Disclaimer: What I'm about to share is highly experimental and is not grounded in any theory or practice.
SoJo has many exciting product development decisions to make. Based on early insights from the strategic planning process, SoJo needs to improve the navigation, usability and interface of the public site. In parallel to making these improvements, SoJo is building its first-ever enterprise-level software product. The stakes are much higher now, and decisions have greater implications. I was able to guide the team to building a content site using a Wordpress framework in its most basic functionality. This next phase of growth is much more complex, and beyond our current capacity.
SoJo has great development team. When given proper direction and structure, they are able to execute above and beyond. That being said, both developers are fairly junior and SoJo is the largest technical project either of them has worked on. Trial by fire has been our methodology thus far, however it can be a hindrance in moving SoJo forward. The entire organization needs to work at a more accelerated pace to achieve these next set of milestones.
When seeking advice, my challenges around the gap that exists between translating business requirements into functional requirements, the need for a CTO (Chief Technical Officer) came up quite often. Most successful technology companies are co-founded by a technical person, who becomes the CTO. Bringing on an external CTO at this stage of our development will be challenging. We have no intentions of selling SoJo for millions of dollars in the coming years, and the financial payout seems be to be a large motivator to attract good senior technical talent.
Technical recruitment has always been a challenge. Linus
joined SoJo right before major product launches. For the past 8 months, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for a technical partner
. After 3 intense and focused months of searching for a technical team member
, I've learned that effort will not always equal result. With the inability to offer a 6-digit salary and a highly competitive market, finding the right person will remain an ongoing challenge for us.
SoJo is in a conundrum where it needs a CTO to grow, however is unable to find one -- therefore the only logical solution is to create one. To fill its technical deficiencies, SoJo will be crowd-sourcing its CTO. This is highly experimental in nature. I have not found any successful case studies and I am still figuring out what it will look like.
Traditionally, crowd sourcing implies reaching out to the public for assistance. In this case, I will be reaching out to a closed network, seeking referrals to source individuals looking to commit their skills and experience to SoJo. Since SoJo is not building any unique technology, all development related activities can likely be covered by our existing development team. What we need instead is support in project management, information architecture, decision making and industry insights. Most of these skills come from experience, and so it makes sense to leverage the experience of many professionals, most of whom can complement one another. In addition to benefiting from the skills and expertise of experts in their respective fields, not having someone in the daily grind of the business can also provide fresh perspectives.
Product vision and business requirements will continue to come from me, so the crowd-sourced CTO will be used for technical guidance.
This approach is highly risky for many reasons: Lack of ownership and accountability
SoJo will not the first priority of any of the individuals. Being a secondary activity, they may not dedicate the mental energy or time required for this role. A dedicated CTO invests in the company, both with their time and expected payoff. It will be difficult to hold a crowd-sourced CTO accountable to the advice that they provide, as the consequences of their advice may not directly impact them. Beyond goodwill and the opportunity to shape an organization with huge potential for impact, there is not much more that I can offer to our crowd-sourced CTOs in terms of compensation. Effectively communicating the problem
A crowd-sourced CTO will not be able to get into the trenches or depth of problems. Only someone that works on a project day-in and day-out will understand all of the intricacies of certain technical issues and implementation problems. When only providing incomplete information, we risk getting incomplete or misleading advice. Fragmentation
With multiple brains giving out different pieces of advice, it is likely that we will receive conflicting and incomplete advice. Distinguishing between everyone's bias can result in a lot of inefficiencies or lead us down a wrong path. Similarly, the different features and technical elements to our products are all intrinsically linked. Each crowd-sourced CTO will likely look at their own issues in isolation. Without taking into account the technical inter-dependencies of each of the solutions, it is possible that solutions to one problem create bigger problems elsewhere.
Having a dedicated CTO will free me completely of all technical related activities. With less focus on the product, I'll be able to dedicate my time to equally important CEO-type activities, such as getting funding, building the brand and supporting other functions of the organization. In addition to coordinating the schedules of the CTOs I will still be primarily responsible for relaying that guidance to the technical team.
