Written by Zainab
First off, our apologies for not writing in a very long time. Though I will swear that we are certainly up to something here. We've been in the process of moving the blog over to our main site (yes, this is the unofficial announcement) since it's a move that makes sense for us (more on that later).
Between this and my content audit (a process where I'm going through everything
on the site to create an inventory with notes), I've been doing a lot of time-consuming work that feels never ending with no quick wins. And today, I was visibly tired of the task at hand. Though we have shifted a lot of the basics over, I'm now going through and adding the finishing touches to each post. Since it's time-consuming, it feels like I can't see the results of my efforts anytime soon. To combat this, I took physical and/or mental breaks every now and then... but it never quite got rid of the feeling I wasn't getting anywhere.
Then I remembered this article by Sarah Von Bargen where she suggested that the key to happiness at work is to track your efforts, not your results
. It may seem like odd advice but in the midst of this particular task, it's exactly what I needed to remind myself, that there was a value in doing this work and I am indeed the person to do the job (even though I must admit, some of this will get delegated).
Sometimes we all need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves why we're doing what we're doing, whether that reminder is about a task at hand or about our roles and projects. If you're feeling the way I am right now, you're certainly not alone in wondering where this is all going - I assure you you're going somewhere and soon enough, you'll land where you need to be.
And if it's not of value, then determine whether you should still be working on it - and do something to change that.
Written by Zainab Habib
Amongst the other discussions in the blog posts over the last two months, we’ve written about how it’s been working without Kanika to guide us along the way as SoJo’s chief catalyst and biggest ambassador.
Despite this, we’ve continued to keep moving forward in the midst of this unexpected phase of SoJo’s journey. In fact, the SoJo part of the office feels very lively and we have been buzzing with activity
, especially since AJ joined the team full-time.
To be honest, the situation has never been ideal. It certainly has been a setback in many ways. However, while taking on Kanika’s commitments and functions within SoJo in addition to our individual roles, we have started to have discussions about what works and doesn’t work. We’re discovering what really happens at SoJo when she isn’t there as the Chief Problem Solver
. As we now discuss any issues with each other and not with Kanika, this has forced us to ask the harder questions aloud: “why do we even do/use this [task/section/process/tool]?” We have also had to talk about it, because this question has come up in multiple instances, both in our day-to-day operations and with the site overall.
It also helps that SoJo now has new team members to look at operations and community. Because they are used to thinking in more strategic terms and
are just stepping into the organization, they are better able to ask the questions that we had to ask and even to suggest different ways of doing it. They’re using their lack of knowledge about how things have been done before at SoJo to consider our alternatives to tasks or processes, while still working towards the vision and values that we care about most.
To get ourselves off the ground, SoJo had hit the road running. We sprinted at an unbelievable speed and were often “busy” just getting things done. Yet something that throws you out of your routine forces you to rethink previous assumptions and processes. Perhaps you may have been slowed down because you were short on resources (say funding or team members) or time; and so needed to be careful with how you expended your energies, time, and resources in order to make it to your next destination.
Now we’re at a point where we’re trying to check how far we have come and whether we’re on course to our destination or if we have been sidetracked at all. We’re hoping these new questions and strategies allow us to constantly move, shake, and innovate. We can then turn setbacks into opportunities for pulse checks instead.
Earlier this afternoon I had a meeting that didn't go so well. I can handle one bad meeting, its a consistent trend of bad meetings that start to get me anxious. The meeting in many ways represented my frustrations of the system that I'm trying so hard to fix. I felt as though no matter how hard I worked - it was never enough, and that the system was incurable. Today's meeting was the last straw that broke my back and I was ready for a mini-breakdown. While my instinct was to fight, get defensive and show everyone up -- I reminded myself that I left fighting behind with 2012. Giving up is obviously not an option, as we've come too far to throw in the towel. That leaves me with finding a solution. When talking through my frustrations with an advisor, he responded with the following words:
"Kanika, this is what you signed up for. Your job is to find a solution. That is what you do."
And so I was inspired to change my title to Chief Problem Solver -- because that's what the person on top does. It is my responsibility to ensure that the organization progresses forward, irrespective of setbacks and inherent challenges. When something does not work as planned, or the problems only feel like they're getting larger with time; finding solutions is really the only way forward. It takes more creativity and effort to find a solution, (especially if you don't think the problem should exist in the first place) however in the long run, that is the way to go.
I'm not actually going to officially change my title to Chief Problem Solver (as I like Chief Catalyst way too much), but it is a hat that I will carry at all times, and remind myself -- that when things look rough, rather than give up or fight, find a way around by finding a solution.
The last day of the year is always a very reflective day for me. Reflecting on all that was accomplished and learned -- and how that will influence behaviour and decisions in the coming year.
2011 was a highly experimental exploratory year. While there was great confidence in the need for a resource like SoJo, we didn't know exactly HOW it would come to life. With100s of exploratory meetings and discussions, and an incredible amount of hard work the year ended with our first beta product launch.
2012 can be summarized as the year of fighting.
With a product under our belt an increased clarity on how SoJo fits into the world, we were:
- Fighting to prove our legitimacy to prospective partners
- Fighting to explain the value of SoJo to people who just weren't listening
- Fighting to establish and defend our legal structure (which we're still figuring out)
- Fighting to convince funders of the impact created by SoJo
- Fighting to get the attention of people who blatantly dismiss and ignore us
- Fighting against a system and sector that operates fundamentally in contradiction to our values
- Fighting to show the world that we are capable of doing the intangible and achieving excellence
Demand for SoJo's resources are higher than ever. At the same time, our team is more stretched than ever before. I need to be cautious of how we allocate our resources and energy. Mental energy expended on fighting is wasted resources that serve no value to SoJo. I'm done fighting. I'm done with the associated negativity. I'm done with trying to prove myself or SoJo to others.
