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Today is my first day back at the office since our team meeting at the beginning of the month. I've been travelling overseas, for the past 2 weeks, but consciously decided to disconnected entirely from the Internet for most of my travels. While my hectic travel schedule did not feel like a vacation, being disconnecting from the daily inflow of work communications was desperately needed. My last Internet detox occurred 7 months ago.

The difference between this detox and last detox -- was last year I created detailed workplans for every team member before leaving. Aware that the team required guidance and direction, I took it upon myself to pre-orchestrate operations and team outputs.

I left the office a few weeks ago with a different type of confidence. While I had high-level discussions of expectations of deliverables with some of the team members, I really left it up to everyone to see what they were able to accomplish without my guidance. This laid-back approach happened for two reasons: (1) I didn't have the mental capacity or time to micro-manage everyone's schedules, as I could hardly keep up with my responsibilities (2) I wanted to see how the team managed without my direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of SoJo.  

My phone number was given to our key team members to get in touch if emergencies arose. Never once while I was away did I doubt our team's abilities to handle whatever came their way -- giving me piece of mind that I haven't yet experienced. It was great.

I'm now slowly catching up with the team to check-in on their status and progress. I was pleased (but not surprised) to discover that most things continued to move forward. Albeit I identified inefficiencies and know that some outputs would have increased had I been there to catch the bottlenecks, but all in all, the team did very well. Rather than get caught up on the things that didn't go well, I focused most of my feedback on what was learned and how things can be done differently next time.

My hands-off approach over the past few weeks is proof that the team is equipped to handle daily operations, providing me with the space needed to scale and grow SoJo.


 
 
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Sharing SoJo's Story
Yesterday, SoJo's case study was revealed to a group of sustainability students at the Ivey School of Business at Western University. Ivey Cases are the second most distributed business cases globally. (extra bonus: SoJo will receive the royalties from all of the cases sold). AJ and I were invited to participate in the reveal of the case. From the moment we boarded the train at Union Station in Toronto to the moment we arrived back, almost 16 hours later - it was a non-stop day of stimulation, thinking, speaking and meetings.

My experience with this Case Study journey began with an Interview 4 months ago. The initial interview with the researchers writing the case was an intense experience, resulting in deep introspection. The insights that emerged from that interview still resonate strongly with me. Yesterday, I experienced a completely different set of emotions. I met really interesting people and had great conversations, however there were 2 experiences from yesterday that struck me deeply:

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Students analyzing SoJo
Live Case Study
SoJo's story was presented in the form of an abridged, 3-page case study to a group of students. This was the first time that a case was paired with blog posts. Students discovered SoJo through an interactive treasure-map that forced them to poke into the different sections of our website. An immersive experience like never before. Many of the students identified as users of SoJo, making this a relatable and meaningful case.

What became clear very early on, many of the faculty members and some of the students had read SoJo's blog from front to back, and know our story inside-out. It was really strange to have others talk about my emotions and feelings -- with me right there. I remember doing case studies, and studying different people. It only sunk in during that class, that I am now that person who got examined under a microscope -- thousands of times over.

The students were asked to scrutinize SoJo, lay-out its attributes, limitations and growth needs. Both AJ and I scribbled notes the entire time, as some great insights came from those discussions. Without communicating SoJo in our own words, we now know how the message is received by others and first impressions. They made recommendations on what SoJo's future business decisions should be. It was like a group consultant, working with incomplete information, providing insights on how SoJo should be run to meet its growth challenges.

Everyone that works with me knows that I am never at a shortage of words, especially when it is talking about SoJo. This was a class where students were forced to think through their hypothesis and learn on their own. While I knew the answers to most of their questions (why certain decisions were made, and the rationale behind them), I was forced to sit back and abstain from commenting. It was so difficult to hear conversations go completely off-tangent, where the insights completely missed the mark. On the other hand, it was gratifying to have the opportunity to share my thinking and see the "eureka" moments on their faces. They now saw something about SoJo that they did not before -- and it is my hope that this will stay with them for life.

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Sharing my thoughts on Social Innovation
Intellectual Stimulation
After the case reveal, I was shuttled to a PhD seminar, and was asked to talk about Social Innovation to a group of doctoral students who were about to begin their research journey.  The goals of having me speak with this group were to ask deep questions to push their boundaries and ways of thinking, and to help them uncover opportunities for research into different areas. A lot of pressure to be put on the spot with really smart people; however an opportunity that was unlike any other.

I spoke in plain language. They repeated back in theories and successfully explained SoJo's vision and impact in abstract. This allowed me to understand with greater clarity what we're doing, and explain where we are headed. I was touched when a student approached me to say that I completely changed his outlook on everything (in a good way). I believe I learned just as much as the group.

While I came home exhausted from an intense day -- I wouldn't trade in yesterday's experience for anything.
We ended the day talking about Case B for SoJo. I can't wait to do this all over again.

 
 
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The Ontario Trillium Foundation launched a Future Fund -- a fund to support ideas that will strengthen the infrastructure for young social entrepreneurs in Ontario. This fund has SoJo's name written all over it, as SoJo already meets all of the Fund's stated desired outcomes. Yesterday I was invited to pitch to the committee allocating the funds from the Future Fund, in addition to other investors, funders and stakeholders.

