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Written by Zainab

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

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

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

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

I just went to my first peer-to-peer meeting at the Digital Media Zone (DMZ). Think of this meeting as a support group for entrepreneurs.

The DMZ hosts the peer-to-peer meetings on a regular basis - monthly, I believe, where we're grouped together with a few other companies (not necessarily related to each other in any way) to do the following:
  • provide the DMZ staff an update on our progress;
  • look at our milestones and what's coming next;
  • discuss any current challenges; and
  • inevitably, connect with other entrepreneurs in the space.

I got to the meeting early, not knowing what to expect. I was told about what goes on in the peer-to-peer meetings and as we went around introducing ourselves, discussing where our companies stand, and what our challenges were, I recall wondering what I would say. I didn't know what I could add in terms of where SoJo stood on the business development and financial aspect of things, which is what most of my peers seemed to be talking about. Yet I was able to add to the discussion with the fact that our challenges lately have been a little unique, and that we're looking at adding certain new features to the website and that we're trying to engage our users.

But would I suggest something like this for our users? Absolutely! Why? Because you need to be able to build those connections and talk about those challenges. Though I've talked about support quite a bit lately, here's something new to add to the support piece, especially where the support is mediated by advisors: other people can provide you with their experiences, expertise, and ideas, which you may never have considered before while simultaneously connecting with other entrepreneurs who may be at similar stages with you or who you can learn from.

Though I wasn't sure if I could discuss any topics where such expertise was required, we're going back to getting the most we can out of the DMZ with meetings like this. The DMZ is a great resource for us overall; being present and engaged in the DMZ allows us to build the relationships and better access that support and expertise when we need it most.
 
 
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About an hour ago I submitted SoJo's application to the Future Fund. This was the fifth and final step of a long, tiring and very competitive process. SoJo is among the finalists and we have a really good chance of securing the funding needed to grow our organization. This is a great opportunity (especially in light of our recent funding challenges), so I prioritized extra effort on this task.



While this was my first time writing a grant proposal and my learning curve was fairly steep, it wasn't my first time writing a proposal. Last year started with SoJo's application to a prestigious Fellowship, I assisted Jesse writing our first research fellowship (which he received), and despite everyone's doubts - I miraculously completed an intense 89-page proposal for a Research Grant in the Fall.

Similarly, SoJo has been through 4 product launches: a closed Beta, open Beta, official launch and finally a cross-platform mobile version. All of those launches resulted in working around the clock, all-hands-on-deck attitude, intense focus and endless details. Many parallels can be shared with the experience of writing major proposals and product launches, however my attitude is different towards both of them:

Saying what you're going to do vs. Just doing it
SoJo has been action-oriented since its inception. Innovation is not knowing all the answers, so we trusted the process and consistently received gratification as we learned and progressed. On the other hand, telling people exactly what you plan to do and how you're going to do it is quite tiring. To me, it feels contrived, and in some ways an inefficient use of time to write out a master plan- as it is rare that things go according to plan.

Control over timelines
All of our product launch dates were self-imposed. We decided when we wanted to complete them, and held ourselves accountable to ensuring all launches occurred on time. Application deadlines are not in our control, and often force us to work at times when we do not want to work: ie over the Holidays or during key strategic business planning times.

Control over outcomes
The win from a product launch is clear: our product advances and is better.  The win from a proposal isn't so clear. If you are successful - awesome. Team SoJo has collectively invested over 100 hours into this recent application. If we're unsuccessful, there will be great disappointment for not succeeding and frustration for all the time that was invested with little to show. I'm learning to lower my expectations on outcomes and seek value from the process instead.

While its clear that product launches are a lot more exciting for our team while we're in them, writing applications for external support are just as important to grow the organization. I must treat them both with great importance and while the outcomes are different, the time dedicated to each one is equally valuable.


 
 
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SoJo is now mobile-friendly
November 11 was the target soft-launch date for the newest version of SoJo's site, and I'm proud to announce that our team was successful in holding to this deadline.

Over the past 2 months, our development team has been diligently working to convert the current version of http://theSoJo.net on a responsive framework written in HTML5 and CSS3. This product launch went largely unannounced, as to the average user, SoJo looks the exact same. This is our first maintenance update. A web-based product will never be complete, and while it's tempting to continue to add features, this launch allows us to support more fundamental functional requirements: namely improving load time, scalability, mobile-friendliness, ease of upgrades, etc.

