So why have we gone non-profit?
I spent years working in Excel modelling and often felt blindingly frustrated by the difficulty of doing basic calculations in Excel. But more than that, I had this fully formed vision in my mind of a way of making calculations that was incredibly easy to use – whether you’re working with huge complexity or vanishing simplicity. Either way, I could see how we could achieve that.
More than anything else in the world, I just wanted this tool to exist. Creating it as a company was what I thought would be the easiest way to make it happen. I always felt it needed to be a ubiquitous, open, and freely available tool. Obviously it needed to be mostly free. But it’s also a tool for computation. Conceiving a revenue model in there is easy to do, and I thought would be the easiest way to make it real.
But I started to think:
What would have happened to Wikipedia if it had been a private company?
How would they ever have persuaded people to donate their time just to help out a profit making company? In perhaps a similar way, we need a lot of people to engage with and get on board with what we’re doing. If we are going to make this real, we need generous donations of time from a huge range of people. I want those people to know for sure that the work they are doing is for the good of the world, and when they share their work it is always going to be free. No Facebook-style privacy or weird ownership issues.
What would have happened with the email protocol if it had been privately owned?
Email is free, the protocol is freely available, and anyone can build on it. If that had been owned by someone, what would have happened? Perhaps we would have ended up with dozens of competing platforms. We’d have had years of compatibility issues, and half the world would have been excluded. Email would have been worth so much less to the world if it had been a private enterprise.
Open computation is the same. We need a completely open system that anyone can use, that anyone can connect to, that is always free, and that anyone can build on and make use of. I don’t want sections of the world to be excluded through pricing or have to worry that chunks of it might suddenly disappear or be taken into private ownership. We need to know it’s always going to be free.
By turning the work we’ve done in Livesheets over to the new non-profit Supernode Foundation, we have created an asset lock. This means it is protected by law. The company is founded with charitable aims of opening knowledge and making it possible for any data, functions and visualisations to connect; it can only pursue those aims and can never hand it over to anyone else or do anything that violates those aims.
I believe we really can create a world where no two people ever have to do the same work twice. I believe we really can make every child into a rocket scientist. And as a non-profit foundation we have protected those aims.