3 founders on why they pursued alternative startup ownership structures

There is no one-size-fits all model for building a startup.

At TechCrunch Disrupt, we heard from a handful of founders about alternative approaches to creating a sustainable company that ensures more than just VCs and early founders benefit from its success. 

One way is building a cooperative, which Driver’s Seat CEO Hays Witt described as “a kind of corporate entity that both allows and requires that we return the majority of our profits to our members, and that our members have a majority of governance.”

Driver’s Seat helps ride-hail drivers use data to maximize their earnings. It works by requiring drivers to install an app that educates them about how the co-op collects and uses their data. In exchange, the app gives them insights about their real hourly wages after expenses and how those wages relate to different driving strategies.

“At a community level, what we do is sort of align everybody’s interest so that as gig workers come into our co-op, as they generate data, the value of that data in the aggregate gets higher and higher,” Witt said. “The dividends that we’re able to return back to drivers gets higher and also the kind of insights we’re able to give communities about work gets higher at the same time. So we kind of align all of our impact and mission goals. And our business model is through our co-op structure.”

That’s not to say Driver’s Seat does not create returns for its investors — investors are just one group of many that benefit from the company’s success. Witt said a desire for accountability made him decide to form a co-op.

“If we are always accountable to our co-op members, and our co-op members are gig workers, then we’re going to know that we’re accountable to the right things,” Witt said. “Now, we have investor members, too. We’re accountable to them, too. But our structure means that the gig workers always have at least that 51%. [ … ] it’s certainly not the only way to build a business. But, you know, for us, it was the way that we would build a business that would align with our mission of really changing the gig economy.”