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Nick D'Aloisio, 17, suddenly rich, famous after Yahoo buys Summly

March 25, 2013|By Jessica Guynn
  • British teen Nick D'Aloisio has sold his popular news-reading mobile app to Yahoo for close to $30 million.
British teen Nick D'Aloisio has sold his popular news-reading mobile… (Kevin Abosch )

SAN FRANCISCO -- Meet Nick D'Aloisio, the 17-year-old British entrepreneur sensation who just sold his popular news-reading app to Yahoo Inc. for close to $30 million, instantly becoming one of the world's youngest self-made technology millionaires.

It's the classic Silicon Valley success story of a young software prodigy striking it ridiculously big. But this time it's unfolding on the other side of the pond.

D'Aloisio, who taught himself to write software at the age of 12, built the free iPhone app Summly that automatically summarizes news stories for small screens in his London bedroom in 2011. He was just 15.

Soon he had backing from Horizons Ventures, the venture capital arm of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing and big names such as Zynga's Mark Pincus and actor Ashton Kutcher. (He also found a mentor and investor in Stephen Fry. They made this fun promo video together.)

Before it was pulled from the app store on Monday following the announcement of the Yahoo deal, the app had been downloaded nearly 1 million times. It had deals with 250 online publishers including News Corp. and 10 employees in London.

"To me, Yahoo is the best company to be joining right now because it's one of these classic Internet companies. With new leadership from Marissa Mayer, Yahoo has a strong focus on mobile and product, and that's the perfect fit for Summly," D'Aloisio said in an interview.

Mayer has focused on mobile technology to revive Yahoo's lagging fortunes, snapping up a number of promising mobile startups as much for their personnel as for the innovation. In D'Aloisio, Yahoo is getting someone who truly thinks in mobile.

"It started with an insight -- that we  live in a world of constant information and need new ways to simplify how we find the stories that are important to us, at a glance. Mobile devices are shifting our daily routines and users have changed not only what, but how much information they consume. Yet most articles and Web pages were formatted for browsing with mouse clicks. The ability to skim them on a phone or a tablet can be a real challenge  -- we want easier ways to identify what’s important to us," Yahoo mobile chief Adam Cahan said. "Summly solves this by delivering snapshots of stories, giving you a simple and elegant way to find the news you want, faster than ever before."

D'Aloisio will join Yahoo's London office while continuing his studies and living at home with his parents. He says Yahoo plans to integrate Summly into all sorts of mobile experiences.

"The real idea is to take the core of the technology and find different fits for it and make it as ubiquitous as possible on the Web," he said. "We want to take summarization and build beautiful content experiences around it."

He says his parents –- his dad is an energy financier, his mother is a lawyer -- will help him manage the financial windfall but that he was not driven to the deal by dollar signs.

"Technology has really been the driver behind this whole deal," he said. "I can’t wait to see how it plays out at Yahoo."

The sudden flash of worldwide media attention has been a bit overwhelming, he said. But not in a bad way.

"It's been an absolutely awesome experience," D'Aloisio said. "I'd love to do it again someday with another company."

Spoken like a true entrepreneur.

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