Risks considered, I'm quite excited about going ahead with crowd-sourcing SoJo's CTO. This could be an experiment gone wrong, in which case we know that we exhausted every option. On the other hand, this can potentially be a new model for what is possible, given limited resources.
Last night SoJo had its first-ever non-work related social. Previous socials have been attached to meetings, or work-related activities. The only agenda for last night was to have fun, and I think that was accomplished. The launch party was the only other time the team came together in a more casual setting. Only at that point did I realize the value of our team getting to know each other outside of work, and build more personal relationships with one another. Everyone is giving their time to build SoJo's vision, most of whom are extremely busy with full-time jobs and other commitments. The social aspect of SoJo is extremely important for team building and strengthening the connection everyone feels the organization they work for.
Based on a survey and suggestions from the team, we went bowling at Toronto's oldest functional bowling alley. It felt like we were back in the 70's, with nostalgic music, manual score keeping, and having to physically change the pins. A little skeptical first, entering into such a run-down place, the energy quickly turned around into a super non-competitive, friendly and encouraging environment.
In many ways, this social felt like a school trip.
We took the subway outside of the city together; a list of attendees was written to ensure no one was left behind; teams were 'strategically' picked so individuals who do not normally work together got to interact and make new friends. A little bit of orchestration went a long way to ensuring everyone was included in the group and had a good time.
Having the pleasure of introducing everyone to my favourite burger-joint topped off the evening. Although incredibly diverse, we all had great conversation around the table sharing stories, laughing at jokes, and connecting over things unrelated to SoJo.
In hindsight, I invested a lot of time in organizing this social: coordinating everyone's schedules to find an accommodating date, seeking consensus on an activity, researching venues and managing logistics. That time was well spent as I see the value that will add to overall team dynamics. I now hope the rest of the team can step up to organize future socials. Salsa dancing is next on the list, stay tuned for stories...
Enjoying amazing burgers after a few rounds of bowling on the Danforth, in Toronto.
SoJo is in the early stages of developing its second product, an enterprise focused SaaS (software as a service) product. Although the public site (our first product) still needs to be developed and improved, there is more bandwidth to start developing a new product; one that builds off the existing one.
SoJo's enterprise product is focused on employee engagement and corporate social responsibility. This product is still in brainstorm phase, but as of now the vision is to customize the existing public site into a private online platform that provides opportunities for employee to get involved in their communities in more meaningful ways. This product will effectively help corporations meet their employee engagement goals by improving motivation, retention, loyalty and engagement that staff have with their employers.
For the past 12 months, the entire team has been steadfast in execution, focused on the vision that was created in the early days of SoJo. Now that we are developing a new product, I forgot how much fun it is to brainstorm ideas and work with a clean slate. I'm immersed in the latest published research in the field of human resources, my schedule is stacked with meetings with Senior executives, HR consultants, staff and potential clients, and I get to dream up a new product that does not yet exist on the market.
In many ways it feels like SoJo is starting a brand new journey, yet the organization feels very much established. This time around SoJo has credibility and infrastructure. With a successful launch of its first product, and an established reputation it is easier to setup meetings and the feedback goes beyond basic validation. Communicating this vision is also much easier. In SoJo's early days, very few people understood what we were trying to accomplish, and only after repeated conversations was I able to effectively convey my message. Not to jinx myself, but in the past few weeks, I have a perfect track record of ending initial meetings with people exited to get involved. This type of positive feedback has been rare for me, and I'm still finding it a little strange to be honest.
All this to say, I've received enough feedback in just a few weeks to believe that this second product has a great deal of promise. When starting SoJo I never imagined entering into corporate enterprise software development - that being said, the opportunity has emerged and I see huge potential for this product to mainstream social innovation and generate revenue for SoJo.
Yesterday I had a great lunch meeting with a distant informal advisor, with the goal of further building the relationship, getting up to date on developments and seeking guidance. Before even ordering lunch we had a conversation on capital markets, which then evolved into international affairs and global politics, and finally transitioned into an intense discussion on the upcoming Quebec elections. (Note: before this conversation, I did not even know Quebec was having an election, knew nothing about the candidates running and what implications this election could have on the country and SoJo). Without sounding like a complete idiot, I grasped for common points and attempted to join this conversation in a coherent and intelligent manner. Impressions and rapport are integral in the infancy of building sustained relationships. It would be unfortunate to spoil this relationship over my ignorance of the world beyond my own, but then again, there is no reason why I shouldn't be more informed.