Most of my talks this year were centered on struggle, adversity and overcoming the naysayers. SoJo is in a beautiful position to invent the future. It is so much more powerful to inspire through a vision, instilling values of an ideal of what the world should look like, rather than focus on its shortcomings.
I started this year with a resolution not to drive myself into the ground
. Fighting (or the perceived need to fight) was exhausting, and in many ways brought out the worst in me. It took a toll on me mentally and can be attributed to an unpleasant burnout
. Since I'm not really good at keeping resolutions, I've now decided to end the year with leaving behind Fighting.
SoJo is a moving train. We will gladly welcome onboard anyone who shares our vision and commitment to seeing it a reality -- but the train will not stop or slow down for the those who don't make it to the platform on time. They can catch us at another station, but for now, SoJo needs to value itself more and trust that it has all the support it needs to push forward.
While I let go of fighting, I hope to liberate this chip on my shoulder which has only been growing deeper with time. The ecosystem was not very kind to me in the early days of SoJo, and continues to act in ways that I don't agree with. As a response to these frustrations, I've been sub-conscientiously trying to prove everyone wrong. Instead of wanting to prove people wrong, I need to stop reacting and focus on proactively building the future. Over the past couple of months, SoJo has achieved phenomenal success, recognition and we have the strongest team ever.
The best way to end 2012 is to let go of the negative energy and celebrate what makes us awesome.
This is Part 1of a multi-part series of SoJo's journey of seeking the funding needed to scale its operations and bring it to a point of financial self-sustainability.
Up until now funding has not been an issue for SoJo, as the focus has been on proving the value of our product and the need that SoJo is filling in the market. I believed and continue to believe that if you deliver a valuable service or product, then there will be the resources or market to support that product. Rather than focus our time on securing funds, we were busy building, serving our community and validating the consumer-facing product.
SoJo's product has been validated many times over. With an endorsement from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO as a leading educational platform, an active community of over 2,000 individuals without marketing or outreach efforts, and over 65,000 pages viewed online, and incredible press coverage around the world, it’s safe to say a resource like SoJo is needed by early-stage social innovators.
Over the past 2 years, I've been monitoring the resources and funding options that are available, as I knew we'd eventually need to tap into them and also feed onto our platform. Here is a highly simplified overview of the funding landscape in Canada:
· A not-for-profit with a proven track record of managing funds or a charitable organization that has been through the hoops of receiving CRA charitable status and delivered on projects already are normally eligible for non-refundable grant money from private foundations or government agencies.
· Traditional for-profit organizations with a proven business model, built prototype and validated proof of concept and normally eligible for debt or equity financing to scale growth or build out the product further.
· The most common form of support comes from friends and family of the founders who invest in the founder and their ideas, because they want to support the individual or believe in their ideas.
SoJo is an early-stage social innovation project and when speaking with my peers we all share the same rant: there's big talk, but early-stage social innovation financing is virtually non-existent in Canada
. Yes, there are many competitions and awards (which dominate the airwaves leading us to believe that this funding exists). However, the probability of getting them is less than 1%, based on the ever-growing demand for these funds and often allocated based on the bias of the grantors. SoJo was a semi-finalist in the one of the largest awards for social entrepreneurs and we gave it our all -- but were unsuccessful. Grants route:
Innovation by definition is the act of making what already exists better or starting something new
. Although "social innovation" funds are starting to pop up among foundations, applicants must still be either a registered charity or have a proven track record of financial management to show accountability. Although I understand the funding constraints found within these organizations, I will be honest when I say it's contradictory (and counter-intuitive) to demand applicants fit into traditional organizational structures, when innovation is all about starting something new. With no charitable number and only a few dollars in our bank account, this makes us ineligible for many of the opportunities available. We've since built strong relationships with some of the larger funding agencies and I will continue to explore and create opportunities. Umbrella organizations exist to support innovative projects, acting as a financial and legal fiduciary but they take a 10% overhead charge on all incoming funds (which is a lot of money for a tiny nimble organization such as ours) and only work with unincorporated projects - further making SoJo ineligible.
SoJo is still eligible for traditional non-refundable grants if we find our own fiduciary sponsor. SoJo partners with over 50 nonprofits and charities. I personally reached out to everyone who is eligible and not a single organization was able to help us out. Either they are applying to the same funds themselves or their Boards are not comfortable assuming the risk that comes with the added legal responsibilities. Conversations come to a dead-end, and I end up feeling like I'm 'begging', when I know that SoJo has nothing but value to add. I've spent nearly 2 months seeking out a fiduciary sponsor and have since realized it’s no longer worth my time to actively pursue this route. Equity investments:
SoJo has a brilliant vision for its revenue model, and it will come from its B2B Whitelabel product. This product has been anecdotally validated by various HR professionals and staff from prospective clients. However, rule #1 of business is that until you have a paying customer, your product has not been validated
. Without a validation, it’s difficult to seek mainstream debt and equity funding.
This B2B product will create a market that does not yet exist. SoJo has no competitors right now on its public-facing site, and our market research shows that there are no competitors in the B2B market that SoJo will create. The price of this product can only be dictated by the market. With a market that does not yet exist, the return on investment is so speculative at this point it won't be even worth anyone's time to discuss those numbers or create a business plan. The plan is to get our pilot customer to share in the development costs, serving as validation, which will allow us to seek the appropriate funds (or generate our own revenue) to build out this product. Until then, equity or "impact investing" types of funding are not an option for SoJo.
