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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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"The future of technology is what you make it"
Those were the words of Nathan Masyuko, when speaking on stage at the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT) yesterday in Montréal in front of thousands of the worlds leading business leaders and thinkers in information technology. Next to him was the president of one of Canada's largest telecommunications companies who so eloquently said that he wishes to put more (dumb TV shows - name omitted for obvious reasons) into the hands of more people. 

It was quite a contrast.  I've been to a handful of technology conferences over the past 2 years and spoken at many over this past year. I'm accustomed to hearing the latter statement. The themes at tech conferences are fairly predictable: big data, attracting talent, connectivity, etc... I had yet to attend a panel or hear a keynote focused exclusively on how to use technology and the data at our disposal to channel creative talent and energy to better connect and support people in addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges. Or better yet, hear every speaker and exhibitor talking about that. 

The World Summit Youth Awards (WSYA) is an annual international competition for digital and social innovators under 30, and was held in parallel to WCIT this year in Montréal. Over a thousand youth who have built an innovative idea using technology to address the UN's Millennium Development Goals applied to this award.  The winners were invited to a 3-day event, which I felt privileged and honoured to be apart of.

I had the opportunity to play with haki, a mobile game built for a Nokia phone (the most widespread device in Africa) that educates its users on environmental degradation. Nathan, a Kenyan, co-developed this game and it’s been downloaded by thousands of people in the developing world. Beyond mobile games, there were online localized educational platforms, multimedia applications to build self-esteem among vulnerable populations, SMS services to deliver relevant information to farmers to help them yield better crops, a web-application that displays public finances in a more user-friendly manner to provide open access to data, and a tool that keeps Presidents in newly democratic countries accountable.

I walked away from the past three days inspired and energized. Inspired by the incredible stories of the WSYA winners, the creativity of their projects and exciting use of technology to solve some of the worlds most pressing challenges; and energized by the sheer enthusiasm and passion that I saw around me. This was no boring tech conference with people in suits talking in buzz words; I was surrounded by energy, passion and brains.

I've always been hopeful about the future, but I'm now more reassured that the future of technology is brighter than ever.  The WSYA winners are living proof that it’s possible to make tremendous impact with an idea, an incredible amount of tenacity, and of course, technology as the vehicle.

I'm delighted to announce that SoJo will be working with these incredible individuals and projects to bring them to the next level.

 
 
Collectively, I've spent more hours on MS Powerpoint this past week then I probably have over the past couple of months combined.

In school I absolutely hated slideshows, perhaps its because professors had the most un-engaging presentations or because whenever I saw someone use slides in a presentation, it felt overly corporate and impersonal. Unless absolutely mandatory, I often refrained from using this tool when making presentations. Even when defending my Master's Thesis (the research that inspired the creation of SoJo) I didn't use slides.

When delivering presentations on SoJo or hosting workshops on Ideas - into - Action, I've only recently started to use slides -- that too with stickmen and cartoons. In the countless meetings held over the past 2 years, I never used slides to explain SoJo either. I like to believe I'm a much more engaging presenter than a static slide, and as such preferred to lead more free-flow conversations. Now that SoJo is actively looking for money and soliciting the support of other people to help us in this quest -- I don't have the luxury of personal contact with everyone on their initial introduction to SoJo. As such have been creating overview/backgrounder documents to do the talking on my behalf.

Despite my reluctance to embrace Powerpoint in the past, I quickly started to love using this tool. I'm particularly appreciative of the flexibility and ease of moving around boxes and different types of content make my documents look more visually appealing.

Although I now have a newfound appreciation for slides as an effective form of communication, I still don't think a slide deck can ever replace a real conversation. Slides can serve as a great complementary support, as they allow the audience to visually capture key takeaway ponits, but should never be the focus. I already shared my first deck to a couple of people and hope to use a different one with the handful of meetings scheduled next week. Let's see if I'm able to use the deck effectively, or if I refer back to my comfort zone and lead a more free-form conversation...

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Excerpt from SoJo's latest overview slide deck
 
 
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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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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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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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Rebecca (far left) working with the team at the office
It is with great pleasure that I announce and welcome Rebecca Panja, SoJo's newest developer. She is working with SoJo part-time as an Associate Developer, working on both front-end and back-end development of SoJo's web-based products. A fresh Computer Engineering grad, Rebecca is excited to get her feet wet in the start-up world and have her mark on building technology that will positively impact society. Rebecca found her way to SoJo through a chain of referrals (quite serendipitous may I add). Although we had no posting at the time she approached SoJo, I was immediately impressed by her enthusiasm and knew we would make an opportunity for her with the team.

