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Yesterday SoJo hosted its second-ever team-wide meeting. The first meeting took place 5 months ago and it was imperative at getting the team better connected to SoJo, aligned with our core values and fuelled the momentum that led to our public launch shortly thereafter. For most of our team members that joined in the Spring, the honeymoon stage was now over. The Fall is always a busy time, however it was apparent that some of our team members were over-worked and found it increasingly difficult to manage their SoJo commitments in addition to other commitments.

A team meeting was long over-due. It was important to bring everyone together to welcome the new team members, get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations, re-energize the group and reconnect everyone to the greater vision that we're all working towards.

The meeting kicked-off with a surprise in-person appearance from Trevor. Being based in Calgary, this was his first opportunity to meet the team for the first time, which was motivating to the group. He used this same opportunity to formally say goodbye to the team as he heads off to his Asian adventure. While we're sad to see Trevor leave, November 1st was the first day of Zainab's full-time position with SoJo.  Jesse started working full-time with SoJo last month and it is great to have a full-time team work with me to bring SoJo to the next level. Both Jesse and Zainab opted to join SoJo full-time at virtually no pay over the stability and security that comes with full-time jobs. Although SoJo doesn't have the cash in its bank account to pay their salaries Jesse and Zainab are taking a risk and hedging their bets in SoJo's favour. Fingers crossed that our fundraising mission comes through...

It is an empowering, validating and humbling feeling to have very smart individuals who I respect greatly share a similar burden and commitment with me. The responsibilities and expectations of the full-time team members will increase which will allow us to accelerate our outputs. But it is also my hope that they their increased commitment will lead to an increased connection, excitement and belonging to SoJo!

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Zainab and Jesse, SoJo's newest full-time team members holding SoJo's Manifesto
 
 
Last week SoJo welcomed two high school co-op students to join the team for one semester. The Toronto District School Board has a co-operative education program, where high school students are given coursework credits for a placement in a job that is aligned with their future career aspirations. A handful of the SoJo team members did high school co-op over a decade ago and remember this being a great opportunity.

On the advice of one of our crowd-sourced CTOs, we reached out to the School Board to help fill some of our staffing needs. Timing was opportune, as within a week of receiving the suggestion to hire a co-op student we already had a handful of interviews lined up, with placements expected to start soon after the interview.

On face value, this seems like the ideal opportunity: an un-paid, highly motivated worker whose grade you control. Only once we went through the interviews did the risks of this recruitment strategy become apparent. It is difficult to gauge fit,  competence and aptitude within a 30 minute interview. Everyone on SoJo joined for a probationary period; where more than half left SoJo after a few weeks because it was not a right fit. In this scenario we had only 30 minutes to decide fit, and must then commit to providing a meaningful work opportunity for the student for the entire semester. Being a lean startup, there is no capacity to babysit or micro-manage a new recruit. We need to bring people who were capable and can work at the same pace as the entire organization.

SoJo put out two job descriptions, one for a Junior Developer and one for a Junior Editor. Editorial candidates were asked to bring a writing sample. Developer candidates were put through a technical exercise to test their programming skills. For Jesse, this is first time he has been in a direct supervisory role; let alone conduct an interview. As such, Jesse's interview skills were tested with a mock-interview with friends from our workspace.

Last week, we gladly welcomed Rebecca and Vithuson to the team. They both come with a lot of energy and a willingness to learn. I'm hopeful that this will be positive experience for everyone involved and may be a good recruitment strategy for the future when financial resources are tight. Both students will be invited to blog about their experiences. Stay tuned for updates.

