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In this age of instant connections, one of the most important tools for turning your idea into action is the ability to connect to the people that matter, communicate ideas clearly, and respond quickly to feedback.  As SoJo continues to grow, we need to ensure that we too have the tools needed to communicate with and respond to our users quickly and effectively.  With that in mind, SoJo is excited to announce two of its most recent new partners, Viafoura and HitSend.  Both partners will be working to help SoJo strengthen its infrastructure through their cutting edge communication management tools. 
Viafoura is an audience engagement platform that adds advanced social functionality to websites and mobile applications. After researching different platforms, Viafoura's came out on top because of its features. By partnering with Viafoura, SoJo will enable our users to comment on multimedia including video, link their comments directly to different articles, increase interaction and provide an overall enhancement of social features to grow SoJo’s community. 

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HitSend, through its community feedback tool Soapbox, creates a common place to input ideas and gather together as one large voice to suggest, vote, and filter ideas based on what the community wants as a whole. SoJo is being co-developed by our users. We actively encourage you to use the Feedback tool on the side of every page, to tell us what you like, don't like, and want to see changed or improved. By partnering with HitSend, SoJo will be able to easily sort through the ideas prioritized by you, the users, and act on what people really care about.

SoJo is very excited to welcome both partners into the SoJo community as we continually work to improve our products for our users.


 
 
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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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Now that we've developed an initial version of our product (http://theSoJo.net), it is important to understand different applications of the product, potential users and channels through which SoJo can be made accessible to our target audience.

Within the next month, SoJo will be involved in three major events: National Business and Technology Conference, Youth Making a Difference, and the Canadian Undergraduate and Technology Conference as a Post-Conference Engagement Sponsor. We launched at the SociaLIGHT conference in the Fall and will provide similar type of support to these conferences.

Why do student-run conferences need SoJo?
They expended a great deal of effort convening bright young leaders from across the country, inspiring them with amazing speakers and developing their skills. It is imperative that the momentum continue once the conference is over. Currently, there is no organization that supports delegates after conferences, to help them develop their ideas. SoJo is an online resource that provides tools, knowledge and guidance to young people who have ideas and are looking for support to take their ideas into action. Through our sponsorship agreement, SoJo will be sharing usage data with the organizers of these conferences. This will allow them to better understand the needs of their delegates, which can be very valuable to inform future programming.

Although the value exchange is quite compelling for both parties, these conferences remain an experiment for us. We're putting our ear to the ground; interacting with the delegates, getting a sense of their needs and if SoJo can meet those needs. Big questions we're looking to answer: Is it worth our time and resources participating in conferences like these? Are conferences the best way to reach our target audience? Is there an opportunity to commercialize our participation in such events?

While we find answers to these questions, I personally am excited about having the opportunity to hear great speakers, meet interesting people and get inspired by the new ideas that emerge from these events.

If you are organizing a conference and would like to get SoJo involved, please read our Sponsorship Package for more details.

 
 
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Today marks the initiation of a partnership with Simpl Co. Over the past weekend, Simpl in collaboration with Google organized Interactivism, a hackathon for youth to create ideas and products to help young people get into the work, training and education that is right for them. A fascinating event, which brought together bright minds from across London to share ideas and get inspired from one another.

SoJo partnered with Simpl to make our online resources available to participants at Interactivism, providing them with the tools that they need to act on the brilliant ideas they prototyped. A very symbiotic partnership where both partners offer complementary services in pursuit of achieving similar goals. Simpl is an online marketplace that connects people with the goods and services they need to do good in this world. SoJo strategically used Interactivism as a launch pad to formally kick-start the relationship between both organizations.
You can read more on the Simpl Blog.

This is the first tangible Pipeline Partnership that came out of my recent trip in the UK. We have many more in the works, and I'm excited for all of the synergies and collaborations to occur in the immediate future. SoJo is committed to bringing together the highly fragmented social innovation sector. If you're in the sector providing support to social innovators -- odds are we can support you in your mandate. Please get in touch to explore potential collaborations!


 
 
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_In addition to providing direct support to youth interested in taking their ideas for social good into action (which remains our primary focus), SoJo has started to engage in high level conversations, to help shape broader policy agendas with organizations.

SoJo has a very unique perspective: we have direct experience working with early stage social entrepreneurs, we are redefining what entrepreneurship means, and we are in the same trenches with the people who we serve (which is quite rare).

Earlier today I was invited to speak on the topics of redefining socially conscious entrepreneurship and online professional development to the staff of one of Canada's largest charitable foundations. SoJo is employing a unique and innovative approach to online learning and training to young social entrepreneurs. It is very encouraging to know that other prominent organizations are interested in what we have to say and genuinely want to learn from us.

Over the course of our informal conversation, I had the opportunity to share SoJo's story, our values and approach to supporting and catalyzing young entrepreneurs. By that same token, I used this as a platform to make bold statements on why youth need more support in the early stages and why current infrastructure does not meet their needs. In hindsight, I realized that my words could have been interpreted as a direct attack to the organization that so graciously hosted me.

