A south London schoolboy has launched an Apple iPhone app this week, after raising $1m (£620,000) from investors before his 17th birthday.
Nick D’Aloisio, who lives with his family and still gets an allowance every month, developed the app, Summly, in between revising for his mock GCSEs last year.
Summly condenses news articles into three key paragraphs that fit onto an
iPhone screen. Users can customise the news categories, and link to the
original article if they like the summary. A prototype attracted an
investment of around $300,000 in November 2011 from Horizons
Ventures , the private technology investment company of Hong Kong
billionaire Li Ka-shing also a backer of Facebook, Siri and Spotify.
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The investment arrived on Nick’s 16th birthday making him one of the youngest people ever to attract venture capital funding. Other backers include the celebrities Ashton Kutcher, Stephen Fry and Yoko Ono.
The prototype was downloaded more than 150,000 times and was chosen by Apple as its App of the Week in the UK and other countries. A company was created behind the app, and Nick teamed up with experts in London, and the Stanford Research Institute, to work on the technology and design.
Nick’s mother, a full-time lawyer, became a director and owns shares on his behalf.
“I designed Summly because I felt that my generation wasn’t consuming traditional news anymore,” said Nick.
The schoolboy, who plans to return to King’s College School in Wimbledon after
the launch, created other apps before Summly. FaceMood, for example, took
someone’s Facebook status and analysed it to decide the mood of the user.
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Nick, who taught himself to code aged 12, said: “I’m described as a net native, so I was born when the internet was founded and have only known a world with internet.
“Young people are just not aware of the constraints, so why not go build a social network, for example?”
He added: “I was using Google and Bing and there were so many results to scroll through it was really inefficient.
“So I built an algorithm that shared them and trimmed them. Then it just transformed into the idea of: 'why not just summarise news in general?’.”
Wearing bright green jeans, a white shirt and brown velvet jacket, his phone constantly pinging up emails and text messages, Nick admitted the past year had been “surreal”.
“The reality hasn’t sunk in, I’ve just been focused on building the product,” he said.
“My friends treat me the same, so do my parents. I have a girlfriend. I keep in touch with my school.
“But instead of coming home from school, I come home from work at 6pm. And instead of homework, I’m reading emails or testing the product. I get just as stressed with Summly as I did with exams.”
Nick has taken time off from his studies to launch the app, but plans to return to complete his education.
He would like to study philosophy or history at university.
His age, he said, was “irrelevant” to investors because “at the end of the day, they’re judging the product.
“We’ve pushed the boundaries of how good these summaries are they really feel like a human has written them, but it’s totally automatic.”
“A year ago I was dreaming of this but to see it manifested is amazing. It’s
been a really fun journey so far and hopefully there’s a long way to go.”
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