Written by Zainab Habib
I've probably mentioned before that I'm not very good at asking for help. I tend to have a I'll-do-it attitude towards things which is great... but two heads are always better than one. I will admit to being stubborn generally as a person in this regard but it's definitely something I'm working on, especially since I know I can't do it all. However, what I'm still learning is how to ask for help then. I often know what needs to get done but how do I know how others can help, especially when I'm not always sure as to what they can do?
I say this because I just went to a check-in meeting on AJ's behalf with the DMZ. The check-in also serves as a chance for them to find out how they can help us, since they're very much invested in our success. I had already talked to AJ about what updates to give them, since we've made some wonderful progress recently, and so I gave those updates happily.
Yet I was stumped when they asked me what they could do for us. I answered it with, "at this point, our main challenge is really an opportunity that we're just waiting to hear back on". But I know there must be something that they could do... right?
Though AJ will confirm that one later for me when I talk to her on Monday about how it went, here's one thing I will definitely start doing with all my projects and meetings:
Write out what I want help with -- even if I'm not completely sure if the other person can do it.
See, I did this for our content strategy too and though it took me a few extra minutes more than I anticipated, I had it clearly and precisely in writing - which is exactly what I needed to know and clarify for myself, before I could get anyone else involved.
And if they can't help me, at least I'm a lot clearer on what I need - which is the first step in admitting I can't do it all.
Written by Zainab
Business cards are great to hand out and receive - but only if they are a) informative and b) acted upon.
I've gone to a few events where I've given out my card and where I have received cards. It's common for many people to give a card during or after their introduction, since it often helps people visually see a name and it's an easy way to hand out contact information. Mind you, these are general business cards, which we mostly use by adding our own email addresses in that space you see there. Most cards are naturally informative because of the way they're usually structured.
Therefore, it's the follow-up that is left. When I give out a business card, I am usually hoping the recipient will follow up with a visit to our website or blog, check us out on twitter or Facebook, or ideally write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(my email address). If I get a business card, I will do my best to follow up, hoping that they'll respond too.
However, I can understand it's sometimes a bit difficult to follow up. After all, what should
one write? After many attempts at this process, my latest go at this has been about building more personal relationships. I've sent the people I met at the OCE Discovery conference an email personally saying it was great to meet them, a link to our website, and a note offering how SoJo or I could help. I avoid including a description about SoJo because it makes the email even longer and they can explore the site on their own since I've most likely told them about it in person.
What has this yielded so far? Approximately 4 out of 9 people responded back to my email, which I truly appreciate. Not everyone will respond back though and understandably, it may feel discouraging. However, that's the worst that can happen: you won't get a response. At best, that email could be the catalyst for a great business relationship or partnership - which is exactly what I'm going to aim to foster with those who wrote back.
For the beginning of this week, I was at the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery Conference, “Canada's leading innovation-to-commercialization conference, showcasing leading-edge technologies, best practices and research in Ontario”. I’ll be writing a series of posts on things to keep in mind when going to a conference or event as an exhibitor. This is the first post.Written by Zainab
Like many big events, the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery Conference had a camera crew milling through the day, taking pictures and speaking to people on camera about the conference. This material is often used for promotional purposes for both the organization and for future events like this one.
At one point during the afternoon, the SoJo kiosk was approached to speak to the camera crew about what our thoughts on the conference. I looked at Marc and asked him if he’d like to take it, and he suggested I go ahead.
Now I’ll admit, I’m a bit camera shy... so I was actually trying to avoid it by suggesting someone else do it. Yet I knew this was also the perfect way to push myself just a little outside my comfort zone so I swallowed my dread about it and agreed to do it.
This crew consisted of a cameraman and an interviewer. The interviewer would ask questions and as she directed, I would answer her questions while looking at her. At the end, I had to give a tagline to end the conversation; in this case, I had to say. “I [insert action]
Though it can be nerve-wracking, here are some tips to help if you too are a camera-phobe:
- Keep your answers short. They don't expect you to fill time; rather, they usually are looking for snippets from different people to put together.
