Posted on August 6, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |
Every now and again, I come across a great story about a young entrepreneur.
In the world of Web 2.0, now 18 year-old Ashley Qualls is perhaps one of the most notable. Her MySpace layouts website, Whateverlife.com, reportedly pulls in a nice 5-figure amount each month in advertising revenue and made Qualls a millionaire before she turned 18. She paid $250,000 cash for her home at the age of 17.
Not bad for what started out as a hobby and not bad for an average teenage girl living in Michigan.
But according to TechCrunch, 15 year-old “entrepreneur” Daniel Brusilovsky is the type of young entrepreneur worth watching.
What has this budding wunderkind done to impress TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid?
His new “startup,” Teens in Tech (which is currently offline), is “a community for teenagers interested in producing and sharing new media content in a safe environment.” Believers include Web 2.0 A-listers like Robert Scoble and Loic Le Meur, who are on the Teens in Tech advisory board. True to form, Scoble discovered Brusilovsky last year.
Chris Albrecht of GigaOm loves Brusilovsky too:
…don’t let his age fool you; he’s got the executive lingo down pat. He’s raising his first round of funding, meeting with lawyers, and name-dropping the likes of Loic Le Meur and Robert Scoble (both of whom are on his board). Oh, and when he’s not CEO’ing, Brusilovsky is crashing industry events as an evangelist for mobile vidcasting service Qik.
Unfortunately for Brusilovsky and his supporters, Teens in Tech is little more than an installation of the multi-user version of WordPress, which anyone can download and use for free. And the Teens in Tech offer - a subdomain, WordPress blog and 100MB of storage - probably isn’t going to appeal to teens interested in technology for an obvious reason: there is no shortage of tech-savvy teens who already run their own websites and who are capable of doing what Brusilovsky has done.
This makes Brusilovsky’s belief that “while there are a number of sites that allow teens to post their content, they don’t make it easy for users to get started” quite curious.
Even Kincaid admits that Brusilovsky’s “startup” has challenges:
From a technical standpoint Teens In Tech will be fighting an uphill battle. The site is using Dreamhost, a cheap service that most companies wouldn’t go near with a ten foot stick, as its storage provider. And to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t seem like there’s much new code behind Teens in Tech - the backend is a mostly standard Wordpress multi-user install, similar to what runs on the commercial Wordpress.com site. Brusilovsky says that his team has made some adjustments and that the front page will display dynamic member updates, but for the most part, it seems like a few experienced developers could replicate the site in a week or less.
Yet, Kincaid is a still for some reason a believer and states that “given enough resources, I wouldn’t be surprised if Daniel manages to pull this thing off.”
Sure thing. Let’s assemble an all-star advisory board, give the kid $10 million and watch Teens in Tech thrive. .
While some overly harsh criticisms were directed at Brusilovsky in the comments left on TechCrunch there’s a lot of back-patting going on as well.
Let’s be honest - nothing Daniel Brusilovsky has done is innovative or even mildly intriguing. There are plenty of teens capable of duplicating his efforts, there are plenty of teens who have accomplished more and there are plenty of teens running real businesses that make real cash.
While Brusilovsky should not be discouraged from pursuing his entrepreneurial endeavors, patronizing him, lavishing him with undue praise and feeding him bullshit isn’t going to do him any good in the long-run. One need look no further than the impact of the “Self-Esteem Movement” to see what happens when children and teenagers are sheltered from reality.
Brusilovsky may be a fine networker and while there is some truth to the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” Brusilovsky would be wise to recognize that making the rounds at TechCrunch events and hob-knobbing with people like Robert Scoble will not lead him to real success. After all, most of the people he’s met in Silicon Valley probably have less in the bank than Whateverlife.com’s Qualls.
The truth is that entrepreneurs achieve real success by creating products and services that people want and/or need and doing so in a manner that creates tangible financial value. This applies whether you’re a 15 year-old entrepreneur or a 50 year-old entrepreneur.
While the former may get more attention and forgiveness than the latter, at the end of the day, markets reward new companies based on what they achieve, not based on how old their founders are.
Like so many entrepreneurial teens, I don’t doubt that Brusilovsky is ambitious with a lot of passion and potential.
But his “advisors” would be doing him a true favor by giving him some realistic advice instead of patronizing him and like a cool personal project.
Of course, Brusilovsky’s experience isn’t all that unexpected. He lives in Silicon Valley and both of his parents work in the technology industry (his father apparently works for one of the companies he’s “worked” for and his mother apparently works at Oracle). Compare this to Qualls, who never had the advantage of family members in the industry or family members with cash to invest:
Ashley is different from the recent crop of high-profile teen entrepreneurs. True, her eighth-grade class did vote her “most likely to succeed,” but it’s safe to say they were predicting 20 or 30 years out, not three years removed from middle school. She created her company almost by accident and without the resources that typically give young novices a leg up. Catherine Cook, 17, started myYearbook.com by teaming up with her older brother, a Harvard grad and Internet entrepreneur. Ben Casnocha, the 19-year-old founder of software company Comcate and author of the new memoir My Start-Up Life, is the son of a San Francisco lawyer and has tapped Silicon Valley brains and bank accounts.
Ashley had no connections. No business professionals in the family. No rich aunt or uncle. In the working-class community of downriver Detroit, south of downtown and the sprawling Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan, she bounced back and forth between her divorced parents, neither of whom attended college. Her father is a machinist, her mother, until recently, a retail data collector for ACNielsen. “My mom still doesn’t understand how I do it,” Ashley says. To be fair, she did go to her mother for the initial investment: $8 to register the domain name. Ashley still hasn’t spent a dime on advertising.
In the final analysis, it’s worth considering that while Daniel Brusilovsky has been running around Silicon Valley meeting people and trying to turn an uninteresting “startup” that isn’t likely to succeed into a newsworthy business by associating himself with people like Scoble and Le Meur, Ashley Qualls has probably cashed 6-figures worth of checks.
Despite all this, Whateverlife.com and Ashley Qualls haven’t been featured on TechCrunch or Scobleizer. Perhaps for Daniel Brusilovsky and other budding Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, there’s a lesson to be found in that.
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