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SoJo officially joined the online world of social media one year ago this week. The past 365 days have been filled with lessons learned, challenges and proud successes.    

From the beginning, we placed heavy emphasis on understanding and effectively utilizing the available social media tools. With no prior knowledge of social media, efforts began with organically testing the waters to discover what conversations were being had, what kind of content was being shared and where SoJo might fit into the online ecosystem. Over the course of the Spring, we gradually moved up the learning curve by soliciting tips from some social media-savvy friends, experimenting with different messaging, and developed specific engagement routines.

In June, we drafted the first version of an online communications strategy. The evolving document would help us better understand our objectives and methods for developing SoJo’s online community. In mid-summer we changed our Twitter handle, as we were missing out of a significant volume of traffic. The move was important both a user acquisition and branding perspective.

In addition to learning to reigns of Twitter, we launched our first YouTube Video, and even created a custom-branded Facebook Page.

As we launched the private Beta in July, we began to more closely track some hard metrics from our online activity. The simple list included a weekly account of followers, friends, mentions, clicks and the like. In order to effectively measure our online efforts, we set a target to increase our Twitter followers by 5% a week. It was a reasonable challenge that provided a new framework for our community building efforts. Some weeks we succeeded, and many we didn’t; all the more reason to commit to fulfilling this goal in year 2 of our social media efforts.

A switch from using Twitter.com to the social media management platform, Hootsuite, made it more time-efficient and easier to stay on top of the interactions. In particular, the batch scheduling service allowed me set-up a roster of Tweets to reach different audience at different times of the day, enabling me to work smarter

Following SoJo’s public beta launch in November, we rode high on a wave of support from people across the world congratulating us on our soft launch and sharing content on the SoJo site. It was amazing to see the reach of our connections; something that would be near impossible to know without the likes of Twitter & Facebook.

Now, over the coming months, we expect SoJo’s interactions on social media will continue to grow, adapt to new changes in the online environment and continue to further our organizational objectives. We are keen to adopt new methods, explore new frontiers and discover the most effective ways to engage with our users, partners and supporters. Training a listening ear, finding a voice, building SoJo's online identity, and monitoring our efforts are each a unique challenge. It has taken time, but like each step in our journey, we are much further ahead than we were a year ago today.

If you’ve yet to connect with us online, please do so here.

Written by Trevor Gair, SoJo's Community Builder

 
 
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_As a follow-up to a post I wrote last year about romanticizing the struggle, I am encouraging everyone to focus on their personal wellbeing as they build their social ventures. Not only does SoJo want to inspire and empower its community to take their ideas for social good into action, we want you to know that it also possible to keep your sanity in the process.

There is no doubt that 2011 was great for SoJo. When reflecting however, it is clear that I worked myself on overdrive at an unsustainable pace, which came at the expense of my health and overall wellbeing. A week ago today, I set my personal new year's resolution to achieve success with SoJo without driving myself into the ground.

In parallel to delivering on all of SoJo's goals this year, I look forward to focussing on other areas of my life which are equally important: time with friends and family, cooking, and overall personal wellbeing.

Admittedly, I did not do so well in my first week, as I am writing this post on a Sunday night, did work over the weekend and most evenings this week. It is my hope that writing out my resolution and sharing it with you will serve as a reminder, but also another way of holding myself accountable to actually doing this.

Some strategies for achieving success without working around the clock:

Work smarter, not harder: There will never be enough hours in a day. It is therefore important to set reasonable working hours, have the discipline to abide by those parameters. I am hopefully that simple time management tricks such as checking my email fewer times in the day, not scheduling meetings in my most productive working hours of the day, and taking regular breaks will help me to achieve more in less amount of time.

Let go of perfectionism: Chasing perfection in one task comes at the expense of starting a new task. We learned with releasing a less-than-perfect public beta that embracing imperfection is good. I will continue to embrace imperfection.

Set more realistic timelines: Last year I found myself underestimating the time required to complete a task and as a result over-committed myself, forcing me to spend longer hours working. I will therefore make an effort to be more generous with the time allocated to projects and leave more buffer-space to keep my sanity intact.

Be more organized: Working at the last-minute to deadlines forces the body to work on overdrive and much harder than it otherwise would. I hope to plan more and avoid last-minute crunches.

 
 
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_2011 was a great first year for SoJo. The idea of SoJo (Social Journal) came off paper and finally started to materialize; we converted the cynics by launching an incredible public Beta on very limited resources; and to top it all off, we received phenomenal external validation from major media outlets, including a feature in
The Globe and Mail
. 75 blog posts were written last year documenting our story in real time.

Thus far, within 5 weeks of launching, SoJo has a community of 3000+ individuals eager to build social ventures. You're not alone, and SoJo will not rest until we reach our objective of supporting 100,000 youth in their journeys of changing the world. 2012 will be a significant year for SoJo, and we will work hard to get closer to achieving our vision.

