Posted on Nov 18, 2010

Alex Tew = Website Business FAIL & Pixels Don’t Work

You may have heard the story of Alex Tew who created a website that sold advertising on a homepage that consisted purely of ads. It was made up of one million pixels arranged in a 1000 × 1000 pixel grid. Alex sold ad space at $1 for a 10 × 10 block.

In reality such a website is normally pointless for both advertisers and users. However, due to the uniqueness of the idea and how Alex pitched the website as a way for him to pay for attending university, it caught the attention of the media. He got worldwide news coverage and in just over 4 months all the pixels were sold and he had made over $1,000,000 US.

Pure Genius or pure luck?

Well despite this instant success, Alex has failed multiple times since…

  • Pixelotto: Alex developed Pixelotto, a spin on the original Million Dollar Homepage idea, which failed to gain traction. People were given the chance to win $1 million by clicking the ads, but it failed to sell enough of the ad space to raise the prize money. It was received with criticism and described as a ‘tax on the stupid’.
  • PopJam: Alex then tried to create a real online business called PopJam, a social media humor site for text chatting with strangers, which despite angel funding also failed and was closed down.
  • SockandAwe: Third time unlucky, Alex created a game called Sock & Awe where you get to throw a shoe at George Bush. It’s purpose was to promote PopJam, and while it got excellent press coverage receiving over 4 million visitors in a matter of days (certainly an admirable achievement), it didn’t help get PopJam off the ground, did not make any money from advertising, ran up bandwidth expenses, and ultimately became such a distraction that Alex decided to quickly sell it for a measly £5000. While £5000 for a weeks work (minus expenses) is not bad, its a step back from the success of his original project which averaged somewhere around £5000 per day profit.
  • OneMillionPeople: 5 years after his original success, Alex then went on to create OneMillionPeople which was very similar to Million Dollar Homepage, just instead of pixel ads, it was photos of people. The aim was to sell spots for $3 and generate $3 million in revenue. That idea was quickly showing failure and was abandoned for free listings and the early buyers were refunded. Since the site offers nothing of real value and the Alex Tew novelty has long worn off, the site will again fail to gain traction.

Why So Many Failures?

Alex certainly has the entrepreneurial spirit and is continuing to try new ideas, which we can certainly commend him for. However, he needs to get a bit more inventive with his ideas and re-spark and channel his ability to drum up press like he did with the MillionDollarHomepage and ShockandAwe.

Alex has missed the essentials with each of his follow-up businesses. Since the Million Dollar Homepage each business has either:

  • Lacked a unique idea – Popjam was just ChatRoulette without the video, and Facebook chat but with strangers, and there is already plenty of chat rooms for chatting with strangers. Pixelotto & One Million Pages were just poop reinventions of the Million Dollar Homepage (I meant to write poor, but poop is a much better way to describe them).
  • Lacked a way to make money – Popjam didn’t really have any special ways of making money, nor could it be forseen too without a major change. While garnering mainstream use will eventually bring lots of money (think Twitter or Myspace), chatting with strangers was never destined to go mainstream. Facebook has become so successful at generating revenue because it gathers so much data from users which advertisers can use for precision targeted advertising campaigns. Popjam, even if it got off the ground, was never destined to make money. SockandAwe was also not monetized and missed out on some chunky advertising revenue, if it had managed just to secure a few banners totaling $5 eCPM then it would have generated at least $25,000 in that first week, and its sale price would have been considerably higher. It could have also been made to build an email list which would have been very valuable for promoting PopJam, or any future projects.
  • Lacked longevity – The Million Dollar Homepage, Pixelotto and One Million Faces all lacked longevity. Once all spots are gone, the business is over and you have to start all over. Gaining traction is not an option, and it is no surprise Alex has just lost so much traction by trying to reinvent his original idea twice over.
  • Lacked value for users – With the exception of PopJam all of Alex’s projects have lacked a true value for the end user, relieing on novelty, and as Alex has learned, novelty wears off fast.

Hopefully Alex has learned some valuable lessons through all of this, won’t die out a forgotten child star and has something worthwhile on the horizon. Or maybe he will burn through all his cash and end up back where he started.

He certainly has a talent for creating press and a good entrepreneurial spirit. He could just do with fine tuning it.

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  • Alex says:

    I was just discussing Alex and his ventures the other day… although he’s failed to create a business as of yet I have no doubt he’ll eventually succeed! He seems to be going for quick wins instead of as you say providing lasting value. I’m rooting for him!

  • Scott Barlow says:

    What’s wrong with failure?