- Be honest if you need time to think about an answer. They'll understand that you may have not thought of those questions beforehand.
- Look at where they are asking you to, and mentally block out other people except for that person. It helps to stay in the moment and see it as a conversation just between you and the interviewer/reporter.
- Need that tagline on the fly? Use your company’s or simply state what you aim for with your work. I used something similar to the following for mine: “I help people put their ideas into action in Ontario”.
- Do not worry about looking picture perfect. You have to remember that they wouldn’t have asked if they didn’t think you’d look and be great on camera.
- Be patient with the process, and remember that they’ll be patient with you too. It took me about three or four takes to get my tagline right for the camera, but I did it!
And saying I did it was the best part of it all. :)
AJ and Kanika at the start of the event
Written by AJ Tibando
Last night Kanika and I went to the International Start-Up Festival, held at the CN Tower. It was one of my first ‘tech’ events, as most of the networking events we go to fit more on the ‘social innovation’ side of SoJo. It was a great event. While we were just there for the networking, many of the start-ups were taking part in the Elevator Pitch contest - where they had to make their pitch to investors literally inside the CN Tower elevator and they only had the length of the trip from the bottom to the top to win over the crowd. What a great idea!
It was interesting to see the difference in the crowd and the type of ideas and projects they were starting, and to compare the worlds.
Usually when I’m talking to people in the social innovation world, I find myself listening to their ideas and thinking in the back of my head, ‘Ok, but HOW?’ People have incredible ideas for changing the world and making an impact, but sometimes I’m skeptical about how they’re going to actually execute their idea. This time I found myself asking the exact opposite. People would describe an app they were developing and to make it easier to decide where to go for dinner or make online shopping more intuitive – interesting ideas but I could hear that voice in the back of my head saying, ‘Ok, by WHY?’ Some were trying to make a difference, but most were just trying to make a profit.
I realized that one of SoJo’s greatest strengths as an organization is that we’ve focussed every step of the way on making sure we could answer both of those questions. For us, WHY we do things determines HOW we do things – and our strategic business decisions have always followed that thinking. Last night was a great reminder that what we’re doing really is new and unique, and it reinforced to me how important it is that we get this model right because it could hopefully change how people think about launching a new start-up in the future.
Sharing SoJo's Story
Yesterday, SoJo's case study was revealed to a group of sustainability students at the Ivey School of Business at Western University. Ivey Cases are the second most distributed business cases globally. (extra bonus: SoJo will receive the royalties from all of the cases sold)
. AJ and I were invited to participate in the reveal of the case. From the moment we boarded the train at Union Station in Toronto to the moment we arrived back, almost 16 hours later - it was a non-stop day of stimulation, thinking, speaking and meetings.
My experience with this Case Study journey began with an Interview
4 months ago. The initial interview with the researchers writing the case was an intense experience, resulting in deep introspection. The insights that emerged from that interview still resonate strongly with me. Yesterday, I experienced a completely different set of emotions. I met really interesting people and had great conversations, however there were 2 experiences from yesterday that struck me deeply:
Students analyzing SoJo
Live Case Study
SoJo's story was presented in the form of an abridged, 3-page case study to a group of students. This was the first time that a case was paired with blog posts. Students discovered SoJo through an interactive treasure-map that forced them to poke into the different sections of our website. An immersive experience like never before. Many of the students identified as users of SoJo, making this a relatable and meaningful case.
What became clear very early on, many of the faculty members and some of the students had read SoJo's blog from front to back, and know our story inside-out. It was really strange to have others talk about my emotions and feelings -- with me right there. I remember doing case studies, and studying different people. It only sunk in during that class, that I am now that person who got examined under a microscope -- thousands of times over.
