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In 24 hours, SoJo will officially go live.  
The site works, and has been working for the past 6 months -- so in many ways this launch has much more certainty than our beta launch last Fall. That being said, there is definitely more pressure and expectations are much higher this time around. We've received feedback from our users, built credible partnerships and are eagerly awaiting this next phase of SoJo.

The mandatory features were decided at the beginning of the month, however the "things to fix" list only seem to keep on growing.

Over the past week, I've spent between 10-16 hours/day (including weekends) at the office. Its amazing how fast time goes, as I've gotten completely lost in the world of SoJo. As I write this post, looking into the window, I see hundreds of people watching a movie outside, and hear the blasting music of the bar below -- and shocked at my abilities to focus with an office situated right in the middle of one of the busiest urban squares in Canada. SoJo's team gets stronger and better by the day. Everyone's dedication and commitment to achieving this common goal is humbling. No 2am email exchanges (we're improving), regardless, I'm pretty sure that everyone on this team has pushed themselves in ways they couldn't even fathom only a few weeks ago. Whether it be acquiring new skills, getting submersed into a new culture, or working in marathon-like stints, or simply a renewed sense of connectedness to SoJo.

No stress. Just work. Work completed this morning felt like it was done ages ago. Too busy to think about stress, which in many ways is really good. The key to motoring through in these conditions is to eliminate all distractions that are within my control. When every minute is precious, all non-launch related activities and communications have been placed on hold. At the office, I've been referred to as a machine, as I am always seen plugged into my computer, not phased by the hustle and bustle often seen in this vibrant workspace.

In less than 48 hours, we're going to celebrate this victory in style. So temporary spurts of intensity are ok.
The nervousness that existed less than 10 days ago has since channelled itself into an extra dose of energy and excitement.

 
 
What do you stand for? In the first conversation I had with Joann Lim, one of SoJo's earliest partners and content contributors, she asked me what I stood for. I struggled to answer that question with coherence. Up until that point, everyone asked me what SoJo did, how we were going to make money, who we seek to serve and our goals.
No one ever asked me something so intangible and personal.

Joann further explained:
Our core is essential in helping us maintain balance and stability especially when life fluctuates. When we don’t have clarity on our internal core (values & beliefs), it can lead to falls, stress, trauma, and burnout.  As an individual, identifying the core of who you are is essential in helping you develop a solid foundation in which your life can grow and flow. It helps guide you in making decisions and taking inspired action to move forward. Your core is something which reflects the essence of your being and is one in which you should be proud to share with others.

About three months later in the middle of January with Sharpies and a blank piece of paper, I scribbled some thoughts. These thoughts reflected my core values, and ultimately SoJo's core values:
In early April I revisited that piece of paper and typed out a list of nearly 30 statements that embodied SoJo; lessons that I learned, things that I believed in, values, inspirations, and desired states of being.
Two months in the making, that plain-text document got refined, was edited by the team and received an exciting face lift from Bill to become what it is today, SoJo's Manifesto:
For SoJo, this document represents what we stand for as an organization, our core values, and guiding principles. It is a collection of words that, I hope, every team member, user, partner and supporter identifies with in some shape or form. As Joann told me: Meaningful work comes from an alignment between your personal values and those of the organization you are with. As in any relationship, the deeper the connection, the stronger the commitment. And commitment is essential in moving through the peaks and valleys in our development as individuals and/or organizations. This manifesto is SoJo's mission statement. As we navigate through an incredible amount of ambiguity, uncertainty and challenges, it is my hope this manifesto will keep every individual that makes up SoJo, and SoJo as an organization unified and centered.

Making change is not easy. I encourage you to invest the time to reflect, and ask yourself:
What do you stand for?

Read Joann's article on SoJo to learn how to create your own Manifesto

 
 
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In a start-up, there is lots to do. With only a few people involved, skills don't always match what is currently need to be done. With the upcoming launch 5 days away, and super limited resources (time and human capital), everyone is expected to do their part to achieve communal goals.

Since joining the team, Victor has been monitoring user behaviour online via various analytics tools. As of this week, he is also now working with the content team to get the Toolbox in top shape before the re-launch. He just completed part one of sourcing all of the tools, he now has to put them online. The Toolbox is one of the only sections on the new site that remains in HTML (the other sections have templates, making it easier for editors to add the content).

Victor has never worked in HTML, but because he updated the Toolbox he is best positioned to transfer all of that content online. So, I decided to invest the time to train him on the basics of HTML. Over the course of our conversation, not only was I able to instruct him on the basics of coding logic, but that he very painlessly understood it all, and quickly.

