This site has been moved to http://www.thesojo.net/blog/
Please update your bookmarks, you will be redirected momentarily.

 
Written by Isabel Ahat
High School Co-op Student from Parkdale Collegiate

What to say, what to say, what to say… Wow, blogging is a lot of hard work!

Why am I even mentioning this? Well, this week I was challenged to free-write within a 5-10 minute span as an exercise into blogging.  Blogging, from my understanding, is an opinion piece, thought process and after thought on any topic. The blog captures how you felt and what you thought about that topic/event/moment. It can range from being a piece on a social issue to how your first day of work went. The list is virtually endless.

The idea of blogging seemed so easy peasy, just write what comes off the top of your head, but I was quite confused. How do you blog? I've read a good amount of posts on fashion and lifestyle all over the web. Just thinking about it, I've noticed that the blogging sphere itself has changed a lot. It’s moved from personal diaries to public journals to sections of websites and eventually has taken over a variety of sites like Tumblr, blogspot, and WordPress. It’s given the writing community a new medium to master that happens to be less structured than novels and equally freeing as poetry, but how do I begin? What can I possibly talk about? What should I include?

I spent a good two minutes sitting in my bean bag chair, frustrated; mulling over more questions, grammatical structure, content choices and the greatest question, what I should write! That was my biggest problem in the exercise: finding a topic, writing my opinions on it, getting started. To be quite honest, I couldn't even officially begin my free-write piece without a prompt, (which helped me a great deal because I've secretly sneaked many of those lines into this post). And as soon as I got the ideas flowing, my time was up and all I had written was equivalent to the 322 words you've read thus far (though those words were poorly organized and incredibly illegible).

After re-reading what I had concocted in the exercise, I came up with some simple personal tips for blogging next time:
1. Have an idea.
2. If you don't have a solid idea, just write what comes to mind (e.g. overview of the week)
3. Avoid trying to make the sentences perfectly witty on the first try. Let it all flow first because you can always edit later.
4. Don’t be afraid to speak from the heart, and include it in you piece. Incorporate the thoughts and feelings you have in the process of writing.
5. If all else fails, remember that tangential writing usually spurs better ideas.

Hopefully these tips will help me out in my next blog so I can avoid being stuck in another topic jam.
 
 
Picture
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.

 
 
Written by Zainab

As I've mentioned before, I'm working on redoing the Getting Started section on our website because it's not as reflective of who we are as an organization - it feels cold and unfinished at the moment, and we aim to be as supportive and comprehensive as we can. 

The quiz I've had the most trouble thinking of questions for is the one where you would ask: "am I passionate enough?" We will rephrase and reframe the quiz so that a user taking it would probably just say, "I'm trying to find my passion" and so I've gotten started on a second re-edit of it this week.

I'll be honest: I've almost always found my passions through a) slowly admitting to myself that a certain intellectual space wasn't right for or b) pure accident. I'm also lucky that I happen to be in a space where I can be passionate about what I do. But I'm curious as to how other people find passion. How would they know? How do you ask questions without that two way conversation to help guide you?

So I'm putting it out to you there: how did you find your passions? Were there certain questions you asked yourself to get there? Are you still looking for yours?

In the meantime, I'm going to step away and take a break from it. As passionate as I am about what I do, we all need a break every now and then.
 
 
Picture
Written by Zainab 

One of my upcoming projects is to think about our content strategy.

I will make a confession though: I am not a content strategist. Or at least I've never really thought of myself as one... up until I picked up a copy of Content Strategy for the Web (the second edition) by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach.

See, there's nothing wrong with what I currently think I do at SoJo as editor/ writer/ content coordinator/ volunteer manager/ anything-else-I'm-missing. What tends to happen though is that I often focus on the short-term tasks and projects... and forget that my role is there for me to think about the broader, higher-level aspects of content.

I admit it's easier to have let it slide for some time because I have no real background in content, in terms of education or prior experience. I just happened to fall into this. (Very happily of course! :))

And so I've gone with the current, doing what we've done with changes here and there. Our content is great, but I know it could be better. It especially matters when you, our users, are not satisfied with it either.

As I've alluded earlier before when looking at setbacks, pulse checks are necessary - even when things seem fine. After all, we want to ensure we're always pushing the envelope.

And in this case, it means stepping into yet another new aspect of my role here at SoJo: strategically thinking about our content and what it does for our users, and then acting on those changes and educating the team about good content principles - which I will definitely be taking from the book and from Brain Traffic's blog).

I've gotten three chapters out of twelve so far and I'm already inspired. I'm certainly going to keep you updated as I learn more and expand my thinking around content strategy.