While I've spoken dozens of times on stage about SoJo and "pitched" SoJo hundreds of times informally to prospective partners and supporters, a pitch to an investor -- with a clear expectation of money on the other end -- was a whole other story. Reflecting in hindsight; I placed a greater deal of pressure on myself this time, as the stakes were higher considering the uniqueness and potential of this opportunity meeting some of our financing needs.

Many hours went into the presentation. Some team members helped to frame the story of SoJo in a concise and engaging format. An advisor who has successfully raised many rounds of venture capital financing, and someone who has been on the other side of 100s of pitches shared additional thoughts on the storyline. One of our very talented designers successfully interpreted that story into hand-drawn cartoon-like representations. SoJo's brand and identity is built on a do-it-yourself theme, and my pitch to an investor needed to represent that as well. A corporate-like presentation wouldn't do justice.

Having never been a fan of powerpoint presentations, I was forced to step out of my comfort-zone of picture only slides, to add text and numbers to the presentation. For the first time, I had to get myself out of the "delivering a workshop" mindset to a "selling your vision mindset."

Despite being down with influenza for more than a week (and almost voiceless the night before), I woke up yesterday morning pumped and excited. All of the nerves left me, as I was excited for the opportunity to share SoJo's good work to an audience who had the power to help us in a very meaningful way. While I do wish I had a little more life into my presentation, I am very pleased with my pitch and left feeling confident in how I represented SoJo.

This Fund is highly competitive, so we'll see if SoJo is something the Fund sees value to invest in. Regardless, this process has thought me a lot about communication and understanding your audience, skills that I will undoubtedly use and refine in the near future.  


 
 
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It's a word that I have a twisted obsession with: the more I hate hearing myself say it, the more I use it. It comes out of my mouth without a second thought, and I've become so comfortable with this word that I've lost consciousness of using it. My lack of self-control has forced me to outright ban this word from my vocabulary. The B-word being BUSY. Here is why:

Busy is relative
While there is always a need to improve my time management skills and my ability to create more space in my life for non-work related activities or personal down-time, at the end of the day, BUSY is my new normal. I will never get through my inbox or complete the entire to-do list. Busy is a relative term. What is busier than busy? I've over-used this word to the point that it has lost its relevance. I must accept the fact that the demands for my time will always outweigh the amount of time that I actually have. As such I must be smarter about how I choose to allocate my time, and not let BUSY be my excuse for putting the effort to actually change my behaviour.  

Being busy is being rude
Everyone has a lot going on in their lives. When someone asks me to meet this week and I tell them, "I can't, I'm busy", I'm making the assumption that my time is worth more than theirs. If I make a commitment to participate in an advisory role and do not attend the meetings, I'm in fact using BUSY as a cover-up and am indirectly telling everyone I don't actually respect the other advisors' time, because if I did, I would honour my commitment. Being BUSY is fairly presumptuous and outright rude, actually. If I legitimately do not have time in my schedule, instead of saying that I'm BUSY, I should tell people when my earliest availability is and also reconsider ongoing commitments.

Lacks articulation
When people ask me how I'm doing, my gut response is to say "I've been really busy." I've started to catch myself get too comfortable using the B-word as a catch-all-phrase. Using BUSY as a catch-all phrase belittles myself, as this word really doesn't mean anything. It is not concrete or tangible. Rather, I'm hoping the B-word Challenge will force me to be more articulate, and list out the actual activities that have been occupying my time.

Perceived loss of control
As alluded to above, BUSY doesn't actually mean anything. If I cannot articulate the things that keep me BUSY, then am I really that BUSY? Saying that I'm BUSY is most often followed with a sigh, anxious tone or frazzled look. BUSY is most often said in lieu of "I've consciously decided to allocate my time this way, and I'm in full control." If I'm consistently using the B-word, then it can be perceived as my inability to control my time. Busy is not synonymous for confidence. In my role, I must always sell SoJo and my ability to deliver on our vision. Always telling people that I'm BUSY doesn't emanate confidence or control.

Not a badge of pride
A recent NY Times essay states compelling arguments about society's obsession with self-imposed busyness. The writer refers to the 'Busy' Trap as "a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness." I would like to be seen as someone who achieves results, not as someone who is always BUSY. In fact, I'm on personal mission to prove that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into ground, and with grace. BUSY is not graceful. By constantly telling people I'm BUSY, instead of the work that gets done, I'm essentially feeding into this vicious cycle of the busyness trap.

It's going to be difficult to go cold-turkey and omit a word entirely from my vocabulary that I use multiple times a day; hence my public documentation of this challenge. To help hold me accountable, everytime someone from my team (the individuals who interact with me most consistently) catch me using the B-word in context, I will have to buy them a gift. If anything above resonates with you, then I encourage you to take on The B-word Challenge with me.


 
 
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In many ways, SoJo flat organizational structure has contributed to the strong team culture that we've built over the past year. The team is SoJo's greatest strength, and when some of our team members are asked what they appreciate most about SoJo, many have mentioned their appreciation of not having a pronounced hierarchy -- where they felt like an equal to everyone else on the team. We're all collectively working towards the same goals and up until now there hasn't been a need to formalize the internal team structure.