What started as a leap of faith has since translated into great relief, as I am now reassured that the Toolbox will be complete in time for the launch. Moreover, I was overwhelmed with pride for two reasons:

(1) SoJo has an incredibly smart team, with people who are able to learn how to code in one afternoon!
(2) A year ago, I knew nothing about web languages and prior to SoJo avoided almost everything to do with technology. I now find myself able to teach basic programming skills, even virtually over Skype. When you are working towards achieving such a large vision, it is difficult to see the little wins/progresses along the way. Today is a living testament to how much I've grown through SoJo.

In start-up everyone must often wear multiple hats. All of them may not fit on the onset, however that should not stop you from learning how to make them fit. You may be surprised to see what is possible.

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Screen shots of both computer screens side-by-side via Skype
 
 
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Announced at SoJo's team meeting this weekend, SoJo's next product launch will take place on June 28, 2012. We deliberately launched a bare-bones, half-developed Beta on November 26, 2011 with the goal of getting a product on the market. Over the past 7 months, we've collected a lot of feedback from the 1000s of individuals actively using SoJo, grown our team and have a much clearer understanding of the direction of the product implementation plan. It is time that we move into our next phase of development.
What can you expect in SoJo v2.0?
The overall design and layout will look the same. New category pages will be added, enhancing the navigation and making it easier to find relevant content. 100s of new articles and videos will be added online. The Getting Started section, which was never addressed in the initial launch, will be an interactive and comprehensive starting point for users who seek additional guidance.

The biggest changes will actually occur on the back-end of the website. The public Beta was assembled in a very ad-hoc fashion. No one on the team had experience with the platform, and we were all forced to teach ourselves the necessary skills to bring the product together. The site was deliberately built in that manner, as we had a deadline to meet, and a site needed to go live. That being said, I am extremely proud of public Beta and the team that worked around the clock to bring it together. We have since recruited the necessary talent and will optimize the backend code, so that the platform has a more robust foundation moving forward. The most noticeable difference for the users will be faster load times, and an overall better user experience.

Decision to leave BETA behind
SoJo is guided and co-created by our users, and changes will continuously take place. The word BETA is often attached to products that are still under development. Although we will always be "under development" the decision to drop BETA was more strategic.  SoJo currently offers a lot of value to its users, and I am confident that it will add even more value after this new release. By calling ourselves Beta, in many ways we are downplaying our strengths and what we offer presently. We can hide behind the word BETA forever, however it is time we put ourselves out to the world, an truly embrace imperfection.

SoJo will be more vulnerable to criticism and attacks, as expectations will inevitably increase. SoJo tells our community to Opt for Courage over Fear; this is exactly what we are doing. We have less than 4 weeks to bring this together, wish us luck!

 
 
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Over the past 5 days I was forced to stay at home, away from the office (and people), to give my body the rest it needed to recover from a flu-like bug. I've gotten more sick over the past 6 months than ever before, which serves as an ever constant reminder that the body needs to come first.

With the boredom that came with sitting at home without a computer, I indulged in movies. The closing dialogues from a movie I watched last night went along the lines of:
“The only real failure is the failure to try.
The greatest measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."

March, April and May felt very unstable for me for a number of reasons: six months into our public launch, the product was not progressing as quickly as I would have liked; after months of interviews I was starting to lose hope that a good technical person can join our team as a Product Lead to push SoJo's vision forward; we let go of exceptional editors who weren't able to commit the time SoJo needed; the pressures of building a product that will generate revenues were growing with no clear direction in sight; I was rejected from a handful of promising fellowship applications; all while feeling busier (and partly burnt-out) than ever before. Without a doubt, I was in a lull, and it is reflected in the lack of activity on the blog.

Admittedly, I was shy to share these challenges on the blog - and with our team -  as I was hopeful things would pass, but in reality these fears and challenges continued to pile up. I thought it was normal for someone in my position to worry, but SoJo is a moving ship and I did not want the optimism amongst our team and supporters to fade. It is imperative that everyone to continue to be excited about our long-term vision, and not intimidated by the short-term hurdles. This is a difficult balance to strike, while trying to be open and transparent at all times.

Not only does being ill force you to rest, it also gives you a chance to reflect and ponder. Triggered by the quote above, and an extended weekend of being with alone with my thoughts, I found a renewed sense of clarity and hope.

As a natural achiever, I've always "tried" (put effort into something) with the expectation of a certain return. After continuously putting oneself out there, trying relentlessly and seeing no results, it becomes really easy to internalize those feelings and view those efforts as a failure. In some ways, I felt a lot of my efforts over the past few months were a failure, as I didn't achieve the results that I had expected. Upon further reflection, I now acknowledge that those unrealized expectations were actually disappointments, and not failures.

