How being a cooperative drives our startup
What’s in a name? Digicoop, our Paris-based startup behind Kantree, operates as a worker co-op. Here’s how being a cooperative drives everything we do: from our business decisions to the products we develop. And why we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We are a team of five: three developers, one person in sales, and one in marketing communication. While the blogger doesn’t write code and the coders stay away from tweets, we are all in this together. In a cooperative, everyone is involved.
Not your typical startup
Digicoop was founded in 2015 by former colleagues. Unlike many startups, it wasn’t based around a particular product or project. It was the result of a desire to work together on projects that fascinate us. We didn’t have a set theme, but it quickly became clear: we wanted to focus on collaborative work tools for companies.
Why? First, the workplace is changing: teams are becoming more distributed and diverse, trends in management are calling for more collaboration. It’s only possible when there is transparency, when teams have the right tools and processes adapted to their evolving needs. We want to empower individuals, not only management. Second, we are passionate about technology and what it can do for the society. We want to build great products that have a positive impact.
These beliefs and values resulted in creating Kantree for flexible work management, plus some experiments such as Polynote, a collaborative note-taking tool, and Kaiwa, a Web client for XMPP.
This vision of the workplace led us to structure Digicoop as a worker cooperative, giving everyone a stake in the company.
Business based on shared values
Companies are made of people. Our goal from the beginning was to have a structure that would allow each team member to feel involved. Being a cooperative means we all have autonomy, take responsibility, and make decisions. Ultimately, we all can have a meaningful impact on the future of Digicoop.
While many startups make a similar claim, giving a micro-percentage ownership to employees doesn’t get them involved in a meaningful way - especially when you factor in that 9 out of 10 startups will not succeed enough to pay out. Providing an equal vote (see below) guarantees true ownership and involvement.
We think that co-ops are particularly well-suited for the tech industry. Just like in Open Source, there is a strong member involvement and spirit of mutual support. Similar values are also emerging inside the blockchain movement, for example Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO) and projets like Colony and Aragon, which focus on openness and lack of bureaucracy.
We should rename DAO's to digital cooperatives.— Hugh Karp (@HughKarp) February 25, 2019
Not surprisingly, cooperatives are on the rise. According to the International Co-operative Alliance, there are currently 3 million worker cooperatives around the world, employing 280 million people. The digital industry is well represented: in addition to a growing number of tech co-ops, there are support networks such as Startup Coop and Enspiral. In France, we are among over 2,800 registered co-ops, known as SCOPs.
In a SCOP, 51% of the capital is held by staff members, who can become associates by investing in the company. Co-ops are democratic: every associate gets one vote in meetings, regardless of money invested, and all profit is shared among the team. External partners are also allowed, as long as the percentage rule is respected. Which can make funding a tricky thing.
Being a cooperative means you cannot make a profit from shares, so it’s difficult to find investors. We have to resort to more traditional types of investment and smaller fundraising amounts. On the plus side, SCOP networks aim to resolve the issue. And we are forced to focus on building a sustainable business and growing our revenue gradually, instead of propping up numbers just to sell the company.
What does it mean for your organization?
Our platform allows distributed teams to collaborate more efficiently on a visual, highly customizable, easy-to-use interface. Kantree gives them control over projects and processes. We believe that with this freedom, teams feel more confident and deliver better results, allowing your company to fully benefit from their talent.
Kantree has been on the market for about four years. It is trusted by large French companies, as well as small and mid-sized businesses in several countries. Try it free for 15 days and get your team onboard.