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Written by Zainab

I've been struggling to write blog posts - or really anything - for over a week now.

If you're not familiar with the term, writer's block refers to the state of being stuck and unable to write. Wikipedia's article gives a grim opening to this:
Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some "blocked" writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.

For a writer, this state feels similar to paralysis, in that the inability to write feels like one can't move, express, or be.

Like many others, I've had writer's block before and usually, it feels a lot more trivial. This time, I've tried a number of tactics that were not proving as effective:
  • writing on paper. Sometimes you need to get away from a screen and just write without filters like spell-check.
  • writing in a different location. Certain moments throughout the the conference I was at earlier this week made me go "aha, that would make a good blog post!". And though I made notes in between kiosk visitors, I still couldn't bring myself to write more than a few bullets.
  • taking a break. I worked at home yesterday, thinking an extra hour of sleep and three hours saved on commuting would help me feel more energized. Not a single word was written, aside from my emails.

I saw a tweet this morning that finally had me put these thoughts down in print:
And sometimes, that's exactly what you need to do, even when you have nothing to write: write anyway.

I'm sure other writers can relate to me when I say that for me, my writing is part of who I am, that the pen is my sword, and my written words are my voice.

It feels good to write... even if it is a struggle to do so at the moment.
 
 
Written by Zainab Habib

Amongst the other discussions in the blog posts over the last two months, we’ve written about how it’s been working without Kanika to guide us along the way as SoJo’s chief catalyst and biggest ambassador.

Despite this, we’ve continued to keep moving forward in the midst of this unexpected phase of SoJo’s journey. In fact, the SoJo part of the office feels very lively and we have been buzzing with activity, especially since AJ joined the team full-time.

To be honest, the situation has never been ideal. It certainly has been a setback in many ways. However, while taking on Kanika’s commitments and functions within SoJo in addition to our individual roles, we have started to have discussions about what works and doesn’t work. We’re discovering what really happens at SoJo when she isn’t there as the Chief Problem Solver. As we now discuss any issues with each other and not with Kanika, this has forced us to ask the harder questions aloud: “why do we even do/use this [task/section/process/tool]?” We have also had to talk about it, because this question has come up in multiple instances, both in our day-to-day operations and with the site overall.

It also helps that SoJo now has new team members to look at operations and community. Because they are used to thinking in more strategic terms and are just stepping into the organization, they are better able to ask the questions that we had to ask and even to suggest different ways of doing it. They’re using their lack of knowledge about how things have been done before at SoJo to consider our alternatives to tasks or processes, while still working towards the vision and values that we care about most.

To get ourselves off the ground, SoJo had hit the road running. We sprinted at an unbelievable speed and were often “busy” just getting things done. Yet something that throws you out of your routine forces you to rethink previous assumptions and processes. Perhaps you may have been slowed down because you were short on resources (say funding or team members) or time; and so needed to be careful with how you expended your energies, time, and resources in order to make it to your next destination.

Now we’re at a point where we’re trying to check how far we have come and whether we’re on course to our destination or if we have been sidetracked at all. We’re hoping these new questions and strategies allow us to constantly move, shake, and innovate. We can then turn setbacks into opportunities for pulse checks instead.
 
 
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Written by Zainab Habib

It’s been some time since Kanika has been away from the office. It was right around then that AJ joined us full-time and was thrown into the position of juggling between Kanika’s commitments for the next few weeks and beginning work on organizational development and outreach for SoJo on a full-time basis.

One would naturally wonder how things are going at the office and how we have handled it as a team. This comes at a point where we are continuing to expand our team and focusing on particular aspects of SoJo, as we continue to work towards being the leading online resource that social innovators reference to turn their ideas for social change into action.

Yes, it definitely feels like something is missing. It is certainly not the same without Kanika here. She may be The Boss but she is certainly not bossy. Unlike the stereotypical Queen Bee, she has been supportive and she treats each of her staff without hierarchical bounds, allowing most of us to work directly with her on different projects for SoJo and to develop ourselves professionally and personally with her assistance. She is also the face behind the SoJo brand and has been at the forefront of it all. Her time away then has certainly created a shift in how we view SoJo from the inside and out then, knowing that she isn't here.

However, Team SoJo has really banded together to make sure we continue business as usual. Our partners have been very understanding and many have offered their help with whatever we may need. Our core team has continued to work on our individual projects and support the teams within our respective areas. We have also started a routine of working together as a team more formally; for example, we now have scheduled in weekly meetings between the full-time team every Monday. We are also now in the midst of assembling a team to focus on building SoJo’s community.

All in all, SoJo is definitely buzzing with activity. Even if we are missing the Queen Bee.

