Introduction to Tech Coops
facilitated by Lottie
notes by Laura
This session was a discussion of coops: what they are, why they are important.
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
- 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?
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Billable, personal, etc.
- $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!