General advice for those thinking about starting a co-op?

Hi everyone, like most people in the CoTech network, We Are Open gets occasional requests for advice from those who are considering starting their own co-op :slight_smile:

I thought it could be useful to have a thread to point them towards with some general advice and things to think about. It could be stuff that has worked well for you and your co-op, or things to avoid.

This could also be useful for the University of Essex students at some point in the future?

If this sounds interesting/useful, please do contribute to the thread! I’ll kick things off:

  • Make sure you’ve thought carefully about how decisions will be made in your co-op

Looking forward to seeing advice from others with different/more experience! :+1:


At Code-Operative we spent a long time discussing larger scale dreams, and after speaking to various groups looking to set up freelancer’s co-ops it seems to be a universal habit. I don’t think it’s bad to discuss it, but I think it’s productive to detail and focus the short-term goals of starting up a (freelancer’s) co-op:

  • Select a structure
  • Register the company. Seek help from Coops UK, Hive, similar co-ops for getting the right articles of association
  • On the above, and on office space, we received help from Gateshead Council. I think contacting local government/other potentially interested parties is a good idea
  • Register a bank account for the company. We used Triodos but I think we’re changing to Natwest because international payments have been difficult
  • Get the first client. I think when you start trading everything seems more real

More generally:

  • I think that it can be overlooked how important social connections and trust between the people in the co-op is. I’ve observed how the Happy Dev co-livings and birthday parties bring people together (in a freelancer’s co-op) and animate the community. This is especially important in freelancer’s co-ops I think which by structure are looser than worker’s co-operatives
  • Putting effort into culture, and having a healthy attitude towards the existence of power relationships. Read Hierarchy is not the problem and 11 steps towards healthy power dynamics at work by Richard Bartlett
  • make connections with other co-ops. Join CoTech!

We have an active policy on this.

If anyone reaches out to us on this matter, we normally will do an hour long call with them to discuss what is needed at at time of their choosing, which is similar to what @calummackervoy says above, but in person.

Then we usually make an introduction to @Sion for him to guide them through more specifics in an ongoing manner as his coop Principle Six is basically set up for this.

We’ll also always make time for someone looking to exit the mainstream tech industry into this space: either tech for good or, better, tech for good but with a coop business structure. Again, an hour long call minimum.

If you are reading this post from a search engine, then don’t hesitate to reach out:!

It would be cool if we all made a commitment to doing this.

I think one thing that Co-Tech could pro-actively be doing is formalising this sort of MVP version. There is a lot of buzz talking about technologists forming cooperatives right now - see for exampe the idea of start ups becoming Zebras and exit to community.

I’m pretty sure we could actually rustle up some funding to put someone onto this part time, if that was desired.

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Platform 6 - an org set up to deliver advice and support for cooperatives (esp but not exclusively platform coops and others where digital things play a big role) is working to develop services and products aimed at pre-start and start-up coops. It is one of a number of organisations that exist to deliver cooperative development work, that operate in the UK, and of course there are others in other parts of the world, that we’re seeking to build relationships with.

One service that we do have in place already is that we act as a fiscal host on Open Collective to support pre-start/start-up coop projects that want to use money but don’t yet have a bank account (it can take a good deal of effort to set up an account). This enables these nascent groups to focus on getting their business idea tuned and ready, and start building some early traction and gain a crowd of supporters before they need to commit to legal structure and invest time in lots of admin tasks. We also have in-house experts on a range of coop development issues.

We’d love to work more closely with CoTech and its member co-ops, and as our own development pathway becomes clearer - we’re currently engaged in a lot of planning and design work - we’ll no doubt be posting more info here and seeking input/engagement.

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Great advice - thanks @calummackervoy @alex @Graham :slight_smile:

All other tips, small or large, technical, practical, and conceptual all welcome!

You, as people are more important than the work.


Is this link broken for anyone else? I’d love to see this tool but it redirects me to their home page.

It’s broken for me too! I’ve just sent them an email - I’ll let you know what they say

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the site just relaunched and they decided to remove the select a structure tool during the build

@athertonjohn might be able to explain the thinking

Where did it go to Aaron?