Entrepreneurship (and life) is a series of ups and downs. Disappointments are inevitable. I used let myself get down with disappointments, wallow and build useless negative energy. I'm now learning the true test of resilience, learning how to extract the good from disappointments, the lessons learned, and converting that negative energy into positive energy to fuel me for the journey ahead. There will be bad days, and lulls are part of the process. Learning to accept and push forward truly is the best measure of success.

The next time you feel like things just aren't working out, try to remember:
“The only real failure is the failure to try. The greatest measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."

 
 
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Earlier today Facebook, a privately held company, went public on the NASDAQ. The IPO (Initial Public Offering) of Facebook has been widely discussed in mainstream media for weeks. And for good reason too, as apparently one out of every seven minutes online is spent on Facebook.

Everyone has been drooling over Facebook's valuation of $104Billion dollars. Some (including myself) think this valuation is inflated with a lot of hype, some are mesmerized with our changing world, and how a virtual company can be worth more than McDonalds, Nike or Goldman Sachs, and others dream to build a company like Facebook.

However you chose to interpret Facebook's valuation, there is no doubt that expectations towards technology companies are increasing exponentially with time. With such high valuations, and companies like Instagram getting sold for $1billion within a year and a half of launching, reality is getting distorted. We've created these unreasonable expectations, where analysts and bloggers expect new entrants to have 1million users overnight, and grow their companies 10x in value instantly. Through SoJo, I feel this pressure directly, and more generally am concerned for the state of the industry.

Disclaimer: I am not among the 845million month active users on Facebook and have issues with their business model. That bias aside, I can appreciate what the company has done. 8 years in the making, Facebook created a brilliant product that meets the needs of its users. There are many things SoJo can learn from Facebook's product development path, namely around being attuned to the needs of users and continuous evolutions. I'm nervous however, that SoJo currently operates in an environment that is not as patient.

In 2004, Facebook would not have had 2.7billion Likes & Comments per day, and likewise, it is unreasonable to expect new entrants to do so today. Internet usage has changed, however iterations and growth need to evolve organically.

SoJo has approximately 2,000 active users within 6 months of launch. That is a huge number when you think of all the individual people we are supporting in their journeys of making social change happen. In the tech world however, that number is peanuts. The impact on the individuals today feels negligible, when everyone speaks in thousands and in millions.

I often use the iPod analogy to explain my frustrations with the impatient environment SoJo finds itself in. Post-Beta launch, I felt as though some people were expecting to see the iPhone5, forgetting there were over 20 iPod products on the market that inspired the first iPhone. With unreasonable expectations and a disillusionment with reality, some of SoJo's users and partners expect to see the best now. Over the past 4 months, I significantly reduced the amount of time spent at start-up socials and events, as everytime I would leave those events feeling inferior by all of SoJo's limitations. Similarly, I spend less time "selling" SoJo to prospective partners who are looking for the "iPhone5", and instead am focusing my energy on fostering existing relationships and building the infrastructure to support future iterations of our product.

I'm fairly positive that there was not a line-up outside the Apple Store back in 2001, when Apple released its first iPod. However back then, the ecosystem (users, market, retailers, analysts) were more patient and gave Apple the space needed to be creative, iterate and create massively popular products.

Fed by the ecosystem, we, the entrepreneurs (including myself) are often our worst critics. Why are we expecting iPhone5s, when they're still releasing our first generation iPod? I believe we should uphold ourselves to high standards, and that we should dream big. Rome wasn't built in a day, so please don't expect a world-shaking vision to be realized overnight.  

One of SoJo's core values is to Embrace Imperfection. I need to walk this talk, as I'm most content when I do so. The journey is not a sprint, and I need to constantly remind myself to scale back immediate expectations. We are feeding into the type, and will continue to focus on building a product that serves our users and adds value society.

What are you doing to not feed into the hype?

Sources: Facebook's IPO: What does it all mean?, Wikipedia iPod

 
 
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When meeting with this advisor about 2 months I shared some of my challenges, and on top of mind was sourcing a technical partner. 6 weeks ago she introduced me to Jesse, who was interested in learning more about SoJo. I was in the thick of recruiting for a freelancer and excited for this prospect. I looked at his CV once and quickly dismissed it as a viable prospect. Jesse's work experience has been in hardware infrastructure and IT support. Without a single web development skill listed on his CV or extracurricular leadership experience, and a degree in astronomy and physics, I assumed Jesse did not have the skills needed to lead our technical implementation, let alone take the content site out of Beta (which was my primary priority at the time).  

