Written by AJ Tibando
It's been two weeks since I got back from my vacation. Vacations are the best for many reasons - a chance to relax, unwind from daily stress, get away from work and emails and responsibilities and focus on yourself. They also give you a chance to step back from the busyness of your day to day activities, gain perspective on the big picture and re-centre. Since this wasn't just a vacation, but was also my honeymoon, I was adamant that I was going to unplug 100% and with all of the stress leading up to the wedding and the changing circumstances at SoJo with Kanika being away, I was more than ready to get re-centered.
We went to Europe for just over two weeks - Paris, Milan and Scotland - and it was wonderful. Being in different countries, eating different food and listening to different languages helped me to unwind and shed a layer of stress that had been building up over the months. It definitely helped me to step out of my bubble and gain perspective on work, SoJo and what we're trying to do, as well as some perspective on life. There's nothing like vacationing in countries where the essence of life is to eat, drink and live well to remind you about what's really important.
The other great thing about being away, is coming back and seeing how much got done without you. Zainab and Jesse and the whole SoJo team managed to 'wow' me with how much they accomplished in the two weeks I was away and it was great motivation for me to dive back in on my return. Yesterday, Zainab left for vacation - she will be gone for two weeks - and Jesse and I are determined to 'wow' her when she gets back.
Sharing SoJo's Story
Yesterday, SoJo's case study was revealed to a group of sustainability students at the Ivey School of Business at Western University. Ivey Cases are the second most distributed business cases globally. (extra bonus: SoJo will receive the royalties from all of the cases sold)
. AJ and I were invited to participate in the reveal of the case. From the moment we boarded the train at Union Station in Toronto to the moment we arrived back, almost 16 hours later - it was a non-stop day of stimulation, thinking, speaking and meetings.
My experience with this Case Study journey began with an Interview
4 months ago. The initial interview with the researchers writing the case was an intense experience, resulting in deep introspection. The insights that emerged from that interview still resonate strongly with me. Yesterday, I experienced a completely different set of emotions. I met really interesting people and had great conversations, however there were 2 experiences from yesterday that struck me deeply:
Students analyzing SoJo
Live Case Study
SoJo's story was presented in the form of an abridged, 3-page case study to a group of students. This was the first time that a case was paired with blog posts. Students discovered SoJo through an interactive treasure-map that forced them to poke into the different sections of our website. An immersive experience like never before. Many of the students identified as users of SoJo, making this a relatable and meaningful case.
What became clear very early on, many of the faculty members and some of the students had read SoJo's blog from front to back, and know our story inside-out. It was really strange to have others talk about my emotions and feelings -- with me right there. I remember doing case studies, and studying different people. It only sunk in during that class, that I am now that person who got examined under a microscope -- thousands of times over.
The students were asked to scrutinize SoJo, lay-out its attributes, limitations and growth needs. Both AJ and I scribbled notes the entire time, as some great insights came from those discussions. Without communicating SoJo in our own words, we now know how the message is received by others and first impressions. They made recommendations on what SoJo's future business decisions should be. It was like a group consultant, working with incomplete information, providing insights on how SoJo should be run to meet its growth challenges.
Everyone that works with me knows that I am never at a shortage of words, especially when it is talking about SoJo. This was a class where students were forced to think through their hypothesis and learn on their own. While I knew the answers to most of their questions (why certain decisions were made, and the rationale behind them), I was forced to sit back and abstain from commenting. It was so difficult to hear conversations go completely off-tangent, where the insights completely missed the mark. On the other hand, it was gratifying to have the opportunity to share my thinking and see the "eureka" moments on their faces. They now saw something about SoJo that they did not before -- and it is my hope that this will stay with them for life.
Sharing my thoughts on Social Innovation
After the case reveal, I was shuttled to a PhD seminar, and was asked to talk about Social Innovation to a group of doctoral students who were about to begin their research journey. The goals of having me speak with this group were to ask deep questions to push their boundaries and ways of thinking, and to help them uncover opportunities for research into different areas. A lot of pressure to be put on the spot with really smart people; however an opportunity that was unlike any other.
I spoke in plain language. They repeated back in theories and successfully explained SoJo's vision and impact in abstract. This allowed me to understand with greater clarity what we're doing, and explain where we are headed. I was touched when a student approached me to say that I completely changed his outlook on everything (in a good way). I believe I learned just as much as the group.
While I came home exhausted from an intense day -- I wouldn't trade in yesterday's experience for anything.
We ended the day talking about Case B for SoJo. I can't wait to do this all over again.
The following post is written by Sheva Zohouri - the individual responsible for setting up SoJo's Profiles section
Interning at SoJo – a Sublime Glimpse into the Human Condition and Potential
It was Farch, a friend’s word I adopted to help me through the dragging tail end of a Toronto Winter. I was unemployed, a situation I didn’t like but accepted as a Writer – searching. For some, time can be an enemy where others see it as an opportunity.
