Thoughts en route:
I am considering what it is I want from a trip as extensive and full as this one.
Madrid, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Strasbourg, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, Boston and San Francisco.
Information will flow I am sure, information on what others are doing, what steps and processes they are using, how they raise money. Meeting people and introducing Loomio will happen too.
Are these things enough of a reason for such a huge journey? I find myself thinking about opening to possibility, possibility of deepening relationships, possibility for opening opportunity, possibility for the unexpected to arrive on this journey.
I would love to meet people who have created successful scalable online social enterprise, who have thought through business models and identified ethical approaches to funding .
So much potential in NZ is limited by the piecemeal social enterprise sector , the lack of government action, policy or even interest in investing in this powerful new form of economic development. In NZ we have enthusiasm and ideas, start ups and enterprises but we don’t have the conditions to thrive, not policy, not funders, not an engaged investment sector, nor a risk taking philanthropic sector.
So Loomio needs to play in an international space where some of these elements are already in place, where there is commitment and conviction about the role of social enterprise in finding new approaches, and technology to create new outcomes in our world.
Where people are engaged right now in re-visioning , renewing and co creating what business, wealth, and economics mean for us as a world and global community for today a tomorrow.
This is the possibility that excites me the most, the idea of being part of an international community who knows our name and who sees the power of collaborative decision making.
Letting in the possibility of Loomio itself is perhaps the internal journey that this world trip provides space for.
A world where anyone can participate in the decisions that affect them. Truly what would this take?
A belief that many people thinking together will make better decisions than an individual will.
A commitment to a powerful sense of self worth in every person on earth, that their view is important, their Experience valid and their voice critical, especially in those decisions that most directly affect them. .
A strong movement of people bringing momentum and energy to new ideas of citizenship and what participating as a citizen could look like in this technological age.
I am struck by the idea that Loomio is already part of this story; the trip an opportunity to ensure we do our part well, that we see clearly enough and dream big enough to connect all the pieces of this movement.
Creating from possibility opportunity.
Creating from opportunity dreams.
Creating from dreams our dreams made manifest.
If Only Everyone Would Act Like They Owned the Business
A key principle for Loomio has been growing and developing in ways that live the change we want to see in the world.
Loomio has been around for 18 months, and we have smoothly survived those first tricky 3, 6, and 12 month danger zones for any start up. I can feel inside myself a growing sense of confidence that we can actually succeed at inventing a horizontal collaborative organisation whilst simultaneously launching and growing a sustainable SAAS.
The women’s movement and collectivism has had a strong influence on my life, the ways I think about power and powerfulness in particular, but so has 20 years of traditional management theory and practice.
In this context I felt if any part of Loomio was important philosophically but perhaps beyond us practically, it was the goal of distributed management and decision making. After all, would it be timely, and efficient? How would we manage the inevitable interpersonal tensions and of course the risk of underperformance and good employment practice.
The cynics among you will say it is still early days, there are only 15 of you, wait till you scale, and you may be right. But I am feeling increasingly amazed by what we have achieved so far. Celebrating success creates more success, and most start-ups fail because relationships fail. Both these things make it really important to celebrate what Loomio has achieved so far in creating our version of a democratic and engaged horizontal organisation.
The legal structure is serving us well. Loomio is a Workers Cooperative, apparently the only one in NZ at this time. Every person employed by Loomio will be on a pathway to becoming a Loomio shareholding member.
I cant tell you the number of times I have been involved in conversations with other senior managers about staffing challenges and wished aloud that people would ‘act like they owned the business’. The amazing thing is that until now I have never really understood that this is a serious strategy; that staff sharing the ownership of upsides and risks in business is a real possibility for everyone! This idea seems to challenge strongly held ideas about a managerial class, and judgements about the unequal value of contribution.
The experience of Loomio through two intakes of contributors (employees) into members (shareholders) is that people are excited and honoured to be invited and immediately step up into a new more self-initiating way of being in the organisation and on behalf of the work we do together.
At Loomio we have identified performance as a team concern measured and reflected on weekly or fortnightly in the product and design scrums and the business development processes.
Every member and contributor at Loomio has a Steward whose job it is to clarify the persons emergent high level outcomes, and then support that person to succeed in achieving them. The Steward will most likely not be a member of the person’s direct work team and can be approached to provide support, advocacy and mediation when required.
