How do we structure our activity at Altocode? The organizational structure we choose is that of an whole, open, social business (WOSB). This means that Altocode carries out its purpose:
This organizational structure creates an original combination of constraints:
The closest thing to a WOSB (or perhaps an early-stage WOSB, like ours) is a startup. As defined by Paul Graham, a startup is a company designed to grow fast. That definition (and the startup culture in general) presents a stark contrast with how we do things. WOSBs are best understood in contraposition to startups. We, the founders, are entrepreneurs that feel unease with the (now mainstream) startup culture. By embracing a different type of game, we seek to improve the way it is played.
Focus on the sign, not the quantity
We're far more concerned with having a positive impact than on the size of our impact.
In many ways, starting a WOSB instead of a startup is a defense mechanism for helping prevent the whole endeavor to become a destructive and exponential ego trip.
A variant on this point has been very eloquently stated by David Heinemeier Hansson.
We want to be the tortoise, not the hare. Startups rush because 1) they are running out of funding; and 2) they live in fear that a competitor will come and render their efforts useless.
Because we don't take funding, we're in this for the long haul. Part-time, for sure, but advancing steadily.
And because we want to be the change that we want to see in the world, if another organization creates a product that solves the problem we're trying to solve, in the way we're trying to solve it (or a better way), then our disappointment will be a fleeting thing. What matters is that the world is a better place because of that other product. And the path we traverse by making the product makes us learn and create value in other areas - and because we share it all with others, it enriches others as well. So there's no way of losing, really.
The product can be art. It can be short, expressive, whole. It can soar beyond its basic purpose, while staying true to it. We've found out that if we convince ourselves that we're not in a hurry, we can write what looks to us as good code. We might have to rewrite it, but never unceremoniously throw it away. Every time we write code, we can learn something from it. And the lessons, though multifarious, are finite.
The pressure of coding commercial products can perhaps also help find more fundamental patterns, in the same way that the structural properties of materials give cathedrals a great deal of their beauty.
Align the company's incentives with those of the ones outside the company
As Charlie Munger states compellingly, incentives are extremely strong forces. In most cases, they determine the outcome of the game.
Because of this, every decision we take must be fully aligned with what we consider to be good for our users. To figure what's good for our users, we put ourselves in their shoes and we give them fori where they can express themselves. And this determines everything: what we're working on, when to launch it, how to price it and, most importantly, what not to do.
We also align our incentives with those of other people that are not our users. We're keeping our eyes open to foster positive externalities and to excise negative ones.
Build, never sell
Instead of building a company to sell it and become rich (and perhaps famous), we're building a company to create a positive impact. There's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Either we keep on working on the company throughout our working life, or move to another project.
If we the founders move to another project, as long as our products are used, we will find those who will keep the company going.
By not selling our company, we reduce the chances of not selling our users away to another company that might not have the same incentives as them.
Startups inherit most of the cult of image that comes from traditional business. Openness might be sometimes practiced inside the organization, but generally not towards the outside.
The fear of competition is a main disincentive to openness. But I think the fear of nakedness stands even taller. We, as startup founders, are normally ashamed of how crummy our product, our strategy and our productivity really is. At least we are, some days. This might just be the human condition.
We choose to embrace the discomfort of exposing our works (and hence, our imperfections), in the hope that others will get value from it. It is more work to do this, and it feels daunting. At the same time, it is liberating. And perhaps it is a path to putting out our best work.