In the interim, I've been advised to take the time to create a competitive analysis for this product which can help convince prospective investors of the potential that lies in this market; however it’s still going to be long stretch. SoJo has since hired a Business Development intern who will help with these activities.
Although the B2B has great potential, from our strategic planning emerged the importance of focusing on the consumer-facing (B2C) product. With B2B on hold for the next year, these funding options seem ever distant. Friends and family:
Between the volunteer hours, in-kind support from partners and financial investments from the founding members (and our families) over 13,000 hours and $500,000 have already been invested into SoJo. Albeit most of this money is in-kind, it does not dismiss the significance of the investment and risk already taken by those involved in SoJo. It’s fair to say, we've exhausted friends and family and this is no longer an option.
Why does SoJo need money?
As alluded to in my previous blog post
, a part-time unpaid team cannot fuel the growth that is needed to make SoJo the universal ubiquitous resource for early-stage social innovators. We have taken this as far as we could without external support, and have come very far may I add; however, we are quickly running out of steam. SoJo needs money so it can build http://theSoJo.net
to the point where it can sustain itself (aka bridge funding).
I've read enough reports and heard enough people talking about the importance of supporting social innovation. Social innovation starts somewhere, and for those of us in the trenches, in our early stages and without all of the answers, the outlook does not look bright.
SoJo's vision is to be the
starting point, to provide social innovators with the knowledge and emotional support needed to get started and stay motivated in the early days of their journey of creating positive social impact. With a world of ever-increasing social, environmental and political challenges, no one will deny the importance of getting more people and fresh minds involved in building and acting on creative solutions to these challenges. For social innovation to thrive, all of us in the ecosystem need to provide more support to the early-stagers. SoJo is doing its part through education and emotional support, however its time for the rest of the ecosystem to step up and invest in early-stage social innovation. Otherwise this thriving ecosystem will continue to leave brilliant ideas and incredible potential to the curbside; a shame, especially when I know the resources exist. As I navigate through the challenges and frustrations of seeking bridge funding to bring SoJo to the point where it can be financially self-sustaining, I plan to candidly document this journey on http://SocialJournal.net, with the goal of welcoming more suggestions and the hopes of attracting more attention to this important, but overlooked issue.
Almost all of my greatest insights have come to me during the weekends. Not being connected to my inbox
and daily operations of work definitely helps to take step back and reflect. I suffered from a burnout
in September and October has felt like an off month all around. Over lunch with my brother on Saturday, I told him that I was concerned with how much SoJo feels like its taking over my life; and my inability to control my schedule (as evidenced by working on 12 hour days when I set a goal for myself to NOT work around the clock
). Only when I said this fear out loud was I compelled to actually make some changes.
Solution: find the root cause of these persistent feelings of being stretched. I was instructed to list out all of the activities (whole projects, not tasks) that myself and the team worked on over the past week. Despite having only 4 days in the week, I effortlessly listed over 30 ongoing activities; myself being directly involved in about 25 of them and solely responsible for 10. Its not that I have trouble delegating ( the team at SoJo will be quick to acknowledge my comfort with letting go and giving responsibilities to the team). Being the only person that understands all moving parts of the organization and the vision, I'm often called up for input to keep everyone on track. SoJo is a flat organization, and building in reporting structures has been difficult because most of our senior team members barely have the capacity to deal with what's on their plate, let alone manage and provide necessary support to other colleagues. Strategic planning
has dragged out over 2 months and no clear changes have emerged.
SoJo grew incredibly fast and as such the scope and depth of the work at hand has grown exponentially. The problem is, our team hasn't grown at the same pace -- in fact, it has shrunk. Most of our team members came together
only in the Spring, they had a lot of time to devote to SoJo and were fresh on energy. Fall is always the busiest time of the year, irrespective of where you work. 15 hours of commitment per week over the past 6-8 months has since shrunk to 5 hours. I'm extremely grateful to have product lead Jesse full-time with SoJo, but its not enough. Some of our team members are burnt-out from having to manage SoJo and other personal activities and have been forced to take a step back. A lot of the momentum from the summer quickly fizzled away in the Fall, as everyone's other schedules ramped up.
Making myself personally available to 10+ team member's part-time, fluctuating schedules has taken a toll on my personal health and wellbeing. I no longer have evenings, as I make myself available to people's consistently changing schedules our team members who can only come into the office after their day job finishes. To top it off, there is little consistency as SoJo is understandably not the top priority (so it is common for people to fall off the grid for weeks and I am left with no choice but to understand). These inconsistencies get me frustrated and the bottlenecks that occur as a result affect the momentum of the entire team.
All this to say that these are the trade-off with working with an a part-time unpaid team. I will say with full confidence that SoJo has an exceptional team
which led us to all of SoJo's successes thus far, but in its current form will be unable to sustain the inevitable growth that has already hit us. I'm actively finding solutions to our staffing challenges (finding money needed to bring on some of our team members full-time), however in the interim need to make some changes and trade-offs.
Some of these changes include:
- Reducing the scope of activities the team is actively involved in and fine-tuning our focus even more
- Prioritizing need areas and tackling them one-by-one (rather than all at once)
- Un-flattening the organization to get me less involved in activities that I do not need to be involved with, so I can focus my energies on driving the vision forward
The changes noted above are going to be difficult as everything feels equally important. The Forbes article
from this month nailed it: "Kanika and her start-up have a compelling story and have received plenty of media attention. It is to be seen how SoJo can up the momentum, increase users, net-in some big-name partners and take its awesomeness places. What SoJo needs now is this: Focusing on the product, leveraging relationships and creating new ones, building tangible results including right media coverage, and forming a right-spirited and a serious advisory board. Kanika’s leadership and the ability to learn and adapt is the make or break factor here."
