Skip to comments.Teen Millionaire
Posted on 03/15/2008 10:13:01 AM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
Ashley Qualls doesn't sound like a typical high school student. Maybe that's because the 17-year-old is the CEO of a million-dollar business.
Ashley is the head of whateverlife.com, a website she started when she was just 14 with eight dollars borrowed from her mother. Now, just three years later, the website grosses more than $1 million a year, providing Ashley and her working class family a sense of security they had never really known.
It all started with capitalism 101, the law of supply and demand. Ashley became interested in graphic design just as the online social networking craze began to catch fire.
When she saw her friends personalizing their MySpace pages, she began creating and giving away MySpace background designs through Whateverlife. The designs are cheery, colorful and whimsical, with lots of hearts, Ashley's favorites.
She also pulled quotes from popular songs and built backgrounds around those themes. "Teenage girls love quotes," Ashley says, scrolling through some of her site's 3,000 designs, more than a third of which she made herself.
Thanks to Ashley's work ethic and savvy cultivation of her peer group as a target market, Whateverlife began pulling in more teenage girls than a Justin Timberlake concert - about a million a day. With a big audience, the site attracted advertisers. Ashley's first check was for $2,700. The next was for $5,000, the third for $10,000.
At the time, Ashley's parents were divorced. She and her little sister, Shelby, were all crammed into her mother's one-bedroom apartment.
When first the check arrived, her mother was doubtful, wondering if her daughter could really make money off a website. But Ashley was confident, telling her mother: "No, I really trust this. I think it's really gonna happen."
Ashley was right. The checks kept coming and the business kept growing-to the point where she could afford to buy a brand new four-bedroom house for them to live in. Ashley also hired her mother, Linda LaBrecque, to help manage the company.
It was and has been a bittersweet time for them both. "It's hard to be a mom and a manager," LaBrecque says. The roles clash every day, she says, but they manage by keeping a sense of humor.
She's proud of Ashley. Prior to starting the business, she says, her daughter was too shy to even order a pizza by phone. Now she's making presentations to business executives.
The job has also made LaBrecque's life easier, allowing her to quit her job and work from home following back surgery.
But Ashley's life has become much more complicated. When her business took off, the former straight-A student quit school to concentrate on Whateverlife.
"It's a busier schedule," Ashley says. "There's more to keep track of, whether its finances or employees and making sure everything is up to date and the content is secure."
In addition to her mom, Ashley hired three friends to help with the business, teaching them design and then requiring them to make a minimum of 25 designs a week.
Bre Newby says Ashley is a better boss than her past employers. "It's cool to have your best friend be like your boss," says Bre, "'cause she's a good boss. She's not like rude or it's not like working at McDonald's where you have like supervisors and people over you all the time."
Has the price of Ashley's business success been the loss of a part of her childhood? She doesn't think so.
"You know, when I'm with my friends, I'm still 17," she says.
But time with friends sometimes has to take a back seat to business. On a recent afternoon, her three friends drop by to hang out with Ashley, but they have to wait for her to finish with her business advisor, internet consultant Robb Lippitt.
Ashley and Robb sit on plastic chairs around a white conference table in Ashley's basement office, the walls decorated with hearts, like a Whateverlife background.
The conversation includes overtures from Hollywood and a possible deal to help promote Britney Spears's new album on Jive Records.
Ashley has even turned down a deal for her own reality television program. "I'm really stubborn, like my mom," she says, "So I know what I want from business. And I don't want that. I like my privacy. I like to hang out with my friends. I don't want cameras following me around."
For his part, Lippit says he had concerns about working with a teenager, but Ashley won him over in the first meeting. "She doesn't sit there and say, I did something well-that's good enough,'" says Lippit. He says Ashley knows, without being told, that she needs to keep developing her business, or it will stop growing.
Unlike many adults, Ashley has not succumbed to the temptations that new wealth can bring. She pays herself a modest salary of $3,000 a month. Aside from the house, she hasn't made any other major purchases.
