3. The MySpace Millionaire
Ashley Qualls, 17
Here's a riddle: How do you take $8 and turn it into a $1 million? Put it in the hands of Ashley Qualls. Three years ago, Ashley borrowed $8 from her mother, purchased the domain Whateverlife.com, and began posting her own MySpace backgrounds, free to download.
Heavy on hearts, frills, and lyrics from popular songs, the designs were a huge hit with MySpace's massive female population. Attracting hundreds of thousands of hits each day from 14- to 17-year-old girls, the site was a natural for advertisers. Last year, Whateverlife.com brought in $1 million in ad revenue and 7 million unique visitors each month.
It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds, says Qualls. With the profits from the site, she bought her mother a house and set up Whateverlife's Detroit headquarters in the basement. Long days and nights followed. The demands of running the business forced Ashley to quit high school, leaving behind a 3.8 GPA. She hired her mother to help her run the site, which produced its own set of tensions. Despite her success as an entrepreneur, she couldn't sign contracts by herself because she was too young.
"The biggest challenge I've had is my age being a big factor in anything and everything I do," she says. "It sometimes can be difficult to have business owners take a 17-year-old seriously. I'm glad I'm finally legally turning 18 this year."
Her age hasn't limited her ambitions. Whateverlife has branched out into an online magazine and a virtual store (though Ashley turned down an offer to star in a reality show based on her life). Nevertheless, she's still a girl at heart.
"I do miss the fact that I won't be graduating with my friends this year," she says. "They're all getting excited, and it's sad to know I won't be a part of that exact moment. But they are here with me, and I'm still going to my prom!"