“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”, so said Ralph Waldo Emerson once upon a time. And it’s true. Innovation is a surefire way to succeed. Young people have always been able to see things in new and unconventional ways, and nowadays they’re in the best possible position to make their childlike dreams a reality.
We live in a world where young people have a noted advantaged over the older generation in terms of internet savvy, coding literacy and social media. As such, we’re seeing more and more young people making their fresh visions into lucrative businesses.
The trend arguably took off in the mid-1970s when both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had built tech empires by their early 20s.
A generation later came the Google guys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who forever changed the way we would access information when they were still students at Stanford. They were in their mid-20s. Then came Mark Zuckerberg, who introduced Facebook while still a student at Harvard University and became a billionaire by the age of 23.
Zuckerberg is probably the biggest digital entrepreneur celebrity of his generation. But many of his contemporaries, equally fresh-faced, have created some of the most important online interfaces in the world. The following are seven such whiz-kids, who made their fortunes before they even hit 30.
7. Matt Mullenweg, $40 million
Born in the same year as Zuckerberg, in 1984, Texas native Matt Mullenweg is best known for developing the dominant web software WordPress. WordPress was originally created because Matt himself needed a better publishing tool for the web.
As the CEO of Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com founded in 2005, Matt writes on his blog, “WordPress is a part of who I am. Like eating, breathing, music, I can’t not work on WordPress.”
Matt also supports new business via Audrey Capital, an angel investment and research company created to help innovative ideas grow. In 2013, WordPress was used by more than 23.2% of the top 10 million websites as of August 2013.
WordPress is the most popular blogging system in the world today with more than 60 million websites.
6. John Vechey, $60 million
When John Vechey made his way into computer games, neither Facebook nor the iPhone even existed.
Vechey dropped out of college in 1997 to work on a computer game with two friends. In 2000, this trio launched PopCap, a pioneer in the world’s gaming industry, boasting wildly popular titles including Bejeweled and Plants vs. Zombies.
Since PopCap’s beginnings in 2000, John Vechey has served in several roles, including interim CEO and VP of Corporate Strategy and Development, and has led the company’s forays into social and mobile product lines.
Vechey believes that PopCap’s secret to success is to “Build games so accessible that anyone can play.” They worked to make PopCap’s games incredibly fun and easy so that they appealed to everyone.
In 2011, Electronic Arts bought PopCap in the largest acquisition it has ever made. Electronic Arts, bought the company for $750 million in cash and stock. If PopCap hits certain earnings targets, its owners could reap in an additional $550 million. “Still, it’s not just about the money,” says Vechey. “It’s about the legacy of what you created,” he says.
John Vechey left the company in September 2014 after 15 years. Vechey said he plans to work more at Grist.org, a nonprofit environmental news site.
5. Angelo Sotira, $75 million
In 1996, at just 15 years of age, Angelo Sotira started a music file-sharing site called Dimension Music. He sold it to Michael Ovitz in 1999. Angelo worked the next two years at Ovitz’s Artist Management Group & Lynx Technology Group (Ovtiz’s Internet investment arm).
Born in 1981, Angelo considers himself to possess an “intense work style.”
DeviantArt began in 2000, co-founded by Angelo Sotira, Matthew Stephens and Scott Jarkoff. Today, it has grown into a hotbed of creativity and collaboration for all types of artists.
DeviantArt was started to service a community of graphic designers who didn’t have a place to congregate, share their work, and publish what they were doing. At that time, application skinning (changing the look of your apps) was becoming increasingly popular and many artists used DeviantArt as a place to showcase their “skins.”
DeviantArt enabled artists to publish original art to the web, collaborate with each other, comment on each other’s artwork and build a fan base to further promote the art.
It quickly expanded past “skins” into more than 2,500 categories of visual art with over 281 million individual works, all while allowing artists around the globe to connect and exchange feedback.
4. Blake Ross, $150 million
Almost 10 years ago, Blake Ross – in collaboration with Dave Hyatt – became one of the founding fathers of Mozilla Firefox, the popular global web browser.
Blake, born in 1985, is somewhat of a prodigy. He created his first website at the age of ten. He began programming while still in middle school and began contributing to Netscape very soon after it was open-sourced.
He worked as an intern at Netscape at the young age of 15, while attending high school. While interning at Netscape, Blake Ross became disillusioned with the browser he was working with at the time. He envisioned a smaller, easy-to-use browser that could have mass appeal.
Mozilla Firefox was released in 2004 and quickly became one of the biggest browsers in the world.
3. Andrew Michael, $195 million
At the young age of 17, internet “whiz kid” Andrew Michael walked out of St Edward’s School in England to concentrate on the Fasthosts business by which he would make his fortune.
Andrew realized how hard it was to find a host for a small business, so he had decided to start one himself. In 2013, Fasthosts was estimated to have 800,000 clients
Fasthosts was initially set up in 1998 and provided email and other web services to small business. It quickly became a giant in the industry. By 2002, Fasthosts was listed as the second fastest growing technology company in England. In 2013, Fasthosts was estimated to have 800,000 clients.
Andrew’s first luxury purchase, fulfilling his childhood dream of owning one, was a helicopter. Although he did buy one, he later sold it and says it is more convenient to charter one as and when he needs it.
2. Chad Hurley, $335 million
Born in 1977, Chad Hurley is the co-founder and former CEO of YouTube. Hurley collaborated with Steve Chen to create the brand in 2005. In 2006, he and Chen sold YouTube to Google for $1.65 billion in stock.
And in the summer of 2014, after 15 years of working together, first at PayPal and then at YouTube, these entrepreneurial co-founders parted ways. Steve Chen moved over to Google Ventures and Hurley is now focusing on MixBit.
MixBit is a new app that helps people create videos together. The app recently launched into a beta testing period to get people on the platform and obtain feedback. The concept of MixBit, an app that lets users record clips and then create videos collaboratively, may be ahead of its time, according to technology experts. But Chad faces the future with the same optimism and entrepreneur leadership he did with YouTube. Stay tuned.
1. Andrew Gower, $680 million
One of the most successful young entrepreneurs to cash in on the online gaming trend was Andrew Gower.
Gower is a British video game developer and co-founder of Jagex Games Studio, once listed as England’s largest independent developer and publisher of online games. It is best known for RuneScape, the world’s largest free-to-play MMORPG.
Since leaving Jagex in 2010, Gower has founded a new gaming development and consulting company, Fen Research. Currently, he’s developing a futuristic sci-fi strategy game named Solstrike to create groundbreaking new technology and products in the field of online games and user created content.
Not yet 40 years old, Andrew Gower’s net worth is currently estimated at $680 million.