 
 
My last blog post costed me a pretty intense headache, so I decided to give writing a break. I am still on bed rest recovery from a traumatic brain injury which has forced me to disconnect from the world, including SoJo.  Many thanks for all your well wishes! I’m in good spirits and haven’t gotten worse and I couldn’t ask for more. In my first month, I still communicated and had meetings with some members of the team to give them guidance and support (and also to appease my curiosity and fuel me, as SoJo has always been a great source of energy).

Just a few hours/week of work where I was neither here nor there was enough to aggregate the symptoms of my concussion. With an incredibly slow recovery, I decided to disconnect completely from the world: my phone is shut off and people have no way of contacting me while at my parents’ house. This will continue until I see visible and noticeable progress, which I estimate to take a few weeks.

Armed with authority to make key decisions and a strategic plan, AJ is at the helm of SoJo, where she liaises with one of my closest advisors who has been involved with SoJo since its inception. While I do trust these individuals and the team, there are some things that only I know and it is my instinct to only want the best for SoJo. If I see people steering off course or focusing on less important priorities, I can’t help but want to provide that feedback. Since I’ve chosen to disconnect entirely (as that is actually what it is best for SoJo), I have no option but to trust and be at peace with the outcomes of the decisions made without my input.

I will not deny the challenge of having to let go (temporarily) of something that has been deeply a part of me for so long, but I’m not at all worried.

SoJo is in very capable hands and having to let go out of necessity does make it infinitely easier.

So thank you Team SoJo, for allowing me to let go.

 
 
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Self-made portrait
A few weeks back, I had a pretty bad fall which resulted in a serious concussion.

While in the hospital (thankful that I still had my memory, and was able to speak and feed), the Emergency doctor told me that I should do nothing that would stimulate my brain; which included reading, watching TV, listening to music, physical activity, thinking, and above all else, working. I was very disciplined to follow doctor’s orders hoping that I’d be well enough to hop on a plane a few days later and deliver my first ever TED talk in Washington, DC... wishful thinking on my part, as this injury was much more serious than I was ready to admit to. Since then, I haven’t been in the office or attended to my inbox and was forced to cancel many other trips, meetings, and exciting opportunities, as I am still unable to function like a normal person. Basic routine activities such as reading, carrying a conversation or looking at screens are not a struggle.

So where does this leave SoJo?

Without any warning, I left the team. Doesn’t help that this incident happened less than a week after a two week trip where I was still dealing with the backlog.

With the exception of a couple of conversations with some team members, I’ve had no other contact with the team (whom I know is counting on me for direction and support). What makes this unforeseen break less stressful is the confidence I have in Team SoJo to keep moving on. See my last post.

Right now, my body or mind have zero tolerance for stress, which means I’m not allowed to think about or empathize what the effects of this major disruption has had on the team. SoJo remains a largely volunteer-run organization and in many ways, I have been the glue that has been holding it all together. We are in the midst of building our internal capacity to be a stronger organization; it is y hope that this will make us more robust and not set us back.

Going into my 4th week of doing nothing, I’ve been told by several doctors that recovery will still take a while. (In case you’re wondering, this blog post was hand-written.)

The greatest thing going for me (and SoJo) is time. I will be back – it’s just going to take time.

 
 
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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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Earlier this afternoon I had a meeting that didn't go so well. I can handle one bad meeting, its a consistent trend of bad meetings that start to get me anxious. The meeting in many ways represented my frustrations of the system that I'm trying so hard to fix. I felt as though no matter how hard I worked - it was never enough, and that the system was incurable. Today's meeting was the last straw that broke my back and I was ready for a mini-breakdown. While my instinct was to fight, get defensive and show everyone up -- I reminded myself that I left fighting behind with 2012. Giving up is obviously not an option, as we've come too far to throw in the towel. That leaves me with finding a solution. When talking through my frustrations with an advisor, he responded with the following words:

"Kanika, this is what you signed up for. Your job is to find a solution. That is what you do."


And so I was inspired to change my title to Chief Problem Solver -- because that's what the person on top does. It is my responsibility to ensure that the organization progresses forward, irrespective of setbacks and inherent challenges. When something does not work as planned, or the problems only feel like they're getting larger with time; finding solutions is really the only way forward. It takes more creativity and effort to find a solution, (especially if you don't think the problem should exist in the first place) however in the long run, that is the way to go.

I'm not actually going to officially change my title to Chief Problem Solver (as I like Chief Catalyst way too much), but it is a hat that I will carry at all times, and remind myself -- that when things look rough, rather than give up or fight, find a way around by finding a solution.


