Before there was Facebook, during the time of Myspace, there was also Gaia Online. This is where I made my small, virtual fortune.

I was in third grade when I had my first computer all to myself. My grandfather, always needing the latest and greatest desktop, passed out his unwanted technology like candy. By middle school I got my hands on a copy of Adobe Photoshop (version 7) and learned how to color digitally—first with coloring book pages, then with my own line art. I also frequented this fun forum website called Gaia Online, where people had avatars, participated in writing games (play-by-post roleplaying), and liked to personalize their signatures with photos and quotes.

Every action taken on Gaia, such as browsing different pages or posting in the forums, earned a virtual currency called “gold.” This was originally intended to enable users to purchase items to dress their individual avatars, but soon the artists subsection of the forums began to flourish with trades of real artwork for this virtual currency. One type of art for sale that became immensely popular was signature pets.

Creating “evolving artwork.”

Signature pet shop owners would provide their customers with a specific HTML code to put in their forum signatures. This would enable the image to display at the end of each post a user makes. The pets would often start as an egg (or some sort of baby form) and after a determined or undetermined amount of days “evolve” to their next form. It would surprise and delight the customers or “owners” to return to the site the next day and see their pet had grown a la tamagotchi style (without the feeding and cleaning up digital poop).

The market for these pets was booming. Like the items the avatars wore, having a certain type of pet in your signature became a status symbol. So, having built up skill with Photoshop and a passion for drawing and creating, I decided to open a pet shop of my own.

Working retail online before my first job IRL (in real life).

starkit

“StarKits” was the name of my digital storefront, or basically my first company. I designed beautiful signage and came up with consistent branding that utilized a specific color palette, fonts, design elements, and so on. The concept was crafted around one of my favorite things, stars. We (yes we, I hired staff!) initially offered one 3-form pet that shared the name of the shop. As popularity grew, we then offered accessories that could be layered onto the artwork. Shortly after came mini-pets. On top of growing our offerings, we worked to streamline our production process by hiring an individual to create layer masks for the highlights and shading. This made it so that coloring each pet would only take the click of a fill bucket and a little bit of accenting with a brush.

I quickly became the Gaia-world equivalent of a millionaire by the time I was thirteen.

Then, as all good entrepreneurs do, I sold the shop while it was in it’s prime in order to pursue a new idea. StarKits is no longer active, but was recorded to have had over 130 sales in just a few years time. The new shop that I left to create, and eventually sold off as well, had over 70 sales when it was active.

Years down the road, by the time I opened a new store to be paid in real money, I had forgotten about the prior experience I had on Gaia Online. StarKits is not something I have ever put on my resume or talked about in person. Yet it provided me with a plethora of experience in organization, product design, managing others, and customer communication. Back then I thought I was just having fun!

Because of this, I thought it was a fitting story to share as the first blog post on staceychampagne.com, to allow readers and potential clients the opportunity to learn a little more about exactly when I got started in this field.

Thinking back into your childhood, are there any moments where you may have gained valuable experience for your career, but you were unaware at the time? Share in the comments section below!

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