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Written by Isabel Ahat
High School Co-op Student from Parkdale Collegiate

What to say, what to say, what to say… Wow, blogging is a lot of hard work!

Why am I even mentioning this? Well, this week I was challenged to free-write within a 5-10 minute span as an exercise into blogging.  Blogging, from my understanding, is an opinion piece, thought process and after thought on any topic. The blog captures how you felt and what you thought about that topic/event/moment. It can range from being a piece on a social issue to how your first day of work went. The list is virtually endless.

The idea of blogging seemed so easy peasy, just write what comes off the top of your head, but I was quite confused. How do you blog? I've read a good amount of posts on fashion and lifestyle all over the web. Just thinking about it, I've noticed that the blogging sphere itself has changed a lot. It’s moved from personal diaries to public journals to sections of websites and eventually has taken over a variety of sites like Tumblr, blogspot, and WordPress. It’s given the writing community a new medium to master that happens to be less structured than novels and equally freeing as poetry, but how do I begin? What can I possibly talk about? What should I include?

I spent a good two minutes sitting in my bean bag chair, frustrated; mulling over more questions, grammatical structure, content choices and the greatest question, what I should write! That was my biggest problem in the exercise: finding a topic, writing my opinions on it, getting started. To be quite honest, I couldn't even officially begin my free-write piece without a prompt, (which helped me a great deal because I've secretly sneaked many of those lines into this post). And as soon as I got the ideas flowing, my time was up and all I had written was equivalent to the 322 words you've read thus far (though those words were poorly organized and incredibly illegible).

After re-reading what I had concocted in the exercise, I came up with some simple personal tips for blogging next time:
1. Have an idea.
2. If you don't have a solid idea, just write what comes to mind (e.g. overview of the week)
3. Avoid trying to make the sentences perfectly witty on the first try. Let it all flow first because you can always edit later.
4. Don’t be afraid to speak from the heart, and include it in you piece. Incorporate the thoughts and feelings you have in the process of writing.
5. If all else fails, remember that tangential writing usually spurs better ideas.

Hopefully these tips will help me out in my next blog so I can avoid being stuck in another topic jam.
Written by Zainab Habib, for Blog Action Day 2013

Most people I know often equate human rights with issues stemming from discrimination, especially with all the “isms” and “phobias”: sexism, racism (ethnic and religious), shadism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc.  However, there’s a broader definition of human rights, as this abbreviated list from the University of Minnesota shows.

We used to previously say “SoJo is for everyone!”, but we know that we want to most help young passionate individuals who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start. However, the first step is knowing that your passion to create even the smallest social change is indeed enough to make that difference. Like the butterfly effect in chaos theory, one small change can lead to bigger changes in a community. I personally believe all social change helps to advance human rights because real social change is about creating access or opportunities for others who previously were not able to enter that space or setting – whether this space is physical, social, or economical.

It often seems like one has to have a moving experience or one significant point in their life that brings about that urge to act immediately, but this is hardly the case for most changemakers. Having a lot of passion for one particular cause can also be overwhelming or daunting but it shouldn't be. One can have passion but no or unclear direction as to how to channel this passion and that’s fine, since there are so many causes to choose from. How would I know which one is right for me? After all, isn’t expertise also helpful in making a difference?

But the longer you delay taking action, the less time you get to learn or to make a difference. Well, you know you care about human rights in general, but where do you begin to start?

Start now by picking something that interests you enough that you’d like to do something about it and see where it all goes – you may just find that your starting point will lead you to your next point with some new and wonderful perspectives. I know from my journey and from others that moving through social causes or industries can actually work in your favour when you can learn from one social movement or job and bring it to the next big issue or project you work on.

Though social innovation and social justice are not the same thing, I do not believe that they have to stay mutually exclusive since charity and change can happen simultaneously and together. So start by learning more about the issues you care about and about what you can do to make a difference of any kind. Then work your way to creating social change that will eventually create the way to advancing human rights further.

Social change is like breaking down a house: even if you don’t have a wrecking ball to start with the whole structure, even loosening a brick at the beginning will help you break it apart. Then watch it all tumble down eventually when you've pulled out enough.
Liked this post? Check out the post I wrote for the Digital Media Zone too.
Written by Zainab Habib

I know we often don't write about things to come as often, but I wanted to let you know about Blog Action Day, a day which brings thousands of bloggers together to write about one important issue on the same day. This year, the theme is human rights, as the video below explains.
I will be writing on the 16th for SoJo and for the Digital Media Zone - the startup incubator we work in a.k.a. SoJo HQ - as well. I signed up Social Journal a few days ago, as you may have seen from our social media (I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook) but in the last two days, I have felt even more strongly about this.

A) There's a lot of social issues I care about But why is this particular issue - human rights - so important to me in particular? Because it invades almost every aspect of our lives. I cannot help but see human rights issues everywhere I go - even when it isn't as obvious.

