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Written by Zainab Habib

I attended a workshop yesterday titled "Targeting Networks" hosted by partner-in-the-making* Basim Mirza, since we had helped him secure DMZ space after his first location fell through. I knew Basim was a good speaker and that he definitely knew a thing or two.

It got me thinking as to how our working relationship came about. I met Basim originally at a Canada Pakistan Professionals Association event, and we soon became Facebook friends after I had asked him to post something on but there was no real engagement after that. A few months passed and he mentioned he had finished writing his book, and I wanted to buy a copy. When we met up so that I could buy the book, Your Naked Brand, we got talking about what we were currently up to in our work.

What is interesting to note:
a) we had not developed a working relationship right away but we had kept in touch loosely, until I had said I wanted to buy his book because...
b) at this point in time then, we both had something to offer each other: I was able to offer SoJo to him as a platform to share his voice while he was able to provide me with content we can use - all of which benefits you, our audience.

This is exactly the win-win-win situation or 1+1 = 3 equation Basim was talking about last night - which is one of the best opportunities one can find when networking.

In addition to hosting his content on SoJo, when Basim's space fell through for the workshop, he called us and presented this as an opportunity for us to be at an event we normally wouldn't be at - and with potential users we may have not met otherwise (especially after that kind introduction!). This additionally has ensured that the efforts are reciprocal in nature... all of which has further fuelled the partnership we're building together.

People now have the tools to maintain loose relationships while seizing opportunities quickly when required, like social media. Often times though, people assume that networking involves meeting new people and continuously adding them to a rolodex or social media accounts - the more, the merrier. But great networking is also about using the networks you already have and building relationships from there, and we did just that.

So tell us in the comments below: what are your top two burning questions for social networking? Tell us and Basim will tailor content specifically to you.

* We have yet to get some material together though he's given us free reign to use his book too!
 
 
Written by Zainab Habib

Last night, I was at a workshop when I met someone who works with media production. We struck up a conversation about we do but I didn't realize that I was walking right into a sales pitch.

Please note that this post is certainly not meant to disparage her for her effort; in fact, quite commendable really on her part. I certainly don't blame her, even if I would've preferred that she had handled that differently. It's her job to find these opportunities especially at moments like this. But I was having a difficult time trying to get myself out of it, especially as I was stuffing my mouth with pizza (I was very hungry) until it became clear that we could not "work together" because we have no budget at SoJo for that work. It really would have been great to have that help - unless it clashed with our values as an organization, why would I reject such assistance otherwise?. But as she put it, "no, that won't work for us."

Side note: I believe there is a very clear distinction between a) working together where all parties are on the same playing field together (a collaboration or partnership) and b) providing services that involves a transaction and one party conducting work for another (a client-service provider relationship).

Perhaps it was her tone that set me off internally; I know I can be a bit sensitive. However, I couldn't help but wonder what bothered me about the situation generally. After some reflection this morning:
  1. We're a start-up and hybrid organization, so we’re not making truckloads of money at this point. It’s not necessarily the best assumption that a start-up would even have enough money for what a service provider would try to sell to you as "the basics", even when it's sometimes as immediate and looming as legal and financial concerns.
  2. Content is one of our core activities. It’s essential that we do things like strategies, production, and the like in-house. Because we don't have as much money as we’d like, I'm willing to instead learn how to do those basics on my own. That's just how you get by in a start-up.

Disclaimer: my last full-time job before SoJo was with a consulting firm so I understand why outside expertise is important. But it makes the most sense to outsource or hire a consultant for a job when it’s not a core function of your organization and you have no one with the ability to take it on.

She and I agreed we’ll keep in touch and as she said, maybe we'll be able to talk when SoJo has money. But maybe by that point, I hope we’ll be big enough to have that knowledge in-house, whether it’s by me learning that material or by hiring someone who brings that knowledge will them.
 
 
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Written by Zainab

Business cards are great to hand out and receive - but only if they are a) informative and b) acted upon.

I've gone to a few events where I've given out my card and where I have received cards. It's common for many people to give a card during or after their introduction, since it often helps people visually see a name and it's an easy way to hand out contact information. Mind you, these are general business cards, which we mostly use by adding our own email addresses in that space you see there. Most cards are naturally informative because of the way they're usually structured.

Therefore, it's the follow-up that is left. When I give out a business card, I am usually hoping the recipient will follow up with a visit to our website or blog, check us out on twitter or Facebook, or ideally write to me at connect@thesojo.net or content@thesojo.net (my email address). If I get a business card, I will do my best to follow up, hoping that they'll respond too.

However, I can understand it's sometimes a bit difficult to follow up. After all, what should one write? After many attempts at this process, my latest go at this has been about building more personal relationships. I've sent the people I met at the OCE Discovery conference an email personally saying it was great to meet them, a link to our website, and a note offering how SoJo or I could help. I avoid including a description about SoJo because it makes the email even longer and they can explore the site on their own since I've most likely told them about it in person.

What has this yielded so far? Approximately 4 out of 9 people responded back to my email, which I truly appreciate. Not everyone will respond back though and understandably, it may feel discouraging. However, that's the worst that can happen: you won't get a response. At best, that email could be the catalyst for a great business relationship or partnership - which is exactly what I'm going to aim to foster with those who wrote back.

 
 
For the beginning of this week, I was at the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) Discovery Conference, “Canada's leading innovation-to-commercialization conference, showcasing leading-edge technologies, best practices and research in Ontario”. I’ll be writing a series of posts on things to keep in mind when going to a conference or event as an exhibitor. This is the second post in the series.

