Zee Spencer on Cohere and Zinc Collective

Zee Spencer is a software engineer and member of Cohere, a cooperative software consultancy, and Zinc Collective, a software development collective. He talks about his journey to cooperativism, his thoughts on decision-making, fundraising (or not!), and the importance of meeting people where they're at.

Episode notes

Zee can be found on Mastodon as @zee@wandering.shop and Twitter as @zspencer. His personal website is zeespencer.com. The cooperatives Zee focuses on in this interview are Cohere and Zinc Collective.

Ideas, people and organizations mentioned in this episode:

Bay Area organizations doing work to support mutual aid and cooperative work:

Impact and cooperative business creation and investment:

Other impact organizations mentioned:


Recorded on December 9th, 2020

Zee: Find a local worker co-op, that’s doing a thing and be like, “Hey, I’m willing to be your IT person.” Be the person who fixes their goddamn printers because that’s what they need.

[intro music]

Ana: Hello, and welcome to a Real Co-op Stories. I am your host, Ana Ulin, and today I’m talking to Zee Spencer, a co-owner of Cohere, a software leadership consultancy. Zee is also the originator of the Zinc Collective, a software development co-op that I myself contribute to.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background?

Zee: My name is Zee. I was born and raised in central Michigan, right around the time when the Japanese auto companies were destroying Michigan’s entire economy and it wasn’t really the Japanese auto companies fault. There was a lot of silly business decisions. Like we’ll just make up losses on volume and then like a bunch of horrible things in Detroit with like racism and corruption and just all kinds of not great things that gutted the entire economy.

So I grew up in one of the most depressed counties in my state, Shiawassee County, and my parents were both in technology. My dad was a systems administrator and my mom was a project manager at Electronic Data Systems, until she quit to become a full-time mom and teacher.

I was homeschooled for most of my life. Did not go to university. I started working as a web designer / HTML jockey at 16, I want to say. The homeschool group that I was part of had an HTML class and the teacher was like, “Hey, do this for me for free.” And I’m like, “All right, that sounds fun.”

So that’s kind of how I got my start in technology and I guess now I’m kind of 20ish years into that, and moved a bit beyond the engineering side. And I’m focused more on how do you build teams, how do you build organizations, how do you make it so that places where people are working are places that are, like, safe and restorative and not extractive or exploitative. And it’s a very hard problem because it’s not really something that is in vogue from a business perspective. There’s a growing motion around it, but it’s not central to the thesis of business at the moment.

Ana: So you, at some point started consulting, and you started a consultancy. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into there?

Zee: Yeah. So my first full-time job was as the web developer at a very small software company in central Michigan that builds a pornography filter. When I joined it was maybe 65,000 active users. Now I’m sure it’s in the hundreds of thousands, because they’ve been growing. I stayed there for a while because it was, like, my first job, and it was the first thing I was doing. And I went into management for a bit, decided I wasn’t a competent manager and I didn’t like management.

So I jumped ship to do engineering consulting at a company in the Midwest called Pillar Technology. And they took a chance on me. Didn’t have a degree. Didn’t really have any formal education. And they’re like, “Yeah, sure. We’ll, like, we’ll let you do consulting.” So I did that for a couple of years. Worked on the Domino’s pizza e-commerce platform. So if you’ve ever ordered a pizza from Domino’s, my condolences / you’re welcome. And after I did that for a few years, I was like, “They’re basically billing me out at like $185-$215 an hour”, right? And this was like a decade ago. And I’m getting paid 75 grand a year. And so I did the math and I’m like, I’m giving up like three quarters of the revenue that I’m bringing into this company to the company. It was probably closer to half, I don’t know, I don’t know the math on back of my head anymore.

So I switched to a different consultancy for a bit, had the same kind of issues. The amount of labor I was putting in, and the amount of energy I was putting in was much higher than the amount of wealth I was able to capture through the organization. And there was just a lot of frustration there.

And so I was like, all right, fine, I’m going to go consulting myself. And so I started my own thing, just a little LLC in Michigan, basically. ‘Cause I still had a house there that I was living in, and built my first client list. And did that for about two years, maybe a year. I don’t remember.

And then Dev Bootcamp headhunted me to join their San Francisco campus to teach programming, because one of the founders I had known for years ‘cause he’s based out of Chicago. And so I went and taught programming, because that was more interesting to me than actually building software.

How you get into consulting is you go and work at a consultancy, and then you’re like, “wow, they take a lot of your money”, and then you start your own consultancy. And you’re like, “Oh, they take a lot of my money for good reasons.” And then everything goes back to the, like, “wait, why, why did I, why did I just do this? this was a horrible idea.”

Ana: So is Dev Bootcamp how you moved to the Bay Area?

Zee: Dev Bootcamp, the original one, the one that launched the whole craze of “get a career in three months” and that kind of thing, was what drew me here to the Bay.

Ana: Did you then go back to consulting right after teaching? Or how did that happen? Cause I know that you have this other consultancy, Cohere, which is also cooperatively structured, right?

Zee: Yeah. So I, I went back to, another company called, Outpaced Systems. They do advertising technology for hotels. And that was mostly as a way to just get back into the programming of programming, as opposed to the teaching side. And after about a year of that, I was like, okay, I don’t like working for businesses.

I’m hard to pin down. I get restless and I have to do something different. And I reached the realization that I couldn’t do that while being an employee very easily. So, I launched the first iteration of Zinc, as a, just a plain old agency. And I brought on two apprentices and, two part-time contractors who worked for me.

I went up to five people in the first year, which was not smart. Don’t do this. And I had structured it as like me as the “benevolent dictator for now” kind of structure where like I was the sole person on the books and I was trying to run it in a more humane way. It was like “we’re all in this together, we’re thinking things through.” But there’s a really big gap between being an employee and being an owner from the perspective of what you bring to an organization and how you bring it.

And that’s not to be like, “Oh, employees suck”, because I think it’s good to be an employee. It’s much safer. It is a lot easier to know what you’re getting out of the system. But being able to flex between, I need to do business development now, or I need to do the actual delivery work now. Getting out of your lane is a really big skill that is hard to develop when people are employees. And I didn’t have the the skills to like cultivate those kinds of practices. And Krystyna, who you might notice around Zinc if they’re available was one of the original apprentices there, probably six years ago now.

After a year, I was like, I know that I don’t like managing people. I don’t like having employees. I found everybody new jobs and I went back to me as the only person there.

Ana: At that time you started the original iteration of Zinc, what I know as Zinc the co-op, about six years ago. And you went fairly rapidly to having five people, including apprentices. At that time was Zinc already incorporated as a co-op?

