We’re kicking off Co-Optober with something really cool: an interview with K.T. Wiegman, the first President of the co-op’s Board of Directors!
First, a little about the Board:
Now that MaxFun is a worker-owned co-op, we have a Board of Directors made up of five worker-owners, three of whom hold Officer positions (President, Secretary, and Treasurer). The starting Board is composed of the five people who worked with Project Equity on MaxFun’s transition. They will be serving shorter terms and their exits will be staggered, so the Board never fully turns over at one time. After that, Board members will be elected by worker-owners and they will serve two year terms. Founder Jesse Thorn and CEO Bikram Chatterji will continue to attend Board meetings in a non-voting, advisory capacity.
Our first president, K.T., has worked at MaxFun for four years as our Operations Specialist. She’s been an amazing and incredibly reliable coworker, and I’m so excited to see what she does as our first Board president. I was able to chat with her a little about her time at MaxFun, the co-op’s new structure, and what she thinks the future of podcasting looks like.
C.N. Josephs: Hi! Let’s start by talking a little about you—what’s your role at MaxFun? How long have you been working here? How did you get involved with the company?
K.T. Wiegman: Maximum Fun was my favorite podcast network long before I started working here; I was a Judge John Hodgman fan back in the Canadian House of Pizza and Garbage days and have the T-shirt to prove it! MaxFun called me in for an interview in summer 2019, then called back to say I didn’t get the job—but would I be interested in coming on as Operations Specialist instead? Naturally, I jumped at it.
Operations Specialist is a weird little gig. Physical ops and office management are the base of it, but over the years I’ve found myself doing everything from coding and IT to negotiating leases to merch production to needle-felting a ¾-scale version of our resident taxidermy squirrel. The best thing about my job is that it’s never the same week on week. And I get a lot of opportunities to learn new things along the way.
C.N.: You’re the first President of the Board. How does that feel? Are you excited, nervous, a mix of both?
K.T.: It’s truly an honor. It’s also a lot to live up to. But it’s also not about me in the way that being a Board President might be at a traditional corporation. Our founding Board members plan to serve for one year or less, in order to encourage fresh voices and wider participation in the co-op’s leadership. I’ll feel I did my job if we’re able to hand an incoming President the keys to a co-op with a solid policy framework and a culture of ownership.
C.N.: Can you tell me more about how Maximum Fun is structured now and how decisions get made?
K.T.: There haven’t been a lot of changes to the day-to-day work at MaxFun. Former Managing Director Bikram Chatterji is now CEO, but his work of managing both the production and business sides of the company and driving new show development remains the same. Managers still manage, Specialists still specialize, and so on—and nothing has changed or will change about the network’s relationship with the shows. But now the strategic planning of it all falls to the Board with the advice and counsel of the CEO, which puts setting the direction for the co-op directly in worker-owner hands. The Board is also responsible for supervising the CEO, a thing that is really unfair to tease Bikram about, so I’m holding off on that until I think of something really good.
C.N.: You were part of the team that worked on transitioning MaxFun to a worker-owned co-op. Were there any unique challenges that the board has had to deal with during the transition?
K.T.: The biggest challenge was pulling it off while continuing to do our regular jobs. It was a ton of work!
C.N.: What does it mean to you to be part of a cooperative?
K.T.: It’s been decades of corporate concentration of capital, of big business getting bigger and getting worse: worse for workers, worse for consumers, worse for everyone except the bosses and their shareholders. So it’s been thrilling to watch the rise of the labor movement in the U.S., particularly as a union member myself (SAG-AFTRA). Being in a worker-owned co-op isn’t the same as being in a union—we’re the workers, but we’re the bosses too—but it shares the goal of putting the fruits of labor in the hands of the folks who did the work. Feels good to be on the right side of history.
C.N.: It feels like we’re at the beginning of a new chapter for Maximum Fun. What are you hoping the future of the co-op will look like? What do you want MaxFun to look like in five or ten years?
K.T.: Maximum Fun has always prioritized the work we do and the people we do it with over profit. That’s the company that Jesse and Theresa Thorn founded. Keeping those values alive is one of the biggest benefits of selling MaxFun to its workers, rather than dealing it off to a megacorp. In five to ten years, I’d love to see the co-op retain those values while continuing to develop its roster of great artist-owned shows, growing our base of audience support to provide ever-better returns to both shows and staff. Basically, I want the same as we’ve always had but more of it.
C.N.: What are your hopes for the future of podcasting as a field? Do you hope more networks will embrace the cooperative model?
K.T.: Podcasting is one of those art forms with a low barrier to entry. Got a good idea and a microphone? You can have a podcast! But with big corps buying up smaller networks and throwing their promotional weight behind big names, getting attention keeps getting harder. And there’s always the option to go it alone, but there are real benefits to having a network to manage things like hosting, promotion, advertising, and (in our case) membership.
So I’m not out here begging for more competition, but absolutely I’d love to see more co-ops in the space, raising up voices that might not get a hearing with the big guys and giving audiences the opportunity to directly support the work they want to see in the world. (Though the best shows, naturally, should all work with us.)
C.N.: Do you have any advice for other people who are considering forming a co-op?
K.T.: You can do it. You really can. Whoever you are, I can assure you that bigger dimwits than you or I have run companies. They’re doing it every day! Don’t count yourself out before you start. Cooperatives are an international movement and there are a ton of resources out there to help you learn more. Worker-owned cooperatives make it possible to make the thing you love ethically, sustainably, and with equitable sharing of profit. What’s better than that? Go out there and get you some.
Thanks for reading! If you want to hear from more of the worker-owners and members of the Board, K.T., Jesse, and Daniel Baruela will be doing a Reddit AMA on Wednesday, October 4 at noon PT. We’ll also be holding a live Q&A on Friday, October 6 on YouTube and Facebook at noon PT.