With growth comes change. Change is never easy, but I'm thankful that I've started to recognize the need to learn and adapt now, and not when its too late.
Last night I had a great call with Trevor, SoJo's community builder. Trevor joined SoJo when it was just an idea and has been instrumental in bringing this vision to reality. Trevor's been primarily responsible for setting up our social media presence, coordinating feedback and engaging with SoJo's growing community. Having been through the trials and tribulations of defining SoJo, dealing with the setbacks and deeply involved in all of our previous product launches, Trevor has been pivotal to our successes thus far. I was just informed last night that Trevor will be going on an extended escapade throughout Asia for the next couple of months, leaving in 2 weeks. I was forewarned that this trip was on the horizon, however details only started to firm up this week. I honestly did not expect it to come so soon, and the end of the month feels like it's just around the corner.
I am going to assume that Trevor will be off the grid as he will be travelling in remote rural areas, but also focused on this new chapter of his life. I'm thrilled that he is seizing this phenomenal opportunity, but also mindful of the void that will exist within SoJo's team.
What does this mean for SoJo?
We have 2 weeks to transition all of Trevor's responsibilities to an already stretched team. Social Media engagement, Newsletter Editor, Front-line contact with users, and feedback management. Beyond the actual manpower (and losing a very smart and competent team member), I'm a little nervous about losing all the institutional memory and insights that are in his head. Trevor holds a very unique perspective and it is through brainstorming activities and ideation sessions do those insights emerge to help to shape our strategy and future directions.
This will be the first time SoJo goes through a major transition/turnover of a key team member. It doesn't help that I'll be virtually inaccessible over the last week of October on the road, speaking at various conferences and venues across 4 cities. Or that Steph, our Communications coordinator who will oversee the transition will be in Australia for a 2-week work trip at the beginning of November. Regardless, SoJo has a solid team and I'm optimistic that this process will be as smooth as it can be.
Transitions are inevitable and I'm looking forward to all the learning that will take place during this critical period.
I gladly welcome any advice you have on navigating through this process.
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Who is Murphy anyways? What did he do to be forever immortalized as the thing and/or person that countless people curse at, on a regular basis?
Our beloved Product Lead Jesse is on a vacation in Europe for the next 2 weeks. He handed off the SoJo in working condition, yet surely enough if something were to go wrong, it would go wrong while he is away and inaccessible. I found too many unpleasant surprises this morning, that I stopped counting. I'm not in total shock, as Friday afternoon we experienced some problems and SoJo's been having issues for the past couple of months with its theme, further making me convinced that there is a ghost manipulating our website. Jesse has been incredible at consistently fixing these problems in such a timely manner -- its easy to feel helpless and lost in this dire time of need.
Your patience and tolerance is requested for the following reasons:
If the SoJo site takes a little longer to load
If some pages on SoJo look a little off
If you stumble across a broken link (we have over 60 of them)
Rest assured that myself and our team is trying our best to point out the issues and are actively troubleshooting accordingly.
My ability to stay calm in stressful situations has been tested multiple times. It is painful to have such obvious errors appear on a public site, and I'm trying my best to keep my cool. I hope to not jynx myself, however know that things could be much worse and am thankful that SoJo is working at 80% functionality right now.
Thanks for your understanding. I wonder if Murphy is secretly a brilliant person who has been trying to teach us a lesson all along... problems are inevitable, the true test is our ability to rationally deal through them?
When you're going through a stressful time, people often say talking about what you're going through will make you feel better. My mom often encourages me to talk through my issues to avoid stress from bottling up. Stress serves no-one any good, and in fact the negative energy impairs rational judgment and productivity.
Below are three examples of intense conversations that were had over the past 10 days:
My case interview last weekend was a great example of the value gained by 'letting it all out'. Not only did sharing all my challenges made me feel a bit better, the feedback I received simultaneously allowed me draw valuable insights and make realizations. Before that session everything was fuzzy and I wasn't able to articulate the source of my frustrations. Letting it out allowed me to make sense of those fuzzy dots floating around in my head; and this enhanced clarity has since allowed me to better navigate through this turbulent time.
The day before yesterday I had dinner with a group of friends, among them a person who I consult often for advice. It is rare that we meet, so towards the end of the evening I took the opportunity of asking him how I should navigate one of my challenges around funding. I was pushed into a corner with really tough questions at 10pm at night; it was an intense conversation to say the least. In spite of the discomfort that was experienced at the time, I left that conversation in a better headspace. I did not receive all of the answers I was looking for, but he gave me a tangible suggestion on what my next step should be. One that I'm already acting on.
Yesterday as part of a mandatory check-in for the incubator that SoJo works out of, I was required to give an update on our current status. These check-ins are used to set goals, and act as accountability mechanisms to share updates on progress towards achieving those goals. They are also an opportunity for my peers (other entrepreneurs) and management to weigh in and provide advice. I was asked to talk about my challenges. Sharing your problems is not easy. Over vulnerability is the pain that comes with re-opening the wounds and reminding yourself of everything on your plate. At the table were 4 members of the management team who also act as advisors to all of the entrepreneurs in this incubator and only one other entrepreneur. I started the meeting excited, hoping for some breakthrough answers. Objectively speaking, I got very little tangible and concrete value out of that meeting. I did not walk away with a single thing that I can act on. I became more frustrated over the course of the meeting, and its clear to everyone that saw me shortly after that I was upset. I shut down my computer shortly after and went home early. It has been an exhausting couple of weeks and after pouring it all out on the table (for the third time in one week), the last thing I wanted to hear is keep fighting the good fight
(which is the best feedback I received). It felt like salt got rubbed into those wounds that I've been trying so hard avoid blood from gushing out (pardon the graphic analogy).
