It is possible to turn things around as a single person in a capitalistic market.
The journey is the goal
More than 17 years ago Uwe Lübbermann had no intention to start a beverage company. Nevertheless, when his favorite cola brand changed its recipe without letting consumers know, he felt betrayed. He believed that was not the right way of treating business partners, since in the end the customer is allowing the company to exist. So he organized an online community of about 700 people and demanded to have a say in how the company is run, since he was paying for their products. Not surprisingly, the company saw things differently. So what to do with a community that shared the interest in cola? – Starting an own cola production. On 23.11.2001 The Premium Collective was funded. We could argue that even today Uwe is not running a beverage company, because his job title is ‘Main Moderator’. His belief of equality of people is still the same and that is why he cares for people and treats everyone the same. It just happens that he expresses that belief through running a beverage company.
Doing things differently
With the Premium Cola he has proven that there is more than just one way of running an organization and has changed the rules of how to do business. The list of how the Premium Collective is run reads like a utopian theory. There are no hierarchies, people create their jobs individually and do not necessarily have previous knowledge in that specific area, everyone can have a say in how the organization is run, a process that is termed consensus democracy. For 15 years and with now around 1700 partners no written contract has been signed. The organization does not make a profit, but pays it back to the people who produce and sell the beverages. In addition, everyone is paid the same, with the exception of parents, people with disabilities and people who need to rent a workspace. There are actually people in the network that earn more than Uwe although he is basically the CEO. And the reason why so few have heard of the organization is because they do not advertise. And yet, the company is growing at ten percent every year; a limit that they have set themselves, of course.
Persistence pays eventually
It took Uwe seven and a half years to finally make money from the Premium Cola. Well, at least for himself, because at that point he was already paying everybody he was working with a fair amount. Another year later he was able to make a living from “his” company that he self-funded in the beginning. The process of bootstrapping kept the decision power within the organization and its network, rather than putting it in the hand of external investors. This also reduced the pressure to reach certain goals in a limited amount of time. In the beginning he paid others in shares per bottle sold for example. Believing in his idea and his stubbornness to follow through with it, which could also more positively be described as grit, were the keys to make things happen.
Expect the unexpectable
Uwe has shown that one person can make a difference. Now he assists other organizations to become more democratic, sustainable and robust. Based on his experience and expertise he shares his knowledge to help others. His key to success with the Premium Collective as well as with his new role is to simply talk to people by asking questions and realizing what the situation at hand demands. There is no size fits all solution, even his idea of consensus democracy cannot be applied to all situations equally or simply copied to another organization. However, already bringing two groups of people together and make them talk to each other is a success for him. Most of the time, good things start to happen from this interaction.
Staying true to yourself
Even with his new role Uwe is expressing his belief of equality and continues to challenge how business is done. Instead of having a fixed rate for his consulting work or talks, he realizes that not everyone is able to pay the same. Smaller organizations might not have the budget as larger corporations do. That is why he asks what others are able to pay (“what seems fair and reasonable to you“). Even if they are not able to pay anything Uwe Lübbermann is still happy to share his story. So far he has helped 35 other organizations from hippie collectives over corporates to governments to become more democratic, sustainable, and robust.
Get in contact with Uwe Lübbermann, who has been named one of the 50 most impactful social entrepreneurs in 2017, at Luebbermann.com
What is it that you are angry about and want to change?