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March 29, 2013

Meet the Man Who Sold His Fate to Investors at $1 a Share

If IPOs and the so-called invisible hand of the market are so good for corporations, they should be good for individuals too. Right? Or is this just a publicity stunt? Or a cry for help? Or the new face of indentured servitude? Meet the Man Who Sold His Fate to Investors at $1 a Share | Wired Business | Wired.com
On January 26, 2008, a 30-year-old part-time entrepreneur named Mike Merrill decided to sell himself on the open market. He divided himself into 100,000 shares and set an initial public offering price of $1 a share. Each share would earn a potential return on profits he made outside of his day job as a customer service rep at a small Portland, Oregon, software company. Over the next 10 days, 12 of his friends and acquaintances bought 929 shares, and Merrill ended up with a handful of extra cash. He kept the remaining 99.1 percent of himself but promised that his shares would be nonvoting: He’d let his new stockholders decide what he should do with his life. . . . Merrill soon learned the downside to taking on outside funding. In the ensuing months and years, 128 people bought shares of Merrill, and he fell victim to competing shareholder interests, stock price manipu�lation, and investors looking for short-term gains at the expense of his long-term well-being. He was overwhelmed by paperwork and blindsided by takeover interest. He found himself beholden to his shareholders in ways he had never imagined, ruining personal relationships along the way. Through it all, Merrill clung stubbornly to the belief that since an IPO had worked for Google and Amazon, it should work for an individual too. He isn’t alone in this theory. Upstart.com, a company founded last year by Google exec David Girouard, offers a bit of capital in exchange for a cut of a college graduate’s future earnings. Other startups, like Pave and Thrust Fund, solicit investments in entrepreneurs for a return on their future ventures. (And of course David Bowie, European soccer players, and a minor-league baseball player have all sold shares of their earnings.) But Merrill has taken it further. He felt that more people would invest in him if they knew they were going to have a say over which projects he pursued. To enable this oversight, he paid a developer 500 shares and $500 to build a website that allowed shareholders to vote on his priorities and projects. The developer also coded a trading platform so Merrill’s stock could be bought and sold after the IPO. Anybody could now get a piece of him; you just had to click a Buy button on KmikeyM.com (the site is an abbreviation of Merrill’s full name: Kenneth Michael Merrill). . . .

March 28, 2013

Amazon just bought Goodreads

Hey look, another independent website I enjoy has been gobbled up by a leviathan. Amazon acquires book-based social network Goodreads — paidContent
Amazon announced Thursday that it is acquiring Goodreads, the book-based social network founded by Otis Chandler in 2006. The purchase price was undisclosed, and the deal is expected to close in the second quarter of 2013. Goodreads, which is based in San Francisco and launched in 2007, has 16 million members. The site lets readers keep track of the books they’ve read and want to read; rate and review books; and discover reading recommendations. Following the acquisition, Goodreads will remain headquartered in San Francisco. Goodreads has served as a fairly “neutral” hub for readers until now — a place where publishers and authors can market and promote their books without being tied to a specific retailer. Until 2012, Goodreads sourced all of its book data from Amazon, but it then decided that the company’s API had become too restrictive and switched its data provider to the book wholesaler Ingram. “Our goal is to be an open place for all readers to discover and buy books from all retailers, both online and offline,” Goodreads told me at the time of the switch. While being an “open place for all readers” may still be Goodreads’ goal, it’s now clearly tied to promoting books for sale on Amazon.