The Driver’s Cooperative (TDC) is a driver-owned immigrant-led ride-sharing company in New York City. They launched in 2020 to improve working conditions for drivers, over 90% of whom are immigrants. The cooperative is one of several recent “platform cooperatives” that brings economic democracy goals into the digital economy. The project builds upon worker-owned taxi organizing in Wisconsin, California, Virginia, Texas, and Colorado, and upon organizing work by the Independent Drivers Guild.
With no track record, no collateral, and a strategy that required a long runway to scale, finding enough start-up capital for the cooperative has been a huge challenge.
The Driver’s Cooperative – Road to Development
In New York City alone, there are 50,000 daily rideshare drivers. Many of these drivers are independent contractors for more than one platform simultaneously. To date, The Drivers Cooperative has signed up more than 8,000 drivers.
To compete alongside the two goliaths in the field, the cooperative must have enough drivers to offer rapid pick-up times throughout the city. As projected, their growth is heading in the right direction. They’ve won municipal contracts for multiple initiatives including ones that focus on disability transit, non-emergency medical transport, and Board of Election rides. Members of The Drivers Cooperative make 8-10% more on each trip than on Uber and Lyft, and profits go back to drivers as dividends.
The Drivers Co-op’s major source of capital has been a 2021 crowdfunding campaign in which they raised over $1.6M in patient equity from over 1,200 non-accredited investors. This is in addition to small equity investments, and small seed loans from other CDFIs.
Following the success of their crowdfunding campaign, CFNE approved a disbursement of $200,000 under patient equity terms similar to what TDC used in their own crowdfunding campaign.
Patient Equity – unsecured debt with a variable schedule for repayment. CFNE’s “patient equity product” is ELF, short for “equity-like financing”
TDC’s Need for Funding: General operational uses focused on payroll, rider and driver marketing, and platform growth (sales, uses, etc.)
CFNE’s Challenge With Providing Funding to The Driver’s Cooperative
Unlike many of CFNE’s historical borrowers, TDC:
- Isn’t building with brick and mortar assets
- Can’t rely on friend-and-family capital to get off the ground
- Doesn’t have a membership able to make significant equity contributions
Additionally, The Drivers Cooperative is larger than most worker cooperatives – by number of drivers it is the largest in the country! However, like with smaller businesses, the people that could have the most benefit from cooperative ownership are the least likely to have capital resources to leverage debt. We recognize that, and also know that co-ops like TDC help move racial equity forward.
The impact of their work is life-changing for their driver-owners and CFNE supports that wholeheartedly.
But how do you balance investing in startup businesses (risky by nature) with maintaining a sustainable mission driven organization (like CFNE)?
Our Solution: Equity-like Financing (ELF)
In 2022, CFNE’s board of trustees authorized the use of up to $1 million of CFNE’s net assets to pilot an expanded capital program, diversifying the type of capital that CFNE can provide to cooperatives. CFNE’s project to explore equity-like financing recognizes that standard debt is not the right product for all startups.
Through our exploration, we developed ELF. ELF features flexible repayment terms that include lower rates, larger loan size, and longer repayment periods. Through this program, CFNE serves large cooperatives facing capital access challenges similar to the Driver’s Co-op.
Funding Provided: $200,000 in equity-like debt
The Driver’s Co-op TA Team: TDC has worked with Start.coop