Introduction to Tech Coops

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facilitated by Lottie

notes by Laura

This session was a discussion of coops: what they are, why they are important.

About OpenFlows

Lottie works at NYC OpenFlows w/ Eric. OpenFlows works with nonprofits, unions, and other groups with similar values.

What are coops?

A business that is worker-owned, which means:

  • Worker/owners all own equally
  • Members may collect money separately
  • Produces something (can be food, like Land o' Lakes)
  • Clients are shared
  • Owners pay fee to the coop in service-oriented coops
  • Not like Uber or AirBnB

More about OpenFlows

  • Tech coops specifically work-flow systems
  • Heavy lifting for complex systems like Drupal and CiviCRM

Palante Tech

  • Tech support coop based in Brooklyn
  • Seven workers
    • One is not an owner
    • Distributed in three other cities
  • People shared their interests

How did they become a coop?

  • Jack was a freelancer
    • Realized one person couldn't have all the skills needed - wanted to be in a group that could share skills
  • Coop gave them ability to specialize
  • Managing clients and accounting is shared in economy of scale
  • No longer working in isolation

How it started

  • Met with people who knew each other already and wanted to start a business
  • Politics: didn't want to be "bosses"
  • Not a nonprofit, but not about profit
  • Time before coop - had subcontractors
  • Started March 2010
  • Incorporated in November 2011

How it works

  • Technically it's a C corp (varies state by state)
  • A community development project helps people start coops in New York
  • Lots of long meetings - how to set up HR, hiring/firing
  • Collective, means one person=one vote - decisions made by consensus
  • Coop refers to type of ownership, collective refers to how it's governed
  • Hiring is similar to other places - benefits start right off the bat
  • Process - after nine months, change from worker -> worker-owner
  • Challenge: doesn't work out
  • How to fire: a problem - we haven't been able to
  • At three months: getting up to speed
  • At six months: step up
  • Questions from new hires:
    • How to become member?
    • How to start coop?
    • What is structure of coop?
    • Pros/cons
    • How to create team w/ more connection
    • Lessons learned
    • How to do collaborative work
    • Org that does tools for nonprofits
    • Things that make coops work
  • Don't make ramp up period longer than nine months, because it sets up a power differential because of ability to vote
  • Profits divided equally based on how much each person worked, proportionally

Open Flows - Lottie

Origin

  • Was formal corporation owned by people no longer involved
  • Moved from Toronto -> New York
  • 12 people in four countries
  • Closed company re-formed as a coop
  • People weren't stepping up
  • Also a political decision
  • Ended up two people, Eve and Mark, formed better structure
  • Hired (??) to write point of unity
  • Slowly brought in two more worker-owners
  • Now working on C corp status
  • Bringing in new people - someone you will have to come to consensus with
  • Statement of unity as people not just labor
  • Having sabbatical/time off in a supportive way
  • Lottie became a member last year
  • Interview: member had been working at Radical Designs - needed similar services
  • Worked because people leave because of money - wasn't looking for money
  • Found them to be very generous - heart is really in it

How to generate new business?

  • The Companies We Keep - book about coops
  • Word of mouth
  • You can do what you want - don't all have to do the same job
  • It's okay to have different skills and levels, but everyone knows the basic skills

B corps

  • Heard about these?
  • OpenFlows using Brooklyn (??) School
  • No one has yet formed B corp as coop - no motivation to do it that way
  • In California can be LLC and coop, but not in New York

Pay scale and hours

  • Hourly
    • Billable, personal, etc.
    • Educational
  • $30.25/hour + % of profits
  • OpenFlows - three different salary levels
    • Part time
    • Full time
    • 3/4 time
  • Because of disparity of skills/weeks of work
  • Q: admin to be part of coop?
  • 35 hours/week: quality of life
  • Lottie: "Ideal vs. what we really are"
  • Working towards 32 hour work week
  • Deciding ho to divide the pot of money so everyone feels they get what they need
  • Jack: Tempted to get admin only
  • Try to share
  • Not stuck with jobs we don't like
  • We all talk about how we want to work less but don't do it
  • Support each other to not work more than we want to
  • People can take breaks!