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.
Exactly two years ago today, September 20, 2010, I wrote SocialJournal.net's first blog post
. At the time, SoJo did not even exist. I was still dabbling with the idea of converting my Master's thesis into an e-book and had no idea what form SocialJournal.net would manifest itself into. Two years later, SocialJournal.net remains a blog; however it has taken on a voice of its own and inspired the creation of many exciting products geared towards helping people take their ideas for social change into action. I would compare the first 365 days of SocialJournal.net
as dipping your toes in the shallow-end of the swimming pool. Only eight months after the inaugural blog post did I decide to pursue SoJo full time
. The building blocks came in place in the first year: SoJo got its name, defined its brand identify, got more clarity on its purpose, released a private beta and most importantly I realized that SoJo has a long journey ahead
. What initially started as a part-time venture spiralled into a vision larger than I can grasp.
In hindsight, the past 366 days of SoJo is comparable to jumping into the deep end of the pool. Where focus was a great challenge in SoJo's first year, this past year was marked by execution. I learned how to set a direction
, quickly realign our focus
, set goals
and accomplish the tasks at hand
. Despite this new focus, I was still very open to seizing new opportunities
; but also struggled with prioritization
Without a technical team in place, I had the tenacity to endeavour to launch SoJo's first public site
at the SociaLIGHT conference, in front of 1000 people. Given the resources we had at the time, it was a huge risk. Leading up to the launch, it was 3 weeks of hustle
, staying calm in very stressful situations
and a great deal of nerves
. Alas the hard work paid off, and not only did SoJo have a successful launch
-- we effectively send out a message to our community: To opt for courage over fear
. The first step to action is putting yourself out there, and SoJo led by example. Later on in the year, SoJo published its Manifesto
, a set of guiding principles and core values which would ultimately influence every decision made.
SoJo finally got a home
! Although it took a couple of months to feel fully welcome in Ryerson's Digital Media Zone, I am now proud to tell everyone about our home and extremely grateful for being incubated in this incredible environment. The support received from this community
over the last few months has been phenomenal.
Through various speaking engagements, I started becoming excited about the possibilities of SoJo emerging as a thought leader
in social innovation, effectively using technology as a vehicle for social change, and more generally on taking ideas into action.
With the press coverage and increased credibility came more attention. As the founder of SoJo, I was now being approached by many folks for advice and help. Although humbling to know that people respect your opinions, I learned and continue to learn how to push back and place and increased value on my time
I recognized the need to work smarter, not harder
. In efforts to get myself better organized
and not get bogged down by my inbox
, I challenged myself to email-free Saturdays
-- and have since disabled all notifications on my phone. More than ever do I acknowledge the importance of not being connected to my work 24/7.
I felt like a small fish in a big pond when taking SoJo's first international trip to the UK
. That trip inspired a strategic move a few months later to launch SoJo out of Beta
. Moving forward, SoJo needs to move out of the sandbox and into the real world. Yes people are more critical and have endless expectations, but taking SoJo out of Beta has given myself and the team confidence to share SoJo and highlight all of its strengths
; namely our endorsement from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, reaching over 15,000 individuals during its beta test phase and creating the most comprehensive collection of informational resources and tools geared to helping early-stage social innovators take their ideas into action.
Yes, we have a site to be proud of, but this latest product launch's greatest accomplishment was without a doubt the success of bringing together SoJo's team
. We held our first team meeting
only 3 weeks before the launch. 366 days ago
I clearly stated that SoJo's greatest challenge ahead is its people; on boarding and managing the right people to the team. Human resources will remain an ongoing challenge, however it is no longer our greatest challenge.
SoJo has been incredibly lucky with its people this year. Our co-designer experiment
was extremely successful. Technical talent joined at the right time. Linus
came in time to see our public Beta to a successful launch, Jesse
joined in time to see SoJo's post-beta launch, and Rebecca
joined as our first female developer. Despite being lucky with technical talent, my 8-month long search
for a CTO came up dry. After countless hours into the process and utter exhaustion
, I have shifted my energy away from this full-time search. We have since opted to crowd-source SoJo's CTO
. An idea that is experimental; as brilliant as it is risky. Necessity forces you to be creative, and I'm hopeful this will be a great interim solution. We recruited
more senior talent to help in communications, outreach and partnerships.
