This site has been moved to http://www.thesojo.net/blog/
Please update your bookmarks, you will be redirected momentarily.

 
Written by Zainab Habib, for Blog Action Day 2013

Most people I know often equate human rights with issues stemming from discrimination, especially with all the “isms” and “phobias”: sexism, racism (ethnic and religious), shadism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc.  However, there’s a broader definition of human rights, as this abbreviated list from the University of Minnesota shows.

We used to previously say “SoJo is for everyone!”, but we know that we want to most help young passionate individuals who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start. However, the first step is knowing that your passion to create even the smallest social change is indeed enough to make that difference. Like the butterfly effect in chaos theory, one small change can lead to bigger changes in a community. I personally believe all social change helps to advance human rights because real social change is about creating access or opportunities for others who previously were not able to enter that space or setting – whether this space is physical, social, or economical.

It often seems like one has to have a moving experience or one significant point in their life that brings about that urge to act immediately, but this is hardly the case for most changemakers. Having a lot of passion for one particular cause can also be overwhelming or daunting but it shouldn't be. One can have passion but no or unclear direction as to how to channel this passion and that’s fine, since there are so many causes to choose from. How would I know which one is right for me? After all, isn’t expertise also helpful in making a difference?

But the longer you delay taking action, the less time you get to learn or to make a difference. Well, you know you care about human rights in general, but where do you begin to start?

Start now by picking something that interests you enough that you’d like to do something about it and see where it all goes – you may just find that your starting point will lead you to your next point with some new and wonderful perspectives. I know from my journey and from others that moving through social causes or industries can actually work in your favour when you can learn from one social movement or job and bring it to the next big issue or project you work on.

Though social innovation and social justice are not the same thing, I do not believe that they have to stay mutually exclusive since charity and change can happen simultaneously and together. So start by learning more about the issues you care about and about what you can do to make a difference of any kind. Then work your way to creating social change that will eventually create the way to advancing human rights further.

Social change is like breaking down a house: even if you don’t have a wrecking ball to start with the whole structure, even loosening a brick at the beginning will help you break it apart. Then watch it all tumble down eventually when you've pulled out enough.
Liked this post? Check out the post I wrote for the Digital Media Zone too.
 
 
Picture
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.


 
 
Picture
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.


 
 
Picture
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.

 
 
Picture
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.


 
 
Picture
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.


 
 
Picture
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!


 
 
Picture
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!

 
 
Picture
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.
_

 
 
Picture
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.


 
 
Picture
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.

 
 
Picture
With a successful public launch and an incredibly competent and talented team, SoJo is well positioned to grow and advance its mandate. Up until this point, our only objective was to get the public site, http://theSoJo.net built. From private Beta to public Beta to official launch; focus was centred around gathering content, designing the product, building the technical infrastructure and establishing an early-adopter beta user base. Mass outreach, measuring our impact and funding were not priorities.

Moving forward, SoJo is working towards these 3 organizational objectives:
1- To achieve universal ubiquity
2- To be a credible resource that actually helps people
3- To be a financially self-sustaining social enterprise

Addressing these objectives is no easy task. To avoid the gerbil on the wheel syndrome (being busy, but not getting anywhere), a plan is most needed. With a team that has proven itself able to execute and a clear vision of where SoJo needs to go, exceptional strategic planning is needed to bridge that gap.

Knowing that financial sustainability will come from diversifying our products, I must now dedicate majority of my time to building our next product and less energy on the operations of the existing public site. It is my hope that this plan establishes the right mechanisms for the team to carry the public site's activities forward without my direct involvement.

Last night SoJo hosted its first Strategic Planning meeting. Individuals leading different focus areas participated in an intimate and intense meeting filled with tough questions, feedback, and sharing of new ideas. Despite the initial technical difficulties of video-conferencing, I felt we were effective in bringing out many insights, and making everyone aware of the interconnectedness of each moving part.

Albeit successful, I completely underestimated the amount of preparation that went into this first meeting. Namely around establishing what this process was going to look like, determining the key information we needed to get out of it, prompting the team to come prepared with answers to questions, and preparing the slidedeck reference documentation.

It is also challenging as I'm forced to use a different part of my brain which has never been used. Strategic planning, abstract thinking and juggling multiple agendas is an acquired skill that needs to be developed and honed. Visioning is very different than strategizing, and the past year for SoJo has been very ad-hoc, with tons of vision -to-execution, with little planning. Luckily we have experienced team members with the experience to guide me and take the lead on this process.

