We have a fundamental problem with the structure of public companies in our business economy. For too long, public companies have been held accountable to one single standard: its stock price. We have rewarded companies who take short term profit at the expense of long term gain, and now it's coming back to haunt us.

At Freelock, we think that entire approach is broken. There are too many crucial problems that need attention, and we don't believe stock price reflects the entire value of a company. A company should be valued on the impact it has on its community, on humans, nature, and infrastructure as well as its finances.

We are strong proponents of for-profit philanthropy. We think that businesses should make a profit while doing things that help the environment, giving people meaningful work, and building things that give them pride.

Businesses start out by solving some problem people need solved. If they reach a point where their only purpose for existence is making their shareholders money, it's time for them to be dissolved.

Green Business

The trail up to Valhalla. Lake that is...

For the last few centuries, we've grown accustomed to living off the principle of our natural bank account. We've mined it for minerals, wasted through topsoil, extracted just about everything we could find a commercial use for. And we've done it in a way that is quite unnatural: extract it out of the ground, burn it/process it/consume it, and then throw it away back to landfills. In nature, the waste products of one organism are the source of food for another—everything is part of a greater system. In human activity, in contrast, we have a supply chain with a definite start and end.

This has to change. We cannot take our raw materials for granted anymore. We've reached the point where there are dire consequences of wasting fuel: increased costs, war, and climate change. And yet we still consume food shipped half-way around the world every day. Very little of what we consume comes from our local economy—with globalization, everything comes from somewhere else, and cheap fuel has made this possible.

Our goal is to help green businesses work together to be more competitive in the marketplace than their larger global competitors. We particularly like working with local agriculture, manufacturing, smart energy, and green builders.

Business on a Human Scale

I'm a chauvinist. I think people are more important than businesses. Businesses should be slaves to people. People should not be slaves to business. At Freelock, we recognize that our employees have lives, futures, and activities outside work. We also recognize that work is an important part of our day, and should be as fulfilling, rewarding, and interesting as possible.

As a service company, we can only be successful if we provide great service. As an IT company handling sensitive data, we need to be trustworthy. Because our business is built on ongoing relationships with our clients, having happy employees who are here for the long haul is critical.

For these reasons, we look for the best employees, and treat them like people. Here are some of our policies:

  • Employees should only work more than 40 hours per week for rare, urgent client issues. As a general rule, no more than 32 hours of billable work per week will be scheduled, to make sure the employee has enough time to do the work right.

  • Employees will be expected to be in the office during the core hours of the day (10:00 – 3:00) for at least 3 days a week when they are new to the team, to help develop the strong relationships and sense of team we have here. Otherwise, they can work hours and locations of their choosing. Remote employees are expected to be available via company chat.

  • As a general rule, working vacations and unpaid time off will be granted on request,unless there is a compelling business need for them to be present.

  • Freelock will provide any tools, training, and equipment necessary for the job. Employees may use personal equipment if it meets our security standards.

  • Employees are encouraged to spend up to 10% of their working time on open source projects and/or volunteering time for charities.

  • Employees will share in the success of Freelock through a profit sharing plan, competitive pay and benefits, and credit in projects they work on.

Building for the Long Now

We're not a venture, we're a block and tackle business.We take great pride in our work. We craft solutions with maintenance, changing requirements, and growth in mind. We look for the best balance between current requirements, future maintainability needs, and budget.

We see the economy as a place of abundance, not scarcity. Instead of trying to throttle the distribution of ideas for our own sole benefit, we share what we learn freely, help others build responsible businesses, and spend our efforts innovating solutions to new problems. There is no shortage of problems to solve—we aim to solve more than we create.

We see businesses and economy as systems very much like the ecosystems of nature, and model our solutions on the real world. Natural systems evolve into niches for each species. Unix is built on small programs that provide single-purpose, loosely joined to other programs to make a working system. Businesses are built on departments, people providing the functions of marketing, sales, operations, and finances. Economies are built on businesses that have evolved to fill particular niches, and work together to feed, house, employ, and entertain people. Change is a hallmark of all of these systems. Members of a system either adapt to changing conditions, or die. We provide systems that adapt to change, that grow with the business, and help businesses adapt to their environments. And we model those systems in our own operations, providing a blueprint others can use to make the world a better place.

It's not just me

I stand on the shoulders of those who came before, who expressed the ideas that form the foundation of our business. Here are some of the key people and books I've used to form the basis of Freelock.

Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. This is a fantastic book that elucidates the different types of capitalism—natural, human, financial, and manufactured—and provides patterns and stories about how businesses can profit while accounting for all of these.

 

The Company We Keep, by John Abrams. Abrams has written up a blueprint of his employee-owned construction company, the South Mountain Company. According to Abrams, South Mountain Company cultivates workplace democracy, challenges the gospel of growth, balances multiple bottom lines, commits to the business of place, celebrates the spirit of craft, advances “people conservation,” practices community entrepreneurship, and thinks like cathedral builders.

 

"The Hacking Business Model," by Michael “Monty” Widenius and Zak Greant. Monty was the original author and one of the founders of MySQL, and his Hacking Business Model is loosely based on the original MySQL employee handbook. The Hacking Business Model provides more specific default rules for companies and employees, with an assumption of making a virtual company. We adhere to most of its tenets, but are dedicated to local business and see benefit in having a physical location as base of operations.

Disclosures: Book links use our Amazon Affiliate links, we get a commission if you buy from them. Monty Widenius is helping us put our business on a solid footing.

 

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Comments (2)

It's sad that entire towns of mom and pop stores have been destroyed by walmart, who plainly exploits the people it employs. And oil companies are bringing in the biggest profits in america, while contributing to pollution. Banks are rewarded by bailouts after exploiting the poorest of americans, then turn around and reward executives with large bonuses.

I like your analogy of the system of nature. Our companies determine how we live, what we use as their products and services in our lives. The way we are going cannot last forever. Nature on this planet, on the other hand doesn't give a damn about us, until we destroy it. It's been around much longer than us, and could go on for a long time.

It would be nice to see a change in the perspective of business and our economy, but hard lessons so far have not been learned, only the problems have been bandaged and not fixed.

04 Apr, 2009

"Hey John, you are so damn right about the exploitation of nature. Businesses are ruling our world today. And yet, I feel they are the ones who can bring new hope to people if they do it right. I think people who start a business should know whether it is the right one or not. It takes some effort to do that, but its worth it. They can probably start by knowing how to judge a business idea. This piece here can help https://blog.tobuz.com/how-do-you-know-if-your-business-idea-is-a-good-…

24 Aug, 2018

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