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Coffee & Power: 258 Guys in a Garage
© Image: Screenshot by Eric Mack/

Coffee & Power: 258 Guys in a Garage

Editor's Note: The following comes to us from Philip Rosedale, co-founder of Coffee & Power, a cloud labor platform he says "enables a new breed of mobile workers to connect in a way that’s fast, low-friction, and fun." His contribution below originally appeared as a keynote at CrowdConf last fall.

The Silicon Valley startup formula is now a well-recognized and time-honored strategy, which I think we’ve all worn into a bit of a rut. Three or four very smart people (usually guys) hunker down in someone’s garage, work a bleary-eyed 80 hours a week producing a prototype, getting funding, hiring those first handful of key engineers, etc.

But what would happen if you took a venture-funded startup in Silicon Valley and you didn’t do that? What if, instead, you insisted on the idea that you would crowdsource a distributed team of hundreds of people around the world to build the entire company?

Instead of hiring a team of engineers, product developers and designers, you design and build a complicated, interesting product using people from all around the world, collaborating virtually online. This is the story of Coffee & Power.

What is Coffee & Power?

Coffee & Power is an online marketplace where people can buy and sell small jobs. It enables a new breed of mobile workers to connect in a way that’s fast, low-friction, and fun.

It’s a big project and was initially funded by a million dollars in venture capital in 2011. It’s a big project and it’s very design sensitive -- the look and feel and the user experience is very important.

Fast, Open and Collaborative

How on earth could you actually build something so complex using a completely decentralized workforce?

First, we put the source code online, right from day one, so that everybody around the world could take a look at it. I’m a big believer in open source, you get more benefits from putting it out there and letting people find bugs in it than keeping it secret, even if you’re not also paying them to fix it.

The point here is that developers around the world, interested people that wanted to help us, were able from day one to look at the source code, just literally drill down and see what was live on the site.

Second, let me explain what I mean when I say Coffee & Power was crowdsourced, using an actual example from the site. A while back, we wanted to make a change to our user profiles, to include a total of how much money each user had made on the site.

The first thing I did was write up a summary and description of what I wanted, this took about 10 minutes. You can see the job here, since it’s archived on our site. I wanted our user profiles to summarize the earnings data, to use the same numbers that are shown in a different part of the site. Also, you can see in the job, I charged the company $40 to design and manage that small improvement to Coffee & Power, this fee is part of my salary.

About an hour later, I had two bids, one for forty dollars and one for sixty dollars, from developers who had seen this job and wanted to do it. I accepted one of the bids.

Then within 24 hours, the developer logged into the source code that he was looking at before he made the bid and did the work. Another guy named John was paid a few more dollars for a code review on Dan’s work. So overall, we spent $106 for the change and about 24 hours later the commit was made and the code was live and viewable by the users of the site.

So this turns things around a bit, I mean we’re basically building a typical Silicon Valley high intensity startup using a whole ton of people, located all around the globe, working together via various tools we’ve built.

The Future of Work

While most of our actual work is currently happening online, we believe that the future of work will also include offline meet-ups in physical locations. We’ve currently opened Coffee & Power “workclubs” in San Francisco and Santa Monica, with plans to open affiliated spaces in more locations. These spaces allow for our members to get together to deliver services or collaborate on projects.

We’re always looking for more smart, creative and energetic web developers to help with our project, visit for more information.

 - Before co-founding Coffee & Power, Philip Rosedale founded Linden Lab and created Second Life. 

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