Though we are very lucky at SoJo that we're located in Canada, a country that tries to celebrate and protect human rights, we too have a deeper, darker history with mistreating many peoples -- particularly the First Nations*. Also, what's happened in the last few days:
  • At work: two female friends of mine have been disrespected in different ways in their mostly male environments at work (different offices and industries). One has been bullied by a male coworker for a few months now, while another finds she is either ignored or cut off at meetings when she is speaking.
  • At home: I came across news like this little girl's murder, where children have little to no rights in many countries.
  • In culture: Though these are not recent, human rights issues also pervade pop culture with songs titled "Burqa" and "Asian Girlz".
  • In society: Almost all societies face human rights issues - check out the Human Rights Watch website and you'll see why I have to visit from time to time.

B) I'm a writer. My pen (or the keyboard) is my sword and it is the voice I feel most comfortable using, not matter how big my audience is. Therefore, it is my weapon of choice for taking action - because I know that it is the way I best do what I love: teaching, learning, sharing, connecting, encouraging, and inspiring.

SoJo is all about getting you to turn your ideas into action for a good cause you're passionate about. So for all the bloggers out there, think about why human rights matter to you, and speak about whatever it is that boils your blood. Use your words to raise awareness, to inspire passion, to evoke emotion, to provide perspective, to encourage action. Use your words to do something.
Why will you be writing? Let us know if you're joining in and what the links are to your blog posts for Blog Action Day. We'll be listing all those posts on the 17th then for you to check it all out together.

*I use these sources because I like how they explain these issues; however, these are not endorsed by SoJo as an organization and I suggest looking to other sources for more information as well.
Written by Zainab

One of my main goals this month is to change up the Getting Started section. Some of us have known for a while that the language and format didn't reflect what we were about at all, and so we feel this is a pretty high priority for July.

We had originally gotten some feedback from a partner and from a few team members regarding the flow and the tone. The feedback was great as it highlighted the urgency to address it. 

So we've seen the red flags; now what? How do we take them down and how do we truly ensure what we put in place is actually doing what it's supposed to do?

I knew I had to think outside the box, but I wasn't sure how I would know I'd actually stumbled upon the right territory. After some trouble starting work on it, I decided to throw out my expectations for what it should be and be a bit more playful with it. One of my best friends always jokes I'm her therapist, because of the way I ask my friends questions and let them come to their own conclusions when they are looking for support. I wanted to be able to give our readers the same approach, because that's what exactly I feel you need - to find the answers within yourselves, without biases, doubts, or comparisons. Keeping that in mind, I wrote out how I imagined such conversations would look like if someone came to me with any of those concerns. Keeping in mind that we'll also have to think about design and how the quizzes actually look, I'm certainly not close to done. However, it's an amazing start.

The secret? The best way to break out of the box is to throw out your expectations for what it should look like but keep the values for what it is supposed to do. Then you can start to explore it from your most creative place knowing what you want it eventually be like. This can then help you make smaller, incremental changes that will lead to the biggest change - the one
Written by AJ Tibando
It's been two weeks since I got back from my vacation.  Vacations are the best for many reasons - a chance to relax, unwind from daily stress, get away from work and emails and responsibilities and focus on yourself.  They also give you a chance to step back from the busyness of your day to day activities, gain perspective on the big picture and re-centre.  Since this wasn't just a vacation, but was also my honeymoon, I was adamant that I was going to unplug 100% and with all of the stress leading up to the wedding and the changing circumstances at SoJo with Kanika being away, I was more than ready to get re-centered.

We went to Europe for just over two weeks - Paris, Milan and Scotland - and it was wonderful.  Being in different countries, eating different food and listening to different languages helped me to unwind and shed a layer of stress that had been building up over the months.  It definitely helped me to step out of my bubble and gain perspective on work, SoJo and what we're trying to do, as well as some perspective on life.  There's nothing like vacationing in countries where the essence of life is to eat, drink and live well to remind you about what's really important.

The other great thing about being away, is coming back and seeing how much got done without you.  Zainab and Jesse and the whole SoJo team managed to 'wow' me with how much they accomplished in the two weeks I was away and it was great motivation for me to dive back in on my return.  Yesterday, Zainab left for vacation - she will be gone for two weeks - and Jesse and I are determined to 'wow' her when she gets back.
Written by Zainab

I've been struggling to write blog posts - or really anything - for over a week now.

If you're not familiar with the term, writer's block refers to the state of being stuck and unable to write. Wikipedia's article gives a grim opening to this:
Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some "blocked" writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.

For a writer, this state feels similar to paralysis, in that the inability to write feels like one can't move, express, or be.

Like many others, I've had writer's block before and usually, it feels a lot more trivial. This time, I've tried a number of tactics that were not proving as effective:
  • writing on paper. Sometimes you need to get away from a screen and just write without filters like spell-check.
  • writing in a different location. Certain moments throughout the the conference I was at earlier this week made me go "aha, that would make a good blog post!". And though I made notes in between kiosk visitors, I still couldn't bring myself to write more than a few bullets.
  • taking a break. I worked at home yesterday, thinking an extra hour of sleep and three hours saved on commuting would help me feel more energized. Not a single word was written, aside from my emails.

