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Summary:

Peter Thiel may be advising entrepreneurial kids to drop out of university to focus on building their ideas – but not everyone thinks the same way. Wunderkind app maker Nick D’Aloisio told me he still wanted to go to college, and explained why.

Nick D'Aloisio

Last December when Om bumped into teenage entrepreneur Nick D’Aloisio of Summly, he was pretty impressed — so much so, in fact, that he dubbed him “the internet’s newest boy genius”. That led to an avalanche of media attention and opportunities to meet the likes of Jony Ive and Yoko Ono.

After a crazy six months, D’Aloisio’s still working on his app — which summarizes stories on the web for you — and last week I caught up with him on stage at London’s LeWeb conference to see how the whirlwind had treated him. And the answer? He’s still as smart as ever… and he’s kept his feet on the ground.

We spoke about the press (he’s had to cut back to focus on the product), his app’s relationships with publishers (good, so far) and, inevitably, school. He had been granted time off to work on Summly, but now he’s faced with a dilemma.

“Over the next few months I have to sit down and really just decide from a life perspective,” he said. “I still enjoy being among friends and in that school environment and so if there’s a compromise where I can be running the company a few days a week and also at school — as long as I can be eligible for university still, I think, I’m more than happy to commit a lot of my time right now.”

Why, though? School is great for some things — but many young entrepreneurs would be forgoing more education if they thought their business would work. Peter Thiel even hates university so much that he has been paying people $100,000 a year to drop out.

You could forgive somebody who had already raised $250,000 for his startup to think the same way. But D’Aloisio explained his thinking to me:

“I really enjoy, beyond computer science stuff, I enjoy philosophy and politics and history, and prior to all this stuff happening — which has been pretty crazy — I’d wanted to do PPE or something along those lines, and so I have a real interest in that and I feel like it would be great regardless of what happens in technology and what I do with Summly to keep that as an option.”

“It’s not like I need a university degree,” he said. “It’s more like I have a real genuine interest in philosophy and stuff and I’d like to one day study it in-depth.”

Judging by audience response, the talk was warmly appreciated — I’m sure more for Nick’s smart, switched-on and approachable manner than my interviewing skills. But if you’re interested, you can watch it and see for yourself.

  1. Tech Entrepreneurs – They’re Just Like Us! Can’t wait for the speculation about his baby bump.

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    1. Bobbie Johnson Monday, June 25, 2012

      Baby bump not visible yet, but you know how these celebrities like to hide it away. I’ve got somebody rifling through his garbage as we speak.

      I’m assuming of course that you watched the entire video and that’s your nuanced take on the discussion. But seriously, come on: I think that when there’s a meme in the entrepreneurial community to ditch college and focus on Building World-Changing Stuff (and for World-Changing Stuff feel free to substitute “profitable apps”) that Nick has his head screwed on and hasn’t become distracted. If you watch the video I think you might be surprised.

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      1. That’s a fair and gentlemanly response to my drive-by comment.

        I have seen the video. Nick is a very sharp and poised guy, and I hope Summly goes well. As it is right now, though, his age seems to be the most significant part of the story. Someday it might be a story about business or technology. I’d argue that day hasn’t yet come.

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