How to Monetize Personal Interactions Without Losing Friends

Using E-Commerce To Create Shortcuts For People

photo by Padraic O’Meara

Your friends should be paying you money. You should be creating such high value that your friends want to pay you money. One of the easiest ways to get started is to build a store and start selling what you’re already giving away for free: Your time and attention.

To get started you can create a web store that will automate all the transactions for you so you can focus on being more personal with each person. Some will argue that anything that is automated, online, and e-commerce can not be “personal” but they are wrong.

  1. In the age of apps like IFTTT we should all be using simple automation. Automation is fun!
  2. The line between what is online and what is offline is incredibly blurry. I’m “both” and so are most people.
  3. It’s time to accept that e-commerce is just a social network. We build connections with how we spend money.

When you merge people relationships with money relationships you can make magical things happen. Money is simply a medium of exchange, and like a telephone switchboard you can use it as a communication tool. Letting someone “buy” your attention is the online equivalent of being open to someone buying you a drink. We can utilize aspects of our hyper-networked capitalist system to foster better ways of living together!

Little Money is a Big Filter

I’m thinking of two kinds of people for this project. The “regular person” who can use this open up to the “internet” in a way that can spark new personal connections. And also for people who already have a following, or participate in a robust online community, this is a filter for in-person requests but also can be used to generate a deeper relationship with more people than can be managed by yourself.

  1. The way to generate deeper relationships is to make yourself vulnerable.
  2. The best way to make yourself vulnerable online is to share personal interactions with the people that really care.
  3. There is no better way to filter for people who care than by asking for a small amount of money*.
* I call this the “MetaFilter Principle” based on MetaFilter’s one-time requirement of $5 in order to join the community.

Note: This isn’t about making money, but that is a potential side-effect. This is about using the act of spending money as a filter. You can give the money to charity!

What Do I Know About Anything?

I sell shares in myself. Okay, they are not technically shares, but in modeling my community on capital markets I’m able to offer people a way to interact in my life for about $5.

Oh no! I’m down 0.97%! :(

I have about 600 shareholders and I’ve been featured in Wired, The Atlantic, and The Today Show because I’ve spent almost ten years building a community through capitalism. And best of all I’ve developed friendships and had opportunities I never would have imagined if I hadn’t been willing to “sell” access to myself.

When I started this project in 2008 I thought it was about organizing my existing relationships and projects. It didn’t occur to me that people I didn’t know would want to buy shares. And the first time that happened I was actually a little scared!

About a year into selling shares of myself a user by the name of ghshephard starting buying a lot. I had no idea who this was and in short order he was one of my biggest shareholders! I reached out via email and asked him if he had any questions, secretly hoping to find out more about him, but he said he just liked the project, and he kept buying shares.

At this point a stranger, who I still have never met in person, had significant influence over my life. As I put questions up for a vote I had no idea how ghshephard would cast his vote! I started to wonder if this whole project was a huge mistake.

But an interesting thing happened… When he voted and joined discussions he always had a well reasoned comment or thought-provoking question. In no time at all I realized he was acting in my best interest and I learned to trust him. He wanted what was best for me because he was literally invested in me. That’s when it dawned on me: Buying shares acted like a filter. Only people that really wanted to participate in the true spirit of the project were willing to pay real money!

You Don’t Need To Be Publicly-Traded To Use a Money Filter

While you’re not publicly-traded and you probably have no interest in having a group of people vote on the choices you make in life the use of a money filter applies to everyone! You probably run a lot of your life in an ad-hoc manner, applying effort where it’s most required, and generally keeping up with situations as they arise. But keeping up with life in a reactive manner is a continuous battle. Have you ever wished you had another few hours in the day, or an extra day in your week?

A money filter allows you to be open to new opportunity, but set a threshold of how open you want to be. This means you’re not reacting to each and every request but instead only focusing on those situations which passed through your quality filter.

My favorite example of a money filter is MetaFilter, a community blog that suffers far less from the caustic vitriol of the typical message board or comment threat. Oh sure, they still have their issues, but with a simple $5 fee they screen out untold numbers of reactionary, angry, spur-of-the-moment rants. It’s one thing to feel the self-righteous desire to tell the world they are wrong and you are right, and it’s another thing to have to pay $5 first.

Simply charging a low fee of $5 will act as an amazing quality filter to many aspects of your life.

The Three Secrets To Using The Money Filter

  1. Web Stores are Easier Than Blogs
  2. Sell Everything That Makes You Uncomfortable
  3. Community Through Capitalism

Web Stores are Easier Than Blogs

Because the internet loves e-commerce it’s now easier to set up a store than a blog. Having been a blogger on many different platforms since 2001 I was shocked at how easy it was to set up a Shopify store.

Shopify was surprising not just just because the ease of setting up and running a store but because there is a vast app-store economy! And also a huge community of users. It’s astounding to see how many people have already switched from blog to store!

Sell Everything That Makes You Uncomfortable

Does the amount of email you get stress you out? I have a hard time with email. I try very hard to be an “inbox zero” guy but I’m usually holding 100–150 emails in my inbox at any one time. Email is overwhelming.

I was looking at the bill my lawyer sent me once and it broke down how much he was charging for his time, and what he was working on. One of the line items on his bill was for an email he had worked on for 1/10th of an hour. Next to that was his hourly rate divided by ten. At $25.o0 that was a very expensive email.

That bill radically changed how I dealt with my lawyer. No more random questions, no more “ideas” to bounce of him. At $250/hour I started to treat him as an incredibly expensive service. People won’t waste your time if it’s a waste of their money!


That’s when it hit me! I set up a $5/email item in my store, and now I direct a fair amount of my traffic to that URL. It’s like an email tax for anyone who wants to reach me and needs a quick reply. Problem solved!

It works great! Then think about what you’d like to deal with less and start charging a fee to do it. It will stop most people from asking you to do that (and if not just keep raising the price!).

Community Through Capitalism

Almost all my projects involve money: Making it, spending it, or playing with it. And I’ve noticed that my closest friends are those that I’ve done some sort of business with. So by creating easier ways to engage in commerce with people I’m more likely to befriend them.

Have you ever talked to a person while you’re waiting in a long line? That’s a social interaction based on commerce. Joined a company softball league? Social interaction based on commerce. Commented or read the comments on Amazon or Yelp? Even that is a social interaction based on commerce. Almost everything we do online clearly relates to commerce in one way or another and while the connections are less obvious the same is true offline.

Nothing brings people together like commerce.

A sense of community is achieved by groups of people who share the same goals, which ideally is what capitalism is all about.

Applying This To Your Life

If you built a simple Shopify store and created a few things like the ability to “cut the line” of your inbox (or used a service like 21.c0), do you think the people that bought from you would generally be people you’d like to meet?

YES! This works! I have 600+ shareholders to prove it. :)

And it’s not that complicated. It’s actually pretty fun.

If you’d like I could send you a cheat sheet. I’m developing a step-by-step guide that includes some best practices and a few tips and tricks (including examples of what has worked and not worked for me). If you’d like a copy of this enter your email here:

Yes, I’d like the guide to “Building Community Through Capitalism”!

About: K. Mike Merrill is the world’s only publicly traded person, which allows him the financial and logistical support to take on every creative project he can imagine. Shareholders guide his life and projects through a stock market of his own design. The “invisible hand” of the market has led Mike to become a game designer, train in MMA, start a financial technology company, attempt polyphasic sleeping, and find true love.

His exploits have been featured in Wired, The Atlantic Monthly, and on the Today show.

He’ll email you for $5.00.