 
 
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Today I decided that SoJo will submit a research proposal to Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, due October 1. I've been told it takes about 2 months to submit a comparable type of proposal. Having never written a research grant before, let alone collaborate with academics I am seriously starting to question my sanity. Regardless, this is a fabulous opportunity and one that I am eager to take full advantage of. Although I've know about this fund for a few months, I only realized last week that SoJo is eligible and should consider applying. Late last week I approached the research office, expressing my interest in this application and requesting their help finding me an academic researcher. I received a very stern warning saying that I was endeavouring to something incredibly ambitious given then timelines and that a lot of work lay ahead of me. Being a qualified applicant, the research office had no choice but to help out. With a little persistence on my end, they sent out an email to a generic listserv of faculty members, and within 12 hours I received 7 responses. That early validation and interest in SoJo was integral to getting this process started. Because in those same 12 hours I received an incredible amount of cynicism and doubts from those around me.

This grant is a collaboration between an industry partner (SoJo), College partner and University partner. I was confident that a researcher from Ryerson University would come on board based on initial interest. SoJo has had a longstanding relationship with the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and I eagerly approached the Dean of the Design Faculty to get onboard. To my negligence, OCAD is actually a University, so that early excitement led to even greater disappointment and embarrassment. I was now without a College partner (when I told the University partners that I had one. This is my first lesson is real-time negotiation). And so I did what every entrepreneur does: hustled with relentless energy and optimism. People raised their eyebrows as soon as I mentioned the October 1st deadline. I simply responded with confidence and shared the vision, and that was enough convert many skeptics. I called upon everyone I knew, asking for a huge favour to facilitate introductions with demanding turnarond times. I approached strangers and asked them to vouch for me. Lucky for me, SoJo has great credibility and has an awesome project -- but it was a stretch to say the least.

Need I note that the first two weeks of school is the busiest time for anyone at an academic institution, let alone deans and professors. Here I am making demands and asking senior and very busy people to clear their schedules.

After a couple of conversations with the key collaborators, this morning I got the green light from the both the College and University collaborators. I just came out of our first meeting with a list of things to produce for the next 48 hours (I'll be away from my computer for 36 of those hours, let alone my existing busy schedule). I'm ecstatic that SoJo is going ahead with this, and will let this positive glow overpower any doubts or reality checks that arise over the next 10 days.

In the words of of the lead researcher: "It will be a miracle if we get this application in on time. It'll be an even bigger miracle if we are successful." This is coming from someone with a 100% success-rate with such types of applications with NSERC and who administers millions dollars worth of research annually.

Start-ups are run on miracles, and history leads me to believe that miracles do happen. So there is no reason to stop believing / hoping... Its going to be a long week and a half ahead of me and this team. Wish us luck!

 
 
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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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When meeting with this advisor about 2 months I shared some of my challenges, and on top of mind was sourcing a technical partner. 6 weeks ago she introduced me to Jesse, who was interested in learning more about SoJo. I was in the thick of recruiting for a freelancer and excited for this prospect. I looked at his CV once and quickly dismissed it as a viable prospect. Jesse's work experience has been in hardware infrastructure and IT support. Without a single web development skill listed on his CV or extracurricular leadership experience, and a degree in astronomy and physics, I assumed Jesse did not have the skills needed to lead our technical implementation, let alone take the content site out of Beta (which was my primary priority at the time).  

Out of courtesy to the advisor who connected us, I agreed to meet with him yesterday. From the impression that I formed from his CV, I honestly did not think Jesse would be a fit. Going into this interview my best-case scenario was that he would know someone who was a better fit. Over the course of our conversation, Jesse surprised me in many ways. I learned that he has been building websites since grade school, is entirely self-taught programmer and that he is currently building an educational mobile application on his own time. Although not reflected in the CV, Jesse has everything I am looking for in a candidate: skills, initiative, work ethic and a sincere interest in our vision.

In-line with my initial plan, we agreed to bring Jesse on the team to oversee the product launch, and then evaluate fit and interest with staying on board with SoJo. Upon further reflection, I realized that I already judged Jesse without even meeting him. Had this CV not come through a referral, I would have never suggested an in-person meeting. Had I met him when we were first introduced, I would have saved myself hours of painful freelancer interviews and brought him on the team sooner.

