Tribe is building a worker-owned cooperative for tech talent

Cofounder Jeremy Neal talks about the cooperative's work to bring a new platform and worker-ownership model to tech staffing.

Tribe Cofounder Jeremy Neal. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

When it comes to tech staffing, Tribe is putting ownership in the hands of the developers, data scientists and designers.

Tribe is a platform where companies can connect with technologists and designers to complete projects. As a worker cooperative, the people completing the work are also owners of Tribe. Under the cooperative model, the people who complete the work have ownership — and therefore a vote as a shareholder — in how the company is run.

“Responsibility toward the people that you’re building this thing with is the main component,” said Tribe cofounder Jeremy Neal.

It’s set up so that Tribe’s members have a say in key decisions, on contracts and what companies Tribe works with. There’s also a share in the profits. That’s distinct from a business model where those first in the door often get the biggest rewards upon financial success.

“All of the people that work on anything at any point build toward that,” Neal said of the growth that brings sustainability to a company, “and we think there should be equal value spread to everyone.”

To join initially, members must pay $250, work 10 hours and attend three member meetings. It’s designed around remote work, so members are in different cities, including Baltimore. At the same time, they’re looking to build community among the members, with tools like Slack and Zoom aiding.

Neal, who is a software developer and the CTO of Tribe said members of the founding team started working together while growing the Baltimore Black Techies meetup.

With Tribe, the goal is to create a more equitable system of tech staffing, which involves companies bringing workers in on a temporary basis, and hiring. Differing from freelancing, Tribe members work on a W-2 arrangement and have other benefits.

And the platform itself is built with the experiences of the members in mind. The platform is a place where companies seeking out talent can connect with technologists looking for work. Tribe helps companies find and vet candidates that are a fit for roles that are posted.

“We match them with members that have that skillset. If we don’t have anyone that meets that need, then we go out and hire,” Neal said.

Tribe provides tools for communication between the technologists and companies, as well as to complete the contract itself and other onboarding work within the platform.

One consideration is addressing unconscious bias in hiring. The platform is designed so that what’s shown about a candidate presents key skills and other info that’s relevant directly to the job first, with more disclosures coming throughout the process.

“That’s one of the things we’re thinking about up front and not waiting until it’s a problem,” Neal said.

Tribe is also looking to reduce overhead that’s found within a staffing agency, so the interaction is happening directly between the company seeking talent and members as much as possible. Tribe’s platform handles management functions, like contracts, logging time and payment.

And it’s structured so that markups on contracts aren’t going toward profits. Members have initially set 25% as the cap on a contract for overhead expenses. If any of that money is left over from covering the additional costs, it goes back to the members.

While it’s a cooperative, Tribe is also a startup. So it’s sought out business-building resources and is seeking venture investment. Neal said it worked with the Boston-based accelerator, which is specifically designed for co-ops looking to scale.


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