 
 
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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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Almost all of my greatest insights have come to me during the weekends. Not being connected to my inbox and daily operations of work definitely helps to take step back and reflect. I suffered from a burnout in September and October has felt like an off month all around. Over lunch with my brother on Saturday, I told him that I was concerned with how much SoJo feels like its taking over my life; and my inability to control my schedule (as evidenced by working on 12 hour days when I set a goal for myself to NOT work around the clock). Only when I said this fear out loud was I compelled to actually make some changes.

Solution: find the root cause of these persistent feelings of being stretched.  I was instructed to list out all of the activities (whole projects, not tasks) that myself and the team worked on over the past week. Despite having only 4 days in the week, I effortlessly listed over 30 ongoing activities; myself being directly involved in about 25 of them and solely responsible for 10. Its not that I have trouble delegating ( the team at SoJo will be quick to acknowledge my comfort with letting go and giving responsibilities to the team). Being the only person that understands all moving parts of the organization and the vision, I'm often called up for input to keep everyone on track. SoJo is a flat organization, and building in reporting structures has been difficult because most of our senior team members barely have the capacity to deal with what's on their plate, let alone manage and provide necessary support to other colleagues. Strategic planning has dragged out over 2 months and no clear changes have emerged.

SoJo grew incredibly fast and as such the scope and depth of the work at hand has grown exponentially. The problem is, our team hasn't grown at the same pace -- in fact, it has shrunk. Most of our team members came together only in the Spring, they had a lot of time to devote to SoJo and were fresh on energy. Fall is always the busiest time of the year, irrespective of where you work. 15 hours of commitment per week over the past 6-8 months has since shrunk to 5 hours. I'm extremely grateful to have product lead Jesse full-time with SoJo, but its not enough. Some of our team members are burnt-out from having to manage SoJo and other personal activities and have been forced to take a step back. A lot of the momentum from the summer quickly fizzled away in the Fall, as everyone's other schedules ramped up.

Making myself personally available to 10+ team member's part-time, fluctuating schedules has taken a toll on my personal health and wellbeing. I no longer have evenings, as I make myself available to people's consistently changing schedules our team members who can only come into the office after their day job finishes. To top it off, there is little consistency as SoJo is understandably not the top priority (so it is common for people to fall off the grid for weeks and I am left with no choice but to understand). These inconsistencies get me frustrated and the bottlenecks that occur as a result affect the momentum of the entire team.

All this to say that these are the trade-off with working with an a part-time unpaid team. I will say with full confidence that SoJo has an exceptional team which led us to all of SoJo's successes thus far, but in its current form will be unable to sustain the inevitable growth that has already hit us. I'm actively finding solutions to our staffing challenges (finding money needed to bring on some of our team members full-time), however in the interim need to make some changes and trade-offs.

Some of these changes include:
- Reducing the scope of activities the team is actively involved in and fine-tuning our focus even more
- Prioritizing need areas and tackling them one-by-one (rather than all at once)
- Un-flattening the organization to get me less involved in activities that I do not need to be involved with, so I can focus my energies on driving the vision forward

The changes noted above are going to be difficult as everything feels equally important. The Forbes article from this month nailed it:

"Kanika and her start-up have a compelling story and have received plenty of media attention. It is to be seen how SoJo can up the momentum, increase users, net-in some big-name partners and take its awesomeness places. What SoJo needs now is this: Focusing on the product, leveraging relationships and creating new ones, building tangible results including right media coverage, and forming a right-spirited and a serious advisory board. Kanika’s leadership and the ability to learn and adapt is the make or break factor here."

With growth comes change. Change is never easy, but I'm thankful that I've started to recognize the need to learn and adapt now, and not when its too late.


 
 
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Last night I had a great call with Trevor, SoJo's community builder. Trevor joined SoJo when it was just an idea and has been instrumental in bringing this vision to reality. Trevor's been primarily responsible for setting up our social media presence, coordinating feedback and engaging with SoJo's growing community. Having been through the trials and tribulations of defining SoJo, dealing with the setbacks and deeply involved in all of our previous product launches, Trevor has been pivotal to our successes thus far. I was just informed last night that Trevor will be going on an extended escapade throughout Asia for the next couple of months, leaving in 2 weeks. I was forewarned that this trip was on the horizon, however details only started to firm up this week. I honestly did not expect it to come so soon, and the end of the month feels like it's just around the corner.

I am going to assume that Trevor will be off the grid as he will be travelling in remote rural areas, but also focused on this new chapter of his life. I'm thrilled that he is seizing this phenomenal opportunity, but also mindful of the void that will exist within SoJo's team.

What does this mean for SoJo?


