XENSHA wasn't always a worker cooperative.

A stack of advance reading copies of Spontaneous Tourism: The Busy Person's Guide to Travel.
A great book that didn't sell well

The company that's now XENSHA began as "CrystalOrb." I started it in 2006 to publish a travel reference guide that I had written. It was beautifully printed by offset press and distributed to the trade and libraries. Reviewers generally liked it, and it was exciting to see copies on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

Unfortunately, people who don't travel aren't inclined to buy books about how to travel. Other projects didn't go much better. By 2012, CrystalOrb wasn't doing much.

When Gwen joined the company, and we decided to take it in a different direction. She was already doing tutoring, and we renamed the company "Tutor Ring" and brought her work under it. Tutoring and writing services were much more successful than publishing, and Gwen continues to offer private tutoring as well as teaching for private education centers and programs under contract.

Gwen at a client site for contract teaching in 2012.
Gwen at a tutoring center

In 2014, some consulting work that I'd been doing as an employee of another company turned into contract work. Tutor Ring was already in place, so we brought the consulting under its umbrella and registered "XENSHA" as a trade name for activities that were outside of the education industry.

Later that year, we welcomed Mark into the company with plans to offer brand advertising services. Given our growing revenues from consulting services, we decided to change our company's official name to "XENSHA" and keep "Tutor Ring" as a trade name specifically for educational work.

The Paint and Patches work van in 2016

Early in 2015, we started looking closely at how our business was working. We wanted to make sure that everyone had a clear say in what was going on.  I drafted several proposals for revising our Operating Agreement with complex provisions meant to promote fair treatment, but when I stumbled across information on worker cooperatives, I was stunned to realize that the idea I was trying to create from scratch had existed for many decades.  This revelation helped us complete a new Operating Agreement that took effect on May 1, 2015.  We became employee-owners in a worker cooperative.

We brought Tom in just a few months after we signed it, and he had an opportunity to do some handyman work.  A consulting company can't get insurance to do construction, and we didn't want Tom to have to turn it down, so we formed Paint and Patches as a wholly-owned subsidiary with its own licenses and insurance through which Tom could do construction while continuing to participate in our retirement plan and patronage system. 

In early 2017, we actually decided that it was better to move all of our operations to subsidiaries.  We re-created Tutor Ring for tutoring and test preparation, and we moved our business and technical consulting work to XENSHA Consulting.  We adopted a minimum-pay program to cover the variability of revenue-based pay, set a basic wage rate of $15 per hour, and rounded out our benefits package with extras like short- and long-term disability, group life, and cooperatively funded sick leave.  We also welcomed Lee as a new worker-owner to provide graphic design services associated with Co-Local, a new subsidiary we launched to provide local businesses with a cooperative approach to advertising.

Not everything has gone without a hitch.  Early on, we overestimated how much we could afford to have the cooperative contribute to Members' retirement plans and faced a big cash crunch.  Before we learned to treat mileage as a direct cost against revenue, mileage reimbursements came close to bankrupting the company.  We printed business cards and then almost immediately decided to change the style.  After more than two years of tweaking the percentages used to pay people on a commission basis, we realized that an employee wage scale paired with monthly distributions was not only more sensible but absolutely necessary if XENSHA was going to survive.  But we've been able to address these and other challenges as they come up because we're employee-owners managing our cooperative democratically.

I don't know whether XENSHA will be around in a hundred years, or even ten.  That depends on all of us, and some things beyond our control. We have to deliver quality services at a good value, like any business, and we have to find clients and opportunities to shine.  What I do know that by working cooperatively, we're able to do work that we find interesting, on schedules that we set for ourselves, and we see the rewards of our effort.  We're helping, and to me, that's success.

Q1 Member Meeting, February 21, 2018

James C. Samans

Founding Member