About an hour ago I submitted SoJo's application to the Future Fund. This was the fifth and final step of a long, tiring and very competitive process. SoJo is among the finalists and we have a really good chance of securing the funding needed to grow our organization. This is a great opportunity (especially in light of our recent funding challenges), so I prioritized extra effort on this task.
While this was my first time writing a grant proposal and my learning curve was fairly steep, it wasn't my first time writing a proposal. Last year started with SoJo's application to a prestigious Fellowship
, I assisted Jesse writing our first research fellowship (which he received), and despite everyone's doubts - I miraculously completed an intense 89-page proposal for a Research Grant
in the Fall.
Similarly, SoJo has been through 4 product launches: a closed Beta
, open Beta
, official launch
and finally a cross-platform
mobile version. All of those launches resulted in working around the clock, all-hands-on-deck attitude, intense focus and endless details. Many parallels can be shared with the experience of writing major proposals and product launches, however my attitude is different towards both of them: Saying what you're going to do vs. Just doing it
SoJo has been action-oriented since its inception. Innovation is not knowing all the answers, so we trusted the process and consistently received gratification as we learned and progressed. On the other hand, telling people exactly what you plan to do and how you're going to do it is quite tiring. To me, it feels contrived, and in some ways an inefficient use of time to write out a master plan- as it is rare that things go according to plan. Control over timelines
All of our product launch dates were self-imposed. We decided when we wanted to complete them, and held ourselves accountable to ensuring all launches occurred on time. Application deadlines are not in our control, and often force us to work at times when we do not want to work: ie over the Holidays or during key strategic business planning times. Control over outcomes
The win from a product launch is clear: our product advances and is better. The win from a proposal isn't so clear. If you are successful - awesome. Team SoJo has collectively invested over 100 hours into this recent application. If we're unsuccessful, there will be great disappointment for not succeeding and frustration for all the time that was invested with little to show. I'm learning to lower my expectations on outcomes and seek value from the process instead.
While its clear that product launches are a lot more exciting for our team while we're in them, writing applications for external support are just as important to grow the organization. I must treat them both with great importance and while the outcomes are different, the time dedicated to each one is equally valuable.
The last day of the year is always a very reflective day for me. Reflecting on all that was accomplished and learned -- and how that will influence behaviour and decisions in the coming year.
2011 was a highly experimental exploratory year. While there was great confidence in the need for a resource like SoJo, we didn't know exactly HOW it would come to life. With100s of exploratory meetings and discussions, and an incredible amount of hard work the year ended with our first beta product launch.
2012 can be summarized as the year of fighting.
With a product under our belt an increased clarity on how SoJo fits into the world, we were:
- Fighting to prove our legitimacy to prospective partners
- Fighting to explain the value of SoJo to people who just weren't listening
- Fighting to establish and defend our legal structure (which we're still figuring out)
- Fighting to convince funders of the impact created by SoJo
- Fighting to get the attention of people who blatantly dismiss and ignore us
- Fighting against a system and sector that operates fundamentally in contradiction to our values
- Fighting to show the world that we are capable of doing the intangible and achieving excellence
Demand for SoJo's resources are higher than ever. At the same time, our team is more stretched than ever before. I need to be cautious of how we allocate our resources and energy. Mental energy expended on fighting is wasted resources that serve no value to SoJo. I'm done fighting. I'm done with the associated negativity. I'm done with trying to prove myself or SoJo to others.
Most of my talks this year were centered on struggle, adversity and overcoming the naysayers. SoJo is in a beautiful position to invent the future. It is so much more powerful to inspire through a vision, instilling values of an ideal of what the world should look like, rather than focus on its shortcomings.
I started this year with a resolution not to drive myself into the ground
. Fighting (or the perceived need to fight) was exhausting, and in many ways brought out the worst in me. It took a toll on me mentally and can be attributed to an unpleasant burnout
. Since I'm not really good at keeping resolutions, I've now decided to end the year with leaving behind Fighting.
SoJo is a moving train. We will gladly welcome onboard anyone who shares our vision and commitment to seeing it a reality -- but the train will not stop or slow down for the those who don't make it to the platform on time. They can catch us at another station, but for now, SoJo needs to value itself more and trust that it has all the support it needs to push forward.