This whole experience has taught our team the importance of budgeting organizational resources to maintenance. Up until now, SoJo has been busy building the site and each product launch consisted of new features and upgrades. Since the last product launch, Jesse has been pulling his hairs fixing unforeseen bugs, and I've been consistently shocked by unexpected surprises on the live site. It is our hope that this newer technology will leave behind the unpleasant surprises and allow the Product team to produce at a more optimal pace. Further, building with a newer technology is creating the foundation to set SoJo up for forward-looking success. The website is now optimized for viewing on mobile devices and is an even more accessible resource.

There is no doubt that launching a new product is more exciting for the team than a maintenance update. Although there is no press coverage this time (unlike our Beta and official Launch), this launch is equally rewarding, as its a great feeling to see this product just get better each time.

Our databases were migrated live on the 11th, our servers shut down on the 12th and the team is working diligently to iron-out the kinks. Please bare with us; http://theSoJo.net will look spectacular in a few days!

 
 
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This is Part 1of a multi-part series of SoJo's journey of seeking the funding needed to scale its operations and bring it to a point of financial self-sustainability.

Up until now funding has not been an issue for SoJo, as the focus has been on proving the value of our product and the need that SoJo is filling in the market. I believed and continue to believe that if you deliver a valuable service or product, then there will be the resources or market to support that product. Rather than focus our time on securing funds, we were busy building, serving our community and validating the consumer-facing product.

SoJo's product has been validated many times over. With an endorsement from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO as a leading educational platform, an active community of over 2,000 individuals without marketing or outreach efforts, and over 65,000 pages viewed online, and incredible press coverage around the world, it’s safe to say a resource like SoJo is needed by early-stage social innovators.

Over the past 2 years, I've been monitoring the resources and funding options that are available, as I knew we'd eventually need to tap into them and also feed onto our platform. Here is a highly simplified overview of the funding landscape in Canada:

· A not-for-profit with a proven track record of managing funds or a charitable organization that has been through the hoops of receiving CRA charitable status and delivered on projects already are normally eligible for non-refundable grant money from private foundations or government agencies.

· Traditional for-profit organizations with a proven business model, built prototype and validated proof of concept and normally eligible for debt or equity financing to scale growth or build out the product further.

· The most common form of support comes from friends and family of the founders who invest in the founder and their ideas, because they want to support the individual or believe in their ideas.

SoJo is an early-stage social innovation project and when speaking with my peers we all share the same rant: there's big talk, but early-stage social innovation financing is virtually non-existent in Canada. Yes, there are many competitions and awards (which dominate the airwaves leading us to believe that this funding exists). However, the probability of getting them is less than 1%, based on the ever-growing demand for these funds and often allocated based on the bias of the grantors. SoJo was a semi-finalist in the one of the largest awards for social entrepreneurs and we gave it our all -- but were unsuccessful.

Grants route:
Innovation by definition is the act of making what already exists better or starting something new. Although "social innovation" funds are starting to pop up among foundations, applicants must still be either a registered charity or have a proven track record of financial management to show accountability. Although I understand the funding constraints found within these organizations, I will be honest when I say it's contradictory (and counter-intuitive) to demand applicants fit into traditional organizational structures, when innovation is all about starting something new. With no charitable number and only a few dollars in our bank account, this makes us ineligible for many of the opportunities available. We've since built strong relationships with some of the larger funding agencies and I will continue to explore and create opportunities. Umbrella organizations exist to support innovative projects, acting as a financial and legal fiduciary but they take a 10% overhead charge on all incoming funds (which is a lot of money for a tiny nimble organization such as ours) and only work with unincorporated projects - further making SoJo ineligible.  

SoJo is still eligible for traditional non-refundable grants if we find our own fiduciary sponsor. SoJo partners with over 50 nonprofits and charities. I personally reached out to everyone who is eligible and not a single organization was able to help us out. Either they are applying to the same funds themselves or their Boards are not comfortable assuming the risk that comes with the added legal responsibilities. Conversations come to a dead-end, and I end up feeling like I'm 'begging', when I know that SoJo has nothing but value to add. I've spent nearly 2 months seeking out a fiduciary sponsor and have since realized it’s no longer worth my time to actively pursue this route.

