Organic Software Part 1: Why We're a Public Benefit Corporation

Group of people around a desk collaborating

Drover is presenting a series of blog posts on what it takes to make ethical software. Technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 20 years, but how it’s made has mostly remained a black box. What we do hear about is generally concerning -- lax privacy, toxic work environments, all stemming from a desire to grow and make profits no matter what corners have to be cut. Are there any other options? Increasingly, yes. This is the first part of a series where we look at the why’s and how’s of those options. Read on…

We’re so used to the idea that successful tech startups are measured by how much they sell for or how big their IPO is, but the human cost can get ugly. I’ve seen the friction of founders’ principles clashing with investors who are pushing for quick growth. Office environments can get tense when users are ignored in favor of increased revenue. That’s not to say this applies to all companies, but I know how easy it is for things to slip.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted my work to in some small way make the world a better place. That led me to work in nonprofits, which only strengthened that desire. I didn’t see why it should be any different when starting a company, especially when I was creating a product I envisioned being used by the kinds of nonprofits and groups I’ve always been involved with.

Rather than being an empowering moment, reaching those conclusions was terrifying. I felt like at best I’d be ignored by the tech industry and world at large, at worst I’d have my ideals squashed like a bug. How exactly was I going to find advisors, let alone investors, who agreed with the direction I wanted to go in? How would I find possible co-founders or early employees who wanted to create a culture that would genuinely treat users and employees as importantly as profit margins?

What I felt like I needed was something like the fair-trade symbol on my bag of coffee -- a way to signal to the world that I wanted to do things my own way. Then I noticed the B Corp logo on a tea bag, and thought that might be worth a look. What I learned was that although B Labs is a wonderful organization that offers fantastic resources and a great framework for companies that want to go through the certification process, I wasn’t even far enough along for their “Pending” certification.

But one of the biggest accomplishments of the B Labs group has been lobbying to create the Public Benefit Corporation. It doesn’t involve the cost of certification and by its nature even companies just getting started can register as a PBC. It’s not quite as thorough as B Corp certification, but it does cover all the important legal aspects of it. Instead of generic bylaws, the company Drover is now required to actively assist community groups and consider the needs of all stakeholders, not just shareholders. It’s exactly what I wanted, a way to communicate to others that Drover is about mission as much as money.

If you want to do your part, I encourage you to find out more about B Labs and the work they’re doing, and also browse their business directory. Just like when you eschew Amazon for your local bookstore, you have the opportunity to find alternatives for many of your needs that place their values over profits. It’s true that every little bit helps!

Real change isn’t going to happen overnight. In much the same way that the convenience of Amazon wins out over going to the store sometimes, the ease of relying on the same large tech companies over and over is going to be a hard habit to break. Yes, it takes a bit of extra effort, but that effort is worthwhile if it helps make the world a more equitable place. The fact that it is such a complex issue is why this is only one part in a series of posts. It’s my hope to explain not just what I’m doing, but how other companies are working to make a difference in a variety of areas of tech.