We have 2 weeks to transition all of Trevor's responsibilities to an already stretched team. Social Media engagement, Newsletter Editor, Front-line contact with users, and feedback management. Beyond the actual manpower (and losing a very smart and competent team member), I'm a little nervous about losing all the institutional memory and insights that are in his head. Trevor holds a very unique perspective and it is through brainstorming activities and ideation sessions do those insights emerge to help to shape our strategy and future directions.  

This will be the first time SoJo goes through a major transition/turnover of a key team member. It doesn't help that I'll be virtually inaccessible over the last week of October on the road, speaking at various conferences and venues across 4 cities. Or that Steph, our Communications coordinator who will oversee the transition will be in Australia for a 2-week work trip at the beginning of November. Regardless, SoJo has a solid team and I'm optimistic that this process will be as smooth as it can be.

Transitions are inevitable and I'm looking forward to all the learning that will take place during this critical period.
I gladly welcome any advice you have on navigating through this process.


 
 
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Menu bar that mysteriously lost all its formatting
Who is Murphy anyways? What did he do to be forever immortalized as the thing and/or person that countless people curse at, on a regular basis?

Our beloved Product Lead Jesse is on a vacation in Europe for the next 2 weeks. He handed off the SoJo in working condition, yet surely enough if something were to go wrong, it would go wrong while he is away and inaccessible. I found too many unpleasant surprises this morning, that I stopped counting. I'm not in total shock, as Friday afternoon we experienced some problems and SoJo's been having issues for the past couple of months with its theme, further making me convinced that there is a ghost manipulating our website. Jesse has been incredible at consistently fixing these problems in such a timely manner -- its easy to feel helpless and lost in this dire time of need.

Your patience and tolerance is requested for the following reasons:
If the SoJo site takes a little longer to load
If some pages on SoJo look a little off
If you stumble across a broken link (we have over 60 of them)


Rest assured that myself and our team is trying our best to point out the issues and are actively troubleshooting accordingly.

My ability to stay calm in stressful situations has been tested multiple times. It is painful to have such obvious errors appear on a public site, and I'm trying my best to keep my cool. I hope to not jynx myself, however know that things could be much worse and am thankful that SoJo is working at 80% functionality right now.  

Thanks for your understanding. I wonder if Murphy is secretly a brilliant person who has been trying to teach us a lesson all along... problems are inevitable, the true test is our ability to rationally deal through them?

 
 
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When you're going through a stressful time, people often say talking about what you're going through will make you feel better. My mom often encourages me to talk through my issues to avoid stress from bottling up. Stress serves no-one any good, and in fact the negative energy impairs rational judgment and productivity.

 Below are three examples of intense conversations that were had over the past 10 days:

 My case interview last weekend was a great example of the value gained by 'letting it all out'. Not only did sharing all my challenges made me feel a bit better, the feedback I received simultaneously allowed me draw valuable insights and make realizations. Before that session everything was fuzzy and I wasn't able to articulate the source of my frustrations. Letting it out allowed me to make sense of those fuzzy dots floating around in my head; and this enhanced clarity has since allowed me to better navigate through this turbulent time.

 The day before yesterday I had dinner with a group of friends, among them a person who I consult often for advice. It is rare that we meet, so towards the end of the evening I took the opportunity of asking him how I should navigate one of my challenges around funding. I was pushed into a corner with really tough questions at 10pm at night; it was an intense conversation to say the least. In spite of the discomfort that was experienced at the time, I left that conversation in a better headspace. I did not receive all of the answers I was looking for, but he gave me a tangible suggestion on what my next step should be. One that I'm already acting on.

 Yesterday as part of a mandatory check-in for the incubator that SoJo works out of, I was required to give an update on our current status. These check-ins are used to set goals, and act as accountability mechanisms to share updates on progress towards achieving those goals. They are also an opportunity for my peers (other entrepreneurs) and management to weigh in and provide advice. I was asked to talk about my challenges. Sharing your problems is not easy. Over vulnerability is the pain that comes with re-opening the wounds and reminding yourself of everything on your plate. At the table were 4 members of the management team who also act as advisors to all of the entrepreneurs in this incubator and only one other entrepreneur. I started the meeting excited, hoping for some breakthrough answers. Objectively speaking, I got very little tangible and concrete value out of that meeting. I did not walk away with a single thing that I can act on. I became more frustrated over the course of the meeting, and its clear to everyone that saw me shortly after that I was upset. I shut down my computer shortly after and went home early. It has been an exhausting couple of weeks and after pouring it all out on the table (for the third time in one week), the last thing I wanted to hear is keep fighting the good fight (which is the best feedback I received).  It felt like salt got rubbed into those wounds that I've been trying so hard avoid blood from gushing out (pardon the graphic analogy).

 Out of the three examples from above, I did not start either of the first two conversations with expectations. I did have a great deal of expectations from yesterday's meeting (given the nature of the meeting) and judging from my emotional barometer: I was disappointed.

