Following up on my non-bullshit job checklist, I came to the conclusion that one way to put it in practice would be to start an online software worker collective.

Why not Go Solo?

Going solo is certainly a lucrative route as a freelancer. However, having done it myself, a recurring issue is the tendency for clients to consider you as a well-payed employee. You can easily avoid overtime and being on-call. When you bill by the hour your time is more respected than an employee’s. However most software projects are nowadays done by big teams in which you are embedded. You have little control with who you work and how you work. Some contracts even specify an onsite 40-hour week, basically making you a full-time employee. You have little bargaining power.
If you value freedom and meaningful work more than money, this is not the road.

Why a Collective Startup and not a Traditional Cooperative?

A startup is a company that has the goal of reaching a scalable business model. Automation enables you to dissociate your time from your earnings. This gives you greater freedom than the pay-per-hour-worked model. A cooperative with its one vote per member does not allow this as there is no good way to capitalize your time.
In a startup collective, you can choose when and how much you work.

Criticism of the Startup Model

An issue with the startup model compared to the pay-per-hour-worked model is that it generates no revenue initially. Thus founders often make a deal with investors to cover initial costs. Unfortunately, this deal is done to the detriment of future employees. The company gets sold to a bigger player. Investors cash out first, then founders. Employees are treated as livestock and are left with scraps. You might say: as a founder I will cash out so I’m fine, and I earned it since I took the initial risk. Partially true, but I learnt a secret as a startup founder. Whatever they say in public, after the first year, every single founder spends his time trying to cash out. And worrying that it won’t happen.
Do you want to spend 5 to 10 anxious years with investors breathing down your neck? Selling out your customers by doing work whose only purpose is to increase the financial value of your company? And finally selling out the people you worked side by side if you exit?

Goal of this Collective

Freedom. Freedom for yourself, freedom for all.

  • how you work
  • when you work
  • how much you work
  • where you work
  • with who you work

Implementation Proposal

  • The collective is online and distributed, owning as few physical assets as possible.
  • Voting is understood as majority voting.
  • Members of the collective pay a monthly membership fee in exchange of an additional voting share. Ex: after 12 months, a member has accured 12 voting shares.
  • Members make project proposals, which include:
    • an implementation description with acceptance criteria
    • the expected revenue if any (some projects will not generate revenue, like work coordination projects, internal tool projects, etc)
    • the price they are willing to do it for
    • a time-frame
  • Members vote on the percentage of membership fees or reserves to allocate to project proposals.
  • After projects time-frames expire, members vote on whether it matches the acceptance criteria (before the executor gets payed).
  • Members vote on the share of revenue from projects distributed to shareholders. The distribution is done proportionally to the number of shares owned. The non-distributed revenue is put in reserve.
  • Members can vote on whether to increase the monthly membership fee as the value of the company increases.
  • Members vote on whether to accept new members.
  • Members vote on whether to revoke membership. Former members keep their right to dividends but lose their voting rights.

To sum it up:

  • Workers have the decision power, proportional to seniority.
  • Any worker can submit a proposal.
  • Current workers and former workers are investors, but only current workers vote.