A result of having a flat organization was having almost everyone report up to me. Being the only full-time team member, I was naturally the most accessible and fully present to everyone, and culturally people became comfortable and accustomed to reporting to me. I was directly involved in more activities than what I should have been, and as a result stretched myself thin to the point that led to a burnout. I also grew frustrated as I wasn't able to provide certain team members the individual support that they needed to excel in their roles.

The solution: Share responsibilities and accountability among different members, and introduce a hierarchy to remove the dependency everyone had on me to advance their own responsibilities. As SoJo enters its first phase of high-growth, it is important that the team and organization change accordingly.

A hierarchy was challenging to integrate before, as the other part-time team members did not have the capacity to assume the responsibility of coordinating and managing another team member. Now that we have some full-time team members, there is a greater ability to accommodate a change in structure.

In theory, I thought it'd be easy to divide the team up in key focus areas, assign a team lead and place members in their appropriate section. However upon further development, the structure became more complex. Reporting relationships do not always match functional relationships.  Even with defined responsibilities, SoJo operates in a very fluid manner and team members collaborate and interchange roles among different functions regularly.

Knowing this would be a difficult exercise, I began by writing out everyone's name on post-it notes and moved them around (many times) until I finally settled on a structure that made sense. This is not static, and will evolve as our team evolves. That being said, I foresee our greatest challenge keeping to this structure, as many team members will need to re-condition themselves to working with different team members.

As difficult as it is to transition a flat organization into
one with a hierarchy, I'm hopeful that this change is a necessary step in building out the infrastructure to support SoJo through this exciting growth phase.


 
 
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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.


 
 
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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

 
 
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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!


 
 
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Earlier today I had my first meeting with one of SoJo's crowd-sourced CTOs to learn about Project Management. As evidenced by the fallout from our server decision, up until now every decision has been made in an ad-hoc, do-what-it-takes-to-get-it-done fashion. This lack of organization and planning led us through a successful private beta, public beta, and post-beta launch. We were nimble, weren't bogged down with management and accommodated where we saw fit. Now that the scope and complexity of SoJo has grown, so has its need to get better organized and do things smarter.

To fill this deficiency, we invited an experienced project manager to join the team in an advisory capacity, lending off her 30+ professional years of experience in project management. This is a risk, as she has never worked with a start-up, and her methodologies may not necessarily apply to the needs of a fast-paced, ever-evolving organization such as SoJo. The biggest risk to seeking external project management support is getting slowed down by un-necessary processes and planning, when SoJo's greatest advantage has been our ability to implement and execute in a speedy manner.

Although a tad bit overwhelming, today's session was incredibly useful, and I learned a lot. I learned how to articulate our functional requirements at a high-level and the methodology used to break them apart into functions and prioritize. SoJo has always been victim to scope-creep, so having an objective process to prioritize features based on need, ability to implement, and risk will help the product team stay focused and on-track.

Making choices has historically been challenging, as I am always seeking an optimal solution with only incomplete information. She introduced me to a more structured way of making decisions, also referred to as triple constraint project management. As per the diagram, one side is the dependent variable (in the case of our public Beta launch, we were constrained by time to launch at the SociaLIGHT conference). Once you are clear of your dependent variable, you are then able to adjust the other constraints accordingly. Seems quite logical, but now whenever I make a decision I will visualize this triangle and remind myself that I cannot have it all. This will definitely help to keep me focused and grounded.   

To avoid the gerbil on the wheel syndrome, I'm hopeful that external project management support will help to keep us moving forward, without burning unnecessary energy.


 
 
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With a successful public launch and an incredibly competent and talented team, SoJo is well positioned to grow and advance its mandate. Up until this point, our only objective was to get the public site, http://theSoJo.net built. From private Beta to public Beta to official launch; focus was centred around gathering content, designing the product, building the technical infrastructure and establishing an early-adopter beta user base. Mass outreach, measuring our impact and funding were not priorities.

Moving forward, SoJo is working towards these 3 organizational objectives:
1- To achieve universal ubiquity
2- To be a credible resource that actually helps people
3- To be a financially self-sustaining social enterprise

Addressing these objectives is no easy task. To avoid the gerbil on the wheel syndrome (being busy, but not getting anywhere), a plan is most needed. With a team that has proven itself able to execute and a clear vision of where SoJo needs to go, exceptional strategic planning is needed to bridge that gap.

Knowing that financial sustainability will come from diversifying our products, I must now dedicate majority of my time to building our next product and less energy on the operations of the existing public site. It is my hope that this plan establishes the right mechanisms for the team to carry the public site's activities forward without my direct involvement.

Last night SoJo hosted its first Strategic Planning meeting. Individuals leading different focus areas participated in an intimate and intense meeting filled with tough questions, feedback, and sharing of new ideas. Despite the initial technical difficulties of video-conferencing, I felt we were effective in bringing out many insights, and making everyone aware of the interconnectedness of each moving part.

