How to not sell out

Hi! I’m Rich. I’m one of the people working on Loomio. I come to the project from an arts/activist background, so I have some pretty strong feelings on culture, community, and business.

One of the inspiring things about the team we’ve got is that there is room for people with different ideas. There are people like me who have a knee-jerk reaction to business (eww yuck boo), but there are plenty of others with a more mature and experienced view that are really excited about the potential for the tool to help businesses work more efficiently and more democratically. 

In preparation for last week’s meeting about the Loomio business structure, Jon, Ben and I had an email conversation. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s just an off-the-cuff statement of my position regarding Loomio and the Tyranny of Money. It was intended to be read by an audience of two friends, but I figure it couldn’t really hurt for anyone else that wants to get a better idea of how I feel about the project. 

Good job outlining this stuff Jon. Ben and I have been talking a lot about it too. It seems parallel to the discussions we’re having about [our new community art space]: i.e. how to maintain a culture over time, with new people coming in, and in a changing environment?

This could get really complex but really I think there are a couple of simple questions.

  1. Do we want/need a Loomio Inc for Loomio OS to reach its potential?
  2. How could we ensure Loomio Inc shares the core values of Loomio OS?

I think the answer to 1) is yes. I think Loomio Inc will allow us to maximise the impact of Loomio OS. My instincts say that the tool is going to be very popular and we will be looking at tens of thousands of users very quickly. I can’t really imagine supporting this userbase on a volunteer basis. I feel all of us are justifiably hesitant about bringing a revenue model in, we agree that money is almost always insidious and corrupting.

But I also think it is immature to assume that all money is bad money, at least in this current society we find ourselves operating in. I think we can view this as an opportunity to learn how to work with good money, and then to demonstrate to others how to generate and utilise good money. 

Which brings me to 2): I think Enspiral has more expertise on this front than anyone else I know. That said though, I think we non-Enspiralites should all be relentless in holding them to account. I feel like an indy band that has been picking up speed for a few months and suddenly has a major label contract on the table. i.e., it would be very easy for us to ‘sell out’ right now (by sell out I mean ‘compromise on core values due to the influence of money’).

I would want to see something written into the constitution of Loomio Inc that guarantees that profit-making will not derail the social goals of Loomio OS. e.g. a certain percentage of Loomio Inc’s work should be with not-for-profit organisations. I wouldn’t want to see Loomio Inc dealing exclusively with the paid clients while Loomio OS becomes the poor sibling for the community groups to use. Fuck that. 

I feel it will take a conscious effort to prevent this project from getting sold out to one degree or another. I think we have to be vigilant. It would be easy for the Loomio Inc people to think ‘if we build something good for businesses it will be good for society’. I want us instead to think ‘if we build something good for society it will be good for businesses.’ 

I think we all agree that part of the reason we have been so happy with developments to date is that all the work done on the project so far has been strictly motivated by selflessness: true charity. 

The more we go on, the less I feel any ownership of it. This is only a good thing if it is a shared experience. I have no reason to doubt that it is shared, so far, but we’re just going to have to make sure that it stays that way. 

When I tell people about Loomio (“I’m convinced it is going to radically change society at a global level”) I always try to stipulate: when I say ‘Loomio’ I don’t mean our project, I mean the idea that we are playing with. There are dozens of groups playing with this idea, and its an idea that I believe is timeless and fundamental to humanity (or consciousness, or the cosmos, not sure where the boundary lies at this point ~*~*~*~).

There’s only a small chance that our particular implementation of the idea is the one that liberates the Chinese working class and topples Western governments, but that small chance is pretty much what gets me up in the morning.

So how do we continue to exert our positive influence on Loomio Inc? I think by the same method as we ensure the success of the art space: we lead by example. We need to radiate compassion at every level of the organisation. That sounds hippy trippy but I mean it. Compassion is humility and charity and equanimity and selfless and all of that is what Open Source means to me. Thus far I’m convinced that we are all resonating on that same frequency. The only way we can ensure new members resonate too is to sing louder.


What does this look like in practice? First we need to look after ourselves. Don’t burn out. Get plenty of rest, keep playing music and getting laid. Then we need to look after each other: speak to each other right: e.g. it’s easy to revert to the default NZ culture of brash humour that seems harmless but actually is insidious and corrupting. We need to share and be vulnerable and be honest and dance and get drunk sometimes. Then we need to look after the formalities: if there’s a business plan being drawn up, we need to make sure it is imbued with the same values we are so passionate about. 

At the start I talked about building a seed. We’ve got a pretty cool sapling already, we just need to make sure the harsh winds of commerce don’t blow it sideways and deform it into something shitty and mundane. 

My instincts say we’re doing pretty good, and we need to keep having discussions like this to keep it that way.


Published by

Richard D. Bartlett

Loomio co-founder; open source hardware and software hacker; activist;

2 thoughts on “How to not sell out”

  1. I appreciate what you wrote about the culture of Loomio. I’m interested in all things relating to our abilities to connect, communicate and collaborate in our changing world.

    I like what you write about deep change (i.e. that Loomio/the Loomio community can “radically change society at a global level.”) I believe we’re seeing a shift from existing hierarchical structures to horizontal, collaborative ones – and with Loomio we have a tool that enables that collaboration and is also illustrating such collaboration in its development. Loomio is also illustrating transparency, another important aspect of effective self-organising. It seems to me that Loomio is developing in ways that are “true to itself” and appropriate to living in our newly emerging interconnected reality.

    I connect with you also on that issue of working freely for what seems of value, and yet facing the reality that people have bills to pay and needs to meet.

    It’s no good going to the supermarket checkout and saying I’m freely creating stuff that you are free to use and it is adding value in all kinds of directions in our shared world. People still need to have money in order to live in our existing (arguably crumbling) world-as-it-is.

    How do we build in something that acknowledges the fact that, often in situations like Loomio development, people would rather be able to do the work freely, but can’t afford to do so because they need a proper day job. One of my friends describes payment in this situation as “paying forward” – i.e. seeing payment not a reward for work done, but as a payment to free up the person’s future time so they are free to contribute the next piece of work.

    It may just seem like playing with words – but it is more than that.

    Thank you for creating Loomio and the Loomio community.

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply Pam. The pressure of trying to exist in an economy based on scarcity and competition really does take its toll: I believe many great initiatives have been asphyxiated in this environment.

      We are extraordinarily privileged that the seed of this idea landed in fertile soil: participating in the Enspiral community has meant that we are surrounded by people with similar values and ambitions. Our idealism is normal here!

      I think our decision to incorporate as a workers’ cooperative has also been fundamental to our ongoing health as an organisation. When everyone is both employee and business owner, they tend to look after each other pretty well, without compromising on the collective purpose.

      It’s our ambition that Loomio will eventually be in a position to support other ventures working to create this more generous/interconnected/equitable/sustainable/compassionate society. There’s plenty of work to do yet, but as I keep telling myself: so far, so good :)

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