Rebecca joined SoJo eager to learn and further develop her skills, and her first couple of days with SoJo already proved that possible. Within the first week of joining our team, she has taught herself how to use our back-end framework, created front-end updates to the Public site, entrusted with the responsibilities for handing technical user feedback queries, and researched and built the public site's first forum. Given how much she was able to accomplish in her first week, I can only be thrilled for what lies ahead.

This newest edition to team SoJo is exciting for two reasons:

Our development team is growing. SoJo has an ambitious roadmap of what needs to be achieved through its products. Technology has historically been one of our greatest challenges. Rebecca's skills and energy will accelerate SoJo's development plans, getting us closer to achieving our organizational objectives.

Rebecca is SoJo's first female developer. She was invited to join the team because of her skills and attitude, however it is an added bonus that she happens to be a female. Women are seriously under-represented in technology; a fact that I find unfortunate. Having female technical talent on our team will bring added diversity and fresh perspectives. There is no doubt that the quality of our work will increase as a result.

Welcome aboard Rebecca!

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

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

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


 
 
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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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Announced at SoJo's team meeting this weekend, SoJo's next product launch will take place on June 28, 2012. We deliberately launched a bare-bones, half-developed Beta on November 26, 2011 with the goal of getting a product on the market. Over the past 7 months, we've collected a lot of feedback from the 1000s of individuals actively using SoJo, grown our team and have a much clearer understanding of the direction of the product implementation plan. It is time that we move into our next phase of development.
What can you expect in SoJo v2.0?
The overall design and layout will look the same. New category pages will be added, enhancing the navigation and making it easier to find relevant content. 100s of new articles and videos will be added online. The Getting Started section, which was never addressed in the initial launch, will be an interactive and comprehensive starting point for users who seek additional guidance.

The biggest changes will actually occur on the back-end of the website. The public Beta was assembled in a very ad-hoc fashion. No one on the team had experience with the platform, and we were all forced to teach ourselves the necessary skills to bring the product together. The site was deliberately built in that manner, as we had a deadline to meet, and a site needed to go live. That being said, I am extremely proud of public Beta and the team that worked around the clock to bring it together. We have since recruited the necessary talent and will optimize the backend code, so that the platform has a more robust foundation moving forward. The most noticeable difference for the users will be faster load times, and an overall better user experience.

Decision to leave BETA behind
SoJo is guided and co-created by our users, and changes will continuously take place. The word BETA is often attached to products that are still under development. Although we will always be "under development" the decision to drop BETA was more strategic.  SoJo currently offers a lot of value to its users, and I am confident that it will add even more value after this new release. By calling ourselves Beta, in many ways we are downplaying our strengths and what we offer presently. We can hide behind the word BETA forever, however it is time we put ourselves out to the world, an truly embrace imperfection.

SoJo will be more vulnerable to criticism and attacks, as expectations will inevitably increase. SoJo tells our community to Opt for Courage over Fear; this is exactly what we are doing. We have less than 4 weeks to bring this together, wish us luck!

 
 
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Earlier today Facebook, a privately held company, went public on the NASDAQ. The IPO (Initial Public Offering) of Facebook has been widely discussed in mainstream media for weeks. And for good reason too, as apparently one out of every seven minutes online is spent on Facebook.

Everyone has been drooling over Facebook's valuation of $104Billion dollars. Some (including myself) think this valuation is inflated with a lot of hype, some are mesmerized with our changing world, and how a virtual company can be worth more than McDonalds, Nike or Goldman Sachs, and others dream to build a company like Facebook.

However you chose to interpret Facebook's valuation, there is no doubt that expectations towards technology companies are increasing exponentially with time. With such high valuations, and companies like Instagram getting sold for $1billion within a year and a half of launching, reality is getting distorted. We've created these unreasonable expectations, where analysts and bloggers expect new entrants to have 1million users overnight, and grow their companies 10x in value instantly. Through SoJo, I feel this pressure directly, and more generally am concerned for the state of the industry.

