As “death star platforms” such as Airbnb and Uber continue their pursuit of global domination, an alternative is rising in its wake.
Platform cooperatives, which share the value they create with the users they depend on, are on the rise. As Shareable co-founder Neal Gorenflo writes in How Platform Co-ops Can Beat Death Stars Like Uber to Create a Real Sharing Economy, “Platform coops combine a cooperative business structure with an online platform to deliver a real-world service.”
Gorenflo asks, “What if Uber was owned and governed by its drivers? What if Airbnb was owned and governed by its hosts?” We don't have to wait to find out. A growing number of platform cooperatives are making their presence known on a global scale. Below are just 11 platform co-ops that are changing the way people organize, run businesses, create value, and share the wealth. There are many more.
Fairmondo is a digital, co-operative version of eBay, where sellers on the platform are also its owners. Launched by Felix Weth in Germany in 2013, the platform is, as Chelsea Rustrum writes, “rooted in an ethos of open source, open innovation, and a commons-based society. It has funded itself through a series of successful crowdfunding campaigns that have raised hundreds of thousands of Euros in member equity.”
To scale globally, the Fairmondo team plans to create an international network of country-based co-ops feeding into the Fairmondo platform.
Stocksy is a stock photo site where contributing photographers are also owners. A “highly curated collection” of royalty-free stock photos, the platform is a cooperative that believes in creative integrity, fair profit sharing, co-ownership, and every voice being heard. It’s a new twist on traditional co-ops. As they state on the website, “Think more artist respect and support, and less patchouli.”
Contributing Stocksy photographers receive 50% of a Standard License Purchase and 75% of an Extended License Purchase. Every Stocksy contributor receives a share of the company.
Backfeed is a platform to create platform cooperatives, all powered by the blockchain. Backfeed bills itself as, "a social operating system for decentralized organizations." It enables massive, open-source collaboration without central coordination. Using a blockchain-based operating system, the Israeli company’s infrastructure comprises decentralized management tools, equity-sharing schemes, crowdsourcing mechanisms, and instruments for the collaborative evaluation and curation of content.
With a goal to enable the bootstrapping of decentralized organizations on top of the blockchain as easily as deploying a website, Backfeed can fuel a variety of ventures, including “decentralized journalism, insurance, ride-sharing applications and any other enterprise that would benefit from the decentralized, indirect coordination of large groups of individuals.”
Photo: Nancy Xu (CC-BY)
A ridesharing company that is taking on Uber, Juno has reserved 50% of its equity for platform drivers. The company is being built by an experienced team of startup veterans, including founder Talmon Marco, who sold his messaging app Viber to Rakuten for $900 million, and is well-funded with backing coming from Viber founders rather than outside VCs.
The New York City-based startup, which recently launched service in the Big Apple, is reportedly only taking a 10% commission of each ride (Uber takes 20-35%), and is giving drivers the option to be contractors or employees (if they want to be exclusive to Juno).
5. Union Taxi
Union Taxi in Denver, Colorado, a driver-owned taxi cooperative, represents a growing trend. Drivers are increasingly organizing taxi cooperatives for better pay and working conditions than what traditional taxi companies and Uber can offer. They also must compete successfully. Union Taxi appears to be doing both. They offer a convenient service with e-hailing (like Uber) and driver ownership and control of the business.
CWA (Communications Workers of America) Local 7777 helped the drivers form the cooperative and plays an ongoing support role. By driving for Union, cab drivers cut their car lease rate by two-thirds. As Lisa Bolton, president of the union told Shareable, “By far, the biggest advantage was the lease rate." This enabled drivers to work less, "which gives them more time at home. They were taking home a lot more of their money that they were making, and everybody was contributing the same amount to the business.”
PDX Yellow Cab is a similar taxi cooperative in Portland, Oregon, where Somali cab drivers broke away from traditional cab companies to form their own—the first major Somali-owned business in Portland. Union Cab Cooperative in Portland is also fairly new (pictured above), though neither cooperative offer e-hailing yet.
6. VTC Cab
After Uber cut fares across Paris, some of its drivers created a competing service, VTC Cab. Modeled after Uber, the ride-sharing platform aims to give drivers more control over their business and provide passengers an opportunity to support a French company.
As the app’s founder, Mohammed Radi, told the Verge, "We want to re-establish and regain our rights over Uber. Uber is not representative of our community... They are a technology company which has no connection with the world of transportation. So they treat human beings like a number — you know, like a figure on a computer. And being a number, as a driver, it's a very bad feeling."
Modo is a Vancouver-based consumer car sharing co-op. Launched in 1997, with just two cars and 16 members, Modo has grown to 16,000 members and a fleet of over 500 sports cars, sedans, trucks, SUVs, vans and hybrids—all available to share at $4/hour through a smartphone app and website. Member-owners are shareholding members of the co-op which means they get a vote as well as the best rates for carsharing.
Timefounder is a “fair and elegant equity split system where you will love to wake up and work on projects you will end up owning with the rest of the team members.” The app allows founders to be fair with the people who invest time in a project and allows experts to invest time in projects and get future shares or others benefits. Based in Barcelona, the Timefounder team aims to "enable collaboration with fair equity split."
Enspiral is a collective of social enterprises and freelancers that makes, uses, and distributes free apps for decision making and budgeting. Based in New Zealand, the platform, which is self-described as a “sort of a 'DIY' social enterprise support network,” has a goal to help their organization, as well as other organizations and movements, run democratically. As the website states, “If you're an independent, entrepreneurial person with a deep commitment to service and social change and want to discover your own way to have an impact alongside like-minded people, Enspiral is fertile ground.”
Tapazz is a peer to peer carsharing co-op in Belgium. A recognized cooperative company, it enables shareholders who believe in the company's social mission (to ensure a sustainable mobility society) to participate in its growth. Shareholders can invest, produce and create a transparent structure to ensure sustainable mobility. As an added bonus, Tapazz “offers space for co-creating and collaboration, so it really is a business of everyone.”
Peerby is a Dutch neighbor-to-neighbor goods sharing platform. The company recently raised $2.2 million from users in a recent crowdfunding campaign, which makes users the biggest shareholder class. UPDATE: users are the biggest class of investor, though most shares still held by founders and employees.
A certified B corp, Peerby plans to use the funds, which surpasses the total venture capital dollars the startup raised previously and makes it one of the most successful international crowdfunding campaigns ever, for product development and international expansion of a new business model named Peerby Go, with a specific focus on the UK and North America.
What are your favorite platform co-ops? Please share in the comments.
UPDATE, May 26, 2016: We've gotten a few comments that some of the above selections aren't cooperatives in the strict legal sense. That is true. Some companies are in the process of becoming cooperatives (or blockchain versions of that like Backfeed), operate with cooperative principles (Enspiral), or are sharing the wealth more than their tech peers (Juno and Peerby). We want to point out and encourage a trend toward more sharing of value and power in tech companies. We, like others in the sharing community, use the term "platform cooperative" in a non-legal way to encompass such efforts.