While I let go of fighting, I hope to liberate this chip on my shoulder which has only been growing deeper with time. The ecosystem was not very kind to me in the early days of SoJo, and continues to act in ways that I don't agree with. As a response to these frustrations, I've been sub-conscientiously trying to prove everyone wrong. Instead of wanting to prove people wrong, I need to stop reacting and focus on proactively building the future. Over the past couple of months, SoJo has achieved phenomenal success, recognition and we have the strongest team ever.
The best way to end 2012 is to let go of the negative energy and celebrate what makes us awesome.
Yesterday I was honoured as one of Canada's Top100 Most Powerful Women by the Women's Executive Network. In its 10th year, this award recognizes the professional achievements of women in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in Canada. Winners are selected based on their strategic vision and leadership, their organization’s financial performance, and their commitment to their communities. See SoJo's Press Release
All of the winners were invited to an exclusive forum yesterday morning, where leadership challenges and stories were discussed very candidly. In the afternoon, we all participated in a broader leadership summit called "An afternoon of Inspired Leadership" where past winners shared their insights and knowledge on how we can advance ourselves in our careers and how to be better leaders.
It was humbling to be among a group of such distinguished and accomplished women across all disciplines. And although I was one of the youngest individuals in the room, it felt as though there was no hierarchy or distinction between myself and the CEOs and Directors of some of Canada's largest organizations.
As a early-stage startup entrepreneur, going to professional development seminars always felt like a luxury. Most leadership development programs are expensive, and never seemed to be a priority. Without any direct reports, I've been forced to learn much on my own; through experiences and from the advice of others. Yesterday was different then other conferences that I've attended. Being among my peers, with a focused agenda, and poignant and relevant facilitated discussions was a treat.
Even though I was among my peers, being on the earlier side of my career allowed me to use this opportunity to be a sponge and soak in all the knowledge and insights shared throughout the day. To top off an incredible day, all of the winners were honoured at a glitzy gala dinner. A celebration indeed.
I am now really excited for what belonging to this network means. A re-occurring theme was the idea of women supporting other women. I'm hopeful being part of the Women's Executive Network will open some new doors and that this incredibly powerful network will help me further advance the work and vision of SoJo.
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.
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.
Exactly two years ago today, September 20, 2010, I wrote SocialJournal.net's first blog post
. At the time, SoJo did not even exist. I was still dabbling with the idea of converting my Master's thesis into an e-book and had no idea what form SocialJournal.net would manifest itself into. Two years later, SocialJournal.net remains a blog; however it has taken on a voice of its own and inspired the creation of many exciting products geared towards helping people take their ideas for social change into action. I would compare the first 365 days of SocialJournal.net
as dipping your toes in the shallow-end of the swimming pool. Only eight months after the inaugural blog post did I decide to pursue SoJo full time
. The building blocks came in place in the first year: SoJo got its name, defined its brand identify, got more clarity on its purpose, released a private beta and most importantly I realized that SoJo has a long journey ahead
. What initially started as a part-time venture spiralled into a vision larger than I can grasp.
In hindsight, the past 366 days of SoJo is comparable to jumping into the deep end of the pool. Where focus was a great challenge in SoJo's first year, this past year was marked by execution. I learned how to set a direction
, quickly realign our focus
, set goals
and accomplish the tasks at hand
. Despite this new focus, I was still very open to seizing new opportunities
; but also struggled with prioritization
Without a technical team in place, I had the tenacity to endeavour to launch SoJo's first public site
at the SociaLIGHT conference, in front of 1000 people. Given the resources we had at the time, it was a huge risk. Leading up to the launch, it was 3 weeks of hustle
, staying calm in very stressful situations
and a great deal of nerves
. Alas the hard work paid off, and not only did SoJo have a successful launch
-- we effectively send out a message to our community: To opt for courage over fear
. The first step to action is putting yourself out there, and SoJo led by example. Later on in the year, SoJo published its Manifesto
, a set of guiding principles and core values which would ultimately influence every decision made.