I saw a tweet this morning that finally had me put these thoughts down in print:
And sometimes, that's exactly what you need to do, even when you have nothing to write: write anyway.

I'm sure other writers can relate to me when I say that for me, my writing is part of who I am, that the pen is my sword, and my written words are my voice.

It feels good to write... even if it is a struggle to do so at the moment.
Written by Zainab

One of our goals this month is to blog more often here. Before, the blog was mostly Kanika's thoughts, with occasional posts from a few other SoJo members, usually around particular topics or events. The blog already has a certain voice, that of an young social entrepreneur going through the process of taking her ideas into action. Because a blog can take on a personality of its own, always seemed like a mini side project of its own. I don't think we ever thought to look at it as part of SoJo's content... until one of SoJo's advisors recently suggested we start looking at it that way.

Though AJ and I have started to blog more due to Kanika's absence, our newer goal for blog posts replaces the necessity approach we had developed with the blog over the last couple of months.

Though I certainly see the value in blogging, I know I realistically cannot write these blog posts all on my own. It also wouldn't reflect the reality that I'm one part of a larger intelligent, passionate, and organized team; each of the members being extremely critical and reflective of their work and impact.

I, therefore, need to see and later share the value in the exercise of blogging to the other team members if I want their input and contributions. Here are just some of the reasons I can pick out, though in no particular order:

  • Sharing through our blog causes excitement for our work - we do great stuff and we want you, our fellow users and readers, to join us!
  • Blogging outlines the realities we go through; the good, the bad, and the ugly all get coverage here.
  • Writing helps us document our history and our learnings as an organization
  • We find validation and support when we write it down; perhaps because I used to blog myself when I was younger, I can say there is a certain therapeutic release that comes with writing it out because the thoughts are all yours at that very moment in time.

But this is where you, the readers, come in. We would love feedback on what you'd like to read about. What are you curious about? Why do you read our blog? What areas would you like our take on? Though we are not consultants, we can certainly share our thoughts and experiences with you, hopefully so that learning about our experiences can in turn help you along your journey. And that is our biggest mission at SoJo.
Written by Zainab Habib

It’s been some time since Kanika has been away from the office. It was right around then that AJ joined us full-time and was thrown into the position of juggling between Kanika’s commitments for the next few weeks and beginning work on organizational development and outreach for SoJo on a full-time basis.

One would naturally wonder how things are going at the office and how we have handled it as a team. This comes at a point where we are continuing to expand our team and focusing on particular aspects of SoJo, as we continue to work towards being the leading online resource that social innovators reference to turn their ideas for social change into action.

Yes, it definitely feels like something is missing. It is certainly not the same without Kanika here. She may be The Boss but she is certainly not bossy. Unlike the stereotypical Queen Bee, she has been supportive and she treats each of her staff without hierarchical bounds, allowing most of us to work directly with her on different projects for SoJo and to develop ourselves professionally and personally with her assistance. She is also the face behind the SoJo brand and has been at the forefront of it all. Her time away then has certainly created a shift in how we view SoJo from the inside and out then, knowing that she isn't here.

However, Team SoJo has really banded together to make sure we continue business as usual. Our partners have been very understanding and many have offered their help with whatever we may need. Our core team has continued to work on our individual projects and support the teams within our respective areas. We have also started a routine of working together as a team more formally; for example, we now have scheduled in weekly meetings between the full-time team every Monday. We are also now in the midst of assembling a team to focus on building SoJo’s community.

All in all, SoJo is definitely buzzing with activity. Even if we are missing the Queen Bee.

About an hour ago I submitted SoJo's application to the Future Fund. This was the fifth and final step of a long, tiring and very competitive process. SoJo is among the finalists and we have a really good chance of securing the funding needed to grow our organization. This is a great opportunity (especially in light of our recent funding challenges), so I prioritized extra effort on this task.

While this was my first time writing a grant proposal and my learning curve was fairly steep, it wasn't my first time writing a proposal. Last year started with SoJo's application to a prestigious Fellowship, I assisted Jesse writing our first research fellowship (which he received), and despite everyone's doubts - I miraculously completed an intense 89-page proposal for a Research Grant in the Fall.

Similarly, SoJo has been through 4 product launches: a closed Beta, open Beta, official launch and finally a cross-platform mobile version. All of those launches resulted in working around the clock, all-hands-on-deck attitude, intense focus and endless details. Many parallels can be shared with the experience of writing major proposals and product launches, however my attitude is different towards both of them:

Saying what you're going to do vs. Just doing it
SoJo has been action-oriented since its inception. Innovation is not knowing all the answers, so we trusted the process and consistently received gratification as we learned and progressed. On the other hand, telling people exactly what you plan to do and how you're going to do it is quite tiring. To me, it feels contrived, and in some ways an inefficient use of time to write out a master plan- as it is rare that things go according to plan.

Control over timelines
All of our product launch dates were self-imposed. We decided when we wanted to complete them, and held ourselves accountable to ensuring all launches occurred on time. Application deadlines are not in our control, and often force us to work at times when we do not want to work: ie over the Holidays or during key strategic business planning times.