Out of the three examples from above, I did not start either of the first two conversations with expectations. I did have a great deal of expectations from yesterday's meeting (given the nature of the meeting) and judging from my emotional barometer: I was disappointed. Lesson learned:
- You can't expect anyone to give you a silver bullet answer to your problems. Best is to enter every conversation without any expectations.
- Letting it all out doesn't always make you feel better. Use your discretion and open those wounds as far as you want to.
With strategic planning
, managing growth
, a burnout
, and a mega research grant
application, September has been an incredibly busy month to say the least. I've been working on high-focus activities and do not have the capacity to bring on new things to my plate.
I was recently introduced to the notion mental switching costs. According to the American Psychological Association: understanding the hidden costs of multitasking may help people to choose strategies that boost their efficiency - above all, by avoiding multitasking, especially with complex tasks.
The research goes on to further state: even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.
When time is a premium, it is important to make the time you do have as productive as possible. Moving forward, I will only have more to juggle and manage. I already spend about 10-12 hours/day at the office. Extending my day is not the solution, especially when my goal is to shorten my work day.
Being the Chief Catalyst of SoJo, I'm often approach by people to collaborate on projects, provide advice, revise documents, and meet information. Before I would feel guilty pushing off such requests, as I do want to help everyone in a timely manner, and pay forward all the time I received from equally busy people. I've now learned to take control over my schedule and time with increased confidence. Here is an excerpt of an email sent to someone earlier this month in the thick of a stressful time: Dear x,I'm excited to explore more and make this a reality!
I don't have the mental capacity right now to give this the thought it needs and provide feedback. Please give me a few weeks and I'll get back to you on this.
Its been beyond crazy and I will come back up to surface soon.
Thanks for your understanding!
Reading it over, I feel like it could have been written more gracefully; however the point comes across clearly. I acknowledged the message, stated my interest, but was honest to say that I will revisit it when I can give it the time it deserves. It has taken me over a year to get comfortable writing an email like this and kindly push something to the side without guilt or feeling the need to address it right away. At a time when I'm engaged in complex tasks, its even more important that I stay focused on them; as that will free up even more time for the other things I hope to engage in.
Source: Multitasking: Switching costs
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.
Earlier last week I came to the realization that I was going over the edge and reaching burnout. Although I started writing this post over a week ago, I'm only now having the courage to openly talk about it. Having a persistent and stubborn personality often forces me to push my limit.
Some indications that lead me recognize that something is wrong:
Insomnia: Normally, I sleep like a rock. Many of my friends are envious of my abilities to sleep on a park bench in broad daylight. I suffered from insomnia every night last week. My subconscious is constantly busy with noise. I was unable to reason through my thoughts, as everything was blurry.
A visit from the parents: My parents came into the city early last week to see me. When asking them what inspired their visit (it is rare that they come during the week), they both said: "we're worried about you."
Sick: Feverish, sick and without energy to move, I spent a couple of days in bed trying to recover and recoup. Morning wake-ups over the past 2 weeks were a struggle.
Grungy: I showed up to the office wearing sweats. I was raised to always look presentable when being out in public, but on days when I had no external meetings, I had no desire to put effort into my wardrobe.
"You look tired": Although feeling sick and going for the grungy look does solicit such comments, being consistently being told by the people who see me on a daily basis "you look tired" made me realize I wasn't given off a positive image of myself.
Limited desire to engage: As an extrovert who naturally derives energy from engaging with other people, I had very little interest in holding up a conversation with someone who wasn't a team member. Conversations which would normally come effortlessly, now came with great effort.
Knowing that something is wrong: Although these signs were apparent, sometimes what's worse is feeling like you have weights on your shoulders bogging you down, but not being able to pinpoint why. I absolutely hated answering the question: "how are you doing?" I did not want to sound ingenuous by saying that I was fine, when I wasn't, but also did not want to say "I feel horrible, and I don't want to talk about it."
Feeling overwhelmed, before any of the above symptoms surfaced I approached an advisor to talk. He knew right away that I was in a lull and tried his best to tease out the source of my frustrations. I had nothing to say.
In response, he said two things:
~ The more successful you become the greater your challenges
~ Let it be
That was 3 weeks ago. At the time, I did not understand or appreciate the latter piece of advice. Rather than recognize and accept that something was on the cusp of stirring inside of me, I deliberately chose not to listen and let it be, and continued going down a path that would ultimately lead to a burnout.
When reflecting back, I wonder if I had the foresight to accept what was going on, then maybe I would have spared myself a lot of emotional and mental stress and could have rationally tried to identify the root causes of my feelings of being overwhelmed. Perhaps I needed to push myself over the edge, as great insights have since emerged.
It's hard to say. I do know two things:
1-Burnout sucks, and its nothing one should strive toward. I'm still learning to catch onto the signs before tipping over the edge...
2- When you're in a lull, you can only go up from there. I am seeing the light and it is a great feeling.
SoJo has been running lean
since inception. I often take a step back with awe, thinking about all that was accomplished with no external funding. Bootstrapping a venture comes with tradeoffs and compromises. SoJo's beta site was initially hosted on one of our team member's servers to save costs. At the time it felt redundant to pay for hosting fees when there was trusted and freely available resource. SoJo has since migrated to a dedicated server, recognizing the need for full control, however outstanding files were on our original shared server. Since we do not own the server, we do not have full access to it. Our former team-mate is currently travelling in rural China with limited access, and getting access has been a challenge.
