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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worker_cooperative

I'm curious whether there are, anywhere in the world, worker's cooperatives that center on a technology business that involves either programming, IT, or some sort of IT or programming related consulting or services.

The wikipedia link above is an overview of the concept. The short form explanation is that a co-op is a worker-owned business. Also there is the notion that every worker owns shares in the business.

I am interested in knowing whether an example of a "programmer's/IT co-op" even exists.

Note: I am not talking about nor asking about a government-funded incubator nor any other socialized, state supported group. I also don't mean "co-working", which is renting an office with other self employed people doing their own thing.

I mean a going, profitable IT business operating in a competitive environment that is worker-owned and run.

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    Sounds like a lot of startups. Many never see the night of day. :)
    – kenny
    Commented Dec 11, 2010 at 20:56
  • Programmers in a "co-op" are expected to take on multiple roles, including not just programming but also customer-facing or marketing activities. Otherwise, workers in each "department" will "precipitate", and the co-op will be unable to agree on how to split the profit between different "departments". On the other hand, there are software companies which are wholly owned by the top sales persons but share the profits generously with their programming staffs. Examples would be some small software vendors and value-added resellers.
    – rwong
    Commented Dec 11, 2010 at 21:56

7 Answers 7

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IT worker co-operatives (and more generally in the creative/knowledge industries) are a growing source of worker co-operatives in the UK.

Some examples:

More pure design including web:

Because of this growth we (at Co-operatives UK) have created a guide to help them along, if you're interested.

http://www.creatives.uk.coop/

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  • Thanks. A few of these sites have interesting manifestos and links to the partners' blogs. There are so many resources listed in this reply that I am considering it "the" answer. Thank you! Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 20:42
  • @John you mind making those hypwerlinks.
    – tshepang
    Commented Dec 14, 2010 at 0:53
  • not allowed, not posted enough on this forum or thats what the error said, when i tried to post.
    – John Atherton
    Commented Dec 14, 2010 at 10:08
  • All links given are dead now. Hope they were quite co-operative. Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 15:18
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Motion-Twin in France, it's a small company (more than 10 employees) wich make on-line games, some of them like "www.hordes.fr" have relatively a lot of players. Every employee share the same part of the company and profit is equally redistributed. You can read an interview (sorry, automatic translation from French) where they talk about cooperative : techcrunch.fr

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  • So far, this is the best answer to my question, because: it's an identifiable company that is currently in business; and the company consists of more than a core of 2 or 3 partners, which is fairly common. Commented Dec 12, 2010 at 20:08
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Autodesk, which develops AutoCAD, Maya, and a bunch of other things, pretty much started out as workers' cooperatives.

You can read in detail about that in co-founder John Walker's amusing and chatty collection of historical notes, The Autodesk File.

Autodesk started out in 1981, during the early days of microcomputers. Several programmers, most with day jobs, decided to develop a few programs, roll them out, and then jump behind whichever one seemed to sell the best. The company name, Autodesk, comes from a database for CP/M that I'm not sure ever shipped. When they showed off AutoCAD, they couldn't answer the phones or duplicate floppies fast enough, and they all quit their day jobs and became insanely rich.

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    This is a TERRIFIC example. I only wish that it were a current co-operative. (I know that aspect can't be helped). But the document is a great resource because it explains the rationale for the co-op structure, among other things. Thanks! Commented Dec 12, 2010 at 20:11
  • You could probably do worse than to use Walker's notes as a guide to the early stages of your own programming cooperative.
    – Bob Murphy
    Commented Dec 12, 2010 at 23:25
  • However, if you start a cooperative and experience a lot of growth, hire and empower some seasoned people who've managed that kind of growth. Autodesk tried to have their managers learn on the job, and it seemed ok for a long time because AutoCAD was so spectacularly profitable. But eventually it caught up with them, as you can see from Walker's 1992 letter "The Dark Night of the Soul." Carol Bartz came from Sun and saved the company, but having worked there, I think it would have been better if they'd brought in somebody like her years earlier.
    – Bob Murphy
    Commented Dec 12, 2010 at 23:48
  • Bob, I heard the same stories about Autodesk years ago. That (growth pains, mismanagement) doesn't matter so much to me... I was just searching for viability, since when I posted the question I was unfamiliar with cooperatives in the IT industry in general. Thanks again for your posts. Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 16:06
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I'm one of software.coop: that's our website and if you click About on our site, there's some background information, links to a case study and other co-ops we know. It needs tidying, but we're pretty busy. I think most tech-coop participants are profitable, even if some don't pay all that brilliantly yet.

(Posted at the request of Tshepang)

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  • programmers.stackexchange.com/privileges/comment
    – tshepang
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 11:57
  • Thanks. I didn't find that in the help when I tried looking.
    – MJ Ray
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 12:15
  • Also take note of how comment replies work.
    – tshepang
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 12:33
  • I'm the former owner of software.coop in the US/California (2006?). We never did get enough funding so it was disbanded. Glad to see you are doing well with it in the UK!! Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 0:29
  • Hey guys, just checking because provided link is not working. Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 15:20
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software.coop

We're a tech worker co-op providing web design, system administration, software development and other computer-related services.

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    Name of co-op? Web site? Exactly how does this work? Commented Dec 12, 2010 at 20:36
  • @Wan I was looking for their name, and this seems like it. I've asked one of their workers to come Comment here.
    – tshepang
    Commented Dec 12, 2010 at 22:14
  • @Wan Note that the guy I was talking about replied.
    – tshepang
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 12:30
  • Site not working Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 15:22
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There are several examples profiled in the recent publication "A Technology Freelancer's Guide to Starting a Worker Cooperative" which is available through the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives in the link below. The guide was written by some of the cooperative entrepreneurs that are profiled.

http://www.usworker.coop/howtos/startups http://electricembers.net/pubs/TechCoopHOWTO.pdf

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From Wikipedia:

A worker cooperative, therefore, has the characteristic that the majority of its workforce own shares, and the majority of shares are owned by the workforce

Google.com qualifies

  • Almost all Google's employees own voting shares.
  • Most of Google's shares are owned by the employees.
  • The management structure is shallow, with lots of autonomy for most employees (never mind the 20% time).
  • Profit sharing is performed through bonuses and stock options, and, overall, closely matches company performance
  • Employees are welcome and actively encouraged to migrate between teams, roles and positions within the company, taking on all any and all of the required work
  • Food, clothing, free time, family, etc... are all actively coordinated between employees

It may not be the most extreme example of a worker's cooperative, but it's a darn good one.

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    Someone alerted me that Google doesn't qualify because it isn't one-member-one-vote.
    – tshepang
    Commented Dec 12, 2010 at 23:20
  • Not all cooperatives enforce that rule - as long as all members at least have one vote Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 3:44
  • Google is not a workers cooperative. Google shares come in different classes with different voting rights. Executives and founders have higher class shares and this gives them more than the majority of voting power. Because of this, Google is never one worker one vote nor fully democratic in the spirit of a worker cooperative.
    – kand
    Commented May 16, 2020 at 7:50

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