Out of courtesy to the advisor who connected us, I agreed to meet with him yesterday. From the impression that I formed from his CV, I honestly did not think Jesse would be a fit. Going into this interview my best-case scenario was that he would know someone who was a better fit. Over the course of our conversation, Jesse surprised me in many ways. I learned that he has been building websites since grade school, is entirely self-taught programmer and that he is currently building an educational mobile application on his own time. Although not reflected in the CV, Jesse has everything I am looking for in a candidate: skills, initiative, work ethic and a sincere interest in our vision.

In-line with my initial plan, we agreed to bring Jesse on the team to oversee the product launch, and then evaluate fit and interest with staying on board with SoJo. Upon further reflection, I realized that I already judged Jesse without even meeting him. Had this CV not come through a referral, I would have never suggested an in-person meeting. Had I met him when we were first introduced, I would have saved myself hours of painful freelancer interviews and brought him on the team sooner.

Being pleasantly surprised when you least expect is an incredibly uplifting feeling. That being said, it is a much greater risk to let opportunities that are presented right in front of you slide. Finding the right balance between accepting everything that comes your way and exercising discretion to fend off lower-value activities will remain an ongoing challenge.


 
 
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You may have noticed that our blog is less active than usual. Although there is very little tangible outputs to share, much of the past few weeks, I've spent a lot of time listening, reflecting, refining, and realigning. Many hours with markers on windows, whiteboards and blank pieces of paper led to revelations!

Some exciting developments to look forward to:
- Improved clarity on our vision and goals
- Exciting new ways of sharing our vision to a broader audience
- Shifts in our market and who we seek to serve
- Bold thoughts for shaking up the sector, by introducing radical new ways of operating
- Newly formed legal structure
- Product roadmap and anticipated timelines for v2 release of http://theSoJo.net
- New Partnerships and Collaborations that are currently in the works
- Refined business model

Instead of documenting and announcing all of these revelations as they came to mind, I've decided to let them percolate in my mind. Transparency is our top priority, and more blog posts documenting all the details will come shortly. Our journey is a moving target, where we constantly must refine and realign, as the path is always changing. I suppose that's what keeps things exciting.

On a related note, SoJo challenge of email-free Saturdays was highly successful for the month of March, as I'd like to think that an entire day of disconnection each week has provided the mental space to think, and reflect on some of the issues noted above. I've decided to continue this challenge indefinitely!

I hope this inspires you to enjoy and disconnect over the long weekend!

 
 
Last night three of our newest team members came together to brainstorm ideas and lay the framework for SoJo's second video. We've recently been asked by several conferences and events to partner with them, by providing SoJo to all participants to support them to take their ideas into action. Since it is impossible to attend all of these events, which are scattered across the country, a video seemed like the ideal solution, where we have control over how SoJo is presented to the audience, and once made, it can easily be reused multiple times.

The energy between our team members tasked to make this video was great. The ideas built on top of one another, everyone was open to listening to different perspectives and we were all on the same page when writing out the implementation strategy.

I'm very confident with skills and resourcefulness among this new team and am optimistic the process of making this video will be one that brings joy and excitement, and not angst. The last video SoJo made expended an incredible amount of organizational resources and by the end of that process almost everyone was frustrated and tired. We're more organized this time around and have an increased awareness of our abilities. I'm hopeful this is what is needed to make SoJo Video 2 a more enjoyable journey.
 
 
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This past weekend Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government hosted one of the world's leading forums to engage in dialogue, debate, and expression around social enterprise: The Social Enterprise Conference. I attended this conference 3 years ago as a delegate, and left that conference in 2009 impressive by the breadth of speakers and topics covered. This year's schedule was equally packed, and the weekend convened over 1,600 people.
 
SoJo initially approached the Social Enterprise Conference to get involved by either hosting a workshop on taking ideas into action or providing post-conference support to all delegates by making our online resources accessible to all delegates. Ideally, we would have loved to provide a lot of great support to the delegates this year, most of whom are interested in building social ventures, but this conference will be around next year, and now that we're connected with the organizing team we will be sure to connect with them well in advance for the 2013 conference.

We were instead invited as a Media Partner, which I was excited to accept, as there was still a lot of value in informally networking with the delegates and attending the sessions. I will be posting information from the different workshops I attended on theSoJo.net for everyone to reference, stay tuned. Among one of the most interesting sessions, was an interactive workshop facilitating more effective meetings.