Loomio is developing a remuneration strategy that reflects the balance between equity across staff and autonomy as individuals. People employed by Loomio will set their own salary within guidelines provided by the Equity and Fair Pay Policy.
I think the thing I most want to celebrate right now in Loomio are the informal systems of support and care that are so present in the team. People step into strong clear accountability conversations in timely ways, others offer space and facilitation when there are difficult interpersonal dynamics.
Loomio is still a start-up; like all startups we manage cash flow on a day to day and week to week basis. In a workers cooperative context this involves everyone strategising cashflow dips, and adjusting levels of Loomio work and contracting work so the over all momentum remains in place.
I remember a time at Relationshps Aotearoa Inc.as CEO, when the government contract was paid 3 months late. The main risk in my mind was not paying staff on time. I managed this by mortgaging my family home to ensure no-one was adversely affected by poor government payment processes. It did not occur to me to share the problem with staff or to expect they would want to be involved in resolving the situation.
Perhaps this experience highlights the power and flexibility of an organisation where everyone acts like they are an owner of the business because they are an owner of the business.
Madrid was challenging for me. The environment was very structured and very male dominant. I had forgotten the feeling of being in a conversation and people responding to the comments I make to the man who can talk on my behalf. Thank Goddess Ben was noticing this as well – we just agreed he would bat the ball back. The evening session was hard, all in Spanish, plenty of deep tiredness, but also fascinating. Loads of emotional energy firing around, trying to read the emotional context was an interesting experience. Highlight – without a doubt Reyes Montiel talking about the Spanish Green Party (Equo) use of Loomio at the regional and national level. She also had good questions like:-
how can we facilitate better so 1 person with lots of time doesn’t dominate?
How to make it work for more people?
The next morning was completely different. Small number of us, probably the most aligned men with what Loomio is doing. I had great breakthroughs in my thinking talking with them that morning.
Secondly, that our commitment to scale and measuring social impact also sets our strategy on a completely different path that the other Madrid initiatives. They are totally focussed on the Political. Which brings me to my third point.
By everyday democracy we mean building the capacity and competence for group discussion and decision making from small groups up to large groups, starting where people are at,and learning as we go. We mean building the context for everyone to be involved in decision making wherever in their lives. What I have become more conscious of is how this frame leads and guides our development in much more commercially scalable ways than if we had focussed on the political system. From where I am sitting here in London these team diversities and strategic focus have made Loomio so much easier to talk about and compelling for people to hear about. (just saying)
This was an easy gig for us. Probably 30% of the people were supportive NZers. There was a real buzz in the room. People from that meeting are inaction in Loomio already and we have strategic follow up business meetings on Monday as a result. Customers and Channel partners were easy to spot and keen to follow up.
The main coder in the room at the Hub event was Paul MacKay, who works for NESTA and his own business Folk Labs and had great feedback for us.
Oh my goodness, Hannah did this with such class and attention to detail. I loved every minute of it, even the fish and chips! We met Kate Swade from Shared Assets who are a group working on public decision making around shared spaces, like the canals. Kate wants to work closely with us and we will be following her up as a priority. Hannah had really worked her network to find and invite exactly the right people to this exclusive, in a basement, under a skating rink mystery dinner
KPMG in London have decided to commit to the front end of the start up scene. Set up an accessible informal team in the tech hub area of London and are building long term realtionships for long term pay back. Aimee who leads the team, just ‘got’ us immediately. She loved the tool and we discussed two opportunities to explore together. This was such an important meeting because it really exemplifies the difference in this European market to our own small and comparatively poor market. The opportunities and the interest in Loomio is palpable. What is also clear is that we have developed in a way that people see as best practice. Lots of positive feedback about our approach.
Cool international representative group of men (no Oxford isn’t a men only environment it is just that only men go there!).
Basically they are interested in social impact that will increase the well-being of British People in 3 categories, including participation and democracy. They would definitely invest in a NZ company if everything else stacks up. Joe rapidly talked through a process sort of like this:-
-Is there a problem/need? “YES”, -Are people willing to pay to fix it? “YES” – is it built based on customer feedback, “YES” , great lets move on. Joe began to think about introductions to important London agencies. We left after 40 minutes feeling deeply excited.
One day after a venture capitalist told us to stick to social enterprise but that the hard part would be finding people open to investing in an overseas company, we had found two!