Everything I wish I’d known about startups and the technology speculation industry
Danilo Campos

A People’s Venture

Thanks for such an inspiring article, Danilo. I’ve enjoyed reading a few of your works in the past couple weeks. Forgive me if this reply is beyond your patience.

I’d like to meet the closing request of your article by rising to its challenge, and taking my personal a shot at imagining a better society through technology.

I think you’ve done a great job of laying out the nature of the current scene in Silicon Valley, and the startup tech scene in general, where we’ve got four positions as you’ve described them:

  • Capitalists (By bringing capital, are granted full decision making power for all ventures)
  • Founders (Tech workers with early exit benefits)
  • Tech Workers (Workers favored for their similarity to the Founders, and particular educations)
  • Non-Tech Workers (Undervalued labor)

I think the obvious organizational aspiration should be to flatten these levels, to look more like this:

  • Human Being (Individual, maker of decisions, contributor of unique talents, supporter of other humans, with faith in humanity’s willingness to support them in return)

I think it’s basically already possible with normal Cooperative Corporation law, although the structure can be made even more liquid when built on a smart decentralized contract platform like Ethereum, which I’m going to resist diving into right now, but will lightly touch on later.

Here we go

So let’s say we start an organization, we call it People’s Venture. This organization is many things at once:

  • A cooperative corporation
  • A direct democracy
  • A bank
  • An investing platform
  • A provider of a living wage

This organization might start with a diverse group of startup founders who want to hedge their bets, believe in each other’s projects, and want to make their employees happier and more dedicated.

If these founders met a few ballsy Venture Capitalists who realized a radically dynamic social organization would be more likely to farm mythological horses, they might be willing to fund a venture dedicated not to a single product, but to an entirely new way of cultivating and developing value.

If the founders in this pool also agreed employees of this company would all be given fair shares of the diversified stock, and a guaranteed living wage for as long as they were willing to do what they were able to, I think we would have the right ingredients.

The incentives in such a venture collective would be radically different from the San Francisco of today. For one thing, as soon as it’s clear a project is not productive, its members have an incentive to help their would-be rivals instead, or move to another project in the collective fluidly, and it’s in everyone’s interest within the collective that they simply do something for the benefit of the whole, since they all have stock that relies on each and every one of the other ventures.

The assignment of labor could be a strange thing in this organization. Ideally, people are creative, and find ways they can contribute productively. Alternatively, the group members could propose roles for a person who was unsure where to contribute.

It could be ensured the group that members would never be ejected for things they were incapable of doing, as long as they were willing to do what they were able, as judged by their peers, in a continuous direct democracy. The burden of proving someone a parasite could be on the accuser instead of the accused.

If there was ever an excess of labor in this organization, it would reflect the worst on the creativity of the group in general for not suggesting something within that person’s ability, and the group would be punished for it by needing to support someone who had not been deemed useful, rather than the person being punished for lacking capacity for meeting any current needs.

This organization could exist virtually anywhere, and by establishing itself on land not currently valued greatly for a pre-existing economy, could extend its “runway” far beyond a normal startup, especially if some of that land was arable, and some of the labor spent on local farming.

The only requirement to sustain itself would be an occasional product or service that was useful to the outside capitalist world, enough to buy off its initial capitalists, which should be easy to do, because it has several advantages over a normal portfolio full of startups:

  • Bad companies liquify and evolve much faster, so less capital is burned trying to prove out a failing concept.
  • Decisions are made by the larger group, and so benefit from a diversity of perspectives, making observations that the VC themselves may have never considered.
  • Members are not burned out as quickly, reducing churn, and increasing dedication and focus of the workforce.

It could be a very fault-tolerant laboratory for trying new things. On a large enough scale, this sort of structure could be very welcoming to pure science, since once the organization is large enough, the financially uncertain value of science can be simply justified on a longer timeline, the way it damn well should be by society today.

If it were a pattern that worked, there would be no reason it couldn’t be repeated, or iterated on.

Now let me get a little deeper

If this were a digitally-empowered direct democracy, there would be no reason the rules and regulations of this society could not change on a dime.

If my flippantly written spit-ball of a utopia were *gasp* found to have flaws, in a digitally-empowered direct democracy, one good awareness campaign could change the policy almost instantly.

And if that digital democracy were written in Ethereum, the way Boardroom is (I know, again?) allows the very rules of its democracy to be instantly and transparently voted on in real time, in a decentralized and cryptographically provable way. A voting booth that cannot lie. Do you hear what I’m saying?!

And there are tons of great ideas for making a direct democracy manageable, even at scale. Liquid democracy lets you delegate your vote on issues you don’t notice to people you trust! Ranked choice voting dramatically improves the inclination towards a two-party system. All of that can be in our grasp if we just take a leap and adopt it.

The computer magic is falling in place. An eternally evolving micro-society is nearly within reach. The only question left is who will take the leap, and start a people’s venture?