Selling Shares...of Yourself!

The story begins in Coldfoot, Alaska. Merril Mike spent his youth there around the vast icefields of the tiny Yukon-koyukuk town. He was homeschooled by his state trooper father and his mother. He joined the military but 3 years later, he was discharged because of being anti-authoitarian. He was in the middle of having a little identity crisis and followed one of his buddies to Portland, Oregon and worked a couple of non-technical odd jobs in the software space.

One winter night, he thought to himself, “What if I let other people control my life instead?”. The first thing he had to do was determine his worth as a human. He calculated his worth based on the free time he had and determined that for the rest of his life, his time would be worth around $100k. 

And then just like any company would, he set out to increase his demand. He had his IPO in 2006 and 12 of his friends purchased 929 shares of him in the first 10 days. He still had rights to 99.1% of himself so he made his own shares non-voting and ceded 100% of the decision making power to his new investors. This effectively means that these 12 friends who purchased the share can control him in a sense.

He built a website where people could vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on his major life decisions and the projects he should pursue. The voting started with simple and fun things. Like whether he should invest $79 in a Rwandan chicken farming business which passed with flying colors, or whether he should grow a winter mustache which was overwhelmingly denied. But soon enough, things began to escalate.

At the end of his first year on the market, Mike planned to move in with his girlfriend of 5 years at that time. When shareholders got to know about this, they were furious and emailed him saying that they should have a say in such things which impacts his life. Merril thought that was a fair point and from then on, he let them vote on things in his private life as well.

First up was whether he should get a vasectomy or not. The voting closed by a narrow margin with 55% saying no and he was relieved by it. In the upcoming months, he put several major lifestyle choices up for vote. Whether he should adopt a polyphasic sleep schedule, become a vegetarian or become a registered Republican. For those of you who are wondering, all of these decisions were voted yes.

His story found its way to an internet forum called Hacker News one after in 2009. A 40 year-old software engineer director named Gordon Shephard was so intrigued when he saw this that he bought around $6.4k worth of Merril from other investors and that drove up the share price up to $11.75.

Merril’s brother was an early investor at $1 a share and when he saw the demand spike, he quickly sold all his shares walking away with a nice profit. The more Merril allowed his investors to participate in the most intimate details of his life, the more interest spoked. And so, Merril decided to go all-in.

When Merril’s previous relationship ended in 2012, he turned to his shareholders for advice. Merril asked his investors if they’d like to take complete control over his dating process and the answer was a resounding yes with an 86% vote. He then went on a variety of dates and updated shareholders routinely and listened to their feedback. 

He liked a 28-year-old assistant named Marijke Dixon and once he had the shareholder’s approval, he offered Dixon a three month relationship contract. Actions like these soon caught the eye of the press and in 2013, Merril’s story was published in Wired, The Atlantic and The Today Show. This attracted a whole new wave of investors and over a month, Merril’s shareholders quadrupled from 120 to 500+. Overnight, his share price skyrocketed, to $18, giving him a $1.2m market cap. And suddenly, complete strangers were starting to control his life.

This flood of new shareholders dramatically changed the way Merril thought about his experiment. At first, the investors were mostly his friends or people he knew. They were more interested in the concept and novelty of it than his life. But when a bunch of strangers had become investors, there was a possibility of insider trading. He hung out with his friends on a daily basis and they knew more about him than other investors. To compensate, he began posting more updates publicly.

Like all markets, Merril’s share price depends on demand which fluctuates wildly with bursts of publicity. He sold off more than 12,000 shares of himself to more than 800 investors worldwide. He only releases shares in small batches and allows the market to determine his worth. For his investors who got in at $1 a share, they had great returns cashing out. Merrill on the other hand, has kept the money from his share sales in a bank account yet to be touched. 


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