When faced with a problem or complicated situation it’s not uncommon for a person to ask friends for advice. But would you allow friends to make decisions about how to live your life? In 2008 Mike Merrill decided to split himself into 100,000 shares and set an initial public offering price of $1 per share. Shareholders would get voting privileges and decide what Merrill would do on a daily basis and on a grander scale, no questions asked.
Merrill started out by selling 929 shares to twelve of his friends. He paid $500 to a web developer to create a site with an online trading and voting platform. The share price operates in a free market manner- if shareholders don't like what Merrill is doing, they can simply sell shares and drive the price down. Within five years, Mike sold over 3,700 shares of himself and his stock price, which is calculated in real time, hit a high of $20.
Joshua Davis followed Merrill for over a year for an article featured in the April issue of Wired Magazine. Throughout that period Davis watched shareholders increase their control over many aspects of Merrill’s life.
“Over time the shareholders decided they wanted more and more control over his life,” he tells The Daily Ticker. “In fact, that was the value proposition to them. They think, ‘Okay, I can buy a share for $1 and I can tell him what to do.’”
Merrill writes up proposals on his website where shareholders can debate them on a forum and cast votes. If shareholders bring up a new proposal in a forum and it gets enough support Merrill will also open a vote on that issue.
Shareholders voted down a vasectomy when Merrill decided he didn't want children, decided he would wear Brooks Brothers exclusively, that he must be a vegetarian and vote Republican. He even granted voting members the rights to his romantic life, approving every date he goes on and every girlfriend.
When Merrill received a $100,000 life insurance policy through his job, shareholders voted that the money would be split amongst them when he passed away.
Shares in Merrill are obviously not FDIC insured, and even Merrill considers himself a “high-risk” investment. Merrill explains that none of this is legally binding on his Web site:
“It’s only as enforceable as I choose to make it. That’s why I describe it as a high-risk investment. If I choose to quit, everyone gets screwed over! If people think I’m going to do that, they should not buy shares! I advise most people not to buy shares until they’ve done their research."
Merrill has not profited very much from his project. Even though his shares have been worth up to a collective $1.2 million, he’s only pocketed about $10,000 from the endeavor.
“It’s not about generating profits, particularly, although that will likely happen: it’s about a group of people working towards the same goal," Merrill writes on his site. "By using an adapted structure of the market economy, you and I have a ready-built mechanism for operations, accountability, and measuring success that is not only well documented but also easily understood.”
Merrill has faced some personal issues due to his highly public life. His live-in girlfriend left him because she didn’t have a say in anything he did. Shareholders often vote down choices he wants to make, like working out more and eating meat. Merrill identifies as a straight male but shareholders have voted for him to go on a date with another man and with a polyamorous woman.
Losing enterprise over oneself can be difficult to deal with: shareholders can vote for Merrill to commit a crime, for example.
“[Merrill] says that if the shareholders vote it, he will do it,” says Davis. Still, “Merrill would say this has been a great boon to his existence. It’s crowdsourcing in a way, you bring in the crowd and you have all of these advisors who can weigh in on your life and help you make better decisions.”
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