"I don't even know how to put this," says Ashley, "But it's just kind of like the shiny feeling that when you have this money, it kind of goes away after a while. It gets old, you know. Yeah, I can go out and buy you know something really cool. But at the same time I mean I don't really need too much. I like to invest it back into the business."
Despite all her success, one thing that has eluded her - something most of her friends already have - is a driver's license.
"My mom does drive me. And then my friends drive me wherever we go," she says, "And I want to drive. Believe me. But it's just been kind of crazy lately."
It may be the one thing about Ashley's life that reminds you she really IS still a teenager.
“She also pulled quotes from popular songs .....”
Careful.....the recording industry is watching.....
My the lord help her.
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus
Self-discipline like this will ensure her success in whatever she does.
Nice that the Big Government Marxists haven’t yet managed entirely to kill off the Horatio Alger spirit.
She’s wise to save her money. I had an acquaintance who had a great internet success before the dot.bomb of 1999. He ended up working retail for 7 years before he rebuilt his career.
Check out this magazine called Millionaire Blueprints:
What a great age to be intoduced to capitalism.
Let's hope you don't fight the hand that feeds you!
she is not selling her body OR her ethics to get rich....but I do hope she finishes high school and starts in on a college education part time
She already has enough business sense and web development experience to get an undergrad degree at a second tier uni, or a graduate degree at a 4th tier uni.
This is a great story, passing it on to my youngin’ cousins who want to be web developers.
What can a $40,000 a year NEA teacher teach this young woman? What can an "Ivory Tower" professor that has NEVER run so much as a hot dog stand add to her business acumen? I'm not being facetious, I'm asking a real question.
I love this country!
Check out her wikipedia page for even more interesting background info:
Wonderful story. My advice to Ashlely — put some of that money in the bank. No business lasts forever.
if her biz fails, what can she do to support herself?
Good for her!!
You mean without that coveted high school diploma? Your statement above reveals why most people never see success in the business world. If that "biz" fails she will probably start a new one. That's what entrepreneurs do! She is getting over one million hits a day! I daresay she already knows the secrets of the Internet. Life is about risk-taking, not safety and security. Ashley already gets it, most adults don't.
Good for her.
I have to agree with 2ndDivisionVet on this one. This young woman is not going to have any problems supporting herself if this biz fails, even without a HS diploma.
I generally do not like seeing kids drop out, but there are exceptions to all rules, and this gal is certainly one of those exceptions.
Nothing wrong with running a hot dog/ sausage stand!
My family and I live better than most!
This could be an inspiring story to pass along to comparably-aged students. As a bonus, she seems like a level-headed young lady. The only thing I’d love to see her change is to get a private tutor and complete her education.
Mercedes Benz, Germany, 1871-present; Kongō Gumi Construction, Japan, 578-present; Löwenbräu Brewery, Germany, 1383-present; Goulaine Wine, France, 1000-present; Western Union, USA, 1851-present; Price Waterhouse Coopers, USA, 1849-present; Bank of Scotland, UK, 1695-present; Royal Delft Porcelain, The Netherlands, 1653-present; Klett Firearms, Germany, 1578-present; Barovier&Toso Glass, Italy, 1295-present, etc., etc...
I wasn’t putting down hot dog stands, I was merely using them as an example of a small business that was beyond the ken of university professors.
What brand of cart do you utilize?
Those are businesses that actually produce a product that isn't a silly fad. This girl started a business selling graphics and stuff for websites. It's a fad. She should save some money, her business WON'T last forever.
Seriously, is there any other country where stories like this happen regularly? Where can a 14 year old girl biuld a million dollar a year business in 3 years while keeping her clothes on?
Remind me why I need “change” so much. I would love to hear her interviewed about taxes and her thoughts on the equity of taking more as she makes more. Kids don’t have to think about that much.