Albeit successful, I completely underestimated the amount of preparation that went into this first meeting. Namely around establishing what this process was going to look like, determining the key information we needed to get out of it, prompting the team to come prepared with answers to questions, and preparing the slidedeck reference documentation.

It is also challenging as I'm forced to use a different part of my brain which has never been used. Strategic planning, abstract thinking and juggling multiple agendas is an acquired skill that needs to be developed and honed. Visioning is very different than strategizing, and the past year for SoJo has been very ad-hoc, with tons of vision -to-execution, with little planning. Luckily we have experienced team members with the experience to guide me and take the lead on this process.

Strategic planning will allow us to take SoJo to the next level and create the plan needed to achieve these objectives. Although daunted, we're all excited for what lies ahead!


 
 
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Over the month of July, everyone on the team was asked to reflect and make note of their key accomplishments, strengths, challenges and missed goals. Although SoJo continues to have a very young team, most have been onboard long enough to assess their performance and contributions. Often when you're in the daily grind, it is easy to forget about all that was achieved. Taking a step back to reflect allowed everyone on the team to do so, and take pride in their growth. Likewise, it is often easy to forget about challenges after they've past and continuously  repeat behaviours without awareness of the need to make corrections.

Zainab (the editorial coordinator who has direct contact with all of the editors) and I have started to turn these notes shared by our colleagues into individual development plans. In addition to sharing my thoughts on each team member's strengths and challenges, a section on Core Competencies was added. Through the use of specific examples, this section highlights a series of competencies, making specific reference to what was done well, and where improvements can be made. Each competency was backed by several examples, ensuring feedback was grounded in reality, and also aided the individual receiving the feedback to relate and better understand where actions could have been done differently.

The third and final section is a personal development plan. I am personally committed to developing and growing every member of SoJo's team, and ensuring that SoJo is positive learning experience, beyond the direct contributions everyone makes to our mandate. Everyone's development plan consists on average of 2 mutually agreed upon tangible goals. By writing out the developmental plan, it holds SoJo (myself or Zainab) and the individual team member to ensuring it happens.

Often we are not aware of the changes that we need to make. A manager or a peer is best positioned to provide an alternative perspective, as they can make the unconscious conscience or validate an assumption that previously existed. This inaugural round of development plans is adding some much needed structure and order to SoJo, and we're learning tons. Up until now, SoJo has had a very flat, friendly and collegial culture. To get over the fear of giving [critical] feedback to a colleague who is more like a friend, it is important to be reminded of the goal. In our case, we all share a goal of making SoJo the best it can be. As such feedback needs to be constructive, where the intention of personal growth is clear.

Making these plans are an investment, as it takes a lot of mental energy and time (2-3 hours for each individual). People are SoJo's greatest asset, and I see this investment necessary to show our team that we care, which in-turn will make SoJo the best it can be.

Likewise, once everyone's development plans have been completed, I will be inviting the team to share their feedback on my performance and leadership. This 360 review will provide a complete and thorough evaluation of everyone in the organization, ensuring we can all develop and grow together.

 
 
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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!

 
 
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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

 
 
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With a growing team that remains geographically dispersed, expanding product requirements, and an ever evolving list of action items, our team desperately needed a project management tool to get us all organized. Last summer we set up an internal communications platform, however it was too difficult to maintain, uptake from the team was not sustained, and it quickly fizzled out.

A few months ago I discovered Trello and decided to "pilot" test it with Trevor. Since clear guidelines were not adopted, we would go back-and-forth between emails and Trello (which wasn't consulted daily). As result of being 'neither here, nor there' we did not make full use of this tool. After hearing so many people speak so highly of their experience with Trello, a few weeks ago decided to make the switch overnight and migrated all communication-related tasks directly to Trello. Trello is now being phased into the entire organization, and within only a few weeks of actively using it, I'm already experiencing noticeable differences in the following areas:

Reduced Emails
Controlling my inbox has been an ongoing challenge. There is little control over external emails, however internal communications is entirely in our hands. Email overload has resulted in many emails falling through the cracks. The costs of missed action items, and time spent following-up on tasks with team members is tremendous. By placing action items in the dashboard, instead of an email, ensures everything is kept in one place and avoids many redundant emails.

Increased Coordination
There is no one person on the team that works in isolation. Some members do identical tasks as their colleagues, other people work jointly to conduct the same task. This tool has been set-up in a way that allows multiple people to essentially share one brain. Rather than making an extra step to physically check-in with someone when a task is complete, it already appears on the screen.

Increased Accountability
This tools gives us the ability to break apart action items, attach an owner, and set  deadlines. If people are in the habit of checking in regularly, then there should be no excuses for unfulfilled deliverables. In the past I've had difficulties holding everyone accountable to every little thing -- this tool does it automatically! This will also serve as a peer-to-peer accountability mechanism, because everyone's deliverables will be known within the entire organization.

Cohesiveness
Although there is a desire to keep the team in the loop of what everyone in the organization is doing at all times, it is physically impossible to do so. A shared dashboard, provides our team with ability to check-in on other areas of the organization at their leisure. Our team should not be working in silos either, so it is my hope that this tool be used consistently for people to check-in on their own tasks as well as others, to avoid the challenges of people working in isolation.












