The next person in our series is Danny Kelley from Edge Caliber! Danny is a business coach with 20 years of experience in software development. He gives us his perspective on co-ops after coming from a more traditional capital background, and what some of his thoughts are about the conference.
Could you give us some background on your organization/business?
“There are three businesses tied to this one; one is Edge Caliber. It’s a coaching company for small startups, but specifically about starting work around cooperatives. The second one is a worker-owned cooperative, HumBot Data & Analysis. It’s UAV drone company that uses a remote sensing technology, the idea of implementing LiDAR and Multispectral sensors with modern UAV Technology to better manage and understand forest lands. About eight weeks ago, I started a worker-owned construction company, and it’s focusing on building affordable housing.”
What brings you here to the conference?
“I think I am driven mainly by the value of the people who do the work [and who] should be the one who experience all of the value of their work. I came from a more traditional capital background. I spent about 18 years working for a multinational software developing company, and what I found was [that] the companies that have more empowerment from the workers to make organizational-wide management decisions responded to customers better [and] responded to the market better.
Smaller firms that are more traditionally hierarchical, are having trouble keeping up with all of the changes. In coaching we call it “VUCA”. It stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. And because the world is becoming increasingly VUCA, [in the] more traditional, top-down driven, the old CEO is making all the micromanagement decisions, but he doesn’t know [anything] about modern social media. It’s totally disconnected.”
How do you communicate that to your colleagues?
“I would ask them: ‘Here are two different ways you could form your business. In this model, you give all power to the people who have money, they take a share of your company, and you go work for them, until you can pay them off. Or, you can raise all the capital amongst yourselves, and retain most [of the] control of your company—which would you prefer?’
That’s how I do it, because when you really explain the difference between traditional capitalism and worker cooperative to the people who are coming to you with their great ideas to start a company, they get that. It’s their baby; they don’t want to give that out.
To the people who don’t understand, their fear is financing. A lot of the time they want to sell the soul right out of the gate to anybody who would give them a dollar. You would see people form partnerships and the guy with the great idea needs a web developer because he doesn’t know how to do it, so he gives half of the company to somebody who knows how to create a website. I think the idea for the next generation of economy is to retain as much value of the company as possible.
I get involved with them very early on [and] because I’m coach, I don’t dictate the things they should do. I simply ask very powerful open-ended questions; I drive meeting in the form of consensus. We use coaching techniques that solicits information from all members.
One of the very early thing we do is, we decide how we are going to make decision. Is it 100% consensus? Democracy? Majority rules? Simple majority? We establish those [rules] and we get those into written form of agreement early on, and typically everything cascades down from here. Most people want power, they want ownership, but learning how to own is hard.
We do this through training. Every meeting when we are discussing something, we reinforce the consensus model, we try to put context around all the technical things we talk about, form of government, legal formation style. We run imaginary scenario in front of the whole group, to help them decide how they are going to form, manage their finances, etc."
What’s your impression/what did you like about the conference?
“This is not exactly a critique about the conference, but sometimes cooperatives are seen as a hippy-dippy thing that lack principles or formats, so I think it’s very important [to have] a lawyer here talking about cooperatives. It’s very easy to sit around the room brainstorming [but] the hard part is, can you survive the legal challenges, raise funding, get insurance—the things that keep the business viable. I see you guys are trying to do that as well, educating people in your workshops is very important, and I am glad I attended the conference.”