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Written by Wollette Brown
High School Co-op Student from C.W Jefferys Collegiate Institute

Zainab has talked about having writer’s block before on this blog but surely enough, everyone experiences their own block where they’re stuck and can’t even get started. Starting anything can be a scary process but you need to do something in order to get started.

Freestyle writing is a great way of exercising your brain to get out of that block by letting out all your ideas and emotions. As a singer, I also write my own songs and use freestyling when I’m experiencing writer’s block. In fact, I am doing this right now. There are a couple of ways you can go about this.

A) Freestyle Writing

You can try this exercise when you feel that mental block about starting anything. It doesn’t require any heavy thinking and you will find yourself doing a lot more than you normally would. All you need to do is write whatever you want to write on a piece of paper or in a notebook, whichever one you prefer. Just keep on writing until you think you’re done or until your time is up (if you’re using a timer). For this exercise, Zainab and I challenged each other to see who could write the most in 10 minutes - and this blog post is a result of that friendly competition. The point of this exercise is to stimulate your mind and get your brain active.

B) Record and Rhyme

If you’re looking to help you brainstorm and write something more creative, my brother and I use call the Record and Rhyme challenge. We use it as an exercise to find rhyming words without taking 15 minutes to come up with a single word. It’s a fun way to to clear your mind  from all the stress on starting a sentence, whether you’re writing a song or just need a new approach to thinking about your task.

You will need:
  • a voice recorder, just in case you miss out a word (you can even use your cell phone to do this)paper/notebook, to write down every word you come up with
  • a partner (optional)
  • a beat (it could be any beat you like)
  • a timer

I prefer to do this exercise with a partner because it’s easier but if you like a little challenge, then you can do it by yourself. After you have gotten everything you need, set the timer on for 60 seconds and have one person record and write down every word you come up with. Remember, every word has to rhyme! When you’re done, do the same for the other person, then see who got the most words that rhyme. 

Now that was just the first part of the challenge. Set the timer again for 60 seconds and you both have to write something using those words. The hard part is that the writing piece has to make sense. Whoever finishes first wins!

These exercises can help you who has writer's block and for anyone who needs to take a little break. It would also help with your writing skills and your grammar. Next time you find yourself stuck, try one of these two ways to get your thoughts and emotions moving somewhere where you can see them.

 
 
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Written by Zainab Habib

Yesterday, I met one of our profiled entrepreneurs. Though it was quite by accident actually, since we just happened to both be at a workshop, it gave us a good chance to connect with each other on where our respective organizations are right now.

Maybe the SoJo connection helped but I mentioned that it has been unfortunate that I have not kept up with SoJo's profiles section. In fact, it's the section I've worked on the least. He then suggested that we could make it easier by emailing our profiled entrepreneurs every now and then for updates and we could then display it on something similar to a Facebook timeline.

This idea has tons of merits. For one, it wouldn't require a whole interview but it would force us to continually update the pages simultaneously. It would also add a personal touch to those profiles - and we want our users to feel a connection to these entrepreneurs' stories.

It seems like a simple solution and it's opened up my eyes to exploring what possibilities we could come up with that could indeed foster ease and consistency on our end while still meeting our reasons for profiling entrepreneurs on our site that way in the first place.

And it wouldn't have come up if I hadn't been honest and owned up to the fact that we had not been keeping up with it all this time.

 
 
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This is Part 1of a multi-part series of SoJo's journey of seeking the funding needed to scale its operations and bring it to a point of financial self-sustainability.

Up until now funding has not been an issue for SoJo, as the focus has been on proving the value of our product and the need that SoJo is filling in the market. I believed and continue to believe that if you deliver a valuable service or product, then there will be the resources or market to support that product. Rather than focus our time on securing funds, we were busy building, serving our community and validating the consumer-facing product.

SoJo's product has been validated many times over. With an endorsement from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO as a leading educational platform, an active community of over 2,000 individuals without marketing or outreach efforts, and over 65,000 pages viewed online, and incredible press coverage around the world, it’s safe to say a resource like SoJo is needed by early-stage social innovators.

