Not all entrepreneurs are successful. Some have bad ideas. Some have less business acumen than a toddler. Others have both business sense and ideas, but are cursed with bad luck. And then there are entrepreneurs like Tom Anderson. So good was his idea, and so good was his ability to bring that idea to fruition, he’s now sat on a net worth that Celebrity Net Worth estimates to be in the region of $60 million. If you were young (or just liked to think you were) in the early noughties, that figure won’t come as too much of a surprise. Anderson is the founder of MySpace, the social networking site that managed to tap into the zeitgeist and become a cultural phenomenon in the process. It may have been consigned to the pages of history in the years since, but back in its heyday, MySpace was pulling in over 200 million users. At its peak, it was estimated to be worth around $12 billion.
But Anderson wasn’t just the brains behind the operation, he was its face. He was everybody’s first MySpace friend, and the first person people pictured when they heard the brand’s name. The famous display photograph of him smiling in a white t-shirt became as synonymous with MySpace as its logo, worming its way into the cultural psyche and turning Anderson into one of tech’s first big stars. But that was then and this is now. Since MySpace left the scene, we’ve seen a hundred social media sites come and go. So, why do the names MySpace and Tom Anderson still resonate with us today? Why do we still remember that smiling face and white t-shirt quite so fondly? And how has someone who hasn’t worked for over a decade (as far as we know and he’s claiming, in any case) managed to achieve a net worth of $60 million?
The Early Years
Anderson was born on November 8, 1970 in Escondido, California. As a kid, he started to get into tech in a big way. By the time he hit his teens, he was hacking into systems under the pseudonym “Lord Flathead”. For a while, no one seemed that bothered, but when he managed to crack the security of Chase Manhattan Bank, people (by which we mean the FBI) started to sit up and take notice. A full-blown raid on the Anderson home followed. Fortunately, Anderson managed to evade prosecution on account of only being 14 at the time.
After the raid, Anderson backed off on the hacking and started concentrating on his studies. The strategy paid off, and after graduating high school, he won a place studying English and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. After leaving Berkeley, he spent a brief period as the lead singer of a band called Swank and an even briefer period living in Taiwan. After returning to the US, he took up a graduate place at the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating in 2000 with an M.A. in film. But while Anderson may have put his hacking days behind him, he’d never lost his interest in the tech world. When it came time to start looking for a job, there was only one sector he was interested in.
A Fortuitous Meeting
While he was studying film at Los Angeles, Anderson started looking for a way of making a bit of extra cash. After answering a flyer ad for a position at a digital storage company called XDrive, he landed a job as a product tester. He liked the company enough to stay on after college, and it was while working there that he happened to meet and make friends with a guy called Chris DeWolfe – the very same Chris DeWolfe that he would go on to create MySpace with. When XDrive went bankrupt in 2001, Anderson and DeWolfe decided to go it alone. Their first attempt to make it as entrepreneurs came with the direct marketing company ResponseBase. A year after launch, they sold it to Brad Greenspan’s eUniverse for an undisclosed sum.
By then, the year was 2002, or, as the kids were calling it, the year of Friendster. Now remembered as the original social network, Friendster was a revolution. It opened up new ways of interacting, new ways of discovering new bands, new ways of sharing information. After cottoning on to how big Friendster was becoming, Anderson, DeWolfe, and a few of their friends from eUniverse set about emulating it. The result was MySpace, a social networking site that mined all the best bit of Friendster and left the annoying parts to them. As meaww.com notes, by allowing people to choose nicknames and aliases, the platform managed to set itself apart from other sites and quickly develop a loyal following. Just how huge that following would become, however, few could have guessed.
The Rise and Fall of MySpace
MySpace was like nothing that had been seen before. Within just three short years of its launch, it was the most popular social media site in the US. So bright did the MySpace star burn, it started attracting the attention of more than just its users. In 2005, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought up the company for $580 million. For MySpace, it was a huge achievement. But for Anderson, it was a mixed blessing. After staying on as the company’s president after the acquisition, he soon began butting horns with the new owners. “We don’t own the site anymore,” he complained to Fortune. “Before, I could do whatever I wanted. Now it takes more time to get people to agree on things. All the budget reviews and processes. That can be a pain.”
But soon, budget reviews and processes were the least of his worries. By 2008, MySpace’s fortunes were on the decline. Facebook had entered the scene, and users were leaving MySpace for it in their droves. By 2009, Anderson had had enough. With his fortune already made, he decided to quit tech and concentrate on enjoying the fruits of his labor. 11 years later, he’s still at it.
The Happy Retirement
Since officially quitting MySpace in 2009, Anderson has been enjoying a quiet retirement away from the headlines. As well as taking up amateur photography, he’s developed an interest in distressed real estate, and has by all accounts made quite the killing on flipping properties in Las Vegas. But he’s not entirely ruled out a return to the business world at some point. “I’ll never say ‘never’ because, more than anything, I like the idea that anything can happen. I don’t know exactly where my life will lead. Adventure and the unknown have always been appealing to me,” he’s said to abcnews.go.com. But for now, he’s in no rush. And who can blame him? With $60 million in the bank, neither would we be.