Being pleasantly surprised when you least expect is an incredibly uplifting feeling. That being said, it is a much greater risk to let opportunities that are presented right in front of you slide. Finding the right balance between accepting everything that comes your way and exercising discretion to fend off lower-value activities will remain an ongoing challenge.


 
 
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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

 
 
Today I was asked to tell an editor at Canada's largest daily newspaper about SoJo. A great opportunity for coverage, I attempted to depict SoJo in 10 pictures and 6 words (no internet, no computer). See below.
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SoJo has the ambitious goal of being the ubiquitous source of support for social innovators to take their ideas for social good into action, which includes revolutionizing the way in which online learning happens. In a world where we're told to use a slide-deck and bright shiny objects to sell our vision -- I opted for the basics: a whiteboard and a marker.

Over the past few months, I've consistently struggled to explain SoJo's vision, our solution and value-add, the status of our Beta and distinctions between those three elements. When talking about this challenge to a supporter, he in return asked me to draw out SoJo on a whiteboard. After a few attempts, I quickly realized there was no cohesion in how SoJo was explained and a great need to clarify and simplify our message. That same afternoon I hashed out what our whiteboard pitch looked like. It got tested with fellow SoJo team members, other entrepreneurs and staff in the Digital  Media Zone (gotta love a collaborative workspace), however today the whiteboard pitch got its debut. My lack of confidence in my drawing abilities (I will work to improve my stick figures) was offset by my excitement to share SoJo's vision in a more interactive and engaging manner.

In my opinion, this pitch is effective for two reason: simple and interactive. We're all overloaded with information, so it is my intention that saying less will allow the audience to retain more. Secondly, by being able to draw SoJo's story in real-time, it keeps the audience engaged, allows me to control how the message gets perceived and hopefully store a mental image of this whiteboard in their head.

We'll see how successful the pitch was and if a follow-up call comes for a story. If not, it was great practice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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_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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_2011 was a great first year for SoJo. The idea of SoJo (Social Journal) came off paper and finally started to materialize; we converted the cynics by launching an incredible public Beta on very limited resources; and to top it all off, we received phenomenal external validation from major media outlets, including a feature in
The Globe and Mail
. 75 blog posts were written last year documenting our story in real time.

Thus far, within 5 weeks of launching, SoJo has a community of 3000+ individuals eager to build social ventures. You're not alone, and SoJo will not rest until we reach our objective of supporting 100,000 youth in their journeys of changing the world. 2012 will be a significant year for SoJo, and we will work hard to get closer to achieving our vision.

As we say goodbye to 2011, I very eagerly welcome Phase 2 of this next leg of our journey.

Over the next week, our team to will be working on SoJo's strategic plan for Phase 2, as well as outline our long-term objectives for the next couple of years. In the first half of 2012, SoJo will be committed to iterating on the current public Beta, with the goal of releasing a more interactive and robust second version of the tool; increasing our reach, by building more strategic partnerships and participating in outreach activities directly with our community; all while focusing on user engagement and satisfaction with SoJo.

My anticipations and aspirations for the upcoming year include: expansion of our team; revenue generation; gathering valuable intelligence that will allow us to build an intuitive tool to better support our users; and of course, a much larger global community of young social entrepreneurs.

Yesterday I made a call to action to our readers, urging that they hold themselves accountable to bringing their ideas to life in 2012. SoJo is still in its infancy and we are publicly holding ourselves accountable to our users by documenting our aspirations, plans, and actions every step of the way, here on this Blog.

Although planning and personal intuition are valuable, there is no way of predicting what the next year has in store. It is our hope that you continue to be inspired by our story and bottom-up approach of making change happen.

Rested and rejuvenated from a relaxing holiday season, I'm ready to handle the uncertainty, setbacks and challenges that are inevitable. Equally so, I'm excited to embark on Phase 2 of this very exciting journey and look forward to more victory dances, more milestones and bigger accomplishments.

