This year marks the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, proposed and created by Tim Berners-Lee. He would go on to build the first website at Cern two years later, yet he did not cash in on either creation. Berners-Lee now has a net worth of $50 million, earned through consultancy and public-speaking but by making the internet free to use he allowed others to make their own fortune online for little or no cost.
Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs started young, proving that talent is far more important than age in the world of computing (Gates built his first computer programme in his early teens). They also demonstrated that creativity and a willingness to break the rules are both vital components of success. This unrestricted attitude has led many computer geniuses into trouble, though; Mark Zuckerberg was famously sued by the Winklevoss twins for breaking an oral contract. Even the young Bill Gates’ talents got him into hot water – during his teens he was banned by the Computer Center Corporation for exploiting the operating system to obtain free computer time.
Today, thanks to these sorts of enterprising and rebellious forces, the internet has become an invaluable resource and a way for many young entrepreneurs to make millions. While the internet opens up the possibility for new services that we could never have imagined wanting or needing twenty years ago, those promising inventors with a great idea for a new amenity can now utilise online platforms to bring their concept to life. Whether it’s improving the ways in which we communicate with one another, tapping into a niche market or connecting those with similar interests, making money online has never been easier. Unlike other sectors, red tape remains largely absent from the web, permitting potential business owners to take a risk and try something innovative without bureaucratic restrictions. And unlike traditional sectors, this is a young person’s game; it’s increasingly the younger generation that has the know-how, the innovation and the freedom to really make things happen online.
So from social media giants to video game geniuses, from browser creators to artistic thinkers, here are the top-10 youngest online entrepreneurs.
10. Greg Tseng and Johann Schleier-Smith, both 28, $45 Million
Back in 2004 Greg and Johann founded ‘Tagged’, reportedly hoping it would become a ‘Teen Yahoo! or ‘the next MTV’. 10 years on, the two are just 28 years old and the site boasts over 300 million members and 11 million unique monthly users. ‘Tagged’ is a ‘social discovery site’ which combines the social media element of building profiles with gaming. Although the website was originally teen-only, in 2006 it was opened up to all ages and by 2008 it was turning a profit. Nowadays ‘Tagged’ is also available as an app, so you can meet new people and play games on the go.
9. Jake Nickell, 29, $50 Million
‘Threadless’ was founded by Jake on a budget of a mere $1000, beginning as a t-shirt design company back in 2000. The company immediately gained recognition for its use of crowd-sourced designs; users were invited to post their T-shirt designs on the website and the best designs were then printed onto t-shirts. By 2002 a voting system had been implemented and design choice became fully democratic, marking out ‘Threadless’ as a maverick of the fashion marketplace. The website now boasts the tagline ‘make great together’ and has expanded beyond t-shirts to a range of clothing, as well as phone cases and wall art prints.
8. Alexander Levin, 24, $56 Million
Levin launched ‘Imageshack’ back in 2003 as an image hosting website where users could upload images to be transformed into PNG format (which could then be hot-linked onto websites and message boards). The website was incredibly popular and through subscriptions and advertising Levine was able to make millions of dollars before he could even legally buy a beer, having created the idea aged only 17. To found the website he collaborated with Jack, his older brother, (who had previously worked as a Google engineer). Since the success of ‘Imageshack’ Levin has launched several satellite projects including ‘Yfrog’ (which allows images and videos to be easily shared over Twitter) and SkyPath (an app which synchronises your Imageshack account and your iPhone’s photo library).
7. John Vechey, 29, $60 Million
Since Vechey founded the site in 2000, ‘PopCap Games’ has become one of the leading creators in ‘easy-to-learn, irresistible games that everyone can enjoy’. The company has gained recognition for hit games such as ‘Bejeweled’ and ‘Plants Vs. Zombies’. ‘Bejewled’ was its flagship title and has sold over 50 million units across a variety of platforms (on average selling a copy every 4.3 seconds). Vechey sought to create games for internet sites and since 2006 has had an agreement with Valve’s ‘Steam’ content delivery system. In 2011 EA bought PopCap for the impressive sum of $650 million.
