Mike Merrill, The First Publicly Traded Person

A share of Mike Merrill’s life cost $12.50 at the close of his virtual market yesterday.


Most of us have an ad hoc sounding board for personal decisions. Some ask their parents. Others poll their friends. A few flip a coin. K. Mike Merrill, an artist and entrepreneur who lives in Portland, puts his personal life to his investors. As the founder of KMikeyM, Merrill runs a virtual stock market that deals exclusively in shares of himself. Investors get to vote on everything from whether he should have a vasectomy to the brands he wears (Brooks Brothers, obvs, but he’s thinking of adding Nike).


Though KMikeyM began as a way for Merrill to crowdsource decisions about his creative work, it’s emerged as a tool for helping him make incredibly intimate decisions about his life–like finding a new girlfriend. On The Atlantic, Rob Walker explains:

As he reentered the dating market last year, Merrill filed reports to his shareholders, seeking guidance on how to proceed. The corporate persona he adopts in his shareholder communiqués seemed particularly absurd in this context: ‘A relationship is likely to affect both the productivity and the output of KmikeyM … Shareholders should have some control over the selection or approval of any possible romantic partner(s).’ ‘Seriously,’ Merrill told me, in a more conversational tone, ‘we all have that friend who dates the wrong person.’

On his website, Merrill defends his experiment thusly:

Sure, you might say that this is an incomplete way of measuring my success–or that a business model is not conducive to the execution of creative projects. I don’t see it this way. Business is a social science of managing people to organize and maintain collective productivity, and to accomplish particular creative and productive goals; after all, the etymology of the word ‘business’ refers to the state of being busy.

Whether or not you believe in the free market as a lifestyle, the success of KMikeyM does serve as proof-of-concept for a more evolved crowdsourcing model. If you ask random, unengaged strangers for advice, you’ll probably receive a hasty or sub-par response. But ask strangers who have a financial stake in your success for advice, and you’re likely to get well-thought-out guidance. It’s all a matter of developing a crew that has taken a personal interest in your success. According to Walker, Merrill is attempting to apply the same model to other ventures–first, with a startup that rates your outfits called Fully Fashioned.

Read the full story here.

[Image: Chart via Shutterstock]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.