Control over outcomes
The win from a product launch is clear: our product advances and is better.  The win from a proposal isn't so clear. If you are successful - awesome. Team SoJo has collectively invested over 100 hours into this recent application. If we're unsuccessful, there will be great disappointment for not succeeding and frustration for all the time that was invested with little to show. I'm learning to lower my expectations on outcomes and seek value from the process instead.

While its clear that product launches are a lot more exciting for our team while we're in them, writing applications for external support are just as important to grow the organization. I must treat them both with great importance and while the outcomes are different, the time dedicated to each one is equally valuable.

Earlier this afternoon I had a meeting that didn't go so well. I can handle one bad meeting, its a consistent trend of bad meetings that start to get me anxious. The meeting in many ways represented my frustrations of the system that I'm trying so hard to fix. I felt as though no matter how hard I worked - it was never enough, and that the system was incurable. Today's meeting was the last straw that broke my back and I was ready for a mini-breakdown. While my instinct was to fight, get defensive and show everyone up -- I reminded myself that I left fighting behind with 2012. Giving up is obviously not an option, as we've come too far to throw in the towel. That leaves me with finding a solution. When talking through my frustrations with an advisor, he responded with the following words:

"Kanika, this is what you signed up for. Your job is to find a solution. That is what you do."

And so I was inspired to change my title to Chief Problem Solver -- because that's what the person on top does. It is my responsibility to ensure that the organization progresses forward, irrespective of setbacks and inherent challenges. When something does not work as planned, or the problems only feel like they're getting larger with time; finding solutions is really the only way forward. It takes more creativity and effort to find a solution, (especially if you don't think the problem should exist in the first place) however in the long run, that is the way to go.

I'm not actually going to officially change my title to Chief Problem Solver (as I like Chief Catalyst way too much), but it is a hat that I will carry at all times, and remind myself -- that when things look rough, rather than give up or fight, find a way around by finding a solution.

It's a word that I have a twisted obsession with: the more I hate hearing myself say it, the more I use it. It comes out of my mouth without a second thought, and I've become so comfortable with this word that I've lost consciousness of using it. My lack of self-control has forced me to outright ban this word from my vocabulary. The B-word being BUSY. Here is why:

Busy is relative
While there is always a need to improve my time management skills and my ability to create more space in my life for non-work related activities or personal down-time, at the end of the day, BUSY is my new normal. I will never get through my inbox or complete the entire to-do list. Busy is a relative term. What is busier than busy? I've over-used this word to the point that it has lost its relevance. I must accept the fact that the demands for my time will always outweigh the amount of time that I actually have. As such I must be smarter about how I choose to allocate my time, and not let BUSY be my excuse for putting the effort to actually change my behaviour.  

Being busy is being rude
Everyone has a lot going on in their lives. When someone asks me to meet this week and I tell them, "I can't, I'm busy", I'm making the assumption that my time is worth more than theirs. If I make a commitment to participate in an advisory role and do not attend the meetings, I'm in fact using BUSY as a cover-up and am indirectly telling everyone I don't actually respect the other advisors' time, because if I did, I would honour my commitment. Being BUSY is fairly presumptuous and outright rude, actually. If I legitimately do not have time in my schedule, instead of saying that I'm BUSY, I should tell people when my earliest availability is and also reconsider ongoing commitments.

Lacks articulation
When people ask me how I'm doing, my gut response is to say "I've been really busy." I've started to catch myself get too comfortable using the B-word as a catch-all-phrase. Using BUSY as a catch-all phrase belittles myself, as this word really doesn't mean anything. It is not concrete or tangible. Rather, I'm hoping the B-word Challenge will force me to be more articulate, and list out the actual activities that have been occupying my time.

Perceived loss of control
As alluded to above, BUSY doesn't actually mean anything. If I cannot articulate the things that keep me BUSY, then am I really that BUSY? Saying that I'm BUSY is most often followed with a sigh, anxious tone or frazzled look. BUSY is most often said in lieu of "I've consciously decided to allocate my time this way, and I'm in full control." If I'm consistently using the B-word, then it can be perceived as my inability to control my time. Busy is not synonymous for confidence. In my role, I must always sell SoJo and my ability to deliver on our vision. Always telling people that I'm BUSY doesn't emanate confidence or control.

Not a badge of pride
A recent NY Times essay states compelling arguments about society's obsession with self-imposed busyness. The writer refers to the 'Busy' Trap as "a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness." I would like to be seen as someone who achieves results, not as someone who is always BUSY. In fact, I'm on personal mission to prove that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into ground, and with grace. BUSY is not graceful. By constantly telling people I'm BUSY, instead of the work that gets done, I'm essentially feeding into this vicious cycle of the busyness trap.

It's going to be difficult to go cold-turkey and omit a word entirely from my vocabulary that I use multiple times a day; hence my public documentation of this challenge. To help hold me accountable, everytime someone from my team (the individuals who interact with me most consistently) catch me using the B-word in context, I will have to buy them a gift. If anything above resonates with you, then I encourage you to take on The B-word Challenge with me.