I used my 'media' privileges to get special access to the speakers and most of the people whom I spoke with are excited about getting their knowledge and content available on SoJo. In terms on building content partnerships, this conference was a big success.

In line with our efforts of making knowledge more accessible through the use of technology, @The_SoJo did an open call for questions to our community, that should ask while present at the conference. After-all, this was a fabulous opportunity to pick the brains of leading researchers, and practitioners in the field of social enterprise.  We were asked how to successfully build the hybrid model among non-profits and for-profits. After attending a couple of sessions on funding, legal structure and many hallway chat, there was no conclusive answer. My biggest take-away, is that a lot of focus is being placed on building a business model for non-profits and methods of enabling [larger] for-profits to be more mindful of stakeholder engagement, but no-one was talking about organizations that lie right in-between both structures. Sorry @eszterer, but rest assured, SoJo is committed to finding an answer!

My biggest disappointment was the environmental footprint left from the two-day event. Plastic water-bottles, disposables for every meal and a 130+ page conference manual, all multiplied by 1,600 over two days = a lot of waste. For a student-run conference on Social Enterprise with sessions on sustainability and the environment, I would have hoped to see the organizers lead by example and pay special attention to these details.
Similarly to my experience in 2009, I left this weekend impressed with the energy among this year's participants and am excited with the meaningful connections that arose from our participation.

 
 
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I just submitted an application on SoJo's behalf to a prestigious and well-known fellowship. SoJo was named a semi-finalist, and came within the top 10% of over 3,500 applicants. This is an honour and validation that SoJo is on the right track.

Phase 2 of this rigorous application process required a video, detailed competitive analysis, 30 mini essay questions, reference letters -- all to complete within two weeks. This fellowship is a huge opportunity for SoJo, that if successful will give us the needed financial and network support to accelerate our journey. On the other hand, I need to be equally mindful of the time that is required for this one application and the less than 1% success ratio of applicants. SoJo is a moving ship; we are incredibly under-resourced and are in the midst of growing. It is an exciting time, however extremely demanding which requires that we be even smarter about how our resources get allocated. In pursuit of my resolution to work smarter, not harder, I set parameters and only invested a small number of hours into this specific application over the weekend.

Individuals looking to apply for Grants are often in the same conundrum. Do you spend time just doing the work, or do you spend time telling other people about the work you intend to do, and hope that the time invested in applications will realize into direct benefit to your project?

I'm interested in hearing how you dealt with a similar situation, and reconciled conflicting priorities on your time.

 
 
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_Over the next 7 days, I will be engaging in a highly anticipated and intense networking trip in London, UK.

Our public beta has been live for 2 months now, and with such positive feedback and traction in North America, now feels as good of a time as any to make our mark globally. SoJo is an online tool. Although our team is based in Canada, our platform is freely accessible to anyone who has access to the Internet. That being said, having a physical presence in the regions we're looking to expand our reach is equally important -- as nothing replaces the value of face-to-face contact.

The United Kingdom is significant for two reasons:
1-Grow our Community: there is a vibrant community of young social innovators who need our support in taking their ideas to action.

2-Form Partnerships: there are many organizations based in London that (similar to SoJo) are building the infrastructure to support youth in their endeavours to do good in this world. SoJo cannot operate in isolation and must collaborate with other established institutions to more effectively deliver on our mandate and support other organizations to achieve mutual goals.

Leading up to this trip, I did not have a professional network in London. Instead of feeling intimidated by charting into unknown territory, I spent the past month being resourceful and creative, tapping into my existing network for referrals and sending cold-emails to total strangers worth connecting with. Although I only have a handful of meetings confirmed, I'm confident that my schedule will quickly fill up, as I'm hoping to get referrals while I am here.

Exhausted from only a few hours of sleep on an overnight flight from Toronto, I'm writing this post from the train en route to Central London incredibly excited and pumped thinking about what this upcoming week has in store...

 
 
_Staff at the Digitial Media Zone facilitated a day-long trip to Kitchener to visit a tech incubator similar to the DMZ called Communitech. A parallel exchange of tech incubators had never happened before in the region, and the goal of this trip was to learn from the other companies who are operating at a similar stage and forge collaborations. SoJo is a huge supporter of collaboration, so when I first heard of this initiative thought it was a brilliant idea. Despite enthusiasm for this initiative, I initially opted-out of the trip, as I felt it difficult to justify an entire day out of the office.  In less than 5 days, I will be in London, England for an intense networking trip.

