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Written by Zainab

Managers often have done the work that the people they manage now do. That previous experience allows them to relate to and guide their employees, while being able to keep their eye on the overarching vision behind the work as the team together work towards that larger end goal. In my case, that works well with the editors since I'm able to guide them as they begin with us. Since I continue to edit our content from time to time, particularly when the material is lengthier or more abstract, I am always finding new ways of doing things faster or easier. Therefore, I never really am out of touch on that aspect.

However, it's a different process when you're managing someone where you don't understand or know much about the subject or expertise they bring to the table. AJ, Jesse, and I all have someone like this on each of our teams: our financial and policy analyst (Sabrina), web and graphic designer (Kaitlin), and SEO (search engine optimization) analyst (Jeff) respectively all bring each of us some expertise that we each need to make sure that .

Generally, I'm trying to adopt a different approach to management by looking at it as mentoring and vision rather than making it mostly about direction and tasks. So whereas I take a mentoring approach with many of the editors, I look to Jeff to act as my consultant on SEO - because I know that he has a deeper understanding about this area than I do. He helps me learn about what SEO is about – basically marketing the content online – and I get to ask him any questions I have about what SEO rules work for our content at SoJo. True, sometimes some best practices in SEO might not clash with best practices in other areas like content or social media. However, Jeff helps provide all the possible options and then we can see what works best for us by looking at which options along the spectrum align with our goals and values.

Without doubt, one should treat all employees with the same amount of respect and empowerment. However, it is absolutely necessary in these cases to provide that kind of autonomy and independence to do the work at hand – if you don’t know anything about that topic, you can’t provide too much input without a bit of learning first. This then provides both me personally and SoJo as an organization to really learn from each of its employees – especially the smart ones like Jeff.
 
 
Written by Zainab

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

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

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

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

Though I wasn't sure if I could discuss any topics where such expertise was required, we're going back to getting the most we can out of the DMZ with meetings like this. The DMZ is a great resource for us overall; being present and engaged in the DMZ allows us to build the relationships and better access that support and expertise when we need it most.
 
 
Written by Zainab

As we were preparing for AJ’s temporary departure from SoJo, I gave a lot of thought to the support. Because we are in the office the most, I speak mostly from my observations of Jesse, AJ, and myself – especially over the past few months. This is the second post from a two-part series. Click here for my post on getting support within SoJo.

Though we certainly support each other within the organization, we also find support in people outside of SoJo – especially from people who operate in the same capacities we do. For Jesse, that may be other web/product developers in the DMZ because they understand the same technical issues and can learn from each other. For Kanika and now AJ, that seems to be other Founders and CEOs, as they navigate the same challenges at the helms steering their organizations towards particular visions.

Though I don’t know if there are any other full-time editors in the DMZ, I have found that external support mostly in one of the other day-to-day managers. Though Omid's company is about marketing apps and we’re about content, we also deal with some very similar issues as we both ensure that everything is running smoothly at our respective organizations.

You would wonder though what we discuss, considering there are certainly things you cannot disclose (many organizations have non-disclosure agreements). Here are some of the ways in which we support each other by sharing:
  • Frustrations. For example, we both have had students working for us, and we’ve discussed what one would do when managing youth, who do not necessarily operate in the same ways we’re used to in the professional or entrepreneurial world.
  • Expertise. Because we work in different areas, we give the other tips that can help us improve our own functions at the office. For example, I told him how I don’t feel confident when I’m pitching. He’s in marketing, so he gave me a few pointers and assured me that it comes with practice.
  • Company. Sometimes, we may be the only one around for each of our respective companies so we talk, laugh, and usually have a buddy for information sessions or office lunches.

I find that support like this provides me with new perspectives and suggestions, particularly if that person has a similar role elsewhere. In turn, I become a better intrapreneur when I learn from others, both in and outside the organization.
 