Kanika talking about SoJo on the main stage
This past weekend, SoJo participated in the SociaLIGHT conference. This is the same conference that SoJo launched its public beta exactly one year ago. SociaLIGHT and SoJo are often seen as sister companies, as we both launched at the same time, have the same vision of the future and work in a very complimentary fashion to deliver on our respective organizational mandates.

The conference came in great anticipation. The team hustled for the past month to re-launch newer and improved SoJo in time for the event. 5 SoJo team members signed up to participate at the conference, to stand at our booth, demo the site and engage first-hand with our users.

I was excited for the opportunity to deliver a keynote on the main stage, to share SoJo's story; how we came to SociaLIGHT, what it took to launch at such a big event, and the successes achieved as a result of the public launch and learnings acquired over the past year. It is my hope that I inspired the 1000-person audience to have the courage to act on their ideas. SoJo's first major milestone was its public launch at SociaLIGHT, and since that launch, we've come a long way.

The following day, I delivered a more intimate, interactive and hands-on workshop to a smaller group of participants on the "how-to" of turning ideas into action. Although everyone was tired from such a high-energy event the previous day, even at 5pm on Sunday evening I was in a room filled with engaged and excited individuals eager to learn.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the weekend was the love and energy shared by everyone present. A number of delegates who saw SoJo launch last year approached myself and members of the team with great pride, to see us again, but to also say: "I was there when it all started." I'm thrilled that our users and community share in the success and pride of SoJo, as this is a tool for them, built by them. Overall, SociaLIGHT was an incredible weekend and SoJo couldn't have been happier to share our journey with this wonderful organization!  

Last night I had a great call with Trevor, SoJo's community builder. Trevor joined SoJo when it was just an idea and has been instrumental in bringing this vision to reality. Trevor's been primarily responsible for setting up our social media presence, coordinating feedback and engaging with SoJo's growing community. Having been through the trials and tribulations of defining SoJo, dealing with the setbacks and deeply involved in all of our previous product launches, Trevor has been pivotal to our successes thus far. I was just informed last night that Trevor will be going on an extended escapade throughout Asia for the next couple of months, leaving in 2 weeks. I was forewarned that this trip was on the horizon, however details only started to firm up this week. I honestly did not expect it to come so soon, and the end of the month feels like it's just around the corner.

I am going to assume that Trevor will be off the grid as he will be travelling in remote rural areas, but also focused on this new chapter of his life. I'm thrilled that he is seizing this phenomenal opportunity, but also mindful of the void that will exist within SoJo's team.

What does this mean for SoJo?

We have 2 weeks to transition all of Trevor's responsibilities to an already stretched team. Social Media engagement, Newsletter Editor, Front-line contact with users, and feedback management. Beyond the actual manpower (and losing a very smart and competent team member), I'm a little nervous about losing all the institutional memory and insights that are in his head. Trevor holds a very unique perspective and it is through brainstorming activities and ideation sessions do those insights emerge to help to shape our strategy and future directions.  

This will be the first time SoJo goes through a major transition/turnover of a key team member. It doesn't help that I'll be virtually inaccessible over the last week of October on the road, speaking at various conferences and venues across 4 cities. Or that Steph, our Communications coordinator who will oversee the transition will be in Australia for a 2-week work trip at the beginning of November. Regardless, SoJo has a solid team and I'm optimistic that this process will be as smooth as it can be.

Transitions are inevitable and I'm looking forward to all the learning that will take place during this critical period.
I gladly welcome any advice you have on navigating through this process.

Yesterday during the presidential debates I logged onto twitter to follow the live commentary and reactions from my friends (which was much more engaging than the real debate). To my pleasant surprise I found a freshly published article on From a Master's Thesis to a Social Startup and a UNESCO Endorsement This article is SoJo's debut in Forbes, and it was a great feature profile that will help SoJo with its outreach efforts. Going to, I noticed this was the most popular article on the home page. I had a glowing smile on my face, especially after having a not-so-good day.

I'm often asked how SoJo has been so successful in getting mainstream media attention. For some of our earlier stories, SoJo proactively reached out to reporters, followed-up and was effective at pitching its story. In most other cases media came to us.

The writer from Forbes sent me a message through SoJo's generic contact form on Friday afternoon. This message found its way to my inbox Monday mid-day. That same day the writer and I had an interview. We exchanged a couple of follow-up emails and the story was published on Wednesday.

When asked how he came across SoJo in the first place, he said:
"An article from SoJo appeared in one of my social media aggregator newsfeed. Hundreds of articles continuously come through this feed. I was intrigued by SoJo's logo so I clicked on the link...."
Clearly he was impressed by what he saw on SoJo beyond the logo and investigated further.

This is a classic example of how being yourself is the best thing you can do. This is not a story we chased, but rather came to us quite serendipitously. The logo is an authentic representation of SoJo as an organization and and this blog appealed to the writer, who also happens to have history of social activism, allowing him to feel instantly connected to our community.

