* 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.”