Zee: No, it was an S-corp. The S-corp still exists, and I do a little bit of consulting through it now, but mostly I use it for my investment funds. So I will make really small investments into pre-revenue, sometimes even pre-investment organizations where they’re like, “Hey, no one believes in us. Do you?” And I’m like, “I don’t have a lot of money, but like, I can write you a check for 500 bucks.” I have a really boring contract. That’s like, “Hey, if in seven years, this doesn’t work out, don’t worry about it”, and I do mostly revenue based financing. I don’t expect people to start paying me back until they start getting revenues.

That’s kind of where that S-corp is now. And that’s what I’m calling like the Zinc Technology Network. I made six-ish investments in 2020 and I’m planning to do another six in 2021. ‘And they’re across a bunch of industries. I’ve invested in a couple of different co-ops through it. There’s my, I call it my coffee co-op, which is out in Berkeley, the Alchemy Collective Cafe. I’ve got an investment in the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative, which is providing housing and liberatory structures for property being owned by the people who live in it, as opposed to by the landlords.

So I’m basically trying to use my assets for good and have a lot less attachment to “how can I maximize my return?” Because if I wanted to maximize my return there’s vehicles for that. Right. That was the structure of the first business. And now kind of like where it is now.

I rolled off of that, because I got headhunted again by a startup and they’re like, “Hey, we need a, we need an architect. We need somebody who can come in and like work with our team. We hired a bunch of bootcamp grads. We noticed you were a teacher at a bootcamp. Can you like, hold that with some care?” They didn’t have enough money to bring in a person who’s been doing it for four years because they were a pre-seed or early seed when they first brought these up.

And for the first year, it was great. Like the team was small, and they were caring and they were hardworking. But it was a FinTech company and they landed a big bank and the big bank said jump, and the CEO said “how high?”, and the engineers said “Oh God”. And that was kind of like this, this collapse of this really sweet organization. It just became very distorted and the interest of the team and the interest of the company and the interest of the clients were all different.

And there was this massive discord within the organization that was just caused by this lack of alignment and interest. That’s where I met Jennifer, who is a business partner of mine with Cohere. And that’s also where I met, Betsy, who is also a business partner of mine in Cohere. And it’s also where I’m met Tom, who is a business partner of mine at Zinc, and CJ who is a partner of mine at Zinc.

So it was really good to build these relationships and meet these people and work together. And it’s really been lovely to like have them in my life and I would not regret it, but also that was a couple hellish years. I gained like 60 pounds. It was awful.

And you know, they’ve made a lot of money and they continue to make a lot of money and I didn’t make much after I left because I just couldn’t even like exercise the options or anything. I was just too, too busted after that.

Ana: It happens to a lot of people, by the way, I just want to say that story you’re telling is super common.

Zee: Yeah. And it’s really obvious what the problem is, right? Like it’s not just like some incredibly difficult issue. We have expectations that are unreasonable. Like, hey, you want to turn $1 into a hundred dollars, in like 10 years, and you want to do that without doing anything except for putting in a dollar then, like, where is the energy going to come from to turn that $1 into a hundred dollars?

It’s either going to come from your customers, by exploiting them and treating them like shit, which is, you know, the Facebook model. Or it’s going to come from your employees, which you know, is the easier pathway to take, because if you don’t have a high emphasis on customer happiness and customer success, and like actually meeting their needs as a for-profit business, you’re not going to succeed.

And so you wind up with this tension between this, you know, 10 X growth every three to four years, and “Hey, we really need to care for our customers. We really need to make them successful.” And the people who are caught in the middle of it are your customer support team. They’re your ops team, your engineers, your marketing team.

They’re all just like “Well, okay. I guess.” And because we get paid so well in the tech industry, we just kind of accept it. We just accept that, hey, my health, my happiness, my ability to be present for my significant other, all of those things are less important because I’m making 180, 250, 350 thousand a year.

You can’t sell your life like that. I mean, you can try, but at some point it just like breaks you. Or you get really rich and then you think it was all worth it. And you go on the speaking circuit and you like, you know, go on Hacker News, apparently, if that’s still a thing. I don’t know. I stopped reading the internet a while ago.

Ana: Yeah, the orange site is still a thing. I do not recommend it. So you went back to that startup and you met some of your current business partners. So what happened?

Zee: Yeah, so I went back to my old S-corp and I was like, “All right, I’m going to dust off the old Rolodex”, an, an old colleague, Adarsh, was like, “Hey, would you like to do some Rails work for Code for America?” And I was like, “that seems like a great way to stick the landing and do something meaningful.”

So I did a project called Michigan Benefits, with Adarsh and, Joel and, oh God, there was more people, but I’m so bad at names. And they’re the two that I kept in touch with. Oh, I’m a horrible person. If you are listening and you were on that project with me, I am so sorry. So I did that for a bit.

And then, you know, Jennifer, Betsy had both left the startup, shortly after I had, and they’re like, “what do we want to do?” And I was like, “Well, I’m getting more clients together. Let’s do some stuff.” And at the same time, I had heard of these things called the Rochdale Principles.

I had heard of them from a colleague who I should not name because they may or may not be an executive at venture backed companies, and I don’t want to pollute their ability to raise capital if that becomes the thing they need to do. But it was just like mind blowing, right?

Like this idea that, hey, maybe if we structure an organization so that we really emphasize professional development, and we emphasize this idea of each person within the organization has a single vote, at like board level and operating and like that kind of decisions, I can imagine how significantly differently… Maybe they would have failed faster. I don’t know.

But just how much differently all of these organizations that just kind of like grind people up to make their bread would be, if the people that were getting ground up actually had a voice. Right. And actually were able to have a seat at the board table and participate in those kinds of things.

So I was reading more about those and Jennifer and Betsy were doing some stuff and we were collaborating on some clients and like, okay, so what if we really embody some of these principles? And I was like, “we should do full on coop” and Jennifer’s like, “that seems irresponsible.” And I’m like, “but it seems so great.” And she’s like, “it doesn’t appear to be particularly well tested in the courts of law”. And I’m like, “but who cares?” And she’s like, “Zee?”. And I’m like, “okay, okay.” Jennifer is great by the way. She is so good at keeping me in line. And that is 80% of really what I need in my life.

So we incorporated as an LLC, but we enshrined the Rochdale Principles in our operating agreement. Our members have a single vote. We promote from within, we’re not trying to grow or anything, so that’s not a big deal. And we incorporated in 20…, I want to say ‘17 or no, early 2018.

I don’t know. Time is really hard to figure out, especially this past year. And we spent a year trying to run a consultancy together and it was a lot better than the first time I tried to run a consultancy.