I am hopeful that SoJo can fully utilize this tool to get our team more organized internally. Regardless of the outcome, I'll be sure to share the results of this project management tool in a few months on the blog. Stay tuned.

 
 
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The two most commonly asked questions SoJo gets are :

1) How do you make money / what is your business model?
2) What  are you / what is your legal structure?

Our business model is constantly evolving, however I can finally announce our legal structure :
a Hybrid Social Venture.

What does this mean?
SoJo (http://theSoJo.net) is being created and delivered jointly by two different entities: SoJo Ventures Inc. and SoJo Education.

In Canada there is no legal structure that recognizes a social enterprise. You are either a for-profit or non-profit. There are advantages and limitations to each legal structure. When it was time to formally incorporate SoJo, open a bank account and have a legal framework to build its product, we deliberated long and hard between a for-profit and non-profit structure.

Decision to go for-profit
A year ago, SoJo Ventures Inc. was incorporated as a for-profit corporation in Canada, assuming that it could develop and deliver SoJo's online learning tool and community of social innovators as a for-profit. Our rationale at the time for pursuing a for-profit legal structure over a non-profit included:

- Set a precedent: We want to be trail blazers by showing our community that it is possible to create a financially sustainable venture that delivers on profit and mission. With the shrinking pool of resources available to non-profits, we want to lead by example in demonstrating that there is another way of satisfying mission, while sustaining your costs.
- Protect the Intellectual Property and technology developed: For-profits have fewer restrictions on how assets get allocated and used.
-Access to research grants and funding available to corporations for developing new technologies and innovations.
-Fewer restrictions on how we can raise capital, spend our resources and conduct business operations.
-Be respected as a legitimate member within the technology community: almost all technologies are developed under for-profits, and we did not want any biases imposed on us by the tech community if we were not a for-profit entity.  

Unfortunately over the past few months SoJo experienced significant limitations with the for-profit legal status, where we faced unnecessary obstacles and were forced to turn down some opportunities as a result of formalities. There have been instances where organizations and individuals were excited about SoJo and eager to work with us, however upon learning about our legal status, the conversations quickly changed. Somehow, everyone assumed SoJo was a non-profit, and when told otherwise, people grew suspicious about supposed ulterior motives. I didn't realize that taking the 'high road' and delivering a service which was traditionally delivered by a non-profit, as a for-profit would receive so much backlash. Almost all of the organizations we work with are non-profits, and some did not understand why a for-profit is the one bringing everyone together. Based on my interactions with other individuals in the sector, there still exists a lot of misunderstanding and stigma towards mission-driven for-profit corporations. SoJo's vision is ambitious enough. Does it make sense for us to go up additional uphill battles for reasons of "morals" and "precedents"? 

Decision to go non-profit
Every conversation that forced me to question my decision of our legal structure was an additional drop in the bucket. The bucket tipped when a significant partner made it very clear that they could not work with SoJo under its for-profit legal structure, as it is written in their mandate that they cannot support for-profit corporations. This partnership will give us a boost in credibility, build our community, and give us access to several valuable networks. I could not justify letting this partnership go, therefore exactly one year later, I went through the process of incorporating SoJo Education, a non-profit organization.

Why create two legal structures?
Yes, SoJo will be delivered jointly by a for-profit corporation and non-profit. I am very well aware of the redundancy that exists with having to maintain two organizations, two bank accounts and two separate governance structures, however we were really left with no other option. Until Canadian legislation catches up with evolving needs of the Social Enterprise sector, many people such as myself will be forced to be creative in order to deliver value to society today. This is not the perfect solution, however this dual-structure model best meets our needs today.

As far as I'm concerned, the hybrid legal structure will have little effect on SoJo’s end product. Our primary goal is to make SoJo a robust platform that is accessible to as many people as possible -- and we took the entrepreneurial approach of doing what was necessary to achieve this goal. Given that there is no legal recognition in Canada of a social enterprise, we decided to adopt an alternative arrangement: the hybrid social venture. This will allow us to reap the benefits of both legal structures.

The Hybrid dispelled:
"The hybrid uses a series of contracts and agreements to combine one or more independent businesses and nonprofits into a flexible structure that allows them to conduct a wide range of activities and generate synergies that cannot be done with a single legal entity. The guiding principles dictate the relationship between the corporation and nonprofit. The entities that generally make up a hybrid are distinct for legal purposes, and each is responsible for compliance with the laws and regulations that govern it, but when properly structured, the legally distinct entities can behave much like a single entity. The purpose of the contract hybrid is to create an ongoing, symbiotic relationship between a nonprofit and a for-profit to accomplish mission and business objectives on a long-term basis. It allows synergies that simply aren’t possible with the other models, because both the nonprofit and the business are free to pursue their activities in a way that is most likely to be successful within the legal, financial, and regulatory framework that applies to it, without being bogged down in the limitations and regulatory burdens of the other party. Yet they are tied together in a way that allows the whole structure to leverage the strengths of each organization."
Source: Adapted from Allen R. Bromberger's article in the Stanford Social Innovation Revue

How will SoJo's hybrid operate:
Each entity has their own purpose, and collaboratively they will deliver http://theSoJo.net. SoJo Ventures Inc.'s primary responsibility is to develop the technology and backend support needed to power SoJo. SoJo Education's primary responsibility is to make the content freely accessible, and build the community associated with SoJo.