As we say goodbye to 2011, I very eagerly welcome Phase 2 of this next leg of our journey.

Over the next week, our team to will be working on SoJo's strategic plan for Phase 2, as well as outline our long-term objectives for the next couple of years. In the first half of 2012, SoJo will be committed to iterating on the current public Beta, with the goal of releasing a more interactive and robust second version of the tool; increasing our reach, by building more strategic partnerships and participating in outreach activities directly with our community; all while focusing on user engagement and satisfaction with SoJo.

My anticipations and aspirations for the upcoming year include: expansion of our team; revenue generation; gathering valuable intelligence that will allow us to build an intuitive tool to better support our users; and of course, a much larger global community of young social entrepreneurs.

Yesterday I made a call to action to our readers, urging that they hold themselves accountable to bringing their ideas to life in 2012. SoJo is still in its infancy and we are publicly holding ourselves accountable to our users by documenting our aspirations, plans, and actions every step of the way, here on this Blog.

Although planning and personal intuition are valuable, there is no way of predicting what the next year has in store. It is our hope that you continue to be inspired by our story and bottom-up approach of making change happen.

Rested and rejuvenated from a relaxing holiday season, I'm ready to handle the uncertainty, setbacks and challenges that are inevitable. Equally so, I'm excited to embark on Phase 2 of this very exciting journey and look forward to more victory dances, more milestones and bigger accomplishments.

If you were with SoJo last year, we sincerely thank you for your support to get us through our first Phase.
If you are just joining us now, welcome aboard! Phase 2 promises to be nothing short of eventful and rewarding. We hope you're ready for the ride!

 
 
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_Traditionally celebrating the new year involves creating lists, making resolutions and delivering promises that we rarely keep or hold ourselves accountable to.

Make this the year you hold yourself accountable to taking your idea to action.

Today is the first day of a new year with endless possibilities. SoJo encourages you to make 2012 the year you challenge yourself in new exciting ways. We are excited for you to take action: to step out of your comfort zone; put yourself out to the world; and to make the change that you've been dreaming about.

The journey that lies ahead of you in the new year will be an exciting one, should you decide to pursue your passion and actively commit to building your social ventures. Let SoJo be your virtual cheerleader and support as you endeavour to bring your ideas to life.

Our hope is that you begin this year with a forward looking attitude excited about possibilities with many hopes and aspirations. Don't be shy to dream big, to believe in yourself and your abilities to deliver on those dreams. Equally important however, is to hold yourself accountable to taking action and delivering on your goals.

SoJo is your starting point; we are committed to creating a strong community of young social entrepreneurs and iterating our online tool to better meet your needs. All we ask is that you keep a positive attitude and hold yourself accountable to taking action.

The world needs you and we are thrilled to be with you, alongside this exciting journey. Together we can achieve great things!

SoJo wishes you a very happy, action-packed, exciting, and meaningful new year!

 
 
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_ Normally I'm quite excited for the holidays as it is an excellent opportunity to catch up on the backlog of work and get a head start on the new year. In addition to watching Christmas specials on TV, up until a few weeks ago, I thought that I would use the next few weeks to get myself organized so I can begin January in a solid place. I'm pleased to announce that this will not be the case this year and as I publish this post, I will turn off my computer and cellphone for an entire week.  

2012 will be as exciting as it will be challenging. The body and mind need to be in tip top shape to be able to proactive deliver on our vision while weathering the inevitable storms.

I returned to Toronto yesterday morning from a productive and energizing trip in New York. Sadly halfway through my trip I felt my body starting telling me that it was done working on overdrive and was ready to slow down. Surely enough, I lost my voice today which resulted in a day of cancelled meetings and feeling awful. I wished I listened to my own advice on making a conscience decision to take care of yourself on a regular, sustained basis - and not temporarily.

Regardless, I am excited to unplug and use the following week to rest, recover and rejuvenate. There will always be work to do and the holidays are a great opportunity to relax (as no one should really expect you to work anyways!)

On behalf of the entire SoJo team, I want to wish you a very happy holiday season. Spend this time with your family and friends, take time for yourself to do activities that bring you joy and happiness, enjoy all the baked goods and delicious food, and most importantly -- be fully present as you unwind and relax. 2012 will be an eventful year as we help you bring your ideas to life, so we expect you to start the new year fully prepared.

 
 
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_ Overwhelming is the one word I use to describe the past two weeks. I am overwhelmed reacting to the backlog of activities and overwhelmed trying to decide in which direction SoJo needs to proactively move forward.

Reactive mode-
November forced the team to be in laser fine focus mode. The key priority was to get the private beta ready in time for our launch, which resulted in me deferring all non-launch related items on hold until after the launch. Now that my head is out of the sand, it is not only overwhelming resuming a normal schedule, but more so, dealing with the backlog of correspondences for almost an entire month. This reactive mode of feeling the pressure to stay on top of my inbox stresses me and builds up negative energy. The feeling is one comparable to having a dumbbell tied to your ankle, which impedes me from moving forward and also makes for an un-enjoyable experience all around.