There was also just a lot of struggles because both of them were coming from a product engineering background, right? And so they had never done consulting before. Learning how to do consulting and learning how to manage a business at the same time, it’s just a lot. After the first year we realized we weren’t gonna be able to get to the point where we were (A) holding our values of taking care of ourselves and not working too much and (B) bringing in enough revenue for all of us to be comfortable with our expenses and that kind of stuff, and be able to like put some money away.

And so we kind of went back and forth, okay, if we’re running a business together, that’s going to take 20 to 30% of our time and attention and overhead. And if we have a hard boundary of like 24 to 32 hours a week, then we’ve got maybe 12 hours of billing apiece, right. 12 to 20 hours of billing apiece.

And then you’re looking at 20 to 25% loss and oh, by the way, we’re not selling butts in the seats. We’re not being there 40 hours a week to just spin up an entire dev team because someone dropped a million dollars on your lap. We’re trying to do something really hard, which is like sell this idea that we can help your team work better together, right.

And that’s what we’re trying to sell. If you hold care for one another and care for the technology and care for the customer and care for the organization in a cohesive unit, that is how you build better teams. And if you build better teams, you build better products. And that was the dream we were selling.

But it’s really hard to sell that compared to “I can keyboard-hands Rails applications.” And it just wasn’t particularly fulfilling to like, feel like if we wanted to be successful, we had to give up on what we were trying to be and what we’re trying to do.

So, in, I think it must’ve been early 2019, yeah, early 2019 Betsy started working at the Long-Term Stock Exchange. Because we’re structured in this belief system where like, hey, we want to care for each other and build this long-term asset and this value, we didn’t do what you would traditionally do in a startup and be like, “Hey, you’re gone. We’re going to claw back your equity or you need to give us a chunk of cash.” We’re just like, no, like, you can hold onto what you’ve got and it’s totally fine. It’s important for us to preserve the asset that we have built together. And so she’s still working at LTSE.

And, Jennifer and I switched more into the okay, cool, now that we’re in a spot where we’re sustainable and we’re comfortable, cause we didn’t have three people all working together, on a budget that couldn’t support us, what do we want to do? and we, you know, we had a nice relaxing year.

We made our clients pretty happy. But at the same time, I was like, Cohere isn’t the right vehicle for building longterm value for it, from the idea of like a product or a service, right? If you’re a consultancy, that’s mostly focusing on selling your time and attention, you don’t have the same ability to focus on product development or, or customer development in that way.

And you kind of dilute the brand, you dilute the attention. And I’m like, “Well, what if I really kind of like doubled down on learning this cooperative stuff?” And so ‘18 was when I first started learning about the Sustainable Economies Law Center, the East Oakland Collective, Repaired Nations, all of these organizations in Oakland, California that were really focusing on building cooperative economics locally.

And I was like “THAT” like, the East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative was exactly what I was wanting to exist, but for technology companies. And so through the course of 2018, I was just looking at it like, okay. So what they do is they buy assets and they maintain those assets. And then they sell those assets to the people who live there.

Well, what if we did that with software products that no longer have a good home? So I bought an app from a friend of a friend and I’m like, “Hey, this brings in about a thousand dollars a quarter, not a lot of money, but if we just buy it off you and then do a revenue share for a few years and we maintain it, we release updates. How does that sound?” He’s like, “Yeah, that sounds great. Cause I’m not maintaining it. I’m not releasing updates.”

So we did that in early 2019. And that was what started as the kernel of what the Zinc co-op was going to be. It’s like, okay, cool. We have an asset. It’s not very good. It doesn’t make a lot of money. It’s in a tech stack that I’m not particularly familiar with. So my buddy Cricket, was like, “Hey, I really want to learn iOS. I want to get out of the Node-land. I want to get out of, you know, JavaScript and web. I want to focus on mobile and native and VR.” That’s his passion.

And so I’m like, “Okay, Cricket, I’m going to buy these. We’re going to incorporate something. If you want to be an owner of that, that’s great. Otherwise, we’re going to do this thing called patronage, which is like a mechanism for tracking the amount of time and attention you invest. And we’ll just do revenue shares based upon patronage, so that everyone who contributes has the opportunity to get money back out of the co-op.” And he says, “that’s great, that sounds fine.” He’s still maintaining it. He pushes updates every once in a while, he’s using it to learn iOS and Swift and Objective C.

We’re not doing a lot with that product, but it gave us this kernel of where to go. Right. And at the same time, there was a couple of clients that I’ve been working with for years who are just like, “Hey, we need more engineers. But we don’t need them bad. We just need somebody to like put a couple hours here or there.”

So I hired a couple other people, Tom and CJ, to start maintaining these other contracts that we had. And so that started getting revenue flowing into a bucket that we could start running as a kind of business and cooperating on it together.

And that is the origin story. There’s more messy details in there. Like how I totally was like I’m going to do this weird thing where I hire random people and just give them two grand for a month and see what they do, which was a great experiment. I learned so much. Not a particularly smart business move.

That’s how the Zinc Cooperative started to emerge. So Vivek came on, to help with operations and support that kind of stuff. Krystyna was doing some early design work. And we had a cohort of eight people. Most of that cohort was like, you know, this isn’t really going to work for me, right? Because learning these things while also trying to work my regular job and also trying to learn how to manage a business, it was just a lot to ask of people.

And so I basically bought them out with cash that I had set aside for this purpose. I was like, “Hey, worst comes to worst. I’m just going to give you this much money at the end. No matter how much time you put in, it’s fine. Don’t put in more than you can, but I don’t want you to feel like you’ve been stiffed, right?”

And so that was this inflection moment where Zinc the S-corp, Zinc Technology Inc, sprouted out this new LLC. So this cohort of people, in September 2019, we’re going to have two people who are actually owners, for now, because mostly people need to understand the taxes more because that’s a really scary thing for people who are just getting into starting a business. And I want to figure out whether or not this works for me or not.

Cheryl was part of that group, Cricket’s part of that group, CJ, Tom, Vivek. Those five people I think are the ones who are mostly still from that cohort that are still actively involved in Zinc.

But yeah, so that’s, that’s how it started. And I’m happy to get into more details, nitty gritty technical stuff, cultural stuff, whatever you want.

Ana: Yeah. So at this point, we’re thinking of September 2019, and there is a new Zinc LLC and is that what you think of as Zinc Co-op today?

Zee: Yeah, that is the thing that is the co-op. So the operating agreement that’s on zinc.coop’s website is for the Zinc Collective LLC. It is not formally a California cooperative because we were going back and forth around, well, what about people who are outside of California can then be owners, because like Krystyna is based out of Ohio and…

Oh, so there that’s the other, Krystyna is another person who was part of that original cohort that’s still active. So that’s six out of eight. I guess I keep beating myself up because it wasn’t a better conversion rate, but maybe that’s not true. Six out of eight seems pretty good to me.

