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

Fan Power Resurrects Clearly Canadian!

Clearly Canadian was a wildly popular, fruity carbonated drink in the late 80s and early 90s. Every kid at the lunch table came with one of the teardrop glass bottles; but each a different flavor, with dozens available. How could they offer dozens of fruit flavors? Well, Loganberry was my favorite, and I’d never before, nor since, heard of a Loganberry. A friend and I were lamenting the loss of Clearly Canadian last weekend and she looked the company up on Facebook, on a whim. It’s back!

facebook post

In December 2013, a group started a Facebook page, then site, then Twitter account, all aimed at generating enough pre-sales to get the beverage back into production. The group did a great job of mobilizing fans and motivating them with a mix of nostalgic, 90s themed posts, as well as information about progress being made to bring the product back, including pictures of the glass bottle molds and the first bottle prototypes being made. They also offered a referral program, enabling fans to earn additional cases of product. As of May 2015, 30,000 cases had been pre-sold, production began and credit cards were charged.

facebook clearly canadian

site uses social mediaclearly canadian

With the initial goal met, the company is now running a 15 day IndieGoGo campaign, in hopes of raising another 250k. If that goal is met, the company will put a 5th flavor into production; voted in by the investors. (Go loganberry!) A separate site has been set up for retailers and a field team is seeking distribution opportunities.

Why It’s Hot: The company successfully tapped into people’s fond memories of their product and more so, the time during which it was so popular. While nostalgia fueled the campaign, the distribution network was wholly modern; seamlessly delivered across Facebook, Twitter, a Clearly Canadian website and IndieGoGo, none of which existed when the brand was in its heyday! And now, they can add “Hot Sauce” to their list of distribution channels!

Google to Help Publishers Make Money by Blocking Ads

Google, the biggest seller of online ads, has created a way for publishers to make money without ads.

Google on Thursday introduced an invitation-only crowdfunding program called Contributor that lets people pay $1 to $3 each month to visit sites devoid of ads. The Onion, Mashable, WikiHow, Urban Dictionary, ScienceDaily and photo-sharing site Imgur are among the first publishers that have signed on to not serve ads to Contributor subscribers.

Google’s Contributor is effectively an ad blocker, but one that benefits publishers as well as users. Like a traditional ad blocker, albeit one in which publishers give their cosent, Contributor blocks the ads on a participating publisher’s page so that visitors can focus on the content they came for. The space the banners would otherwise occupy will still be there, but the actual ads will be replaced with a “Thank you” message.

Instead of ads, Contributor subscribers will be shown 'thank you' messages.
Instead of ads, Contributor subscribers will be shown ‘thank you’ messages.

Google will split with the participating sites some of the money subscribers pay for Contributor, according to a company site announcing the program.

The first 10 publishers to participate in Contributor are all part of Google’s ad network, but it remains to be determined how Google may open up to off-network publishers and ads sold by other companies. A spokeswoman described Contributor at this stage as “very much an experiment.”

Contributor works on current versions of major browsers as well as mobile apps, according to the spokeswoman. Advertisers won’t be charged for the ads that it blocks.

It may seem odd for a company like Google, which made 89% of its $16.5 billion in third-quarter revenue from advertising, to enable publishers to build their businesses without advertising. But it isn’t, really.

For starters, Google’s business of selling ads on other publishers’ sites isn’t as strong as it was a couple years ago. And the company has spent the past few years building up its non-advertising media business as a increasingly important source of revenue. Google’s “other” revenue category includes sales of mobile apps, TV shows and movies and grew by 50% year-over-year in Q3 to $1.8 billion. And more recently Google’s YouTube has expressed an interest in opening up an ad-free, subscription-based revenue stream. Last month YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki said the online video service was considering introducing a paid tier, and last week YouTube announced an ad-free, subscription-based music streaming service.

Why It’s Hot

This continues the trend of pay for no ad services, similar to what you may see/hear on Spotify and other sites.  It’s a little scary for us as an agency to have such a large owner of ad space to do this, but I can see how it could make people happy.  Having blank ad spaces doesn’t seem like a beautiful experience to me- I don’t personally think I would ever pay to not see ads, but some people would.

If this ends up taking off, we’ll just have to think of other creative ways to keep our business fresh.