Proactive mode-
The launch has provided us with an incredible amount of momentum. Since starting SoJo, this has to be the single largest boost in energy. Knowing that we have some fairly ambitious goals ahead of us, there is a huge desire to capitalize on this momentum and run through our action items. There is temptation to implement feedback immediately from our users. We have so much good content that we want to put online everyday, however need to build up the editorial team to deal with the backlog. This momentum can also be used to our advantage when building new partnerships. This influx in positive energy places desires to push forward in so many different directions.

Striking the balance-
Feeling as though I have 100 different balls in the air creates a helpless feeling of not being in control of any one of those balls. Reconciling conflicting priorities is a challenge that I struggle with constantly. The last two weeks feel like a daze. Its feels as though a waterfall of ideas, emotions, pressure, expectations and work are now flowing through constantly.

Last night while talking about our launch, an advisor told me:
"You have to let this momentum ride you. Don't feel pressured to have answers, have a plan or respond to everything immediately. You've worked hard to get to this point, and in in order to progress further you need to listen. Use this time to listen, hear what people are saying and use that feedback to inform your next steps."

So on his advice, I will try to take a step back and listen. I'm still not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that getting overwhelmed is not a good way to proceed forward. We have nothing but possibilities to look forward to and it would be a shame to crowd all this positive momentum with negative energy and stress.

 
 
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_It’s official: SoJo is now live and open to the world! Yesterday we launched our public Beta (http://theSoJo.net), and we are thrilled to make our tool available to support young people in their journeys of realizing social change. SoJo is still very much a work in progress, but with over a year of development behind us, I felt the time was right to move onto the next step.

Launching a new product is always a huge milestone, and we launched ours in a big way: SoJo strategically partnered with SociaLIGHT to make our tool a take-away resource for all of the conference’s participants. Known as Canada's ultimate entrepreneurship and leadership event, SociaLIGHT (Leaders Impacting Global Humanity Today) hosted speakers like Richard Branson, Seth Godin and Robin Sharma, and attracted 1000 young, bright, and ambitious delegates for a day of inspiration.
We’re excited to help those who attended the conference to channel this inspiration into tangible action.

We had the opportunity to interact with many of the conference’s participants, most of whom have an idea or are in the process of building a venture. We demonstrated the site in realtime, allowing our future users to better understand the product and get excited to use it as a resource in their endeavours. The feedback we received was phenomenal.

Up until the day before the launch, I had been so immersed building and fine-tuning the actual product that I was only able to see its shortcomings and limitations. Yesterday was the first time that I was able to take a step back and appreciate the product that our team created for what it is. Flaws and limitations included, we launched an incredible product with great potential. I'm still basking in the feeling of gratification and pride that was felt yesterday. I couldn't have even dreamed of a better way to launch this vision that I've been nurturing and developing for so long.

A product will never be perfect, nor will it ever be entirely ready either. Having the humility to accept that is one thing; having the courage to step outside of our safe community and expose ourselves to the world is something else entirely. It is our hope that the participants at SociaLIGHT and our users take inspiration from our choice to launch SoJo in its half-developed state.

It is time for young social entrepreneurs to come out of their basements. We need to embrace the risk that comes with sharing our ideas and half-baked products with the world, because it is the only way to bring our ideas to life.

We are excited to have our users co-create this site with us. We’ve laid the foundation, but this is only the first step of a much larger project. The momentum we received from yesterday alone is overwhelming and will carry us forward as we embark on the daunting task of realizing our vision.

We invite you to join us as we make the world a better place for those who venture to make the world a better place.

PS: We most definitely had some real victory dances on the dance floor at the afterparty!

 
 
As I type this post it is the early hours of Saturday, November 26; I am excited by knowing that today is our big launch date! Today SoJo will be made public to the world. It would have been safe and easy to keep SoJo in closed Beta until we felt it was perfect, but we've opted instead to share our vision with the world, and in turn invite our users to help us co-create and realize this vision. We soft-launched the site on Thursday, however have been in a mad rush to get it upto par and in a presentable shape. Our team is still diligently working on the backend of the site in preparation for the official launch in only a few hours! Earlier this afternoon we sent a special invitation to all of our Beta testers and early supporters to preview the site. To share such an important milestone with the individuals who believed and supported us in our journey thus far was an incredibly proud and rewarding feeling. I'm excited to know that those feelings will only intensify over the course of the next 24 hours!

SoJo has been a work-in-progress for over a year now, and its been an intense 6 months getting our product to where it is today. Acknowledging all of the effort expended over the past few months, the intensity of this lead-up period has been quite the experience. Email exchanges at 2am have become quite a normal occurrence over the past week. Hairs were pulled trying to fix fundamental technical problems. Frustrations were experienced when work had to be duplicated. Compromises were made. Yet in spite of all that, we made it!