Ana: You were talking about the incorporation, about the fact that if it was a California co-op, it would not be able to have owners that are not in California? Or how does that work?

Zee: We couldn’t get a clear and definite answer really. And I’m sure if I pushed harder, I could have figured out, but keep in mind, I’m doing this while also building out my investment fund while also managing Cohere. Vivek and I were just like, okay, so is this really worth it? To figure that out, or should we just go with an LLC?

So, Gregory Jackson from Repaired Nations is like, you know, pick the vehicle that makes the most sense for you. Maybe that’s a 501c3, maybe it’s an LLC. But the important part is the principles and the important part is the execution towards those principles and embodying them within the organization.

So we went with an LLC just because it’s a lot simpler and a lot easier. But our LLC is written in such a way that it is compatible with the Rochdale Principles.

And also, we are a member of the United States Federation of Worker Co-ops, which recognizes us as a cooperative member because of the care we put into making it actually a cooperative. There’s lots of S-corp cooperatives as well.

Ana: When you say that it’s structured in a way that’s true and loyal to the Rochdale Principles, and in fact, even accepted by the US Federation of Cooperatives, does that mean that there is stuff about cooperative ownership written into the articles of incorporation? Or how does that work for an LLC?

Zee: In order for us to embody “every contributor, every person who works at the organization has the opportunity to become an owner, right, a genuine worker-owner”, in our operating agreements, we have a period of I believe it is a year, which can be adjusted downward, where anyone who contributes and maintains software within the Zinc cooperative for a year, you can talk to an owner member. They will be your advocate, find any of them. And then, the admission to be an actual equity holder and someone who is named on the statement of incorporation and whatnot is, I think it’s a $2,000 equity buy-in just to make sure that you have skin in the game, quote, unquote.

But mostly as a way to provide enough operating capital for the business to exist, which isn’t as important because we are profitable, but we’re not profitable enough to pay people a living wage. We’re just profitable in the sense that we exist and are not going to collapse because we don’t have enough revenues.

So there’s the principle of the pathway to ownership part of the Rochdale Principles. Because we have structured our bylaws such that, workers can become equity holding owners that is kind of the clincher there, but we’re also trying really hard to build out this idea of ownership within the cooperative isn’t just holding an LLC equity stake. That is an important part of ownership, like having skin in the game, so to speak, but even more important is the being active in the shaping of the business and the operating of the business.

If it’s a cooperative, you can’t just like, be like, oh, I want it to do this thing. And then expect that it does a thing. Right. You’ve got to be like, hey, I want it to do this thing, how do I make it do the thing? Right. How do I shift what exists in order for the thing that I wanted to be doing to exist. Right. And then how do we come together to make that a thing that happens?

That’s the part of the principles that is really, in my opinion, the hardest part. Is like getting to this spot where people feel like they have the agency to take ownership, not just like, “Oh, I’m an owner. Yay. I have it.” But like take it in the sense that I am going to do the things that I think are what are best for this organization. And I’m going to expect that the people around me are doing the same and we’re going to have this cultural norm where people put the organization first and put themselves second and then put their teammates third, and I, I feel like that’s maybe not the right priority premise, but you can’t put yourself over the organization and the organization is the sum of its teammates. That’s kind of a big part of it for me.

Ana: How many people are at the moment formally owners of Zinc?

Zee: Right now I think it is four. At the beginning of 2020 it was two. The tax thing is scary for some people who are used to being W2, and so they would rather act as maintainers, and maintainers are 1099 contractors with the cooperative. And that seems to be fine for what they’re looking for.

And my expectation is in 2021, we’ll probably get up to six, maybe eight, because we’ve got a couple of people who are further along on the pathway. But we’re trying to be really careful about not making that equity holder position be one of significant power disparity within the organization, right?

If what works for you is to participate as a maintainer owner, as someone who contributes and participates in decision-making around a particular project or set of projects, then that shouldn’t hold significantly more power than someone who just happens to have been here for a year and have been able to put $2,000 into the bank account, right?

Yes, there does need to be some parts of it that are kind of kept separate. Being a person who has a vote in things that are important to you and connected to the work you are doing is more important in my opinion than the equity position. But I also want to make it available to anyone who wants it.

I don’t want that to be a thing that you’re like, “Oh no, I can’t get there” because anyone can get there. It just takes a year and a $2,000 investment, which can be paid for with your patronage points, so you don’t have to put any money down. You still have to pay taxes on it because taxes are weird. But you wouldn’t have to have an outspend of that two grand.

Ana: You just talked about decision-making and relative power. I’m curious to hear more about how does that work at Zinc. How does Zinc decide if we should build a new product or how does Zinc decide let’s go out and take a new contract or let’s reject this contract opportunity that we have. How does that all work?

Zee: Right now anyone who is a member, can spin up a new project and start issuing patronage points for it. If you’re a member and you want to do that, go for it. Maintainers, the answer is no. That is the one kind of pretty significant gap is members have the flexibility to create new things, whereas maintainers are expected to be supporting initiatives that are already in flight.

Before we sign any paper, our members, we have an email mailing list and it’s like, “Hey, this is the contract. What do you all think? how do we staff this? Is it worth pursuing?” And that’s kind of the way we mostly engage with “significant decisions” as I call them, like things that have a financial impact on the cooperative.

We also have a monthly member meeting, where we bring up things that we’re interested in or things we want to try. But so long as there’s not a financial impact on the P&L then the members have a lot of flexibility in what they can do, right?

So in April, when Covid hit, I was like, “Hey, I’m going to spin up an Open Collective. There’s this person who’s doing a lot of really great work with community stuff that is just not able to make rent and Covid is hitting, right?” We basically raised $2,000 from the broader community and put it right into this person’s hands so that they could pay rent for a couple months. Now they’re working full time, they’ve got a good job and that’s all great. And so what we’ve done in Q4 is we started putting that money or, sorry, Q3, Q4. I don’t remember. Time is hard. And we started putting that money into organizations that do training and education for, people from marginalized or redlined communities who are trying to break into high paying technology jobs.

Because like, I’m white. Most of the people at Zinc are various shades of brown. Cricket’s, you know, a Black gentleman from the South. But we’re not as Black forward as I wish we could be. And so what we do instead, it’s like, “Hey, let’s take the money that we do raise from the community and put it back into these kinds of organizations.” That’s the kind of example of like, “Hey, here’s a project, here’s an opportunity. How do we, how do we decide to do this? And then how do we do it?” It just happens through these member conversations and the member meetings.

