It is quite strange to believe on such a fact. But it is true that one of Yahoo’s newest employees is a 17-year-old high school student in Britain. As of now, he is one of its richest, too.
This British student, Nick D’Aloisio, is a programmer of the little age. He has sold his news-reading app, Summly, to the company on Monday for a sum said to be in the tens of millions of dollars. Yahoo said it would incorporate his algorithmic invention, which takes long-form stories and shortens them for readers using smartphones, in its own mobile apps, with Mr. D’Aloisio’s help.
“I’ve still got a year and a half left at my high school,” he said in a telephone interview on Monday. But he will make arrangements to test out of his classes and work from the Yahoo office in London, partly to abide by the company’s new and much-debated policy that prohibits working from home.
Athough D’Aloisio has declined to comment on the price paid by Yahoo (the technology news site AllThingsD pegged the purchase price at about $30 million), was Summly’s largest shareholder.
Summly’s other investors are Wendi Murdoch, Ashton Kutcher and Yoko Ono. The most important one was Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong billionaire, who gave investment fund that supported D’Aloisio’s idea early on, before it was even called Summly.
“They took a gamble on me when I was a 15-year-old,” Mr. D’Aloisio said, by providing seed financing that let him hire employees and lease office space.
The fund read about Mr. D’Aloisio’s early-stage app on TechCrunch, the Silicon Valley blog of record, found his e-mail address and startled him with a message expressing interest.
The others signed up later. “Because it was my first time around, people just wanted to help,” he said.
Among the attributes that helped D’Aloisio, he said, was a preternatural ability to articulate exactly what he wanted Summly to be. “There were no umms, no uhhs, no hesitations, no insecurities,” Wong said.
D’Aloisio, for his part, sounded somewhat uninterested in answering questions about his age on Monday. He acknowledged that it was an advantage in some pitch meetings, and certainly in the news media, “but so was the strength of the idea.” He was more eager to talk about his new employer, Yahoo, which is trying to reinvent itself as a mobile-first technology company (having dropped the digital media tagline it used before Marissa Mayer became chief executive last year).
“People are kind of underestimating how powerful it’s going to become and how much opportunity is there,” he said.
D’Aloisio’s father works at Morgan Stanley, and his mother is a lawyer. They both do not even have a taste of technology and had no special knowledge about this. But they nurtured their son’s attraction with it and he started coding at age 12. Eventually he decided to develop an app with what he calls an “automatic summarisation algorithm,” one that “can take pre-existing long-form content and summarise it.” In other words, it tries to solve a problem that is often summed up with the abbreviation tl;dr: “too long; didn’t read.”
Yahoo said in a statement that while the Summly app would be shut down, “we will acquire the technology and you’ll see it come to life throughout Yahoo’s mobile experiences soon.”
D’Aloisio, though, will have plenty of time to prove his and his algorithm’s worth. As for the sizable paycheck from Yahoo, he said he did not have any specific plans for the sudden windfall. “It’s going to be put into a trust fund and my parents will help manage it,” he said.
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