 Lesson learned:
  1. You can't expect anyone to give you a silver bullet answer to your problems. Best is to enter every conversation without any expectations.
  2. Letting it all out doesn't always make you feel better. Use your discretion and open those wounds as far as you want to. 

 
 
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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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IVEY, one of Canada's leading business schools approached me to write a case study on SoJo. I was delighted and honoured, as IVEY cases have a far reach nationally and internationally and what better way to get out SoJo's story.

Up until now, I shared SoJo's story in more of a narrative format; explaining chronologically the milestones we've achieved, challenges faced and decisions made. Yesterday I met the lead researcher, Professor Oana and case writer Melissa. It is fair to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Oana started the interview asking me about the tensions I am currently facing. Before I knew it, I felt as though I was in a psycho-analysis therapy session. Her questions were poignant, difficult, intense, and reflective all in one.

Over the last 2 years, I have had conversations with a couple hundred people about SoJo. My messaging has changed throughout, as did the product of SoJo -- however the vision was always the same. Albeit with time, I've become a better communicator, based on an initial conversation, not a single person has been able to understand the depth and scope of SoJo's vision. What was special about yesterday, is that I never explicitly told Oana what the vision was, or what SoJo was working towards, however she was able to recite to me with precision and greater eloquence what SoJo stands for and what it strives to do. Although a little scary, more than anything this validation was encouraging and exactly what I needed at this point of tension. (see earlier post on burnout).

Again, without sharing all of our key actions, decisions made and iterations, Oana drew a model that scientifically mapped out SoJo, our trajectory, the implications of our decisions. Models are incredibly abstract, and she was able to ground every node into key actions made by SoJo. Her assumptions validated what we the strategic planning team has been talking about for the past month. Having been through academia myself, before this conversation I was convinced that there was a disconnect from the ivory tower and reality. Without an agenda or political bias of her own, coupled with years of cutting-edge research, Oana restored my faith in academia. She is a fountain of knowledge and was able to clearly do what no-one has been able to.

This blog has been an outlet to share my thoughts, and it has been second nature to document SoJo's story. Being asked to trace back motivators, emotions and feelings with greater precision was difficult. Talking about vulnerability brought me down unexpected philosophical tangents. It felt as though I was being deconstructed as an individual, as she made inferences about my personal relationships with people and what motivates me as a leader. I'm still digesting and making sense of it all...

3 hours later, she circled back to her first question, and identified that the source of my tensions is growth.

SoJo has graduated from early-stage startup to being a startup. Accelerating the pace of development, building out resources to meet this growth is only one challenge. Outgrowing our users, while being authentic and true to the vision is the greater challenge. As we navigate through this period of growth, I will be more disciplined about documenting our journey on this blog. Please bare with me, as the lack of coherence in this blog is a mirror reflection of the lack of coherence of everything in my head.

I left this interview feeling like I got more out of it than what I gave the case writers. I suppose that's what we call a win-win.
_

 
 
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Earlier last week I came to the realization that I was going over the edge and reaching burnout. Although I started writing this post over a week ago, I'm only now having the courage to openly talk about it. Having a persistent and stubborn personality often forces me to push my limit.

Some indications that lead me recognize that something is wrong:

Insomnia: Normally, I sleep like a rock. Many of my friends are envious of my abilities to sleep on a park bench in broad daylight. I suffered from insomnia every night last week. My subconscious is constantly busy with noise. I was unable to reason through my thoughts, as everything was blurry.

A visit from the parents: My parents came into the city early last week to see me. When asking them what inspired their visit (it is rare that they come during the week), they both said: "we're worried about you."

Sick: Feverish, sick and without energy to move, I spent a couple of days in bed trying to recover and recoup. Morning wake-ups over the past 2 weeks were a struggle.

Grungy: I showed up to the office wearing sweats. I was raised to always look presentable when being out in public, but on days when I had no external meetings, I had no desire to put effort into my wardrobe.

"You look tired": Although feeling sick and going for the grungy look does solicit such comments, being consistently being told by the people who see me on a daily basis "you look tired" made me realize I wasn't given off a positive image of myself.

Limited desire to engage: As an extrovert who naturally derives energy from engaging with other people, I had very little interest in holding up a conversation with someone who wasn't a team member. Conversations which would normally come effortlessly, now came with great effort.

Knowing that something is wrong: Although these signs were apparent, sometimes what's worse is feeling like you have weights on your shoulders bogging you down, but not being able to pinpoint why. I absolutely hated answering the question: "how are you doing?" I did not want to sound ingenuous by saying that I was fine, when I wasn't, but also did not want to say "I feel horrible, and I don't want to talk about it."

