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Getting paid, not played – A Community Business Model for Collaborative Entrepreneurship

An Interview with Pedro Jardim CEO and Jorge Vega Matos CMO of Coliga. This Berlin-based startup is creating a tool that allows freelancers to share and receive job inquiries within their community. Experimenting with new ownership structures, this company is a good example of future possibilities of governance. Coliga mainly focuses on co-working spaces but plans on expanding to larger networks soon. 

edited by Bianca Pick

So first of all, could you tell us what Coliga is and what the platform enables?

Coliga is a tool that lets communities of independent workers share and receive job offers as a collective. Our mission is to ensure that everyone who contributes to the completion of a job offer is rewarded for it. With such a tool, emerging communities could thrive within the traditional market economy while maintaining their flexible dynamics. Other job platforms for freelancers take a big ‘middleman’ cut of the job value without delivering much value back to the worker. By helping communities mediate their own jobs and allowing everyone in the network to earn a portion of transactions they facilitate, Coliga helps workers, and the communities that help them succeed, keep more of the value they generate.

You have been working with freelancers for a while now, correct?

Yes. Over the past 6 years, our team has developed two projects that employ freelancers and independent workers. The first, Agora, is a center for circular thinking and contemporary practices in Neukölln, Berlin, where we explore new methods for participatory leadership in a collaborative freelance network. The other, Apoio, is an on-demand community cleaning service that allows workers to self-organize around incoming jobs, personal projects, and local events through an action-oriented software.

How did these previous experiences make you realize the need for a tool like Coliga?

Our experience with Agora and Apoio taught us a few things about how the nature of work is changing.

For one, we learned that collective Identity is a powerful tool for generating jobs opportunities. Belonging to a community such as a co-working, art or makerspace not only fosters solidarity among workers, but creates a collective identity that gives freelancers better visibility to an outside audience. This increases job offers and recommendations for everyone in the network.

We also noticed that there is an increasing desire for flexibility. Many freelancers today are not focused on just one service, but have a variety of skills that cut across multiple fields. They take pride in being part of the so called “slash generation”, and want to offer a hybrid skill set for a more dynamic work-life balance.

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How did this lead to Coliga?

With these learnings in mind, we began to experiment with solutions that could equip communities with the tools they need to act as job brokers and marketplaces. This was anything from how to receive job inquiries to processing and splitting payments.

The aim was to create a platform that facilitates a more self-organized and collaborative process around jobs, in ways that help freelancers harness their collective reputation as a community and attract more and better job offers. At the moment we are focusing on co-working spaces and other networks for the self-employed, but we also see tremendous potential among decentralized networks and communities that want to reinvent or explore the future of work.

we set out to fulfill the obvious need for freelancers to to share and receive jobs within a community they trust

You are trying to build a different kind of platform, both in terms of value distribution and governance. How do you achieve this concretely?

In terms of value distribution, Coliga will redirect the value that would normally go to a central platform such as freelancer.com or Upwork to local hubs. People within the communities that help connect a job opportunity to an applicant are directly rewarded, and since we only take a minimal transaction fee, communities can start using the tool without upfront costs.

Our company also has a unique type of Governance, a so-called Holacracy, that is an operating system for self-organization. We want to integrate our community of users into our decision making process and co-creation by allowing them to participate as representatives at board meetings, for example.

Finally, we are structuring a alternative ownership model  that legally binds us to our values. Looking towards the success models of companies like Bosch and Zeiss, we are exploring so-called “self-ownership” or purpose ownership. This is to ensure we do no become an object of speculation and lose control over time, as many companies in search for financing unfortunately do.

Can you give us more detail about the ownership and governance model of Coliga?

We developed a hack on the ownership structure of our company that guarantees that our purpose proceeds profit. For us, ownership equals entrepreneurship, meaning that voting rights always belong to those who lead the company and are responsible for it. If a founder leaves the startup, she or he must transfer their control rights (ownership) to a successor, who is committed to the purpose and the ideals of the company.

In addition, voting rights (and therefore company ownership) are not connected to dividends rights. Investors receive fair dividend rights (or fair interest rates) but no voting rights. This way profits function as seeds for the future, but not as end in itself.

We are excited about a world where people pursue meaningful work built upon trust and mutual support

And how do you achieve this?

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Our company is legally bound to two institutions. First there is the Purpose Fund, a capped dividend evergreen fund that supports companies who wish to adopt self-ownership (purpose ownership). The second is the Purpose Foundation. This Foundation retains 1% of each company and has veto power over changes, safeguarding the principle of self-ownership.

Both entities will focus on facilitating finance and ownership structures for decentralized and bottom-up organizations that don’t want to sacrifice their core vision for profit. They help us stay true to our values.

What can we expect for Coliga in the next months and years to come?

We are currently in Beta, testing our tool with a selected number of partners in Berlin. The official launch of the Beta tool will take place this November at the Coworking Europe conference in Belgium. Our goal is to build partnerships with coworking spaces, and other networks of freelancers around the world that share our vision. Success for us means co-developing the platform into an operating system that is available for any community or group seeking to create a marketplace of services, transition towards new economic models, or create new streams of revenue that sustain their efforts.

Ultimately, we are excited about a world where people pursue meaningful work built upon trust and mutual support.

Coliga is looking to partner with communities committed to improving the lives of their members. Pedro and team can be reached at Pedro@Coliga.de or Facebook.com/www.coliga.co.