 
Written by Zainab

As we were preparing for AJ’s temporary departure from SoJo, I gave a lot of thought to the support. Because we are in the office the most, I speak mostly from my observations of Jesse, AJ, and myself – especially over the past few months. This is the first post from a two-part series. Stay tuned for my post on finding support outside of SoJo.

At most organizations I’ve been involved with, I have found at least one person who is the pillar of support I automatically turn to. It’s almost always been a mutual relationship and often it’s the person or people you share an office or desk space with, simply because of the vicinity. Though everyone at SoJo is so wonderfully supportive, I certainly have some go-to people – at least one because of the fact that we’ve both been with SoJo for a year, and then Jesse and AJ, because we work on SoJo full-time.

It’s interesting to note that in some ways, you end up sharing a lot with them because you see each other on a very regular basis. You’ll certainly share the life events and the big aha-moments, as well as the day-to-day events that are tiny and just need to be shared, whether they are related to work or not.

I should emphasize that support isn’t always about work complaints or office gossip, though we have the occasional issues and bad days too.

Here’s just some of the wonderful ways we support each other at Team SoJo to help grow our work, our impact, and each other:
  • Sharing resources to improve our skills. I once mentioned how working with our development student made me curious about learning coding and Jesse told me about http://www.codecademy.com, a free website to help people interactively learn coding.
  • Sharing ideas. AJ and I will often share ideas in the morning when we come in together, because we know that it often helps to just ask someone else what they think about an idea or change from the usual.
  • Keeping each other accountable. Marc and I have been at SoJo for around the same amount of time and so we often kept each other accountable for our weekly goals. This month, I know Jesse and I will both be keeping each other responsible for our individual projects.
  • Understanding different perspectives. Often, if I’ve struggled with managing the editors, Kanika has asked me to consider other perspectives and encouraged me with ways that I can address the issue at the source.
  • Providing validation. Before AJ left, she and I had a few conversations where she imparted her words of wisdom on running SoJo, and how she knew she had faith in me to manage it all with Jesse. I didn’t realize it but those words definitely going to stick with me as we undergo some new activities this month, while ensuring our site is always working in the best interests of our users.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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This is Part 2 of 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.

As SoJo has embarked on its fundraising journey, I've been repeatedly suggested to explore crowdfunding as a solution to secure the early-stage social innovation seed funding that does not exist within more traditional mainstream donors.

Although crowdfunding is great (as it has probably mobilized more capital to early-stage startups in the past few years than any other source), it is not the greatest option for a non-product, validated, high-growth, pre-revenue model type of organization such as SoJo.

After some internet investigation, reading articles and a conversation the founder of a crowdfunding platform, I was able to draw the following insights that informed my decision not to crowdfund to support SoJo's growing financial needs:

We're not pre-selling a fancy gizmo or producing a tangible product.
All of the mega-success stories that I read about in the press were tied to a campaign that essentially pre-sold a neat, tangible product. A recent Financial Times article validated my findings by stating: most investments don't go into the company. Money is put up for a product, and investors have no stake in the company, beyond the product. SoJo is looking to align with funders who are excited about our vision and who will provide us with ongoing non-monetary support to build out our vision. Crowd-funders cannot do that. Further, SoJo is not a product "for sale," and we are serving a very niche market. Although there are funders that give to campaigns whose vision they believe in, the mega successes are outliers and the odds don't work in our favour.

Users as donors?

I've been told that the best way to validate SoJo as a concept is to ask every user to pay for it. Everyone can afford a $5 donation, even a struggling social entrepreneur that sees the value of SoJo. Over the next year, SoJo's main focus will be building out the online community, facilitating meaningful connections between our users and increasing our user-base 10x. With such ambitious goals, we have to be strategic of how we use our existing network to grow it. I believe SoJo will have more success engaging users as ambassadors over funders; and in the long-run, that will be much more beneficial to SoJo.

The strength of our network.
My research shows that approximately 80% of funds come from your network. Successful campaigns require both solid 1st degree connections and an expansive broader network. Even if our users (who make-up most of our immediate networks) are willing to contribute $5 towards SoJo's vision, I do not expect them to reach out to their networks on our behalf. In fact, it is SoJo's desire that they tap into their networks for support to their ideas, as we're ultimately rooting for the success of our users.