Written by Zainab 

The Ontario Centres of Excellence Discovery Conference, like many conferences, is a great place to be if you are looking for exposure to a variety of stakeholders. When we got the chance to have a kiosk at Discovery for absolutely no cost through the Digital Media Zone, I jumped at the chance knowing that it could introduce us to many of the people that we had to meet in order to help move us along. OCE’s Discovery is exceptional in their information and guides to participants and exhibitors alike, and one of the first pages in the Young Entrepreneurs’ Guidebook included this piece on the audience expected to be there:
This is a very diverse group of people then to be speaking to, especially given that this isn’t a case of a clear majority with a few exceptions.  

You may have your pitch but how do you make sure it works for everybody? Some possibilities to go with.
  • Start by asking about them and why they're at the event. Something they say could really trigger an opening for you to talk about your initiative/organization or even about yourself if you happen to share something in common. I somehow met many Ryerson alumni and a variety of people working in education at this conference.
  • Adjust your pitch to each person. Make it meaningful for them, instead of giving the same talk to everyone. It's a different conversation with everyone.
  • Or find a quick line that has the potential to lure anyone in. I remembered this article on SoJo on using conversational hooks for easy elevator pitches and found my hook today at one point. It was a lot easier to say "SoJo is about helping people take their ideas into action." Once you see a look of interest, it's much easier to go from there.
  • I assure you, you will find your exhibitor voice. Each pitch gets easier, since you same the same things throughout the day and find what works most effectively and efficiently to say.
  • Let people experience what you do for themselves. In our case, it's a website and so I show people the homepage on an iPad (everything looks more impressive on it) and ask them to select where they are in their journey. They then click their way through and it's a more engaging and interactive discussion.

The key thing to keep in mind is to find what works for you and what you do. Adding your personality to it makes the participant's visit to your booth/kiosk that much more effective since it becomes a meeting between two people, not an infomercial at an audience of one.
 
 
Written by Zainab

As we were preparing for AJ’s temporary departure from SoJo, I gave a lot of thought to the support. Because we are in the office the most, I speak mostly from my observations of Jesse, AJ, and myself – especially over the past few months. This is the second post from a two-part series. Click here for my post on getting support within SoJo.

Though we certainly support each other within the organization, we also find support in people outside of SoJo – especially from people who operate in the same capacities we do. For Jesse, that may be other web/product developers in the DMZ because they understand the same technical issues and can learn from each other. For Kanika and now AJ, that seems to be other Founders and CEOs, as they navigate the same challenges at the helms steering their organizations towards particular visions.

Though I don’t know if there are any other full-time editors in the DMZ, I have found that external support mostly in one of the other day-to-day managers. Though Omid's company is about marketing apps and we’re about content, we also deal with some very similar issues as we both ensure that everything is running smoothly at our respective organizations.

You would wonder though what we discuss, considering there are certainly things you cannot disclose (many organizations have non-disclosure agreements). Here are some of the ways in which we support each other by sharing:
  • Frustrations. For example, we both have had students working for us, and we’ve discussed what one would do when managing youth, who do not necessarily operate in the same ways we’re used to in the professional or entrepreneurial world.
  • Expertise. Because we work in different areas, we give the other tips that can help us improve our own functions at the office. For example, I told him how I don’t feel confident when I’m pitching. He’s in marketing, so he gave me a few pointers and assured me that it comes with practice.
  • Company. Sometimes, we may be the only one around for each of our respective companies so we talk, laugh, and usually have a buddy for information sessions or office lunches.

I find that support like this provides me with new perspectives and suggestions, particularly if that person has a similar role elsewhere. In turn, I become a better intrapreneur when I learn from others, both in and outside the organization.
 
 
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Disclaimer: What I'm about to share is highly experimental and is not grounded in any theory or practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This approach is highly risky for many reasons:

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

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

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

Time

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

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


 
 
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Over the weekend I had the opportunity to hear the CEO of one of Canada's largest companies speak about values, transparency, and self-awareness. Impressed by his outlook on business and responsible leadership, I was motivated to send him a note this morning, to explore interests in working with SoJo. This could be a very big deal - or nothing at all. I was excited and nervous all at once.

With no pre-existing relationship or shared contacts, I very carefully drafted a cold-email. A cold-email is an email where you reach out directly to someone of interest, without an introduction. Introductions are great, as they allow you to lend off the credibility of your mutual contact and can give your email priority among all the nameless messages; however when there is no mutual contact a cold-email is the way to go. Cold-emails can often feel like you're sending a message to the black hole - but if done right, can be incredibly successful.

Over the course of the last year and during my academic research that led to SoJo, I have sent hundreds of cold-emails. SoJo has been relatively successful with cold-emails. More than half of the content on http://theSoJo.net have come as a result of cold-emails. When going on our first cross-Atlantic networking trip, some of my most engaged and meaningful connections came as a result of cold-emails.

I am obviously a big advocate of cold-emails, and as such, SoJo has implemented a policy where we respond to all new incoming emails within a timely manner. However if you are not cold-messaging us, here are some insights that may help you overcome this fear:

Practice, Practice, Practice
Daunting initially, it gets easier with time. The more cold-emails you write, the better you get at articulating your message in a way that resonates with your audience. With no human contact, it can be very difficult to get the attention of your reader and compel them to take the initiative to respond to your message.