Over the past 2 years, I've been monitoring the resources and funding options that are available, as I knew we'd eventually need to tap into them and also feed onto our platform. Here is a highly simplified overview of the funding landscape in Canada:

· A not-for-profit with a proven track record of managing funds or a charitable organization that has been through the hoops of receiving CRA charitable status and delivered on projects already are normally eligible for non-refundable grant money from private foundations or government agencies.

· Traditional for-profit organizations with a proven business model, built prototype and validated proof of concept and normally eligible for debt or equity financing to scale growth or build out the product further.

· The most common form of support comes from friends and family of the founders who invest in the founder and their ideas, because they want to support the individual or believe in their ideas.

SoJo is an early-stage social innovation project and when speaking with my peers we all share the same rant: there's big talk, but early-stage social innovation financing is virtually non-existent in Canada. Yes, there are many competitions and awards (which dominate the airwaves leading us to believe that this funding exists). However, the probability of getting them is less than 1%, based on the ever-growing demand for these funds and often allocated based on the bias of the grantors. SoJo was a semi-finalist in the one of the largest awards for social entrepreneurs and we gave it our all -- but were unsuccessful.

Grants route:
Innovation by definition is the act of making what already exists better or starting something new. Although "social innovation" funds are starting to pop up among foundations, applicants must still be either a registered charity or have a proven track record of financial management to show accountability. Although I understand the funding constraints found within these organizations, I will be honest when I say it's contradictory (and counter-intuitive) to demand applicants fit into traditional organizational structures, when innovation is all about starting something new. With no charitable number and only a few dollars in our bank account, this makes us ineligible for many of the opportunities available. We've since built strong relationships with some of the larger funding agencies and I will continue to explore and create opportunities. Umbrella organizations exist to support innovative projects, acting as a financial and legal fiduciary but they take a 10% overhead charge on all incoming funds (which is a lot of money for a tiny nimble organization such as ours) and only work with unincorporated projects - further making SoJo ineligible.  

SoJo is still eligible for traditional non-refundable grants if we find our own fiduciary sponsor. SoJo partners with over 50 nonprofits and charities. I personally reached out to everyone who is eligible and not a single organization was able to help us out. Either they are applying to the same funds themselves or their Boards are not comfortable assuming the risk that comes with the added legal responsibilities. Conversations come to a dead-end, and I end up feeling like I'm 'begging', when I know that SoJo has nothing but value to add. I've spent nearly 2 months seeking out a fiduciary sponsor and have since realized it’s no longer worth my time to actively pursue this route.

Equity investments:
SoJo has a brilliant vision for its revenue model, and it will come from its B2B Whitelabel product. This product has been anecdotally validated by various HR professionals and staff from prospective clients. However, rule #1 of business is that until you have a paying customer, your product has not been validated. Without a validation, it’s difficult to seek mainstream debt and equity funding. 

This B2B product will create a market that does not yet exist. SoJo has no competitors right now on its public-facing site, and our market research shows that there are no competitors in the B2B market that SoJo will create. The price of this product can only be dictated by the market. With a market that does not yet exist, the return on investment is so speculative at this point it won't be even worth anyone's time to discuss those numbers or create a business plan. The plan is to get our pilot customer to share in the development costs, serving as validation, which will allow us to seek the appropriate funds (or generate our own revenue) to build out this product. Until then, equity or "impact investing" types of funding are not an option for SoJo.

In the interim, I've been advised to take the time to create a competitive analysis for this product which can help convince prospective investors of the potential that lies in this market; however it’s still going to be long stretch. SoJo has since hired a Business Development intern who will help with these activities.

Although the B2B has great potential, from our strategic planning emerged the importance of focusing on the consumer-facing (B2C) product. With B2B on hold for the next year, these funding options seem ever distant.

Friends and family:
Between the volunteer hours, in-kind support from partners and financial investments from the founding members (and our families) over 13,000 hours and $500,000 have already been invested into SoJo. Albeit most of this money is in-kind, it does not dismiss the significance of the investment and risk already taken by those involved in SoJo. It’s fair to say, we've exhausted friends and family and this is no longer an option.

