Why Employee Owned Source Code Is Not (Yet) A Thing

I started writing about some kind of employee owned business in 2009, as a result of going to watch Michael Moore's movie, Capitalism: A Love Story. In 2015 I started to finally take this idea more seriously, and in the process of that began putting together the idea of employee owned source code and a license for it.

When I started to write about this concept, it was no surprise that Google didn't rank me number one for this idea. As an old SEO practitioner from back when SEO was a thing, I knew this was partly because I'd just started writing about it and partly because my layout needed some simple SEO 101 fixes. What did surprise me however was not that I wasn't first or even on page one, but that the people who ahead of me got there by a sort of semantic fuzziness -- nobody but me had actually been writing about employee owned source code per se.

As the old joke went, I was coming in second place in a beauty pageant in which the only contestant.

Is It Dumb, or Is It Just Hard?

Faced with the evidence of having invented a concept that Google didn't spider directly, I realized that I invented the concept, and once that horror dawned on me, I had to decide something. Was I the first to write about this because it's a dumb idea, or is no one else doing it because it's a good idea that's hard to do?

For reasons that any psychologist would no doubt find obvious, I didn't immediately gravitate toward the hypothesis that my idea was just dumb. No less an idea arbiter than Google was telling me it was my idea, after all. I wouldn't give that up easily. Having achieved the lofty status of an inventor, I didn't want to admit that what I had was not something cool like a lightbulb, but instead was something stupid like a rocking-chair powered can-opener.

In fairness to my reader I should probably point out that I think a rocking-chair powered can opener would be awesome, so feel free to bail on me early. But with all due respect to my own psychological defense mechanisms, I believe there are real reasons that can be offered under the heading we are about to encounter now.

Why Employee Owned Source Code Is Hard

Here are some reasons which Mr. Markdown will be good enough to number for me.

  1. You have to believe in yourself. Investing several hundred or several thousand hours in a project with no immediate money on the table is not for the faint of heart. The self doubt has killed this thing a few times for me. Hence the six year period between 2009 and 2015. But in the end I'm left with something a top producer in another business told me -- "If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to do it?"

  2. You have to believe in others. In addition to believing in yourself, my business model of "work an hour, get an hour of equity" means I also have to believe that others will contribute productive work to my project, and that together we'll achive something marketable.

  3. Someone else has to believe in you. Having the best wife in the world is certainly very much an advantage to me, inasmuch as in that capacity she does me the courtesy of believing in me even when I don't. The partership in this case also has a very practical angle. Jenniffer is just embarking on her career as a software developer, so working for CodeSolid for shares of equity when she's ready to contribute to the project will give her real world experience she can parlay into a day job if Goalboost hasn't started turning a profit by then. I also recently had the good fortune to have another programmer, George Marks, join the team. Apparently if one believes in oneself long enough and has the best wife in the world, eventually others begin to consider your ideas worthy as well.

  4. You have to believe in the RIGHT people. As part of my education in my own unique offering, I've explored a lot of different communities of technical cooperatives and startup weekenders. Most of this has left me even more confident in my vision of producing a 100% employee owned business, not some hybrid where there are "owner founders" together with "you other unfortunate dummies". The goal here is not to put a green label on what is essentially capitalist greed. Nor is the goal to create something that we're going to pitch to investors. We don't need to be disruptive and rich -- a decent product at a fair price will feed us just fine if we don't have capitalists pigs making a mess at the trough. The idea of pitching investors is only sound if the predicate contains the phrase "out the window."

  5. You have to not believe in yourself too much. All the blog posts in the world won't check in any code for you. And with that, it's probably time I checked in some code, isn't it?

Written by John Lockwood in misc on Wed 30 December 2015.