Selling Shares of Yourself

The latest vogue is now in, sell tokens/shares of yourself as a fundraising and community building strategy. This microeconomics of humanity takes what capitalism already does with traditional employment but instead expands the idea of salary to monetize every aspect of being alive. I personally see this discretization of all action a person takes into value as the final endpoint of the postmodern economy as we currently imagine it.

It is actually not that far of a stretch from the concept of a personal brand that many people already orient their lives around. The only difference is that by selling and creating ‘shares’ of that branding for followers gives them a direct stake in a person, resulting in much more than simple fandom.

There are obviously many negative consequences that will come from something like this. Imagining DeFi or even more pedestrian forms of securitization processes applied to shares of individual people is pretty dystopian sounding no matter how you cut it. Some people might even go so far as to call this a reintroduction of indentured servitude into the economy.

Ideas like this have been tried a few times by various individuals with Alex Masmej becoming the current figurehead in this latest news cycle about the idea. At this point there are now numerous companies and entities providing personal token creation services and platforms. Most of these are just token generation services dressed up with new marketing copy about personal tokenization.

The fad seems on the surface to be entering extremely wild new territory but in reality, it doesn’t seem that weird in light of the content/gig economy that is emerging with younger millennials and zoomers. Patreon, Twitch, Fiverr, and TaskRabbit are the current best examples and I would argue they all roughly follow the same idea.

People on these platforms create brands and personas which do different tasks for money either via singular orders or follower bases paying monthly for their service subscription. These include creating content, doing online research, writing, streaming, video creation, or even something as mundane as standing in line for someone.

A key framing here worth noting is that the platforms allow a payment mechanism for a wide variety of creator designed microtasks which people can buy or support. These setups are framed as a person using a platform to display a wide variety of tasks that they would like to engage in for monetary exchange of some sort.

Blockchain startups often take the opposite route in that they have a set specific task that their service is trying to incentivize with their token. So for example, if the task is to create meme content, the token can be used as either a store of value or within the economy for that one very specific niche service task.

Platforms that allow a person to put forward a lot of different services tailored to what they want to offer, rather than having one platform for each type of service is generally a more aesthetic setup. The endpoint of this is personal token setups where you have a token for a single individual’s actions rather than a single type of action token that individuals can use.

Voting on Life Decisions

A number of people experimenting with personal tokens have explicitly decided to allow their shareholders to vote on decisions and aspects of their lives. I believe this was first implemented by Mike Merrill who allows people to alter his life in trivial ways based on questions he poses for votes. Alex has recently launched a similar model for his shareholders, as did James Gallagher. I’m sure there are more that people could mention now that it is picking up popularity but these are the most common examples I see people talking about.

For example, you can decide on what Merrill’s diet is, if he should buy a coffee every day, and what he spends a bit of his extra money on. It doesn’t really let the shareholders do much of actual substance within the experiment.

I don’t really believe that open voting could actually be used in this kind of setting as it is dangerous to a person’s “brand”. If you allow people to have open ended voting on anything, that they then expect the person to implement this will devolve into Boaty McBoatface style proposals.

Since this is the case, the only individual can frame which questions get voted on to control the narrative of what they are willing to participate in. This also makes it much easier for the individual to not let their fans down since they will only create proposals that they know they are capable of implementing.

By having the audience vote on something that the individual will actually do they reduce the stakes posed by any individual proposal. There is potentially a very real issue if the persona or brand doesn’t follow through on votes that they themselves set in place for the fans to vote on.

Letting down the public even in a nonbinding vote could cause a loss of face and might even cause people to leave a fanbase because of it. Letting down fans and followers who are often the most fervent defenders of a person is never a good look.

Having votes and shares be non-monetary utility tokens might be important in some jurisdictions depending on the implementations of contract law locally. If the tokens have no monetary value and are instead meant to be turned in for prizes (like tshirts) this is a safer legal route to take.

In cases where no money or securitized value is exchanged, the votes can be structured so that they are probably not legally binding in any way in most jurisdictions (it goes without saying I hope, I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice).