In the meantime, tell me what you like and don't like about our content and layout of it all. Speaking of layout, what do you think of the new Knowledge Hub? Tell us in the comments below or email us at content@thesojo.net.

 
 
Written by Zainab

As I mentioned, I'm working on revamping the Getting Started section since there's certainly room for improvement. I've had a difficult time redoing it, simply because it's not as I initially thought to translate and replicate a conversation I'd more likely have face-to-face with the other person's input after which I formulate my next thoughts or questions. A conversation is a two way street and the online nature of the quizzes would naturally miss out on body language, oral tone, and the like. Mind you, I don't think we have the artificial intelligence for it, though something like a SoJo-ized version of CleverBot would certainly be clever.

However, it's about working within one's constraints -- every project has its constraints, whether it's time, resources, or human support. Some of the constraints for this particular project were then putting me in a funk and I wasn't sure how I'd break out of this. It didn't help that I was temporarily out of power at home due to weather conditions on Monday and so I had fewer resources at my disposal. In my frustration, I decided an impromptu reading break yesterday would help.

This is where I found new ways of revising the content through my reading and the Google searches that followed. Find what inspires you, whether it's an old magazine with an article on pleasure or a good book on looking at your time differently (review coming soon!). These pieces, in turn, then got me to think about what we could ask you differently. Those catapulted my inspirations for how we could reword our questions differently and still let you come to your own conclusions, something I truly believe we're working towards with every part of our site.

I've always been an avid reader so this comes more naturally to me. But what if you're not? My suggestion is to let your curiosity and the need to "find" inspiration guide you. Imagine yourself on a quest for information, to lead to the treasure of inspiration that will help launch your next actions. Give yourself some time, as a break, to do this and let each piece guide you to your next one, just like you would in a scavenger or treasure hunt. Before you know it, you'll have found the inspiration you've been looking for all along.
 
 
PictureSocial Journals, courtesy of Ecojot!
Written by Team SoJo, compiled and after-thoughts by Zainab

We're (officially) 1!

Though SoJo has been in the works for a while (our first blog post was on September 20 2010!), we officially launched last year in June.

We've got a lot of reasons to celebrate this birthday. In celebration of our first year, here's a (incomplete) compilation of our reflections on what SoJo means to us on the team:

"What SoJo means to me: Taking a risk and choosing the path less travelled (but more meaningful!)" - Myra
"SoJo means making the world a better place through social innovation" - Adil
"SoJo is the future of online social innovation" - Jesse
"SoJo: A social platform to test your innovation ideas that helps society" - Himanshu
"SoJo means helping others and helping others understand" - Kaitlin
"The perfect place to join a wonderful community together" - Sabrina
"SoJo means individuals with access to the internet can join a community and tap into a plethora of tips, tools, advice, and stories to inspire and support them in their entrepreneurial journey." - Shauna
"To me, SoJo is an amazing platform where smart, motivated individuals help other smart, motivated individuals make the world a better place." - Kya
SoJo to me represents:
Friends
Balance
Inspiration
Future
Change
Empowerment
- AJ
And finally... what does SoJo mean to me? Perhaps I should have written down my response last night with everyone else at the team meeting. As I compile this list, I can't help but feel wonderfully overwhelmed by our passion, our dedication, our drive, our belief in what we're doing here at SoJo.

I first joined SoJo in February 2012, and have felt us grow as an organization and as a team since then. As Kanika said in her reflections about the launch, the magic behind SoJo really lies in our team.

Yet this magic could never happen without you, our users and our partners, the people who inspire us to continue what we're hoping to do with SoJo. Thank you for visiting the site, reading the blog, subscribing to our newsletter, telling us your stories, and sharing your expertise and advice. Thank you for being with us from the beginning, through the good and the bad, and here today.
So thank you!
This supportive, engaged community is what SoJo means to me. 
You're truly worth the magic.
 
 
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.
 
 
Picture
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:

Picture
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.

Picture
Sharing my thoughts on Social Innovation
Intellectual Stimulation
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. 

 
 
Picture
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!  

 
 
Picture
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!


 
 
Picture
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!

 
 
Picture
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.
_

 
 
Picture
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.


 
 
Picture
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.

 
 
Picture
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.

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

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

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

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

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

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


 
 
"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." - Henry Ford

SoJo's entire team came together for the first time less than 4 weeks ago. It is safe to assume we kept together, as yesterday SoJo had an incredibly successful official launch. With primarily remote and virtual interactions, everyone worked together as one cohesive unit to create magic.

While still in bed at 5:45am, with great anticipation I checked out newly released http://theSoJo.net. The first thought that came to mind as I was browsing the completed product: SoJo has the most incredible team. I couldn't be prouder of the product we released and of the incredible people who were instrumental in bringing it together.

