The first joint-stock Companies gave groups a legal personality separate from the owners. Like Fiat Money is a thing because government says so, the same is true of businesses. They exist because we all agree to agree they exist. Shareholders are liable for the debts of the company, but their liability is limited to the money they have invested. This limit to personal risk enabled many of the first European explorers to put distance between themselves and what was going on. Companies acted like countries. They had flags and private armies. The East India Company ruled India for 101 years (1757-1858).