Post-Capitalist Entrepreneurship

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* Book: Boyd Cohen. Post-Capitalist Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurship for the 99%. Taylor & Francis, 2017

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1. Boyd Cohen:

"As you can imagine from the title (and some of you already know form recent interactions) it challenges whether capitalism is capable of bringing inclusive prosperity and suggests that new (and old) forms of more democratic organizing and value creation and capture, enhanced by distributive technologies could usher in an alternative economic model and form of collective entrepreneurship. The book contains chapters on topics like: commons-based peer production, platform cooperatives, alternative currencies, distributed autonomous organizations, the decline of importance of venture capital in post capitalist entrepreneurship and finally an interesting (I think) chapter that puts it all together at a city level to explore how a post capitalist economy could work combined with basic income and fab cities." (author email, April 2017)

2. From the publisher:

"The Occupy Movement with the ‘We are the 99%’ slogan, emerged as a reaction to a perception that the market-based form of capitalism employed in the US, and to differing degrees in democracies around the globe, is beyond broken. The average citizen has grown increasingly convinced that the system is set up to help the rich get richer. Data on income inequality, such as the Gini Index, suggests that the public perception may be an accurate one. In recent years we have seen a growth in calls for a new economic model, some refer to as post-capitalism.

Proponents of a post-capitalist society see greater changes needed. Rushkoff, for example, explored how the knowledge society is not leading to greater income distribution and the rising of all boats, but actually exacerbating the wealth accumulation in the hands of the one percent. Both Rushkoff and Mason (2016) lament the emergence of megaplatform digital peer to peer (P2P) ‘monopolies’, like Airbnb and Uber which seek global domination at all costs arguing that P2P platforms owned by ambitious, venture capital-backed corporations do not necessarily lead to further equality and amount to what my colleague and founder of Shareable, Neal Gorenflo, calls ‘platform deathstars.’

Yet Rushkoff refuses to actually blame executives and investors in Silicon Valley for the crisis of capitalism. Instead, he argues that they ‘are themselves caught up in a winner-takes-all race for dominance against all other other digital behemoths. It’s grow or die (pp.3-4).’

If we may in fact already be in the transition to a post-capitalist society, than what does this mean for entrepreneurs, not just in Silicon Valley but globally? This book is about understanding the implications of the post-capitalist society for our knowledge about entrepreneurship around the globe and challenges many of our underlying assumptions about how entrepreneurs form startups, with what objectives and the role, or lack thereof, for startup investors in a post-capitalist society. Furthermore, the book will have a strong focus on exploring real emerging stories and thinking about different forms of post-capitalist entrepreneurship (PCE) with chapters dedicated to subjects such as alternative currencies (local, crypto and time banking) and the emergence of Distributed Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), leveraging the blockchain. It will also explore some hybrid approaches which are on a continuum between market capitalism and PCE, such as platform coops within the sharing economy and benefit corporations (e.g. B Corporations)."


Chapter Summary

  • Chapter 1: Towards Commons-based entrepreneurship

The assumption in classical approaches to entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurs need to build a competitive advantage by developing and protecting intellectual property. In a post capital society, protecting intellectual property gives way to an entirely different approach to value creation and extraction. Rather than seeking to protect any expertise, post capital entrepreneurs treat innovation and value creation as an open process, whereby the community (virtual or physical or both) participate in the innovation process and have unlimited access to the tools that are co-developed by the community. Instead of consumers, users become participants and build on the work of others. The concept of the commons, whereby community members collaborate in the sharing or co-production of resources, (digital, physical, natural) has gained steam as a way to frame post capitalist activity. While capitalism encourages scarcity of resources and protected intellectual property, post capital entrepreneurship encourages abundance and access. This chapter is dedicated to exploring the commons as a way to frame post capital entrepreneurship and will look at some emerging paradigms and tools for enabling commons-based PCE.

  • Chapter 2: For-benefit startups

I do not believe that we will immediately, or maybe even in the medium term, observe a disappearance of startups seeking to scale through more traditional capitalist models. However, I believe we will witness a series of transitionary approaches that are some form of hybrid model between profit-seeking enterprises and PCE. For me the best place to explore transitionary approaches are for benefit startups that have increasingly found legal standing in the US and abroad. B Corporations are firms who have voluntarily committed to legally bind themselves to meet a high standard of social and environmental performance. This chapter will be dedicated to exploring the emergence of B Corps (nearly 2000 around the world and counting), what the process of establishing B Corp status entails and highlighting some exciting examples of entrepreneurs who are embracing legally-binding non-market objectives into their strategy and operations.