It took two member meetings to get it hammered out. I had made a horrible mistake and it was just like, “Oh, it doesn’t impact the P&L”, because it’s not going to be taking any money out of the bank account greater than it takes in. Because it’s a sponsorship, because we’re sponsoring someone to do like, you know, as, as Zinc, we sponsored person X, or sponsored organization Y this is a zero dollar impact. So I made a horrible decision. It was just like, “Fuck it. Let’s just say ‘go’ because it doesn’t impact the P&L.” That was not how one of the members received it. I had a lot of egg on my face and it was, yet another example of how I like to just do things. And people like glare at me when I do that sometimes.

Ana: In that situation, if one of the members, which are all co-op owners, right, so if someone makes such a decision, and someone else disagrees, are there any formal processes in place for resolving that?

Zee: Yeah. So, in our operating agreement we have a section on remediation of that kind of tension. In this case, we didn’t need to go through anything particularly significant. The member in question was like, I feel like this particular kind of thing, it’s just too high stakes. Having an equity stake in a cooperative where things are moving and changing, it’s just too much.

And so they transitioned from membership back to maintainership and they continue to contribute to projects. They continue to earn patronage and they’re just like, you know, I don’t want to, there was existing tensions around like, “Wait, QuickBooks? I don’t want to deal with QuickBooks, like member meetings every month where we go for operations and finance? This is not my jam. I want to write code with people who I like writing code with.”

And it’s like, that makes sense. This was the straw that made that kind of shift back. On the one hand, I’m like “ah, no, if I hadn’t made this mistake”, but also, they seem to be having more fun now that they’ve stepped away from that than they had then as an actual member. They’re shipping code more regularly. We have wonderful one-on-ones every month. Early in the morning, we get coffee and hang out and just talk about our lives and our relationship and their relationship with the cooperative feels like it’s better now than it was before. Which is nice.

But it also, I feel it like this personal, like I’m such a failure because I did this yet, like thing and, but whatever I’ll deal, it’s not, not a problem.

Ana: I’m actually very grateful that you’re bringing up that example because I feel like these are tensions that are very common in these kinds of more democratic organizations, but I don’t hear talked about very much.

I find it very interesting to hear that Zinc is experimenting with this model where you can be a maintainer member and you can still have decision making power and ownership of your work product and so on. And of course, some financial benefit without having to have the full commitment of being a business owner.

Zee: Yeah. From my perspective, that is like the best of both worlds. There are people who really want to hold that operating excellence kind of thing, and really learn how to run their own balance sheet, run their own P&L because they want to run their own business or they want to have a side project or whatever. Hey, maybe they want to go into consulting. And having a space where you can explore these ideas where it’s not particularly high stakes. Like Zinc is never going to be a $10 billion company. If we get to the spot where we can pay everyone, 20 to 40 grand a year, that’d be amazing. I would consider that a massive win.

I think we paid 15 dollars out in patronage in 2020, because no one wanted it. They’re like, yeah, well, you know, the money doesn’t matter at this point. But also because most of the contributors and maintainers are people are coming from an economically advantaged background.

So it’s a lot easier to be like, “yeah, whatever, I’m just contributing this code under the same principles as contributing to open source, so, okay, it’s whatever”. Decision-making tensions, a lot of it comes from knowing where your locus of control is and where your locus of control isn’t and where your locus of influence is and where your locus of influence isn’t, and your locus of interest, right?

If you see those three areas and you notice that like, oh, I, my personal locus of control, I overstepped. I was like, “I’m going to exercise my locus of control and make this Open Collective, raise some money, pay it out, do this thing that has zero impact on the P&L zero impact on the system.” But is well within other people’s locus of interest, right? And I knew it was in their locus of interest, but I didn’t treat it in with the care that I should have when it was something that was inside of their locus of interest. So my overextension of my locus of control created this tension, right?

When I think about decision-making, it’s really about where is it safe to apply my locus of control and where is it not. And the way I kind of figure out whether it is and is not safe, is whose life is it impacting, right? So there’s this phrase “assume good intent”, which is bullshit, right? Because you can’t assume good intent because there’s malicious assholes everywhere, right?

So instead you consider the impact, right? And you think about like, “okay, who is it that will be impacted by this thing? And if I exercise my control, will it shift costs onto them either emotional cost or cognitive costs or financial costs or just processing costs.” There’s all of these costs that we just ignore when we make decisions, right. Just having that awareness as a framing has helped me approach when I overstep with a little bit more care. I still fuck it up, right? Cause I’m just a human being with a lot of emotions. I’m a pile of meat with a brain inside of it.

It’s really more why you care about the people next to you and why you care about the people outside of the organization and just de-centering myself is the biggest skill that I’ve learned at Zinc. And I’m not good at this, everyone. I’m sure I’m better at it than I was a year ago, but like there’s this, this difficult process of just not putting myself at the center of the organization and not putting myself at the center of the decision-making. And if I can do that, then I can cooperate in a way that doesn’t create tensions.

But if I can’t do that, then I will be creating tensions because I will be ignoring other people’s locus of interest. And I will be exerting all of this control in a way that just doesn’t work for people. And I continue to do that to this day and I will probably continue to do it until I die, but I am at least trying.

Ana: So, going back to the tensions and decision-making, one thing I’m very curious about is this really good example of someone who used to be an owner, but decided that that was too much and now they are a maintainer. Have you seen, or do you foresee there being in the future tensions around that, around the fact that now they don’t have as much influence or as much power. Is this related also to the amount of money that’s available in the co-op? And do you think if the co-op was wealthier, this would work differently?

Zee: For sure. If there was more money flowing through the system, it would be a lot higher stakes for everyone, right. For me, it’s small potatoes, like 50 grand a year is like, okay, it’s a fifth of what I could earn if I decided to sell my soul back to the tech industry. Probably less than that, I don’t know, pay rates are going through the roof.

I just was like talking to somebody who I taught programming to six years ago and they’re making $400,000 a year. And I’m like, Jesus Christ. Smart, smart person, very intelligent, but also like Jesus Christ.

I think it would be significantly harder, right. And I think also there would probably be a bit more guardrails in play. My expectation is an organization that is further along that path of having captured wealth that is tangible and having recurring revenue that is significant, is going to need to invest that care into how do we, how do we make these decisions? Is it safe for someone to step out of a membership of the LLC and into maintainership when membership within the LLC actually does have tangible value, beyond just like, “Oh, yay. My capital account increased by $20 this year. Yay.” Because we try and run a pretty tight P&L. We’re not trying to make a lot of money here. We’re just trying to make sure that we’re all like capable of existing. That would be a great baseline if we could reach it.

Ana: So that takes me into another topic that I’m very curious about, right. Did you ever set any specific financial goals with Zinc?

Zee: At Cohere we did. At Zinc we have not because the framing that I have for Zinc is hey, it’s participatory basic income, optional participatory, basic income.