It is my hope that the staff of this foundation left the session with more critical questions to ask themselves and insights that may influence their thinking. I was speaking to an audience who have the power to make changes; this foundation in particular has significant reach in the region and has the financial resources to make meaningful impact in the lives of millions. If SoJo can influence or contribute to shaping their agenda and subsequently their social impact; then this is a big win for us (and the world). 

I'm learning to dance the fine line between sharing my knowledge and pushing boundaries, while still speaking to an audience without being polarized or dismissed. I'm eager for the conversations that lie ahead of us and what will come out of those conversations.  

 
 
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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...

 
 
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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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_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!

 
 
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Its Official: SoJo will launch its open Beta site to the public on November 26, 2011 in collaboration with the SociaLIGHT Conference!
This is a huge milestone for SoJo and we're thrilled to be telling you - our readers - first!

After a couple of months in closed Beta and nearly 300 beta testers who have provided us with invaluable feedback - we're now ready to take our site to the next level. I can say with confidence that the open Beta (version 2 site) will not reflect the true vision of SoJo, but it is one step closer to our true vision.

Since Day 1, SoJo has been created with our users needs in mind, which is why we are comfortable releasing an early version of the site to a larger audience as we want more people to co-create SoJo with us.

Not only are we releasing a work-in-progress product to the public, we are launching it in a big way! The SociaLIGHT Conference will have over 1000 smart, passionate, ambitious [and even critical] participants, in addition to a stellar line-up of speakers.

This is huge and we are excited to set a precedent: Taking ideas into action should be celebrated!
Don't be shy to share your passion, ideas and vision with the world around you, as its only by putting yourself out there will those ingredients translate into action.

With less than 3 weeks to go and an ambitious workplan ahead of us, we will try our best to make the open Beta as good as it can be. Buckle-up, it's going to be an intense ride!

If you're looking to be inspired and spend a day mingling with bright minds, as a "SoJo-er" you can receive 50% off the registration price at the SociaLIGHT Conference.

Email us for more details.

 
 
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Last night Trevor pitched SoJo for the first time in front of an audience and panel of judges. At stake was no-strings-attached $1000 grant from Awesome YYC to put towards building an awesome project. I was thrilled to receive the email from Trevor informing me that we made it to the top 4 and were invited to pitch in front a panel of judges. This form of validation was huge and gladly welcomed.

Learning to pitch is an art and although nerves undoubtedly kick in the experience was exciting. True, it was a competition and the main objective was to win the money, but regardless I know that Trevor was looking forward to sharing SoJo with a roomful of people.

90 seconds is not a lot of time and every second has to count. A script was written and re-written. When asking Trevor of his experience, he said: "The pitch was practiced, memorized and then practiced some more.  I stopped short of engaging my dog as a pretend audience, but by the time I left to the venue, I think even the mirror was tired of hearing my SoJo spiel."

One of the other four pitches was delivered by a team who had recently launched a startup accelerator space in downtown Calgary. When the time came for his pitch, Christian, one of the three co-founders, stood up. Instead of delivering the formal pitch he had prepared, he started out “this is a bit off the cuff, but we hope to win the grant so that we can match the $1000 and sponsor SoJo (gesturing to Trevor) to join our accelerator space.” 
By the time the rest of the audience understood his words, Trevor was already beaming.

Both of us were humbled and inspired by the selflessness and belief that Christian had in Trevor and in SoJo.  With scare resources and a risk adverse culture, the startup world  can be very competitive. Collaboration is powerful and this organization clearly understands the strength was comes in working together, not against another.

At SoJo our mandate is to support youth in their journeys of transforming their good intentions into action to create social ventures. AcceleratorYYC has a similar mandate and last night was a living example of how they truly embodied their mandate. Thank you for inspiring us and for setting a new benchmark of what we strive to become.

 
 
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Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: Just because.

On Friday I met with Syreeta Gates, an incredible young lady who only sees possibilities and does not get bogged down by barriers.

At the age of 17 she started The SWT Life to get young people in her community excited about creating projects. Committed to putting her money where her mouth was, she agreed to give participants $15 of her own money to every project that was completed. Among the projects was a book manuscript written by a 16 year old. Her experiences with The SWT Life inspired her to compile a book on youth social entrepreneurship to inspire youth to to take action. Just BE Cause is all about youth taking action: no excuses, no barriers -- only passion and dedication. In the middle of a the debt crisis in the United States, here Syreeta jokes about using her student loan to fund this book, just because that was the best way of getting this book started.

Syreeta and SoJo found each other on Twitter back in April. Shortly after making the connection, I was invited to write a chapter for the book on the topic of balance. Knowing that there were complementary synergies between the book that inspires youth to take action and SoJo that provides the tools to guide youth in their journeys of action -- I was excited to meet her. Surely enough, we discussed synergies and many ways in which our two initiatives can jointly work together (among them a shared launch in 2012 in NY!)

In addition to the excitement that has come from finding an ally and collaborator, I left that meeting utterly inspired. Syreeta is on mission to inspire her peers (most of whom come from less-privileged backgrounds) to take action just because they should. I get frustrated when I try to build partnerships with organizations that are "safe," who need to see proof before they are ready to start a conversation, or who don't take me seriously because SoJo isn't funded and thus assume we're unable of delivering on our mandate.

Syreeta is a living example of someone out there taking action.

More inspired youth + action = a better world

 
 
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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.