    Edison took 1000 attempts as did Harland David Sanders aka KFC founder – see

    Too many blog posts and stories about how people have failed. You do raise some good business pointers in what went wrong but this post is packaged too much in “fail” (title of the blog)

    I am constantly refreshed by Alex’s attempts at business and once received a tweet reply from Alex where he quoted Winston Churchill’s “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense”.

    Whether Alex had a big bag of luck in his first venture or not i know for sure one thing that really matters, that failing isn’t the end of the world.

    Alex has energy, passion, vision, persistence and sheer determination – and that can only bring success to him again.

    “Success is the man who can build a solid foundation with the bricks thrown at him by mockers”

    • admin says:

      I completely agree with what you are saying about failure – making mistakes is part of being an entrepreneur.

      However, it is only really failure if you give in or fail to learn from your mistakes. Alex doesn’t appear to be learning from his mistakes so far.

      This post is an open letter to Alex to learn from his mistakes, and for others to learn from them too.

      • Andy says:

        I completely agree

    • Edison put the best swing on things. As this quote demonstrates, in his eyes he never failed once:

      “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”.

      Now that is a great way to look at things 🙂

      • Dave says:

        It is faliure if you keep making the same mistakes and never learn from it.

  • Thomas says:

    In my opinion Alex has never understood what a business is all about.

    “Alex pitched the website as a way for him to pay for attending university,”

    He’s an online beggar. His sites offer absolutley no value for the users. He never intends to do business, he’s just looking to cash in on curiosity / stupidity in my eyes. The success of his first site would never have occured if the media saw it as a business. They only covered it cause it was a student doing something new/fresh/unique to pay his bills and most buyers of pixels will have seen it in the same way. No professional marketer would buy pixel ads.

    It’s perfectly OK to fail sometimes. The fact that he then tries to do it over and over again in almost the same manner shows that he isnt willing to learn from his failure. And as Einstein said:

    “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. ”
    but also,
    “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. “

    • Linda says:

      I think this is exactly right.

      People really need to learn that the smart phone app market is easily the easiest way to scam people out of money; because a consumer would pay 5 dollars to get an app on their phone that they could get for free on a regular computer. The idea that the mobile device is harder to develop for ended the instant the iphone was released with the whole “pizazz” over battery-life.

      Currently, that is Alex Tew’s new million dollar idea… sell an old idea to his followers using viral media and mark the prices for everything up by 1000%. It worked for millions of other app developers, and it seems to work for him.

      I wonder, if he had never been a success with his get rich quick scheme, would he have accomplished something greater with his life? Probably not, but the rabble throw money at fools like candy.

  • FreeMaverix says:

    Well, the examples above are not quite correct – at least regarding Edison !
    Edison might have been good at words, but as an inventor he was a total failure.
    Who knows how many attempts he really made to get the electrical lightbulb working. Fact is, he never succeeded. It was rather one of his employees who accomplished this, and who later became the greatest electric/electronic genius of all times – Nicola Tesla.

    Edison also failed in keeping an agreement, to pay his ‘helper’ 30000$ if he would solve the challenge. Most of all, he failed to accept his own mistakes and miscalculations, and stubbornly held unto ‘his’ electrical system, that proved many times to not to be the ideal solution for supplying household energy for everyone – the DC current. Again it was Nicola Tesla, who after the experience of being deceived by Edison, partnered with Westinghouse, and implemented the AC current, which soon lit up the cities and powered the factories.

    Edison had more political influence, which is the reason why his lie of being the lightbulb inventor, prevailed up to today. The extraordinary bright minded Nicola Tesla, however was what he was, an inventor – but a poor businessman (and somewhat a psychopath), with no lobby to back him. In fact most major inventions and patents in electro technology, that are still the foundation of todays systems, were invented from him – with no credit given. The only credit is the ‘Tesla’ as an unit to measure elecro-magnetism.

    This just as a correction to the Edison example. Otherwise, yes of course failures are part of the way to success (and surely, even Tesla had its share of it too). Accepted failures are the weeds in need to be removed, to find the solution.

    • Ketil Berg says:

      Thank you, FreeMaverix, for setting the record straight on Edison. And thank you for NOT bringing up “free energy” in the same breath as Nicola Tesla. Seems hard to do these days.

    • max maxon says:

      My research on wikipedia shows the patent for the light bulb was awarded to Edison in 1880; other research shows N Tesla began work for Edison in 1882 in Europe and came to USA in 1884, years after the light bulb was invented, so I would not credit Tesla with that invention.

