An inspired idea to host micro-advertisements on a single web-page turned a cash-strapped student into a millionaire in under six months. The site, which started out as blank space divided into 10x10 pixel squares, was picked up by bloggers and transformed into an internet advertising phenomenon.

On Wednesday Alex Tew, a 21-year-old entrepreneur from Wiltshire, sold the final 1,000 pixels on his site for $38,100 on eBay auction – a handsome increase on the starting price of $1,000 – reaching his goal of earning a million dollars. “I will confirm the sale in 24 hours when I’ve cashed the money,” he told the Financial Times.

Mr Tew created in August 2005 to cover his fees for a course in business management.

“My site was launched due to the fact I needed money for university, and that’s exactly what my aim was,” he writes in his blog. “I thought, if I aim high – $1m – and only get a small percentage of that figure, that would still help me out a great deal.”

Million Dollar homepage
© Financial Times

Mr Tew’s initial investment was £50 to buy web space and a domain name. He divided the blank homepage into 10,000 squares of 100 pixels each. Each pixel was worth $1, minimum purchase: $100.

The “million dollar homepage” expanded without an established brand name or target audience.

The site went live on August 26, 2005, and three days later Mr Tew sold his first 400 pixels. Through word of mouth, chain e-mails and ever-growing media coverage, the website built a name for itself and gained popularity and interest from web surfers.

Within a month Mr Tew had earned some £20,000 ($37,000) – “enough pixels to cover the entire cost of my forthcoming three years at university,” Mr Tew said.

He began his studies, but the website continued to expand, so he chose to defer university and focus on his business. As big names came to the site, including The Times newspaper, Yahoo and the record label Independiente, Mr Tew decided to invest $40,000 to upgrade the server and employ a press officer based in the US. This strategy turned out to be very successful with 50 per cent of the advertisement coming from the US alone.

Some advertisers who have bought pixels on the site are now selling their space and making a profit.

Copy-cats were also quick to see an opportunity: several have started their own versions of the idea. “The copy-cats have very little ads, therefore I guess it’s not going too well for them,” said Mr Tew. “The idea only works once and relies on novelty.”

And the young entrepreneur is unfazed by the competition: “I think any copy-cat sites will only have pure comedy value, whereas mine possibly has a bit of comedy plus. So I say good luck to the imitators.”

Having earned a million dollars Mr Tew is now preparing to expand his fortune, opening a new internet-related business, the precise details of which are currently under wraps.

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