The students were asked to scrutinize SoJo, lay-out its attributes, limitations and growth needs. Both AJ and I scribbled notes the entire time, as some great insights came from those discussions. Without communicating SoJo in our own words, we now know how the message is received by others and first impressions. They made recommendations on what SoJo's future business decisions should be. It was like a group consultant, working with incomplete information, providing insights on how SoJo should be run to meet its growth challenges.
Everyone that works with me knows that I am never at a shortage of words, especially when it is talking about SoJo. This was a class where students were forced to think through their hypothesis and learn on their own. While I knew the answers to most of their questions (why certain decisions were made, and the rationale behind them), I was forced to sit back and abstain from commenting. It was so difficult to hear conversations go completely off-tangent, where the insights completely missed the mark. On the other hand, it was gratifying to have the opportunity to share my thinking and see the "eureka" moments on their faces. They now saw something about SoJo that they did not before -- and it is my hope that this will stay with them for life.
Sharing my thoughts on Social Innovation
After the case reveal, I was shuttled to a PhD seminar, and was asked to talk about Social Innovation to a group of doctoral students who were about to begin their research journey. The goals of having me speak with this group were to ask deep questions to push their boundaries and ways of thinking, and to help them uncover opportunities for research into different areas. A lot of pressure to be put on the spot with really smart people; however an opportunity that was unlike any other.
I spoke in plain language. They repeated back in theories and successfully explained SoJo's vision and impact in abstract. This allowed me to understand with greater clarity what we're doing, and explain where we are headed. I was touched when a student approached me to say that I completely changed his outlook on everything (in a good way). I believe I learned just as much as the group.
While I came home exhausted from an intense day -- I wouldn't trade in yesterday's experience for anything.
We ended the day talking about Case B for SoJo. I can't wait to do this all over again.
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.
The last day of the year is always a very reflective day for me. Reflecting on all that was accomplished and learned -- and how that will influence behaviour and decisions in the coming year.
2011 was a highly experimental exploratory year. While there was great confidence in the need for a resource like SoJo, we didn't know exactly HOW it would come to life. With100s of exploratory meetings and discussions, and an incredible amount of hard work the year ended with our first beta product launch.
2012 can be summarized as the year of fighting.
With a product under our belt an increased clarity on how SoJo fits into the world, we were:
- Fighting to prove our legitimacy to prospective partners
- Fighting to explain the value of SoJo to people who just weren't listening
- Fighting to establish and defend our legal structure (which we're still figuring out)
- Fighting to convince funders of the impact created by SoJo
- Fighting to get the attention of people who blatantly dismiss and ignore us
- Fighting against a system and sector that operates fundamentally in contradiction to our values
- Fighting to show the world that we are capable of doing the intangible and achieving excellence
Demand for SoJo's resources are higher than ever. At the same time, our team is more stretched than ever before. I need to be cautious of how we allocate our resources and energy. Mental energy expended on fighting is wasted resources that serve no value to SoJo. I'm done fighting. I'm done with the associated negativity. I'm done with trying to prove myself or SoJo to others.
Most of my talks this year were centered on struggle, adversity and overcoming the naysayers. SoJo is in a beautiful position to invent the future. It is so much more powerful to inspire through a vision, instilling values of an ideal of what the world should look like, rather than focus on its shortcomings.
I started this year with a resolution not to drive myself into the ground
. Fighting (or the perceived need to fight) was exhausting, and in many ways brought out the worst in me. It took a toll on me mentally and can be attributed to an unpleasant burnout
. Since I'm not really good at keeping resolutions, I've now decided to end the year with leaving behind Fighting.
SoJo is a moving train. We will gladly welcome onboard anyone who shares our vision and commitment to seeing it a reality -- but the train will not stop or slow down for the those who don't make it to the platform on time. They can catch us at another station, but for now, SoJo needs to value itself more and trust that it has all the support it needs to push forward.
