The Terran Collective’s 2017 Retrospective
As 2017 comes to a close it is incredible that the Terran Collective is now one year old! I can scarcely believe it. This was a year of firsts, ups and downs, building foundations and growing together. In the end we hit almost all the goals we set last January and are moving into 2018 with amazing energy and excitement in the air. First though let’s do a quick recap and retrospective on our first year.
When Aaron Brodeur, Dor Garbash and I officially agreed to join forces and start our formal partnership as an LLC on January 1, 2017 there were a lot of unknowns. Aaron and I were long time friends and had been planning to start this company for years, while Dor was more of a newcomer in our lives. We were all planning to move in together so there was a lot riding on our work and our relationships. At the core we knew that our visions of what we wanted to bring into the world were very aligned; we were going to create new systems and practices of human collaboration, designing, modeling and sharing ways of working together that are more equitable, cooperative, and empowering for everyone involved. However we didn’t yet have a strong idea of how to execute on this mission, so we set about building a strong foundation first.
We kicked off 2017 by defining concrete goals for the year and putting a few basic agreements in place around decision making, roles and responsibilities, ownership and compensation. We decided that our first year would primarily be about achieving financial security, while making sure we were “walking the walk” i.e. embodying our values at every step of the way. More concretely we established goals in four main areas: work culture & relationships, finances, product development, and organizational structure. Let’s dive into each of these as well as one bonus area of growth we didn’t think we’d get to in 2017, expanding the team.
Work culture and relationships
One of the primary goals for Terran is to design and live a work culture that is integrated into our lives in a healthy way, and supports all our individual and collective needs, be they practical, psychological or emotional. On this front we did amazing work together this past year. We knew that we would only succeed at this by building strong relationships based on understanding and trust, and so we made a concerted effort to share openly and listen deeply to each other. Of course we faced many moments of tension, and a few serious conflicts, but we were committed to the hard work of reconciliation and repair. We developed rhythms and rituals that kept us connected, brought play and joy into our work life, and made sure that resentments never built up but got processed quickly. Most recently we started a Friday afternoon “sappy hour” where we all check about how our weeks went and share what we could use help with from one another. This way we start the weekend feeling connected, seen and supported.
A couple of months ago we kicked off an even more comprehensive “coherence” process that has been especially helpful. With the assistance of the amazing Chelsea Robinson (another housemate of ours) we navigated some particularly tricky tensions, put together a thorough but simple conflict resolution process, and made some great progress on our vision, mission and values. Now we are moving into 2018 feeling aligned and ready to move forward as a powerful team!
Finances: paying the bills with contract work
The Terran Collective is a long term mission-driven organization, we will never sell out. This means for example that we won’t take venture capital money which would require us to grow unsustainably and lose focus on our mission. We made the decision at the start to bootstrap, paying our bills with contract work while building our own products and exploring different business models. We spent a good amount of time in the first half of 2017 crafting our story as a cooperative software development agency and building our sales pipeline. To start we launched our website and let our networks know we were open for business. Then began the process of learning to market ourselves, handle sales calls, manage our customers, etc. Derek Razo (another housemate) helped us level up our skills in these areas. There were definitely challenges, none of us particularly enjoy doing sales, and we had a couple of dry spells between contracts, but in the end we hit our financial goals for the year and worked on some amazing projects!
Our list of clients includes home energy storage startup Swell Energy, Mosaic Solar, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation through ideo.org, the French Ministry of Education, sustainable supply chain non-profit Yellow Seed, and progressive political non-profit Demand Progress, with whom we helped build battleforthenet.com, the primary site that coordinated the movement fighting for Net Neutrality. This last project was one of the most rewarding of my life, to see millions of people use the site to make calls, write letters and submit passionate videos defending our rights to a free and open internet was truly inspiring. I will note that most of these clients were not able to pay us our “market rate” as we definitely prioritized values aligned work while still ensuring that we were on track to hit our revenue targets.