Personal Token Distribution Experiments

Most of the people mentioned above and those copycats that are using personal token issuance platforms are not creating non-monetary utility tokens. Instead, most people in the space are doing this as more of a support/investment structure for themselves or their projects.

The tokens are issued, and are tradable on a marketplace, with the intent that specific peoples tokens will go up in value over time or will be the subject of buybacks. The most common seems to be dividend schemes for token holders based around a person’s prospective income at some future period.

To me this monetary core of the idea, though it is the most widely discussed aspect of the schemes is the least compelling characteristic of the fad. In my view, the idea of allowing followers to make choices that directly impact various facets of a public figure’s life is incredibly thought-provoking with or without monetary exchange taking place.

If we take this idea of a personal token implemented as a non-monetary/non-tradable utility token further some very weird territory starts emerging. Let us imagine for a minute how the distribution of such a token might occur.

A common problem online e-personalities encounter is actualizing the energy of their fans. Sales and marketing articles online often say that a person can reasonably only expect a range of 1-5% of their fanbase/followers to actually pay for some product or content they are creating.

Numbers like this are common and are taken as a general assumption for people operating in this kind of space. In reality, this is idiotic and renders most fans completely passive in terms of their interactions with a creator or personality. The fans that do end up interacting are only able to do so via a stale monetary exchange.

The only other forms of engagement most fans partake in are simplistic and bland, like following on social media or ephemeral “likes and comments”. Leaving all these followers or fans who can’t afford to pay money to someone with no way to usefully express their fandom is a complete waste.

The coupling of personal token distribution with non-monetary directed grassroots fan actions in exchange for points/prizes of some sort is a substantial shift in how personalities interact with their fans.

Having a series of goals or actions designed to facilitate fan energy into a productive area is not entirely a new concept. Anyone who lived through the Myspace-era of social media will remember the street team fad.

Street teams were predominately a music industry concept for activating fans to do promotional actions in exchange for prizes. The height of recent popularity for this kind of thing was on Myspace in the mid-2000s when every band imaginable was attempting to form street teams.

The older variation on this was informal fan clubs. Peta is famously known for expanding on the concept in an extremely successful way.

Typically the actions consisted of unpaid promotional work like hanging up flyers, putting up stickers, and distributing other promotional material around local areas. This labour is done in exchange for perks like free t-shirts, buttons, or other exclusive merch.

Some street teams are points based, which allow users to save up internal points based on the amount of tasks they do to qualify for more expensive prizes. Points are earned by showing proof, such as a picture that a task was performed properly which is then verified and points are rewarded. Points are only redeemable for prizes and don’t typically have zero monetary value.

Returning to the personal token concept, instead of requesting fans perform tasks in exchange for some exclusive prize the reward could be giving shares that can be used to vote on a personality’s actions/choices.

It seems simple at first but the more I think about it the more extraordinary the concept becomes. On a base level, it would do a lot to create engagement between creators and fans that goes far beyond the passive consumption roles each side usually adopts.

Creating a platform through which non-monetized followers have an action funnel through which they can direct their energies, which then allows them to alter the actions of the creator is an endless circle of reciprocity. What results is an odd mix of mutual aid networks, crypto-anarchist ideas, and contemporary artistic patronage.

The creation of an organized audience that can actually engage cyclically in both action and reaction with an artist or creator could become a fascinating new bed of experimentation.

It is also worth mentioning that as a creator being able to see the opinions of the people who are most invested and interested in your work is endlessly useful. There is something special beyond the idea of monetary patronage in a fan that is actually willing to invest their time into your goals.

Minor experiments like this could extend into very raw territory if an artist allowed the audience to construct the story of their life overtly. There is a lot of open ground for using this to perform life-as-performance-art.

Platforms like this in the future might also be a potential signalling device to differentiate from people who are engaging in projects for monetary gain or for the purposes of “grifting”. We can assume that someone with monetary gain as their main goal will be a lot less interested in engaging with followers who will probably not ever pay.

Final Thoughts

I’m very interested in possibly experimenting with this kind of thing myself, although I don’t really have any audience so I’m not sure who would participate in it with me. In the abstract with other creators, I can easily imagine what kind of votes they would presumably create for their audience but it is hard to imagine what aspects of my life I would allow people to pick.