I can comfortably say that the nerves have been replaced by excitement. My apologies for the lack of coherence in this post. I am much too eager to sleep so that I can wake up in a few hours to rock this launch! Future posts will detail the past 48 hours and the immense amount of learning that occurred.

Even if you can't physically join us for launch, we still hope that celebrate with us! We are excited for the start of this new journey. You're invited to join us [again] for an exceptionally exciting ride.
 
 
_ A trusted friend and supporter of SoJo, Drew from Nuance Leadership sent me the following note in response to my blog post on the importance of taking care of yourself (and not only when you're sick):
_ The problem, as we both know, is that passion tends not to “take a number” and wait patiently until we’re ready to deal with it.  Sometimes an idea kicks us into overdrive and there’s no denying it.

A former colleague once told me that “real leadership is being willing to step up and block a bad idea before it hits someone.”  Just before I left, she told me that the reason I wouldn’t succeed in higher-education was because I wasn’t willing to recognize bad ideas and “protect” students from them.

I told her that the fundamental difference between the two of us is that she believed leadership was blocking a bad idea before it hit someone.  I believe leadership is equipping people to tell the difference themselves between a bad idea and a good idea.  It’s not our job to block, it’s our job to teach people to know when to duck on their own.  And to believe that they’re going to do just that.

That story came back to me when I was reading your blog, because your last post reminded me of something: there’s this perception out there that bad ideas are dangerous…

But, as I write this at 4 a.m., exhausted and going on nothing but the adrenaline generated by an idea I believe in, reading about your exhausting adventures in pursuit of your dream, I’m reminded…

So are good ones.

Here’s to dangerously good ideas, and to having the strength and wisdom necessary to make sure we take care of ourselves so we can see them through.

All the best,
Drew


_ Although I will argue in a future blog post that bad ideas are not all dangerous, it is important to recognize the danger found when we immerse ourselves in a world fuelled by passion, and often neglect for one's own well being. Let us not only celebrate dangerously good ideas, but also have the strength and wisdom to take care of ourselves so we can see them through. Thanks for the reminder Drew.
 
 
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Its Official: SoJo will launch its open Beta site to the public on November 26, 2011 in collaboration with the SociaLIGHT Conference!
This is a huge milestone for SoJo and we're thrilled to be telling you - our readers - first!

After a couple of months in closed Beta and nearly 300 beta testers who have provided us with invaluable feedback - we're now ready to take our site to the next level. I can say with confidence that the open Beta (version 2 site) will not reflect the true vision of SoJo, but it is one step closer to our true vision.

Since Day 1, SoJo has been created with our users needs in mind, which is why we are comfortable releasing an early version of the site to a larger audience as we want more people to co-create SoJo with us.

Not only are we releasing a work-in-progress product to the public, we are launching it in a big way! The SociaLIGHT Conference will have over 1000 smart, passionate, ambitious [and even critical] participants, in addition to a stellar line-up of speakers.

This is huge and we are excited to set a precedent: Taking ideas into action should be celebrated!
Don't be shy to share your passion, ideas and vision with the world around you, as its only by putting yourself out there will those ingredients translate into action.

With less than 3 weeks to go and an ambitious workplan ahead of us, we will try our best to make the open Beta as good as it can be. Buckle-up, it's going to be an intense ride!

If you're looking to be inspired and spend a day mingling with bright minds, as a "SoJo-er" you can receive 50% off the registration price at the SociaLIGHT Conference.

Email us for more details.

 
 
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Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: Just because.

On Friday I met with Syreeta Gates, an incredible young lady who only sees possibilities and does not get bogged down by barriers.

At the age of 17 she started The SWT Life to get young people in her community excited about creating projects. Committed to putting her money where her mouth was, she agreed to give participants $15 of her own money to every project that was completed. Among the projects was a book manuscript written by a 16 year old. Her experiences with The SWT Life inspired her to compile a book on youth social entrepreneurship to inspire youth to to take action. Just BE Cause is all about youth taking action: no excuses, no barriers -- only passion and dedication. In the middle of a the debt crisis in the United States, here Syreeta jokes about using her student loan to fund this book, just because that was the best way of getting this book started.

Syreeta and SoJo found each other on Twitter back in April. Shortly after making the connection, I was invited to write a chapter for the book on the topic of balance. Knowing that there were complementary synergies between the book that inspires youth to take action and SoJo that provides the tools to guide youth in their journeys of action -- I was excited to meet her. Surely enough, we discussed synergies and many ways in which our two initiatives can jointly work together (among them a shared launch in 2012 in NY!)

In addition to the excitement that has come from finding an ally and collaborator, I left that meeting utterly inspired. Syreeta is on mission to inspire her peers (most of whom come from less-privileged backgrounds) to take action just because they should. I get frustrated when I try to build partnerships with organizations that are "safe," who need to see proof before they are ready to start a conversation, or who don't take me seriously because SoJo isn't funded and thus assume we're unable of delivering on our mandate.

