Towards a (More) Sharing Economy
Why Cooks Will Share the Ownership and Control of Josephine
But values define an organization from the inside out. While we are advocating for a ‘people-first’ food system externally, we should also do everything in our power to ensure a ‘people-first’ business internally. To do that, we are breaking from the traditional C-Corp model in some big ways, which we believe will both strengthen our business and support our missions.
We built Josephine to serve the cooks.
Josephine economically empowers people who have been excluded from, or exploited by, the professional food industry. Our platform helps cooks make money by sharing home cooked food with their friends and communities. And bringing Josephine to the world can only be done with their help.
The long-term interests of our cooks are the long-term interests of Josephine.
Staying accountable to our cooks simply isn’t possible if we (the Josephine founders and staff) operate without significant input from them. Cooks should help us assess trade-offs between certain business decisions. Cooks should help us determine our legislative goals. And early Josephine cooks (who are risking their time and livelihoods much the same as early employees), should share in the potential upside of making those decisions well. Meaningful input best follows from meaningful voice and ownership.
We believe a for-profit model is the best way to scale impact and systems change today (more on this below and to come), but we also believe that we can design an organization that more equitably distributes ownership and agency to support long-term, common interests.
We are in the Wild West of the emerging decentralized economy. Legal precedent (e.g. permits, occupational licensing) and workers’ rights (e.g. benefits, labor unions) have been outpaced by new technology (e.g. smartphones, blockchain), accountability mechanisms (e.g. ratings, reviews), and business models. Much like early industrialists (‘robber barons’?), new platform operators are unlocking massive efficiency and economic opportunity, but also evading some the basic responsibilities of ethical employment.
New ‘gig economy’ workers are many of the same people who have always been vulnerable and voiceless in the low-wage service sector. So our basic human values suggest the importance of not further anonymizing and destabilizing them in the new economy.
The idea of sharing is being used very selectively in the ‘sharing economy’. Today we see a growing class of invisible labor that shares their assets, free time, etc but doesn’t share in the decision-making or ownership of the new economy.
While some marketplaces may succeed by commodifying or eliminating human labor (with drones and self-driving cars), many others will instead succeed by empowering service providers. Josephine is one such platform providing a creative, differentiated service. Beyond good food, home cooking is about personal touch, cultural stories and community connection. Empowering our cooks doesn’t just feel good — it is essential to our business.
Platforms can share more economic value and agency with their providers. And beyond ethics, platforms will have to contend with the reality of increasingly independent providers voting with their feet, cars, homes and kitchens. There are a growing number of platforms (e.g. Managed by Q, Stocksy) that put providers first and will be more secure and adaptive as the peer economy matures.
How is Josephine getting started?
We are starting now by building certain non-negotiable values and provider rights into our the structure of our corporation. We are actively considering external accountability mechanisms (e.g. B-Corp certification) but resist the assumption that businesses left to their own devices must inherently trend towards profit for shareholders at the expense of other stakeholders.
Specifically, we are building towards shared:
- We are designating a provider stock option pool equivalent to 20% of Josephine, Inc. outstanding stock (similar to our option pool for early employees) to be distributed to cooks beginning in 2017
- Individual cook’s ownership will reflect how early they join Josephine and how much time/energy they invest (e.g. meals served)
- A rotating Cook Council will serve as a conduit for cook community feedback and input into Josephine strategic decisions
- Cook Council representative(s) will hold a minimum of one seat on Josephine’s Board of Directors beginning in 2017
- Our equity plan, Cook Council / Board of Directors decisions and other details will be added to our open source company handbook
- We’ll host quarterly meetings with our Leadership Team and the Cook Council and provide monthly business updates to the Cook Council
- We’ll be transparent with our pricing model (currently a flat 10% take of cooks’ sales)
These commitments are a natural extension of our core mission of serving the cooks and the culmination of many frank discussions over our cooks’ kitchen counters.
We’re excited to continue to get better at walking the walk, by doing things that we as an organization are proud of — cooks included. To deliver on the true promise of the ‘sharing’ economy, we must share value and voice with the workers with whom we are building our business.
Here is one of the failed rules of today’s economy: humans are expendable. Their labor should be eliminated as a cost whenever possible. This will increase the profits of a business, and richly reward investors. These profits will trickle down to the rest of society. The evidence is in. This rule doesn’t work. It’s time to rewrite the rules. We need to play the game of business as if people matter.
— Tim O’Reilly
As always, we’d deeply appreciate your thoughts. Because we’re charting new territory, any and all opinions are valuable!