Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ashley Qualls and Case Study of a Teenage Millionaire

Her numbers are indeed impressive. 17 years old high school dropout. Made more than $1 million. Earns as much as $70K a month. Owns a website that attracts more than 7 million monthly visitors and 60 million page views.
Her first Adsense paycheck was $2,790 and she has already rejected a $1.5 million buyout offer. I’m referring to Ashley Qualls, the founder of, a free MySpace layouts website.

Fastcompany recently published a fascinating feature article on Ashley, a teenage entrepreneur from Detroit who has made a substantial amount of money online by targeting a niche market (girls on Myspace/social networks) and fulfilling their needs.

Ashley is evidence of the meritocracy on the Internet that allows even companies run by neophyte entrepreneurs to compete, regardless of funding, location, size, or experience–and she’s a reminder that ingenuity is ageless.

She has taken in more than $1 million, thanks to a now-familiar Web-friendly business model. Her MySpace page layouts are available for the bargain price of…nothing. They’re free for the taking. Her only significant source of revenue so far is advertising.

Inspirational, no doubt. And a clear example of the massive potential that the web has when it comes to generating substantial and consistent income. The amount of money she currently earns would be difficult to replicate offline, although what is really important here is that her online income is very scalable.

What she is currently earning can be exponentially increased through the development of business models which make use of her influence within the specific demographic. In this article I’ll take a quick look at her website and offer some general suggestions on how she can improve her income and reach.

Monetization Strategies: How Can Make More Money

Like other high traffic websites, runs CPM ads by Casale Media and Value Click, alongside Google Adsense and Nabbr, a revenue sharing video widget. The integration for each ad type is relatively well done and not too intrusive. The main problem is that Ashley doesn’t seem to be selling ads directly, which is a huge loss considering the amount of traffic she gets.

Currently, a site like Techcrunch makes $10K per 125 x 125 ad block and that’s with 4.0 million page views per month. Whateverlife gets 15 times more pageviews and I’m sure an aggressive direct ad campaign will bring in at least $10K more per month, even after one takes into account the variance between technology and lifestyle/teens-oriented advertisers.

According to the article, has a larger audience than the combined circulation of magazines like Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and CosmoGirl!. This is something remarkable, that should be taken advantage of in full.

I would suggest contacting these magazine owners and many other similar businesses which share the same demographic to pitch ad space on your site. I’m quite sure many of them would be interested. It’s also important to set up a simple Advertise page in order to better accommodate potential advertisers.

  • Affiliate Programs. Establishing affiliate arrangements with products or brands Ashley already uses or supports is also an excellent way to make some extra income through personal recommendations. Even generic web hosting affiliate programs or other non-specific items would generate some income, because of the sheer amount of traffic.
  • Donations. They work best when combined with a free service and I think she should put up a simple Paypal badge or customized icon for those who might want to make donations. Even if most visitors are teens, some do have access to online money accounts and can offer appreciation in the form of money.
  • Premium Services. Instead of producing layouts en masse for free, Ashley could offer premium design services for corporate clients, businesses or individuals who want a highly customized and specific design. In essence, brand as a design community which understands the teenage demographic. She already has a number of employees working for her and their output can be partially directed towards premium services instead of free content.
  • Personal Branding. One of the ways to make more money from any website without increasing traffic or reach is to leverage the exposure the website generates to build your personal brand. Depending on her interests, Ashley could participate in conferences as a paid speaker on specific topics or hold workshops or classes for aspiring young entrepreneurs/designers.
Pushing the personal brand gives you the ability to delve into parallel or adjacent industries that might require your services or skills.

Apart from these monetization strategies, I do like how Ashley is aiming for the mobile market by launching $0.99 to $1.99 cell phone wallpaper downloads in September. This will be a big step forward and will provide some much needed diversification: Currently Adsense is responsible for 60% of her total revenue.

Entrepreneurial Strategy: How to Branch Out for Greater Income and Reach

I like the fact that Ashley has branched out into a magazine, a shop and has set up a forum. It’s important to direct the attention you receive elsewhere, particularly into areas which will spread your brand. Let’s say a visitor arrives at and downloads a free layout. Do you want her to click off and visit another website?

Or would you rather have her sign up as a community member in your forum or subscribe to your newsletter? Never assume that a visitor will come back once they visit your website. Some will but others do not and your greatest chance of building an audience is to encourage recurrence and loyalty.

1. Build Sticky Communities. A community is a great way to do this. Create your own social network and learn to cross-market your existing sites. Don’t think that a search engine visitor will know of your other websites if you don’t tell them about it.

Connect the dots for them. Each of your websites or projects should increase size or reputation of another, if they are just simply feeding off traffic from one another, you are doing something wrong.

2. Create Multiple Niche Sites. Another good strategy would be to develop multiple niche sites off the same domain, each offering a specific bait. Unless you have a link building strategy at hand, it is better to put most projects on a single domain because you are leveraging the trust that search engines has already given you.

If you create multiple new sites on different domain names, be sure that you know how to build links and an audience that will help you develop authority and the ability to rank, particularly if you are in a competitive niche market.

Examples of niche areas to explore include a teens marketplace, a classifieds section, niche Yahoo Answers clone, social video community, a teens social news/voting site, wallpapers and entertainment fields like celebrities etc.

Reinvesting Income into Your Business is Important

Fastcompany reports that Ashley doesn’t do any paid advertising of any sort. I’m not sure how she reinvests her income into Whateverlife but I do think that some of it should definitely go back into the promotion of her online empire.

Such a substantial monthly income ($70K) will allow you to play around with various paid advertising programs, particularly for your business models or spinoff websites which are not prominent in their niche. Her lifestyle magazine is an example of a site that could do with more promotion outside of the design/layout crowd.

Apply these Strategies for Your Own Ventures

Hopefully some of what I’ve written will be applicable to your own online business or websites. Let this case study remind you that it is indeed possible to make lots of money through the simple act of building of websites that work.

I particularly like how Ashley quit high school and took classes online to concentrate on her business because it shows her passion and her determination for success. She knows that she has a golden goose and did the right thing by devoting full attention to it. Never be afraid to quit your day job when you have a real money maker that has potential.

Don’t despair if you aren’t making money now. Research your market, consult with those more experienced, learn the business and be strategic to achieve your goals. Want more inspiration? Here are profiles of some other money making websites.

For more case studies and tips how to build a profitable online business or website, do subscribe to Dosh Dosh’s RSS blog feed or sign up for free email updates.



Palan (Man Of Fire) said...

hi nice blog

Mark Domingo said...

tanx alot!

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