Pre-SoJo, I used to read the newspaper on a daily basis. Getting my fix of current affairs was so important for me to feel relevant and connected to the world. When I look at my twitter feed, there is more news on the latest tech gadgets than on what's happening in the world. I can't remember the last time I read the newspaper and I find myself in technology-focused conversations with everyone I meet.
This lunch meeting was a wake-up call; to get out of my bubble.
Working in [physical] isolation without other people won't get you very far. Likewise, operating in an insular bubble, isolated from the outside world and happenings outside of your immediate surrounding does not make good business sense either. Being aware of the world around us, and the interconnectedness of different current affairs will undoubtedly enhance the quality of the products and services geared to social change.
That being said, if you're not a political analyst, I do not believe it is the best use of your time to read every political commentary published, because your time is likely best spent focusing and developing the ideas you seek to bring to life. Finding time to stay relevant is important and should be valued accordingly. It is easy to get caught up in a bubble and get over consumed in your work. Social change is complex and the more aware and connected we are, the better we are at identifying opportunities and understanding the implications of our work.
Athleticism has never been an interest of mine. Perhaps it's because I'm still scarred from being last-pick in high school gym class, or that I never cared to cultivate an interest. Regardless, I never understood why athletes pushed themselves the way that they did. Despite my inability to relate to their motivation, I was able to appreciate many parallels between the journey of an Olympian and that of an Entrepreneur.
With the 2012 Olympics happening right now, its quite difficult to avoid them. While eating breakfast in the morning, the games dominate the news channels. At the office, the games are playing on multiple large screens, and it's become a conversation starter in meetings. This time around, I have enjoyed watching the Games with a different lens, and for the first time, empathized a lot more with the people we see compete on the screens.
This morning the Canadian Women's Soccer team won Bronze. It is the first time since 1932 that Canada won a medal in a team sport. A huge accomplishment that didn't come without disappointment. Amidst the controversy and anger that surrounded the previous semi-final match, this team stayed focus on their goal: winning a medal and playing the best that they could.
Likewise, as an entrepreneur it is easy to get caught up in adversity, or build negative energy in the face of unfair circumstances. Reality is, the only thing we can control is our attitude and how we make the best of the cards we are dealt. The women's soccer team led by example, put the past behind them, stayed focused on their goal, and triumphed.
Throughout the triathlons and a marathon, we consistently saw stories of those who gave it their all considering exceptional circumstances, including mental barriers and physical limitations. In some case, more attention was given to the character and determination of the athletes who finished last, over those who finished first. A miniscule percentage of aspiring entrepreneurs take their first step. Having the courage to show up is huge, and perseverance is really what defines an individual. Entrepreneurship is a journey, with a more ambiguous finish line; that being said, a similar tenacity and resilience exists among entrepreneurs.
Yesterday I caught a glimpse of an Equestrian final. The commentators made reference to a Canadian jockey who did not indicate a hobby in the standard questionnaire given to all Olympians. Similarly, those of us who have been through the journey know that it is equally difficult to maintain hobbies outside of our work. When asked about my hobbies, beyond sharing a sparse list of leisure activities, I am at a loss for words. SoJo is my passion and love. To be able to do something you love not as a hobby, but as an occupation is an incredible privilege. I imagine it is a similar feeling for professional athletes. Likewise, nothing comes easy. It is an incredible amount of hard work, time and emotional energy to be a professional athlete and an entrepreneur.
For many athletes, their success is the pride of an entire country. I love watching the reactions of parents when they see their kids compete on stage. You can just feel the pride and excitement in their eyes. When a medal is won, the country's flag is worn with pride. Similarly, success for an entrepreneur should be not reserved just for the inner circle. It takes a community to raise an athlete, similarly an entire ecosystem to support an entrepreneur. Team members, users, customers, supporters, advisors, cheerleaders and fans all deserve to share in the pride of an entrepreneur's success. Nothing is done in isolation.
