Reinventing the company

To many managers, corporate life continues to involve dealing with largely anonymous owners, most of them represented by fund managers who buy and sell shares listed on a stock exchange. In insurgent companies, by contrast, the coupling between ownership and responsibility is tight (see article). Founders, staff and backers exert control directly. It is still early days but, if this innovation spreads, it could transform the way companies work.

.. But, after a century of utter dominance, the public company is showing signs of wear. One reason is that managers tend to put their own interests first. The shareholder-value revolution of the 1980s was supposed to solve this by incentivising managers to think like owners, but it backfired. Loaded up with stock options, managers acted like hired guns instead, massaging the share price so as to boost their incomes.

.. The central difference lies in ownership: whereas nobody is sure who owns public companies, startups go to great lengths to define who owns what. Early in a company’s life, the founders and first recruits own a majority stake—and they incentivise people with ownership stakes or performance-related rewards. That has always been true for startups, but today the rights and responsibilities are meticulously defined in contracts drawn up by lawyers. This aligns interests and creates a culture of hard work and camaraderie. Because they are private rather than public, they measure how they are doing using performance indicators (such as how many products they have produced) rather than elaborate accounting standards.

.. They can incorporate online for a few hundred dollars, raise money from crowdsourcing sites such as Kickstarter, hire programmers from Upwork, rent computer-processing power from Amazon, find manufacturers on Alibaba, arrange payments systems at Square, and immediately set about conquering the world.