If we make money, we will put aside a percentage of that money to pay out to patronage earners or patronage holders, right. And that’s the 1099 contractor agreement we have with all of our maintainer-y people. Contributors also have that option, but contributors generally don’t have enough patronage for it to be worth it because you’re not going to be redeeming. It was like 0.2 cents, and it’s per point was I think what it was last, our last, payout in July.

My personal aspiration is I would really love it for us to be in a spot where we can be paying one person $75,000 a year, which is the living wage for, Seattle or we could be like, hey, $90,000 a year, which is the living wage for San Francisco for a single person with a single child, right.

Because I’ve got this mindset that if you take the living wage, hey, this is how much somebody needs to survive. And if you can provide that to a person that is a reasonable exchange. My dream is to get to the spot where you can start actually doing that within Zinc.

With Cohere we had this conversation, we’re like, okay, how much money do we need to survive? And each of us had a different number for that. And so we didn’t anchor on an actual, calculated living wage baseline. Okay, cool. We need to hit that target, times three, actually times four, because you want about 25% overhead in order to feel like we are not dying every quarter.

And so that was kind of our baseline with Cohere that we set with that intent. And we also had different tiers for like, hey, this is our, “you could never hire me at another company again” level, which was, I think, closer to 250 grand a year.

Or just two-X the median income, by the way, of San Francisco, if you look it up. Because the median income for San Francisco Bay Area is like a fourth of a tech salary, or a third of a tech salary. That’s pretty absurd. How income inequality is breaking people’s brains, in my opinion.

Ana: And their backs too.

Zee: Well, yes. I think there’s this disconnection, when you literally earn twice as much as the median household, as a single person, you can no longer really understand what they’re going through and why they’re going through it and what they need and what they care about. And that disconnects you from the community in a way that is really significant.

Ana: Related to financial goals, did you ever consider taking on more investment? If you wanted to spin up a software product shop that brings in more regular income, you could also do that in the regular Silicon Valley way in which you make a team and you somehow keep the team running until you have a product and then you get money, and maybe there is a more humane way to do that. So I’m curious what was the thinking around that?

Zee: So I’m really torn on this. When we first founded Cohere, it was very clear to me that the influence of capital really destroyed a lot of people’s health and happiness at the startup that I was at beforehand And I really had a hard boundary then around doing raises.

Over time that hard boundary has softened. I see how the lack of capital also really impacts people’s health and happiness, right? I see people who if I could pay them a living wage would be so much more able to invest in themselves so much more productive, so much more like “them”, right.

And just not having to be afraid of “Oh no, where’s the money gonna come from if I lose my real job.” Having a basic income kind of cash reserves would be absolutely lovely. At the same time, the people you take money from are, are people who have interests, right.

Part of why I built my investment fund was to try and figure out what are those interests really? And are there people who care about things that are not just maximizing return on investment and getting 10X growth? And so I found three communities that are absolutely lovely and are working on that.

So there’s The Next Egg, which is a Sustainable Economies Law Center project, and what they do is they help contractors set up 401ks that have a checkbook component to them so that you can use tax deferred or tax exempt cash to invest in local main street businesses or cooperatives.

I’ve been a member of that for about a year now. Then there’s also an organization called the Angels of Main Street, which is focused on connecting small time investors, and just learning more about capital and learning more about investing. And that organization has introduced me to a couple of places that I’ve made small investments into.

And then there’s a third group called Zebras Unite, which is run by the kind of people who will change the world. Right. So, Aniya Williams, if you go to Twitter and search for @operaqueenie, right, is the one who I see most often in my headspace. The work they’re doing around figuring out how to build a larger kind of investment fund that is more about sustainable capital, as opposed to, you know, 10 X venture capital growth.

I really like the work that Arlan is doing, @arlanwashere on Twitter. She’s doing a lot of investment in underrepresented founders. The investment structures is similar to the Kapor center, by the way. But the investment structures that both @arlanwashere and the Kapor center do are very much traditional investments. They’re like, “Hey, we’re going to put this money here and you’re going to get to 10 X” and they’re still have that tension that makes me very nervous.

But what’s interesting about Zebras Unite and the Angels of Main Street is they’re talking like revenue based financing and of like, hey, you know what, if you can raise, if you can bring in, you know, four to five grand a month in product sales and you need a couple hundred grand to just like, get to the point where you have three full-time staff members and are 10K a month in revenue, then talk to us because we’re happy to help you make that kind of transition, right.

And I don’t know if Angels of Main Street does the actual conversion-y stuff, but they, the person who put it together, Jenny Kassan, is pretty well connected. She just recently released a book called Capital On Your Terms, which is much more about “how do you get access? how do you raise money that isn’t going to kill you?” And so that’s another place where I’m exploring this.

Ana: One thing you didn’t mention was investing in a targeted way in other coops. Is that a thing that exists? Is it a thing that you’ve explored?

Zee: Yeah, there are cooperative investment funds. There’s a couple things that are worth considering when you’re raising. Right. So SEC regulation around securities is strict. And it’s not easy. It costs money and it’s time and attention expensive, right.

So you’re looking at, for any round, you’re going to do, you’re looking at between 20 and 40 grand in just money costs to get the round to close. There’s some advantages if you are incorporated as a California cooperative, where you can use what’s known as “blue sky laws” to raise funds from within your state.

So then it’s not a interstate transaction. So the SEC is like “so long as you’re cool with the state of California, you are cool with us”, So the California cooperative code says anyone who lives within California can invest up to a thousand dollars without significant regulatory burden.

I don’t remember if you have to have audited financials or not. You do have some amount of books that you’re publishing to your shareholders and that kind of thing. So there’s crowdfunding through the community, but there’s also like the Kachuwa Impact Fund, which is a Colorado cooperative that does do investments into other organizations.

There’s Oh God, what is their name? It used to be this co-op that was focused on providing contracts for formerly incarcerated individuals, to give them development skills and they were an agency for that, but they also spun out this really cool investment fund where they buy businesses and convert them into worker co-ops.

They have a pipeline of like, hey, from incarcerated persecuted by the state to owner of your own goddamn small business. Right. Because they are buying up businesses that are these retirees are getting past this point. They’re like, what is my legacy going to be? Right.

So there is other opportunities for raising capital out there. I, you know, twice bitten, you know, very shy kind of personality. If future members of the co-op are like, hey, we want to do a $200,000 raise or a $600,000 raise. I will happily be your beard. I am a middle-class-looking white guy with a beard. I’ve got like bald. I can talk about blockchain with some degree of coherence. I am more than happy to play that role. I’m not particularly happy to hold the momentum and enthusiasm for making that happen within Zinc. But if someone’s like, “this is what we need” and all the members are on board, I will support that. And I will learn to do that well, because I think it is a skill that is worth having. It’s just not a skill that I have developed yet.