It probably won't bring in enough money.
Based on the size of our networks and the amount of energy we would invest in this campaign, my best guess is that SoJo will raise about $50,000 from a campaign. I'm not discounting how far this money will go, but right now, I'm looking for a much larger injection of funds to fuel SoJo's growth. Once team members go on payroll, our burn-rate will increase exponentially and I don't want to be concerned about fundraising every quarter to keep the team going. This stress will take away from actual SoJo-building activities. If the campaign does not bring in enough money to support our cashflow needs over the next 18 months, then I will be forced to split my focus on fundraising and growing SoJo. It is impossible to do two things well at the same time, and such a position would be detrimental to SoJo.

Being a user-driver resource, I would have loved for crowdfunding to be the right solution to our needs, as it would fit so well into our core values. Unfortunately, I do not feel comfortable investing our stretched resources on a campaign that won't yield the desired results.

And so the journey continues...

SoJo is a unique start-up, so if you are considering crowdfunding, I encourage you to conduct a thorough analysis related to your specific needs before making a decision. If you're in the early-stages of getting started, and want to explore crowdfunding, there is a platform exclusively for social good ideas called StartSomeGood.com, which has supported over 100 successful campaigns. Clearly this works for many, its just not right for SoJo right now.


 
 
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Kanika talking about SoJo on the main stage
This past weekend, SoJo participated in the SociaLIGHT conference. This is the same conference that SoJo launched its public beta exactly one year ago. SociaLIGHT and SoJo are often seen as sister companies, as we both launched at the same time, have the same vision of the future and work in a very complimentary fashion to deliver on our respective organizational mandates.

The conference came in great anticipation. The team hustled for the past month to re-launch newer and improved SoJo in time for the event. 5 SoJo team members signed up to participate at the conference, to stand at our booth, demo the site and engage first-hand with our users.

I was excited for the opportunity to deliver a keynote on the main stage, to share SoJo's story; how we came to SociaLIGHT, what it took to launch at such a big event, and the successes achieved as a result of the public launch and learnings acquired over the past year. It is my hope that I inspired the 1000-person audience to have the courage to act on their ideas. SoJo's first major milestone was its public launch at SociaLIGHT, and since that launch, we've come a long way.

The following day, I delivered a more intimate, interactive and hands-on workshop to a smaller group of participants on the "how-to" of turning ideas into action. Although everyone was tired from such a high-energy event the previous day, even at 5pm on Sunday evening I was in a room filled with engaged and excited individuals eager to learn.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the weekend was the love and energy shared by everyone present. A number of delegates who saw SoJo launch last year approached myself and members of the team with great pride, to see us again, but to also say: "I was there when it all started." I'm thrilled that our users and community share in the success and pride of SoJo, as this is a tool for them, built by them. Overall, SociaLIGHT was an incredible weekend and SoJo couldn't have been happier to share our journey with this wonderful organization!  

 
 
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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
 
 
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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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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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Yesterday I had a great lunch meeting with a distant informal advisor, with the goal of further building the relationship, getting up to date on developments and seeking guidance. Before even ordering lunch we had a conversation on capital markets, which then evolved into international affairs and global politics, and finally transitioned into an intense discussion on the upcoming Quebec elections. (Note: before this conversation, I did not even know Quebec was having an election, knew nothing about the candidates running and what implications this election could have on the country and SoJo). Without sounding like a complete idiot, I grasped for common points and attempted to join this conversation in a coherent and intelligent manner. Impressions and rapport are integral in the infancy of building sustained relationships. It would be unfortunate to spoil this relationship over my ignorance of the world beyond my own, but then again, there is no reason why I shouldn't be more informed.

