A British schoolboy’s hobby has turned him into one of the youngest self-made multi-millionaires in the world.
Yahoo! announced on Monday that Nick D’Aloisio, 17, had sold his news-condensing mobile app Summly to the US tech giant for an undisclosed sum, reported to be £20m ($30m).
“It was frightening. It was a hobby, I didn’t expect this to happen. But at the same time, I had nothing to lose: I was a 15-year-old“
– Nick D’Aloisio
D’Aloisio created Summly when he was 15 as “a hobby” while revising for a history exam in London and it attracted financial backers including US actor Ashton Kutcher and Japanese artist Yoko Ono, widow of Beatles singer John Lennon.
The teenager hopes the Yahoo! deal will see the technology behind Summly reach an audience of “hundreds of millions of potential users”.
D’Aloisio said that there were no copyright concerns about Summly, which works by running a statistical analysis of the text to guess which bits are the most relevant to cut the content down.
He said international media companies such as News Corporation had collaborated on making their content more Summly friendly and that shortening software would ultimately be a win-win for content providers.
“We’re introducing their content to a new, younger demographic,” he said.
“You like the summary, you read the whole story; it increases publisher viewership.”
The London teen’s tech journey began at the age of “nine or 10” when his parents bought him his first laptop.
He taught himself how to video edit and before long moved on to programming.
D’Aloisio built apps during school holidays at his home in Wimbledon, south London, and launched his first iPhone app, a “workout for fingers” called Finger Mill, when he was 12 years old.
Others followed, including music app SongStumblr and Facemood, which attempted to predict a user’s mood based on their Facebook status updates.
His breakthrough came in 2011 when D’Aloisio launched Summly’s forerunner Trimit, which cut down long web articles to tweet-length summaries.
The app received positive reviews from tech blogs and quickly racked up tens of thousands of downloads.
It gained the attention of business people including Asia’s richest man, Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing and his representatives soon emailed D’Aloisio.
But D’Aloisio ignored the message because he did not know what to do.
Two days later he was “stunned” when Li’s people approached him again, and D’Aloisio agreed to a phone call.
“They didn’t know I was a 15-year-old, so I had to explain that,” he said.
“It was frightening. It was a hobby, I didn’t expect this to happen. But at the same time, I had nothing to lose: I was a 15-year-old.”
Li invested $300,000 in Trimit. D’Aloisio used the cash to develop the algorithm the app used to identify the key topics in a news article, working with scientists at Stanford University among others.
Summly officially launched on D’Aloisio’s 17th birthday in November last year.
D’Aloisio will start work at Yahoo!’s London office in the next few weeks and will study for his A-Levels “outside office hours”.
“I’ll be integrating the Summly technology into different areas we feel are appropriate for Yahoo!, and more broadly helping them with their mobile product design,” he said of his new job.
D’Aloisio will continue to live with his parents, who are “very enthusiastic” about his success.
But he said: “I still get in trouble if I don’t have my room tidy.”
D’Aloisio said his big payout was being kept in a trust until he turned 18, but he plans to save or invest the money.
The deal is Yahoo’s fifth small acquisition in the past five months.
All have been part of chief executive Marissa Mayer’s effort to attract more engineers with expertise in building services for smartphones and tablet computers, an area that she believes the internet company had neglected.