Interviewed: Mass Mosaic's Eric Doriean on the FairShares Alternative

Mass Mosaic is an online forum for buying, selling, trading, renting, or borrowing goods and services. (Mass Mosaic via Facebook)

Founded in 2014 on the belief that contemporary technology can and should be mobilized to eliminate scarcity, Mass Mosaic is an online forum for buying, selling, trading, renting, or borrowing goods and services. The company, which also builds custom web-based tools to help organizations use resources more efficiently, recently announced its intention to become a FairShares enterprise. As such, it will offer four stakeholder groups—customers, employees, founders, and investors—a voice in company operations as well as a share in profits.

I recently spoke over Skype to Mass Mosaic Operations Chief Eric Doriean about the history of Mass Mosaic and the decision to restructure the company according to the FairShares brand and development model. Doriean joined the call from Arcosanti, the experimental Arizona city based on Paolo Soleri's theory of urban design, Arcology, where he was enrolled in a hands-on workshop. Mass Mosaic's CEO, Rob Jameson, is currently a resident at Arcosanti. In addition to participating in Arcology-oriented programming, the team is developing a solution to help Arcosanti maximize its use of on-site resources including buildings and residents.

Mass Mosaic Operations Chief Eric Doriean and CEO Rob Jameson are currently visiting Arcosanti, the experimental Arizona town based on Paolo Soleri's urban design principles. (Eric Doriean)

ABM: How is the workshop?

ED: It's great. I'd say last week was one of the weeks where I've learned the most in my lifetime. They call it the seminar week. It's an intensive week, from nature walks to history to talking about Arcology to actually creating art using silk casts. It's a great way to learn a lot about the place in just one week.

ABM: What brought you to Arcosanti?

ED: I've known about the place for quite a while. I'm really interested in communities, and have been for a long time. Rob [Jameson], our CEO, was going to come here after South by Southwest (SxSW) last year, and I said, "Yes, do that!" Something happened and that didn't work out. But after SxSW this year, he stopped in—I think just for one night. He had a few things to do in San Francisco, and went and did that. While he was there he was like, "No, I have to go back." So he's been here about two months now. As we were talking every day, I thought, "I need to get there, I'm really interested in community."

And there was a possibility [for us to contribute]. More than a possibility—now it's moving forward. There are a lot of resources here—in people, and in rooms, different things around the place—that aren't being utilized correctly. So we're building a custom solution for [Arcosanti]. It's something we'll be able to resell later as well, so it's working pretty well for everyone.

ABM: Let's loop back to the beginning. What is Mass Mosaic? What is your mission?

ED: [There is] a quote of Buckminster Fuller’s that drives the work I do: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

Little did I know, Rob also aligned with Fuller's principles. Around ten years ago, he [started to see] the web as a medium that could help propel those ideals. We met a few years later and our common values led to us working on the project together. After many offline experiments to help build a base for our direction, we launched the website in July 2014.

Our mission is a bold one—nothing less than: End manmade scarcity. We continue to iterate and fine tune our approach, but it is and always will be our driving force for why we do this.

In addition to the offline experiments we’ve done over the years, our personal experiences have taught us so much. [They] showed us that each and every person has value. Skills, experience, things, ideas, opportunities, or even what somebody wants makes everybody infinitely valuable. Despite this, many of us are living lives where we're not fulfilling the real possibilities of that value.

Mass Mosaic is the platform to help break the scarcity paradigm so many are living in. People add the value they have and want. As the community grows, more and more matches become possible to unlock that value.

ABM: Tell me about some of the offline experiences or work that preceded Mass Mosaic.

ED: Rob and I, we both had different experiences. Some of Rob's are relatively personal, and he'll talk about them when he does. For me, one part of it came from festivals such as Burning Man.

With Burning Man, you take lots of things and skills, and once you're there there's no money paid. It creates—it's hard to put a word on it, but the best term I've come up with is a field, where anything is possible.

I've seen on many occasions where someone asks for something audibly, and someone just walking by has it in their hand and passes it to them. For me, it really reinforces the power of abundance, and the value everyone has. That was definitely a big part of my personal journey.

We've done surveys over the years. We've asked people things like, what do they want, and what do they have—just to see, even within a small group of people, if we could make matches.

Rob and I knew we wanted to work together. But we really needed a "Why?" Bringing together our knowledge of Buckminster Fuller and our shared values was what allowed us to really go, "Why are we doing this? Why do we want to get up every day and put energy into this?" Money has never been a driving force for us. We need inspiration.

ABM: Let's talk about the transition to FairShares. First, why shift to a different ownership model?

ED: Many years ago, I read a book called When Corporations Rule the World by David Korten. It opened my eyes to the devastating effects the corporations of today have on people, the communities we live in, and the world at large.

Having a corporate background myself and [having had] my ignorance of the real effects of current corporations shattered, [I was] in a unique position to think of solutions to these problems. It was clear to me that decision-making and profits needed to be shared more equitably in the companies of the future.

It’s also extremely important that as Mass Mosaic grows and the number of stakeholders grow, we always stay true to our values and mission. That's something that couldn’t be guaranteed with an existing corporate structure.

By doing it, we're drawing a line in the sand that means we're probably never going to get VC funding. We have to be really happy with that, and it changes the way we look at things. But what we're creating is just too important to let other people with less altruistic values and mission take over.