Disclaimer: I am not among the 845million month active users on Facebook and have issues with their business model. That bias aside, I can appreciate what the company has done. 8 years in the making, Facebook created a brilliant product that meets the needs of its users. There are many things SoJo can learn from Facebook's product development path, namely around being attuned to the needs of users and continuous evolutions. I'm nervous however, that SoJo currently operates in an environment that is not as patient.

In 2004, Facebook would not have had 2.7billion Likes & Comments per day, and likewise, it is unreasonable to expect new entrants to do so today. Internet usage has changed, however iterations and growth need to evolve organically.

SoJo has approximately 2,000 active users within 6 months of launch. That is a huge number when you think of all the individual people we are supporting in their journeys of making social change happen. In the tech world however, that number is peanuts. The impact on the individuals today feels negligible, when everyone speaks in thousands and in millions.

I often use the iPod analogy to explain my frustrations with the impatient environment SoJo finds itself in. Post-Beta launch, I felt as though some people were expecting to see the iPhone5, forgetting there were over 20 iPod products on the market that inspired the first iPhone. With unreasonable expectations and a disillusionment with reality, some of SoJo's users and partners expect to see the best now. Over the past 4 months, I significantly reduced the amount of time spent at start-up socials and events, as everytime I would leave those events feeling inferior by all of SoJo's limitations. Similarly, I spend less time "selling" SoJo to prospective partners who are looking for the "iPhone5", and instead am focusing my energy on fostering existing relationships and building the infrastructure to support future iterations of our product.

I'm fairly positive that there was not a line-up outside the Apple Store back in 2001, when Apple released its first iPod. However back then, the ecosystem (users, market, retailers, analysts) were more patient and gave Apple the space needed to be creative, iterate and create massively popular products.

Fed by the ecosystem, we, the entrepreneurs (including myself) are often our worst critics. Why are we expecting iPhone5s, when they're still releasing our first generation iPod? I believe we should uphold ourselves to high standards, and that we should dream big. Rome wasn't built in a day, so please don't expect a world-shaking vision to be realized overnight.  

One of SoJo's core values is to Embrace Imperfection. I need to walk this talk, as I'm most content when I do so. The journey is not a sprint, and I need to constantly remind myself to scale back immediate expectations. We are feeding into the type, and will continue to focus on building a product that serves our users and adds value society.

What are you doing to not feed into the hype?

Sources: Facebook's IPO: What does it all mean?, Wikipedia iPod

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

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

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

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


 
 
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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...

 
 
We are actively looking for Partner who will join the team and oversee the technical evolution of the SoJo site and all product features. Making SoJo intuitive and custom to each user's unique needs is no easy feat, which requires exceptional talent and passion.

Bringing on a technical Partner is a big deal for a tiny start-up like SoJo. Not only will this individual be the second full-time staff (next to me) to join the team, they will be entrusted with significant responsibility and authority. Up until now, I've been actively involved in orchestrating and developing the public Beta, including teaching myself to code. The product has now reached a point, where it requires someone with a more specialized skillset to bring the product forward, as my time is better spent on the content and business side of SoJo.

Linus joined at the right time to bring the private Beta public. He was a superstar and taught himself many new skills to implement the necessary features, which led to an incredibly successful launch. Linus is not an expert in Wordpress and Web development. He joined SoJo to build experience, however has realized that his interests lie elsewhere and needs will focus his efforts on other priorities. Linus will maintain the existing site until we recruit a new technical team member, who will build it further.

This is a unique position, as we're looking for someone who is passionate about SoJo's vision and who has the necessary skillset to make it happen. Please help us share the job posting in your network and wish me luck!

 
 
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_Over the past week, I sent over 300 emails to my personal and professional networks announcing SoJo's launch. Keeping my network engaged in the successes and major milestones of SoJo is important for building and maintaining relationships, in addition to my personal support. Within only a few days of sending out emails to potential partners, announcing SoJo's launch, I've received an overwhelming response from organizations excited to start conversations with us.

When building a relationship with someone, sending a personalized email instead of a BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) goes a long way. Sure it is easier to place all contacts in the BCC field and send out all of the messages in one go, however it is also quite impersonal on the receiving end. Previously, I used to copy and paste the same message and send individually addressed emails to everyone on my mailing list, as I value the importance of that extra personal touch. Time is a premium and with a couple hundred messages -- individually sent emails did not seem like a smart option.