Both entities will be linked by partnership agreements, created in accordance with a series of guidelines and policies, ensuring a legally sound and transparent relationship. You can view the guidelines here.

In addition to the paperwork and administration costs associated with creating two legal entities, I expended an incredible amount of time researching possibilities, talking to experts and deliberating -- this process was incredibly tedious, and was a huge headache. SoJo's legal structure has been over a year-in-the-making. I wanted to wait until our documents were reviewed by lawyers, and that most of our internal controls were in place before publicly announcing our legal structure. SoJo is committed to being transparent with sharing our story, and hopefully this post helps you better understand the thinking that led to this important decision. Please share your thoughts, concerns, and questions. I may not have all the answers, but am open to the dialogue.

5 years ago I wanted to be a lawyer. After all the time spent reading dense legislations, including the Not-for-profit Act and Income Tax Act, researching options, and speaking with legal professionals, I am further reassured that not pursuing a career in Law was the right decision for me. Legal stuff is not written in an accessible format, and is subject to a great deal of interpretation. Further validated by this journey over the last year, SoJo is committed to publishing content on all of these topics in a friendlier way. Please be patient, as it will take time to gather this content, however rest assured that it is coming.

Sources:
Social enterprise in Canada : Structural options
A New Type of Hybrid – Social Entrepreneurship + Business Equity via Stanford Social Innovation Revue

 
 
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_As of today, SoJo will be officially incubated by Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone (referred to as DMZ). We are excited to be in an environment that will provide us with the necessary technical, business and administrative support needed to bring SoJo through our next phase of development.

Although today is only the start of our journey in this incubator, it was a long road to get accepted. Multiple pitches (we were not accepted the first time we applied) and months later, the day has finally come when we can finally start working in a community of like minded individuals.

Located in the heart of downtown Toronto, DMZ currently incubates 27 digital media start-ups. I'm looking forward to co-working with other talented young entrepreneurs: seek their guidance as we build SoJo and also encourage them to think of society while they build their products and grow their companies. The mentorship, workshops, networking and visibility provided by this space will also be invaluable for us.

And of course, we finally have a proper office. There is no doubt that a proper workspace is important for productivity and overall happiness. Over the past 6 months, we've been bumped around between three different temporary offices and spent many hours at coffee shops. It is great have a proper base, so we can focus our energy on growing SoJo.

SoJo is the first company to join the DMZ this year. Being the "newbie" feels like the first day of school; I came into this space without any of my colleagues, don't know anyone here and don't yet have a proper desk set-up. I know it will take time to get settled, be acquainted with the other individuals and feel like I'm part of this community. For the time being though, I'm excited for this opportunity and hopeful that our experience with the DMZ will be integral to SoJo as we endeavour to achieve ambitious goals in Phase II.

 
 
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_ 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.

 
 
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_ Overwhelming is the one word I use to describe the past two weeks. I am overwhelmed reacting to the backlog of activities and overwhelmed trying to decide in which direction SoJo needs to proactively move forward.

Reactive mode-
November forced the team to be in laser fine focus mode. The key priority was to get the private beta ready in time for our launch, which resulted in me deferring all non-launch related items on hold until after the launch. Now that my head is out of the sand, it is not only overwhelming resuming a normal schedule, but more so, dealing with the backlog of correspondences for almost an entire month. This reactive mode of feeling the pressure to stay on top of my inbox stresses me and builds up negative energy. The feeling is one comparable to having a dumbbell tied to your ankle, which impedes me from moving forward and also makes for an un-enjoyable experience all around.

Proactive mode-
The launch has provided us with an incredible amount of momentum. Since starting SoJo, this has to be the single largest boost in energy. Knowing that we have some fairly ambitious goals ahead of us, there is a huge desire to capitalize on this momentum and run through our action items. There is temptation to implement feedback immediately from our users. We have so much good content that we want to put online everyday, however need to build up the editorial team to deal with the backlog. This momentum can also be used to our advantage when building new partnerships. This influx in positive energy places desires to push forward in so many different directions.

Striking the balance-
Feeling as though I have 100 different balls in the air creates a helpless feeling of not being in control of any one of those balls. Reconciling conflicting priorities is a challenge that I struggle with constantly. The last two weeks feel like a daze. Its feels as though a waterfall of ideas, emotions, pressure, expectations and work are now flowing through constantly.

Last night while talking about our launch, an advisor told me:
"You have to let this momentum ride you. Don't feel pressured to have answers, have a plan or respond to everything immediately. You've worked hard to get to this point, and in in order to progress further you need to listen. Use this time to listen, hear what people are saying and use that feedback to inform your next steps."

So on his advice, I will try to take a step back and listen. I'm still not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that getting overwhelmed is not a good way to proceed forward. We have nothing but possibilities to look forward to and it would be a shame to crowd all this positive momentum with negative energy and stress.

