It sounds like something out of Kurt Vonnegut or a stunt by anti-capitalist pranksters the Yes Men: A man offers himself up as a publicly traded company, granting stockholders sweeping power over his everyday life. But this "market-based decision-making engine" is real, and it's precisely what Mike Merrill has done since he started KmikeyM.com in 2008.
Although he initially sought investment and guidance for new business ventures, things quickly took a turn for the personal: Mr. Merrill's 1,000-odd shareholders have voted on such delicate matters as a vasectomy (no), becoming a Republican (yes), and whom to date (selections have included a polyamorous woman, a man and Mr. Merrill's current girlfriend, Marika).
Mr. Merrill cheerfully insists that it's all a sincere experiment in organizational models and group decision-making – but, he cautions, it's not for everyone.
Is this really in earnest? It sounds like a high-concept art project.
I've been resistant to embracing it as an art project because it's easy for people to dismiss something that is presented as art – it's art, it's not "real." I've been doing this since 2008 and I'm not planning on stopping. It really has become a big part of how I live my life on a day-to-day level.
But why transplant the publicly traded corporation model to life?
One, a company or a business is essentially a group of people pursuing a singular vision. Any kind of company, even a non-profit company – all that is is a group of people working toward a goal. You can go back and look at the first chartered companies, and they'd say, "Go out and try to find gold." Those companies were very mission-specific.
I've always been attracted to that as a concept – the idea that this group of people is all about this one task, and together we can do this thing that as individuals we can't.
The other part is a little darker. Unfortunately, the best measure we have of success is money. On a personal level, I hate that idea, but as a society that's just how it works. So you can hang out with me for a long time, and influence me that way. Or you could be a lot more efficient, make an investment, and use that money to influence me.
When you started, people were investing in your entrepreneurial ideas, but now they're voting on your personal life. What actual value is being created?
I have this amazing community of invested people that are engaged in my life in a way that is incredibly unique and incredibly powerful. I can source ideas, So for me there's this huge community benefit.
As far as what shareholders get out of it, I hope it's fun for them and entertaining, and I think it's secretly educational, as far as learning how markets work and getting them comfortable with the financial side of things. And they get to potentially make money. A number of them have made hundreds of dollars by flipping shares, and now, with a lot more shareholders, people have the potential to make thousands.
That's my main offer: Come participate in this, and we'll all rise up together.
The way you talk about it, the value of the shares seems fictional.
I would argue that the value of any stock traded is fictional. It's way more based on the perception of value than it is on what that company is actually doing. Fundamentals count for very little in the market, and I think this project does highlight that.
I've got to admit that this whole thing scares me. Do you understand why it disturbs people?
People hate the idea of giving up control. Everyone wants to think that they are ultimately in control of their lives, and that's an obvious fallacy. We are a product of our environment.
How has this has affected your romantic life?
I haven't really had a lot of experience dating a lot of people. So I wanted to engage with the concept of dating a little more purposefully, with shareholders keeping me honest with it. The Romance Advisory Board was a way to prevent me from falling into something that was easy but not the best thing, because that was my fear at the time. They guided me away from some people and toward some others. I think everyone was a little disappointed with how quickly I started dating Marika, because they enjoyed the Truman Show aspect of it, but this is by far the best relationship I've ever been in.
Is this something you think everyone should do?
I don't think so. The level of care it takes,is definitely high. It's not an easy thing to do.
This interview has been condensed and edited.