Student’s answer to million-dollar question

A student achieved the 21st-century equivalent of turning straw into gold yesterday, conjuring a million-dollar profit out of nothing in five months.

Alex Tew, 21, was broke and lying on his bed at the family home in Cricklade, Wiltshire, last August when the idea for the Million Dollar Homepage came to him.

Looking ahead to the start of a three-year business management course at Nottingham University, he envisaged spiralling student debts. More urgently he had hardly any socks left.

So he wrote on a notepad, “How can I become a millionaire?” Twenty minutes later he had invented the scheme that has helped him to do just that: to set up a webpage and sell its million pixels (the dots that make up a computer screen) for a dollar each as advertising space. Word of mouth made Mr Tew a celebrity entrepreneur, featured in everything from the Wall Street Journal to Richard and Judy.

With $999,000 worth of space sold he decided to auction the last 1,000 pixels on eBay. As the clock ticked down to the end of the auction last night, the highest bid registered US $140,300 (£79,452).

“I’ve always been a bit of a Del Boy,” he said. “When I was eight I used to draw my own comics, photocopy them and then sell them at primary school. I always expected to end up as an entrepreneur but I didn’t think I’d have success this quickly. It just snowballed. The more people talked about it the more money I made and the more money I made the more they talked about it.”

Advertisers included blue-chip names like The Times — times2 carried the first article about the phenomenon — and Orange, side by side with the actor Jack Black’s band Tenacious D, Hartlepool United Football Club and a site featuring “Japan’s most beautiful girls and guys”.

Mr Tew said: “It’s a relief it’s coming to an end. Its been a great experience but it’s been so hectic taking 120 calls a day. It hasn’t been free money. It has changed my life and that hasn’t really sunk in yet.” As interest in his project threatened to overwhelm him, Mr Tew decided to postpone his studies for another year.

“My aim at the moment is to go on to university next year but there’s always a chance things could keep getting bigger and bigger.” The bulk of the money he has made will be reinvested in future business ideas. “This is probably not the last penny I’ll ever make but it’s likely to be the easiest.”

He plans to donate a “decent” proportion of his earnings to the Prince’s Trust which gave him a loan for a previous venture when nobody else would.

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