It is incredibly frustrating to move a product forward when there are bottlenecks that are completely beyond your control. An issue as simple as access has definitely slowed down the entire development team. This lesson has taught me to think long-term when making immediate decisions. It is impossible to foresee every possible implication of a decision, but understanding the risks upfront can help to make more informed decisions.
All things considered, given my limited knowledge and our resources at the time I think I made the right decision accept full responsibility for the unintended consequences that we are now facing. As the stakes increase however, we need to make more informed and well thought out decisions, as potential risks also increase exponentially.
At a time when everyone on our development team is frustrated, I must be particularly understanding to their situation, readjust expectations and ensure their negative energy does not get bottled up. To keep my peace, I go back to our core values
, and remind myself that we must embrace imperfection...
I woke up this morning thinking it was a Friday. It is actually a Monday. This is my body's way of telling me that it is exhausted, as I started my week drained as opposed to fresh. Last week felt like a blur, which gets me a little nervous thinking we have only 10 days to pull so many moving parts together.
SoJo has an incredible team, however I am now realizing that it takes full-time effort to orchestrate and guide an entire team towards achieving this mega shared goal. From publishing new content, converting the old content, and creating an editorial process; training new recruits; managing external partner relationships; creating a solidified brand, ensuring SoJo is consistently communicated across all platforms; and of course all of the technical developments on the website itself : there is great diversity of tasks at hand.
All non-launch related activities have been put on hold until July.
Hiccups are inevitable. Last week the SoJo website and inbox went offline unexpectedly for a couple of hours, due to a server migration error. Some of the intermediary goals that were set for Friday are still unmet. With very little buffer space, our launch roadmap is ripe for a domino-like disaster. That being said, I am energized and reassured by the team's collective passion and dedication in ensuring that SoJo officially launches on June 28. Majority of SoJo's team members have full-time jobs elsewhere, and SoJo is a part-time activity. Concurrent with other commitments, everyone is working in overdrive, pulling their weight to get it all done.
Last year I blogged about the concept of Romanticizing the Struggle
, and not driving yourself into the ground
. Although my head is filled beyond capacity with things to do, and my body is exhausted, I do not feel like I'm "struggling." The inbox remains untouched
on Saturdays. I am sleeping at a reasonable hour, and the computer stays at the office overnight. Rather, I see my current situation as getting so consumed in the work, that I get lost in it. An extra dose of adrenaline in anticipation for the launch is fuelling me. Being immersed in the Digital Media Zone
community definitely helps, as many other entrepreneurs share a similar energy and drive. This is a big improvement from our beta launch
, where I worked alone at 2am on my dining table.
SoJo is more equipped than ever to bring the platform to the next level. Let the countdown begin!
Earlier today Facebook, a privately held company, went public on the NASDAQ. The IPO (Initial Public Offering) of Facebook has been widely discussed in mainstream media for weeks. And for good reason too, as apparently one out of every seven minutes online is spent on Facebook.
Everyone has been drooling over Facebook's valuation of $104Billion dollars. Some (including myself) think this valuation is inflated with a lot of hype, some are mesmerized with our changing world, and how a virtual company can be worth more than McDonalds, Nike or Goldman Sachs, and others dream to build a company like Facebook.
However you chose to interpret Facebook's valuation, there is no doubt that expectations towards technology companies are increasing exponentially with time. With such high valuations, and companies like Instagram getting sold for $1billion within a year and a half of launching, reality is getting distorted. We've created these unreasonable expectations, where analysts and bloggers expect new entrants to have 1million users overnight, and grow their companies 10x in value instantly. Through SoJo, I feel this pressure directly, and more generally am concerned for the state of the industry.
Disclaimer: I am not among the 845million month active users on Facebook and have issues with their business model. That bias aside, I can appreciate what the company has done. 8 years in the making, Facebook created a brilliant product that meets the needs of its users. There are many things SoJo can learn from Facebook's product development path, namely around being attuned to the needs of users and continuous evolutions. I'm nervous however, that SoJo currently operates in an environment that is not as patient.
In 2004, Facebook would not have had 2.7billion Likes & Comments
per day, and likewise, it is unreasonable to expect new entrants to do so today. Internet usage has changed, however iterations and growth need to evolve organically.
SoJo has approximately 2,000 active users within 6 months of launch. That is a huge number when you think of all the individual people we are supporting in their journeys of making social change happen. In the tech world however, that number is peanuts. The impact on the individuals today feels negligible, when everyone speaks in thousands and in millions.
I often use the iPod analogy to explain my frustrations with the impatient environment SoJo finds itself in. Post-Beta launch, I felt as though some people were expecting to see the iPhone5, forgetting there were over 20 iPod products on the market that inspired the first iPhone. With unreasonable expectations and a disillusionment with reality, some of SoJo's users and partners expect to see the best now. Over the past 4 months, I significantly reduced the amount of time spent at start-up socials and events, as everytime I would leave those events feeling inferior by all of SoJo's limitations. Similarly, I spend less time "selling" SoJo to prospective partners who are looking for the "iPhone5", and instead am focusing my energy on fostering existing relationships and building the infrastructure to support future iterations of our product.
I'm fairly positive that there was not a line-up outside the Apple Store back in 2001, when Apple released its first iPod. However back then, the ecosystem (users, market, retailers, analysts) were more patient and gave Apple the space needed to be creative, iterate and create massively popular products.