Ana: What about raising through mechanisms like Open Collective or other variations on crowdfunding?

Zee: Yeah. So there’s a few different kinds of crowdfunding, right? So there is equity crowdfunding, which was, the JOBS Act, which was published when Obama was president back in the, before-before times, when the world seemed like it was getting less on fire instead of more for just a brief moment.

They passed the JOBS Act, which allows for companies to do raises through online crowd funding platforms, such as WeFunder and so on and so forth, blah, blah, blah, of like $1.2 million without significant regulatory oversight.

Now, WeFunder takes a shit ton of money from you, like 15 to 20%. So you raise a million it’d cost a hundred or something like that. I don’t know any more. They keep changing their pricing scale. So there’s equity crowd funding, right? And then there’s Indiegogo / Kickstarter style crowdfunding, where it’s like, “Hey buddy, we’re going to do this amazing thing.” You have to be really great at marketing for both of those things. You have to be able to sell the dream. And either by having it already built and being like, Hey, we’re going to hold this back. Right. We’re going to hold this back until we hit these targets or you, you know, have to be good enough at schmoozing and the presenting of the benefit that you can get, people to pre-order or just donate or subscribe.

The reason I like the Open Collective option, as opposed to those two things is because with Open Collective and similar structures, what you’re buying is a sponsorship and a sponsorship may or may not have other benefits attached to it. Right. So like Patreon and Open Collective have a very similar model.

And “if you like what we’re doing, you know, throw a couple of bucks our way” is not a way to run a business, but it’s a great way to figure out who cares about what you care about. Right? And so these kinds of structures are useful for testing the value proposition of the organization.

I think that there’s really cool things that Zinc could do with pre-orders. I’m considering in 2021, like being like, okay, Convene’s launch date is March or whatever, I’m going to pick a date. And at that point it is going to be 1.0, and that’s what it means. It’s just March, whatever February, April, I don’t care, but it needs to be a date.

And what we’ll do is we might consider doing pre-orders where it’s like, “Hey, buy your first month and you can turn it on and turn it back off until it’s at the spot where you really feel like it’s doing what you need it to.” Right. And so that way we create this system where like, hey, at any point, if you turn it off, you can ask for a refund, right. We’ll just give you back the money. Maybe we shouldn’t have that clause. I need to figure all that shit out, like from a “is this safe?” perspective.

Having this notion of selling something, but with the expectation that, you know, you don’t have to take delivery until it’s good enough for you, right. And you don’t have to get a recurring subscription until it’s good enough for you. And that feels like a way to generate capital that might work. But it also there’s this concept of customer development, community development that has to be held with care in order to make that kind of thing work just as well as the kind of care that you need to spend on Kickstarter or equity crowdfunding. And that’s really hard and completely out of my competence zone.

Ana: That brings me to another question, which is that Zinc already has an Open Collective and there are people that are giving money to it every month. So where are those people? What are they getting in return, if anything, and how did they even find out about it?

Zee: In March or April when like Covid was hitting and this person who I’ve been like, you know, working with and collaborating and co-conspiring with was like, “Oh shit, Things are hitting the fan.” I’m like, okay, let’s figure out a way to start directing money to you, right, and just, just to you. So when we launched it, that was the point. Was like, hey, we’re going to say the first $50,000 is within your complete purview. So you get to decide what we do with it. Right. And if what you need is you need money for yourself, then, all right. Cool. We’re going to take it out. And we’re going to pay you as a 1099 contractor. And we’re going to say you’re doing community development for us for this period of time. And you get to name your rate, just like I get your name my rate.

But because they got a new job, they’re like, we’ll just put the money back into communities that are really bringing up people of color and indigenous people and Black people and giving them the fundings because they’re the ones who know what they need better than us. “Us” being white people like me.

The people who started doing that were like, “Hey, yes, this is makes some goddamn sense”, but it’s not like the value proposition for Zinc. It’s like the value proposition for this particular sliver.

I think that sliver is important, but I also think that the motivations behind it are, are distinct from the motivations of like, hey, let’s build a, an economy where the people who do the work own the outcomes, right. And they own the outputs and they own the assets and the people who are benefiting from the work as customers also have some degree of control, like with multi-stakeholder cooperative structure.

I think there’s probably some overlap there, but because you know, 2020 is 2020, I haven’t had the bandwidth to really dig into that side of the customer development cycle. And I think that’s going to be my 2021 focus is just like, hey, somebody needs to hold customer development and nobody else wants to do it. That’s my job. Okay. And really learn how to do that without being entirely embarrassed and incompetent.

Ana: Do you have any thoughts or a vision for broader community development? For attracting people that are maybe adjacent to Zinc or generally interested in the mission of Zinc, but can only very occasionally contribute, cannot be full co-op members?

Zee: I really want to say yes to that. And I also feel like there are organizations that need that money more. Right. So if you look at like the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, it’s like, feeding so many people, it’s giving people homes, right? Like people like fucking need, right.

And not just like, “Oh, it’s a, you know, like community owned, alternative to internet thing”, right. And so it’s really hard for me to go to people and say, “Hey, do you believe in my vision? You should give me money” when really what you could be doing and should be doing with that money is going to the mutual aid organizations in your neighborhood and giving it to them.

It feels less shitty when we have a person who is deeply involved in providing resources to under-indexed and marginalized people deciding where every dollar goes in our Open Collective. It makes it a lot less feel weird to me. It just doesn’t feel right for me to go and ask people to give money to a cooperative that isn’t solving the hard problems. Right.

We’re solving important problems, but they’re not the problems that keep people who are like, you know, hungry and like only able to like dull the pain with drugs and need support and care that like, you know, a fucking Rails app is never going to give up, right.

Ana: So that’s about community members. What about stewarding the membership of the co-op? Do you ever do any work to try to attract new possible future owners? Or how does that work, or is that something that maybe Zinc is not yet at that stage?

Zee: I go back and forth on that. Where we’re kind of at right now is we’re trying to grow as organically as possible. So like when I do community development for contributors, it’s mostly by talking about what we are doing and why we are doing it. And when people are like, “wow, I want to help”. I’m like, “cool, let’s figure out how to plug you in and get you involved”. Right.

And I’m trying to be very passive about soliciting people because the people who have the free time to invest in this kind of thing, who also have the skills to build software, tend to be predominantly well off white people, right. And there’s nothing wrong with being a well-off white person as a well-off white person. I feel like it’s probably reasonable, but it does mean that there has to be a lot of work done internally around like, “Hey, where does my internalized white supremacy come out? Right. And where does my internalized patriarchy come out?”