If you're looking for mainstream media attention, my best advice to you is focus on "'speaking through your actions" and be yourself. When interviews present themselves, instead of trying to "sell" your work, let your passion do the talking. Experience has taught me there is no substitute for authenticity and action.
With strategic planning, managing growth, a burnout, and a mega research grant application, September has been an incredibly busy month to say the least. I've been working on high-focus activities and do not have the capacity to bring on new things to my plate.

I was recently introduced to the notion mental switching costs. According to the American Psychological Association: understanding the hidden costs of multitasking may help people to choose strategies that boost their efficiency - above all, by avoiding multitasking, especially with complex tasks. The research goes on to further state: even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.

When time is a premium, it is important to make the time you do have as productive as possible. Moving forward, I will only have more to juggle and manage. I already spend about 10-12 hours/day at the office. Extending my day is not the solution, especially when my goal is to shorten my work day.

Being the Chief Catalyst of SoJo, I'm often approach by people to collaborate on projects, provide advice, revise documents, and meet information. Before I would feel guilty pushing off such requests, as I do want to help everyone in a timely manner, and pay forward all the time I received from equally busy people. I've now learned to take control over my schedule and time with increased confidence. Here is an excerpt of an email sent to someone earlier this month in the thick of a stressful time:

Dear x,
I'm excited to explore more and make this a reality!
I don't have the mental capacity right now to give this the thought it needs and provide feedback. 

Please give me a few weeks and I'll get back to you on this.
Its been beyond crazy and I will come back up to surface soon.
Thanks for your understanding!

Reading it over, I feel like it could have been written more gracefully; however the point comes across clearly. I acknowledged the message, stated my interest, but was honest to say that I will revisit it when I can give it the time it deserves. It has taken me over a year to get comfortable writing an email like this and kindly push something to the side without guilt or feeling the need to address it right away. At a time when I'm engaged in complex tasks, its even more important that I stay focused on them; as that will free up even more time for the other things I hope to engage in.

Source: Multitasking: Switching costs

Exactly two years ago today, September 20, 2010, I wrote's first blog post. At the time, SoJo did not even exist. I was still dabbling with the idea of converting my Master's thesis into an e-book and had no idea what form would manifest itself into. Two years later, remains a blog; however it has taken on a voice of its own and inspired the creation of many exciting products geared towards helping people take their ideas for social change into action. I would compare the first 365 days of as dipping your toes in the shallow-end of the swimming pool. Only eight months after the inaugural blog post did I decide to pursue SoJo full time. The building blocks came in place in the first year: SoJo got its name, defined its brand identify, got more clarity on its purpose, released a private beta and most importantly I realized that SoJo has a long journey ahead. What initially started as a part-time venture spiralled into a vision larger than I can grasp.

In hindsight, the past 366 days of SoJo is comparable to jumping into the deep end of the pool. Where focus was a great challenge in SoJo's first year, this past year was marked by execution. I learned how to set a direction, quickly realign our focus, set goals and accomplish the tasks at hand. Despite this new focus, I was still very open to seizing new opportunities; but also struggled with prioritization.

Without a technical team in place, I had the tenacity to endeavour to launch SoJo's first public site at the SociaLIGHT conference, in front of 1000 people. Given the resources we had at the time, it was a huge risk. Leading up to the launch, it was 3 weeks of hustle, staying calm in very stressful situations and a great deal of nerves. Alas the hard work paid off, and not only did SoJo have a successful launch -- we effectively send out a message to our community: To opt for courage over fear. The first step to action is putting yourself out there, and SoJo led by example. Later on in the year, SoJo published its Manifesto, a set of guiding principles and core values which would ultimately influence every decision made.

SoJo finally got a home! Although it took a couple of months to feel fully welcome in Ryerson's Digital Media Zone, I am now proud to tell everyone about our home and extremely grateful for being incubated in this incredible environment. The support received from this community over the last few months has been phenomenal.

Through various speaking engagements, I started becoming excited about the possibilities of SoJo emerging as a thought leader in social innovation, effectively using technology as a vehicle for social change, and more generally on taking ideas into action.

With the press coverage and increased credibility came more attention. As the founder of SoJo, I was now being approached by many folks for advice and help. Although humbling to know that people respect your opinions, I learned and continue to learn how to push back and place and increased value on my time.

I recognized the need to work smarter, not harder. In efforts to get myself better organized and not get bogged down by my inbox, I challenged myself to email-free Saturdays -- and have since disabled all notifications on my phone. More than ever do I acknowledge the importance of not being connected to my work 24/7.

I felt like a small fish in a big pond when taking SoJo's first international trip to the UK. That trip inspired a strategic move a few months later to launch SoJo out of Beta. Moving forward, SoJo needs to move out of the sandbox and into the real world. Yes people are more critical and have endless expectations, but taking SoJo out of Beta has given myself and the team confidence to share SoJo and highlight all of its strengths; namely our endorsement from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, reaching over 15,000 individuals during its beta test phase and creating the most comprehensive collection of informational resources and tools geared to helping early-stage social innovators take their ideas into action.

