In mid 2005, Alex Tew was a broke 21-year-old that wasn’t sure if he would ever become successful. Needless to say, I imagine the thought of making $1,000,000 within the next four months didn’t cross his mind.
What is the Million Dollar Homepage?
The million dollar homepage is one of the most iconic stories of someone using the internet to spur a viral sensation and making a ton of money in the process. The premise of the website was to sell 1,000,000 pixels for $1 each. You can think of it as a big digital billboard. Advertisers could buy a piece of the website, choose what image they wanted to place there and then link to whatever they wanted to promote. The minimum purchase was a 10x10 chunk of pixels which cost $100 to ensure the picture could be seen. Some people bought space to prove that they were wealthy, some advertised their business, and some bought it because they wanted to own a piece of internet history which is what the site sold itself as. The idea was so clever yet so simple that basically everyone that heard about it was questioning why they hadn’t thought of it. Everyone besides 21-year-old Alex Tew.
Alex thought of the idea while brainstorming ways to make money to pay for his first semester of college that would cost him nearly $9,000. He had been pushing off college for 3 years while working odd jobs, launching the first ever beatboxing forum, and organizing beatboxing conventions. However, he was still living at home, had very little money, and wanted to get rich quick. With an investment of $50 to purchase the domain and two days of work building the website, he did just that.
The million dollar homepage launched on August 26, 2005. Starting out, Alex did what anyone would do when they need some money, ask friends and family. Through that he sold $4,700 worth of pixels. He used that money to hire a PR agency to make a press release and that’s when things got crazy. The website was picked up by BBC and The Guardian who wrote articles about it. As Alex sat in his room, he watched $3,000 worth of pixels sell in one day. The next three and half months seem like something out of a movie. The early days of social media, bloggers, and chat forums launched the million dollar homepage into internet history. In the next two weeks, Alex made $250,000. At its peak he made $100,000 in a single day. On January 1st, 2006, only 1,000 pixels remained up for grabs. Alex decided to hold them back and auction them off on eBay where 11 days later they sold for $38,100. To put this into perspective, on August 26, Alex Tew was broke but four months later he had $1,037,100.
What Made the Million Dollar Homepage Work?
So what made the million dollar homepage work? To start, it was the first of its kind. Alex concepted a brand new way of advertising that was so crazy it was able to go viral. There were tons of copycat websites that launched soon after but none of them worked out. Another reason is the work that Alex put in to sustain the attention to the million dollar homepage long enough to sell all of the pixels. Using the first bit of money to hire a PR firm is what turned it into a success. The first couple of articles written about it started a waterfall effect. Suddenly every social media and online forum were talking about the million dollar homepage and that made other media outlets interested. Alex took a trip to the United States to do a media tour, giving interviews to major outlets like ABC. Overall, he garnered media attention in 35 countries. His ability to garner so much attention made the site work for the advertisers that were buying pixels. The site received tens of millions of impressions and curious browsers explored the links behind the pixels that advertisers purchased.
While the million dollar homepage began as a way for Alex Tew to pay for his college tuition, he decided to drop out and reassess his career path. Since then, he’s taken on many different ventures and struck success again after co-founding the billion dollar meditation app, Calm.