Syreeta is a living example of someone out there taking action.

More inspired youth + action = a better world

 
 
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September 20, 2010 is when I wrote SocialJournal's first blog post.
Today is September 20, 2011 and I'm thrilled to be writing our 53rd blog post and proud to say that SoJo is going strong! This blog was setup immediately upon purchasing the domain to document this project's story as it unfolded in real-time. SoJo's first 100 hours started with great momentum, however unfortunately it died and our story only started to come to life 6 months later --

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What a year it has been!
The idea of SocialJournal was conceived a year ago, but it is really in the last 5 months did SoJo become more than an idea. The idea of this Platform was born out of my personal experiences and academic research on the topic of youth social entrepreneurship. It's fair to say that a year ago I never imagined doing this full-time nor could I fathom the ambitious vision we are now in the process of realising. That being said, there is nothing I'd rather be doing and (thankfully) not once in the past year have I doubted the potential that lies in SoJo's vision.

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The Platform is not public, yet we started to build a brand with press coverage, search hits, social media traffic, loads of positive feedback and positive energy. We struggled to find an appropriate name.This first year was design and brainstorm intensive. From creating our logo and promotional video, to designing the architecture of the Platform and countless whiteboard sessions. My facilitation skills were put to the test, trying to bring competing interests together to one harmonious vision. That too, navigating through geographic communication barriers. Partnerships with major institutions were formed. I pitched SoJo at Yale and shared the idea at many conferences. Our founding team grew overnight and it is now much smaller and more start-up friendly. The business plan and business model are starting to come together as is the framework that is supporting SoJo.

Perhaps the most tangible accomplishment was launching our first prototype which forced all of us to hustle. The close Beta is being tested by 200 interested users. Although I continue to receive criticism for soft launching SoJo either too early or too late, I stand by our decisions and progress made thus far. Sure, the site could have been implemented differently, but if there is anything I learned in the last year - it would be that there is no perfect way of achieving your vision and to not expect a perfect straight path of getting there.

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I initially thought technology was going to be this project's major challenge, it is now clear that people always have been, and will continue to be SoJo's greatest challenge.

I struggled with remaining focused (multiple times), switching back and forth between building the product and building the infrastructure to support the product. At times I felt like a gerbil on a wheel, where I was burning a lot of energy, but not necessarily moving forward... I accept that this was part of the learning process.

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The emotional rollercoaster that I faced as the founder and leader of this project is one all of SoJo's user's can identify with.
Doubt (in my abilities), fear, confusion, frustration, and disappointment all went hand-in-hand with pride, joy, excitement, happiness and optimism.
Managing expectations will remain my personal ongoing challenge.

On a similar note, I don't think that I have been good enough about celebrating the small wins with our team and myself. That will change moving forward, because we have a lot to be proud of and must have our victory dances more regularly.

In the next 12 months you should expect to see a lot, namely an interactive and engaging website that supports you in your journey of creating your social venture. Can't give you more details, as the past year has taught me that our plans will change and we must be adept enough to adapt.

A big thank you to all of our supporters and readers! This is my first blog and it has been wildly successful.
Today marks the first anniversary of SoJo's blog, and it is our readers than motivate me to write. I surely hope you stick around for the ride. I am committed to blogging twice as much as last year, so keep reading about our story and don't be shy to drop us a line with your questions or comments. I hope that SoJo continues to inspire, motivate and support you in your personal journey of making social change happen.

 
 
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For the longest time I thought business plans were quite un-necessary. In the entrepreneurial world, there are countless articles that talk about the uselessness of business plans and that "real" entrepreneurs don't really need one. My first "plan" was created on 11 slides...

Next week there is a grant application due. I believe SoJo has a pretty good shot at being considered for this grant, as we meet all of the criteria, and we have to start looking for external funding to take the venture to the next level.

I've known about this application for a few weeks now, but never thought the business plan would take so long, so I never bothered to look into it until now. Earlier today I proceeded to download the template provided on the grant-maker's website. The template is 47 pages. Although all sections don't apply to us, actual plans normally exceed their templates, as text  can exceed the allotted space. Not feeling like working through a 47 page template, I emailed an advisor to get a second opinion. He thought a 50 page business plan is absurd, but assured me that it will take about a week to complete this business plan.

This email was my much-needed kick in the behind. For the past 3 hours, I was successful in hammering out the Problem, Solution, Product Execution, Marketing and Business Model sections.  It's a start, but sadly still a long way to go.  While in the flow of writing it felt like I was driving at 200km/hour speeding through the words. But when I took a step back, I actually felt like I was strolling at the speed of a turtle!