The chemistry found in our team is something quite special. Although incredibly diverse, what unites everyone is their passion for SoJo. Even under a high-pressured environment with super aggressive timelines and a multitude of mini-setbacks, I did not hear a single complaint. Everyone owned SoJo and took it upon themselves to achieve their individual goals to meet a shared milestone. It has been a pleasure to see everyone grow over the past few weeks. New skills were acquired. A deeper understanding of the product was gained. And an even greater sense of belonging to SoJo was felt.

We have a team that looks out for each other. In order to do well (and to make the world a better place), we need to be well ourselves. Just shy of midnight, the night before the launch, editor Marc and designer Bill physically escorted me out of the office. After 15 continuous hours of plugging away, they had the foresight to remind me that I, too, am human.  

To celebrate the launch and UNESCO's endorsement, SoJo hosted its first ever party. Invitees were primarily partners, supporters and users of SoJo. Overwhelmed by a room packed with great energy and pride, I was humbled and in awe by the outpouring of compliments geared directly towards the team.

Last night, after seeing the team interact with each other at the bar and reflecting on what was accomplished over the past few months, did I acknowledge for the first time the intangible, yet beautiful team culture SoJo is fortunate to have. It feels as though this culture organically built itself over the past few weeks.
Rare and a further testament to how amazing Team SoJo is!
Picture
Toronto-based SoJo Team - Photo taken by Calvert Quatch
 
 
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

 
 
Picture
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.

 
 
Picture
An invitation to keynote an event to a group of students and community of professionals interested in global leadership led me to Ottawa. After networking and meeting with people internationally in the UK and in the United States, a trip to Canada's national capital was well overdue. My meetings in Ottawa went very well, and resulted in new partnerships and collaborations for SoJo.

The only meeting without an "agenda" was a visit to the HUB Ottawa. Part of the global Hub network, HUB Ottawa is a place-based member community and co-working space that offers a unique mix of infrastructure, programming and connections to help people kick-start, co-create and grow enterprising ideas for a better world.

Vinod, the Managing Director of HUB Ottawa is a good friend and in many ways our entrepreneurial journeys have been running in parallel. Always keenly interested in social innovation, Vinod was helpful in connecting me with research participants for my thesis which ultimately led to the creation of SoJo. While I was in the early stages of figuring out what Social Journal would look like, Vinod was percolating ideas of how to make Ottawa a city more welcoming for innovation, and had creative ideas for unconventional ways of getting youth to inform the policy-making process -- and so our journeys began. I started SoJo in Toronto and he set out to transition out of his job to work full-time on bringing the HUB to Ottawa. Despite being in different cities, working in different industries (physical infrastructure vs. virtual technology), and in different life phases (Vinod is married and has a mortgage), in many ways we could relate to each other and would periodically check-in on each other's journeys. We hashed out our shared frustrations around access to financing, the inefficiencies and redundancies that exist in the current social innovation landscape in Canada, used each other as sounding boards, shared updates on mini-successes and talked about the difficulties of letting go of team members.

The same weekend SoJo launched our public Beta, The HUB hosted their first open-house to invite future members to preview their new home. Having the opportunity to see the HUB Ottawa complete and witness Vinod interacting with the members of this community he was instrumental in creating was humbling and exciting. It was great to share in the success of this new venture, an idea which I had a chance to see develop every step of the way on the sidelines.

In many ways our two ventures are very different, however it was great to have a fellow entrepreneur-friend be with me along my journey. No venture is built alone, and both of us have great teams and advisors - however the entrepreneur, the individual who has invested all of themselves in their ventures, face a different set of pressures and challenges. Building a peer-support network of entrepreneurs going through a similar journey (at the same time as you) is very healthy, as they can relate to what you're going through, which allows you to speak open and candidly without fear of judgment. Another companion great to have during this roller-coaster of a journey. 

 
 
Picture
_2011 was a great first year for SoJo. The idea of SoJo (Social Journal) came off paper and finally started to materialize; we converted the cynics by launching an incredible public Beta on very limited resources; and to top it all off, we received phenomenal external validation from major media outlets, including a feature in
The Globe and Mail
. 75 blog posts were written last year documenting our story in real time.

Thus far, within 5 weeks of launching, SoJo has a community of 3000+ individuals eager to build social ventures. You're not alone, and SoJo will not rest until we reach our objective of supporting 100,000 youth in their journeys of changing the world. 2012 will be a significant year for SoJo, and we will work hard to get closer to achieving our vision.

As we say goodbye to 2011, I very eagerly welcome Phase 2 of this next leg of our journey.