Strategic planning will allow us to take SoJo to the next level and create the plan needed to achieve these objectives. Although daunted, we're all excited for what lies ahead!


 
 
Picture
Strategic planning in a Cafe
Back from a wonderful vacation, I start this week beaming with energy and excitement. As entrepreneurs, we often don't give ourselves space to breathe, let alone permission to take an extended break. I initially had apprehensions when booking my tickets, but now thank myself.

More than ever do I appreciate the importance of giving yourself permission to have a break, without the guilt. There is always work to be done. With such a grandiose vision, it is hard to feel like you 'deserve' a vacation, as all you can see is the work that still needs to be completed. When you're at the helm it is scary to leave a team that has been so dependent on you. Timing will never be perfect for a vacation, however a vacation at the right time allows you to work smarter, and not harder. My past two weeks were a mix of relaxation, sleep and recharging the body combined with inspiration, fresh perspectives and strategic thinking.

Being disconnected from email and all incoming communications was a treat. Part of me still wishes I had my "out of office" message on in my inbox. With all the chatter and inflow of communication, it is difficult to shut off the mind, give it a break and decompress; going to the countryside with limited connectivity forced me to do so. Biking (and getting lost) through winding cobblestone streets allowed me to get inspired by the history and beautiful architecture that surrounded me. Having breakfast in a park with a passionate social activist hearing about the effects on the economic crisis gave me better insights. Spending my days in Parisian cafes people watching, observing my surroundings with an open mind allowed me to think and imagine new ideas.

Breaking free of my daily-grind in Toronto to do the above will undoubtedly add value to my work with SoJo.

SoJo is at a really good place now: We've officially launched our public site and now get to do the fun stuff of reaching out to users, building our brand and making SoJo known. In parallel, I will now focus my energies on conceptualizing and developing SoJo's next product. Going back to a clean slate and imagining possibilities is exciting and exhilarating. That being said, this next phase of growth with be equally challenging and I'm ready for what lies ahead.

I used to have this attitude, and among my entrepreneur friends I hear this all the time "I don't have time for a vacation / break, I'm too busy, I have too much to do, etc..."  I have no idea where the past year has gone, and as such, it is upon us to make the time to reset our mind and body. If we do not consciously make the time, it will slip through our fingers without second thought.


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

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

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

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

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


 
 
Picture
In 24 hours, SoJo will officially go live.  
The site works, and has been working for the past 6 months -- so in many ways this launch has much more certainty than our beta launch last Fall. That being said, there is definitely more pressure and expectations are much higher this time around. We've received feedback from our users, built credible partnerships and are eagerly awaiting this next phase of SoJo.

The mandatory features were decided at the beginning of the month, however the "things to fix" list only seem to keep on growing.

Over the past week, I've spent between 10-16 hours/day (including weekends) at the office. Its amazing how fast time goes, as I've gotten completely lost in the world of SoJo. As I write this post, looking into the window, I see hundreds of people watching a movie outside, and hear the blasting music of the bar below -- and shocked at my abilities to focus with an office situated right in the middle of one of the busiest urban squares in Canada. SoJo's team gets stronger and better by the day. Everyone's dedication and commitment to achieving this common goal is humbling. No 2am email exchanges (we're improving), regardless, I'm pretty sure that everyone on this team has pushed themselves in ways they couldn't even fathom only a few weeks ago. Whether it be acquiring new skills, getting submersed into a new culture, or working in marathon-like stints, or simply a renewed sense of connectedness to SoJo.

No stress. Just work. Work completed this morning felt like it was done ages ago. Too busy to think about stress, which in many ways is really good. The key to motoring through in these conditions is to eliminate all distractions that are within my control. When every minute is precious, all non-launch related activities and communications have been placed on hold. At the office, I've been referred to as a machine, as I am always seen plugged into my computer, not phased by the hustle and bustle often seen in this vibrant workspace.

In less than 48 hours, we're going to celebrate this victory in style. So temporary spurts of intensity are ok.
The nervousness that existed less than 10 days ago has since channelled itself into an extra dose of energy and excitement.