Equity investments:
SoJo has a brilliant vision for its revenue model, and it will come from its B2B Whitelabel product. This product has been anecdotally validated by various HR professionals and staff from prospective clients. However, rule #1 of business is that until you have a paying customer, your product has not been validated. Without a validation, it’s difficult to seek mainstream debt and equity funding. 

This B2B product will create a market that does not yet exist. SoJo has no competitors right now on its public-facing site, and our market research shows that there are no competitors in the B2B market that SoJo will create. The price of this product can only be dictated by the market. With a market that does not yet exist, the return on investment is so speculative at this point it won't be even worth anyone's time to discuss those numbers or create a business plan. The plan is to get our pilot customer to share in the development costs, serving as validation, which will allow us to seek the appropriate funds (or generate our own revenue) to build out this product. Until then, equity or "impact investing" types of funding are not an option for SoJo.

In the interim, I've been advised to take the time to create a competitive analysis for this product which can help convince prospective investors of the potential that lies in this market; however it’s still going to be long stretch. SoJo has since hired a Business Development intern who will help with these activities.

Although the B2B has great potential, from our strategic planning emerged the importance of focusing on the consumer-facing (B2C) product. With B2B on hold for the next year, these funding options seem ever distant.

Friends and family:
Between the volunteer hours, in-kind support from partners and financial investments from the founding members (and our families) over 13,000 hours and $500,000 have already been invested into SoJo. Albeit most of this money is in-kind, it does not dismiss the significance of the investment and risk already taken by those involved in SoJo. It’s fair to say, we've exhausted friends and family and this is no longer an option.

Why does SoJo need money?

As alluded to in my previous blog post, a part-time unpaid team cannot fuel the growth that is needed to make SoJo the universal ubiquitous resource for early-stage social innovators. We have taken this as far as we could without external support, and have come very far may I add; however, we are quickly running out of steam.  SoJo needs money so it can build http://theSoJo.net to the point where it can sustain itself (aka bridge funding).

I've read enough reports and heard enough people talking about the importance of supporting social innovation. Social innovation starts somewhere, and for those of us in the trenches, in our early stages and without all of the answers, the outlook does not look bright.

SoJo's vision is to be the starting point, to provide social innovators with the knowledge and emotional support needed to get started and stay motivated in the early days of their journey of creating positive social impact. With a world of ever-increasing social, environmental and political challenges, no one will deny the importance of getting more people and fresh minds involved in building and acting on creative solutions to these challenges. For social innovation to thrive, all of us in the ecosystem need to provide more support to the early-stagers. SoJo is doing its part through education and emotional support, however its time for the rest of the ecosystem to step up and invest in early-stage social innovation. Otherwise this thriving ecosystem will continue to leave brilliant ideas and incredible potential to the curbside; a shame, especially when I know the resources exist.

As I navigate through the challenges and frustrations of seeking bridge funding to bring SoJo to the point where it can be financially self-sustaining, I plan to candidly document this journey on http://SocialJournal.net, with the goal of welcoming more suggestions and the hopes of attracting more attention to this important, but overlooked issue.


 
 
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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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Disclaimer: What I'm about to share is highly experimental and is not grounded in any theory or practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This approach is highly risky for many reasons:

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

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

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

Time

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

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


 
 
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I just submitted an application on SoJo's behalf to a prestigious and well-known fellowship. SoJo was named a semi-finalist, and came within the top 10% of over 3,500 applicants. This is an honour and validation that SoJo is on the right track.

Phase 2 of this rigorous application process required a video, detailed competitive analysis, 30 mini essay questions, reference letters -- all to complete within two weeks. This fellowship is a huge opportunity for SoJo, that if successful will give us the needed financial and network support to accelerate our journey. On the other hand, I need to be equally mindful of the time that is required for this one application and the less than 1% success ratio of applicants. SoJo is a moving ship; we are incredibly under-resourced and are in the midst of growing. It is an exciting time, however extremely demanding which requires that we be even smarter about how our resources get allocated. In pursuit of my resolution to work smarter, not harder, I set parameters and only invested a small number of hours into this specific application over the weekend.

Individuals looking to apply for Grants are often in the same conundrum. Do you spend time just doing the work, or do you spend time telling other people about the work you intend to do, and hope that the time invested in applications will realize into direct benefit to your project?

I'm interested in hearing how you dealt with a similar situation, and reconciled conflicting priorities on your time.