If you were with SoJo last year, we sincerely thank you for your support to get us through our first Phase.
If you are just joining us now, welcome aboard! Phase 2 promises to be nothing short of eventful and rewarding. We hope you're ready for the ride!

 
 
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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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_ The countdown is looming on us. With less than a week to go before our first public product launch - the nerves are starting to kick-in. A lot of pressure lies on the outcomes of this launch as it may give us the resources needed to make our vision a reality.
 
I'd like to believe that it is a myth that you need to struggle in order to achieve success. Sure, our team is working ridiculously hard to meet a deadline (which is needed), but do we have to lose ourselves in this process?

It seems quite counter-intuitive to endeavour to make the world a better place, at the expense of your own sanity and wellbeing, no? Let us not forget that we are also part of this world. Somehow though, I get the impression that I'll be respected that much more and that my efforts will be more worthwhile if I demonstrate that achieving this milestone was a struggle which consisted of tremendous sacrifices. Hardly a journey to celebrate if you're busy deteriorating yourself emotionally, psychologically and physically.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to channel all of my skills, talents, energy and passion into something that is truly meaningful to me. Despite the hard work and lack of stability, I start most of my days feeling as though I'm the luckiest person in the world -- why would I spoil it with struggle and negative energy?

Struggle and success should not be synonymous. Creating a new venture will inevitably be difficult, but instead of focusing on the hardship - we need to equally focus on our emotional needs and attitude in order to successfully make it through the journey.

Earlier today I found myself at a crossroad: either I manage expectations and stay focused achieving our goals without losing myself, or opt to go over the edge in pursuit of achieving those same goals. The former sounds obvious, but sadly it is the latter which often takes over.

A respected advisor told me:
"There is a certain elegance in achieving the most [success] with the least [amount of hardship]"

SoJo wants to be a role model for you as you embark on your journey. We're going to get through this launch and all subsequent launches with grace and elegance. Time to let go of perfectionism and embrace what it means to be human. Struggle leads us to work harder, when we should strive to find ways to work smarter.

I encourage you to join me. Find healthy ways to release the negative energy which may cause you to "struggle" much more than what is necessary. Let us celebrate the privilege of being able to work on something that is meaningful to us, not the struggle.

 
 
_ A trusted friend and supporter of SoJo, Drew from Nuance Leadership sent me the following note in response to my blog post on the importance of taking care of yourself (and not only when you're sick):
_ The problem, as we both know, is that passion tends not to “take a number” and wait patiently until we’re ready to deal with it.  Sometimes an idea kicks us into overdrive and there’s no denying it.

A former colleague once told me that “real leadership is being willing to step up and block a bad idea before it hits someone.”  Just before I left, she told me that the reason I wouldn’t succeed in higher-education was because I wasn’t willing to recognize bad ideas and “protect” students from them.

I told her that the fundamental difference between the two of us is that she believed leadership was blocking a bad idea before it hit someone.  I believe leadership is equipping people to tell the difference themselves between a bad idea and a good idea.  It’s not our job to block, it’s our job to teach people to know when to duck on their own.  And to believe that they’re going to do just that.

That story came back to me when I was reading your blog, because your last post reminded me of something: there’s this perception out there that bad ideas are dangerous…

But, as I write this at 4 a.m., exhausted and going on nothing but the adrenaline generated by an idea I believe in, reading about your exhausting adventures in pursuit of your dream, I’m reminded…

So are good ones.

Here’s to dangerously good ideas, and to having the strength and wisdom necessary to make sure we take care of ourselves so we can see them through.

All the best,
Drew


_ Although I will argue in a future blog post that bad ideas are not all dangerous, it is important to recognize the danger found when we immerse ourselves in a world fuelled by passion, and often neglect for one's own well being. Let us not only celebrate dangerously good ideas, but also have the strength and wisdom to take care of ourselves so we can see them through. Thanks for the reminder Drew.
 
