She grew up in a working-class household near Detroit, with divorced parents who argued about unpaid bills. At 14 years old, she had to ask her mom to buy an $8 domain name for her. Today, at 17, she owns her own 2-story house and is head of a company that earned over $1 million in revenue in 2006, with even more projected for 2007.
Who is she? Ashley Qualls, owner of WhateverLife.com, a MySpace-related website that get over 7 million unique visitors each month. That’s more than Oprah.com and CBS.com. She’s had a multi-page profile done in Fast Company magazine and has been written up in other local publications. I actually saw her story highlighted briefly while watching CNN.
This piqued my interest – I mean, she seems like a good web designer with decent graphic design skills. But good designers are everywhere now, she had to do something special in making her millions. What was it?
She piggy-backed onto the next big thing
Without MySpace, this whole thing might not have happened. I mean, I still do not understand the appeal of MySpace. It’s cluttered. Music plays automatically when you visit someone’s page. The blogging platform is confusing. Who wants to read 100 people saying “Thanks for the add!” or linking to the same 10 blinking images over and over?
She took the initiative with her hobby, and let it grow
The whole thing just started out when she made a few custom MySpace layouts for her friends, and exploded from there. But she could have easily have said “Nah, I’m bored. Let’s go to the mall.” after making one or two. But instead she made layouts for everyone in her high school, and then she took it online.
She knows exactly what her target audience wants. It’s like the movie Big with Tom Hanks, when the 12-year old kid becomes vice-president of a toy company.
She took a risk and went full-time
She actually dropped out of high school during her sophomore year, instead going the GED route and attending community college now.
She’s still thinking big
She’s not just stuck making MySpace layouts forever, either. For one, her templates are compatible with many other social-networking sites besides MySpace. Recently, she hired developers to create an application that lets her users build their own stylized websites. She has an online magazine up and running. Next up, she plans on selling cell-phone wallpapers at $1.99 a pop, so people can extend their custom themes to their phones. She’s the Teen Martha Stewart.
Overall, I would say the best lesson to take from Ashley’s story is that she caught the MySpace wave early and ran with it. I would have totally missed it. Anyone want to tell me what the next big thing will be?