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Attitude and Approach
I don't think that a Business Plan can be created like an essay when you're in school with the arrogance of thinking it can be written in one night. Instead of feeling accomplished with the 2000 words of well written business plan content, I'm daunted and overwhelmed by the all of the blank sections that lie ahead and the unanswered question marks.

I'm not worried. If I'm committed to SoJo, then I'm committed to writing this business plan. Although its real-life application, beyond the grant application, is still questionable in my mind - it IS a great exercise to write out all the thoughts that have been in my head and will impose discipline as well.

The reason why I dislike business plans is because they are highly static and I honestly believe efforts should be focused on DOING rather than planning and saying what you will do. That being said, using this as an exercise to articulate different components of our venture, while not being limited exclusively to what is written will undoubtedly serve me well.

Wish me luck!

 
 
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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. 

 
 
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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.

 
 
SoJo's v1.0 Beta site is finally up and I am immersed with a great feeling of pride and accomplishment! This is SoJo's first big milestone and one worth celebrating.

The following quote has been our guiding principle:
"One piece advice I would give to people just starting up that I wish knew is that success is less about the idea and more execution. Don’t wait until you have the great idea or have refined all the plans, just get something up and start iterating." - Ben Hatten

Knowing nothing about web design or development, it has been a challenging process to facilitate discussions and lead a team to reach milestone. Hours of brainstorming sessions on key requirements, mock-ups on whiteboards, creating specific feedback through Powerpoint illustrations, to a final implementation on a live site - and this is just the beginning! (Having team members in different cities forced us to be creative in our communication efforts).
Beta
In technology they say everything will take twice as long and cost twice as much money. Since we had no financial resources and this site was brought together by part-time volunteers with multiple commitments outside of SoJo, it is fair to say it has taken us much longer than anticipated to get here. That being said, we still respected our deadline of releasing the closed Beta in July. Goals were respected on the content side as well, as we have over 100 articles online and there is tons of content in the pipeline waiting to go up.  Although this site is far from perfect and is missing many elements, it is still a great starting point. As SoJo says: its less important where you start, or how you start, what's more important is that you start your journey.

 A victory-dance is in order for Team SoJo. We pushed hard to make it this far and are excited about the possibilities moving forward. We hope you stick around for the ride!

Invites will be rolled out to closed Beta testers in stages over the next week. We will be Beta testing the site throughout the Summer, so if you have not yet signed up, you can do so here and preview a work-of-art in the making. Big thanks to those who supported us and shared feedback to achieve this milestone.
 
 
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SoJo has taught me to respect tiny details, as they do matter. Much of the formal literature and anecdotal advice on entrepreneurship states that leaders/entrepreneurs should focus their time on the big picture and the organization's vision rather than get stuck in the trenches of implementing the smaller details. Although true once a project has been established, I would have to disagree when it comes to start-up mode. In start-up mode, there is little distinction between high-level and low-level work. In my books if a task is essentially to launching our Beta site, then it goes on the "must-do" list.

Manually going through code to change hyperlinks that were incorrectly cited is just as important as creating the high-level vision of the site to satisfy multiple user requirements. Although there is a team, if the best way to reach an end goal is by doing the work yourself - then that is the course of action you must follow. As the founder and the individual who is ultimately responsible for the proper implementation of this venture, I must be willing and prepared to do everything.  This includes teaching myself the basics of the coding language in order to make changes on the site, even though my strengths and comparative advantage (economics lingo for the activity that is the most efficient and effective use of my time) lie elsewhere.

Interestingly enough, for someone who had a serious fear of technology and up until recently only used the computer primarily for word processing and the Internet for email, this learning curve has not been as painful as one would anticipate. Don't get me wrong, I sincerely dislike reading and modifying code, however I am thrilled to see SoJo's vision begin to materialize and see the online platform start to come together - that has driven me wake up extra early in the morning to get in more computer-time.

I cannot understate the importance of passion, as that has fuelled my commitment to SoJo and my willingness to do whatever it takes to bring it to life.  

If you are in start-up mode and are in the trenches, rest assured that we all must do stuff we don't like or feel is not the best use of our time. At the end of the day, if something needs to get done, responsibility lies on us to find a solution to achieve that goal.

 
 
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Many founders and visionaries of projects struggle with their decision to commit to their projects full-time...

It is a risky and even scary decision to make. Although entrepreneurship has been glamorized by highly successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, for many individuals when you sign up to be an entrepreneur, you decide to give up stability, structure, a stable income and are committed to embark on a journey which is filled with uncertainty and often struggle.

Based on where I am in my life and where SoJo needs to go, it makes perfect sense for me to do SoJo as a full-time occupation. There is much that needs to be done and I am very much convicted in SoJo's potential -- the decision is quite obvious.

For me, this is the first time where I am solely committed to one thing. Although I have over a decade worth of experience building and growing social ventures, they were all done part-time in parallel to other commitments. By committing to SoJo full-time the stakes have just gone up. Not only do I have to ensure this idea makes it to market, I am solely responsible for building my livelihood through it.  