      My research does show there was a disagreement between the two (purportedly over Tesla redesigning electric motors and generators, and Edison not wanting to keep the bargain- Tesla maintained he should be paid $50,000, and Edison only wanted to give him $10 a week more after it was done. It is a controversial matter and no way to accurately dispute and prove it now this late after the fact. Tesla was an immigrant to the USA and perhaps he misunderstood Edisons original offer or comments)

    • Linda says:

      Stop spreading Tesla propaganda just because the Internet thinks it is fun.

      First and foremost, AC has come a very very very long way from Edison’s time and the reactivity of modern power systems which keep those cities lit up is due to later developments. What is ignored in the AC vs DC argument is the overhead that AC would bring compared to DC and that the main reason AC won was due to the developments in power systems that decreased both the losses of using such a system and the costs of implementing it.

      Note also that AC was not a new phenomena; the commutator on Edison’s dynamos was added to create DC current from what would otherwise be AC. Tesla had as much to do with AC as Edison had to do with the “invention” of the lightbulb (which, if you know your history, Edison had nothing to do with the lightbulb’s invention… but he did innovate it.)

      Telsa also wasn’t an inventor; he was far closer to a scientist who wanted to test his theories and then quickly grew bored and moved on to the next one. This is why Telsa isn’t given much credit, he was like Google, trying something out for a few months then leaving it unfinished. Or taking funds given to him and using them to deliver something else than what was requested.

      Really, realize that Steve Jobs invented nothing in his entire life. He was just an Edison, a businessman who “innovated” things and paid (or didn’t ;p) others to do it for him. “Innovation” isn’t bad.

  • Norm says:

    The difference a couple of words make. Don’t mean to nit-pick but, just for clarity (for anyone who likes numbers) I think what you meant to write was Tew sold the pixels for a $1 each, so each 10 x 10 block was $100, not $1. Otherwise, he would have only made $10,000… a minor point that’s not meant to detract from a well-written article

  • John says:

    1,000 x 1,000 pixels give 1,000,000 pixels

    selling $1 for 10×10 gives $10,000 not $1,000,000

    unless he was selling $1 per pixel with a 10×0 minimum.
    Which is not what the article mentions

    • a says:

      10,000 x 100 = 1 million lol

  • Tony says:

    The problem I have with Alex is that he still doesn’t seem to know what actually made milliondollarhomepage a success. There’s no actual value created by the idea, a problem that his other projects also seem to share.

    All the “value” in the project was the PR element – all the work publicising the site that got it covered sufficiently by the media generated the traffic to the site that made it worth $1 million to advertisers. There are two elements to it that made it “newsworthy”:

    1. the trying-to-fund-college-studies angle, and
    2. that an idea that has no obvious value could generate so much interest (which is of course ironic, as the media coverage itself was the only thing generating the interest that made it newsworthy).

    I shook my head when I heard him interviewed at the time, because he’d convinced himself that the success of milliondollarhomepage proved that he was “a creative ideas man”, and that that’s what he planned to be, when the true cause of its success was that it was an average idea with brilliantly inspired PR.

    Unsurprisingly subsequent equally inspired ideas, but without the inspired PR, have all been failures. Persistence is a good thing. Picking yourself up after failure and trying again is a good thing. Not understanding why all your projects fail (except the original one with the amazing PR) isn’t a good thing.

    I’m not sure that tricking the media into giving you free advertising which you then on sell is something I’d want to praise anyway – it’s not as though it advances society, produces anything of value or helps anyone. But not understanding that that is what your only successful business venture did means it is really unlikely that you’ll repeat the success.

  • Amit Agarwal says:

    I think Alex has that entrepreneurial gene and would eventually succeed after repeated failures. Failure are actually a kind of consolidation in his life after such sharp upmove. But the uptrend is still intact 🙂

  • DizzyReed says:

    Hello Everyone,

    Is a Million Dollar Homepage idea is coming back? Is it a new project of Alex Tew ? Did you hear someting about and

  • John says:

    Well the biggest point of failure in these sites is it is trying to copy an idea from someone else. There is nothing wrong with that in general however there has to be a reason. Why would someone pay money for a pixel when this has been done before? milliondollarhomepage was a buzz when it came out but when others copied it, the novety wore off and if you were going to pay money, you would want it on milliondollarhomepage because that site would probably send you traffic if you were buying a link there. Give people a reason to pay, make them feel special, give it a purpose other than someone else did it and it worked, I’ll do the same.

  • Mridul Mann Singh says:

    Well he tried and suceeded once. He failed many times; he may suceed again whether he learns or not. No offence but if people like us wasting time in commenting here; Alex is still using time in doing something that might work and last long. The other person who has suceeded is thie article writer / website owner. Rest of us are jumping our guns for no reason.. 😉

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