 
 
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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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_It’s official: SoJo is now live and open to the world! Yesterday we launched our public Beta (http://theSoJo.net), and we are thrilled to make our tool available to support young people in their journeys of realizing social change. SoJo is still very much a work in progress, but with over a year of development behind us, I felt the time was right to move onto the next step.

Launching a new product is always a huge milestone, and we launched ours in a big way: SoJo strategically partnered with SociaLIGHT to make our tool a take-away resource for all of the conference’s participants. Known as Canada's ultimate entrepreneurship and leadership event, SociaLIGHT (Leaders Impacting Global Humanity Today) hosted speakers like Richard Branson, Seth Godin and Robin Sharma, and attracted 1000 young, bright, and ambitious delegates for a day of inspiration.
We’re excited to help those who attended the conference to channel this inspiration into tangible action.

We had the opportunity to interact with many of the conference’s participants, most of whom have an idea or are in the process of building a venture. We demonstrated the site in realtime, allowing our future users to better understand the product and get excited to use it as a resource in their endeavours. The feedback we received was phenomenal.

Up until the day before the launch, I had been so immersed building and fine-tuning the actual product that I was only able to see its shortcomings and limitations. Yesterday was the first time that I was able to take a step back and appreciate the product that our team created for what it is. Flaws and limitations included, we launched an incredible product with great potential. I'm still basking in the feeling of gratification and pride that was felt yesterday. I couldn't have even dreamed of a better way to launch this vision that I've been nurturing and developing for so long.

A product will never be perfect, nor will it ever be entirely ready either. Having the humility to accept that is one thing; having the courage to step outside of our safe community and expose ourselves to the world is something else entirely. It is our hope that the participants at SociaLIGHT and our users take inspiration from our choice to launch SoJo in its half-developed state.

It is time for young social entrepreneurs to come out of their basements. We need to embrace the risk that comes with sharing our ideas and half-baked products with the world, because it is the only way to bring our ideas to life.

We are excited to have our users co-create this site with us. We’ve laid the foundation, but this is only the first step of a much larger project. The momentum we received from yesterday alone is overwhelming and will carry us forward as we embark on the daunting task of realizing our vision.

We invite you to join us as we make the world a better place for those who venture to make the world a better place.

PS: We most definitely had some real victory dances on the dance floor at the afterparty!

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

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

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

Even if you can't physically join us for launch, we still hope that celebrate with us! We are excited for the start of this new journey. You're invited to join us [again] for an exceptionally exciting ride.
 
 
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Exactly one month ago I had the opportunity to meet with the Leader to Leader Institute in New York. This organization was founded Peter Drucker (perhaps the world's foremost pioneer of management theory) and Frances Hesselbein (former CEO of Girl Scouts USA and current President of the Institute). Upon beginning the meeting, I was handed a book called The Five Most Important Questions.
I skimmed through this book earlier, however this morning read the entire book: front to back.

SoJo's focus right now is ensuring our product is ready for Nov.26, however the launch of our open Beta is also connected to the public launch of SoJo as an organization. And thus, I found this book a timely read to help articulate answers to some of the big organizational questions that I've been thinking about for a while.

The book lays out 5 relatively straightforward questions; however it clearly states the importance of flexibility and re-evaluation of all these questions throughout the development of an organization. As it stands, here are my thoughts on some of these big questions.

What is our mission?
To be the starting point and/or critical support in the journeys of youth as they build projects to address unmet social needs and environmental challenges (social ventures).

Who is our customer?
A customer (defined as one who values your service, wants what you offer and feels it's important to them), in SoJo's case are youth who need support in channelling their good intentions, passion and ideas into action.
In Phase 1, our customers are the users of the tool we are creating.

What do our customers (users) value?
SoJo is being co-created by its users. With nearly 300 closed Beta testers and our plan to open a half-complete Beta to all of our users, we are inviting our customers to tell us directly what they value and what they want.

From preliminary research, SoJo can say with confidence that our users will value a website that aggregates relevant information and resources in one place. Our Phase 2 product will be determined directly by the users themselves.

What are our Results?
The book makes a distinction between short-term accomplishments and long-term change, as well as the importance of measuring objectives. We are currently creating mechanisms to measure our goals, which are:

1) To increase the number of youth-initiated social ventures
2) To increase the probability of success of youth-initiated social ventures.

Our long-term change is intrinsically linked with our vision, which is to create a world and associated supports that enable individuals to embody socially entrepreneurial characteristics in everyday activities. This is very abstract, similar to our world-shaking vision and will get further articulated with time as, the more shorter-term accomplishments materialize

What is your Plan?
"Steadfast in Direction, Flexible in Execution" was used to describe how to approach the plan. With a clear mission and concrete goals, SoJo has a fairly good idea of what direction its headed. It is possible that our users tell us to change direction, or abandon the project all together, however until they tell us otherwise, we will be focused on building an online learning tool that will accomplish our mission. The How is constantly changing, however our Why will remain constant.

I will write an update to these questions in a few months, informed by the feedback provided by our users.