What you and I see as a “silly fad” is someone else’s “gotta have it” as shown by her page views and advertising revenue. Will it last forever? Almost assuredly not, but she already has the “can-do” spirit that would be necessary to do another start-up. Wouldn’t you hire her for your business? I know I would!
Her business is pulling in seven figures, so I'll bet she knows more about it than most of us ever will.
You're wrong. She does not sell the product. The income she receives from her website is produced entirely through advertising.
in the REAL world you don’t get even entry level jobs without a high school diploma or GED, and a nine to five office job will take at least two years in college.....it is a cruel world and lamenting the leftist NEA and liberal college professors will not change that. Why do you think so many of our young end up like spitzer’s kristen?
I’m sure from the experience she has gained starting a million dollar a year business from and 8 dollar investment, she has many qualities that would get her hired. Go into any retail store or bar, there are many over educated people waiting tables. While college is great, ideas, a strong will, hardwark, sacrafice and confidence isn’t something you get out of a book.
Anyone that can sell or start a business need not worry about their education level. The best thing parents could do for their children is a Tom Hopkins http://www.tomhopkins.com or Dale Carnegie http://www.dalecarnegie.com course or an enlistment in the armed forces, IMO. I have a doctorate in business, and believe me, college is overrated unless you are headed into a profession.
I recall my mother telling me that “Those Beatles won’t last. It is just a fad. It is classical music that has proven itself over the centuries. Perhaps Sinatra is a more modern example, but he was handsome and talented. Those boys look ridiculous and are just making noise.”
If this girl has been able to develop a niche among her peers at this age on the internet, then she has her finger on the pulse of the most coveted demographic in the world and she will ride it all the way as they age, not to mention that there are more teenage girls coming along every day as those under eleven grow up. As for graphics online, that is where design is today. My husband has wonderful, but old fashioned, skills with a lucy and a lightboard and he knows that at 57 he cannot compete out there with kids who have never even held a Rapidiograph, let alone that he hasn’t a clue as to how they will respond to anything.
Also, don’t discount the fact that she will have a very nice cash reserve when this business begins to age.
I invented a silly little product in 1985. It lasts forever. It appeals to a niche demographic of women fiber crafters. All I control is the production process, simply because no one else in the field has ever bothered to figure it out (or so they tell others). It has become a classic in the industry with excellant name recognition and is considered a must-have by retailers. It sells over 7k units a year with no advertising by me, is purchased by the five top distributors in this industry and shows no signs of ending soon. I work part time. Early on, I had a few male sales reps threaten to “have it made in Asia” when I couldn’t meet their discount/drop ship terms. They never did. I know why and they don’t and I am not telling. It was not my only product, idea or business in my life, just the most successful and most enduring.
This kid is going to do just fine.
College is a waste of time and money.
Totally agree. And I also like Dale Carnegie. His How to Win Friends book changed my life.
The point of an education is to help prepare you to support yourself and become a productive member of society.
I think she got that part down.
"Seven years of College down the drain."
I’m laying odds right now that when she is able to vote, she votes conservative. Sounds like Momma and Daddy didn’t raise no fool...
“No, I really trust this. I think it’s really gonna happen.”
Herman Wouk gave his Majorie Morningstar character a line pretty much like this one very early in the book(actually she thought it). It seemed like ‘forshadowing’ but the mature Wouk of course knew that every kid says it and deeply believes it too boot. It’s a precious line, though in this girl’s case, BINGO!
She has the same degree Bill Gates had. And as much use for it.
Talent Always Wins.
Thought you’d get a kick out of this ping!
Why bother? She's already doing better then most high school graduates and a lot of college grads. Real question is if she is smart enough to not blow all her money and make some good investments for later just in case things go south.
College isn't for everyone and doesn't seem like this girl needs it.
So don't get one. Jobs are just income with training wheels. Jumping through academic hoops like a trained seal just to impress some zero-talent manager is an antiquated paradigm.