Why does SoJo need money?

As alluded to in my previous blog post, a part-time unpaid team cannot fuel the growth that is needed to make SoJo the universal ubiquitous resource for early-stage social innovators. We have taken this as far as we could without external support, and have come very far may I add; however, we are quickly running out of steam.  SoJo needs money so it can build http://theSoJo.net to the point where it can sustain itself (aka bridge funding).

I've read enough reports and heard enough people talking about the importance of supporting social innovation. Social innovation starts somewhere, and for those of us in the trenches, in our early stages and without all of the answers, the outlook does not look bright.

SoJo's vision is to be the starting point, to provide social innovators with the knowledge and emotional support needed to get started and stay motivated in the early days of their journey of creating positive social impact. With a world of ever-increasing social, environmental and political challenges, no one will deny the importance of getting more people and fresh minds involved in building and acting on creative solutions to these challenges. For social innovation to thrive, all of us in the ecosystem need to provide more support to the early-stagers. SoJo is doing its part through education and emotional support, however its time for the rest of the ecosystem to step up and invest in early-stage social innovation. Otherwise this thriving ecosystem will continue to leave brilliant ideas and incredible potential to the curbside; a shame, especially when I know the resources exist.

As I navigate through the challenges and frustrations of seeking bridge funding to bring SoJo to the point where it can be financially self-sustaining, I plan to candidly document this journey on http://SocialJournal.net, with the goal of welcoming more suggestions and the hopes of attracting more attention to this important, but overlooked issue.


 
 
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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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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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Disclaimer: What I'm about to share is highly experimental and is not grounded in any theory or practice.

SoJo has many exciting product development decisions to make. Based on early insights from the strategic planning process, SoJo needs to improve the navigation, usability and interface of the public site. In parallel to making these improvements, SoJo is building its first-ever enterprise-level software product. The stakes are much higher now, and decisions have greater implications. I was able to guide the team to building a content site using a Wordpress framework in its most basic functionality. This next phase of growth is much more complex, and beyond our current capacity.

SoJo has great development team. When given proper direction and structure, they are able to execute above and beyond. That being said, both developers are fairly junior and SoJo is the largest technical project either of them has worked on. Trial by fire has been our methodology thus far,  however it can be a hindrance in moving SoJo forward. The entire organization needs to work at a more accelerated pace to achieve these next set of milestones.

When seeking advice, my challenges around the gap that exists between translating business requirements into functional requirements, the need for a CTO (Chief Technical Officer) came up quite often. Most successful technology companies are co-founded by a technical person, who becomes the CTO. Bringing on an external CTO at this stage of our development will be challenging. We have no intentions of selling SoJo for millions of dollars in the coming years, and the financial payout seems be to be a large motivator to attract good senior technical talent.

Technical recruitment has always been a challenge. Linus and Jesse joined SoJo right before major product launches. For the past 8 months, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for a technical partner. After 3 intense and focused months of searching for a technical team member, I've learned that effort will not always equal result. With the inability to offer a 6-digit salary and a highly competitive market, finding the right person will remain an ongoing challenge for us.

SoJo is in a conundrum where it needs a CTO to grow, however is unable to find one -- therefore the only logical solution is to create one. To fill its technical deficiencies, SoJo will be crowd-sourcing its CTO. This is highly experimental in nature. I have not found any successful case studies and I am still figuring out what it will look like.

Traditionally, crowd sourcing implies reaching out to the public for assistance. In this case, I will be reaching out to a closed network, seeking referrals to source individuals looking to commit their skills and experience to SoJo. Since SoJo is not building any unique technology, all development related activities can likely be covered by our existing development team. What we need instead is support in project management, information architecture, decision making and industry insights. Most of these skills come from experience, and so it makes sense to leverage the experience of many professionals, most of whom can complement one another. In addition to benefiting from the skills and expertise of experts in their respective fields, not having someone in the daily grind of the business can also provide fresh perspectives.

