Collectively, I've spent more hours on MS Powerpoint this past week then I probably have over the past couple of months combined.
In school I absolutely hated slideshows, perhaps its because professors had the most un-engaging presentations or because whenever I saw someone use slides in a presentation, it felt overly corporate and impersonal. Unless absolutely mandatory, I often refrained from using this tool when making presentations. Even when defending my Master's Thesis (the research that inspired the creation of SoJo) I didn't use slides.
When delivering presentations on SoJo or hosting workshops on Ideas - into - Action, I've only recently started to use slides -- that too with stickmen and cartoons. In the countless meetings held over the past 2 years, I never used slides to explain SoJo either. I like to believe I'm a much more engaging presenter than a static slide, and as such preferred to lead more free-flow conversations. Now that SoJo is actively looking for money and soliciting the support of other people to help us in this quest -- I don't have the luxury of personal contact with everyone on their initial introduction to SoJo. As such have been creating overview/backgrounder documents to do the talking on my behalf.
Despite my reluctance to embrace Powerpoint in the past, I quickly started to love using this tool. I'm particularly appreciative of the flexibility and ease of moving around boxes and different types of content make my documents look more visually appealing.
Although I now have a newfound appreciation for slides as an effective form of communication, I still don't think a slide deck can ever replace a real conversation. Slides can serve as a great complementary support, as they allow the audience to visually capture key takeaway ponits, but should never be the focus. I already shared my first deck to a couple of people and hope to use a different one with the handful of meetings scheduled next week. Let's see if I'm able to use the deck effectively, or if I refer back to my comfort zone and lead a more free-form conversation...
Excerpt from SoJo's latest overview slide deck
Exactly two years ago today, September 20, 2010, I wrote SocialJournal.net'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 SocialJournal.net would manifest itself into. Two years later, SocialJournal.net 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 SocialJournal.net
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!
IVEY, one of Canada's leading business schools approached me to write a case study on SoJo. I was delighted and honoured, as IVEY cases have a far reach nationally and internationally and what better way to get out SoJo's story.
Up until now, I shared SoJo's story in more of a narrative format; explaining chronologically the milestones we've achieved, challenges faced and decisions made. Yesterday I met the lead researcher, Professor Oana and case writer Melissa. It is fair to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Oana started the interview asking me about the tensions I am currently facing. Before I knew it, I felt as though I was in a psycho-analysis therapy session. Her questions were poignant, difficult, intense, and reflective all in one.
Over the last 2 years, I have had conversations with a couple hundred people about SoJo. My messaging has changed throughout, as did the product of SoJo -- however the vision was always the same. Albeit with time, I've become a better communicator, based on an initial conversation, not a single person has been able to understand the depth and scope of SoJo's vision. What was special about yesterday, is that I never explicitly told Oana what the vision was, or what SoJo was working towards, however she was able to recite to me with precision and greater eloquence what SoJo stands for and what it strives to do. Although a little scary, more than anything this validation was encouraging and exactly what I needed at this point of tension. (see earlier post on burnout
Again, without sharing all of our key actions, decisions made and iterations, Oana drew a model that scientifically mapped out SoJo, our trajectory, the implications of our decisions. Models are incredibly abstract, and she was able to ground every node into key actions made by SoJo. Her assumptions validated what we the strategic planning team has been talking about for the past month. Having been through academia myself, before this conversation I was convinced that there was a disconnect from the ivory tower and reality. Without an agenda or political bias of her own, coupled with years of cutting-edge research, Oana restored my faith in academia. She is a fountain of knowledge and was able to clearly do what no-one has been able to.
This blog has been an outlet to share my thoughts, and it has been second nature to document SoJo's story. Being asked to trace back motivators, emotions and feelings with greater precision was difficult. Talking about vulnerability brought me down unexpected philosophical tangents. It felt as though I was being deconstructed as an individual, as she made inferences about my personal relationships with people and what motivates me as a leader. I'm still digesting and making sense of it all...
3 hours later, she circled back to her first question, and identified that the source of my tensions is growth
SoJo has graduated from early-stage startup to being a startup. Accelerating the pace of development, building out resources to meet this growth is only one challenge. Outgrowing our users, while being authentic and true to the vision is the greater challenge. As we navigate through this period of growth, I will be more disciplined about documenting our journey on this blog. Please bare with me, as the lack of coherence in this blog is a mirror reflection of the lack of coherence of everything in my head.
