January 23, 2018
Colorado Tech Worker Co-ops: An Introduction
RMEOC had the opportunity to talk with co-owners of three local tech worker coops based in Boulder and Denver. These values-oriented tech companies design and build software for websites and applications. They are friends and allies who often collaborate with each other. We’ll add to the profiles below as we talk to other tech worker co-ops.
Corey Kohn of dojo4
dojo4 is a certified B corporation that incorporated as a cooperative a couple of years ago with the help of local cooperative attorney Jason Weiner. Corey Kohn and Ara Howard, the original owners, had been in business together for a number of years, but were increasingly not interested in growing the size of the company and wanted to share the risks and rewards of co-ownership. They aimed to create a more creative, human-oriented work culture and to write software that addresses real-world problems.
Why did you become a coop?
We had to build something that had value and stability, and then people were interested in joining with us. It’s going to be more gratifying to us as the original owners if we can share the financial success and stability with the community that helped us build this all along. They would also help us shoulder the risk that we’d been shouldering for many years.
Has becoming employee-owned helped your business?
Becoming a coop and B corporation attracted certain people to us. [Our clients] know that when they talk to a developer, they have a vested interest as a co-owner rather than as a hired gun.
What compelled you to write your striking blog, “Hacking human suffering is the only real growth industry”?
It’s a poor business decision to work on things that don’t really matter. There’s no economic bubble around solving real problems. While philanthropy is great, an entrepreneurial mind can find different solutions. If building blocks are imbued with some sense of humanity, that comes through.
Katie Falkenberg of Good Good Work
Katie Falkenberg and Drew Hornbein are currently the only members of this less than a year old cooperative, also organized by Jason Weiner (whose website they rebuilt). The business partners have known each other since 2011, when they met through the tech working group for the New York Occupy Wall Street assembly. Currently eight tech workers are actively contributing to good good work, with a few about to enter the membership track to become co-owners.
Why is addressing business culture so important to your work?
We often find clients who say we need to build this thing, but we push back by asking, what does that serve? Why do you have this problem? Is this really going to feed your larger goals? They often try to wedge a technology problem because they have a cultural problem they think it’s going to address. There’s a lot of open-source solutions to solve any technical problem. We are about to unveil a new offering about culture, making groups more effective first before building any infrastructure.
Why would you say employee ownership is a good fit for the work you’re doing?
The idea of owning your own labor and really getting at the fundamentals of what it means to work, what it means to be valued in your community and in society at large. Changing that autonomy and ownership of our bodies and our skills and our expertise and our time, and undermining the top-down structure of the standard corporate model that is really alienating all kinds of people, keeping people seperated from ownership of their property, or ownership of their time, or their health.
Clayton Dewey of Drutopia
Drutopia is designed to provide a low cost website-building template distribution that members have input in designing. The leadership team is in the US and Canada, with additional contributors in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Ireland. It’s a fully hosted member-owned platform cooperative. One of Drutopia’s early projects is providing an online platform for the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
Why should the average users of online tools or platforms care about what tools they use?
It should be the responsibility of open-source techs to communicate the value that is meaningful to non-techs, for example why it is better to choose Mozilla’s open-source Firefox browser over Google’s proprietary Chrome. If we like the choice to buy eggs that are pasture raised and ethically sourced at the market to reflect our values, why shouldn’t we have online alternatives? We’ve put our trust in Google and Facebook executives. While their platforms are not designed to be malicious, there are unintended consequences because they don’t consult with their end users. Because their coding is proprietary, users are left to wonder what their hidden algorithms do. We see a consolidation of choices, Facebook has enclosed the market so we can’t switch to an alternative.
Is Drutopia a solution for the small cash-strapped organization?
I would say our primary audience are organizations and people that need websites that require more complexity than something like WordPress (or a site builder like Squarespace) can offer. I think this platform cooperative model is really well suited to the small business or group that needs a simple blog but may want to scale to something more complex in the future. They get a community of users to bounce ideas off of and a technical team that’s responsive to you. If you want to be an early adopter, contact email@example.com.
How would you summarize Drutopia’s core mission?
A cultural shift – what we’re seeking is changing passive end-users to active participants of software, and closed, proprietary, unaccountable tools to open, transparent, and accountable tools.
Want to learn more about local EO companies?
Check out our full list of Colorado employee-owned companies.
Starting his career as a cubicle coder for ANR Freight Systems and the Colorado Department of Human Services, Larry Dunn has been an enthusiast of open source software for the last 15 years. He was recognized by the Denver Democrats for building and maintaining their website and automating meeting registration. Larry currently works as a freelance software developer.