6. Angelo Sotira, 27, $75 Million
Angelo founded ‘Deviantart’ back in 2000 with Scott Jarkoff and Matthew Stephens. The site now offers artists a way to freely exhibit and discuss work. Originally the site was launched as part of the Dmusic network; however it flourished on its own through the involvement of its members (known as ‘deviants’) and was independent by 2001. The site originally focused on the work of those who modified computer applications for their own purposes, however it started to move towards its current incarnation as an artistic community in 2006 when users were able to submit work under ‘Creative Commons’ licenses. The site now boasts a wide range of categories including: ‘Motion Books’, ‘Anthro’, ‘Community Projects’ and ‘Artisan Crafts’.
5. Andrew Michael, 30, $120 Million
‘Fasthosts’ was originally started by Andrew as part of a high school project, back when he was only 17. By 2002 (after being a limited company for only 3 years) it was listed by The Sunday Times as the 2nd fastest technology company in the UK. The website specialises in hosting services for small businesses as was as providing internet access. Although Andrew sold the service to ‘United Internet’ back in 2006 for £61.5 million he stayed on as CEO for another 3 years. Nowadays, ‘Fasthosts’ provides domain names, cloud computing and email hosting (amongst other services).
4. Blake Ross & David Hyatt, 23, $120 Million
Mozilla Firefox may have begun as an experiment for Mozilla, however Ross and Hyatt succeeded in creating a viable ‘stand-alone browser’. It was originally named ‘Phoenix’, then ‘Firebird’, however trademark conflicts and controversies led to the selection of the now easily recognisable ‘Firefox’. ‘Firefox’ is now the most popular web browser in a variety of countries and in January was reported as holding a 20% share of desktop browsers. Ross went on to work at Facebook, whilst Hyatt now works for Apple and was partially responsible for the ‘Safari’ web browser used by Apple Macs.
3. Chad Hurley, 31, $300 Million
Along with Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, Chad Hurley founded what is now one of the world’s most recognisable websites, YouTube. Amazingly – given its impact and universality – the site is less than 10 years old (founded in 2005). Within a year of its launch, YouTube was one of the fastest growing sites on the internet (with over 65, 000 videos uploaded a day in July 2006). By November 2006, still less than two years after the domain was activated, the company was bought by Google for an amazing $1.65 billion. By 2010 Hurley stepped down as chief executive officer and in 2013 he launched a new company with Steve Chen (‘Mix Bit’) providing video editing services through smart phones.
2. Andrew Gower, 29, $650 Million
‘Runescape’ was released by Andrew Gower and his brother Paul back in 2001 and now has over 200 million accounts (earning it the Guinness World Record for the largest free MMORPG, as well as the most updated game). The game is based in the medieval fantasy realm of ‘Gielinor’ which players can freely explore, attempting to complete quests or build skills. Although fights take places against monsters, as opposed to between players, there is an interactive element to the game as users can trade with one-another and play collaborative mini-games. Because the game is free to play, advertising banners are used to generate revenue and players can spend ‘real-world currency’ in order to gain ‘Rune Coins’ to be spent in the game. Gower no longer has holdings in the company and is not listed on the ‘RuneScape’ credits as he has moved on to develop a futuristic sci-fi game.
1.Mark Zuckerberg, 28, $31.6 Billion
Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of Facebook has now been immortalised by the Oscar-winning film ‘The Social Network’. During his time at Harvard, Zuckerberg studied psychology and computer science and wrote student-based programmes including ‘CourseMatch’ (which helped students select classes and form study groups) and ‘Facemash’ (which allowed students to rank their peers by physical appearance). ‘Facemash’ was to gain Zuckerberg an infamous reputation on campus, shutting down Harvard’s network switches through its popularity and raising ethical questions as students complained about the misuse of their pictures. The following semester Zuckerberg launched ‘Thefacebook’, a project which he would eventually leave Harvard to focus on. Ten years later, Facebook has made Zuckerberg one of the most influential people in the world. Last year the website’s net income was recorded as $1.5 billion and there are over 1.3 billion active Facebook users every month.