People Pay To Vote On Entrepreneur Mike Merrill's Life
Merrill, 35, owns a majority of shares, which are non-voting until he sells them in a bi-annual auction. It's difficult to tell how much Merrill's made, but shares are currently trading at $12.90, from an early-stage low of 20 cents. He claims to use the money for "the facilitation of projects and operational expenses," like his website KmikeyM.com, which keeps a live tracker of his stock price, and invites stockholders to vote on everything from whether he should wear Nike sneakers (yes) or get a vasectomy (no -- by one vote).
Letting people "buy in" to your activities has gained a lot of traction in recent years. Millions of dollars a week now flow to projects on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, ranging from movies to mom-and-pop shops. But on these crowdfunding sites, the money is all donations, with nothing but token rewards, like a tote bag, in return. Other sites are expanding this idea to give the crowd a chance to profit, for example by loaning money or buying equity stakes. But Merrill is taking it a giant leap further, permitting capitalism to consume his entire humanity, maximizing the profit potential of his soul.
Merrill says the idea of turning himself over to the public marketplace came in 2005, when the digital art collective Etoy started selling "shares" to fund its projects. Merrill is a project kind of guy; he co-founded a MacBook sleeve company, co-hosts a podcast, produced a video series, publishes an arts and culture blog, and hosts social clubs, like Allison Supper Club and Whiskey Friends (in addition to his job at Apple software maker Panic Inc.). So he thought he'd adopt the same model, but with an important difference: buyers could sell their shares.
Since then, Merrill has put most of his personal choices to a vote, such as growing an "Old-Timey Gentlemen" mustache, buying a car, and "attempting a polyphasic sleep schedule," which he explains on his blog, referring to himself always with the Royal We.
When Merrill broke up with Shareholder #7 in 2011, he established The KmikeyM Romance Advisory Board to advise him on dates. He recently renewed his three-month contract with a new and shareholder sanctioned partner, Shareholder #160. In February, the shareholders voted to let Merrill eat meat on occasion, to "allow us to more closely align our habits." told the site Bad at Sports. "The reason we see so much bad s*** happening in capitalism is because people are violating the rules and we're overly obsessed with short term profits above all else."
So while most corporations would make terrible people, Merrill makes a pretty great corporation: highly fiscally responsible, extraordinarily transparent, a supporter of local businesses, an embracer of new technology, and a lover of nature to boot. Merrill believes airing all his decisions to the profit-minded public has actually improved his life.
As Merrill's fifth-largest shareholder, Douglas Stewart, who has never actually spoken to Merrill, explained to The Atlantic: "It's one person being more serious about his own existence, in a way."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin. Follow Claire on Twitter. Email Claire at email@example.com. Add Claire to your Google+ circles.more...