Alex Tew = Website Business FAIL
OneMillionPeople.com & 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.