SoJo broadened out its mandate
. We moved from serving youth to serving first-timers, and from projects to social innovations. SoJo also created its own legal structure: the hybrid social venture
. Two moves which will serve as an integral foundation moving forward. Disappointments were inevitable, and with time became better at dealing with disappointments
A breakthrough moment emerged when I came up with a viable idea for a business model
. After nearly 2 years of people asking me: "how will SoJo make money" what a relief to finally have some answers. May I remind you that our focus up until now has been proving the value of SoJo, and not monetizing it. As such, SoJo is a living breathing example of what can be accomplished with very little money.
A theme that emerged throughout the year is the importance of listening to your body and taking care of yourself
, and the value of taking a break
. The past 12 months have been a record for the amount of times I got sick. In the new year, I vowed to be living proof that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into the ground
. Although I no longer romanticize struggle
, considering I suffered from a near burnout
only a couple of weeks ago, it is clear that I still have a long way to go...
Moving forward our greatest challenge will be managing growth
. Graduating from an entirely bootstrapped early-stage startup to a growing startup that needs to accelerate its pace of development and acquire newer resources to get started. Although I'm intimidated by what lies ahead -- when looking back at the past year, past behaviour has shown that miracles are possible and that SoJo has consistently been able to overcome adversity. Bring it on!
IVEY, one of Canada's leading business schools approached me to write a case study on SoJo. I was delighted and honoured, as IVEY cases have a far reach nationally and internationally and what better way to get out SoJo's story.
Up until now, I shared SoJo's story in more of a narrative format; explaining chronologically the milestones we've achieved, challenges faced and decisions made. Yesterday I met the lead researcher, Professor Oana and case writer Melissa. It is fair to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Oana started the interview asking me about the tensions I am currently facing. Before I knew it, I felt as though I was in a psycho-analysis therapy session. Her questions were poignant, difficult, intense, and reflective all in one.
Over the last 2 years, I have had conversations with a couple hundred people about SoJo. My messaging has changed throughout, as did the product of SoJo -- however the vision was always the same. Albeit with time, I've become a better communicator, based on an initial conversation, not a single person has been able to understand the depth and scope of SoJo's vision. What was special about yesterday, is that I never explicitly told Oana what the vision was, or what SoJo was working towards, however she was able to recite to me with precision and greater eloquence what SoJo stands for and what it strives to do. Although a little scary, more than anything this validation was encouraging and exactly what I needed at this point of tension. (see earlier post on burnout
Again, without sharing all of our key actions, decisions made and iterations, Oana drew a model that scientifically mapped out SoJo, our trajectory, the implications of our decisions. Models are incredibly abstract, and she was able to ground every node into key actions made by SoJo. Her assumptions validated what we the strategic planning team has been talking about for the past month. Having been through academia myself, before this conversation I was convinced that there was a disconnect from the ivory tower and reality. Without an agenda or political bias of her own, coupled with years of cutting-edge research, Oana restored my faith in academia. She is a fountain of knowledge and was able to clearly do what no-one has been able to.
This blog has been an outlet to share my thoughts, and it has been second nature to document SoJo's story. Being asked to trace back motivators, emotions and feelings with greater precision was difficult. Talking about vulnerability brought me down unexpected philosophical tangents. It felt as though I was being deconstructed as an individual, as she made inferences about my personal relationships with people and what motivates me as a leader. I'm still digesting and making sense of it all...
3 hours later, she circled back to her first question, and identified that the source of my tensions is growth
SoJo has graduated from early-stage startup to being a startup. Accelerating the pace of development, building out resources to meet this growth is only one challenge. Outgrowing our users, while being authentic and true to the vision is the greater challenge. As we navigate through this period of growth, I will be more disciplined about documenting our journey on this blog. Please bare with me, as the lack of coherence in this blog is a mirror reflection of the lack of coherence of everything in my head.
I left this interview feeling like I got more out of it than what I gave the case writers. I suppose that's what we call a win-win.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
), 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!
It’s official: SoJo is now live and open to the world! Yesterday we launched our public Beta (
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,
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.