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Written by AJ Tibando
It's been two weeks since I got back from my vacation.  Vacations are the best for many reasons - a chance to relax, unwind from daily stress, get away from work and emails and responsibilities and focus on yourself.  They also give you a chance to step back from the busyness of your day to day activities, gain perspective on the big picture and re-centre.  Since this wasn't just a vacation, but was also my honeymoon, I was adamant that I was going to unplug 100% and with all of the stress leading up to the wedding and the changing circumstances at SoJo with Kanika being away, I was more than ready to get re-centered.

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

The other great thing about being away, is coming back and seeing how much got done without you.  Zainab and Jesse and the whole SoJo team managed to 'wow' me with how much they accomplished in the two weeks I was away and it was great motivation for me to dive back in on my return.  Yesterday, Zainab left for vacation - she will be gone for two weeks - and Jesse and I are determined to 'wow' her when she gets back.
 
 
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Today is my first day back at the office since our team meeting at the beginning of the month. I've been travelling overseas, for the past 2 weeks, but consciously decided to disconnected entirely from the Internet for most of my travels. While my hectic travel schedule did not feel like a vacation, being disconnecting from the daily inflow of work communications was desperately needed. My last Internet detox occurred 7 months ago.

The difference between this detox and last detox -- was last year I created detailed workplans for every team member before leaving. Aware that the team required guidance and direction, I took it upon myself to pre-orchestrate operations and team outputs.

I left the office a few weeks ago with a different type of confidence. While I had high-level discussions of expectations of deliverables with some of the team members, I really left it up to everyone to see what they were able to accomplish without my guidance. This laid-back approach happened for two reasons: (1) I didn't have the mental capacity or time to micro-manage everyone's schedules, as I could hardly keep up with my responsibilities (2) I wanted to see how the team managed without my direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of SoJo.  

My phone number was given to our key team members to get in touch if emergencies arose. Never once while I was away did I doubt our team's abilities to handle whatever came their way -- giving me piece of mind that I haven't yet experienced. It was great.

I'm now slowly catching up with the team to check-in on their status and progress. I was pleased (but not surprised) to discover that most things continued to move forward. Albeit I identified inefficiencies and know that some outputs would have increased had I been there to catch the bottlenecks, but all in all, the team did very well. Rather than get caught up on the things that didn't go well, I focused most of my feedback on what was learned and how things can be done differently next time.

My hands-off approach over the past few weeks is proof that the team is equipped to handle daily operations, providing me with the space needed to scale and grow SoJo.


 
 
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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.


 
 
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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.


 
 
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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.  


 
 
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SoJo is now mobile-friendly
November 11 was the target soft-launch date for the newest version of SoJo's site, and I'm proud to announce that our team was successful in holding to this deadline.

Over the past 2 months, our development team has been diligently working to convert the current version of http://theSoJo.net on a responsive framework written in HTML5 and CSS3. This product launch went largely unannounced, as to the average user, SoJo looks the exact same. This is our first maintenance update. A web-based product will never be complete, and while it's tempting to continue to add features, this launch allows us to support more fundamental functional requirements: namely improving load time, scalability, mobile-friendliness, ease of upgrades, etc.

This whole experience has taught our team the importance of budgeting organizational resources to maintenance. Up until now, SoJo has been busy building the site and each product launch consisted of new features and upgrades. Since the last product launch, Jesse has been pulling his hairs fixing unforeseen bugs, and I've been consistently shocked by unexpected surprises on the live site. It is our hope that this newer technology will leave behind the unpleasant surprises and allow the Product team to produce at a more optimal pace. Further, building with a newer technology is creating the foundation to set SoJo up for forward-looking success. The website is now optimized for viewing on mobile devices and is an even more accessible resource.

There is no doubt that launching a new product is more exciting for the team than a maintenance update. Although there is no press coverage this time (unlike our Beta and official Launch), this launch is equally rewarding, as its a great feeling to see this product just get better each time.