Be clear with your intentions
Everyone is busy. Be honest and state your intentions upfront. If you don't have a clear idea of why you're messaging this person, then perhaps wait until you confidently feel like you can lead a meaningful conversation that will offer value to the other party. You'd be surprised of the number of people willing to help, but it's your job to ensure they understand what you need.

Opportunity cost of waiting
You miss 100% of the opportunities you don't take. Ask yourself, what's the most you have to lose? The time you spent writing that email and disappointment that comes when you receive no response? The more you send, the better your probabilities of a positive response. Often we don't send a cold-email, because we're waiting for a warm introduction, or for the right time to sell our vision. Its ok if your product is not perfect or if you don't have all the answers. That's why you're reaching out to others to get involved.

Its OK to be nervous
While it gets easier with practice, if you're sending an email to someone whom you're excited to connect with, the nerves will still kick-in when you're about to click "SEND." That's ok. It serves as a reminder that you're still passionate about the work you do, and have the courage to put yourself out there. This is a good thing!

Write with no expectations
If I had to guess, I think my success rate on cold-emails is about 40%. Although I put an incredible amount of effort into drafting good cold-emails, with time, I've learned to let go of the expectations of a response. In my opinion, it is better to be pleasantly surprised, then sadly disappointed. People are busy. Some people don't acknowledge or read an email if it is not from someone they know. I personally don't think this is smart business, as we must be open to opportunities that present themselves in many forms -- but we must be mindful of the reality that exists.

Twitter is also cited as a highly effective way of building meaningful connections with strangers, and some of the suggestions above can be adapted for other forms of communication.

 
 
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This past weekend Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government hosted one of the world's leading forums to engage in dialogue, debate, and expression around social enterprise: The Social Enterprise Conference. I attended this conference 3 years ago as a delegate, and left that conference in 2009 impressive by the breadth of speakers and topics covered. This year's schedule was equally packed, and the weekend convened over 1,600 people.
 
SoJo initially approached the Social Enterprise Conference to get involved by either hosting a workshop on taking ideas into action or providing post-conference support to all delegates by making our online resources accessible to all delegates. Ideally, we would have loved to provide a lot of great support to the delegates this year, most of whom are interested in building social ventures, but this conference will be around next year, and now that we're connected with the organizing team we will be sure to connect with them well in advance for the 2013 conference.

We were instead invited as a Media Partner, which I was excited to accept, as there was still a lot of value in informally networking with the delegates and attending the sessions. I will be posting information from the different workshops I attended on theSoJo.net for everyone to reference, stay tuned. Among one of the most interesting sessions, was an interactive workshop facilitating more effective meetings.

I used my 'media' privileges to get special access to the speakers and most of the people whom I spoke with are excited about getting their knowledge and content available on SoJo. In terms on building content partnerships, this conference was a big success.

In line with our efforts of making knowledge more accessible through the use of technology, @The_SoJo did an open call for questions to our community, that should ask while present at the conference. After-all, this was a fabulous opportunity to pick the brains of leading researchers, and practitioners in the field of social enterprise.  We were asked how to successfully build the hybrid model among non-profits and for-profits. After attending a couple of sessions on funding, legal structure and many hallway chat, there was no conclusive answer. My biggest take-away, is that a lot of focus is being placed on building a business model for non-profits and methods of enabling [larger] for-profits to be more mindful of stakeholder engagement, but no-one was talking about organizations that lie right in-between both structures. Sorry @eszterer, but rest assured, SoJo is committed to finding an answer!

My biggest disappointment was the environmental footprint left from the two-day event. Plastic water-bottles, disposables for every meal and a 130+ page conference manual, all multiplied by 1,600 over two days = a lot of waste. For a student-run conference on Social Enterprise with sessions on sustainability and the environment, I would have hoped to see the organizers lead by example and pay special attention to these details.
Similarly to my experience in 2009, I left this weekend impressed with the energy among this year's participants and am excited with the meaningful connections that arose from our participation.

 
 
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_With over 20 scheduled meetings and many more informal conversations, SoJo's first cross-Atlantic networking trip felt like a whirlwind that came and went. Three types of partnerships were developed over the course of this visit:

Content Partners: Organizations and individuals who will make their content available on SoJo's platform
Network Partners: Organizations that will openly endorse and promote SoJo within their networks, helping us build our community base
Pipeline Partners: Organizations that offer complementary services to SoJo and will integrate our online resources in their core programming. This third bucket is what gets me really excited, as it proves that SoJo can be the glue that binds this fragmented sector together!

Although everyone was open to learning more about SoJo and were pleased that I made the effort to reach out to them as I saw value in collaborating -- a good number of the people whom I met were surprised to see SoJo invest in an international trip while we are still in Beta. For an organization that is still bootstrapped, investing in a week-long international networking trip could be seen as premature. My rationale however, is that investing in the relationships with the individuals who can support SoJo's mandate makes good business sense, as those relationships may materialize into strengthening SoJo's product and reach.

London is a city rich in history and character, which was well-reflected in the meeting venues such as tall glass towers, loft-style shared workspaces, coffee shops, publishing houses, a museum -- and even afternoon tea at Kensington Palace. Likewise, of all of my international travels I've never been so disoriented. I learned very early into this trip that Google Maps is not always accurate; that streets do not follow a grid, and thus are incredibly difficult to navigate; and that underground Tube transfers between trains can take up to 10 minutes, even if you're in the same station! I'm thankful that everyone was understanding of my tardiness -- next time I'm in London however, I can no longer play the "this is my first time in the city" card.