Feeling overwhelmed, before any of the above symptoms surfaced I approached an advisor to talk. He knew right away that I was in a lull and tried his best to tease out the source of my frustrations. I had nothing to say.
In response, he said two things:

~ The more successful you become the greater your challenges
~ Let it be


That was 3 weeks ago.  At the time, I did not understand or appreciate the latter piece of advice. Rather than recognize and accept that something was on the cusp of stirring inside of me, I deliberately chose not to listen and let it be, and continued going down a path that would ultimately lead to a burnout.

When reflecting back, I wonder if I had the foresight to accept what was going on, then maybe I would have spared myself a lot of emotional and mental stress and could have rationally tried to identify the root causes of my feelings of being overwhelmed. Perhaps I needed to push myself over the edge, as great insights have since emerged.
It's hard to say. I do know two things:

1-Burnout sucks, and its nothing one should strive toward. I'm still learning to catch onto the signs before tipping over the edge...
2- When you're in a lull, you can only go up from there. I am seeing the light and it is a great feeling. _

 
 
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SoJo has been running lean since inception. I often take a step back with awe, thinking about all that was accomplished with no external funding. Bootstrapping a venture comes with tradeoffs and compromises. SoJo's beta site was initially hosted on one of our team member's servers to save costs. At the time it felt redundant to pay for hosting fees when there was trusted and freely available resource. SoJo has since migrated to a dedicated server, recognizing the need for full control, however outstanding files were on our original shared server. Since we do not own the server, we do not have full access to it. Our former team-mate is currently travelling in rural China with limited access, and getting access has been a challenge.

It is incredibly frustrating to move a product forward when there are bottlenecks that are completely beyond your control. An issue as simple as access has definitely slowed down the entire development team. This lesson has taught me to think long-term when making immediate decisions. It is impossible to foresee every possible implication of a decision, but understanding the risks upfront can help to make more informed decisions.

All things considered, given my limited knowledge and our resources at the time I think I made the right decision accept full responsibility for the unintended consequences that we are now facing. As the stakes increase however, we need to make more informed and well thought out decisions, as potential risks also increase exponentially.

At a time when everyone on our development team is frustrated, I must be particularly understanding to their situation, readjust expectations and ensure their negative energy does not get bottled up. To keep my peace, I go back to our core values, and remind myself that we must embrace imperfection...

 
 
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Over the past 5 days I was forced to stay at home, away from the office (and people), to give my body the rest it needed to recover from a flu-like bug. I've gotten more sick over the past 6 months than ever before, which serves as an ever constant reminder that the body needs to come first.

With the boredom that came with sitting at home without a computer, I indulged in movies. The closing dialogues from a movie I watched last night went along the lines of:
“The only real failure is the failure to try.
The greatest measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."

March, April and May felt very unstable for me for a number of reasons: six months into our public launch, the product was not progressing as quickly as I would have liked; after months of interviews I was starting to lose hope that a good technical person can join our team as a Product Lead to push SoJo's vision forward; we let go of exceptional editors who weren't able to commit the time SoJo needed; the pressures of building a product that will generate revenues were growing with no clear direction in sight; I was rejected from a handful of promising fellowship applications; all while feeling busier (and partly burnt-out) than ever before. Without a doubt, I was in a lull, and it is reflected in the lack of activity on the blog.

Admittedly, I was shy to share these challenges on the blog - and with our team -  as I was hopeful things would pass, but in reality these fears and challenges continued to pile up. I thought it was normal for someone in my position to worry, but SoJo is a moving ship and I did not want the optimism amongst our team and supporters to fade. It is imperative that everyone to continue to be excited about our long-term vision, and not intimidated by the short-term hurdles. This is a difficult balance to strike, while trying to be open and transparent at all times.

Not only does being ill force you to rest, it also gives you a chance to reflect and ponder. Triggered by the quote above, and an extended weekend of being with alone with my thoughts, I found a renewed sense of clarity and hope.

As a natural achiever, I've always "tried" (put effort into something) with the expectation of a certain return. After continuously putting oneself out there, trying relentlessly and seeing no results, it becomes really easy to internalize those feelings and view those efforts as a failure. In some ways, I felt a lot of my efforts over the past few months were a failure, as I didn't achieve the results that I had expected. Upon further reflection, I now acknowledge that those unrealized expectations were actually disappointments, and not failures.

Entrepreneurship (and life) is a series of ups and downs. Disappointments are inevitable. I used let myself get down with disappointments, wallow and build useless negative energy. I'm now learning the true test of resilience, learning how to extract the good from disappointments, the lessons learned, and converting that negative energy into positive energy to fuel me for the journey ahead. There will be bad days, and lulls are part of the process. Learning to accept and push forward truly is the best measure of success.