Before this, I worked six years straight out of University and before that school and competitive figure skating took it all. I was free at last, to dream – a terrifying prospect. My fear looked at me and I looked at it and said ‘screw you’. I wanted to write but I also wanted to give back, a post on Charity Village was my first introduction to SoJo.
SoJo catapulted me in to the disruptive and revolutionary world of ‘social innovation’. Perusing the website I thought ‘I have to be part of this’.
Fast forward to my first interview with Kanika, Chief Catalyst and Visionary of SoJo. I remember sitting across from her as she told her story, moved and already infected by her fearless ambition. I felt a spark of something extraordinary – my creative food. This was my ticket to explore the depths of human potential and the human condition. We shook hands and with a look, I knew this was the beginning of something bigger than us.
My role as Associate Editor was to develop and manage the Profiles of rare individuals who took the road less traveled. I would meet radical thinkers with true grit, hear their tales and try to do them justice with my words. I had to capture both the personal and entrepreneurial sides of the journey. Kanika empowered me to follow my gut and act, a rare trait in a leader.
I had total creative freedom to find the voice of SoJo – how to embody the disruptive and fun loving spirit of social innovation with words. It is to this day I believe, an ever-evolving adventure and language. The voice of struggle, courage, boldness, fear, determination, creativity…the list goes on and on.
There was the journalism, listening, thinking and writing; and then there was development. Development was daunting and there was so much I wanted to do but I had interviews and posts to keep on top of. Like many of my subjects I had to keep all the balls in the air while learning how to juggle.
This is probably a good time to mention that I had a new demanding full time job. Farch came and went, I was building relationships, writing and learning the platform. With the launch of the site in August I was determined to stay on, I knew somewhere inside I was spreading myself too thin but my passion and the passion of the community drove me on.
I was learning and growing with my subjects, building up the courage to go after my dreams, facing my fears and as Theresa Laurico would say, dancing with them. It was easy for me to ignore my fears and dreams as I tried to live vicariously through my subjects – isn’t that what most of us writers do?
The time had come. I started asking myself those difficult questions, looking for my untraveled road. As this Farch approaches I’m overcome by nostalgia and a hint of melancholy reflecting on sublime times at SoJo. I got to work with brainy visionaries, attend conferences, strategies and geek out over word press at the DMZ, an entrepreneurial incubator in the heart of Toronto. But more than that, it showed me that anything is possible if you dare to dream.
Kanika talking about SoJo on the main stage
This past weekend, SoJo participated in the SociaLIGHT conference. This is the same conference that SoJo launched its public beta exactly one year ago. SociaLIGHT and SoJo are often seen as sister companies, as we both launched at the same time, have the same vision of the future and work in a very complimentary fashion to deliver on our respective organizational mandates.
The conference came in great anticipation. The team hustled for the past month to re-launch newer and improved SoJo in time for the event. 5 SoJo team members signed up to participate at the conference, to stand at our booth, demo the site and engage first-hand with our users.
I was excited for the opportunity to deliver a keynote on the main stage, to share SoJo's story; how we came to SociaLIGHT, what it took to launch at such a big event, and the successes achieved as a result of the public launch and learnings acquired over the past year. It is my hope that I inspired the 1000-person audience to have the courage to act on their ideas. SoJo's first major milestone was its public launch at SociaLIGHT, and since that launch, we've come a long way.
The following day, I delivered a more intimate, interactive and hands-on workshop to a smaller group of participants on the "how-to" of turning ideas into action. Although everyone was tired from such a high-energy event the previous day, even at 5pm on Sunday evening I was in a room filled with engaged and excited individuals eager to learn.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the weekend was the love and energy shared by everyone present. A number of delegates who saw SoJo launch last year approached myself and members of the team with great pride, to see us again, but to also say: "I was there when it all started." I'm thrilled that our users and community share in the success and pride of SoJo, as this is a tool for them, built by them. Overall, SociaLIGHT was an incredible weekend and SoJo couldn't have been happier to share our journey with this wonderful organization!
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!
Today I decided that SoJo will submit a research proposal to Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, due October 1. I've been told it takes about 2 months to submit a comparable type of proposal. Having never written a research grant before, let alone collaborate with academics I am seriously starting to question my sanity. Regardless, this is a fabulous opportunity and one that I am eager to take full advantage of. Although I've know about this fund for a few months, I only realized last week that SoJo is eligible and should consider applying. Late last week I approached the research office, expressing my interest in this application and requesting their help finding me an academic researcher. I received a very stern warning saying that I was endeavouring to something incredibly ambitious given then timelines and that a lot of work lay ahead of me. Being a qualified applicant, the research office had no choice but to help out. With a little persistence on my end, they sent out an email to a generic listserv of faculty members, and within 12 hours I received 7 responses. That early validation and interest in SoJo was integral to getting this process started. Because in those same 12 hours I received an incredible amount of cynicism and doubts from those around me.