Fed by the ecosystem, we, the entrepreneurs (including myself) are often our worst critics. Why are we expecting iPhone5s, when they're still releasing our first generation iPod? I believe we should uphold ourselves to high standards, and that we should dream big. Rome wasn't built in a day, so please don't expect a world-shaking vision to be realized overnight.
One of SoJo's core values is to Embrace Imperfection
. I need to walk this talk, as I'm most content when I do so. The journey is not a sprint, and I need to constantly remind myself to scale back immediate expectations. We are feeding into the type, and will continue to focus on building a product that serves our users and adds value society.
What are you doing to not feed into the hype?Sources: Facebook's IPO: What does it all mean?
, Wikipedia iPod
For the past 3 months I have been actively on the lookout for a technical partner
to join SoJo. I started this process highly optimistic; thinking that through my networks I would identify the right person. SoJo is an exciting organization to get involved with: not only do we have a huge world-shaking vision, but a successful Beta launch and associate press coverage [should in theory] give assurance to someone joining the team that we're already on a trajectory for success. The product has been validated, yet everyone on the team still can make their mark on defining and building the product.
I started with the approach of putting out feelers to my professional network. It is a well-known fact that the best people come through referrals. After the first round of feelers, I eagerly met with the handful of interested candidates. Going into this process, an advisor told me that I need to "sell" the candidate on SoJo just as much as they needed to make a good impression on me. So I was 'on'
Nothing really materialized after the first round of applications. Using social media and job boards, I broadly posted the job description. I was hopeful to find someone suitable who is outside of my immediate network. Being part of a tech start-up is the "thing" these days. So I was extra critical for "fit." If someone did not understand our vision, it would be a disaster to make them in charge of technically implementing it. There was one candidate in particular who had rockstar technical skills. My gut had hesitation of inviting him to join, as I felt the need to 'buffer' him from the rest of our team. Being the most promising candidate of everyone that I spoke with, I was almost ready to accept him onto the team -- but thankfully an adivsor/partner pointed out that I was making the decision for the wrong reasons (just to get it done, vs having the right person).
At the beginning of the year, I set a goal for myself to bring the content site out of Beta by the end of Q2 (June 2012). I did not think this would be a challenge, as I set out to recruit a technical partner in January. The plan all along was to use this next product launch as a probationary testing ground. If the candidate can successfully lead the product launch (which is a relatively contained project), then they have the skills needed to handle the more ambiguous stuff.
With no technical product lead in sight, and with the looming goal of launching the site out of Beta in a few weeks, I needed to change course.
Through networks and job boards, I put out a posting for a paid freelance web developer. Contracting a freelance developer was the last-case scenario, as I did not like the idea of being constrained with a static list of requirements and the solution is not sustainable for our iterative approach to product development. The beta site was a bottleneck to moving SoJo forward, and so this was the chosen course given our constraints.
I set a budget and created a detailed list of requirements. Each interview lasted on average 2 hours; gauging the individual, their attitude, skills and fit for this project. I do not have a technical background, so I found it particularly exhausting going into technical details again and again. Nearly 100+ hours into this recruitment process over the past 3 months, I am completely drained: emotionally and physically.
I am starting to doubt and lose hope for two reasons: Firstly, am I doing this right? Should it take this long and this much energy to find someone? Maybe it is time to change my approach altogether. If technical recruitment is as difficult as everyone says, then will
SoJo be able to find a technical partner... A scary reality to accept and one that really worries me.
In the meantime, the show must still go on...
You may have noticed that our blog is less active than usual. Although there is very little tangible outputs to share, much of the past few weeks, I've spent a lot of time listening, reflecting, refining, and realigning. Many hours with markers on windows, whiteboards and blank pieces of paper led to revelations!
Some exciting developments to look forward to:
- Improved clarity on our vision and goals
- Exciting new ways of sharing our vision to a broader audience
- Shifts in our market and who we seek to serve
- Bold thoughts for shaking up the sector, by introducing radical new ways of operating
- Newly formed legal structure
- Product roadmap and anticipated timelines for v2 release of http://theSoJo.net
- New Partnerships and Collaborations that are currently in the works
- Refined business model
Instead of documenting and announcing all of these revelations as they came to mind, I've decided to let them percolate in my mind. Transparency is our top priority, and more blog posts documenting all the details will come shortly. Our journey is a moving target, where we constantly must refine and realign, as the path is always changing. I suppose that's what keeps things exciting.
On a related note, SoJo challenge of email-free Saturdays was highly successful for the month of March, as I'd like to think that an entire day of disconnection each week has provided the mental space to think, and reflect on some of the issues noted above. I've decided to continue this challenge indefinitely!
I hope this inspires you to enjoy and disconnect over the long weekend!
I just submitted an application on SoJo's behalf to a prestigious and well-known fellowship. SoJo was named a semi-finalist, and came within the top 10% of over 3,500 applicants. This is an honour and validation that SoJo is on the right track.
Phase 2 of this rigorous application process required a video, detailed competitive analysis, 30 mini essay questions, reference letters -- all to complete within two weeks. This fellowship is a huge opportunity for SoJo, that if successful will give us the needed financial and network support to accelerate our journey. On the other hand, I need to be equally mindful of the time that is required for this one application and the less than 1% success ratio of applicants. SoJo is a moving ship; we are incredibly under-resourced and are in the midst of growing. It is an exciting time, however extremely demanding which requires that we be even smarter about how our resources get allocated. In pursuit of my resolution to work smarter, not harder
, I set parameters and only invested a small number of hours into this specific application over the weekend.