 
 
What do you stand for? In the first conversation I had with Joann Lim, one of SoJo's earliest partners and content contributors, she asked me what I stood for. I struggled to answer that question with coherence. Up until that point, everyone asked me what SoJo did, how we were going to make money, who we seek to serve and our goals.
No one ever asked me something so intangible and personal.

Joann further explained:
Our core is essential in helping us maintain balance and stability especially when life fluctuates. When we don’t have clarity on our internal core (values & beliefs), it can lead to falls, stress, trauma, and burnout.  As an individual, identifying the core of who you are is essential in helping you develop a solid foundation in which your life can grow and flow. It helps guide you in making decisions and taking inspired action to move forward. Your core is something which reflects the essence of your being and is one in which you should be proud to share with others.

About three months later in the middle of January with Sharpies and a blank piece of paper, I scribbled some thoughts. These thoughts reflected my core values, and ultimately SoJo's core values:
In early April I revisited that piece of paper and typed out a list of nearly 30 statements that embodied SoJo; lessons that I learned, things that I believed in, values, inspirations, and desired states of being.
Two months in the making, that plain-text document got refined, was edited by the team and received an exciting face lift from Bill to become what it is today, SoJo's Manifesto:
For SoJo, this document represents what we stand for as an organization, our core values, and guiding principles. It is a collection of words that, I hope, every team member, user, partner and supporter identifies with in some shape or form. As Joann told me: Meaningful work comes from an alignment between your personal values and those of the organization you are with. As in any relationship, the deeper the connection, the stronger the commitment. And commitment is essential in moving through the peaks and valleys in our development as individuals and/or organizations. This manifesto is SoJo's mission statement. As we navigate through an incredible amount of ambiguity, uncertainty and challenges, it is my hope this manifesto will keep every individual that makes up SoJo, and SoJo as an organization unified and centered.

Making change is not easy. I encourage you to invest the time to reflect, and ask yourself:
What do you stand for?

Read Joann's article on SoJo to learn how to create your own Manifesto

 
 
Picture
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.

Picture
Screen shots of both computer screens side-by-side via Skype
 
 
Picture
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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
Picture
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

 
 
Picture
This past weekend I hosted a workshop at Canada's largest student-run conference on technology and business. My session was on Taking your Ideas into Action and Social Innovation. We started the workshop with a roundtable to get a better understanding of who was sitting in the room and what they were looking to get out of the session. Of the 50ish participants, I was shocked to learn that many of them knew they wanted to run a start-up, but very few actually had an idea. It is my hope that the participants from the workshop walked away with these two insights:
(1) Figure out what gets you really excited [on the inside], and let that guide your journey
(2) Use your skills, talents, and resources to create something that will add value to our world. There are no shortage of challenges and problems that need bright, innovative ideas.

Chasing your desire to find an idea so you can build a start-up won't get you very far. Ideas are everywhere. I always get taken aback when people tell me, "all the good ideas seem to be taken" (this happens more than you'd think). Likewise, I often get asked "where do great ideas come from?" In my opinion, a great idea is one that has the potential to solve an unmet social need, environmental challenge, or makes the world a better place for society. Ideas most often come from a place of fear, anger or opportunity. The thinking that leads to great ideas come from a series of experiences, that culminate and build upon each other. Great ideas should be intrinsically meaningful to those committed to executing them.

Where did the idea of "SoJo" come from?
While in my third year of building Nukoko, I became frustrated by the lack of resources at my disposal. Under the pretext of  my academic research, I reached out to 50 social entrepreneurs for guidance. Each respondent had a unique story, but all lamented the lack of practical, resource-based support they found when starting their ventures. In hearing their experiences echo my own, the need for a resource like SoJo became immediately apparent. What initially started as a book, has evolved into over 100 blog posts, a dedicated and passionate team, countless conversations, and lots of experimentation, to create what SoJo is today and what we endeavour to build in the future. I still stand by a post I wrote 6 months ago:
"Steadfast in Direction, Flexible in Execution"  : with a clear mission and concrete goals, SoJo has a fairly good idea of what direction its headed in. The HOW is constantly changing, however our WHY will remain constant.

Finding your Idea
I read an article on Vanity Entrepreneurs this morning, which validated my thoughts that some individual's WHYs are convoluted. The desire to build something for the sake of building something, to be cool and/or famous, for an extra line on your CV, or to be rich is not a good WHY. If you find yourself nodding to any of these reasons, then I challenge you to dig deeper. Being attuned to our motivations that extend beyond "vanity" is the driving force behind spectacular ideas and a successful journey of actually bringing them to life.

