People Pay To Vote On Entrepreneur Mike Merrill's Life

It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a group of 160 shareholders to raise one Portland man. For five years, entrepreneur Mike Merrill has been selling shares of himself, and then allowing those shareholders to vote on important business and personal decisions in his life. As a result of various shareholder votes, Merrill is now a mostly-pescetarian with a rigorous workout regime, and a registered Republican who only wears Brooks Brothers. His stock price is on the up.

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, 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.

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Because Merrill's shareholders stand to lose or make money, depending on Merrill's perceived value as a human, he lets them vote on his activities. But in 2008, when he moved in with his girlfriend, Shareholder #7., there was a stake-owner backlash. How could he make such a critical decision, which could drastically affect his productivity, without giving his shareholders a say?

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."

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While Orwellian at first blush, Merrill is really trying to turn capitalism into more of a community sport. Because he loves collaboration, and capitalism too. "First off, capitalism isn't bad," Merrill 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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