Although working a full-time job and continuing to do SoJo as a part-time activity is tempting, I know that I won't be satisfied. The past 6 months have proved to me that only so much can be done part-time. I was not able to move the project forward as quickly as I would have liked, and a fully dedicated leader is needed to build SoJo.

Many people decide to quit their jobs and become full-time entrepreneurs once start-up funding has been secured or their prototype has been created and validated. All I have is conviction in my idea (which has been backed by reseach) and SoJo's vision and a relentless drive to make it a reality. SoJo doesn't even have a business model. To be fair, I don't currently have a job and did not have to make a tough decision to leave stability and a paycheque.

I am fortunate to financially be in a position where I can afford to live (very modestly) without a salary until the end of the year. This freedom will allow me to focus my energy on building the organization, the site and our community base. It is possible that all SoJo needs is a few months of my time to build the platform and it can sustain itself as a part-time venture into the Fall. It is possible that bringing this site to market will take longer than expected and that I will need to commit a longer period of time to making this happen.

All of this uncertainty is exciting and daunting at the same time. Lucky for me, I believe in SoJo and although the risks exists - they are not strong enough to keep me from taking them.

Am I doubtful - absolutely.
Will this deter me from trying - most definitely not.

 
 
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Yesterday I guest-lectured at my Alma Mater on the topic of social entrepreneurship. One student asked the question: “If I don’t have an idea [to create something thing new], how can engage in social entrepreneurship?” Since when were ideas limited to building something new? That question sparked some thoughts on why SoJo exists. We want to encourage and inspire individuals who are passionate about making social change happen to believe that they can do so, through many different channels.

SoJo’s “primary” vision is to be the site that everyone thinks to consult during their process of ideas into action. We want to be universally recognized and respected as a credible and comprehensive resource that provides assistance to youth who need help in their journey of idea into action.

More revolutionary however, is our “world shaking-system disrupting” vision; which is to redefine the culture of “social entrepreneurship” and what it means to be a “social entrepreneur.” We want to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in individuals, and make everyone believe that they can embrace the principles of social entrepreneurship in their daily activities and be a part of some signification changes within their current environments. Although creating a brand new social venture is only one form of “idea-into-action,” we want people to feel empowered that they can make changes within existing systems, on campus or in their workplaces.

You are invited to join us on our journey and be a part of history in the making. Share your ideas of how we can accomplish our vision, email us with topics you’re interested in reading about, or recommend our blog to a friend. One of our goals is to engage as many people as possible with our world shaking vision and in the process inspire bright minds to dream up [and implement] world-shaking visions of their own!

 
 
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Some days there seem to be such an overwhelming variety of action items that the most attractive strategy is to get another coffee. At times, it truly is paralyzing. The dilemma is, how do you begin to start prioritizing, nevermind completing, all the things that need to be done?

While we are finalizing logos with the design team, we are constructing a social media strategy. While Kanika is networking offline, I am researching the best practices for SEO. Finally, while we are discussing our plan to expand our team, we are completing paperwork for legal incorporation. We are parallel processing to the max, and keeping our fingers crossed that we don’t self-implode (Google Chrome users think - “Aw, snap”).

This is the beautiful challenge of starting something from nothing. You have to consider, analyze and DO everything.

Entrepreneurs don’t ponder over their “To-Do list”, they execute and implement. Although reflection is going into our actions themselves, we cannot afford to spend precious time and (more importantly) mental capacity thinking about ALL the stuff that needs to get done...

So, back to the question. Where do you start?

Well, through experience, we are confident that the answer lies hidden in the question. The critical word is ‘start’. Depending on your background this might make more sense as ‘begin’, ‘empezar’, ‘commencer’, ‘anfangen’ or something else, but the common element is that you must set yourself in motion and move.

Indeed, this act-before-you-overanalyze mentality has so far proven critical in achieving the strides we have made with SoJo. This really is discovery through action.

So, before you table your idea because you’re not sure where to start, set yourself in motion on the next action item that comes to mind. After all, if there is one thing that is certain in the new venture process, it’s that your idea isn’t going to launch itself – so you better boggie and start moving!

 
 
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Meetings…you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them…

Yesterday I spent a good chunk of my day in [internal] meetings, which got me thinking: how valuable are meetings? There are endless Dilbert cartoons that poke at the futility of meetings – yet meetings are a reality of any work environment.
You need to have meetings to get stuff done, but you are physically unable to do stuff while in a meeting. It feels like a vicious cycle…

External-facing meetings are imperative to build relationships and move ideas forward, but are internal meetings just as important – especially when you’re in execution mode? Although agendas are set and substantial information is discussed in our internal meetings, I am always surprised to see the time that has elapsed at the end of each one. And when a scheduled meeting gets pushed back, it seems like an eternity has passed…

Who invented meetings anyways? Could we make do without them? Imagine all the extra time gained have if you didn’t have meetings…albeit, in certain instances it can be much more efficient to have a 2 minute chat with someone, instead of a series of emails back and forth with delayed responses, but in general – are meetings really an effective use of our time? As an extrovert who derives energy from other people, the thought of plugging away behind a computer screen all day without any human interaction is depressing. Not to mention the dangers which come with working in isolation. Perhaps there is intangible value that comes out of meetings that I am neglecting to factor in. What’s the balance?