 
 
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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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_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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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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SoJo plans to operate as a true social enterprise: where we rely on market forces and revenue generation to sustain our operating costs in the pursuit of self-sufficiency. Although we have a fairly robust business model, it will take time for it to begin generating revenue from our future customers.
Don’t worry - SoJo will never charge its users to use the Platform.

In fact, according to the Startup Genome Report, technology startups on average take 12 months to develop and validate their product and that revenue come in after their first year of operation. It takes on average 3 years for a tech startup to be profitable and therefore rely on Angel or Venture Capital funds to cover their costs in their first few years. SoJo will not qualify for these traditional forms of funding because we cannot show the growth and projected return that is required. We do have social return and Social Capital places a value on social return. Given the limited Social Capital, this is not a viable option for us in our early development stage.

Since investment capital has been ruled out, one-time grants appear to be a great way to get startup funds. There are numerous Government grants are open to for-profit startups for research, development and general start up funding. These grants work on pre-determined funding cycles, have tedious application processes and can take up to14 months to receive the money if successful. The application process alone can be deterrent for us to even consider applying, because of the time required to submit a decent application and the subsequent approval time. Perhaps a disproportionate sample, but of the firms I know who have received Government Grants, all of them have been backed by other sources of funding and have dedicated staff resources to complete those applications. We’re busy building our platform and don’t have the time to fill out an application.

Without getting too technical, SoJo will address a market failure (as we are supplying a demand that the market does not currently provide) and thus can look into philanthropic dollars. Given the recent “social enterprise” movement, there is increasing availability of funds for social enterprise ventures. I become disengaged however when social enterprises are recognized as “non-profit” organizations (as this further perpetuates the cycle of dependency that exists in the nonprofit sector), and thus a social enterprise must be incorporated as a nonprofit to be eligible for the majority of this funding.

So what to do? Based on this analysis (and months of collecting this information), it seems like a hybrid model is the most ideal for SoJo. Since Canadian laws and most sources of funding have not yet recognized the unique position social ventures (or social enterprises) such as SoJo find themselves, we need to adapt our approach to meet existing models.

From a funding perspective, it seems logical for us to operate a non-profit and for-profit arm. Easier said than done! I’m daunted by the legalities involved in making this happen and want to evaluate my options to see if this is really the best route to pursue. After significant searching online I am unable to find the information that is needed to understand (from a legal perspective) how this works.

When it comes to start-up funding, I feel like I’m going in circles. This post was not intended to be rant, but rather explain the situation SoJo finds itself in. Creating a new model and approach to seeing social change happen is not straight forward. We’re still debating over the most ideal legal structure and its long term implications on our organization.

Through my personal struggles and confusion of building SoJo I am constantly reminded about why our Platform needs to exist.  I know I’m not the only person asking these questions, and am committed to supporting those in similar situations to help them find some clarity.

 
 
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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!

 
 
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SoJo's greatest challenge since inception has been technology. We have been lacking technical skills on our team and considering we're building an interactive and engaging online platform, if un-rectified this could be very problematic. We experienced serious issues hosting our landing page, delays in getting the closed Beta launched and a disconnect with implementing the Design Team's vision. So you can only imagine the daunting task of implementing an online platform such as SoJo with our organization's current resources.

Armed with a startup mentality however, we were not deterred from this challenge. In a startup, there is a lot to do, there are few people and our skills don't always match what is currently needed to be done. Put another way, in a startup there are many of hats to wear, and not all of them quite fit.

Dan A, who is leading the implementation  of the closed Beta site, has been forced to teach himself PHP and CSS (the coding language we're using). He came onboard expecting to do high-level planning of site, and is now deep in the trenches of code! (He is also a full-time student in the midst of finals). On the flip side however, we have been in frustrating situations where some team members' expectations were not in-line with SoJo's expectations and as a result have under-delivered - which has led to setbacks and negative consequences for the entire team.

Despite the ingenuity of some, an organization can only go so far without the right skills and talent on board. I am in awe and commend the resilience and perseverance of those on our team who have eagerly stepped up to the challenge of teaching themselves new skills and rolling up their sleeves in pursuit of realizing SoJo's vision.
We've reached a point however, where we desperately need more help...

Those of us involved on the technology side are incredibly thrilled to welcome Linus as the newest member of SoJo's team! Based in Vancouver, Linus will take a lead role in creating the online platform, and incorporating the feedback from our Beta testers as we iterate and evolve the site.