  • Chapter 3: Alternative Currencies and Place-Based PCE

What is money really? It is merely a mechanism for exchanging value between two or multiple parties. Before there was paper currency backed by national and regional governments (referred to as fiat currency), gold and other metals were used to facilitate exchange. Before gold, there were many other systems like bartering whereby I made something you valued and you paid in me in something I valued. We are seeing a resurgence around the globe of a range of alternative currencies from local paper currencies, to digital crypto currencies, time banking and gift economies. This chapter is dedicated to exploring entrepreneurship that leverages, creates or supports alternative currencies.

Chapter 4: From the Platform Deathstars to Technology-Enabled Platform Cooperativism

We have witnessed a rapid growth in the use of platforms for connecting peers and businesses to each other. While this has been labeled as the sharing economy, many of these enterprises have been accused of exploitative behavior and damaging, rather than improving communities. Airbnb, Uber, Deliveroo and others have been sued and even banned in countries around the globe for skirting regulation and exploiting “independent contractors” who are really employees without minimum wages, benefits or health care. This has given the sharing economy, and its entrepreneurs a bad name. In fact, some, such as Shareable´s Neal Gorenflo, refer to them as Platform Deathstars. But, there are thousands of other sharing economy projects, some technology enabled and some no or low-tech, who have embraced more of a commons approach to sharing. In this chapter I will introduce the sharing business model compass and sharing business model canvas I developed with my colleague Pablo Muñoz after researching dozens of sharing economy business models and introduce the growth of platform cooperatives as an interesting alternative approach to the creation of sharing economy enterprises.

  • Chapter 5: The Distributed Autonomous Organization

Beyond platform cooperatives, which still technically operate within capitalist models, there is a new PCE model which has only emerged in the past few years called a distributed autonomous organization (DAO). A DAO is basically a mashup between open source software (see chapter 1) and platform cooperatives (see chapter 4). A DAO is technically not even an enterprise, but rather based on software developed and enhanced through the community. But rather than say Wikipedia which is an open source tool for sharing knowledge, DAOs are open source tools for facilitating exchanges between peers. Think Uber, without Uber in the middle whereby drivers would gain 100% of the transaction value. This is not science fiction either. Backed primarily by distributed ledgers like the blockchain which was initially conceived to support the digital currencies discussed in chapter 3, DAOs are emerging as we speak or, as I write. Can DAO’s operate glocally, leveraging distributed global tech to support local ecosystems and P2P interaction? How will conflicts be resolved? Is it really possible to have a P2P platform with no intermediary? Will there be any revenue models that emerge for the collaborative group who develops and maintains the DAO platform? In this chapter I seek to answer, or at least shed light on, some of these questions while providing some insights on emerging examples of DAOs.

  • 'Chapter 6: Venture Capital is Dead in a PCE world

Winner-Take-All Capitalism will remain a driver in the U.S. but is increasingly at odds with the 99% movement. When entrepreneurs are no longer driven to own the world, the venture capital model no longer applies. How will startups be financed in a PCE world? In this chapter I will explore a range of emerging alternatives to venture capital for financing startups with a strong focus on a range of crowdfunding platforms and even just embracing fully lean startup methodologies for PCE. I will also discuss the growing slow money movement and the growing number of impact investors who seek to invest in enterprises with a strong social and environmental mandate. Also, I will discuss ways civic entrepreneurs are funding their projects through procurement for innovation programs from local and regional governments.

  • Chapter 7: Back to the Future

Throughout the book I have explored a wide range of alternative forms of organizing in a post-capitalist economy. While each chapter has been treated as a focus on discrete topics, frequently with little attention to the territory of post-capitalist entrepreneurs, in this chapter, I will turn my attention to what could happen if a specific territory, cities, could embrace all of the forms of PCE discussed in this book, along with other postcapitalist topics such as universal basic income and fab cities, to go back to the future, merging concepts from bygone eras along with emerging technologies such as blockchain and 3D printing to remake our economies from the ground up."

More information

If you want to continue the dialog on social media, I will be using the hashtag #PostCapEnt to track and participate in an ongoing conversation with the global community.