Our databases were migrated live on the 11th, our servers shut down on the 12th and the team is working diligently to iron-out the kinks. Please bare with us; http://theSoJo.net will look spectacular in a few days!

 
 
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In many ways, SoJo flat organizational structure has contributed to the strong team culture that we've built over the past year. The team is SoJo's greatest strength, and when some of our team members are asked what they appreciate most about SoJo, many have mentioned their appreciation of not having a pronounced hierarchy -- where they felt like an equal to everyone else on the team. We're all collectively working towards the same goals and up until now there hasn't been a need to formalize the internal team structure.

A result of having a flat organization was having almost everyone report up to me. Being the only full-time team member, I was naturally the most accessible and fully present to everyone, and culturally people became comfortable and accustomed to reporting to me. I was directly involved in more activities than what I should have been, and as a result stretched myself thin to the point that led to a burnout. I also grew frustrated as I wasn't able to provide certain team members the individual support that they needed to excel in their roles.

The solution: Share responsibilities and accountability among different members, and introduce a hierarchy to remove the dependency everyone had on me to advance their own responsibilities. As SoJo enters its first phase of high-growth, it is important that the team and organization change accordingly.

A hierarchy was challenging to integrate before, as the other part-time team members did not have the capacity to assume the responsibility of coordinating and managing another team member. Now that we have some full-time team members, there is a greater ability to accommodate a change in structure.

In theory, I thought it'd be easy to divide the team up in key focus areas, assign a team lead and place members in their appropriate section. However upon further development, the structure became more complex. Reporting relationships do not always match functional relationships.  Even with defined responsibilities, SoJo operates in a very fluid manner and team members collaborate and interchange roles among different functions regularly.

Knowing this would be a difficult exercise, I began by writing out everyone's name on post-it notes and moved them around (many times) until I finally settled on a structure that made sense. This is not static, and will evolve as our team evolves. That being said, I foresee our greatest challenge keeping to this structure, as many team members will need to re-condition themselves to working with different team members.

As difficult as it is to transition a flat organization into
one with a hierarchy, I'm hopeful that this change is a necessary step in building out the infrastructure to support SoJo through this exciting growth phase.


 
 
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Almost all of my greatest insights have come to me during the weekends. Not being connected to my inbox and daily operations of work definitely helps to take step back and reflect. I suffered from a burnout in September and October has felt like an off month all around. Over lunch with my brother on Saturday, I told him that I was concerned with how much SoJo feels like its taking over my life; and my inability to control my schedule (as evidenced by working on 12 hour days when I set a goal for myself to NOT work around the clock). Only when I said this fear out loud was I compelled to actually make some changes.

Solution: find the root cause of these persistent feelings of being stretched.  I was instructed to list out all of the activities (whole projects, not tasks) that myself and the team worked on over the past week. Despite having only 4 days in the week, I effortlessly listed over 30 ongoing activities; myself being directly involved in about 25 of them and solely responsible for 10. Its not that I have trouble delegating ( the team at SoJo will be quick to acknowledge my comfort with letting go and giving responsibilities to the team). Being the only person that understands all moving parts of the organization and the vision, I'm often called up for input to keep everyone on track. SoJo is a flat organization, and building in reporting structures has been difficult because most of our senior team members barely have the capacity to deal with what's on their plate, let alone manage and provide necessary support to other colleagues. Strategic planning has dragged out over 2 months and no clear changes have emerged.

SoJo grew incredibly fast and as such the scope and depth of the work at hand has grown exponentially. The problem is, our team hasn't grown at the same pace -- in fact, it has shrunk. Most of our team members came together only in the Spring, they had a lot of time to devote to SoJo and were fresh on energy. Fall is always the busiest time of the year, irrespective of where you work. 15 hours of commitment per week over the past 6-8 months has since shrunk to 5 hours. I'm extremely grateful to have product lead Jesse full-time with SoJo, but its not enough. Some of our team members are burnt-out from having to manage SoJo and other personal activities and have been forced to take a step back. A lot of the momentum from the summer quickly fizzled away in the Fall, as everyone's other schedules ramped up.