This grant is a collaboration between an industry partner (SoJo), College partner and University partner. I was confident that a researcher from Ryerson University would come on board based on initial interest. SoJo has had a longstanding relationship with the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and I eagerly approached the Dean of the Design Faculty to get onboard. To my negligence, OCAD is actually a University, so that early excitement led to even greater disappointment and embarrassment. I was now without a College partner (when I told the University partners that I had one. This is my first lesson is real-time negotiation). And so I did what every entrepreneur does: hustled with relentless energy and optimism. People raised their eyebrows as soon as I mentioned the October 1st deadline. I simply responded with confidence and shared the vision, and that was enough convert many skeptics. I called upon everyone I knew, asking for a huge favour to facilitate introductions with demanding turnarond times. I approached strangers and asked them to vouch for me. Lucky for me, SoJo has great credibility and has an awesome project -- but it was a stretch to say the least.
Need I note that the first two weeks of school is the busiest time for anyone at an academic institution, let alone deans and professors. Here I am making demands and asking senior and very busy people to clear their schedules.
After a couple of conversations with the key collaborators, this morning I got the green light from the both the College and University collaborators. I just came out of our first meeting with a list of things to produce for the next 48 hours (I'll be away from my computer for 36 of those hours, let alone my existing busy schedule). I'm ecstatic that SoJo is going ahead with this, and will let this positive glow overpower any doubts or reality checks that arise over the next 10 days.
In the words of of the lead researcher: "It will be a miracle if we get this application in on time. It'll be an even bigger miracle if we are successful." This is coming from someone with a 100% success-rate with such types of applications with NSERC and who administers millions dollars worth of research annually.
Start-ups are run on miracles, and history leads me to believe that miracles do happen. So there is no reason to stop believing / hoping... Its going to be a long week and a half ahead of me and this team. Wish us luck!
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.
Athleticism has never been an interest of mine. Perhaps it's because I'm still scarred from being last-pick in high school gym class, or that I never cared to cultivate an interest. Regardless, I never understood why athletes pushed themselves the way that they did. Despite my inability to relate to their motivation, I was able to appreciate many parallels between the journey of an Olympian and that of an Entrepreneur.
With the 2012 Olympics happening right now, its quite difficult to avoid them. While eating breakfast in the morning, the games dominate the news channels. At the office, the games are playing on multiple large screens, and it's become a conversation starter in meetings. This time around, I have enjoyed watching the Games with a different lens, and for the first time, empathized a lot more with the people we see compete on the screens.
This morning the Canadian Women's Soccer team won Bronze. It is the first time since 1932 that Canada won a medal in a team sport. A huge accomplishment that didn't come without disappointment. Amidst the controversy and anger that surrounded the previous semi-final match, this team stayed focus on their goal: winning a medal and playing the best that they could.
Likewise, as an entrepreneur it is easy to get caught up in adversity, or build negative energy in the face of unfair circumstances. Reality is, the only thing we can control is our attitude and how we make the best of the cards we are dealt. The women's soccer team led by example, put the past behind them, stayed focused on their goal, and triumphed.
Throughout the triathlons and a marathon, we consistently saw stories of those who gave it their all considering exceptional circumstances, including mental barriers and physical limitations. In some case, more attention was given to the character and determination of the athletes who finished last, over those who finished first. A miniscule percentage of aspiring entrepreneurs take their first step. Having the courage to show up is huge, and perseverance is really what defines an individual. Entrepreneurship is a journey, with a more ambiguous finish line; that being said, a similar tenacity and resilience exists among entrepreneurs.
Yesterday I caught a glimpse of an Equestrian final. The commentators made reference to a Canadian jockey who did not indicate a hobby in the standard questionnaire given to all Olympians. Similarly, those of us who have been through the journey know that it is equally difficult to maintain hobbies outside of our work. When asked about my hobbies, beyond sharing a sparse list of leisure activities, I am at a loss for words. SoJo is my passion and love. To be able to do something you love not as a hobby, but as an occupation is an incredible privilege. I imagine it is a similar feeling for professional athletes. Likewise, nothing comes easy. It is an incredible amount of hard work, time and emotional energy to be a professional athlete and an entrepreneur.
For many athletes, their success is the pride of an entire country. I love watching the reactions of parents when they see their kids compete on stage. You can just feel the pride and excitement in their eyes. When a medal is won, the country's flag is worn with pride. Similarly, success for an entrepreneur should be not reserved just for the inner circle. It takes a community to raise an athlete, similarly an entire ecosystem to support an entrepreneur. Team members, users, customers, supporters, advisors, cheerleaders and fans all deserve to share in the pride of an entrepreneur's success. Nothing is done in isolation.
2 weeks into the Olympics, I now have a much better appreciation for athleticism and what it takes for athletes to pursue their dreams. There are an impressive number of parallels with entrepreneurship, and we stand to learn a lot from each other.