SoJo finally got a home
! Although it took a couple of months to feel fully welcome in Ryerson's Digital Media Zone, I am now proud to tell everyone about our home and extremely grateful for being incubated in this incredible environment. The support received from this community
over the last few months has been phenomenal.
Through various speaking engagements, I started becoming excited about the possibilities of SoJo emerging as a thought leader
in social innovation, effectively using technology as a vehicle for social change, and more generally on taking ideas into action.
With the press coverage and increased credibility came more attention. As the founder of SoJo, I was now being approached by many folks for advice and help. Although humbling to know that people respect your opinions, I learned and continue to learn how to push back and place and increased value on my time
I recognized the need to work smarter, not harder
. In efforts to get myself better organized
and not get bogged down by my inbox
, I challenged myself to email-free Saturdays
-- and have since disabled all notifications on my phone. More than ever do I acknowledge the importance of not being connected to my work 24/7.
I felt like a small fish in a big pond when taking SoJo's first international trip to the UK
. That trip inspired a strategic move a few months later to launch SoJo out of Beta
. Moving forward, SoJo needs to move out of the sandbox and into the real world. Yes people are more critical and have endless expectations, but taking SoJo out of Beta has given myself and the team confidence to share SoJo and highlight all of its strengths
; namely our endorsement from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, reaching over 15,000 individuals during its beta test phase and creating the most comprehensive collection of informational resources and tools geared to helping early-stage social innovators take their ideas into action.
Yes, we have a site to be proud of, but this latest product launch's greatest accomplishment was without a doubt the success of bringing together SoJo's team
. We held our first team meeting
only 3 weeks before the launch. 366 days ago
I clearly stated that SoJo's greatest challenge ahead is its people; on boarding and managing the right people to the team. Human resources will remain an ongoing challenge, however it is no longer our greatest challenge.
SoJo has been incredibly lucky with its people this year. Our co-designer experiment
was extremely successful. Technical talent joined at the right time. Linus
came in time to see our public Beta to a successful launch, Jesse
joined in time to see SoJo's post-beta launch, and Rebecca
joined as our first female developer. Despite being lucky with technical talent, my 8-month long search
for a CTO came up dry. After countless hours into the process and utter exhaustion
, I have shifted my energy away from this full-time search. We have since opted to crowd-source SoJo's CTO
. An idea that is experimental; as brilliant as it is risky. Necessity forces you to be creative, and I'm hopeful this will be a great interim solution. We recruited
more senior talent to help in communications, outreach and partnerships.
SoJo broadened out its mandate
. We moved from serving youth to serving first-timers, and from projects to social innovations. SoJo also created its own legal structure: the hybrid social venture
. Two moves which will serve as an integral foundation moving forward. Disappointments were inevitable, and with time became better at dealing with disappointments
A breakthrough moment emerged when I came up with a viable idea for a business model
. After nearly 2 years of people asking me: "how will SoJo make money" what a relief to finally have some answers. May I remind you that our focus up until now has been proving the value of SoJo, and not monetizing it. As such, SoJo is a living breathing example of what can be accomplished with very little money.
A theme that emerged throughout the year is the importance of listening to your body and taking care of yourself
, and the value of taking a break
. The past 12 months have been a record for the amount of times I got sick. In the new year, I vowed to be living proof that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into the ground
. Although I no longer romanticize struggle
, considering I suffered from a near burnout
only a couple of weeks ago, it is clear that I still have a long way to go...
Moving forward our greatest challenge will be managing growth
. Graduating from an entirely bootstrapped early-stage startup to a growing startup that needs to accelerate its pace of development and acquire newer resources to get started. Although I'm intimidated by what lies ahead -- when looking back at the past year, past behaviour has shown that miracles are possible and that SoJo has consistently been able to overcome adversity. Bring it on!
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!
IVEY, one of Canada's leading business schools approached me to write a case study on SoJo. I was delighted and honoured, as IVEY cases have a far reach nationally and internationally and what better way to get out SoJo's story.
