What money won’t buy?

Back in 2008, 30 year-old Mike Merrill was at a career crossroads. So, he did what any other aspiring entrepreneur would do: he divided himself into 100k shares at $1 apiece and let people on the internet buy a stake in his life.

Since then, he’s sold off 10,991 shares of himself to 663 investors all across the world.


These shareholders — most of whom are complete strangers — get voting power on every major decision Merrill makes: whether or not to get a vasectomy, how much sleep he should get each night, and even who he should date.

Some early investors (including his own brother) chose to cash out big, while others have been in it for the long haul. In return, Merrill gets his own “personal board of advisors” to help him more decisively wade through life’s decisions.

But what’s life like as a “publicly-traded” human? And in an era of digital individualism, why would someone willingly auction off his own agency?

The self-proclaimed “anti-authoritarian” endured a strict, regimented lifestyle for 3 years, until he disobeyed the rules, and was discharged.

He has a “little identity crisis,” and eventually followed one of his buddies down to Portland, Oregon and “fumbled” his way into the software world, working various non-technical odd jobs.

Then, one night in 2008, dissatisfied with his choices in life, an idea struck: What if I let other people control my life?

So, he decided to “IPO” himself

The first thing Merrill had to do was determine his worth as a human.

“At time I had a day job,” he recalls. “So I calculated my worth based on my free time — nights and weekends — and I figured that time, for the rest of my life, was probably around $100k.”

Merrill ultimately decided to divvy himself up into 100k shares at $1 each. Like an actual corporation, he set out to “drum up demand.”

To keep shareholders informed, he built a website — KmikeyM.com — that contained a platform where people could vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on the projects he should pursue.

At first, the topics Merrill put up for vote were trivial things, like whether or not he should invest $79.63 in a Rwandan chicken farming business (approved, with flying colors). But things escalated very quickly.

By the tail end of his first year on the market, Merrill made plans to move in with his then-girlfriend of 5 years — but when his shareholders caught wind of the decision, they were furious.

“I was getting emails from people saying, ‘We should have a say in such things — it’s going to impact your life!’” he says. “I thought, okay, that’s probably a fair point. And from then on, I let them vote on things in my private life too.”

First up on the table: whether or not Merrill should get a vasectomy — a procedure that would’ve permanently prevented him from having children (or, in the eyes of shareholders, “adding an economic burden” to their investment). His shareholders narrowly voted the procedure down, 45% ‘Yes’ to 55% ‘No.’ In the ensuing months, Merrill put a variety of major lifestyle choices up for vote: whether or not to adopt a polyphasic sleep schedule (Approved), become a registered Republican (Approved), or convert to a vegetarian (Approved).

When Merrill started putting more dramatic decisions on the chopping block, he started to attract more buyers.Driven by letting investors in on the more intimate aspects of his life, Merrill then decide to take things a step further.

When Merrill’s relationship dissipated in 2012, he once again turned to his shareholders for advice — this time, in the romance department.

“Under normal circumstances, no one is going to complain when someone is buying flowers or going out to dinner and a movie,” he wrote in an investor letter. “But as a publicly traded person with a responsibility of productivity to the shareholders, we live under special circumstances. A relationship is likely to affect both [my] productivity and [my] output.”

In a resolution titled “Shareholder Control of Romantic Relationships,” Merrill asked his investors if they’d like to take over control of his dating process. It passed with an 86% vote.

Merrill gives his investors an update

Merrill went on a variety of dates, updating investors via a private forum at each juncture and ceding to their feedback. After numerous dates, Merrill began to fall for a 28 year-old assistant named Marijke Dixon — and after securing his shareholders’ approval, he offered her a three-month “relationship contract.” As their relationship progressed, Dixon progressively acquired shares in Merrill in an (unsuccessful) attempt to gain a controlling voting power.

Stranger things

The flood of new shareholders dramatically changed the way Merrill thought about his experiment.

With a mix of strangers and friends (his original investors), Merrill realized he had to mitigate the possibility of “insider trading:” his friends, who he hung out with on a daily basis, knew more about his life than other investors. To compensate, he began publically posting more updates and information about his life.But he started to realize that strangers probably made better investors, anyway: “I found them to be more objective,” he says. “When people know you too well, they vote for what they think you want, which isn’t necessarily what’s in your best interest.”