Do you get frustrated when you reflect on your day and feel as though it was spent in meetings: talking about needs and how to get stuff done, when you wish that you just got that stuff done?

FYI- SoJo will continue to have Internal meetings, because they ARE very valuable, I’m just questioning the concept to see if there is a better way…You thoughts are welcome!

 
 
Today I was remembering a second year Management Information Systems course I “took” a few years back in undergrad. Unfortunately, I coasted through the entire course and did not learn a single thing…
…fastforward to today, where I am presented with the dilemma of logically organizing hundreds of articles in a methodical way for easy retrieval and better coordination among multiple contributors. I definitely feel haunted by my past; wishing I actually absorbed the basics of databases and learned how to organize an intense amount of information in a somewhat logical fashion. No point in dwelling over what I ‘could have’ learned, and time to move forward. Trial-by-fire is my mantra, so after multiple shots of what this numerical coding system could look like, into the wee hours of the morning I finally created a system!

My reason for sharing this story with you – you should know that it is OK if you do not have all the answers or feel completely under-qualified to tackle the tasks at hand. The beauty of this journey is celebrating those tiny accomplishments along the way (even when you step back and think about how trivial they may seem). I am proud that I was able to devise a somewhat coherent ad-hoc system to capture all of the articles, and I am pretty sure it will change before we go live… but at least I found a solution to the best of my abilities, rather than get stuck and wait for a perfect solution to come my way.

Do you agree?
 
 
It’s been a little over 100 days since my last post...and in case you were wondering, yes Social Journal is still very active. Over the past few months a lot of thinking (and time) has been invested into figuring out what this will all look like.

Our objective is clear: To provide the user (you) with quality information [on how to turn your ideas for social change into working projects] in a simple and engaging way. In order to achieve this objective, we strive to bring together all of the fragmented sites and resources and be THE central repository and conduit of information on initiating a social venture.

The most notable updates from the backend include:
  • Expanding our core team: the young individuals who are responsible for bringing this entire project together. Social Journal has a big vision with very ambitious goals, so we need an incredible team to make this happen.
  • We are working with a phenomenal Design Team (Graphic Design students from the Ontario College of Art and Design University), experimenting with ways the users (you) will be able to interact and engage with the contents on this site. We are incorporating cutting-edge Design Thinking principles with psychology and traditional web-design. Spoiler: This site will be revolutionary, way different than anything you have seen before. Stay tuned!
  • The Contents Team has been working diligently to create an outline of the contents and we’ve started writing up the initial contents that will be posted on the Beta site shortly.
  • An Advisory team is coming together to provide Social Journal with the support, guidance and push to ensure for a successful launch. 
There are more exciting developments in the pipeline, I hope you're ready!
Kanika
 
 
We should never under estimate what can be achieved in 100 hours* and the power of momentum.
Within 24 hours Social Journal got a name, defined its vision, launched its first website and accompanying social media outlets. Since those first 24 hours a lot of pieces on the back-end have been coming together as well. Some other elements include recruiting team members, laying the ground work for some exciting partnerships, generating content, and creating an initial version of the organization’s objectives and plan of action. In less than 100 hours, an organization was born.

Many aspiring young social entrepreneurs get caught up in the syndrome “paralysis by analysis” – in other words they spend too much time thinking and don’t actually get the ball rolling. I’m quite certain that our website will go through multiple versions, the contents in this blog and site will change, different people will come and go through the organization...however I am also mindful that nothing is perfect in its first shot, and that the only way to improve and re-engineer is to have a base to work from.

Don’t get me wrong, research and planning (which will have an entire section on this site) are extremely important – however there is value in taking action and learning as you go. I am taking advantage of the momentum that currently exists to kick-start this initiative. Ideas have been looming the back of my head for months, and within a few days I am starting to materialize those ideas and finally move this project forward. This is exciting!

As you look to Social Journal to be inspired and to gather information and resources to kick-start your ideas for social change, I will document the evolution of Social Journal in real-time – and perhaps you can draw a lesson or two from this socially entrepreneurial venture as it unfolds with you.

I can only anticipate what my post 95 days from today will look like: where I hope to summarize all the great accomplishments Social Journal achieves in its first 100 days!
Until then, please join us and help fill in the pages.

Kanika
on behalf of SocialJournal.net

*100 hours in real-time.
Actual labour invested to lay the foundation of Social Journal was approximately 10-15 hours.