I left this interview feeling like I got more out of it than what I gave the case writers. I suppose that's what we call a win-win.
With a successful public launch and an incredibly competent and talented team, SoJo is well positioned to grow and advance its mandate. Up until this point, our only objective was to get the public site, http://theSoJo.net built. From private Beta to public Beta to official launch; focus was centred around gathering content, designing the product, building the technical infrastructure and establishing an early-adopter beta user base. Mass outreach, measuring our impact and funding were not priorities.
Moving forward, SoJo is working towards these 3 organizational objectives:
1- To achieve universal ubiquity
2- To be a credible resource that actually helps people
3- To be a financially self-sustaining social enterprise
Addressing these objectives is no easy task. To avoid the gerbil on the wheel syndrome (being busy, but not getting anywhere), a plan is most needed. With a team that has proven itself able to execute and a clear vision of where SoJo needs to go, exceptional strategic planning is needed to bridge that gap.
Knowing that financial sustainability will come from diversifying our products, I must now dedicate majority of my time to building our next product and less energy on the operations of the existing public site. It is my hope that this plan establishes the right mechanisms for the team to carry the public site's activities forward without my direct involvement.
Last night SoJo hosted its first Strategic Planning meeting. Individuals leading different focus areas participated in an intimate and intense meeting filled with tough questions, feedback, and sharing of new ideas. Despite the initial technical difficulties of video-conferencing, I felt we were effective in bringing out many insights, and making everyone aware of the interconnectedness of each moving part.
Albeit successful, I completely underestimated the amount of preparation that went into this first meeting. Namely around establishing what this process was going to look like, determining the key information we needed to get out of it, prompting the team to come prepared with answers to questions, and preparing the slidedeck reference documentation.
It is also challenging as I'm forced to use a different part of my brain which has never been used. Strategic planning, abstract thinking and juggling multiple agendas is an acquired skill that needs to be developed and honed. Visioning is very different than strategizing, and the past year for SoJo has been very ad-hoc, with tons of vision -to-execution, with little planning. Luckily we have experienced team members with the experience to guide me and take the lead on this process.
Strategic planning will allow us to take SoJo to the next level and create the plan needed to achieve these objectives. Although daunted, we're all excited for what lies ahead!
Today I was asked to tell an editor at Canada's largest daily newspaper about SoJo. A great opportunity for coverage, I attempted to depict SoJo in 10 pictures and 6 words (no internet, no computer). See below.
SoJo has the ambitious goal of being the ubiquitous source of support for social innovators to take their ideas for social good into action, which includes revolutionizing the way in which online learning happens. In a world where we're told to use a slide-deck and bright shiny objects to sell our vision -- I opted for the basics: a whiteboard and a marker.
Over the past few months, I've consistently struggled to explain SoJo's vision, our solution and value-add, the status of our Beta and distinctions between those three elements. When talking about this challenge to a supporter, he in return asked me to draw out SoJo on a whiteboard. After a few attempts, I quickly realized there was no cohesion in how SoJo was explained and a great need to clarify and simplify our message. That same afternoon I hashed out what our whiteboard pitch looked like. It got tested with fellow SoJo team members, other entrepreneurs and staff in the Digital Media Zone (gotta love a collaborative workspace), however today the whiteboard pitch got its debut. My lack of confidence in my drawing abilities (I will work to improve my stick figures) was offset by my excitement to share SoJo's vision in a more interactive and engaging manner.
In my opinion, this pitch is effective for two reason: simple and interactive. We're all overloaded with information, so it is my intention that saying less will allow the audience to retain more. Secondly, by being able to draw SoJo's story in real-time, it keeps the audience engaged, allows me to control how the message gets perceived and hopefully store a mental image of this whiteboard in their head.
We'll see how successful the pitch was and if a follow-up call comes for a story. If not, it was great practice.
SoJo has taken an iterative approach; where we plan to release multiple versions of our site, have our users co-create the site and along the way deliver a product that meets the needs of our users and supports them in their journey of creating social ventures.
We released a closed Beta in July. Although we are very proud of this first step, it is now time to move onto our second version site and open it up to the public. The open Beta will have different functionality, more content and an improved user interface.
