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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Investor Owned vs. User Owned Platforms

by Austin Robey

Traditional startup roadmap

Investor ownership is the default for technology companies and startups. Typically, founders go from owning 100% of a company, to gradually selling more and more in sequential fundraising rounds. Often, investors will purchase 20-30% of a company in each round of funding. After several rounds of funding, investors are likely to own a vast majority of the business, many times over 80%.

It may look something like this.


Company raises a seed round by offering investment notes that convert to 10-15% ownership of the company.

Series A:

Company raises 18 months of runway by selling another 20% of ownership to a collection of VC firms.

Series B:

Company repeats cycle.

Series C, D, E (and beyond):

An alternative: User-owned platforms

There is an alternative. It may not be customary in Silicon Valley, but it’s possible to have platforms owned 100% by their users. How? 

1. Cooperative ownership: 

  • Organization incorporated as a cooperative

  • Fully member-owned 

  • Not created for an exit opportunity for investors

  • 1 person 1 vote governance, not power weighted by stake

2. Labor organization:

  • Organization and product built by users

  • People contributing towards a shared vision

  • Reliance on production capital, rather than financial capital


Investor ownership vs. user ownership

Here are what these differences look like:


Investor Owned

User Owned


extracted from users

captured by users

Economic Rewards

concentrated to few

shared by many


financial maximization

service to members

Revenue Model

rent-seeking platform fee

commons contribution


exit event (transactional value)

sustainable independence (use case value)

Decision Making









Would you rather be a user or an owner?