It's safe to say that SoJo's first cross-Atlantic networking trip was a huge success. Time to focus my time on building our product and organization so we can deliver on the promises made during the trip.

 
 
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_Over the next 7 days, I will be engaging in a highly anticipated and intense networking trip in London, UK.

Our public beta has been live for 2 months now, and with such positive feedback and traction in North America, now feels as good of a time as any to make our mark globally. SoJo is an online tool. Although our team is based in Canada, our platform is freely accessible to anyone who has access to the Internet. That being said, having a physical presence in the regions we're looking to expand our reach is equally important -- as nothing replaces the value of face-to-face contact.

The United Kingdom is significant for two reasons:
1-Grow our Community: there is a vibrant community of young social innovators who need our support in taking their ideas to action.

2-Form Partnerships: there are many organizations based in London that (similar to SoJo) are building the infrastructure to support youth in their endeavours to do good in this world. SoJo cannot operate in isolation and must collaborate with other established institutions to more effectively deliver on our mandate and support other organizations to achieve mutual goals.

Leading up to this trip, I did not have a professional network in London. Instead of feeling intimidated by charting into unknown territory, I spent the past month being resourceful and creative, tapping into my existing network for referrals and sending cold-emails to total strangers worth connecting with. Although I only have a handful of meetings confirmed, I'm confident that my schedule will quickly fill up, as I'm hoping to get referrals while I am here.

Exhausted from only a few hours of sleep on an overnight flight from Toronto, I'm writing this post from the train en route to Central London incredibly excited and pumped thinking about what this upcoming week has in store...

 
 
_Staff at the Digitial Media Zone facilitated a day-long trip to Kitchener to visit a tech incubator similar to the DMZ called Communitech. A parallel exchange of tech incubators had never happened before in the region, and the goal of this trip was to learn from the other companies who are operating at a similar stage and forge collaborations. SoJo is a huge supporter of collaboration, so when I first heard of this initiative thought it was a brilliant idea. Despite enthusiasm for this initiative, I initially opted-out of the trip, as I felt it difficult to justify an entire day out of the office.  In less than 5 days, I will be in London, England for an intense networking trip.

However upon further reflection and on less than 30 hour's notice I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. Although I missed an entire day of doing important SoJo work at the office, it was an incredibly productive day in other respects. Some of the key highlights include:
  • Connection to a Philanthrokidz: a company being incubated  by the Accelerator Centre that shares a parallel mandate to SoJo - empowering youth to make a change in this world through technology.
  • On behalf of SoJo, I've been invited to participate in the Canada 3.0 Conference steering committee to talk about engaging youth in their programming. The hosting organization of this conference,  the Canadian Digital Media Network is based in Communitech. Having an in-person meeting although us to undoubtedly strengthen a valuable relationship.
  • Received offers from other incubated companies to tap into their professional networks to source potential applicants for our Product Lead role at SoJo. Some of the best team members come through referrals and Waterloo has amazing talent, so I am thrilled to now be tapped into those networks.
  • A senior analyst at Communitech with significant web experience offered to help advise us through some of our product challenges.
It is important to focus on core operational work. SoJo would not have released its public Beta on time had we not made that our only priority. Although we have a lot of operational work to complete, we are also looking to expand our team, build partnerships and carve out a space in the sector. Identifying and pursuing unconventional opportunities is the way to build a rich network of individuals who will help us achieve our goals.
 
 
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_Exhausted and completely fried from a day of 8 very long meetings, I'm starting to recognize the importance of placing more value on my time. Most of the meetings were directly valuable for SoJo: Strengthening relationships with existing partners, building the foundation to new partnerships, designing new programs, seeking business guidance from an advisor, and an informational interview with a potential new team-mate were among the positive meetings.

It is one meeting in particular that got me thinking. For the past few months I've been informally advising the development of a new program that will support the social entrepreneurship sector as whole. It is a rare opportunity to shape the development and design of a new initiative that can significantly impact the social innovation sector in Canada as a whole. Further, I was very pleased to know that my expertise in this sector is valued and recognized.

Time is at a premium however - and if SoJo is not getting value out of these exchanges, I personally do not have the luxury to invest many hours of my time sharing my insights and thoughts. Circumstances would be different if SoJo was a cashflow positive or revenue generating company, or if I was a semi-retired professional. Right now however, SoJo is building its foundation at record speed and with very limited resources.

I try not to see every exchange in absolute or as transactional terms -- because they are not. You never know where a conversation can lead. Many individuals have been very generous with their time, and have advised SoJo in its early days as well. It only seemed fair that I reciprocate.

Earlier today however, I pushed back. The questions were never ending, where I was giving a lot and wasn't able to see if I was going to get anything from the other end. After a couple of hours of my time used for 'fact finding purposes,' I felt it was appropriate to share my perspective and where I was coming from. As someone who has a difficult time saying no, pushing back was not easy. Surely enough, I did not handle the situation as tactfully as I would have liked.

I may have potentially jeopardized a valuable partnership for SoJo. I may have spoiled my reputation as an individual who is willing to give and contribute to the welfare of the sector without seeking immediate gain. All that being said, my focus my lie first and foremost with the interests of SoJo. It is in the best interest to both SoJo and the community we are serving that I be more mindful of how my time gets allocated and remain focused on achieving our goals.