Right. And where does my, like, self-centeredness because, you know, raised as a dude, as a white dude who was told, like, “you’re going to be the next Bill Gates, son”, like literal words of my parents and my uncles and my grandparents. Like these expectations, like. How has that metastasized into really toxic and unpleasant behaviors to the people around you.

Soliciting people, techies, in particular, feels like it’s very risky. And I don’t feel good about soliciting contributions from people who are from marginalized and gatekept communities, because it’s like, Hey, they need to focus on getting what they need in the moment.

I can’t give them cash money right now. I can give them future options and participatory income, but that doesn’t fucking pay rent, right. That doesn’t feed your kids. And so like, they need to be focused on getting to that point where they’re no longer being gatekept, no longer being economically oppressed.

And so it’s kind of this weird catch 22, where asking people to contribute who have a lot risks infecting the organization with unexamined white supremacy and patriarchy, and asking people who are well off and are not white is basically saying, Hey, do you want to come and join an organization that is white?

When they could do much better things. Like, you know, you can look at the Black Socialists of America and what they’re doing. They’re doing much better than Zinc ever will because they actually understand the suffering of a group of people who are socioeconomically oppressed, right.

And if you look at the work that the Human Utility Project is doing, there’s all of these founders of color and these Black founders. People who are solving serious problems and they don’t need the baggage of trying to be a cooperative, they just need to solve the fucking problem.

And I think the cooperatives are really important part of the component of decolonizing ourselves. But I’m not going to ask somebody to hold onto that with me when they could be doing so much more without me. Right.

And so it’s this very, it’s all very hard, right? And it’s not hard in the sense of like, “Oh my goodness, I’m going to like sweat bullets.” It’s like, how do I navigate this with care and thought in a way that actually centers things outside of what I want, because I want everyone to join Zinc and do awesome, amazing things together. But that’s not what I think is best for everyone. And it’s not what I think is best for the world. Right.

Ana: Have you considered different ways in which these problems could be addressed? For example, if Zinc had more capital, it could maybe hire under-indexed folks and folks that are maybe otherwise gatekept and be an on-ramp into a career in the tech industry. Have those ideas ever come up?

Zee: Yeah. I’ve got all kinds of ideas for ways to make it that don’t suck. Right. Let’s say for instance, we get Zinc to the spot where we have a cohort of contributors who are executing effectively together. And we realized that, you know what the work we’re doing doesn’t fucking matter. Right. Which is entirely a possibility because nothing really matters.

And so we could be like, okay, cool, we’ve learned how to gel as a team together. What if in 2021 we’ve done all this work. We tried all these things we pivot to like, “Hey. You know, East Oakland Collective, tell us what you need”, right. Or, “Hey, like, we are here to build these things for you and hold it with enough care that we’re not just going to dump it on you and moonwalk away”.

Cause there’s all of these, like, I love Give Camp. I love these organizations that are like, “Hey, we want to be there for these nonprofits and support them.”

But what these nonprofits don’t need is a liability that they can’t hold without dumping hundreds of dollars an hour at another set of contractors or hiring a full-time employee. Right.

So I could imagine a future where, if we can’t get to a point where we’re building stuff, that people are willing to buy and pay for where we’re like, “you know what, we’re a software club, it’s fine”.

And then we’d go to these communities and we go to like Aniya Williams. We go to like the Black Socialists of America we’re like, what do you need? Just tell us what it is. We’ll make it. It’s cool. Don’t worry about money. We’ll release it under a cooperative license. If you’re a co-op you can just run it on your own. If you’re not like we’ll take care of hosting it for you.

I think that’s also a possible option to just do. It’s hard for me to ask people who are gatekept from money for money, when I could go and raise a fucking round because I’m a large white guy with a beard. Right. And that is the thing that I could choose to do. I just don’t want to, because I have principles.

Ana: As you’ve talked about before, you know, there are costs to raising that round.

Zee: I would be super stoked, and maybe this is the thing I should try is just be like, hey, I’m going to go find a cluster of companies who know we need to hire an engineer in a couple of years and follow like the Techtonica model of like, okay, cool, if you put in 20 grand or 30 grand, like you’re leveling up somebody for, you know, a quarter. Right.

And that gives you, you know, like I don’t like, ah, this is another thing that really bothers me about bootcamps. It feels so much like this weird, chattel market sometimes. Hey, we’re going to train people and then you get to buy them, which feels gross. Right. So there might be something where we’re like, hey, let’s get sponsorships, but you’re sponsoring Zinc.

And Zinc is going to use that money to hire somebody who this is their first job, right? Just like my first programming job, I was making like $45,000 a year, still living at home. But like, hey, if we could pay the living wage for, you know, San Francisco or Seattle. Those are the two of the three most expensive cities in America. That’s why I am referencing them. Seattle is the lower bound, San Francisco, the upper bound. I feel like that would be awesome. Right.

And the question of, you know, how do I invest my skills to do that feels like. I don’t know how, right. But if someone knew how and is listening to this podcast was like, yeah, I know how to do like enterprise sales at a high level. Come talk to me. I would love to use your skills to put money into the hands of people who are gatekept out of technology. Right. And, I probably shouldn’t be afraid to say Black people, but like, yes, give money to Black people is one of my most important economic principles.

Because. If you don’t then, you’re not fixing anything. You’re just keeping shit for yourself and then asking them to conform to what you want from them. Right. And that makes me angry and frustrated.

Ana: We’re getting to the end of our time together. And I’m curious if you have any final words of advice for anyone who might be thinking of starting a co-op or maybe joining a co-op . What words of wisdom do you have?

Zee: Plug into the Repaired Nations book club. Gregory Jackson is brilliant. And the group that he’s working with really deeply care about holding cooperatives as a mindset far more than they care about holding cooperatives as a set of rules. And, plug in there, if you can. Look to your local, you know, Worker Cooperative Federation.

White people like to start stuff. Find a, a local worker co-op, that’s doing a thing and be like, “Hey, I’m willing to be your IT person.” Be the person who fixes their goddamn printers because that’s what they need. Right. And I’m saying this like, as someone who didn’t do that and is kicking myself for it, because if I had right, I feel like I’d be in a much better position to be in a spot where I’m like, yeah, I am here to support co-ops instead of, hey, I’m here to make this grand tech cooperative that actually probably will never amount to anything because we didn’t meet people where they’re at and understand what they needed. We were just like, “yeah, let’s be a co-op. Yay.” Which I think is good. It’s not bad. But it’s better to meet the people who have needs and then fulfill those needs and do it in the spirit of mutual aid mutual benefit. That was probably my advice for anyone.

Ana: This was excellent. There was so much helpful information. Thank you for that.

Zee: Thank you Ana.