Pre-SoJo, I used to read the newspaper on a daily basis. Getting my fix of current affairs was so important for me to feel relevant and connected to the world.  When I look at my twitter feed, there is more news on the latest tech gadgets than on what's happening in the world. I can't remember the last time I read the newspaper and I find myself in technology-focused conversations with everyone I meet.
This lunch meeting was a wake-up call; to get out of my bubble.

Working in [physical] isolation without other people won't get you very far. Likewise, operating in an insular bubble, isolated from the outside world and happenings outside of your immediate surrounding does not make good business sense either. Being aware of the world around us, and the interconnectedness of different current affairs will undoubtedly enhance the quality of the products and services geared to social change.

That being said, if you're not a political analyst, I do not believe it is the best use of your time to read every political commentary published, because your time is likely best spent focusing and developing the ideas you seek to bring to life. Finding time to stay relevant is important and should be valued accordingly. It is easy to get caught up in a bubble and get over consumed in your work. Social change is complex and the more aware and connected we are, the better we are at identifying opportunities and understanding the implications of our work.


 
 
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Upon publishing this blog post, I'll be on my way to an overseas trip. Over the next two weeks, no computer or emails. After the intense launch, this will be my opportunity to recharge the batteries and give my body the much needed rest it deserves. I'm equally looking forward to calming the mind and regaining focus for moving forward.

Someone once told me the best thing you can do for your business is to travel. Submersing yourself in a different culture and spending time getting to know different ways of life is a great way of diversifying perspectives and building great insights. Although I will not be monitoring emails, I do look forward to distraction-free time of strategizing and planning.

I was asked by multiple people this week who will be in-charge while I'm away. The answer: everyone. SoJo prides itself in not having a pronounced hierarchy, as such it is my hope that each team members holds themselves accountable to completing their tasks and keeping the ship moving. Traffic online has increased five-fold since the launch. It is crucial that we keep the momentum up, and not let the ball drop. A challenge indeed, as movement slowed down after the Beta launch.

Bottlenecks are never good, and we cannot afford to have any during the month of July. To avoid a potential slowdown, I created detailed goals for the month for each team member. I definitely underestimated the effort required to put these workplans together as it involved thinking two steps ahead for everyone. Just completed my last call, and feel confident that the team is ready to push the ship for.

The past 6 months have been dominated by execution and operations. I'm eagerly awaiting the luxury of thinking, and dreaming...


 
 
"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." - Henry Ford

SoJo's entire team came together for the first time less than 4 weeks ago. It is safe to assume we kept together, as yesterday SoJo had an incredibly successful official launch. With primarily remote and virtual interactions, everyone worked together as one cohesive unit to create magic.

While still in bed at 5:45am, with great anticipation I checked out newly released http://theSoJo.net. The first thought that came to mind as I was browsing the completed product: SoJo has the most incredible team. I couldn't be prouder of the product we released and of the incredible people who were instrumental in bringing it together.

The chemistry found in our team is something quite special. Although incredibly diverse, what unites everyone is their passion for SoJo. Even under a high-pressured environment with super aggressive timelines and a multitude of mini-setbacks, I did not hear a single complaint. Everyone owned SoJo and took it upon themselves to achieve their individual goals to meet a shared milestone. It has been a pleasure to see everyone grow over the past few weeks. New skills were acquired. A deeper understanding of the product was gained. And an even greater sense of belonging to SoJo was felt.

We have a team that looks out for each other. In order to do well (and to make the world a better place), we need to be well ourselves. Just shy of midnight, the night before the launch, editor Marc and designer Bill physically escorted me out of the office. After 15 continuous hours of plugging away, they had the foresight to remind me that I, too, am human.  

To celebrate the launch and UNESCO's endorsement, SoJo hosted its first ever party. Invitees were primarily partners, supporters and users of SoJo. Overwhelmed by a room packed with great energy and pride, I was humbled and in awe by the outpouring of compliments geared directly towards the team.