This hypothesis proved to be true when his new shareholders unanimously voted for Merrill to leave his desk job of 10 years to strike out on his own and take a calculated risk.

Merrill’s market

Today, Merrill boasts 663 investors all across the world, who collectively own 10,991 shares.

Like all markets, Merrill’s share price is contingent upon demand, and demand usually fluctuates in tandem with hype, press, and publicity. In recent years, those things have stagnated, and his shares — once as high as $18 — fell as low as $2.18.

Today, his share price sits squarely at $4.75, still a solid return for his earliest $1 investors.

“I have a powerful decision-making engine of people who can give me feedback or advice about anything,” he says. “Honestly, who wouldn’t want that?”


Why It’s Hot:

-This 1st Crowdsourced Human Control project

-This type of “crowdsourcing” decision-making approach is beginning to take place within politics

-Will be interesting to see if brands adopt this at a more meaningful level


Source: The Hustle

Airbnb Backs Down in Its Passive-Aggressive San Francisco Ad Campaign

It didn’t take long for Airbnb to take down its tax-hating ads around San Francisco after many people criticized the short-term housing rental startup for publicly complaining about fulfilling its civic duty. The digital-based company told SF Weekly late on Wednesday that it was taking the promos down because of the backlash.



Ads started popping up on bus stops and billboards around the city, offering not-so-subtle hints that the company was unhappy having to pay $12 million in hotel taxes. Earlier this year, the company paid millions of dollars in back taxes to the city after failing to pay the 14 percent hotel tax.

The ads, created by Airbnb’s agency of record, TBWA\Chiat\Day L.A., came in the form of several letters with very little love. Here are samples of the copy:

“Dear SF Tax Collector,
You know the $12 million in hotel taxes?
Don’t spend it all in one place.
Love, Airbnb”

“Dear Public Works,
Please use the $12 million in hotel taxes to build more bike lanes, like this one.
Love, Airbnb”

“Dear Board of Education,
Please use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep art in schools.
Love, Airbnb”

“Dear Public Library System,
We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later.
Love, Airbnb”

Source: Adweek

Why It’s Hot

Yow. First, this is hot because it shows how social media can impact campaigns and how advertising is basically a crowd-sourced business. Second, Airbnb is a brand that has been under the spotlight for a while, it’s surprising they would go to such a risky place.

Algorithms For Sale

Seattle-based start-up Algorithmia is a new marketplace for algorithms. The company wants to make it easier for computer researchers to monetize the algorithms they create and publish in academic papers and make them available to developers/businesses who want to take advantage of the new technology. The system and marketplace will make it easy for prospective buyers to select the algorithm they want and then easily implement it into their applications with the use of the Algorithmia API.

Why It’s Hot:

 The majority of software products and applications are made up of highly complex algorithmsThe most famous algorithm led to the development of the $400 billion dollar giant Google, which has changed the world forever. As more technologies emerge and grow, and data continues to be produced at a rapid pace, faster hardware will no longer be able to support the architecture for data analysis. It will then become critical that organizations, people, and products focus on data analysis packages comprised of algorithms versus the actual hardware they run on.


Yahoo Takes The Scenic Route

Yahoo Labs is adding a dimension to their navigation algorithm that aims to provide more beautiful ways to get you to your chosen destination. Researchers at Yahoo Labs sourced images from Google Streetview and crowd-sourced user opinions about which streets were more beautiful via UrbanGems.org, then assigned an attractiveness variable to each location.

“The goal of this work is to automatically suggest routes that are not only short but also emotionally pleasant,” said Daniele Quercia, of Yahoo Labs. “Based on a quantitative validation, we find that, compared to the shortest routes, the recommended ones add just a few extra walking minutes and are indeed perceived to be more beautiful, quiet and happy.”

via Wired


Why It’s Hot?

Marketers often ask themselves how they can more effectively inject an emotional element to the work in order to get closer to what people actually feel and react to. This is a great example of taking a perfectly good pre-existing tool and adding a layer that can expose an element of beauty in what has become a very mundane and predictable experience.  This helps elevate technology to be more humanistic and useful in how it maps to real life travel behaviors.