Innovation Wednesday: Whateverlife and the Accidental Business

ashbo.jpgWhat kind of job did you have at 17?

I posed that question to the grown-ups I encountered recently while exploring The teen-girl site and company was started by Ashley Qualls, an entrepreneur from a working-class neighborhood outside Detroit, who happens to be 17 herself. At that age, LeeAnn Prescott, the research director at Hitwise, was working at an amusement park, fashioning faux Civil War shots of people. Robb Lippitt, the former COO of ePrize who consults for Qualls, had worked his way up from dishwasher to prep cook to manager of Buddy's BBQ. Ceca Mijatovic, the founder of the girls portal dayZloop, didn't have a job yet; she was a foreign-exchange student from Yugoslavia. Me? I was delivering pizza for Domino's.

"Of course, this," says Ian Moray of ValueClick Media, referring to Whateverlife, "is something we all wish we'd done when we were 17."

If only the Internet had been around then. One of the many fascinating things about Whateverlife is that Ashley didn't set out to start a business. The Internet practically did it for her. Web design was a hobby, something she'd been learning online since she was 9. As a high-school sophomore, she figured out how to create layouts for MySpace pages, and her friends at Lincoln Park High School were keen to customize theirs, much like school lockers. As word spread throughout the MySpace universe, the 15-year-old couldn't afford the servers to support her exploding online audience. A friend suggested using Google AdSense, which generates ad revenue based on a site's traffic. Ka-ching. Whateverlife was off and running. Ashley has created nearly 3,000 layouts, her monthly audience is around 7 million, and revenue has grown from a couple of thousand bucks a month to as much as $70,000 - more than $1 million in less than two years.

The Accidental Business has become a burgeoning byproduct of the Web. Just look at the collectors-turned-entrepreneurs on eBay alone. By providing a cheap and instantaneous distribution or publishing platform, the Internet democratizes entrepreneurship. It's a beautiful and powerful thing. Ashley, whose divorced parents didn't attend college and knew little about the Web themselves, didn't have the resources and connections that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, My Start-Up Life's Ben Casnocha, and myYearbook's Catherine Cook have drawn on so effectively. But Ashley did have a bright idea and the technology to share it.

On the Web, much to the delight of a new generation of entrepreneurs, it's often enough.

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  • Rose

    Here is a girl from a broken family who has now quit school and young girls will be looking up to her as a role model all thinking they too can drop out of school and make millions online.

    Also as stated in the AdSense Terms and Conditions, publishers must be at least 18 years of age to participate in the AdSense program.

    However, if you are not yet 18, you may have a parent or guardian submit an application using their name as the payee name.

    All payments are made to the adult responsible for the site so that cheque comes in either Mommy or Daddy's name not Ashley.

  • Danielle

    While I am happy for Ashley and her success, and admire her I found the story a little sad. Here is a girl with a broken family who is now in the position of quitting school to be the breadwinner. It would seem Ashley's parents are already taking advantage of her. Her business model is short sighted, there are many more successful competitors already out there, and she doesn't have the education to take this much further without paying consultants and programmers. I think this would have been a great way for Ashley to pay for an education and then translate that experience into her next venture. Now it would seem she is saddled with paying for her parents.

  • greg rollett

    Great insight! At 17 (only 8 years ago) the internet still wasn't much of a money producing tool but did offer new technology possibilities for me as a musician. I cut my first record at 17 in a professional studio for a large (all) percentage of my savings account. At 18, with a laptop and a program I bought at Best Buy I know had the opportunity to do what the big guys did and for no cost at all. Now 25, I am looking to break into the world of Web 2.0 Marketing off the backs of the individuals you mentioned in this post as well as your magazine. Stories like Ashley's give us hope that the corporate world isn't the only world anymore! Here's to finding success in a hide and seek society!