ABM: Did you always plan to transition Mass Mosaic to a multi-stakeholder structure? Or did this evolve more recently?

ED: It's evolved more recently. I've thought these sorts of things were necessary in the past. But it was a process to—I guess you could say that I was the champion within Mass Mosaic. I pushed very hard over a couple of different times.

Before we came across FairShares I was suggesting something similar. It definitely wasn't accepted at that stage. But once I came across FairShares I put it to the [team] again. I think with a little bit of time, and actually having an independent body with this structure instead of it just [being] something coming out of my head, helped. I mean, the others were never against it, but they knew the implications it would have, especially around funding. We had to, as a team, really believe in it together. And that started earlier this year.

ABM: It sounds like part of the attraction of the FairShares model was that it's not strictly do-it-yourself. You wouldn't be on your own. Was there anything else about FairShares in particular that made you say, "Yes, this is it"?

ED: Yes. To me, it combined all the principles of the kind of structure that I had envisioned for so long. The co-­founders of FairShares have themselves all worked on multi-­stakeholder structures for around about 20 years. They brought their knowledge and experience together to create a structure that is flexible, whilst adhering to fundamental principles that we believe the companies of tomorrow should have.

So it was not just the fact that it was an independent body. It was the experience of people doing it for a long period of time. That was a really big thing.

In particular, I really liked that FairShares gives rights and power to four stakeholder groups: founders, investors, employees, and customers. All of those groups are responsible for creating an organization. But it's the founders and investors that get to reap the benefits, usually. Sometimes—through employee share plans or bonuses—the employees do, but hardly ever the customers.

It makes a lot of sense as far as a solution for corporations in the future. If all the corporations of today had this sort of structure, it would be an absolute game-changer. Between Google, Apple, and Microsoft, we've got half a trillion dollars sitting in cash on these balance sheets. If that was distributed out to customers, employees, and different people around the world, who knows what would happen?

ABM: Where are you in the process? Or is that privileged information?

ED: Oh, no. We really want to be transparent with what we're doing. It's a people-powered movement. So we definitely want to be transparent.

We have gone through a process with FairShares to come up with with a model that suited a technology business, whilst still adhering to the FairShares principles.

With that in place, we launched a website (peoplepower.massmosaic.com) with all the details that came out of that process. The website provided a way for people to send us feedback and to refine the model, if needed. It's really important that we get that feedback before we move forward with implementing. You get one chance to put this out there. And though things can go through, like at the general meeting, to change things, it's important to get that base there. We're not kidding ourselves. We want to make sure that everybody's really into this.

That's still ongoing. We've had a bunch of feedback and interest. There's a time and a place—and we're not quite there yet—when we've had enough feedback, and we've had enough interest. We're going to be launching a crowdfunding campaign. The crowd fund will not only provide the fund required for Mass Mosaic to take this step, but will also allow us to document a how-to guide for anybody to transition to FairShares in the future.

ABM: Have you encountered obstacles in the shift to FairShares thus far?

ED: FairShares hasn’t been implemented in the US yet, nor has any other global technology company become a FairShares enterprise. There’s no set path for us to take on our transition, so we are breaking new ground. With that comes challenges, but all the advice we have received to date has shown there is path forward for us to do it.

FairShares has a default articles of association. That changes depending on the model that is decided in the end. That articles of association is a Creative Commons document, so any changes to that would be released to the public for anyone to use. But beyond that, as I said, we really want to document how we did this, put it all out there, so that other people coming after us don't have to go through all that themselves.

ABM: Stepping back to Mass Mosaic, what's your vision looking forward?

ED: We’re seeing technology move in leaps and bounds on the knowledge front. Ray Kurzweil says in 20 years we’ll be implanting microcomputers in our brains to connect with knowledge. Our vision for Mass Mosaic in the future is more of a human view, where people’s value spurs on a renaissance of our time.

Within the team, we look at the Library of Alexandria in what is modern-day Egypt, and how it spurred a cultural awakening. In the future what we're seeing as needed is a Library of Value. We believe it's going to be the cornerstone of a renaissance where people of all walks of life are able to thrive. All the knowledge in the world is useless if, as a species, the value we all have isn’t properly being utilized. That's really our drive—to help people connect with the abundance that is there, both with the operations of Mass Mosaic and with the FairShares enterprise model as well.

ABM: Is there anything else you'd like me to know, either about Mass Mosaic or about the change in ownership?

ED: Something we're really excited about is what we're doing here at Arcosanti. We’re in the process of implementing a web-based solution for Arcosanti, where the value of the place and its people can be used as efficiently as possible. At some time in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be releasing this solution into the public as well, so that any community group or project will be able to utilize the same technology.

It's an important case study for us as well. The network of Arcosanti is really, really large. A lot of people have come through here over the years. I think it's about 8,000 people who have lived here; 40,000 people a year come through the place as well. So it really is a win-win solution for us and Arcosanti.

It's a bottom-up approach, where the value that is here is used as efficiently as possible, and will help propel this place whilst giving us a really good test case for future development plans.

Want to learn more about Mass Mosaic, FairShares, and co-ownership and the sharing economy? Check out the links below.

 

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