Last night, after seeing the team interact with each other at the bar and reflecting on what was accomplished over the past few months, did I acknowledge for the first time the intangible, yet beautiful team culture SoJo is fortunate to have. It feels as though this culture organically built itself over the past few weeks.
Rare and a further testament to how amazing Team SoJo is!
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Toronto-based SoJo Team - Photo taken by Calvert Quatch
 
 
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In a start-up, there is lots to do. With only a few people involved, skills don't always match what is currently need to be done. With the upcoming launch 5 days away, and super limited resources (time and human capital), everyone is expected to do their part to achieve communal goals.

Since joining the team, Victor has been monitoring user behaviour online via various analytics tools. As of this week, he is also now working with the content team to get the Toolbox in top shape before the re-launch. He just completed part one of sourcing all of the tools, he now has to put them online. The Toolbox is one of the only sections on the new site that remains in HTML (the other sections have templates, making it easier for editors to add the content).

Victor has never worked in HTML, but because he updated the Toolbox he is best positioned to transfer all of that content online. So, I decided to invest the time to train him on the basics of HTML. Over the course of our conversation, not only was I able to instruct him on the basics of coding logic, but that he very painlessly understood it all, and quickly.

What started as a leap of faith has since translated into great relief, as I am now reassured that the Toolbox will be complete in time for the launch. Moreover, I was overwhelmed with pride for two reasons:

(1) SoJo has an incredibly smart team, with people who are able to learn how to code in one afternoon!
(2) A year ago, I knew nothing about web languages and prior to SoJo avoided almost everything to do with technology. I now find myself able to teach basic programming skills, even virtually over Skype. When you are working towards achieving such a large vision, it is difficult to see the little wins/progresses along the way. Today is a living testament to how much I've grown through SoJo.

In start-up everyone must often wear multiple hats. All of them may not fit on the onset, however that should not stop you from learning how to make them fit. You may be surprised to see what is possible.

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Screen shots of both computer screens side-by-side via Skype
 
 
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Now that SoJo's content site is going out of Beta, we will be more aggressive in building the Brand of SoJo as being a credible and legitimate destination for guidance and support. Design is integral in building our brand, and showcasing all that SoJo has to offer. Our designer Bill is tied with two major projects for the launch, and does not have the capacity to work on other detail-intensive design needs. 

In early May I went on a mission to source a talented junior designer to work with SoJo for the summer. Last Monday, we were ready to welcome a designer for a summer internship with SoJo. Unfortunately a family urgency forced this individual to decline the internship, and we were left with an empty position and less than 4 weeks to launch.

Everyone on the team is working in overdrive, and there was no time to do another formal recruitment process to find another designer. I was disappointed, however did not have time to let myself get affected by this setback. Later that day I contacted other entrepreneurs in the Digital Media Zone. This is a collaborative workspace, and I was completely overwhelmed by the support that flooded in. The next day I had a list of potential candidates. One week later, our new designers, Katie and Shuchi, are already working on two SoJo projects.

Although the position was originally intended for one person, two candidates stood out above the group. They came from very different backgrounds, had distinctly unique design senses and in many ways possess complementary non-design skillets. With only a 30minute interview and one design assignment, this was an incredibly difficult tough decision to make within a few minutes. Knowing both individuals can add a lot of value to SoJo, I trusted my gut and decided to welcome both of them to the team.

It does takes more effort to manage workplans and ensure the internship is a meaningful experience for two people, however my thinking was that the co-design process would actually enhance the quality of work of each individual. They can use each other as sounding boards, learn from each other, and build valuable collaboration and team-work skills. Design is often seen as an individualistic activity, so we're experimenting with this idea of co-designers.

At first impression, it seems crazy to recruit new talent a less than 3 weeks away from a product launch, however I learned that it is possible to recruit under incredibly tight timelines, and in order to accomplish the former you need to act fast.

This is how the process went:
June 4, 8am: SoJo is left with an empty design position
June 5: Referrals for potential applicants start coming in
June 5, 5pm: Emails are sent to applicants requesting an interview
June 8, all day: SoJo conducts back-to-back interviews with applicants
June 8, 8pm: Applicants are provided with a test
June 11, 10:30am: SoJo deliberates
June 11, 11am: Internship offer letters are sent to successful candidates
June 11, 4pm: Positions are formally accepted, interns have been oriented and are good to go!
June 12, 9am: First meeting takes place.