Up until now, I shared SoJo's story in more of a narrative format; explaining chronologically the milestones we've achieved, challenges faced and decisions made. Yesterday I met the lead researcher, Professor Oana and case writer Melissa. It is fair to say, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Oana started the interview asking me about the tensions I am currently facing. Before I knew it, I felt as though I was in a psycho-analysis therapy session. Her questions were poignant, difficult, intense, and reflective all in one.
Over the last 2 years, I have had conversations with a couple hundred people about SoJo. My messaging has changed throughout, as did the product of SoJo -- however the vision was always the same. Albeit with time, I've become a better communicator, based on an initial conversation, not a single person has been able to understand the depth and scope of SoJo's vision. What was special about yesterday, is that I never explicitly told Oana what the vision was, or what SoJo was working towards, however she was able to recite to me with precision and greater eloquence what SoJo stands for and what it strives to do. Although a little scary, more than anything this validation was encouraging and exactly what I needed at this point of tension. (see earlier post on burnout
Again, without sharing all of our key actions, decisions made and iterations, Oana drew a model that scientifically mapped out SoJo, our trajectory, the implications of our decisions. Models are incredibly abstract, and she was able to ground every node into key actions made by SoJo. Her assumptions validated what we the strategic planning team has been talking about for the past month. Having been through academia myself, before this conversation I was convinced that there was a disconnect from the ivory tower and reality. Without an agenda or political bias of her own, coupled with years of cutting-edge research, Oana restored my faith in academia. She is a fountain of knowledge and was able to clearly do what no-one has been able to.
This blog has been an outlet to share my thoughts, and it has been second nature to document SoJo's story. Being asked to trace back motivators, emotions and feelings with greater precision was difficult. Talking about vulnerability brought me down unexpected philosophical tangents. It felt as though I was being deconstructed as an individual, as she made inferences about my personal relationships with people and what motivates me as a leader. I'm still digesting and making sense of it all...
3 hours later, she circled back to her first question, and identified that the source of my tensions is growth
SoJo has graduated from early-stage startup to being a startup. Accelerating the pace of development, building out resources to meet this growth is only one challenge. Outgrowing our users, while being authentic and true to the vision is the greater challenge. As we navigate through this period of growth, I will be more disciplined about documenting our journey on this blog. Please bare with me, as the lack of coherence in this blog is a mirror reflection of the lack of coherence of everything in my head.
I left this interview feeling like I got more out of it than what I gave the case writers. I suppose that's what we call a win-win.
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
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.
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.
SoJo is in the early stages of developing its second product, an enterprise focused SaaS (software as a service) product. Although the public site (our first product) still needs to be developed and improved, there is more bandwidth to start developing a new product; one that builds off the existing one.
SoJo's enterprise product is focused on employee engagement and corporate social responsibility. This product is still in brainstorm phase, but as of now the vision is to customize the existing public site into a private online platform that provides opportunities for employee to get involved in their communities in more meaningful ways. This product will effectively help corporations meet their employee engagement goals by improving motivation, retention, loyalty and engagement that staff have with their employers.
For the past 12 months, the entire team has been steadfast in execution, focused on the vision that was created in the early days of SoJo. Now that we are developing a new product, I forgot how much fun it is to brainstorm ideas and work with a clean slate. I'm immersed in the latest published research in the field of human resources, my schedule is stacked with meetings with Senior executives, HR consultants, staff and potential clients, and I get to dream up a new product that does not yet exist on the market.
In many ways it feels like SoJo is starting a brand new journey, yet the organization feels very much established. This time around SoJo has credibility and infrastructure. With a successful launch of its first product, and an established reputation it is easier to setup meetings and the feedback goes beyond basic validation. Communicating this vision is also much easier. In SoJo's early days, very few people understood what we were trying to accomplish, and only after repeated conversations was I able to effectively convey my message. Not to jinx myself, but in the past few weeks, I have a perfect track record of ending initial meetings with people exited to get involved. This type of positive feedback has been rare for me, and I'm still finding it a little strange to be honest.
All this to say, I've received enough feedback in just a few weeks to believe that this second product has a great deal of promise. When starting SoJo I never imagined entering into corporate enterprise software development - that being said, the opportunity has emerged and I see huge potential for this product to mainstream social innovation and generate revenue for SoJo.