If you are in search for a great idea, please continue to live your life, build meaningful connections, seek out rich experiences, and be open to listening. My research and experience has taught me that those ingredients will allow great ideas to come to you. When the idea comes, you will know. Whether or not you're ready to act on the idea is another question, but that is why resources like SoJo exist.

 
 
Picture
I'm excited to announce two new changes and refinements in SoJo's mandate and purpose. Since our launch, we've been known as an organization that supports youth to build social ventures. After careful deliberation, we've decided to drop youth and replace social ventures with social innovations. Iterations and refinements naturally happen over time, as the more you test your ideas in different contexts, the more you better understand how your idea fits in with your audience and the people who you seek to serve. 

Youth
SoJo is building an intuitive and highly user-friendly tool to support individuals in their journeys of social change. We initially decided to focus on serving a younger audience for a variety of reasons: SoJo was inspired by academic research on young social entrepreneurship; our entire founding team was comprised of young people (and who best to serve a youth audience, then youth themselves); and there was a clear gap in resources that were written and delivered in a format friendly to a younger audience. Over the past four months I found myself consistently explaining SoJo as a tool suitable for a first-time user. Only recently did it become clear that there was no need to restrict SoJo exclusively to youth, when in reality we can serve a much larger audience.

Another more fundamental reason for dropping the "youth" label is to conserve the integrity of the social innovators we support. As with my personal experiences, I'm sure all of the members of our community would like to be recognized for the work that they do, rather than because they happen to belong to a certain group. We are extremely cautious of placing labels on our community members or the work we do, and as such would like more emphasis to be placed on the social impact created.

Social Innovation
So what exactly is a social innovation? Academics and practitioners have been debating over the definition of  Social Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation for the past few decades. In the spirit of being as inclusive as possible, we will adopt the broadest possible definition of social innovation:

A new idea (a venture, project, product, program) that addresses an unmet need or social challenge, and/or improves the overall welfare of people.

SoJo is presenting information clearly and in an easy to access format, and therefore should be available to all.
Ironically, refining our mandate is allowing us to support more people. SoJo's model hasn't changed, we've just changed the language of how we communicate our mandate -- which will allow us to serve a larger market.

 
 
Today I was asked to tell an editor at Canada's largest daily newspaper about SoJo. A great opportunity for coverage, I attempted to depict SoJo in 10 pictures and 6 words (no internet, no computer). See below.
Picture




SoJo has the ambitious goal of being the ubiquitous source of support for social innovators to take their ideas for social good into action, which includes revolutionizing the way in which online learning happens. In a world where we're told to use a slide-deck and bright shiny objects to sell our vision -- I opted for the basics: a whiteboard and a marker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
Picture
_In addition to providing direct support to youth interested in taking their ideas for social good into action (which remains our primary focus), SoJo has started to engage in high level conversations, to help shape broader policy agendas with organizations.

SoJo has a very unique perspective: we have direct experience working with early stage social entrepreneurs, we are redefining what entrepreneurship means, and we are in the same trenches with the people who we serve (which is quite rare).

Earlier today I was invited to speak on the topics of redefining socially conscious entrepreneurship and online professional development to the staff of one of Canada's largest charitable foundations. SoJo is employing a unique and innovative approach to online learning and training to young social entrepreneurs. It is very encouraging to know that other prominent organizations are interested in what we have to say and genuinely want to learn from us.

Over the course of our informal conversation, I had the opportunity to share SoJo's story, our values and approach to supporting and catalyzing young entrepreneurs. By that same token, I used this as a platform to make bold statements on why youth need more support in the early stages and why current infrastructure does not meet their needs. In hindsight, I realized that my words could have been interpreted as a direct attack to the organization that so graciously hosted me.

It is my hope that the staff of this foundation left the session with more critical questions to ask themselves and insights that may influence their thinking. I was speaking to an audience who have the power to make changes; this foundation in particular has significant reach in the region and has the financial resources to make meaningful impact in the lives of millions. If SoJo can influence or contribute to shaping their agenda and subsequently their social impact; then this is a big win for us (and the world). 

I'm learning to dance the fine line between sharing my knowledge and pushing boundaries, while still speaking to an audience without being polarized or dismissed. I'm eager for the conversations that lie ahead of us and what will come out of those conversations.