Worker Owned Co-op

As a followup to my introductory post @ddevault suggested I dive into some more background as to why a few friends and I decided to start a worker owned co-op as a viable model to make a living working in tech/software.

The 3 founders have spent long careers working at places like Google, JWPlayer, EA Games, ngrok, etc. We got to learn a lot on the job while not only technically, but also from a finance, product, and business operations perspective. We have all been a part of some form of startup whether it was product or service focused and saw first hand the cut-throat and hostile nature of that model. We eventually all got sick of it and we wanted to find a better way to work and not only make a living doing it, but also ensure anyone who joins our company is treated as an equal across the board. We knew there had to be a better, more sustainable, and democratic way to run a business so we started looking into creating a tech co-op. We landed on officially starting Limeleaf Worker Collective, LLC (aka Limeleaf Collective)

Our aim is to start very small (the 3 of us) and help underserved industries with our technical expertise that we gained in “big tech”. Our site goes into more details there so I won’t restate them here, but the bigger point is how we’re going to not only run our company, but also how we’d like to use FOSS tools and solutions.

From a funding perspective we’re not planning to take any outside money, but once we we end up all agreeing and voting on base compensation to cover living expenses, healthcare, etc here in the US we’ll be figuring out how to distribute donations back to the FOSS tools we use to build our products and services. That ends up becoming a line item in our contracts so that our clients know we use free software to give them what they need, but paying our consulting rate would mean that a portion of that will end up going towards FOSS maintainers.

Additionally, we’ll be striving to open source all products we write for ourselves and for our clients. I am sure there might be some cases where we can’t do this, but if we find the right clients then it could work well.

This is all still early stage for us as we navigate tax and small business law in the US while trying to maintain standard of living costs with our families and other obligications, but so far it looks to be on the right track. We’ve gotten immense support from other co-ops from all over and we’ve seen the model work so we believe we can do this too.

I am happy to answer any questions about this venture. We want to be transparent and open and show folks that you don’t need to run a capitalist-based business where owners get everything and workers get minimal.

My personal reasons for leaving the big tech life are over here if you want to read some more ranting/heated frustrations.


Good luck with your adventure! If I understand correctly at this stage it is a consultancy base income?

Are you selling “support” for opensource projects you contribute or maintain? Like a preferred communication channel for companies willing to pay for it?

Correct, we’re bootstrapping with consulting/professional services for now, but we have plans to build products/solutions that will be open sourced. We’ll still offer a hosted paid version for folks that prefer not to run it themselves, but at least the code will be available. When that happens I am sure we’ll end up with some sort of consulting for folks who run it themselves, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. We aim to stay less than 10 people to keep the small feel so whatever we choose to do needs to be sustainable with minimal folks.


I am so happy to see coops being viable alternatives to the VC mindset. That’s exactly what I want to do as well, that’s why I left the SV startup I was working at to start my own effort.

The question I have is if the co-op model is a good fit for a product company. I get how it can work for consultancies, but I don’t know if there are examples of software product, worker owned co-ops.

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It fills me with joy to see technology worker coops. My dream is to one day make a game development worker coop.

How has the process of creating, and operating in one, been so far?

We are going to attempt to make it work for products we make. If we keep to our operating agreement with how revenue is paid out for salaries and then surplus at the end of the year we can just roll in revenue from monthly product sales. We have a co-op lawyer and accountant that is helping us with all of the law and finances.

It has been good so far. Not much different than creating a normal LLC. Most of the work has gone into making sure we choose the right LLC so our members are properly represented as equals. Our operating agreement was given to us by others and we tweaked it to our needs and had a lawyer review it. The rest is pretty standard procedude for any company to get an EIN, bank account, etc.

Makes sense.

When I see “worker owned co-op”, I understand that the workers are those who take decisions for the direction of the company, just like the board of directors drives a typical VC funded corp.

I have experienced the effect the board of directors can have on the product, and it can tear it apart because it lacks the specific vision of the original founders.

I wonder, do you have experience with or have heard about such issues in the context of a co-op?

I haven’t yet, but I understand what you mean. We have no intention to grow to more than 10 folks. We are just 3 for now and plan to keep it that way for the forseeable future so this should keep the vision close and easy to manage among all founders.

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Got it.

I guess this is not a different problem than with VCs. In fact, with VCs you directly go to the “I have no control even if I am the founder” state - that’s the whole point. At least in the worker owned co-op, the ones that control the direction are the ones doing the actual work.

I am looking forward to see how your endeavour goes, and I do hope the best for you.


In France there is at least Entr’ouvert. Their main product is a public administration platform. It’s a niche segment indeed but it works for them.

On a slightly related note they recently won a case against a big French telco that was infringing on the GPL (link in French) after 12 years of legal battle.

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This is wonderful, congratulations Blaine on starting this venture, it’s very exciting. Do you know about the Democracy at Work Institute? They’re a great resource for worker cooperatives and if you haven’t heard of them you should take a look; I suspect you’ll find them useful. There are other resources I might be able to direct you towards if you’d like as I learn more about what you’re doing.