Through this need, I discovered mail merge. Mail merge is a tool that allows you to place all of your contacts in a spreadsheet and it automatically sends a custom email to each person. With mail merge I was able to setup several custom messages, organized my mailing list based on their interest/connection to SoJo and in a few clicks saved myself many, many hours of onerous labour from having to individually send out each message. Mail merge is an example of a tool that has helped me work smarter, not harder.

Disclaimer:
I realize that you may have received a "personalized" email from me in the last few days. You now know that it is actually a software that sent you that email, and perhaps you feel a little less important.
Please note that this is not the case and I hope you appreciate my honesty and transparency!

How to Mail Merge
Gmail / Google Applications - Follow the instructions here
Microsoft Outlook - Detailed instructions are provided in the Help section

 
 
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_It’s official: SoJo is now live and open to the world! Yesterday we launched our public Beta (http://theSoJo.net), and we are thrilled to make our tool available to support young people in their journeys of realizing social change. SoJo is still very much a work in progress, but with over a year of development behind us, I felt the time was right to move onto the next step.

Launching a new product is always a huge milestone, and we launched ours in a big way: SoJo strategically partnered with SociaLIGHT to make our tool a take-away resource for all of the conference’s participants. Known as Canada's ultimate entrepreneurship and leadership event, SociaLIGHT (Leaders Impacting Global Humanity Today) hosted speakers like Richard Branson, Seth Godin and Robin Sharma, and attracted 1000 young, bright, and ambitious delegates for a day of inspiration.
We’re excited to help those who attended the conference to channel this inspiration into tangible action.

We had the opportunity to interact with many of the conference’s participants, most of whom have an idea or are in the process of building a venture. We demonstrated the site in realtime, allowing our future users to better understand the product and get excited to use it as a resource in their endeavours. The feedback we received was phenomenal.

Up until the day before the launch, I had been so immersed building and fine-tuning the actual product that I was only able to see its shortcomings and limitations. Yesterday was the first time that I was able to take a step back and appreciate the product that our team created for what it is. Flaws and limitations included, we launched an incredible product with great potential. I'm still basking in the feeling of gratification and pride that was felt yesterday. I couldn't have even dreamed of a better way to launch this vision that I've been nurturing and developing for so long.

A product will never be perfect, nor will it ever be entirely ready either. Having the humility to accept that is one thing; having the courage to step outside of our safe community and expose ourselves to the world is something else entirely. It is our hope that the participants at SociaLIGHT and our users take inspiration from our choice to launch SoJo in its half-developed state.

It is time for young social entrepreneurs to come out of their basements. We need to embrace the risk that comes with sharing our ideas and half-baked products with the world, because it is the only way to bring our ideas to life.

We are excited to have our users co-create this site with us. We’ve laid the foundation, but this is only the first step of a much larger project. The momentum we received from yesterday alone is overwhelming and will carry us forward as we embark on the daunting task of realizing our vision.

We invite you to join us as we make the world a better place for those who venture to make the world a better place.

PS: We most definitely had some real victory dances on the dance floor at the afterparty!

 
 
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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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I spent the afternoon at an event hosted by Bloomberg called Empowered Entrepreneur. It was a primarily tech start-up crowd, where the panels were centred around high growth companies, venture capital, exit strategies. For the past few months, I've been mingling in many technology and "web 2.0" circles. SoJo is leveraging technology to deliver information in an organized and meaningful fashion to our user base. Down the road, it is possible that we create a unique technology to better meet the needs of our user base.

For someone who is brand new to technology, attending such events is a great way to learn, be immersed in the language and understand what is happening in the space. I appreciate the tech start-up mentality of taking action, getting out there and having your user base co-create a product with you. Its vibrant, dynamic and super fast-paced. It can be exhausting though. It is unrealistic for me to think that SoJo will be the next great thing tomorrow. It will take us time to build our community and be responsive to their needs. It will take patience and persistence to build partnerships with other players in the field and bring together a highly fragmented sector.

Earlier this morning I had a meeting with Erik from Capture Your Flag. They produce original content (in the form of videos), tracking individuals who are pursuing their passion and making impacts in their professional endeavours. Capture your flag has been documenting the stories of select individuals for over 3 years now, truly capturing their stories in real time and the decisions that individuals have to make. At SoJo, we're all about celebrating the journey and it was very refreshing to meet a fellow organization embracing similar values.  

SoJo is a start-up with a purpose. We are driven by the mission of supporting young social entrepreneurs in their journeys of creating social impact in their communities. Although phase one of SoJo is an online resource centre with information on starting a social venture, we have a lot in store and are in it for the long haul.