Individuals looking to apply for Grants are often in the same conundrum. Do you spend time just doing the work, or do you spend time telling other people about the work you intend to do, and hope that the time invested in applications will realize into direct benefit to your project?
I'm interested in hearing how you dealt with a similar situation, and reconciled conflicting priorities on your time.
Today marks the initiation of a partnership with Simpl Co. Over the past weekend, Simpl in collaboration with Google organized Interactivism
, a hackathon for youth to create ideas and products to help young people get into the work, training and education that is right for them. A fascinating event, which brought together bright minds from across London to share ideas and get inspired from one another.
SoJo partnered with Simpl to make our online resources available to participants at Interactivism
, providing them with the tools that they need to act on the brilliant ideas they prototyped. A very symbiotic partnership where both partners offer complementary services in pursuit of achieving similar goals. Simpl is an online marketplace that connects people with the goods and services they need to do good in this world. SoJo strategically used Interactivism
as a launch pad to formally kick-start the relationship between both organizations.
You can read more on the Simpl Blog
This is the first tangible Pipeline Partnership that came out of my recent trip in the UK. We have many more in the works, and I'm excited for all of the synergies and collaborations to occur in the immediate future. SoJo is committed to bringing together the highly fragmented social innovation sector. If you're in the sector providing support to social innovators -- odds are we can support you in your mandate. Please get in touch
to explore potential collaborations!
I am currently in the thick of creating SoJo's strategic plan and budget for Phase 2. An ambitious vision requires an equally ambitious plan of attack. SoJo now has to deliver on all the promises made last year, while finding the necessary financial resources to sustain the organization. It is safe to say the expectations and pressure have increased exponentially.
We ended 2011 feeling amazing. All of the our efforts over the past year culminated with achieving a major milestone: launching the public beta. The fruits of our labour were evidenced by a strong uptake online, overwhelmingly positive feedback from various stakeholders, and significant press coverage.
As I begin 2012, I find myself overcome with anxiety and a bit of fear. Interesting how the perspective changes overnight. When one milestone comes to an end, you feel like you're on top of the world. But as you endeavour to start a new chapter in your journey, and set to achieve a new and larger milestone, the perspective changes instantly. I'll be completely honesty when I say I'm as daunted as I am excited, as I have no idea how Phase 2 will come to fruition and what is even possible.
Feelings of fulfillment are short lived in this universe. Perhaps that is a good thing. As it forces you to stay grounded and remain focused on the journey that lies ahead. The vision is a moving target, and we must continue to keep on working.
Although a forward-looking attitude is necessary, equally important is not to forget all the positive feelings that came when our last milestone was achieved. We are starting this next Phase with a lot more support and energy than the first one. That should not be lost and it is my hope that all the positive energy that surrounds SoJo will give me the strength needed to overcome the bigger challenges that lie ahead.
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!
2011 was a great first year for SoJo. The idea of SoJo (Social Journal) came off paper and finally
Make this the year you hold yourself accountable to taking your idea to action.
Today is the first day of a new year with endless possibilities. SoJo encourages you to make 2012 the year you challenge yourself in new exciting ways. We are excited for you to take action: to step out of your comfort zone; put yourself out to the world; and to make the change that you've been dreaming about.
The journey that lies ahead of you in the new year will be an exciting one, should you decide to pursue your passion and actively commit to building your social ventures. Let SoJo be your virtual cheerleader and support as you endeavour to bring your ideas to life.
Our hope is that you begin this year with a forward looking attitude excited about possibilities with many hopes and aspirations. Don't be shy to dream big, to believe in yourself and your abilities to deliver on those dreams. Equally important however, is to hold yourself accountable to taking action and delivering on your goals.
SoJo is your starting point; we are committed to creating a strong community of young social entrepreneurs and iterating our online tool to better meet your needs. All we ask is that you keep a positive attitude and hold yourself accountable to taking action.
The world needs you and we are thrilled to be with you, alongside this exciting journey. Together we can achieve great things!
SoJo wishes you a very happy, action-packed, exciting, and meaningful new year!
Traditionally celebrating the new year involves creating lists, making resolutions and delivering promises that we rarely keep or hold ourselves accountable to.
Normally I'm quite excited for the holidays as it is an excellent opportunity to catch up on the backlog of work and get a head start on the new year. In addition to watching Christmas specials on TV, up until a few weeks ago, I thought that I would use the next few weeks to get myself organized so I can begin January in a solid place. I'm pleased to announce that this will not be the case this year and as I publish this post, I will turn off my computer and cellphone for an entire week. 2012 will be as exciting as it will be challenging. The body and mind need to be in tip top shape to be able to proactive deliver on our vision while weathering the inevitable storms. I returned to Toronto yesterday morning from a productive and energizing trip in New York. Sadly halfway through my trip I felt my body starting telling me that it was done working on overdrive and was ready to slow down. Surely enough, I lost my voice today which resulted in a day of cancelled meetings and feeling awful. I wished I listened to my own advice on making a conscience decision to take care of yourself on a regular, sustained basis - and not temporarily. Regardless, I am excited to unplug and use the following week to rest, recover and rejuvenate. There will always be work to do and the holidays are a great opportunity to relax (as no one should really expect you to work anyways!) On behalf of the entire SoJo team, I want to wish you a very happy holiday season. Spend this time with your family and friends, take time for yourself to do activities that bring you joy and happiness, enjoy all the baked goods and delicious food, and most importantly -- be fully present as you unwind and relax. 2012 will be an eventful year as we help you bring your ideas to life, so we expect you to start the new year fully prepared.