 
 
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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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September 20, 2010 is when I wrote SocialJournal's first blog post.
Today is September 20, 2011 and I'm thrilled to be writing our 53rd blog post and proud to say that SoJo is going strong! This blog was setup immediately upon purchasing the domain to document this project's story as it unfolded in real-time. SoJo's first 100 hours started with great momentum, however unfortunately it died and our story only started to come to life 6 months later --

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What a year it has been!
The idea of SocialJournal was conceived a year ago, but it is really in the last 5 months did SoJo become more than an idea. The idea of this Platform was born out of my personal experiences and academic research on the topic of youth social entrepreneurship. It's fair to say that a year ago I never imagined doing this full-time nor could I fathom the ambitious vision we are now in the process of realising. That being said, there is nothing I'd rather be doing and (thankfully) not once in the past year have I doubted the potential that lies in SoJo's vision.

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The Platform is not public, yet we started to build a brand with press coverage, search hits, social media traffic, loads of positive feedback and positive energy. We struggled to find an appropriate name.This first year was design and brainstorm intensive. From creating our logo and promotional video, to designing the architecture of the Platform and countless whiteboard sessions. My facilitation skills were put to the test, trying to bring competing interests together to one harmonious vision. That too, navigating through geographic communication barriers. Partnerships with major institutions were formed. I pitched SoJo at Yale and shared the idea at many conferences. Our founding team grew overnight and it is now much smaller and more start-up friendly. The business plan and business model are starting to come together as is the framework that is supporting SoJo.

Perhaps the most tangible accomplishment was launching our first prototype which forced all of us to hustle. The close Beta is being tested by 200 interested users. Although I continue to receive criticism for soft launching SoJo either too early or too late, I stand by our decisions and progress made thus far. Sure, the site could have been implemented differently, but if there is anything I learned in the last year - it would be that there is no perfect way of achieving your vision and to not expect a perfect straight path of getting there.

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I initially thought technology was going to be this project's major challenge, it is now clear that people always have been, and will continue to be SoJo's greatest challenge.

I struggled with remaining focused (multiple times), switching back and forth between building the product and building the infrastructure to support the product. At times I felt like a gerbil on a wheel, where I was burning a lot of energy, but not necessarily moving forward... I accept that this was part of the learning process.

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The emotional rollercoaster that I faced as the founder and leader of this project is one all of SoJo's user's can identify with.
Doubt (in my abilities), fear, confusion, frustration, and disappointment all went hand-in-hand with pride, joy, excitement, happiness and optimism.
Managing expectations will remain my personal ongoing challenge.

On a similar note, I don't think that I have been good enough about celebrating the small wins with our team and myself. That will change moving forward, because we have a lot to be proud of and must have our victory dances more regularly.

In the next 12 months you should expect to see a lot, namely an interactive and engaging website that supports you in your journey of creating your social venture. Can't give you more details, as the past year has taught me that our plans will change and we must be adept enough to adapt.

A big thank you to all of our supporters and readers! This is my first blog and it has been wildly successful.
Today marks the first anniversary of SoJo's blog, and it is our readers than motivate me to write. I surely hope you stick around for the ride. I am committed to blogging twice as much as last year, so keep reading about our story and don't be shy to drop us a line with your questions or comments. I hope that SoJo continues to inspire, motivate and support you in your personal journey of making social change happen.

 
 
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For the longest time I thought business plans were quite un-necessary. In the entrepreneurial world, there are countless articles that talk about the uselessness of business plans and that "real" entrepreneurs don't really need one. My first "plan" was created on 11 slides...

Next week there is a grant application due. I believe SoJo has a pretty good shot at being considered for this grant, as we meet all of the criteria, and we have to start looking for external funding to take the venture to the next level.

I've known about this application for a few weeks now, but never thought the business plan would take so long, so I never bothered to look into it until now. Earlier today I proceeded to download the template provided on the grant-maker's website. The template is 47 pages. Although all sections don't apply to us, actual plans normally exceed their templates, as text  can exceed the allotted space. Not feeling like working through a 47 page template, I emailed an advisor to get a second opinion. He thought a 50 page business plan is absurd, but assured me that it will take about a week to complete this business plan.

This email was my much-needed kick in the behind. For the past 3 hours, I was successful in hammering out the Problem, Solution, Product Execution, Marketing and Business Model sections.  It's a start, but sadly still a long way to go.  While in the flow of writing it felt like I was driving at 200km/hour speeding through the words. But when I took a step back, I actually felt like I was strolling at the speed of a turtle!

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Attitude and Approach
I don't think that a Business Plan can be created like an essay when you're in school with the arrogance of thinking it can be written in one night. Instead of feeling accomplished with the 2000 words of well written business plan content, I'm daunted and overwhelmed by the all of the blank sections that lie ahead and the unanswered question marks.

I'm not worried. If I'm committed to SoJo, then I'm committed to writing this business plan. Although its real-life application, beyond the grant application, is still questionable in my mind - it IS a great exercise to write out all the thoughts that have been in my head and will impose discipline as well.

The reason why I dislike business plans is because they are highly static and I honestly believe efforts should be focused on DOING rather than planning and saying what you will do. That being said, using this as an exercise to articulate different components of our venture, while not being limited exclusively to what is written will undoubtedly serve me well.

Wish me luck!