Over the next week, our team to will be working on SoJo's strategic plan for Phase 2, as well as outline our long-term objectives for the next couple of years. In the first half of 2012, SoJo will be committed to iterating on the current public Beta, with the goal of releasing a more interactive and robust second version of the tool; increasing our reach, by building more strategic partnerships and participating in outreach activities directly with our community; all while focusing on user engagement and satisfaction with SoJo.

My anticipations and aspirations for the upcoming year include: expansion of our team; revenue generation; gathering valuable intelligence that will allow us to build an intuitive tool to better support our users; and of course, a much larger global community of young social entrepreneurs.

Yesterday I made a call to action to our readers, urging that they hold themselves accountable to bringing their ideas to life in 2012. SoJo is still in its infancy and we are publicly holding ourselves accountable to our users by documenting our aspirations, plans, and actions every step of the way, here on this Blog.

Although planning and personal intuition are valuable, there is no way of predicting what the next year has in store. It is our hope that you continue to be inspired by our story and bottom-up approach of making change happen.

Rested and rejuvenated from a relaxing holiday season, I'm ready to handle the uncertainty, setbacks and challenges that are inevitable. Equally so, I'm excited to embark on Phase 2 of this very exciting journey and look forward to more victory dances, more milestones and bigger accomplishments.

If you were with SoJo last year, we sincerely thank you for your support to get us through our first Phase.
If you are just joining us now, welcome aboard! Phase 2 promises to be nothing short of eventful and rewarding. We hope you're ready for the ride!

 
 
Picture
_Between launching our product on Saturday and announcing its launch this morning, the past 5 days have been overwhelming with attention, praise, congratulatory remarks, acknowledgement, love, excitement and positive energy. Over a year in the making SoJo is finally out in the open. Vulnerable to criticism and attacks, but more importantly - it is now an accessible resource which will serve as an integral support to youth in their journeys of making our world a better place.

Direct feedback for our public Beta has been fairly positive; the depth of the content and the overall user-experience. SoJo is only a representation of the individuals behind it: our team. SoJo operates as a virtual team, and I am often asked why we endure the barriers that come with virtual communication and collaboration. My answer is simple: We have the best people on our team. Geographic boundaries should not serve as a barrier to working with the most qualified and well suited individuals.

Our current team worked around the clock for the past few weeks gearing up for the launch. Initial team members invested themselves in SoJo's vision when there were more cynics than cheerleaders around us. Everyone who has been involved with SoJo has been vital in building the foundation of this organization and without them this launch would not have been possible, let alone be as successful as it was.

In addition to the positive feedback from our users (whose opinions give fuel to our fire), the hard work, creative talents and intellect of our team has also been externally validated.  This morning The National Post featured SoJo. (Click here to view the article). To receive national press coverage for a beta launch, that too, a social enterprise led entirely by a young team is huge! I'm equally excited to see our article placed in the Business Section, placing a new precedence that social change and business are not mutually exclusive.

Here's to celebrating and acknowledging a brilliant team who has made SoJo what it is today, and who will be integral in iterating and improving SoJo moving forward.

 
 
Picture
_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!

 
 
As I type this post it is the early hours of Saturday, November 26; I am excited by knowing that today is our big launch date! Today SoJo will be made public to the world. It would have been safe and easy to keep SoJo in closed Beta until we felt it was perfect, but we've opted instead to share our vision with the world, and in turn invite our users to help us co-create and realize this vision. We soft-launched the site on Thursday, however have been in a mad rush to get it upto par and in a presentable shape. Our team is still diligently working on the backend of the site in preparation for the official launch in only a few hours! Earlier this afternoon we sent a special invitation to all of our Beta testers and early supporters to preview the site. To share such an important milestone with the individuals who believed and supported us in our journey thus far was an incredibly proud and rewarding feeling. I'm excited to know that those feelings will only intensify over the course of the next 24 hours!

SoJo has been a work-in-progress for over a year now, and its been an intense 6 months getting our product to where it is today. Acknowledging all of the effort expended over the past few months, the intensity of this lead-up period has been quite the experience. Email exchanges at 2am have become quite a normal occurrence over the past week. Hairs were pulled trying to fix fundamental technical problems. Frustrations were experienced when work had to be duplicated. Compromises were made. Yet in spite of all that, we made it!

I can comfortably say that the nerves have been replaced by excitement. My apologies for the lack of coherence in this post. I am much too eager to sleep so that I can wake up in a few hours to rock this launch! Future posts will detail the past 48 hours and the immense amount of learning that occurred.

Even if you can't physically join us for launch, we still hope that celebrate with us! We are excited for the start of this new journey. You're invited to join us [again] for an exceptionally exciting ride.