A tech-eternity do, in 2016 and 2017, one of us helped organize a shareholder countryside on Twitter, asking the platform to discover strategies for transforming its users co-owners of the company. Twitter was then entertaining takeover offers from Disney and Salesforce. For those of us in the campaign, it seemed wrong that a platform of such personal and political importance, attracting such love-hate devotion from its users, was really just a commodity to buy and sell. The tech press covered our campaign but most widely dismissed as quixotic. We presented our proposal at Twitter’s annual meeting, and it won only a few percentage points of the shareholder’s vote.
But soon after, in 2018, Uber and Airbnb he wrote letters to the Securities and Exchange Commission proposing what seemed strangely similar to what we had asked of Twitter: to be allowed to grant the company’s equity to its users – its drivers and hosts, respectively. Regardless of whether they are (or should be) considered by law as employees, employers or customers, these are people on whom the platforms are based, and who are based in turn on the platforms. In a way, what seemed impossibly utopian in 2017 was now the corporate strategy of the biggest concert platforms. Without much fanfare, user ownership was slowly emerging as an industry trend.
Airbnb letter he made clear the reasoning: “Increased alignment of incentives between sharing economy companies and participants will both benefit” Platforms could gain more loyalty from users who might otherwise come and go on a whim. Meanwhile, equity premiums can cut users in the company’s property advantages, which are generally reserved for elite employees or people who already have wealth to invest.
We are not inclined to trust these companies, which have long had ambivalent relations with the public good. But it is true that a more widespread ownership in the platform economy could change the game. In Congratulations, Alec MacGillis ’new book on how Amazon reshaped America, cites former Labor Secretary Robert Reich’s observation that if Amazon owned a quarter of its employees, as Sears was once again, an average stock in 2020 could hold more than $ 400,000 in stock.
Capital grants may also include control rights over the corporate strategy. For social media platforms, for example, user owners may ask for limits on the use of their personal data, more control over what appears in their feeds, and a voice in policy making. of content moderation. Think of Facebook’s Supervisory Board, but with user-elected members and more significant power.
The SEC did not immediately accept the request from Airbnb and Uber to issue equity to users, so each company proceeded to resolve it. Uber issued cash grants to loyal carriers, with an option to buy stock in its 2019 public offering. Airbnb, whose pandemic returns hurt many guests, announced two forms of phantom ownership before becoming public in 2020: an “endowment” of the company’s shares for guest payments and a guest advisory board to inform company decisions. It seems that the companies were serious. And the SEC seems to be approaching; at the end of last year, the commission proposal allowing gig companies to pay up to 15 percent of the capital compensation.
As behemoth platforms have been working on their heritage sharing schemes, we have studied and supported a parallel movement: A new wave of first-stage startups seeking to include co-ownership in their plans from the outset. Some are “platform cooperatives” like New York City’s new car transportation service, the Driver Cooperative, and Kinfolk, a consumer cooperative that features black property brands. Despite the dramatic returns that “unicorn” companies promise to wealthy investors, these “zebra“Startups prioritize benefits for marginalized communities. Others, such as the software developer concert platform Gitcoin, use blockchain technology to share property through cryptocurrencies rather than old-fashioned stock.
Technology investors normally expect startups to get one of two types of “output,” IPO or acquisition. What if platform companies could instead work toward an eventual “exit to the community”? What if co-ownership was what long-term users expect? Rather than the swarming chaos of it GameStop craze, this approach could foster true loyalty, responsibility, and common wealth.
In a new article Peru Georgetown Law Technology Review, we have shown several ways in which “exit to the community”It could work. These strategies are based on long-standing examples, from the electric cooperatives that feed much of rural America to the Employee Stock Ownership Plan that serves about 14 million American workers today. We also explore the most recent possibilities raised by decentralized social media and blockchain technology.
A few pioneers already face this situation. A few years ago, rural-Colorado-based technical news website Hacker Noon used a “fair crowdfunding” campaign (in which Nathan participated) to leave Medium.com and build its own platform through investments from its users. Groupmuse, a platform for house chamber music concerts, has become the owner of the employees and it moves too towards the property of musicians.