Making myself personally available to 10+ team member's part-time, fluctuating schedules has taken a toll on my personal health and wellbeing. I no longer have evenings, as I make myself available to people's consistently changing schedules our team members who can only come into the office after their day job finishes. To top it off, there is little consistency as SoJo is understandably not the top priority (so it is common for people to fall off the grid for weeks and I am left with no choice but to understand). These inconsistencies get me frustrated and the bottlenecks that occur as a result affect the momentum of the entire team.

All this to say that these are the trade-off with working with an a part-time unpaid team. I will say with full confidence that SoJo has an exceptional team which led us to all of SoJo's successes thus far, but in its current form will be unable to sustain the inevitable growth that has already hit us. I'm actively finding solutions to our staffing challenges (finding money needed to bring on some of our team members full-time), however in the interim need to make some changes and trade-offs.

Some of these changes include:
- Reducing the scope of activities the team is actively involved in and fine-tuning our focus even more
- Prioritizing need areas and tackling them one-by-one (rather than all at once)
- Un-flattening the organization to get me less involved in activities that I do not need to be involved with, so I can focus my energies on driving the vision forward

The changes noted above are going to be difficult as everything feels equally important. The Forbes article from this month nailed it:

"Kanika and her start-up have a compelling story and have received plenty of media attention. It is to be seen how SoJo can up the momentum, increase users, net-in some big-name partners and take its awesomeness places. What SoJo needs now is this: Focusing on the product, leveraging relationships and creating new ones, building tangible results including right media coverage, and forming a right-spirited and a serious advisory board. Kanika’s leadership and the ability to learn and adapt is the make or break factor here."

With growth comes change. Change is never easy, but I'm thankful that I've started to recognize the need to learn and adapt now, and not when its too late.


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Source: Multitasking: Switching costs

 
 
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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!


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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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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.
_

 
 
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Earlier last week I came to the realization that I was going over the edge and reaching burnout. Although I started writing this post over a week ago, I'm only now having the courage to openly talk about it. Having a persistent and stubborn personality often forces me to push my limit.

Some indications that lead me recognize that something is wrong:

Insomnia: Normally, I sleep like a rock. Many of my friends are envious of my abilities to sleep on a park bench in broad daylight. I suffered from insomnia every night last week. My subconscious is constantly busy with noise. I was unable to reason through my thoughts, as everything was blurry.

A visit from the parents: My parents came into the city early last week to see me. When asking them what inspired their visit (it is rare that they come during the week), they both said: "we're worried about you."

Sick: Feverish, sick and without energy to move, I spent a couple of days in bed trying to recover and recoup. Morning wake-ups over the past 2 weeks were a struggle.

Grungy: I showed up to the office wearing sweats. I was raised to always look presentable when being out in public, but on days when I had no external meetings, I had no desire to put effort into my wardrobe.

"You look tired": Although feeling sick and going for the grungy look does solicit such comments, being consistently being told by the people who see me on a daily basis "you look tired" made me realize I wasn't given off a positive image of myself.

Limited desire to engage: As an extrovert who naturally derives energy from engaging with other people, I had very little interest in holding up a conversation with someone who wasn't a team member. Conversations which would normally come effortlessly, now came with great effort.

Knowing that something is wrong: Although these signs were apparent, sometimes what's worse is feeling like you have weights on your shoulders bogging you down, but not being able to pinpoint why. I absolutely hated answering the question: "how are you doing?" I did not want to sound ingenuous by saying that I was fine, when I wasn't, but also did not want to say "I feel horrible, and I don't want to talk about it."

Feeling overwhelmed, before any of the above symptoms surfaced I approached an advisor to talk. He knew right away that I was in a lull and tried his best to tease out the source of my frustrations. I had nothing to say.
In response, he said two things:

~ The more successful you become the greater your challenges
~ Let it be


That was 3 weeks ago.  At the time, I did not understand or appreciate the latter piece of advice. Rather than recognize and accept that something was on the cusp of stirring inside of me, I deliberately chose not to listen and let it be, and continued going down a path that would ultimately lead to a burnout.

