Xavier Dammanis is an entrepreneur working on a new form of association that enables the Internet generation to fund communities in full transparency: Open Collective. He founded Tribal in 1999, a site that gathered student content from around Belgium that was published in a 30,000-circulation magazine distributed nationwide to high schools. He built content partnerships with leading brands such as Microsoft and other Belgian companies. He moved from Belgium in the summer of 2009 with the vision that there are voices on social media that deserve to be published on main stream media. This vision is the foundation of Storify, the largest social media curation platform used by top publishers, brands and organizations around the world which was acquired by Adobe in 2016. Xavier earned a Master’s Degree with Distinction in Computer Science from Belgium’s Leuven University, and is one of MIT’s 2016 ‘Innovators under 35’.
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What was your first experience with social projects?
I left Belgium seven years ago to go to San Francisco, because I couldn’t raise money for my first startup, Storify. After a while I raised enough money and made Storify what it became, which we then sold (three years ago) and after that I went back to Belgium. I wanted to pay it forward and help communities and entrepreneurs trying to build startups, so a friend of mine and I came up with this movement to start a manifesto in Belgium. The goal was to come up with recommendations for the government and society at large, including journalists, teachers and parents, to basically make it suck less for startups in Belgium. And it was a great movement indeed. Thousands of people started supporting it and it got a lot of media coverage.
How did that drive you to starting Open Collective?
At some point we wanted to print some stickers to distribute at startup events. They cost a few hundred of Euros so we wanted to create a Stripe account to raise money from the supporters. But in order to do that you have to create a legal entity. And the last thing we wanted to do is to create a legal entity for what we were doing. And this was so frustrating. They were literally thousands of people who share the mission, who would love to contribute, and the money is there and we cannot take it. And we could have used that money to have a larger impact. So we said ‘alright, this is broken and we need to fix this’.
So the internet so far is helping a lot of movements to exist but they cannot have economic power. Occupy Wall street is a good example of that compared to Podemos in Spain. The difference between them is that Podemos was able to turn the energy of the movement to a political party. To convince 85.000 to give them five dollars a month. And that makes the difference between a movement that’s gonna be ephemeral to a more established institution.
What is your goal with Open Collective?
Our goal as Open Collective is to create this new light type of association for our generation who really love doing those side projects, creating those meetup groups, taking the initiative to create a conference located in your city, do open source projects together, create movements like occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, all of that. There’s a whole bunch of things that our generation is doing but we don’t have any platform to enable those movements and these communities to collect money. So it’s all about finding a new way, fund those communities that can have a larger impact.
What does ‘Open Source’ mean to you?
Open source happens to be one of those communities where you could have much more impact if they were better funded. I’m a big fan of open source myself and we open source everything. Open Collective is an open source platform because we believe in open source. We believe it’s the future of work. There’s no reason for having two different engineers in two different parts of the world solving the same problem. And also open source is the right business decision, I’m an engineer, as well as a developer and we tend to make much better code if we know that other people can look at it.
How do you see the future of technology in five years from now?
The future of technology in five years from now looks great. In the past 15 years technology has evolved so much. And now I think the biggest opportunities are applying all the things we learned to auto industries in addition to applying the philosophy of open source to those industries. That’s going be the next big thing in ten years. Technology for me is about money, it’s a means to an end, and it’s about how technology can free people from wage slavery. Because today there are still the vast majority of people who are doing things they’re not passionable about, doing it only because they need money to live. If I could solve one big problem with technology today that would be cancer. Technology for me is giving the tools to people so that can pursue what they truly love.
What does is it mean to be a data native?
To be a data native to me is more about building a fair world, an equal world, and the only way we can do that in a scalable way is through data.
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Image: velkr0, CC By 2.0