Product vision and business requirements will continue to come from me, so the crowd-sourced CTO will be used for technical guidance.

This approach is highly risky for many reasons:

Lack of ownership and accountability
SoJo will not the first priority of any of the individuals. Being a secondary activity, they may not dedicate the mental energy or time required for this role. A dedicated CTO invests in the company, both with their time and expected payoff. It will be difficult to hold a crowd-sourced CTO accountable to the advice that they provide, as the consequences of their advice may not directly impact them. Beyond goodwill and the opportunity to shape an organization with huge potential for impact, there is not much more that I can offer to our crowd-sourced CTOs in terms of compensation.

Effectively communicating the problem
A crowd-sourced CTO will not be able to get into the trenches or depth of problems. Only someone that works on a project day-in and day-out will understand all of the intricacies of certain technical issues and implementation problems. When only providing incomplete information, we risk getting incomplete or misleading advice.

Fragmentation
With multiple brains giving out different pieces of advice, it is likely that we will receive conflicting and incomplete advice. Distinguishing between everyone's bias can result in a lot of inefficiencies or lead us down a wrong path. Similarly, the different features and technical elements to our products are all intrinsically linked. Each crowd-sourced CTO will likely look at their own issues in isolation. Without taking into account the technical inter-dependencies of each of the solutions, it is possible that solutions to one problem create bigger problems elsewhere. 

Time

Having a dedicated CTO will free me completely of all technical related activities. With less focus on the product, I'll be able to dedicate my time to equally important CEO-type activities, such as getting funding, building the brand and supporting other functions of the organization. In addition to coordinating the schedules of the CTOs I will still be primarily responsible for relaying that guidance to the technical team.  

Risks considered, I'm quite excited about going ahead with crowd-sourcing SoJo's CTO. This could be an experiment gone wrong, in which case we know that we exhausted every option. On the other hand, this can potentially be a new model for what is possible, given limited resources.


 
 
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SoJo is in the early stages of developing its second product, an enterprise focused SaaS (software as a service) product. Although the public site (our first product) still needs to be developed and improved, there is more bandwidth to start developing a new product; one that builds off the existing one.

SoJo's enterprise product is focused on employee engagement and corporate social responsibility. This product is still in brainstorm phase, but as of now the vision is to customize the existing public site into a private online platform that provides opportunities for employee to get involved in their communities in more meaningful ways. This product will effectively help corporations meet their employee engagement goals by improving motivation, retention, loyalty and engagement that staff have with their employers.

For the past 12 months, the entire team has been steadfast in execution, focused on the vision that was created in the early days of SoJo. Now that we are developing a new product, I forgot how much fun it is to brainstorm ideas and work with a clean slate. I'm immersed in the latest published research in the field of human resources,  my schedule is stacked with meetings with Senior executives, HR consultants, staff and potential clients, and I get to dream up a new product that does not yet exist on the market.

In many ways it feels like SoJo is starting a brand new journey, yet the organization feels very much established. This time around SoJo has credibility and infrastructure. With a successful launch of its first product, and an established reputation it is easier to setup meetings and the feedback goes beyond basic validation. Communicating this vision is also much easier. In SoJo's early days, very few people understood what we were trying to accomplish, and only after repeated conversations was I able to effectively convey my message. Not to jinx myself, but in the past few weeks, I have a perfect track record of ending initial meetings with people exited to get involved. This type of positive feedback has been rare for me, and I'm still finding it a little strange to be honest.

All this to say, I've received enough feedback in just a few weeks to believe that this second product has a great deal of promise. When starting SoJo I never imagined entering into corporate enterprise software development - that being said, the opportunity has emerged and I see huge potential for this product to mainstream social innovation and generate revenue for SoJo.

 
 
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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!


 
 
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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This past weekend I hosted a workshop at Canada's largest student-run conference on technology and business. My session was on Taking your Ideas into Action and Social Innovation. We started the workshop with a roundtable to get a better understanding of who was sitting in the room and what they were looking to get out of the session. Of the 50ish participants, I was shocked to learn that many of them knew they wanted to run a start-up, but very few actually had an idea. It is my hope that the participants from the workshop walked away with these two insights:
(1) Figure out what gets you really excited [on the inside], and let that guide your journey
(2) Use your skills, talents, and resources to create something that will add value to our world. There are no shortage of challenges and problems that need bright, innovative ideas.