However upon further reflection and on less than 30 hour's notice I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. Although I missed an entire day of doing important SoJo work at the office, it was an incredibly productive day in other respects. Some of the key highlights include:
  • Connection to a Philanthrokidz: a company being incubated  by the Accelerator Centre that shares a parallel mandate to SoJo - empowering youth to make a change in this world through technology.
  • On behalf of SoJo, I've been invited to participate in the Canada 3.0 Conference steering committee to talk about engaging youth in their programming. The hosting organization of this conference,  the Canadian Digital Media Network is based in Communitech. Having an in-person meeting although us to undoubtedly strengthen a valuable relationship.
  • Received offers from other incubated companies to tap into their professional networks to source potential applicants for our Product Lead role at SoJo. Some of the best team members come through referrals and Waterloo has amazing talent, so I am thrilled to now be tapped into those networks.
  • A senior analyst at Communitech with significant web experience offered to help advise us through some of our product challenges.
It is important to focus on core operational work. SoJo would not have released its public Beta on time had we not made that our only priority. Although we have a lot of operational work to complete, we are also looking to expand our team, build partnerships and carve out a space in the sector. Identifying and pursuing unconventional opportunities is the way to build a rich network of individuals who will help us achieve our goals.
 
 
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_Exhausted and completely fried from a day of 8 very long meetings, I'm starting to recognize the importance of placing more value on my time. Most of the meetings were directly valuable for SoJo: Strengthening relationships with existing partners, building the foundation to new partnerships, designing new programs, seeking business guidance from an advisor, and an informational interview with a potential new team-mate were among the positive meetings.

It is one meeting in particular that got me thinking. For the past few months I've been informally advising the development of a new program that will support the social entrepreneurship sector as whole. It is a rare opportunity to shape the development and design of a new initiative that can significantly impact the social innovation sector in Canada as a whole. Further, I was very pleased to know that my expertise in this sector is valued and recognized.

Time is at a premium however - and if SoJo is not getting value out of these exchanges, I personally do not have the luxury to invest many hours of my time sharing my insights and thoughts. Circumstances would be different if SoJo was a cashflow positive or revenue generating company, or if I was a semi-retired professional. Right now however, SoJo is building its foundation at record speed and with very limited resources.

I try not to see every exchange in absolute or as transactional terms -- because they are not. You never know where a conversation can lead. Many individuals have been very generous with their time, and have advised SoJo in its early days as well. It only seemed fair that I reciprocate.

Earlier today however, I pushed back. The questions were never ending, where I was giving a lot and wasn't able to see if I was going to get anything from the other end. After a couple of hours of my time used for 'fact finding purposes,' I felt it was appropriate to share my perspective and where I was coming from. As someone who has a difficult time saying no, pushing back was not easy. Surely enough, I did not handle the situation as tactfully as I would have liked.

I may have potentially jeopardized a valuable partnership for SoJo. I may have spoiled my reputation as an individual who is willing to give and contribute to the welfare of the sector without seeking immediate gain. All that being said, my focus my lie first and foremost with the interests of SoJo. It is in the best interest to both SoJo and the community we are serving that I be more mindful of how my time gets allocated and remain focused on achieving our goals.

 
 
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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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_I am currently in the thick of creating SoJo's strategic plan and budget for Phase 2. An ambitious vision requires an equally ambitious plan of attack. SoJo now has to deliver on all the promises made last year, while finding the necessary financial resources to sustain the organization. It is safe to say the expectations and pressure have increased exponentially.

We ended 2011 feeling amazing. All of the our efforts over the past year culminated with achieving a major milestone: launching the public beta. The fruits of our labour were evidenced by a strong uptake online, overwhelmingly positive feedback from various stakeholders, and significant press coverage.

As I begin 2012, I find myself overcome with anxiety and a bit of fear. Interesting how the perspective changes overnight. When one milestone comes to an end, you feel like you're on top of the world. But as you endeavour to start a new chapter in your journey, and set to achieve a new and larger milestone, the perspective changes instantly. I'll be completely honesty when I say I'm as daunted as I am excited, as I have no idea how Phase 2 will come to fruition and what is even possible.

Feelings of fulfillment are short lived in this universe. Perhaps that is a good thing. As it forces you to stay grounded and remain focused on the journey that lies ahead. The vision is a moving target, and we must continue to keep on working.

Although a forward-looking attitude is necessary, equally important is not to forget all the positive feelings that came when our last milestone was achieved. We are starting this next Phase with a lot more support and energy than the first one. That should not be lost and it is my hope that all the positive energy that surrounds SoJo will give me the strength needed to overcome the bigger challenges that lie ahead.

