Student Makes a Million Selling Pixels

Jan. 12, 2006 — -- He's 21 years old, and he just earned his first million.

So what's the first thing British student and entrepreneur Alex Tew spent his cash on?

"I can't bear to wear mismatched pairs of socks," he said, "so the first thing I did was buy socks by the truckloads."

Most of us would probably not spend that kind of money on socks. Then again, most of us would not have turned Tew's simple scheme (an Internet billboard with a million pixels worth of ad space for $1 a pixel) into a marketing triumph.

The success of the Web site, -- bolstered by word of mouth, Internet bloggers and media publicity -- has made Tew and his homepage a phenomenon.

Having just sold the last 1,000 pixels in an eBay auction (the winning bid? $38,100), Tew sounds as astonished by his success as the rest of the world.

"Initially, it seemed like this was one of those ideas that might be crazy enough to work," he said from his home in Wiltshire, England. "I would have been happy to earn 1 percent of the total, but it made sense to aim high, since I had nothing to lose. Besides, the figure got everyone's attention."

Indeed. Thanks to the fortunate interest of bloggers and the media, the formerly cash-strapped student managed to make $40,000 before the start of his first term at university. He is, of course, studying business.

Nontraditional Routes

Currently on deferment, Tew plans to return to school in September, though he says that the number of exciting job offers awaiting him just might change his mind.

"It's not that I am averse to university," he said, "I just want young people to know that there are other routes to success, not just the traditional ones. In Britain I think we are maybe not open enough to other possibilities.

"Look," he continued, "I totally understand that someone might read this and go, 'Well, if he can do it, then why can't I?' And my answer to them would be, 'Of course you can.' There are so many ideas out there just waiting to be explored. For my part, I have always believed that it is possible to make money quickly."

That said, money doesn't seem to be Tew's primary motivation. As a child, the budding entrepreneur drew comics and sold copies of them to his friends. Since then, he says, "I have always been into some scheme or another, trying to set up small businesses, which never quite took off. That's what excites me -- thinking about technology and how it can be used."

After finishing high school, he put off going to university, doing various odd jobs in the meantime. "The whole time though, I always imagined a day when I would be my own boss," Tew said. "It was just a question of being persistent, trying out new ideas and waiting for a breakthrough."

Now, with the last pixel sold and more than a million dollars earned in four months, Tew's wait is over, and his sock drawer is close to overflowing.