Having virtually no technical, web development or design experience prior to SoJo, I felt it'd be best to consult experts in the field and leverage their experience to make a more informed decision. Over the past few weeks I've been speaking with developers, designers and marketers - all with experience creating websites and established track records of delivering amazing work. Every conversation was stimulating, the average chat lasting about 2-2.5 hours - with ideas and possibilities getting tossed around. It was overwhelming at the same time, as all of these conversations went down very different paths.
Some said to focus on the technical development of the site and organization of information from the back-end. Some said to focus on the design and user experience on the front-end. Some said to shape the content and navigation to fit a brand. Even on the technical side, I was presented with 4 distinct options of how to proceed.
The bucket is full. My head hurts from all the confusion and attempting to reconcile the conflicting advice. The fact that there are so many ways to approach implementing SoJo's vision is encouraging, as it demonstrates that nothing like SoJo already exists and its going to take some serious innovation to come up with a good solution. On the other hand, I do wish the dots lined up more clearly together.
Making decisions are often the most difficult parts of the journey. Once you know which direction you're headed, executing can sometime be as simple as creating a checklist of items and tackling them one-by-one. Picking the direction is the challenge.
I only have a few days to make a decision and pick the best course of action on implementing v2 of the site. With less than 2 months and minimal financial resources, I only have one shot at this decision and must stand by it until the open Beta launch.
Judgment and hunch go hand-in-hand when making a decision like this. There is no definitive consensus from experts on what is even possible given our timeframe and financial resources. There is no such a thing as a perfect decision, and perhaps I need to alleviate the pressure I self-imposed on making the "perfect decision," make a choice that feels right given the available information, take a risk and go with it...
When giving a speech, the message will only be as effective as the delivery of the presentation; SoJo finds itself in a similar situation. Although we will work towards building and aggregating comprehensive and relevant content – this information will only be useful if the reader is able to locate it and read it – thus the navigation and interactivity of this site is key for SoJo to meet its objectives.
Without a doubt SoJo’s greatest challenge is building
the online platform. As evidenced by the hiccups of getting the landing page live, we are mindful that the technical side of SoJo is its weakest component.
We have an ambitious vision of what the site should be. At the same time however, it is important to keep our expectations grounded and acknowledge our current situation: no financial resources or in-house development capacities. Having no technical experience myself, it is daunting to lead a team under these conditions – but not impossible.
We are tasked to create a v1 Beta site that meets the most essential requirements and can be rolled out in July (as per projected timelines). The priority at this point is to get something that works up and running and continuously iterate and build from that foundation. Using that approach, the design team conducted multiple brainstorming sessions, starting with a wish-list of what an ‘optimal’ site could look like, and narrowed in on those options to create a short-list of the most essential requirements and key-functions of the site.
What started off as multiple sketches of high-level design concepts to encourage an inclusive creative thought-process – quickly morphed into detailed wireframes with focus on key elements that are implementable in our first version site.
Having team members in different cities definitely adds an extra layer of complexity. Thanks to video Skype and shared virtual folders, we’ve been able to include as many people and ideas as possible in this process.
Yesterday’s meeting got us a step closer to creating the actual site. We were able to clearly lay out the site hierarchy and determine the layouts of the 3 main page templates. [see concepts here]
This is huge progress and I am optimistic that we are moving forward on the right path. Our team has very strong design capacity, so we plan to leverage those skills and fit them in an ‘off-the-shelf’ technical solution, so we can meet our stated timelines within our available resource requirements.
Now that a direction has been determined, many more updates will follow in the next few weeks leading up to the launch of our first site!
This afternoon, the entire Design Team came together to create wireframes and begin the process of pulling abstract ideas of the site’s functions and transform them into tangible elements to be included online.
Before determining the functions of the site, it was important for us to back-up a step and remind everyone on the team of why SoJo exists and what we should be doing for the site’s users. We’ve been occupied in building the organization, finding our position online and building collaborations with other organizations, which are important, – but when it comes down to designing our site, the user’s interests need to be front and center.
With 6 team members in one room + one connected through video-Skype (the highest concentration of SoJo brain-power we’ve ever had), and a larger-than-life sized whiteboard: ideas were flowing around all over the place.