 
 
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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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_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!

 
 
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Buffer [buhf-er] noun: a person or thing that shields and protects against annoyance, harm, hostile forces, etc., or that lessens the impact of a shock or reversal.

It is just past midnight. November 20th was set as our internal deadline to have the open Beta ready. Although we are launching on the 26th I was deliberate to set a buffer. Based on the minimal resources we are working with, a 5 day buffer felt very generous.

With the unpredictability of technology and working with a team of part-time volunteers, I could not treat this product launch like an essay and expect to pull an all-nighter the night before the launch and assume that everything will go smoothly. Organization and planning was key.

In addition to having a buffer [to avoid catastrophy in the event that the Beta is not complete on time or that there is a major problem to troubleshoot]; a week between product completion and launch was planned to give us ample time to test and refine the product, and also send a preview to our valued Beta testers and partners. Reflecting back on my expectations, I created a "plan" that intended to use the buffer for other things.

As I am writing this post, I can confidently confirm that our internal deadline was not met- and that our product is still very much under development. To my surprise though, I am not the least bit disappointed. With all hands-on-deck over the entire weekend, we made tremendous progress and I am so incredibly proud of our team. Today [for the first time] our product is starting to look like a unified product. Of course, according to the "plan" we should have been at this state much sooner. There was no Plan B, in case buffer time was actually needed as a buffer.

I could have been extra ambitious and pushed our team just a little harder to meet this deadline, but that would have actually accomplished little good for us. Our launch is just the beginning, and everyone onboard needs to be happy and healthy in order to endure the journey ahead of us. The needs of our team takes precedence above all else.
 
I've learned to appreciate what we do have, rather than what we should have had in an ideal situation. We literally have 100 different balls in the air right now. The workplan only increases with time [not because new requirements are added, but rather delays and core, fundamental components were never accounted for].
Buffers exist for a reason and I am thankful to have had the foresight to create one.

In a perfect world it would have been great to have everything go according to our "plan" - however we live in the real world and this new plan tells me we have 5 days to get a stellar site together.

 
 
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_ The countdown is looming on us. With less than a week to go before our first public product launch - the nerves are starting to kick-in. A lot of pressure lies on the outcomes of this launch as it may give us the resources needed to make our vision a reality.
 
I'd like to believe that it is a myth that you need to struggle in order to achieve success. Sure, our team is working ridiculously hard to meet a deadline (which is needed), but do we have to lose ourselves in this process?

It seems quite counter-intuitive to endeavour to make the world a better place, at the expense of your own sanity and wellbeing, no? Let us not forget that we are also part of this world. Somehow though, I get the impression that I'll be respected that much more and that my efforts will be more worthwhile if I demonstrate that achieving this milestone was a struggle which consisted of tremendous sacrifices. Hardly a journey to celebrate if you're busy deteriorating yourself emotionally, psychologically and physically.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to channel all of my skills, talents, energy and passion into something that is truly meaningful to me. Despite the hard work and lack of stability, I start most of my days feeling as though I'm the luckiest person in the world -- why would I spoil it with struggle and negative energy?

Struggle and success should not be synonymous. Creating a new venture will inevitably be difficult, but instead of focusing on the hardship - we need to equally focus on our emotional needs and attitude in order to successfully make it through the journey.

Earlier today I found myself at a crossroad: either I manage expectations and stay focused achieving our goals without losing myself, or opt to go over the edge in pursuit of achieving those same goals. The former sounds obvious, but sadly it is the latter which often takes over.

A respected advisor told me:
"There is a certain elegance in achieving the most [success] with the least [amount of hardship]"

SoJo wants to be a role model for you as you embark on your journey. We're going to get through this launch and all subsequent launches with grace and elegance. Time to let go of perfectionism and embrace what it means to be human. Struggle leads us to work harder, when we should strive to find ways to work smarter.

I encourage you to join me. Find healthy ways to release the negative energy which may cause you to "struggle" much more than what is necessary. Let us celebrate the privilege of being able to work on something that is meaningful to us, not the struggle.

 
 
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_ Friday morning I woke up feeling under the weather. I had "symptoms" for a few days prior, but conveniently decided to ignore them. Knowing that I could not afford to get sick; a visit to the doctor Friday morning had in-fact confirmed that my body was in the process of fighting off a virus. He did not know if my body's immune system would be strong enough to fight it off, or if I may find myself in bed the following week. I did receive three pieces of advice to help strengthen my body's immune system:

1. Stay hydrated
2. Take plenty of rest
3. Keep the stress levels down

Terrified of the idea of being bed-ridden while our entire team hustles to get the open Beta ready in time for our launch, I followed the doctor's advice. I overdosed on vitamins and tea; unplugged from work for the past three days; took care of my body and myself. For the rest of the week I intend on working at a more relaxed pace. This does feel like a setback in the short-term, but I know that it will be more beneficial to SoJo in the long-run.