 
 
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_Over the past week, I sent over 300 emails to my personal and professional networks announcing SoJo's launch. Keeping my network engaged in the successes and major milestones of SoJo is important for building and maintaining relationships, in addition to my personal support. Within only a few days of sending out emails to potential partners, announcing SoJo's launch, I've received an overwhelming response from organizations excited to start conversations with us.

When building a relationship with someone, sending a personalized email instead of a BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) goes a long way. Sure it is easier to place all contacts in the BCC field and send out all of the messages in one go, however it is also quite impersonal on the receiving end. Previously, I used to copy and paste the same message and send individually addressed emails to everyone on my mailing list, as I value the importance of that extra personal touch. Time is a premium and with a couple hundred messages -- individually sent emails did not seem like a smart option.

Through this need, I discovered mail merge. Mail merge is a tool that allows you to place all of your contacts in a spreadsheet and it automatically sends a custom email to each person. With mail merge I was able to setup several custom messages, organized my mailing list based on their interest/connection to SoJo and in a few clicks saved myself many, many hours of onerous labour from having to individually send out each message. Mail merge is an example of a tool that has helped me work smarter, not harder.

Disclaimer:
I realize that you may have received a "personalized" email from me in the last few days. You now know that it is actually a software that sent you that email, and perhaps you feel a little less important.
Please note that this is not the case and I hope you appreciate my honesty and transparency!

How to Mail Merge
Gmail / Google Applications - Follow the instructions here
Microsoft Outlook - Detailed instructions are provided in the Help section

 
 
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_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.

 
 
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Earlier this month I scheduled a two week networking trip to New York City. Although SoJo has a dynamic network in Canada, our learning tool is not exclusive to Canada and thus it is imperative that we have a presence in a much larger marketplace to aid in building our community of users and add diversity of perspectives as SoJo shapes its vision.

It was a whirlwind of a trip, with many positive developments and the foundation was laid with several organizations for collaborations in the near future. Attending events is a stellar way of meeting new people and broadening a network. From there, connecting on a one-to-one basis was key to building deeper relationships, exploring concrete opportunities for collaboration and in most cases connections to more people.
Here is a screen-shot from one day of my schedule last week.

Part of relationship building is a well written follow-up note that summarizes the items discussed as well as next steps. Follow-up is key to keeping momentum, and essentially the partnership alive.

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While running around the city in back-to-back meetings it was difficult to stay on top of my inbox. Not only was I unable to devote attention to everyday business (I receive on average 50 emails/day), the follow-up notes to all the amazing people I met have also been placed on top of the backburner.
Here is a stack of business cards that still need to be followed-up.

For someone who likes to respond to messages in a timely manner; it is safe to say that I am officially overwhelmed.

It truly is an art to stay on top of the inbox while simultaneously being stretched in many different directions.
I blogged earlier about my challenges of letting my inbox drive me, I now find myself on the other end of the spectrum where I can't even look at a single message. Prioritization is key, as well as having the humility to accept that it is OK that I don't respond to everyone immediately. People who will want to work with SoJo will understand (hopefully).

What are your tricks for staying on top of your inbox when you literally have no time to attend to it?

 
 
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Marissa Feinberg, the founder of GreenSpacesNY and I had the opportunity to meet yesterday to lay out the framework of a partnership between her organization and SoJo. GreenSpaces fosters collaboration, linkages and a shared workspace for eco-entrepreneurs in New York. They desire delivering toolkits and resources to their members, however haven't had the time or capacity to aggregate or develop informational resources as their key strength lies in fostering physical connections in the city. We are in the process of creating something they are looking for: what a perfect fit!

Within an hour, Marissa was sold on our vision. She understood the value SoJo could provide to the GreenSpace community, was generous in connecting me to other networks in the city, offered to have me work from the space for a day to mingle with the members and get a feel of their community. Once live, SoJo will be GreenSpaces' official Online Resources Partner; we will provide their 10,000+ community access to SoJo's resources to complement their offline efforts.

I'm halfway through my two week networking trip in New York City. A conference, some events and many meetings are being coordinated with the goal of building a network to ultimately gain access to a larger user base in the United States.  Being based in Canada, there is only so much reach we have, therefore forming strategic partnerships like this one is key to building our user base. I'm excited to announce our first local partnership in New York look forward to telling you about more partnerships as they get formed.

 
 
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Earlier this week I attended an event in New York called IgniteNYC. Ignite is an event where presenters are given 5 minutes and 20 automatically rotating slides to deliver a thought provoking presentation. There was a diverse mix of artists, technologists, thinkers, tinkerers, and personalities who were curated to present on Monday night's event in front of over 800 people.

Matt LeMay was one of the presenters. Now working for a well known tech startup, he managed a touring band for 5 years and drew parallels to the life of musicians and entrepreneurs. His arguments were compelling and convincing. See illustration below summarizing the presentation:


Although musicians are not SoJo's primary audience, in theory they still go through the same process as someone who desires creating a social venture: they have an idea, are passionate, aim to serve their audience, and need to do all the organizational activities of building a community, embrace competitor, and constantly be selling (to venues, managers and record labels). 

As we endeavour to build a community that is diverse and inclusive to individuals who are committed to making the world a better place, I am now challenged to think musician fit in this group as well. This leads me to believe there are perhaps more groups of innovators and initiators who may not necessarily self-identify as an "entrepreneur" because they are not creating tangible "ventures" but equally merit the support and community that SoJo is providing. They can also contribute a fresh voice to the community and share their unique challenges and experiences. Music to my ears, as I've now identified our reach to a whole new market...