Yes, we have a site to be proud of, but this latest product launch's greatest accomplishment was without a doubt the success of bringing together SoJo's team. We held our first team meeting only 3 weeks before the launch. 366 days ago I clearly stated that SoJo's greatest challenge ahead is its people; on boarding and managing the right people to the team. Human resources will remain an ongoing challenge, however it is no longer our greatest challenge.

SoJo has been incredibly lucky with its people this year. Our co-designer experiment was extremely successful. Technical talent joined at the right time. Linus came in time to see our public Beta to a successful launch, Jesse joined in time to see SoJo's post-beta launch, and Rebecca joined as our first female developer. Despite being lucky with technical talent, my 8-month long search for a CTO came up dry. After countless hours into the process and utter exhaustion, I have shifted my energy away from this full-time search. We have since opted to crowd-source SoJo's CTO. An idea that is experimental; as brilliant as it is risky. Necessity forces you to be creative, and I'm hopeful this will be a great interim solution. We recruited more senior talent to help in communications, outreach and partnerships.

SoJo broadened out its mandate. We moved from serving youth to serving first-timers, and from projects to social innovations. SoJo also created its own legal structure: the hybrid social venture. Two moves which will serve as an integral foundation moving forward. Disappointments were inevitable, and with time became better at dealing with disappointments.   

A breakthrough moment emerged when I came up with a viable idea for a business model. After nearly 2 years of people asking me: "how will SoJo make money" what a relief to finally have some answers. May I remind you that our focus up until now has been proving the value of SoJo, and not monetizing it. As such, SoJo is a living breathing example of what can be accomplished with very little money.

A theme that emerged throughout the year is the importance of listening to your body and taking care of yourself, and the value of taking a break.  The past 12 months have been a record for the amount of times I got sick. In the new year, I vowed to be living proof that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into the ground. Although I no longer romanticize struggle, considering I suffered from a near burnout only a couple of weeks ago, it is clear that I still have a long way to go...

Moving forward our greatest challenge will be managing growth. Graduating from an entirely bootstrapped early-stage startup to a growing startup that needs to accelerate its pace of development and acquire newer resources to get started. Although I'm intimidated by what lies ahead -- when looking back at the past year, past behaviour has shown that miracles are possible and that SoJo has consistently been able to overcome adversity. Bring it on!

Today I decided that SoJo will submit a research proposal to Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, due October 1. I've been told it takes about 2 months to submit a comparable type of proposal. Having never written a research grant before, let alone collaborate with academics I am seriously starting to question my sanity. Regardless, this is a fabulous opportunity and one that I am eager to take full advantage of. Although I've know about this fund for a few months, I only realized last week that SoJo is eligible and should consider applying. Late last week I approached the research office, expressing my interest in this application and requesting their help finding me an academic researcher. I received a very stern warning saying that I was endeavouring to something incredibly ambitious given then timelines and that a lot of work lay ahead of me. Being a qualified applicant, the research office had no choice but to help out. With a little persistence on my end, they sent out an email to a generic listserv of faculty members, and within 12 hours I received 7 responses. That early validation and interest in SoJo was integral to getting this process started. Because in those same 12 hours I received an incredible amount of cynicism and doubts from those around me.

This grant is a collaboration between an industry partner (SoJo), College partner and University partner. I was confident that a researcher from Ryerson University would come on board based on initial interest. SoJo has had a longstanding relationship with the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and I eagerly approached the Dean of the Design Faculty to get onboard. To my negligence, OCAD is actually a University, so that early excitement led to even greater disappointment and embarrassment. I was now without a College partner (when I told the University partners that I had one. This is my first lesson is real-time negotiation). And so I did what every entrepreneur does: hustled with relentless energy and optimism. People raised their eyebrows as soon as I mentioned the October 1st deadline. I simply responded with confidence and shared the vision, and that was enough convert many skeptics. I called upon everyone I knew, asking for a huge favour to facilitate introductions with demanding turnarond times. I approached strangers and asked them to vouch for me. Lucky for me, SoJo has great credibility and has an awesome project -- but it was a stretch to say the least.

Need I note that the first two weeks of school is the busiest time for anyone at an academic institution, let alone deans and professors. Here I am making demands and asking senior and very busy people to clear their schedules.

After a couple of conversations with the key collaborators, this morning I got the green light from the both the College and University collaborators. I just came out of our first meeting with a list of things to produce for the next 48 hours (I'll be away from my computer for 36 of those hours, let alone my existing busy schedule). I'm ecstatic that SoJo is going ahead with this, and will let this positive glow overpower any doubts or reality checks that arise over the next 10 days.

In the words of of the lead researcher: "It will be a miracle if we get this application in on time. It'll be an even bigger miracle if we are successful." This is coming from someone with a 100% success-rate with such types of applications with NSERC and who administers millions dollars worth of research annually.

Start-ups are run on miracles, and history leads me to believe that miracles do happen. So there is no reason to stop believing / hoping... Its going to be a long week and a half ahead of me and this team. Wish us luck!