Amazing how its only when your body is about to crash that you're motivated to take better care of it. They say entrepreneurship is a marathon. Working on overdrive to get the site ready in time for the launch feels quite destructive, as we have much greater goals to accomplish beyond the November 26th launch date. For that reason alone we should never neglect ourselves, the individuals behind the ideas, as an idea is only so good as its ability to be transformed into reality. It is the individuals who turn ideas into reality Our product will be ready in time for the launch. It won't be perfect. That's ok.

There is absolutely no reason to stress either. SoJo's team and I are creating something we truly believe in, we're working really hard and trying our best to make this launch as successful as it can be. At the end of the day, we are human, there are only 24 hours in a day and everyone needs to take care of themselves in order to do greatness in this world.

I challenge you to make a conscience decision to take care of yourself as you embark on your journeys of making the world a better place.

 
 
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Earlier this month I scheduled a two week networking trip to New York City. Although SoJo has a dynamic network in Canada, our learning tool is not exclusive to Canada and thus it is imperative that we have a presence in a much larger marketplace to aid in building our community of users and add diversity of perspectives as SoJo shapes its vision.

It was a whirlwind of a trip, with many positive developments and the foundation was laid with several organizations for collaborations in the near future. Attending events is a stellar way of meeting new people and broadening a network. From there, connecting on a one-to-one basis was key to building deeper relationships, exploring concrete opportunities for collaboration and in most cases connections to more people.
Here is a screen-shot from one day of my schedule last week.

Part of relationship building is a well written follow-up note that summarizes the items discussed as well as next steps. Follow-up is key to keeping momentum, and essentially the partnership alive.

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While running around the city in back-to-back meetings it was difficult to stay on top of my inbox. Not only was I unable to devote attention to everyday business (I receive on average 50 emails/day), the follow-up notes to all the amazing people I met have also been placed on top of the backburner.
Here is a stack of business cards that still need to be followed-up.

For someone who likes to respond to messages in a timely manner; it is safe to say that I am officially overwhelmed.

It truly is an art to stay on top of the inbox while simultaneously being stretched in many different directions.
I blogged earlier about my challenges of letting my inbox drive me, I now find myself on the other end of the spectrum where I can't even look at a single message. Prioritization is key, as well as having the humility to accept that it is OK that I don't respond to everyone immediately. People who will want to work with SoJo will understand (hopefully).

What are your tricks for staying on top of your inbox when you literally have no time to attend to it?

 
 
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I spent the afternoon at an event hosted by Bloomberg called Empowered Entrepreneur. It was a primarily tech start-up crowd, where the panels were centred around high growth companies, venture capital, exit strategies. For the past few months, I've been mingling in many technology and "web 2.0" circles. SoJo is leveraging technology to deliver information in an organized and meaningful fashion to our user base. Down the road, it is possible that we create a unique technology to better meet the needs of our user base.

For someone who is brand new to technology, attending such events is a great way to learn, be immersed in the language and understand what is happening in the space. I appreciate the tech start-up mentality of taking action, getting out there and having your user base co-create a product with you. Its vibrant, dynamic and super fast-paced. It can be exhausting though. It is unrealistic for me to think that SoJo will be the next great thing tomorrow. It will take us time to build our community and be responsive to their needs. It will take patience and persistence to build partnerships with other players in the field and bring together a highly fragmented sector.

Earlier this morning I had a meeting with Erik from Capture Your Flag. They produce original content (in the form of videos), tracking individuals who are pursuing their passion and making impacts in their professional endeavours. Capture your flag has been documenting the stories of select individuals for over 3 years now, truly capturing their stories in real time and the decisions that individuals have to make. At SoJo, we're all about celebrating the journey and it was very refreshing to meet a fellow organization embracing similar values.  

SoJo is a start-up with a purpose. We are driven by the mission of supporting young social entrepreneurs in their journeys of creating social impact in their communities. Although phase one of SoJo is an online resource centre with information on starting a social venture, we have a lot in store and are in it for the long haul.

We must not distort our reality with overnight success stories. They say entrepreneurship is a marathon. SoJo's world-shaking vision of redefining what it means to be social entrepreneur is what fuels our stamina now, to keep us engaged as we figure out the rest. Are you on-board for the journey?