This summer we connected with another group of mission aligned entrepreneurs and technologists (at the time calling themselves the Emergent Collective) who were focused on the potential of the blockchain to govern decentralized, cooperative companies and we decided to join forces and see if their train was headed in the same direction as ours. We have now spent the last four months working in various capacities with this group. Part of the time we worked on the blockchain technology project DAOstack with the Israeli founders, and the rest was spent working with a team in San Francisco to integrate DAOstack with their soon to launch app called Zero. While I personally have some healthy skepticism of the blockchain hype and speculation, I do know that distributed computing, decentralized governance, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology will absolutely be important parts of the future, and hopefully we can bring our values to bear and help steer this technology in a positive direction. Moving forward into 2018 we are committed to keep working on DAOstack for at least the next few months and excited about its potential role in this nascent ecosystem. This also gives us some stable income right now so we can keep building on the foundations we set in 2017.
While we are happy bringing in money from mission driven contract work for now, the medium term goal for the Terran Collective is to build our own products that are more directly tied to our mission and bring in ongoing revenue. In particular we are excited about creating tools to enable more cooperative, collaborative, equitable and sustainable communities and organizations. Tools that we would love to have ourselves. So it was perfect when Dor showed up with a prestigious grant from the French Ministry of Education to build a project that came out of his PHD research, a unique take on collaboration software for organizations that fits right into our wheelhouse.
Much of the first half of the year was spent on the first prototype of this product which we are (for now) calling Heroes of X, or Heroes for short. Heroes enables members of organizations and communities to help each other more easily and effectively. We were able to quickly produce a solid first version of the software and our pilot customer, the Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity in Paris, has used it with success since April. Over the rest of the year we didn’t have much time to put into Heroes, but we ran a few additional pilots, did a couple more iterations to improve the product, and investigated a number of possible target markets and business models which we will explore more in 2018. While we would have liked to get further with Heroes in the last year, we are proud of what we were able to build with a small team working less than half time on it, and believe that this tool has a ton of value to bring to the world. Much more to come on this soon!
Another project we were excited to work on in 2017 was designing and modeling new ways of structuring the basic systems and processes that make up all companies: ownership, governance, conflict resolution, HR, etc. We wanted to start from first principles to design these systems in such a way that they would deeply support our values and mission over the long term. Unfortunately this is one area where we didn’t make as much progress as we wanted to. Of course bringing in revenue and figuring out how to get along took precedence and so we kept pushing the bigger structural work to the back burner.
It was also hard to figure this stuff out with just the three of us since we didn’t really need to. As co-founders it was easy to split ownership equally and make important decisions by consensus. Now, as we prepare to grow the collective it will be much more important to have comprehensive, well defined agreements for how we operate.
Finally, we ran into a problem where we needed to have our core vision, mission and values completed before turning to the deeper agreements, and it turned out to be hard to articulate these in a way that we were all fully on board with. However we have made a ton of progress on this in the last couple months while working with Chelsea, and we expect to finish in the next few weeks. Very soon we will be ready to come out into the world with a much clearer articulation of who we are, what we’re about, and how to join us. I can’t express how excited I am for this 😃
Expanding the team
This brings me to final important milestone of 2017, in the last couple months we have actually started to expand our container and bring in some new energy! First we formed an ongoing relationship with Zeke Swepson and his CodeWalker Institute, a very cool organization that works to bring more people of color into tech through mentoring and on the job training. We have since turned over most of the Demand Progress work to them. We also joined forces with the incredible Pascale Terra Deau (another housemate!) and Sofi Yuri to work on some of our human practices as well as develop ways for us to share this work with other communities. We want to sync up our in-person relational tools with the use of our software tool Heroes to build a culture of reciprocity and mutual support across more and more communities and organizations.
Having three powerful women join us has been game changing. We knew we needed feminine energy to balance us and their perspectives have been invaluable. One of the best moments of the year was our first of hopefully many welcoming ceremonies, where we each told the story of what had brought us to this moment of wanting to work together and offered commitments to each other as we move forward in deeper relationship. It was a powerful and touching circle of inspiration, motivation and love.
So after a successful 2017, we move into 2018 with a lot of excitement! For the next 3 months we are committed to our work with DAOstack, which has the potential to play a big role in creating new forms of more decentralized and empowering governance systems for organizations of all kinds. We are also staying focused on our coherence work, so we can bring Terran out into the world in a big way. And we are working to polish up Heroes and figure out the best way to build it into a successful business. With all of this in the works we absolutely plan to grow our collective over the course of 2018. If these ideas excite you please don’t hesitate to reach out, we love connecting with any and all aligned souls who want to participate in manifesting a harmonious planet.