Earlier today I had my first meeting with one of SoJo's crowd-sourced CTOs to learn about Project Management. As evidenced by the fallout from our server decision, up until now every decision has been made in an ad-hoc, do-what-it-takes-to-get-it-done fashion. This lack of organization and planning led us through a successful private beta, public beta, and post-beta launch. We were nimble, weren't bogged down with management and accommodated where we saw fit. Now that the scope and complexity of SoJo has grown, so has its need to get better organized and do things smarter.

To fill this deficiency, we invited an experienced project manager to join the team in an advisory capacity, lending off her 30+ professional years of experience in project management. This is a risk, as she has never worked with a start-up, and her methodologies may not necessarily apply to the needs of a fast-paced, ever-evolving organization such as SoJo. The biggest risk to seeking external project management support is getting slowed down by un-necessary processes and planning, when SoJo's greatest advantage has been our ability to implement and execute in a speedy manner.

Although a tad bit overwhelming, today's session was incredibly useful, and I learned a lot. I learned how to articulate our functional requirements at a high-level and the methodology used to break them apart into functions and prioritize. SoJo has always been victim to scope-creep, so having an objective process to prioritize features based on need, ability to implement, and risk will help the product team stay focused and on-track.

Making choices has historically been challenging, as I am always seeking an optimal solution with only incomplete information. She introduced me to a more structured way of making decisions, also referred to as triple constraint project management. As per the diagram, one side is the dependent variable (in the case of our public Beta launch, we were constrained by time to launch at the SociaLIGHT conference). Once you are clear of your dependent variable, you are then able to adjust the other constraints accordingly. Seems quite logical, but now whenever I make a decision I will visualize this triangle and remind myself that I cannot have it all. This will definitely help to keep me focused and grounded.   

To avoid the gerbil on the wheel syndrome, I'm hopeful that external project management support will help to keep us moving forward, without burning unnecessary energy.

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.

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.

Screen shots of both computer screens side-by-side via Skype
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!

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!

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.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to hear the CEO of one of Canada's largest companies speak about values, transparency, and self-awareness. Impressed by his outlook on business and responsible leadership, I was motivated to send him a note this morning, to explore interests in working with SoJo. This could be a very big deal - or nothing at all. I was excited and nervous all at once.

With no pre-existing relationship or shared contacts, I very carefully drafted a cold-email. A cold-email is an email where you reach out directly to someone of interest, without an introduction. Introductions are great, as they allow you to lend off the credibility of your mutual contact and can give your email priority among all the nameless messages; however when there is no mutual contact a cold-email is the way to go. Cold-emails can often feel like you're sending a message to the black hole - but if done right, can be incredibly successful.

Over the course of the last year and during my academic research that led to SoJo, I have sent hundreds of cold-emails. SoJo has been relatively successful with cold-emails. More than half of the content on have come as a result of cold-emails. When going on our first cross-Atlantic networking trip, some of my most engaged and meaningful connections came as a result of cold-emails.

I am obviously a big advocate of cold-emails, and as such, SoJo has implemented a policy where we respond to all new incoming emails within a timely manner. However if you are not cold-messaging us, here are some insights that may help you overcome this fear:

Practice, Practice, Practice
Daunting initially, it gets easier with time. The more cold-emails you write, the better you get at articulating your message in a way that resonates with your audience. With no human contact, it can be very difficult to get the attention of your reader and compel them to take the initiative to respond to your message.

Be clear with your intentions
Everyone is busy. Be honest and state your intentions upfront. If you don't have a clear idea of why you're messaging this person, then perhaps wait until you confidently feel like you can lead a meaningful conversation that will offer value to the other party. You'd be surprised of the number of people willing to help, but it's your job to ensure they understand what you need.

Opportunity cost of waiting
You miss 100% of the opportunities you don't take. Ask yourself, what's the most you have to lose? The time you spent writing that email and disappointment that comes when you receive no response? The more you send, the better your probabilities of a positive response. Often we don't send a cold-email, because we're waiting for a warm introduction, or for the right time to sell our vision. Its ok if your product is not perfect or if you don't have all the answers. That's why you're reaching out to others to get involved.

Its OK to be nervous
While it gets easier with practice, if you're sending an email to someone whom you're excited to connect with, the nerves will still kick-in when you're about to click "SEND." That's ok. It serves as a reminder that you're still passionate about the work you do, and have the courage to put yourself out there. This is a good thing!

Write with no expectations
If I had to guess, I think my success rate on cold-emails is about 40%. Although I put an incredible amount of effort into drafting good cold-emails, with time, I've learned to let go of the expectations of a response. In my opinion, it is better to be pleasantly surprised, then sadly disappointed. People are busy. Some people don't acknowledge or read an email if it is not from someone they know. I personally don't think this is smart business, as we must be open to opportunities that present themselves in many forms -- but we must be mindful of the reality that exists.

Twitter is also cited as a highly effective way of building meaningful connections with strangers, and some of the suggestions above can be adapted for other forms of communication.