My focus will remain primarily on serving the needs of youth in their journeys of building social ventures, however I am encouraged to know there probably many (under-served) markets of beneficiaries eager for something like SoJo to come to the virtual world.
 
 
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Redefinition: Definitions impose a frame on the world, shaping communities, social and political structures, our relationships, and ourselves. We rely on them, yet we struggle to break free of their limits. Forces all around us are shifting our definitions, and changing our realities — sometimes violently.
A changing definition can be the most powerful force on Earth.
A re-definition can change the world.
Redefinition was the theme of Friday's TEDxToronto Conference.
It was an intense day which included 10 live TED talks as well as a collection of pre-recorded TED videos and scheduled 'conversation breaks.' With over 700 participants, it was a day filled with tons of energy, ideas and curiosity.

Each talk was given in the context of the work that each speaker is engaged in, including health care, food, nanotechnology, film, political engagement, human rights or advocacy. I am conditioned to automatically frame all new insights and learnings in SoJo's context and was pleased to extract some common themes that were relevant to SoJo and the challenges we are addressing:

Redefining the way we look at failure; humanizing technology; connecting the heart and the mind; organizing information; finding harmony in chaos and order; redefining ourselves and our connections with others, to name a few.

SoJo's primary modus operandi is to redefine the online learning experience and the way information is accessed online. Although we do not intend on building a sophisticated technology to do so, we do strive to change the way information online is organized and accessed by its readers, and creating a user experience that is conducive to learning and development.

I was inspired by the tenacity and aspirations of all the speakers to forge new pathways and redefine models and definitions in their respective industries. I was equally encouraged (and validated) to hear them working to redefine similar issues as SoJo.

Videos can be viewed at tedxtoronto.com

 
 
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Earlier today I had lunch with a new friend and fellow social entrepreneur who just recently voluntarily quit her full-time job in pursuit of building a project to support local artists in the city. We've been meaning to get together for a few weeks now, and thanks to her persistence I finally blocked time out of my schedule for a proper lunch. As someone who feels like there are never enough hours in a day and who has been in intense work-mode to roll out the closed Beta site, it did take second thought for me to reserve almost two hours out of my day.

The emotional rollercoaster is what any entrepreneur implicitly signs up for. From my experience, individuals in your peer support network are unique, in that they share your pain and frustration as they understand what you are going through. At the same time, they are removed as they are not part of the venture - which makes for a comforting and safe sounding board. These same individuals will encourage you, help you rationalize and see the silver lining in dark situations and also to inspire you to dream about what is possible.

July was a rocky month with a great deal of reflection and questioning on my end. It was lovely to share my newfound insights and learning with someone who is going through a parallel situation. Likewise, having someone to share concerns, fears and hopes with reminds us all that we're not alone and that others around us are taking bold and courageous steps in an undefined, uncertain path.

The energy you put into this network, is the same energy that will bounce back at you. When interacting with your peer support network, ensure you are communicating and treating them as you wish to be treated yourself. Information and feelings exchanged should remain in confidence, as that builds trust. Honest advice is important, but judgment and criticism serves no good to anyone. It is not necessary that everyone in your peer support network know each other either, as is the case with my network. I talk about different issues with different people, and appreciate the ability to connect on a one-on-one basis with them.

All this being said, I do encourage you to seek out individuals whom are going through a similar journey as you, who you connect with, and where there is a mutual understanding of the nature of your relationship. Building this network will make your personal journey feel a lot less lonely and may also give you valuable insights which will improve the outcomes of your project, so it's a win-win situation all around.

 
 
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Today SoJo got its first taste of mainstream media coverage. The Globe and Mail Small Business section ran a feature on Toronto's Hottest Young Entrepreneurs. I was featured among a group of distinguished young entrepreneurs which came with a small profile online and a video clip no longer than 15 seconds.

When notified of the feature early this morning, I honestly did not thinking this was a big deal, went on about my day and did not tell anyone about it... halfway through the morning however, with the visible increase in traffic coming to SoJo's social media sites, followers, and mentions online; it became clear that this was more than a post online.

From Shenzhen to New York - I received messages from friends who read the feature online. LinkedIn invites from total strangers, and the list goes on.

When measured against a comparable static period of time, traffic to our blog went up over 500% and the number of unique visitors to our site is through the roof. (to be fair, we have yet to send out our first press release and have yet to reach to out to the masses online). Our challenge is now holding onto this momentum and engaging these new visitors to stay with us through to our launch.

Two observations were re-enforced today:
- Information is increasingly being consumed and disseminated online. As we are building SoJo to ultimately become the premier source of information for helping youth start social ventures and spreading the stories of others, we are excited to use various online tools to help catalyze social change.

- Media is powerful. Learning how to leverage media to further advance the mandate of SoJo and reach out to more users of the platform is exciting. Once the platform is live, we plan to actively engage all forms of media to help us spread our message.

Today's feature in the Globe and Mail came out of the blue and was not planned - imagine how powerful our presence will be once we create and roll out our marketing plan. In the meantime however, important to remain focused on launching our Beta site so we have something to talk about.

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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Our first post as the newest members to the SoJo team!

Last week, the three of us eagerly anticipated our start at SoJo; all individually curious as to how the journey would begin. That’s when Kanika and Trevor introduced us to the opportunity to volunteer with Net Change Week - which turned out to be the perfect start for our journey!

