint is that is forces you to be precise (a skill I am keen to hone).
I arrived to my meeting with mixed feelings. Although I trust and respect this advisor and knew feedback would be given with SoJo's best interests in mind; I was quite nervous that my slide deck was going to get demolished. Sharing an idea is one thing. Sharing a document [for the first time] that represents the past 4 months of your life, your aspirations for the future and intense amount of emotional energy is unbelievably terrifying... In the end, it was actually an enjoyable experience! The difficult questions didn't seem so difficult, because for the first time I did not feel as though I was on "defence" mode. A difficult concept to articulate, but I think the act of writing out a plan gave me the courage to stand by what I did know and provided me the humility to acknowledge what I did not know.
My plan is at 30%, but was assured that with a little more work, it will be 90% there.
When you're ready to create a "plan" and share it with someone external to the organization for objective feedback, here are some tidbits of advice that may help you remove those barriers:
- It doesn't have to be complicated. No one expects you to create a formal business plan on the get-go. The trick is to get what is in your mind on paper and manipulate it from there. Forget about structure and start with answering the 5Ws and How.
- The plan will change. Don't seek perfection, because the destination is an evolving target and there are so many unknown variables. Write your plan in the present, and forecast based on what you know today.
- Share with people whom you trust. I personally do not take criticism well from people where a trusting relationship has not yet been established. An attack on SoJo is an attack on me. Although last night I received a lot of feedback, working with someone who I trusted allowed me separate the emotions and objectively listen to the feedback.
- No one has all the answers. Everyone provides advice from their bias and perspective. Listen and take what makes sense to you, because ultimately you must trust your judgment as you will be solely responsible for driving your project forward.
Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will SoJo be either. In order to meet deadlines, when building the initial closed Beta, we decided a release-cycle needed to be in place, to phase-in the different requirements. Recognizing that it takes time and iterations to realize a vision, a release cycle allowed us the space we needed.
From our multiple brainstorming sessions, we compiled a list of elements: (features and requirements) that eventually needed to make it to the platform. These elements were not prioritized, nor were any of them attached to a timeline. As a result, there was a massive list of elements to be implemented, but no structure in the process which left many unanswered questions.
Although a little late, today I finally completed our Development Roadmap. The Development Roadmap lays out the vision of the Beta site and all of the key elements (from a technical perspective) that need to be phased into the platform. Each requirement is attached to a specific release cycle, which allows the technical team to prioritize tasks and push to achieve certain goals. Although many guesstimates were made about how long it would take to implement the specific elements, having this structure laid-out will really help the technical team see their progress as well as how each tiny task fits into the larger vision.
Product v1.2 will be released on Friday morning. According to the Development Roadmap, every Friday morning we will release an updated version of the platform which will incorporate different elements that are in the pipeline as well as Feedback from our Beta testers. Knowing that our release cycles are fixed dates and that changes will be viewed by testers that are external to SoJo, I am hoping this will add an extra incentive for timelines to be met.
This experience has taught me to not under-estimate the importance of planning and clearly writing out tasks that are assigned to timelines. It sounds obvious now that I mention it, but when you're in the grind it takes special effort to take a step back and invest some time into planning and creating a roadmap.
This blog has been created to document our story as it unfolds and share all of the details and events that occur to bring SoJo to life. In addition to sharing our milestones and accomplishments, this blog must also share the not-so-positive aspects of building SoJo.
Yesterday we let go of our first team member.
The departure of our analyst came with mutual understanding from both parties that it was the "wrong role at the wrong time." It is sad from an organizational perspective to invest a lot of time and energy in an individual who is very passionate and excited about our vision and have them leave prematurely. What personally saddens me is the frustration that this individual felt - namely around being unable to deliver on expectations.
In adversity and challenge, there is great opportunity to learn and grow. Expectations could have been better articulated. Communication could have been better on both ends. More realistic assessments of time constraints could have been re-adjusted. Red flags could have been identified earlier.
SoJo is a start-up; we are learning a lot everyday, changing our course quite often and navigating a great deal of ambiguity. We are clear on our vision - the actual execution of our product is still highly undefined, and thus we work under fast-paced, constantly evolving constraints. This can be a difficult environment to lead and to work in.
The challenge of a virtual team is that there is no in-person contact. There are no water-cooler chats for informal check-ins, every conversation must be scheduled and it is easy for issues to snowball.
The difference between a start-up environment in relation to a more structured work or academic environment, is that almost everything is self-directed and self-taught. The mindset we expect of all of our team members is to bring their skills, time, energy and passion to the table and leverage those pieces to figure out the rest. Sometimes however, there just isn't enough time to learn what needs to be done at the output that is expected.
This analyst will leave SoJo on good terms, as she is still just as excited about our vision and holds a great deal of respect for the organization and the people behind it. We learned a lot from this experience as well, namely around the importance of communicating expectations, following-up and regular check-ins and the dangers of assumptions. SoJo is in full-blown execution mode right now. Being down a team member and having unpleasant conversations are never easy, however as a leader we must do things we do not like in the pursuit of bigger goals.
Earlier today I had lunch with a new friend and fellow social entrepreneur who just recently voluntarily quit her full-time job in pursuit of building a project to support local artists in the city. We've been meaning to get together for a few weeks now, and thanks to her persistence I finally blocked time out of my schedule for a proper lunch. As someone who feels like there are never enough hours in a day and who has been in intense work-mode to roll out the closed Beta site, it did take second thought for me to reserve almost two hours out of my day.
The emotional rollercoaster is what any entrepreneur implicitly signs up for. From my experience, individuals in your peer support network are unique, in that they share your pain and frustration as they understand what you are going through. At the same time, they are removed as they are not part of the venture - which makes for a comforting and safe sounding board. These same individuals will encourage you, help you rationalize and see the silver lining in dark situations and also to inspire you to dream about what is possible.
July was a rocky month with a great deal of reflection and questioning on my end. It was lovely to share my newfound insights and learning with someone who is going through a parallel situation. Likewise, having someone to share concerns, fears and hopes with reminds us all that we're not alone and that others around us are taking bold and courageous steps in an undefined, uncertain path.
The energy you put into this network, is the same energy that will bounce back at you. When interacting with your peer support network, ensure you are communicating and treating them as you wish to be treated yourself. Information and feelings exchanged should remain in confidence, as that builds trust. Honest advice is important, but judgment and criticism serves no good to anyone. It is not necessary that everyone in your peer support network know each other either, as is the case with my network. I talk about different issues with different people, and appreciate the ability to connect on a one-on-one basis with them.
All this being said, I do encourage you to seek out individuals whom are going through a similar journey as you, who you connect with, and where there is a mutual understanding of the nature of your relationship. Building this network will make your personal journey feel a lot less lonely and may also give you valuable insights which will improve the outcomes of your project, so it's a win-win situation all around.