When reflecting back, I wonder if I had the foresight to accept what was going on, then maybe I would have spared myself a lot of emotional and mental stress and could have rationally tried to identify the root causes of my feelings of being overwhelmed. Perhaps I needed to push myself over the edge, as great insights have since emerged.
It's hard to say. I do know two things:

1-Burnout sucks, and its nothing one should strive toward. I'm still learning to catch onto the signs before tipping over the edge...
2- When you're in a lull, you can only go up from there. I am seeing the light and it is a great feeling. _

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

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

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

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

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


 
 
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Athleticism has never been an interest of mine. Perhaps it's because I'm still scarred from being last-pick in high school gym class, or that I never cared to cultivate an interest. Regardless, I never understood why athletes pushed themselves the way that they did. Despite my inability to relate to their motivation, I was able to appreciate many parallels between the journey of an Olympian and that of an Entrepreneur.

With the 2012 Olympics happening right now, its quite difficult to avoid them. While eating breakfast in the morning, the games dominate the news channels. At the office, the games are playing on multiple large screens, and it's become a conversation starter in meetings. This time around, I have enjoyed watching the Games with a different lens, and for the first time, empathized a lot more with the people we see compete on the screens.

This morning the Canadian Women's Soccer team won Bronze. It is the first time since 1932 that Canada won a medal in a team sport. A huge accomplishment that didn't come without disappointment. Amidst the controversy and anger that surrounded the previous semi-final match, this team stayed focus on their goal: winning a medal and playing the best that they could.

Likewise, as an entrepreneur it is easy to get caught up in adversity, or build negative energy in the face of unfair circumstances. Reality is, the only thing we can control is our attitude and how we make the best of the cards we are dealt. The women's soccer team led by example, put the past behind them, stayed focused on their goal, and triumphed.

Throughout the triathlons and a marathon, we consistently saw stories of those who gave it their all considering exceptional circumstances, including mental barriers and physical limitations. In some case, more attention was given to the character and determination of the athletes who finished last, over those who finished first. A miniscule percentage of aspiring entrepreneurs take their first step. Having the courage to show up is huge, and perseverance is really what defines an individual. Entrepreneurship is a journey, with a more ambiguous finish line; that being said, a similar tenacity and resilience exists among entrepreneurs.

Yesterday I caught a glimpse of an Equestrian final. The commentators made reference to a Canadian jockey who did not indicate a hobby in the standard questionnaire given to all Olympians. Similarly, those of us who have been through the journey know that it is equally difficult to maintain hobbies outside of our work. When asked about my hobbies, beyond sharing a sparse list of leisure activities, I am at a loss for words. SoJo is my passion and love. To be able to do something you love not as a hobby, but as an occupation is an incredible privilege. I imagine it is a similar feeling for professional athletes. Likewise, nothing comes easy. It is an incredible amount of hard work, time and emotional energy to be a professional athlete and an entrepreneur.

For many athletes, their success is the pride of an entire country. I love watching the reactions of parents when they see their kids compete on stage. You can just feel the pride and excitement in their eyes. When a medal is won, the country's flag is worn with pride. Similarly, success for an entrepreneur should be not reserved just for the inner circle. It takes a community to raise an athlete, similarly an entire ecosystem to support an entrepreneur. Team members, users, customers, supporters, advisors, cheerleaders and fans all deserve to share in the pride of an entrepreneur's success. Nothing is done in isolation.

2 weeks into the Olympics, I now have a much better appreciation for athleticism and what it takes for athletes to pursue their dreams. There are an impressive number of parallels with entrepreneurship, and we stand to learn a lot from each other.

 
 
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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!


 
 
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Strategic planning in a Cafe
Back from a wonderful vacation, I start this week beaming with energy and excitement. As entrepreneurs, we often don't give ourselves space to breathe, let alone permission to take an extended break. I initially had apprehensions when booking my tickets, but now thank myself.