SoJo is here to help you implement your ideas and help you in your journey of creating projects for social change. As a user, you will come to SoJo, because you are looking for help/support in either:
(1) Starting your idea and getting the ball rolling; and/or (2) Increasing the efficiency, outputs, and/or social outcomes of your social ventures
We will focus on the following areas, having your best interest in mind:
- Create some order in all the chaos that may be going on in your head
- Help you map your journey and facilitate the process of executing your ideas
- Inspire you to believe that you are capable of implementing your ideas
- Help you envisage what your success can look like
- Be your virtual cheerleader, encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and conquer your fears throughout this journey
- Help you find what you are looking for (tools, resources, information, advice)
- Connect you to other networks/people that are of value to you in this journey
- Build your trust and be a known as a credible source of information that will support you
These are still very high-level concepts and how they get manifested is still TBD. If we’re missing something, please let us know
. Stay tuned as more developments will follow shortly.
Its been a few weeks since we released our logo and we are pleased with all the compliments received thus far. In case you were curious, here’s how the logo came together:
The design process of SoJo’s logo involved many layers of opinions and concepts – all with the main purpose of engaging and introducing viewers to the project. We were looking to create a logo that satisfied the eyes from an aesthetic perspective, but also wanted to ensure that the logo communicated the aims of our organization and symbolized what SoJo represents.
We explored both text and character based options. Daniel focused on text-based options to fit-in with the common, clean Web 2.0 design trend. Bill attempted many iterations of a hand-sketched font (similar to a handwriting typeface) to create a friendly, non-rigid, and personable feel to the logo. Eventually, we decided on a friendly character would be ideal to add to a fresh sans-serif typeface. It was ideal to do so because the sans-serif type face would contrast with the sketched logo and together they would further enhance both aesthetics.
When it came to colour, green and light blue were discussed to be the most relevant to the project; being very bright, natural and eco-conscious colours. When looking at a colour wheel [http://db.tt/AiIDacF], we discovered that blue what over-used on many social-oriented sites online and by default opted for the lime-green. Ultimately SoJo's brand identity expresses the positive, youthful energy of both the team behind it and the online tool itself.
Our “mascot” [who is still looking for a name] was inspired by the semi-circles found at the bottom of the word SOJO. Despite the disagreements over typeface, the look of this mascot instantly stuck, as it was symbolic of an ambitious and happy individual with a “ready-to-take-on-the-world” attitude; a character that the users of SoJo can relate to.
SoJo embodies a “do-it-yourself” attitude, where it is up to the user to build and create their visions and implement their projects for social change. We played around with many concepts of an architect’s blueprint, work-in-progress idea – which explains why our mascot looks a little rough and incomplete.
SoJo is very fortunate to work with a talented design team to create this logo, among other things. When designing your logo, the following questions may help guide you through the process of creating multiple iterations – to finally reach a final product that you are proud of:
This post was co-authored by Bill Avgerinos and Daniel Francavilla, members of our Design Team
- What is the purpose of the project, and thus, what is the functional/communicative aim of the logo?
- What are the engaging aspects of the project that you are trying to communicate?
- How does the logo reflect/reinforce the nature of the project?
Below is a random selection of logos that were integral in coming up with the design we have now
It is our goal at Sojo to help people turn their ideas into reality.
Ideas don’t just poof into reality. That little arrow above you is actually a very complex process. When it doesn’t work it can be quite frustrating. So, what can we do to affect this process?
We will help people get closer to their goals, knowing that their design process leads in the right direction, and fully achieve what they define as success.
We can see that creating useful content is central to the mission. It’s our meat and potatoes, our raison d’être, our trump card - content is king.
Effective content does not exist in a vacuum (we’ve looked!). How’s it’s presented, the context and the environment supporting are all extremely important.
Here’s our general equation of SoJo Success. It was derived with intense mathematical rigor (though we might be missing a term or two). We’re working on its proof.
On the design side, we are finding it necessary to create a process to bring all these elements together in harmony – a systems design. In other words, we’re creating a design process to create a systems design to design a solution to help people design. (deep breath)
Our Design Process (insert iterate everywhere!)
- Brainstorming galore
- Create several designs
- Collect feedback from everybody
- Ask questions
o How does the design affect content, technology and business?
o Does it help people turn ideas into implementation?
o Is it feasible to build?
- Build it!
We’re looking forward to the end result as much as you are. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you understand the joys and learning that occurs when we go through the design process. To the journey!