We're looking to release our closed Beta by the end of the month, so Linus has arrived at the most opportune time.

My words of wisdom if you are struggling to find the right people: patience and optimism. Reach out to as many networks as you can think of and create an environment where someone new would like to join your team and project. Also recognize that there is a lot of luck and timing at play too.

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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In early April, we identified that one of the major short-term challenges to creating SoJo was a simple shortage of “man hours”. Kanika read an article - which sparked the idea of inviting an Intern to join the SoJo team for the summer. 

She graciously volun-told me handle this task -- one that was daunting, considering I had never been involved with recruiting anyone beyond a team-mate for a class project. On top of that I had recently wrapped up my volunteer commitments, and was now into the travel portion of my time in Central America. My schedule was unpredictable and internet connectivity frequently in question.

For starters, I had to educate myself on the intern hiring process. This included understanding the expectations and norms for both parties as well as developing a criterion to select candidates.

Rapidly, it became apparent that as a young and evolving organization, we have tons to offer an individual who is eager to build and create an exciting new venture. Indeed, it was inspiring to note that there is no shortage of individuals looking to be involved with an initiative that aligns with their values and is meaningful to them. The challenge lies in identifying and reaching out to those individuals.

We eagerly posted our job description on every possible free job postings site including Charity Village, YouTern and Idealist. Recognizing that no-one on our team had actual editorial experience, we reached out to university Journalism programs with the hope that the students could apply their skills to a real online content publication.

The job posts were up -- and of course we had our problems. Our sign-up form was improperly set-up, but that problem soon got resolved.

Everytime an application was received in the “work” dedicated email account, I instantly wanted to open it and learn more about the people I could look forward to working with on SoJo. Instead of immediately reading the resumes and cover letters however, I forced myself to wait until we finalized the selection criterion in attempt to minimize any bias.

Once the deadline had passed, it was time to review the applications. Overwhelmed with the high caliber of the people who had applied; I had a mini-victory dance. [see post of victory dance for more context]

As we shortlisted candidates and subsequently worked through two rounds of interviews, we faced a complex “puzzle”. The victory-dance was soon over when we had to make some tough decisions. Ultimately, our decisions came down to matching up the skillsets of the candidates with the tasks that required collaborative execution in the short term, in addition to finding the complementary mix of skills and passion that meshed with the organizational culture that we aim to foster.

As I reflect upon the process, it has been a long, but exciting and certainly critical period of growth for SoJo. As we welcome and orient six analysts into our team this week, it did not come without its fair share of challenges and frustrations. Only now, we are set to unleash the power of six new fresh and engaged minds on the next set of challenges we face. I like where there is going :)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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By every stretch of the definition, SoJo is a lean start-up – and since we have not yet defined our inflows of revenue, we must be responsible with our financial outflows. The limited funds that we do have are bootstrapped by the co-founders and will not last very long. Instead of being discouraged, we are embracing an entrepreneurial spirit of getting others to believe in your vision – even before you have any results to show for your actions – and being resourceful to gather the support and resources necessary to execute on that vision.

Although SoJo has not yet received its first injection of funding, we remain focused on our goals and achieving our vision.
So how does a lean start-up push forward on a slim budget? Answer: We’re getting tons of in-kind support!
This includes professional advice that saves us hours of online researching, a workspace at a high-tech firm, shared bandwidth on project management tools, such as Smart Sheet, working with an incredible team of student designers from OCAD like Daniel and Bill and reaching out to friends like Michael who lend off their technical expertise to help us get our website up and running.

I don’t see this in-kind support provided to us as charity, but rather a manifestation of camaraderie. Our supporters know what it is like to be in start-up mode, are excited by our vision and take pride in knowing that they are an integral part of a very promising start-up, which is in its infancy. That’s exciting – and we’re more than happy to share ownership (and future bragging rights) with all of our supporters.

SoJo is extremely grateful for its early-supporters who have been generous to share their time and resources with us. To sweeten the deal, some of this support was offered to us without even asking for it!

Our insights to share with you: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, share your vision with others, and let people know where you need help – all without expectations of something in return. You never know who may be inspired by your vision, who they may tell and the wonderful things that will come your way.

[Let it be known, as evidenced by our previous posts, we don’t have it all figured out and still have many unanswered questions. That didn’t deter amazing individuals from offering their support...]