When Los Angeles’s Mike Merrill needs to make a decision, he has about 630 people at the ready, clambering to guide him through life. But these people aren’t his social media followers, they are his shareholders.
“I am the world’s first publicly traded person,” Merrill says.
The project started in 2008, when he divided himself into 100,000 shares of Mike Merrill and sold them at a dollar a piece.
“My rule is, whenever I have something I would normally ask my friends’ advice for, I put that up for a shareholder vote,” he said. “And all the shareholders come in and they say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on this proposal. It’s their vote times however many shares they have.”
At the beginning he had about a dozen friends and family members investing, but he currently has about 630 shareholders, most of them strangers, and shares currently cost about $6. They’ve gone as high as $20.
As for what decisions these people are making for him:
“The first really personal one that I put up was, I was thinking about getting a vasectomy. I was like, I could go either way on this, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to have kids, but that seems awfully permanent. So I put that up for a vote and it was actually very close, but they ended up voting that I should not do that. I put up full control of my romantic life a number of years ago. And I would write up how a date went and the shareholders would kind of, by asking me questions and probing me a little bit on how it went, they would give me an approval rating for each person I was going on a date with. As that progressed, they would vote on whether or not we should move in together, or what the terms of our relationship were. Some really mundane things too; whether or not I should buy a car or what color to paint the house.”
Mike Merrill: Publicly traded man
Since Merrill’s shareholders had the final say on him moving in with his girlfriend, he felt it was only fair to let them vote when it was time for them to break up. Part of her breakup agreement was that the shareholders buy her out of her 200 shares.
I wondered if she felt she had to buy up a bunch of shares in order to have a say in his life, especially in decisions that affected her.
“I think so, you know it started off as a game we were playing and it was very playful,” Merill said. “I think as the relationship progressed, that became maybe a little bit less fun. That’s something I struggle with is my loyalty to this project versus the very direct interaction with people, my friends and family. Sometimes those things are a little bit at odds and it gets a little complicated.”
He’s not sure if any Mike Merrill shareholders are in it to make money or just for the novelty. But there is a little money to be made if you cash out at the right time.
“My older brother, he made enough money to buy a new dishwasher for his house. So that was pretty exciting.”
Merrill says, on average, he makes about $5,000 a year on the project, so he still has to have a job. He says he really likes having a lot of people to get advice from. A hive mind of people who seem to have his best interest at heart. At one point, the shareholders voted that he quit his job and start his own business, which he did. He said he might not have had the courage to do it, otherwise.
Merrill says he’s always been someone who could go with the flow, who doesn’t crave a lot of control.
“I think I’m a pretty adaptable person,” he said. “I think a lot of what we think of as even being in control is an illusion of being in control anyway. I think in order to live a full, rich life you need to surrender control a little bit.”
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