We must not distort our reality with overnight success stories. They say entrepreneurship is a marathon. SoJo's world-shaking vision of redefining what it means to be social entrepreneur is what fuels our stamina now, to keep us engaged as we figure out the rest. Are you on-board for the journey?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
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"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody." ~ Bill Cosby

SoJo is for our users and we are excited to have them co-create the Platform in a way that serves their needs. For this reason we opened our Beta test to anyone who is interested and are equally excited for the diversity of feedback that the testers will share with us.

We have sent out 6 rounds of Beta invites and the feedback has started to trickle in. Feedback is literally all over the map. There is tons of positive feedback and generally users like where the site is going. Content is still incomplete and we've received some pretty harsh feedback pointing at all of our shortcomings.

In technology we are encouraged to release prototypes early into the market to get validated feedback before the product officially launches. Using these principles, we launched a less-than-complete closed Beta site.

Keeping user loyalty online is difficult. If someone signs up for the Beta test and has a disappointing experience on our site, the cost to convince them to come back is perhaps higher than what it would be if they were invited a month later when the site was closer to our realized vision. These are constant struggles and tradeoffs need to be made.

On Day 1, SoJo cannot be everything to everyone. It will take time for us to realize our vision, however our current challenge is selling others on the vision that they cannot see right now. Managing expectations has been tough, and we cannot get discouraged if we don't meet all of our users' expectations in our early days.

So although the negative feedback was greatly appreciated, has been noted and placed in the queue to be implemented in due time -- we are learning to not take it as a personal attack, but rather extract the constructive bits and use that to improve SoJo.

I stand by our decision to release a less-than-perfect Beta, however we are deliberately keeping it closed to manage external expectations and avoid damaging SoJo's brand. It is my hope that our Beta testers are understanding to our current stage and are equally tolerant to wait for the changes and iterations to come online in due time.

A sincere thanks to everyone who has taken the time to sign up and share feedback. We do appreciate the effort and request your patience as we incorporate your feedback.

If you are interested in testing the site, please sign up here.

 
 
SoJo's first video has been a work in progress for quite some time. We storyboarded the concept back in June (see earlier post) and it has been in production and post-production ever since! The team member who initially committed to producing the video, through trial and error, discovered that she was unable to produce a video to the quality that was expected. Finally, our designer Bill picked up the pieces to make this final product.

Once a video is viewed in its entirety, changes and deviations off the initial vision are inevitable. The challenge with working virtually is that each minor change needs to be made via email. There is lag time in between each email. With multiple iterations back and forth and many people involved, you can imagine how demanding it was to make changes. At one instance, the lack of clear communication caused two people to work on the same task at the same time, which resulted in unnecessary duplication of efforts. In other instances, broken communication loops resulted in no-one taking ownership over specific tasks and the video getting shunned to the back-burner.

After several iterations we had a video that we were pleased with, however it was created in a format unrecognizable on YouTube and many video players. After various consultations, downloading dozens of trial versions of software to convert this video, we were finally successful. Now that this amazing video is complete, it is our hope that it goes viral and inspires our future users: those with bold and innovative ideas to visit the platform and take action.

Some valuable lessons we learned getting here include:

Looks can be deceiving: The learning curve of making an animated video is steep. Although videos may look simple, teaching yourself how to make one is not so straightforward and requires an incredible amount of patience and attention to minute details.

Plan every detail to the T: Even with a storyboard, post-production took much longer than anticipated. Don't underestimate the importance of creating a detailed storyboard and the amount of time post-production will actually take.

Persistence is key: This 90second video felt like the never-ending project that dragged on. With multiple edits, technical challenges, duplicate copies and probably over 100 emails in total between all people involved. Without persistence, this project would have been on the chopping block multiple times and we wouldn't be able to share this amazing video with you!

A Project lead is imperative: This video did not have a clear owner, and as result no-one took accountability to ensure the project got complete. Over the course of this project, 6 individuals were actively involved in getting the video prepared. Everyone worked on individual tasks, however someone was needed to bring the entire project together and hold all other team members accountable for their individual parts.
 