2 weeks into the Olympics, I now have a much better appreciation for athleticism and what it takes for athletes to pursue their dreams. There are an impressive number of parallels with entrepreneurship, and we stand to learn a lot from each other.
Rebecca (far left) working with the team at the office
It is with great pleasure that I announce and welcome Rebecca Panja, SoJo's newest developer. She is working with SoJo part-time as an Associate Developer, working on both front-end and back-end development of SoJo's web-based products. A fresh Computer Engineering grad, Rebecca is excited to get her feet wet in the start-up world and have her mark on building technology that will positively impact society. Rebecca found her way to SoJo through a chain of referrals (quite serendipitous may I add). Although we had no posting at the time she approached SoJo, I was immediately impressed by her enthusiasm and knew we would make an opportunity for her with the team.
Rebecca joined SoJo eager to learn and further develop her skills, and her first couple of days with SoJo already proved that possible. Within the first week of joining our team, she has taught herself how to use our back-end framework, created front-end updates to the Public site, entrusted with the responsibilities for handing technical user feedback queries, and researched and built the public site's first forum. Given how much she was able to accomplish in her first week, I can only be thrilled for what lies ahead.
This newest edition to team SoJo is exciting for two reasons:
Our development team is growing. SoJo has an ambitious roadmap of what needs to be achieved through its products. Technology has historically been one of our greatest challenges. Rebecca's skills and energy will accelerate SoJo's development plans, getting us closer to achieving our organizational objectives.
Rebecca is SoJo's first female developer. She was invited to join the team because of her skills and attitude, however it is an added bonus that she happens to be a female. Women are seriously under-represented in technology; a fact that I find unfortunate. Having female technical talent on our team will bring added diversity and fresh perspectives. There is no doubt that the quality of our work will increase as a result.
Welcome aboard Rebecca!
With a successful public launch and an incredibly competent and talented team, SoJo is well positioned to grow and advance its mandate. Up until this point, our only objective was to get the public site, http://theSoJo.net built. From private Beta to public Beta to official launch; focus was centred around gathering content, designing the product, building the technical infrastructure and establishing an early-adopter beta user base. Mass outreach, measuring our impact and funding were not priorities.
Moving forward, SoJo is working towards these 3 organizational objectives:
1- To achieve universal ubiquity
2- To be a credible resource that actually helps people
3- To be a financially self-sustaining social enterprise
Addressing these objectives is no easy task. To avoid the gerbil on the wheel syndrome (being busy, but not getting anywhere), a plan is most needed. With a team that has proven itself able to execute and a clear vision of where SoJo needs to go, exceptional strategic planning is needed to bridge that gap.
Knowing that financial sustainability will come from diversifying our products, I must now dedicate majority of my time to building our next product and less energy on the operations of the existing public site. It is my hope that this plan establishes the right mechanisms for the team to carry the public site's activities forward without my direct involvement.
Last night SoJo hosted its first Strategic Planning meeting. Individuals leading different focus areas participated in an intimate and intense meeting filled with tough questions, feedback, and sharing of new ideas. Despite the initial technical difficulties of video-conferencing, I felt we were effective in bringing out many insights, and making everyone aware of the interconnectedness of each moving part.
Albeit successful, I completely underestimated the amount of preparation that went into this first meeting. Namely around establishing what this process was going to look like, determining the key information we needed to get out of it, prompting the team to come prepared with answers to questions, and preparing the slidedeck reference documentation.
It is also challenging as I'm forced to use a different part of my brain which has never been used. Strategic planning, abstract thinking and juggling multiple agendas is an acquired skill that needs to be developed and honed. Visioning is very different than strategizing, and the past year for SoJo has been very ad-hoc, with tons of vision -to-execution, with little planning. Luckily we have experienced team members with the experience to guide me and take the lead on this process.
Strategic planning will allow us to take SoJo to the next level and create the plan needed to achieve these objectives. Although daunted, we're all excited for what lies ahead!