The next time you feel like things just aren't working out, try to remember:
“The only real failure is the failure to try. The greatest measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."

 
 
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For the past 3 months I have been actively on the lookout for a technical partner to join SoJo. I started this process highly optimistic; thinking that through my networks I would identify the right person. SoJo is an exciting organization to get involved with: not only do we have a huge world-shaking vision, but a successful Beta launch and associate press coverage [should in theory] give assurance to someone joining the team that we're already on a trajectory for success. The product has been validated, yet everyone on the team still can make their mark on defining and building the product.

I started with the approach of putting out feelers to my professional network. It is a well-known fact that the best people come through referrals. After the first round of feelers, I eagerly met with the handful of interested candidates. Going into this process, an advisor told me that I need to "sell" the candidate on SoJo just as much as they needed to make a good impression on me. So I was 'on'

Nothing really materialized after the first round of applications. Using social media and job boards, I broadly posted the job description. I was hopeful to find someone suitable who is outside of my immediate network. Being part of a tech start-up is the "thing" these days. So I was extra critical for "fit." If someone did not understand our vision, it would be a disaster to make them in charge of technically implementing it. There was one candidate in particular who had rockstar technical skills. My gut had hesitation of inviting him to join, as I felt the need to 'buffer' him from the rest of our team. Being the most promising candidate of everyone that I spoke with, I was almost ready to accept him onto the team -- but thankfully an adivsor/partner pointed out that I was making the decision for the wrong reasons (just to get it done, vs having the right person).

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal for myself to bring the content site out of Beta by the end of Q2 (June 2012). I did not think this would be a challenge, as I set out to recruit a technical partner in January. The plan all along was to use this next product launch as a probationary testing ground. If the candidate can successfully lead the product launch (which is a relatively contained project), then they have the skills needed to handle the more ambiguous stuff.

With no technical product lead in sight, and with the looming goal of launching the site out of Beta in a few weeks, I needed to change course.

Through networks and job boards, I put out a posting for a paid freelance web developer. Contracting a freelance developer was the last-case scenario, as I did not like the idea of being constrained with a static list of requirements and the solution is not sustainable for our iterative approach to product development. The beta site was a bottleneck to moving SoJo forward, and so this was the chosen course given our constraints.

I set a budget and created a detailed list of requirements. Each interview lasted on average 2 hours; gauging the individual, their attitude, skills and fit for this project. I do not have a technical background, so I found it particularly exhausting going into technical details again and again. Nearly 100+ hours into this recruitment process over the past 3 months, I am completely drained: emotionally and physically.

I am starting to doubt and lose hope for two reasons: Firstly, am I doing this right? Should it take this long and this much energy to find someone? Maybe it is time to change my approach altogether. If technical recruitment is as difficult as everyone says, then will SoJo be able to find a technical partner... A scary reality to accept and one that really worries me.

In the meantime, the show must still go on...

 
 
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You may have noticed that our blog is less active than usual. Although there is very little tangible outputs to share, much of the past few weeks, I've spent a lot of time listening, reflecting, refining, and realigning. Many hours with markers on windows, whiteboards and blank pieces of paper led to revelations!

Some exciting developments to look forward to:
- Improved clarity on our vision and goals
- Exciting new ways of sharing our vision to a broader audience
- Shifts in our market and who we seek to serve
- Bold thoughts for shaking up the sector, by introducing radical new ways of operating
- Newly formed legal structure
- Product roadmap and anticipated timelines for v2 release of http://theSoJo.net
- New Partnerships and Collaborations that are currently in the works
- Refined business model

Instead of documenting and announcing all of these revelations as they came to mind, I've decided to let them percolate in my mind. Transparency is our top priority, and more blog posts documenting all the details will come shortly. Our journey is a moving target, where we constantly must refine and realign, as the path is always changing. I suppose that's what keeps things exciting.

On a related note, SoJo challenge of email-free Saturdays was highly successful for the month of March, as I'd like to think that an entire day of disconnection each week has provided the mental space to think, and reflect on some of the issues noted above. I've decided to continue this challenge indefinitely!

I hope this inspires you to enjoy and disconnect over the long weekend!

 
 
_This morning Theresa Laurico and I had a great conversation about life, values, faith, meaning, purpose, courage and being true to yourself. Theresa is the co-chair to the SociaLIGHT Conference, the venue where SoJo will be publicly launched. With less than 48 hours to both of our respective launches, those are not the topics of discussion one would normally expect.