 
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Earlier this week a team member noticed a missing document. We were entertaining the option of it being moved or accidentally deleted so I didn't think too much into it. Yesterday however, I noticed a very important internal document was missing. Upon further investigation it's as though these documents disappeared and there was no trace of them ever existing. We've been using a cloud-based tool to share and store our working files virtually.

Storing documents virtually, as opposed to on everyone's individual computers, facilitates better collaboration and document sharing. Instead of having to circulate attachments via email, we were able to effectively have many individuals work off the same document. Being a virtual team, this functionality aided us tremendously. Further, I thought it was more secure to work virtually; if someone's personal computer was attacked by a virus or hard-drive crashed, none of our documents would have been damaged, thus ensuring continuity and minimal disruption.

Ironically enough, the "cloud" is often used to back-up files and serves as a safety-net. I was complacent and did not have the foresight to back-up files stored in a "safety-net" in another location.

I've contacted this company, and we have no idea if our account was compromised, if their system has a problem, or if it was human error on our part syncing the shared files. All I know is that we are missing a very important file that was not backed up.

Key lesson learned: Back-up your files regularly and in different locations.

Last night I experienced the same feeling that most students experience when they realize the document containing that research essay which took the entire semester to write cannot be retrieved because it was attacked by a malicious virus. I'm no longer in school and the stakes feel a bit higher in the real world.

Needless to say, to avoid myself from going completely insane and damaging my body with undue stress, I deliberately found ways to distract myself from the problem at hand. At this point there is really nothing I can do to recover those missing files, so stressing about the situation seems counterproductive. Remaining calm in stressful situations is not easy. Wasting valuable energy over a problem in which I have no control over is essentially giving this unfortunate situation more credit than it deserves... and for that reason, I am trying to embrace a forward-looking attitude to learn from this setback and accept that it is part of our journey.

 
 
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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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SoJo has taken an iterative approach; where we plan to release multiple versions of our site, have our users co-create the site and along the way deliver a product that meets the needs of our users and supports them in their journey of creating social ventures.

We released a closed Beta in July. Although we are very proud of this first step, it is now time to move onto our second version site and open it up to the public. The open Beta will have different functionality, more content and an improved user interface.

Having virtually no technical, web development or design experience prior to SoJo, I felt it'd be best to consult experts in the field and leverage their experience to make a more informed decision. Over the past few weeks I've been speaking with developers, designers and marketers - all with experience creating websites and established track records of delivering amazing work. Every conversation was stimulating, the average chat lasting about 2-2.5 hours - with ideas and possibilities getting tossed around. It was overwhelming at the same time, as all of these conversations went down very different paths.

Some said to focus on the technical development of the site and organization of information from the back-end. Some said to focus on the design and user experience on the front-end. Some said to shape the content and navigation to fit a brand. Even on the technical side, I was presented with 4 distinct options of how to proceed.

The bucket is full. My head hurts from all the confusion and attempting to reconcile the conflicting advice. The fact that there are so many ways to approach implementing SoJo's vision is encouraging, as it demonstrates that nothing like SoJo already exists and its going to take some serious innovation to come up with a good solution. On the other hand, I do wish the dots lined up more clearly together.  

Making decisions are often the most difficult parts of the journey. Once you know which direction you're headed, executing can sometime be as simple as creating a checklist of items and tackling them one-by-one. Picking the direction is the challenge.

I only have a few days to make a decision and pick the best course of action on implementing v2 of the site. With less than 2 months and minimal financial resources, I only have one shot at this decision and must stand by it until the open Beta launch.

Judgment and hunch go hand-in-hand when making a decision like this. There is no definitive consensus from experts on what is even possible given our timeframe and financial resources. There is no such a thing as a perfect decision, and perhaps I need to alleviate the pressure I self-imposed on making the "perfect decision," make a choice that feels right given the available information, take a risk and go with it...