 
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SoJo is an online platform that is community driven. Our goal is to reach as many people as possible and to make it easy for potential users in need of SoJo to find us. We imagine that most users will not come to SoJo by typing our website in their browser, but rather get linked to us from other sources/searches. Optimizing our presence online is thus key to realize our goal of the #1 referred site to help youth in their journeys of creating social ventures.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a science. There is a thriving industry of companies that have figured out how to crack the system and ensure your search results come out on top. SoJo doesn't have money to spend on SEO, so we have opted for a more organic, do-it-yourself approach. Attached is our Strategy for our pre-Beta launch phase.

Our SEO efforts will go hand-in-hand with the organization's goals. Until the site is in open Beta, we want to increase Beta tester sign-ups, traffic to this blog and buzz around SoJo. Not knowing what to do, we created a strategy to provide some order to this process. Once the site is live, we will create a Strategy on indexing the content so that it appears in searches online.

SoJo comes from SocialJournal and unfortunately there are many sojos online. We struggled to come up with a unique name that is meaningful (see earlier post) and therefore decided to hedge our risk of using a more common name by mastering SEO to come out on top.

Earlier today I typed "SoJo" in Google and our landing page was hit #5 and blog was #7. This is impressive, because last time I checked we were no-where to be seen. Soon enough we will be #1.

Kudos to our Shad Intern Vishal who spearheaded this process! We still have tons to learn and it is an evolving process, but I am fairly optimistic that SoJo will master SEO in due time.

 
 
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Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will SoJo be either. In order to meet deadlines, when building the initial closed Beta, we decided a release-cycle needed to be in place, to phase-in the different requirements. Recognizing that it takes time and iterations to realize a vision, a release cycle allowed us the space we needed.

From our multiple brainstorming sessions, we compiled a list of elements: (features and requirements) that eventually needed to make it to the platform. These elements were not prioritized, nor were any of them attached to a timeline. As a result, there was  a massive list of elements to be implemented, but no structure in the process which left many unanswered questions.

Although a little late, today I finally completed our Development Roadmap. The Development Roadmap lays out the vision of the Beta site and all of the key elements (from a technical perspective) that need to be phased into the platform. Each requirement is attached to a specific release cycle, which allows the technical team to prioritize tasks and push to achieve certain goals. Although many guesstimates were made about how long it would take to implement the specific elements, having this structure laid-out will really help the technical team see their progress as well as how each tiny task fits into the larger vision.

Product v1.2 will be released on Friday morning. According to the Development Roadmap, every Friday morning we will release an updated version of the platform which will incorporate different elements that are in the pipeline as well as Feedback from our Beta testers. Knowing that our release cycles are fixed dates and that changes will be viewed by testers that are external to SoJo, I am hoping this will add an extra incentive for timelines to be met.

This experience has taught me to not under-estimate the importance of planning and clearly writing out tasks that are assigned to timelines. It sounds obvious now that I mention it, but when you're in the grind it takes special effort to take a step back and invest some time into planning and creating a roadmap.

 
 
SoJo's v1.0 Beta site is finally up and I am immersed with a great feeling of pride and accomplishment! This is SoJo's first big milestone and one worth celebrating.

The following quote has been our guiding principle:
"One piece advice I would give to people just starting up that I wish knew is that success is less about the idea and more execution. Don’t wait until you have the great idea or have refined all the plans, just get something up and start iterating." - Ben Hatten

Knowing nothing about web design or development, it has been a challenging process to facilitate discussions and lead a team to reach milestone. Hours of brainstorming sessions on key requirements, mock-ups on whiteboards, creating specific feedback through Powerpoint illustrations, to a final implementation on a live site - and this is just the beginning! (Having team members in different cities forced us to be creative in our communication efforts).
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In technology they say everything will take twice as long and cost twice as much money. Since we had no financial resources and this site was brought together by part-time volunteers with multiple commitments outside of SoJo, it is fair to say it has taken us much longer than anticipated to get here. That being said, we still respected our deadline of releasing the closed Beta in July. Goals were respected on the content side as well, as we have over 100 articles online and there is tons of content in the pipeline waiting to go up.  Although this site is far from perfect and is missing many elements, it is still a great starting point. As SoJo says: its less important where you start, or how you start, what's more important is that you start your journey.

 A victory-dance is in order for Team SoJo. We pushed hard to make it this far and are excited about the possibilities moving forward. We hope you stick around for the ride!

Invites will be rolled out to closed Beta testers in stages over the next week. We will be Beta testing the site throughout the Summer, so if you have not yet signed up, you can do so here and preview a work-of-art in the making. Big thanks to those who supported us and shared feedback to achieve this milestone.