Chasing your desire to find an idea so you can build a start-up won't get you very far. Ideas are everywhere. I always get taken aback when people tell me, "all the good ideas seem to be taken" (this happens more than you'd think). Likewise, I often get asked "where do great ideas come from?" In my opinion, a great idea is one that has the potential to solve an unmet social need, environmental challenge, or makes the world a better place for society. Ideas most often come from a place of fear, anger or opportunity. The thinking that leads to great ideas come from a series of experiences, that culminate and build upon each other. Great ideas should be intrinsically meaningful to those committed to executing them.

Where did the idea of "SoJo" come from?
While in my third year of building Nukoko, I became frustrated by the lack of resources at my disposal. Under the pretext of  my academic research, I reached out to 50 social entrepreneurs for guidance. Each respondent had a unique story, but all lamented the lack of practical, resource-based support they found when starting their ventures. In hearing their experiences echo my own, the need for a resource like SoJo became immediately apparent. What initially started as a book, has evolved into over 100 blog posts, a dedicated and passionate team, countless conversations, and lots of experimentation, to create what SoJo is today and what we endeavour to build in the future. I still stand by a post I wrote 6 months ago:
"Steadfast in Direction, Flexible in Execution"  : with a clear mission and concrete goals, SoJo has a fairly good idea of what direction its headed in. The HOW is constantly changing, however our WHY will remain constant.

Finding your Idea
I read an article on Vanity Entrepreneurs this morning, which validated my thoughts that some individual's WHYs are convoluted. The desire to build something for the sake of building something, to be cool and/or famous, for an extra line on your CV, or to be rich is not a good WHY. If you find yourself nodding to any of these reasons, then I challenge you to dig deeper. Being attuned to our motivations that extend beyond "vanity" is the driving force behind spectacular ideas and a successful journey of actually bringing them to life.

If you are in search for a great idea, please continue to live your life, build meaningful connections, seek out rich experiences, and be open to listening. My research and experience has taught me that those ingredients will allow great ideas to come to you. When the idea comes, you will know. Whether or not you're ready to act on the idea is another question, but that is why resources like SoJo exist.

 
 
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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!

 
 
_ A trusted friend and supporter of SoJo, Drew from Nuance Leadership sent me the following note in response to my blog post on the importance of taking care of yourself (and not only when you're sick):
_ The problem, as we both know, is that passion tends not to “take a number” and wait patiently until we’re ready to deal with it.  Sometimes an idea kicks us into overdrive and there’s no denying it.

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

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

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

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

So are good ones.

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

All the best,
Drew


_ Although I will argue in a future blog post that bad ideas are not all dangerous, it is important to recognize the danger found when we immerse ourselves in a world fuelled by passion, and often neglect for one's own well being. Let us not only celebrate dangerously good ideas, but also have the strength and wisdom to take care of ourselves so we can see them through. Thanks for the reminder Drew.
 
 
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Exactly one month ago I had the opportunity to meet with the Leader to Leader Institute in New York. This organization was founded Peter Drucker (perhaps the world's foremost pioneer of management theory) and Frances Hesselbein (former CEO of Girl Scouts USA and current President of the Institute). Upon beginning the meeting, I was handed a book called The Five Most Important Questions.
I skimmed through this book earlier, however this morning read the entire book: front to back.

SoJo's focus right now is ensuring our product is ready for Nov.26, however the launch of our open Beta is also connected to the public launch of SoJo as an organization. And thus, I found this book a timely read to help articulate answers to some of the big organizational questions that I've been thinking about for a while.

The book lays out 5 relatively straightforward questions; however it clearly states the importance of flexibility and re-evaluation of all these questions throughout the development of an organization. As it stands, here are my thoughts on some of these big questions.

