BetterMeans: a new app for running your organization the open source way

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Two different business organization charts

Last week I received a heads up about a new web application launching today from a company called BetterMeans with an impressive goal: to build the infrastructure (processes, technology, governance, etc.) to make an open organizational structure like we talk about here on a reality.

From their website: is a web platform where people can start and run companies in a new decentralized way.

- Teams self-form, self-organize, and self-manage using an issue-tracking tool
- There is no management class, only natural hierarchies.
- Leadership emerges organically by users earning other users’ confidence
- Compensation is based on contribution
- Strategy and ideas are crowd-sourced
- There’s full accountability and transparency. Relationships are built on trust.
- Ownership is distributed
- Capital allocation and decision-making are decentralized

If a traditional company was a network architecture, it would be client-server.

We’re building a platform for peer-to-peer companies that are more agile, resilient, and innovative.

The video below explains what they are doing and why.

Very cool. In fact, if you are interested in taking a more in-depth look at how their web application works, you can watch a demo here.

The BetterMeans folks sent me a login last week so I could get in and play around with the application for a while (if you want to try it for yourself, go here).

A few observations:

  • I'm impressed by how the small group behind BetterMeans is eating its own dog food. In their attempt to create a tool that could be used by real "open enterprises" (their term), they have actually organized themselves as an open enterprise—a prototype for their tool. Nice.
  • They've written an interesting manifesto explaining why they created BetterMeans. It's worth a read—clearly they have been heavily influenced by the work of Gary Hamel.
  • The tool itself is already fairly robust for a beta, although you get a much better sense for how it works from watching the demo than by playing around with it (to take advantage of most of the features you need to have a whole team of people involved).
  • Some of the functionality is perhaps a little too democratic by default for my taste. In a BetterMeans project, everyone gets an equal vote. In my experience, open source projects often aren't democracies but instead meritocracies where people earn influence over time through good ideas and good contributions. My view? It is not always important to have a completely democratic decision-making process, but instead to have a clearly articulated and completely transparent decision-making process. Sometimes it actually may be fully democratic, sometimes it may be a leader taking in input from everyone and then making the final decision by him or herself, and sometimes the final decision is made by a subset of the larger group.

As an contributor, I feel it is my duty to point out that the BetterMeans platform itself is not open source, even though they clearly want it to be. From their FAQ:

We're not open source, because we haven't figured out a business model that sustains us and keeps our software open source. The moment we do, we will open source the software.

Meanwhile, we are focussed on opening up the org structures. If folks are passionate about opening up the bettermeans source, they can join us, and help us figure out how to do it, and pay our bills.

Fair enough. Maybe some of you folks in the community could help them?

Overall, although it is still clearly an experiment, I'm digging the direction this project is going.

The primary challenge will be to get people to embrace Yet Another New Platform. In fact, a mashup of BetterMeans and the tools the 37signals folks make (which many organizations already use) might be pretty awesome.

We'll never create the infrastructure for open organizations if no one leads the way. I believe the team behind BetterMeans is providing strong leadership in the right direction.

What do you think?


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Chris Grams is the Head of Marketing at Tidelift and author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World. Twitter LinkedIn Email: chris(at)


So far, we had only the choice between collective work/free work and individual work/paid work. In my opinion, I think that BetterMeans proposes an innovative model of both collective and paid work.

Why is this model important ? In the knowledge economy, the aggregation of content is more valuable than the syndication of content. Which means that collective work gives more value than the addition of individual works. Therefore any business model that compensates contributors to a collective work go in the right direction.

After open source and open innovation contest-models, BetterMeans proposes a clever third model to reward more fairly the contributors to a collective work. I believe it is worth mentioning it.

BetterMeans states that the reason they don't have it open source is because they can't figure out a way to stay in business if it were open source. In other words, they want to make money off it forever. Their own personal cash cow to reward themselves with a lifetime of riches for helping to move humanity forward.

Yes, they invested a lot of air dollars (bogus credits in the sum of imaginary $1 per 1 credit 'in the future' slave labor system) and probably a few real dollars and definitely a lot of time into creating this system which by the foundation of its ideas came from stolen information in the crowd that makes up the people cloud on the internet that they would be so giddy to claim as their own. So shouldn't they at least be rewarded with at minimum a little something? Okay. I'll give in a little.

This is the kind of system I think would be awesome if we the people collectively crowd purchased outright in order to turn it into an open source work. How many millions of dollars could be collected by a savvy fundraising crowd-sourced financing scheme to reward the team that put this together? I'll contribute my $10 (but only if I get that $10 back if a sale doesn't go through).

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