Shareholders, put moxie into votes
The new website MoxyVote helps shareholders get involved in the companies in which they invest.
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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: A whole slew of events is planned. There's of course the meeting itself, a special shopping spree, picnics, cocktail parties... It's become quite the bash.
Certainly one way to drum up shareholder interest. More fun than figuring out what to do with those shareholder voting statements delivered to our doors from time to time. If your biggest concern with those is how to throw them away, you're not alone.
But a website called MoxyVote is hoping to change all that. Doug Gates is one of the company's founders. Doug, welcome to the show.
DOUG GATES: Hey, thanks Steve.
CHIOTAKIS: So what is MoxyVote, and how does it work?
GATES: It's a proxy voting platform. If you're a shareholder in a public company, you get this thick packet of information once a year from that company encouraging you to vote on important business issues that they've got. Ninety percent of people throw those away, and we're trying to stop that.
It's intimidating. It's filled with legal language. You're not given enough information to know what you're voting on. You don't know why you're voting on it. You don't know exactly what you're voting on. Most people own so few shares that it's just the rational decision to just not vote.
CHIOTAKIS: If I'm a small shareholder of this company, how can I possibly make a difference? You know, if I own like 40 shares, 100 shares, even like 500 shares? Can I really make a difference?
GATES: Well, I guess you could ask the same question about presidential elections. Can one person make a difference. No. No, probably not. But if you band together and vote your shares with blocks of people you can definitely make a difference.
Just last year there was a proxy battle where the chairman and CEO of Bank of America, he lost his title of chairman by 0.3 percent margin. And Ken Lewis is now the CEO of BofA. So yeah it can make a difference.
CHIOTAKIS: And there was something else going on with Google right?
GATES: Yeah, that happened in December. Google had made an offer to merge with a video technology provider called On2 Technologies. And some of the On2 shareholders were upset and thought that they could command a higher price from Google. And so they banded together and about 10 percent of them voted through the MoxyVote website and put the breaks on the merger and Google came back and offered them, I think, $25 million more, and they said, "OK, we'll take that."
CHIOTAKIS: And that was a direct response to what happened on MoxyVote?
GATES: We think so. It's hard to draw exact lines of cause and effect, but we certainly gave a platform to the shareholders that didn't exist before.
CHIOTAKIS: You talk about platforms. On your website you have this link to an advocates page. Does that mean you can put your proxy vote with certain groups, certain advocacy organizations?
GATES: Yeah. Organizations that have opinions on the ways that your proxy should be voted and the ways that companies should be run and the way that society itself as we know it exists. So we're talking about people like the Teamsters, or the Humane Society. Organizations who want to sway your opinion to vote with them where you can band together and vote your shares with people who have informed opinions, access to members, and the desire for a big megaphone where they can reach out and actually convince people to vote alongside of them.
CHIOTAKIS: What's in it for you? I mean as far as being a successful business. How do you make money with MoxyVote?
GATES: Right now we don't. Right now we are trying to prove the idea and prove that dogs will actually eat the dog food that we've spent the last year building. Kind of like Twitter took a few years to catch on, and they just recently unveiled their revenue plan, we have chosen to forgo revenues for the time being to focus on building the right dog food.
CHIOTAKIS: Will it change, do you think, the way corporations conduct business with shareholders down the road?
GATES: We hope so. There's no passion in proxy voting right now. And people aren't voting their proxies, or the individual shareholders aren't voting their proxies, because it's just a boring process. And, if we can put some passion into it and get people to vote their shares alongside the people that they care about and the issues that they care about, I think that companies will start to take note, and will start to try to feed off that passion and try to divert some of that passion for the management proposals.
CHIOTAKIS: All right, Doug Gates, we appreciate it. One of the founders of MoxyVote. Thanks a lot, Doug.
GATES: Thank you.