 
 
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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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An invitation to keynote an event to a group of students and community of professionals interested in global leadership led me to Ottawa. After networking and meeting with people internationally in the UK and in the United States, a trip to Canada's national capital was well overdue. My meetings in Ottawa went very well, and resulted in new partnerships and collaborations for SoJo.

The only meeting without an "agenda" was a visit to the HUB Ottawa. Part of the global Hub network, HUB Ottawa is a place-based member community and co-working space that offers a unique mix of infrastructure, programming and connections to help people kick-start, co-create and grow enterprising ideas for a better world.

Vinod, the Managing Director of HUB Ottawa is a good friend and in many ways our entrepreneurial journeys have been running in parallel. Always keenly interested in social innovation, Vinod was helpful in connecting me with research participants for my thesis which ultimately led to the creation of SoJo. While I was in the early stages of figuring out what Social Journal would look like, Vinod was percolating ideas of how to make Ottawa a city more welcoming for innovation, and had creative ideas for unconventional ways of getting youth to inform the policy-making process -- and so our journeys began. I started SoJo in Toronto and he set out to transition out of his job to work full-time on bringing the HUB to Ottawa. Despite being in different cities, working in different industries (physical infrastructure vs. virtual technology), and in different life phases (Vinod is married and has a mortgage), in many ways we could relate to each other and would periodically check-in on each other's journeys. We hashed out our shared frustrations around access to financing, the inefficiencies and redundancies that exist in the current social innovation landscape in Canada, used each other as sounding boards, shared updates on mini-successes and talked about the difficulties of letting go of team members.

The same weekend SoJo launched our public Beta, The HUB hosted their first open-house to invite future members to preview their new home. Having the opportunity to see the HUB Ottawa complete and witness Vinod interacting with the members of this community he was instrumental in creating was humbling and exciting. It was great to share in the success of this new venture, an idea which I had a chance to see develop every step of the way on the sidelines.

In many ways our two ventures are very different, however it was great to have a fellow entrepreneur-friend be with me along my journey. No venture is built alone, and both of us have great teams and advisors - however the entrepreneur, the individual who has invested all of themselves in their ventures, face a different set of pressures and challenges. Building a peer-support network of entrepreneurs going through a similar journey (at the same time as you) is very healthy, as they can relate to what you're going through, which allows you to speak open and candidly without fear of judgment. Another companion great to have during this roller-coaster of a journey. 

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

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

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

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

 
 
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_SoJo is on the lookout for amazing talent to join our growing team of individuals passionate about supporting youth in their journeys of making our world a better place. 2 months into the launch of an incredibly successful public Beta, we have an imminent need of expanding our team to develop Phase 2 of SoJo.  This is a primary focus, and thus I have allocated about half of my schedule this week alone to meeting prospective candidates.

The last time we had a mass recruitment like this was in May when we recruited our Analysts.  Everyone who has been part of SoJo thus far have been instrumental in bringing SoJo to where it is today. Some have left SoJo and moved onto other opportunities. With a smaller team and more work to do, we are incredibly excited to bring some fresh blood and energy to the team to help us achieve our goals in this next phase. This time around though, we're looking for fewer generalists and have more specific roles to fill. Now that SoJo's approach better defined, we have a clearer idea of who we're looking to bring onto the team and how their contributions will directly impact SoJo's overall goals.

In early stage start-up mode, the expectation is that everyone does everything. As I review the job postings, it is clear that we're starting to outgrow early-stage startup mode and creating more structure to the organization. SoJo is growing up.

If you are looking to join SoJo or know someone who is looking for a meaningful opportunity to contribute to an organization that is committed to making significant impacts in this world, then please visit the postings online and spread the word: http://www.thesojo.net/about/team/join-the-team/

 
 
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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...