What is our mission?
To be the starting point and/or critical support in the journeys of youth as they build projects to address unmet social needs and environmental challenges (social ventures).

Who is our customer?
A customer (defined as one who values your service, wants what you offer and feels it's important to them), in SoJo's case are youth who need support in channelling their good intentions, passion and ideas into action.
In Phase 1, our customers are the users of the tool we are creating.

What do our customers (users) value?
SoJo is being co-created by its users. With nearly 300 closed Beta testers and our plan to open a half-complete Beta to all of our users, we are inviting our customers to tell us directly what they value and what they want.

From preliminary research, SoJo can say with confidence that our users will value a website that aggregates relevant information and resources in one place. Our Phase 2 product will be determined directly by the users themselves.

What are our Results?
The book makes a distinction between short-term accomplishments and long-term change, as well as the importance of measuring objectives. We are currently creating mechanisms to measure our goals, which are:

1) To increase the number of youth-initiated social ventures
2) To increase the probability of success of youth-initiated social ventures.

Our long-term change is intrinsically linked with our vision, which is to create a world and associated supports that enable individuals to embody socially entrepreneurial characteristics in everyday activities. This is very abstract, similar to our world-shaking vision and will get further articulated with time as, the more shorter-term accomplishments materialize

What is your Plan?
"Steadfast in Direction, Flexible in Execution" was used to describe how to approach the plan. With a clear mission and concrete goals, SoJo has a fairly good idea of what direction its headed. It is possible that our users tell us to change direction, or abandon the project all together, however until they tell us otherwise, we will be focused on building an online learning tool that will accomplish our mission. The How is constantly changing, however our Why will remain constant.

I will write an update to these questions in a few months, informed by the feedback provided by our users.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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When talking about SoJo, 7 times out of 10 the first question I get asked is “What is your business model?” or “How are you funded?” Undoubtedly within that initial conversation I will get asked a question about SoJo’s legal status as well. Over the past 3 months, I have become disenchanted with our fixation on models, frameworks and labels. The value SoJo is delivering to the community we are serving is at the core of our existence and the focus of our actions. Albeit, a business model is important for any initiative and should be well thought out before a project launches – however is it not equally as important to be sure the product or service you are offering is actually going to drive value and is needed?

I was inspired by a quote from Quora’s co-founder: “Our focus as a company is on building a product, monetization will come later.” Quora is said to be valued at $300million. They did not have an immediate inflow of funding or revenue when they started and it appears as though they’ve focused their energies on creating an online platform that is effective and drives value to its users.

I get excited when people who are in the process of creating projects ask me questions about the site, share with me their challenges or provide suggestions of what they’d like to see on the site. I get equally excited when I’m asked critical questions about the development of our site, the type of information that will be on it and how we plan to reach out to everyone. Not so excited when I’m asked how the organization is structured.

I understand the fascination that comes with a project (such as SoJo) that doesn’t fit into traditional boxes; people are curious and sincerely want to know how we’re tackling difficult issues of monetization and legal structure. That being said, I also think it is easy to get wrapped up in all these issues and lose focus of the core of your product or service: what value are you providing to x [users, community, etc].

Although some individuals applaud our courage for endeavouring to build our prototype and the foundation of this organization with no financial resources, I am always amazed at the organizations that dismiss SoJo’s credibility and do not take us seriously because we don’t have money and have no immediate plan in place to secure funding. One thing we do have is confidence that the site will fill a much needed gap in the virtual world and that is enough to keep us motivated and excited.

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

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

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

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

 
 
While I was in Montreal yesterday catching up friends and former colleagues, I took the opportunity to share the idea of Social Journal with people who I trusted and knew could provide constructive feedback. Two individuals in particular hold respected and distinguished careers in the Communications and Media field in Québec and are disconnected from the ‘social innovation’ world I’ve been immersed in for the past few months.