Over the past two days, we participated in Net Change Week at MaRS. With attention-grabbing sessions such as ''Oops, you raised awareness but forgot to raise funds,'' ''#FAIL: Biggest Online Mistakes and How to Avoid Them,'' ''Google Analytics: Business Intelligence for Non-profits,'' this conference emphasized the potential of social media in generating interest and support for progressive social causes and charity/nonprofit organizations. Holding video interviews with representatives from various organizations around Canada and live-tweeting information sessions about implementing social media to gain awareness, visibility and fund raising, we witnessed social technology in some of its most advanced and innovative forms. These past few days have been a whirlwind of information, educating us about the exciting new forms of online communication while opening our horizons towards the innovations that are sure to follow. This was undoubtedly the best (free) training anyone could receive and we’re all more confident to assume our roles in making SoJo truly amazing!

Our time at Net Change Week also brought to light the massive reach of social media, with twitter as a rising star. Gone are the days when twitter was thought of as simply a site for senseless rambling of the celebrity kind. Instead, twitter has proven to be a platform for critical mass, through-provoking conversations, skill-sharing and a medium to amass social change. Social media are what you make of them - in a hash-tag-heavy and @-sign-filled 140 character package, of course!

What became apparent from attending the conference is how social media are powerful tools with great potential. Through the participants met and the connections made, Net Change Week reiterated the extent to which the breadth of social media surpasses the previously inescapable generational and geographical boundaries. Social media can yield remarkable results if you have the initiative, creativity and passion to make use of them to better push social issues. Be fearless about your social media ventures. We all make mistakes, we are all learning, and, as this is a new and upcoming form of communication technology, we are all forging the paths of social change through these ever-evolving networks of online media. Through social networking sites, information is being transformed, providing opportunities for relatable, personal, and collaborative stories that may help change the face of how we receive, convey and share information about social issues and how to tackle them.

You can follow quick-quips from sessions via twitter through the hashtags #ncwk and #mcc11, or follow us at @MadeleineGBlyth, @Monica_E_G, and @KaleHowe. Additionally, NetChangeWeek has uploaded all slides from session and presentations that can be found on their website.

Till our next adventure,

Madeleine, Monica and Kailee

 
 
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On my way back from the Canada 3.0 Conference on digital media in Stratford, I stopped by Waterloo for an in-person rendez-vous with Daniel Arrizza – SoJo’s newest team member. Over the course of our conversation, it became clear that I am officially conferenced-out! Within the past few weeks, I spoke at, volunteered, and attended nearly a dozen conferences and events. Some of them include the Ontario Nonprofit Network unconference in Toronto, the world's largest conference on social innovation at Yale University, a cocktail for start-up tech entrepreneurs in NYC, Feast on Good social at the Soho House, and the list goes on…

The exhaustion that comes from being on your feet is nothing compared to the energy that is required to be on your ‘game.’ Although I learned a couple of new things and took some notes from the speakers, the real value that came from all these events was primarily from the networking and ‘bumping’ into people who I would not normally have a chance to chat with. Conferences bring together like-minded individuals in the same physical place – an opportunity that is rare and should be taken full advantage of. Tailoring my pitch to different audiences while keeping them captivated, and seamlessly delivering the same message repeatedly in the same day is actually quite draining. Since SoJo operates at the intersection of a handful of different circles, there is no shortage of events and networks to get connected into.

In addition to the time that is spent travelling to and physically attending an event, the time spent following-up with new connections should not be under-estimated. Conferences and events are fabulous opportunities to build a human connection with individuals – connections which have the potential to lead to valuable relationships; keeping in mind that a relationship is built over time with meaningful exchanges between both parties. I have multiple stacks of business cards, and since most of these events occurred back-to-back, I am still dealing with the backlog of follow-up emails/calls with the connections made in New York two weeks ago, while also attempting to stay on top of the key connections made in Stratford only yesterday. My calendar of follow-up conversations now looks like a jigsaw puzzle. Prioritization is crucial; there is only so much one can do in a day, and this is an art I’m looking to master. I know that of the 100+ follow-up emails I write, about 5-10% of those conversations will lead to substantial value for SoJo… but I must still respect the process of reaching out to people, and keeping in touch – as great relationships will come out of those efforts.

Side note: Attending conferences can be quite pricey, especially if they are not subsidized. Some tricks I’ve picked up along the way to reduce the costs:
- Ask to volunteer. Conferences always need help on the day of coordinating logistics. Volunteering at the registration table for example, will allow you to physically greet each attendee, which makes it easier to strike up a conversation during down-time in the hallways.
- Scan the speaker list and if you know a speaker, ask them if you can be part of their entourage. This may come at the price of bragging rights from your speaker-friend, but at least you have access to the event.
- Connect on social media to reach out to fellow delegates to find shared accommodations/transportation to the events.

 
 
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Being an online platform, I never thought the geographic location of the organization or its team members mattered. After-all, SoJo was started with founders in different cities and we pride ourselves in not being limited by geographic boundaries to get up and running. The users of SoJo will be everywhere - so why should it matter where we [as an organization] are physically based?

Over the past 7 days, I experienced an overload of meetings, conversations, connections through various events and rendez-vous in Manhattan. It only took a few days for me to see how powerful and prominent the internet start-up, technology, media and social innovation communities are. After witnessing the vibrancy of these networks in NYC, I asked myself the question:
Would SoJo be more successful if we based ourselves in the Big Apple?