SociaLIGHT is a manifestation of a dream that Theresa has been cultivating for the past 10 years (you will be able to follow Theresa's story on our platform). She faced her fears just a few months ago by committing herself entirely to pursing this dream that has been inside of her many years. Earlier this week Theresa lost a beloved family member. Her emotional rollercoaster is at an all-time high, with the excitement of seeing the much anticipated SociaLIGHT come to fruition and with the grieving of a close supporter and friend.

With less than 48 hours to SoJo's launch our nerves are definitely starting to kick-in, yet I remain calm and surprisingly collected. My conversation with Theresa invigorated and inspired me in a whole new way. Her courage and tenacity has given me a renewed strength.

We must remember that we are all human, emotions will hit us when we least expect them and life will take its course. On that same token, it is those emotions that allow us to follow our passions, dedicate our lives to building something truly meaningful and gives us a reason to live.

I am in admiration and in awe of Theresa's courage. The courage to let go of her fears and pursue a dream that she's been holding onto for so long, and more importantly the courage to accept her journey will be influenced by variables entirely out of her control. Thank you for inspiring us to dream big, but also for leading by example and remaining entirely grounded.
 
 
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Buffer [buhf-er] noun: a person or thing that shields and protects against annoyance, harm, hostile forces, etc., or that lessens the impact of a shock or reversal.

It is just past midnight. November 20th was set as our internal deadline to have the open Beta ready. Although we are launching on the 26th I was deliberate to set a buffer. Based on the minimal resources we are working with, a 5 day buffer felt very generous.

With the unpredictability of technology and working with a team of part-time volunteers, I could not treat this product launch like an essay and expect to pull an all-nighter the night before the launch and assume that everything will go smoothly. Organization and planning was key.

In addition to having a buffer [to avoid catastrophy in the event that the Beta is not complete on time or that there is a major problem to troubleshoot]; a week between product completion and launch was planned to give us ample time to test and refine the product, and also send a preview to our valued Beta testers and partners. Reflecting back on my expectations, I created a "plan" that intended to use the buffer for other things.

As I am writing this post, I can confidently confirm that our internal deadline was not met- and that our product is still very much under development. To my surprise though, I am not the least bit disappointed. With all hands-on-deck over the entire weekend, we made tremendous progress and I am so incredibly proud of our team. Today [for the first time] our product is starting to look like a unified product. Of course, according to the "plan" we should have been at this state much sooner. There was no Plan B, in case buffer time was actually needed as a buffer.

I could have been extra ambitious and pushed our team just a little harder to meet this deadline, but that would have actually accomplished little good for us. Our launch is just the beginning, and everyone onboard needs to be happy and healthy in order to endure the journey ahead of us. The needs of our team takes precedence above all else.
 
I've learned to appreciate what we do have, rather than what we should have had in an ideal situation. We literally have 100 different balls in the air right now. The workplan only increases with time [not because new requirements are added, but rather delays and core, fundamental components were never accounted for].
Buffers exist for a reason and I am thankful to have had the foresight to create one.

In a perfect world it would have been great to have everything go according to our "plan" - however we live in the real world and this new plan tells me we have 5 days to get a stellar site together.

 
 
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_ Friday morning I woke up feeling under the weather. I had "symptoms" for a few days prior, but conveniently decided to ignore them. Knowing that I could not afford to get sick; a visit to the doctor Friday morning had in-fact confirmed that my body was in the process of fighting off a virus. He did not know if my body's immune system would be strong enough to fight it off, or if I may find myself in bed the following week. I did receive three pieces of advice to help strengthen my body's immune system:

1. Stay hydrated
2. Take plenty of rest
3. Keep the stress levels down

Terrified of the idea of being bed-ridden while our entire team hustles to get the open Beta ready in time for our launch, I followed the doctor's advice. I overdosed on vitamins and tea; unplugged from work for the past three days; took care of my body and myself. For the rest of the week I intend on working at a more relaxed pace. This does feel like a setback in the short-term, but I know that it will be more beneficial to SoJo in the long-run.

Amazing how its only when your body is about to crash that you're motivated to take better care of it. They say entrepreneurship is a marathon. Working on overdrive to get the site ready in time for the launch feels quite destructive, as we have much greater goals to accomplish beyond the November 26th launch date. For that reason alone we should never neglect ourselves, the individuals behind the ideas, as an idea is only so good as its ability to be transformed into reality. It is the individuals who turn ideas into reality Our product will be ready in time for the launch. It won't be perfect. That's ok.

There is absolutely no reason to stress either. SoJo's team and I are creating something we truly believe in, we're working really hard and trying our best to make this launch as successful as it can be. At the end of the day, we are human, there are only 24 hours in a day and everyone needs to take care of themselves in order to do greatness in this world.

I challenge you to make a conscience decision to take care of yourself as you embark on your journeys of making the world a better place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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