While I let go of fighting, I hope to liberate this chip on my shoulder which has only been growing deeper with time. The ecosystem was not very kind to me in the early days of SoJo, and continues to act in ways that I don't agree with. As a response to these frustrations, I've been sub-conscientiously trying to prove everyone wrong. Instead of wanting to prove people wrong, I need to stop reacting and focus on proactively building the future. Over the past couple of months, SoJo has achieved phenomenal success, recognition and we have the strongest team ever.
The best way to end 2012 is to let go of the negative energy and celebrate what makes us awesome.
The Ontario Trillium Foundation launched a Future Fund -- a fund to support ideas that will strengthen the infrastructure for young social entrepreneurs in Ontario. This fund has SoJo's name written all over it, as SoJo already meets all of the Fund's stated desired outcomes. Yesterday I was invited to pitch to the committee allocating the funds from the Future Fund, in addition to other investors, funders and stakeholders.
While I've spoken dozens of times on stage about SoJo and "pitched" SoJo hundreds of times informally to prospective partners and supporters, a pitch to an investor -- with a clear expectation of money on the other end -- was a whole other story. Reflecting in hindsight; I placed a greater deal of pressure on myself this time, as the stakes were higher considering the uniqueness and potential of this opportunity meeting some of our financing needs.
Many hours went into the presentation. Some team members helped to frame the story of SoJo in a concise and engaging format. An advisor who has successfully raised many rounds of venture capital financing, and someone who has been on the other side of 100s of pitches shared additional thoughts on the storyline. One of our very talented designers successfully interpreted that story into hand-drawn cartoon-like representations. SoJo's brand and identity is built on a do-it-yourself theme, and my pitch to an investor needed to represent that as well. A corporate-like presentation wouldn't do justice.
Having never been a fan of powerpoint presentations, I was forced to step out of my comfort-zone of picture only slides, to add text and numbers to the presentation. For the first time, I had to get myself out of the "delivering a workshop" mindset to a "selling your vision mindset."
Despite being down with influenza for more than a week (and almost voiceless the night before), I woke up yesterday morning pumped and excited. All of the nerves left me, as I was excited for the opportunity to share SoJo's good work to an audience who had the power to help us in a very meaningful way. While I do wish I had a little more life into my presentation, I am very pleased with my pitch and left feeling confident in how I represented SoJo.
This Fund is highly competitive, so we'll see if SoJo is something the Fund sees value to invest in. Regardless, this process has thought me a lot about communication and understanding your audience, skills that I will undoubtedly use and refine in the near future.
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.
While strolling the streets of Florence, Italy, a pair of lime-green suede pumps in the window of a shoe store caught my attention. Even though I was on vacation completely unplugged from work, the first thought that came to my mind : those are SoJo shoes! They were one size too small, and the heels were a little taller than what I was accustomed to, I still purchased the shoes with very little hesitation (it helped that they were 80% off and practically free).
Having never worn shoes that are not brown or black, I was a little afraid of looking ridiculous, nor did I know when I was going to wear them, regardless I was compelled to make this impulse purchase, despite any potential fallouts. I reasoned myself into making the decision; the colour matched SoJo's green almost identically and who knows if I would ever see such beautiful shoes again. They had my name written all over them.
This weekend at SociaLIGHT I was excited to wear my SoJo Shoes, as this was an event all about celebrating SoJo and wearing SoJo with pride (literally too!). Not only were the shoes noticed, they were the subject of many conversations and tweets. Here is a sampling:
Going on stage in front of 1000 people with bright spotlights shining on you was nerve-wrecking, and as corny as it sounds the SoJo Shoes did give me an added boost of confidence and reassurance. At first, I didn't want to look like a tacky walking billboard, but wore the shoes anyways and I knew how important it is for a founder to assume and personify the brand of your organization, both through actions and appearance. These shoes showed me that it is possible to do so with class and elegance.
Showing off the SoJo Shoes at our Booth