More than ever do I appreciate the importance of giving yourself permission to have a break, without the guilt. There is always work to be done. With such a grandiose vision, it is hard to feel like you 'deserve' a vacation, as all you can see is the work that still needs to be completed. When you're at the helm it is scary to leave a team that has been so dependent on you. Timing will never be perfect for a vacation, however a vacation at the right time allows you to work smarter, and not harder. My past two weeks were a mix of relaxation, sleep and recharging the body combined with inspiration, fresh perspectives and strategic thinking.

Being disconnected from email and all incoming communications was a treat. Part of me still wishes I had my "out of office" message on in my inbox. With all the chatter and inflow of communication, it is difficult to shut off the mind, give it a break and decompress; going to the countryside with limited connectivity forced me to do so. Biking (and getting lost) through winding cobblestone streets allowed me to get inspired by the history and beautiful architecture that surrounded me. Having breakfast in a park with a passionate social activist hearing about the effects on the economic crisis gave me better insights. Spending my days in Parisian cafes people watching, observing my surroundings with an open mind allowed me to think and imagine new ideas.

Breaking free of my daily-grind in Toronto to do the above will undoubtedly add value to my work with SoJo.

SoJo is at a really good place now: We've officially launched our public site and now get to do the fun stuff of reaching out to users, building our brand and making SoJo known. In parallel, I will now focus my energies on conceptualizing and developing SoJo's next product. Going back to a clean slate and imagining possibilities is exciting and exhilarating. That being said, this next phase of growth with be equally challenging and I'm ready for what lies ahead.

I used to have this attitude, and among my entrepreneur friends I hear this all the time "I don't have time for a vacation / break, I'm too busy, I have too much to do, etc..."  I have no idea where the past year has gone, and as such, it is upon us to make the time to reset our mind and body. If we do not consciously make the time, it will slip through our fingers without second thought.


 
 
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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.

 
 
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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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I woke up this morning thinking it was a Friday. It is actually a Monday. This is my body's way of telling me that it is exhausted, as I started my week drained as opposed to fresh. Last week felt like a blur, which gets me a little nervous thinking we have only 10 days to pull so many moving parts together.

SoJo has an incredible team, however I am now realizing that it takes full-time effort to orchestrate and guide an entire team towards achieving this mega shared goal. From publishing new content, converting the old content, and creating an editorial process; training new recruits; managing external partner relationships; creating a solidified brand, ensuring SoJo is consistently communicated across all platforms; and of course all of the technical developments on the website itself : there is great diversity of tasks at hand.
All non-launch related activities have been put on hold until July.

Hiccups are inevitable. Last week the SoJo website and inbox went offline unexpectedly for a couple of hours, due to a server migration error. Some of the intermediary goals that were set for Friday are still unmet. With very little buffer space, our launch roadmap is ripe for a domino-like disaster. That being said, I am energized and reassured by the team's collective passion and dedication in ensuring that SoJo officially launches on June 28. Majority of SoJo's team members have full-time jobs elsewhere, and SoJo is a part-time activity. Concurrent with other commitments, everyone is working in overdrive, pulling their weight to get it all done.

Last year I blogged about the concept of Romanticizing the Struggle, and not driving yourself into the ground. Although my head is filled beyond capacity with things to do, and my body is exhausted, I do not feel like I'm "struggling." The inbox remains untouched on Saturdays. I am sleeping at a reasonable hour, and the computer stays at the office overnight. Rather, I see my current situation as getting so consumed in the work, that I get lost in it. An extra dose of adrenaline in anticipation for the launch is fuelling me. Being immersed in the Digital Media Zone community definitely helps, as many other entrepreneurs share a similar energy and drive. This is a big improvement from our beta launch, where I worked alone at 2am on my dining table.

SoJo is more equipped than ever to bring the platform to the next level. Let the countdown begin!

 
 
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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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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!