Although I consider myself fluent in French, I am only capable of speaking in standard “dictionary” vocabulary, as I do not read in French and am not up to speed with expressions and nuanced terminologies. Although I spoke about Social Journal with great enthusiasm and excitement, my tongue got twisted in knots (several times) and I was unable to articulate the essence of the idea as effectively as I can in English. I was frustrated at my inability to speak freely about something that I knew so much about! It is only through expressing myself in a different language do I now realize how many loaded “buzz” words I use and how I’ve adopted a whole new vocabulary.

And so I asked myself: Do I talk in a “different language (figuratively)” to everyone I speak with and assume they know what I’m talking about?

My take-away from this incident, practice your pitch using a Grade 5 vocabulary. You do not need to impress everyone with sexy buzz-words, but rather focus on articulating what you’re trying to achieve and why it is important in basic language. This will enable you to appeal to a much broader audience and allow people who speak different languages (figuratively and literally) to join the conversation.

PS: In case you’re wondering, both of the individuals have offered their support and will act as advisors to this project. Will keep you posted on the contributions they will make to Social Journal!
 
 
...Social Journal
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

So I may have just butchered Juliet’s famous quote, but seriously – why so much pressure on a name? Will the name define what this project is all about?

A few weeks back I spoke with Alex from StartSomeGood. We were joking about how difficult it is to come up with a good name and he actually purchased over 10 domains before the team finally agreed on their official name.
I agree that naming is important, but with the tools at our disposal such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), can’t we all properly market and brand any name?!

Call me biased, but I think Social Journal is quite clever:
Social = do good in the world
Journal = write down your thoughts/bring ideas together, etc...

Social is a nuanced word that has many different connotations, so there was significant pressure to change the name to either something more “meaningful” or “attractive.” With our amazing Design Team, we played with names, made up words, and toss around multiple ideas. As important as a name may be – I felt we got caught up in the branding, where focus needed to come back to the cause.

In this troubled time, Paul, one of our advisors told me:
“This is such a different type of endeavour in my mind - something larger than what people might expect it can become. So in time - the idea itself might outgrow the name or the name no longer suits the purpose… Some of the best names are simple and staight to the point of what they are doing - myspace (welcome to my personal space) facebook (it's a virtual book of friend's faces and their interest and keeping in touch with them) twitter ( i twitt to you what i'm doing and to know i'm here, just like birds do), Social Journal (it's the diary of change and what your ideas are)…I'm more of a simple name person and the meaning of the name to me has to be the most important. Fit the endeavour to a name not a name to the endevour. Pick a name that will stand the test of time.”

Only last night and 200 names later, did we finally agree on SoJo (a nickname given to the project by Paul before anyone told us to change our name).

SoJo is short, catchy, easy to spell, has the potential to create an identity of its own, and still holds its roots of Social Journal. I think more than anything, I’m just excited to get the ball rolling on the design and branding front and get our name (whatever it may be) out there!!!

What do you think? Did your team struggle with picking a name?
How important do you feel it is for amazing ideas to be attached to an amazing name?

 
 
All great initiatives are born from an idea. Journals are great places to store, build and grow ideas. We record our thoughts and observations, our fears and inhibitions, our ambitions and goals, doodle, or collect random facts. Journals are a safe place to self-reflect, but also a place to dream...
 
What is Social Journal?
Social Journal is a community to inspire and inform young social entrepreneurs. Created by young social entrepreneurs themselves, this is a place where we encourage youth to dream big, but also provide them with the right tools and resources and to turn their dreams into reality.

The only requirement to be part of the Social Journal community is a sincere desire to invest your efforts and energy towards addressing an unmet social need. Although the contents of Social Journal will be geared specifically towards youth and young adults – we acknowledge the value of intergenerational learning and thus welcome everyone to Social Journal 

Over the next few weeks, we will be pulling together a Beta site for Social Journal’s community. In addition to this blog, we will include stories of young social entrepreneurs who have initiated some pretty amazing social projects, lists of resources and tools useful for getting a project up off the ground and an online platform to connect youth with great ideas to those with experience in successfully launching projects.
 
The pages are blank now, but we invite you help us populate these pages, by reading and contributing to the Social Journal. Share your thoughts, your ideas and resources and above all, join this community with an open mind and be ready to be inspired.