Knowing that such rich and vibrant communities exist in NYC and SoJo penetration in the city will be integral to meeting our goals - I had the foresight to reach out to a handful of Canadian friends who are well connected in the States. To my disappointment, not a single introduction was set-up from a Canadian referral, yet I managed to coordinate an entire week of meetings on my own. I signed-up for events, introduced myself to total strangers and set-up follow-up meetings later in the week. Someone at an event suggested I connect with the Canadian Consulate and a few days later I was having with the Technology and Innovation Officer who connected me with more people – and so the domino effect kicked in… No hard feelings on my Canadian friends, but this further demonstrates the importance of a physical presence.

Funding, partnerships, advisors, referrals to supporters all stem from relationships. It is much easier to establish relationships in person with face-to-face contact. The population and dynamics of NYC allow for larger clusters of people and resources which will undoubtedly increase the probability of meaningful connections arising.

Don't get me wrong, I love being based in Canada and am extremely mindful of everything that has been accomplished in the past quarter – progress I don’t think would have been possible as a lean start-up in NYC.
As exciting as these conversations have been, and the value received from connecting with like-minded individuals – I am equally excited to go back to Canada and get some serious work done and make SoJo one step closer to reality.

Recognizing that powerful forces exist in NYC, I hope to be back again soon…

 
 
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Sitting on the train en route to Grand Central terminal reflecting over an intense weekend of excitement, sharing, talking, networking, disappointment and optimism...

After weeks of anticipation, the Unite for Sight conference at Yale finally arrived Friday. I was excited to have a slot dedicated to presenting SoJo to a public audience for the first time. With a game face on and a stash of freshly minted business cards, I was ready to tackle the crowd and share with a community of like-minded individuals what SoJo is all about!

The weekend was important. When you are running a lean start-up, and right now we are VERY lean, it can be difficult to justify the costs of a trip down to Connecticut. Because of this there seemed to be added pressures to get the most out of the event. I approached the conference with an open-mind, but definitely had some goals I hoped to achieve.

Goal #1- Tell as many people as possible about SoJo, get them excited about what we're creating. Ultimately, motivating them enough to sign up to test our Beta when it goes live (Quantity)

Goal #2- Connect with like-minded people and identify synergies that may be helpful in making SoJo amazing (Quality)

As I stare out the window of the train, I reflect: did I accomplish my goals?

I have mixed feelings over how successful my networking efforts panned out. Walking the fine line between the quantity of encounters and the quality of the connections is always a challenge. Perhaps this time, my expectations were unreasonable.

With over 2000 people in attendance and sessions spread out over multiple buildings, further complicated by the intense wind and rain, it was actually really hard to meet people. It seemed that everyone had an agenda and sessions were lined up back-to-back. As a result, the majority of my initial informal interactions where restricted to a lot of awkward hallway chats. I was surprised and slightly disappointed by the number of people I connected with. 

Wishing that I had more man-power to "divide and conquer" among the delegates, I wrote a message yesterday to my partner-in-crime who is currently scuba diving on an island in Honduras! Hoping on a plane wasn’t quite an option, but it was important to keep him in the loop regardless. Back working the floor at the event, I'm pretty sure I handed out close to 100 business cards. Not bad, but up against a total attendance of 2000 delegates, it felt like peanuts.

When we talk about the connections made, those dots are all over the map.

There were the people that looked at me like I was crazy. I approached them with enthusiasm and excitement to get them involved in my new venture, but was shut down without even having the opportunity to be heard.

Also, there were the people that didn’t attempt to mask their skepticism. It was written all over their face: "you think you have a great idea, but I highly doubt its going to work –  I invite you to save your breathe…"

SoJo is obviously something I am very passionate about. To this extent, I'm so excited and invested in SoJo - that I sometime perceive an attack on SoJo is an attack on me. Indeed, the human psyche can be quite fragile, but I need to learn not to take the doubt and the skepticism expressed by others personally, because I know that there will most likely be more before SoJo is officially live.

Note to self: grow a thicker skin.

Admittedly, when looking at certain aspects of the weekend that didn't go quite as planned, it is often easy to overlook the positive interactions that did happen. I have to give the successes credit, because they definitely were there.

Indeed, there was a host of people at the event who were inspired by SoJo. Some even went out of their way to pin me down to ask more questions. They were genuinely excited for SoJo and I have a feeling many will join our growing community of early adopters.

Achieving Goal #2, that of forming quality connections with the people I met this weekend, may take time. That’s ok, because making SoJo amazing is an evolving project. So I didn't reach all 2000 delegates, but I am excited about those whom I did connect with. Relationships cannot be built instantly and I'm optimistic that some connections from this conference will pan out down the road. I must be patient and persistent...

Finally, I was reminded this weekend of the courage it took to put SoJo out in the open. Although it is potentially more challenging to share an early-stage project with the mix of supporters and skeptics alike, the feedback and input received from all parties will undoubtedly make SoJo better and ultimately bring us closer to achieving our goals.

If you were at Yale this weekend - thanks for listening and engaging with me. I really enjoyed connecting.

If you have a half-developed idea, know that it won't be easy- BUT it is rewarding to share with a community that can provide feedback and assistance. Its part of the process of turning an idea into action!

Lastly, Trevor will soon return to home to Canada from his travels in Central America. Look out future events, the live SoJo story-sharing power is soon to double!

Kanika
(On behalf of SoJo)