Summly’s teenaged founder says he wants to help make Yahoo great again

Nick D'Aloisio

Nick D’Aloisio just agreed to sell his mobile news-reading startup Summly to Yahoo for a rumored $30 million — which wouldn’t be that unusual, except for the fact that D’Aloisio is 17 years old. But while many seem to be assuming the young entrepreneur will take his windfall and flee the faded internet portal as soon as he possibly can, D’Aloisio said in an interview that he has no intention of doing this — on the contrary, he says he wants to stay and help Yahoo capitalize on its strengths and find a way to return it to greatness.

The young Brit created Summly to try and help solve the problem of consuming news content on a mobile device (something a number of others are focusing on as well, including San Francisco-based Circa). The app created machine-generated summaries of news articles, and D’Aloisio said in a phone call from London that he wants to see what Yahoo can do by applying the same kind of algorithmic approach to some of the company’s other news and entertainment content:

“It’s going to be a really fun journey. To see where we can take our technology with Yahoo’s focus on mobile under Marissa Mayer will be really exciting… there is so much opportunity to take these daily habits like weather, news, stocks and sports and use technologies like Summly to really turn them into an A-star experience. And I want to be there for as long as I feel is necessary to get Summly and Yahoo really doing well with mobile.”

Yahoo has a chance, D’Aloisio says

Although Yahoo has been criticized by many (including us) for being too large and slow to adapt to the new age of digital content, D’Aloisio said that he is excited about joining the company, and thinks that Yahoo under Marissa Mayer has a chance to be great again:

“Definitely with the approach they are taking at the moment — they’re moving at light speed, and it’s really exciting to be joining the company at this stage, because there’s so much opportunity in the next 12 to 24 months to take technologies like Summly and the other assets they have, like the newsroom and all of this content, and take it to the larger mainstream.”

The Summly founder said that while many see Yahoo as an also-ran, he thinks the company still has a chance to take advantage of the millions of users it has:

“Yahoo to me, as the founder of a company, is one of the biggest opportunities you could have — it’s one of those classic internet companies… the fact is that they have massive leverage in the industry, they have hundreds of millions of people coming to their content every month, and it’s really exciting to be building for that scale. That’s the exciting thing — it’s the scale that Yahoo brings, and that user base, that I really want to build products for.”

A “surreal journey” at times

D’Aloisio also admitted that he was surprised at how something that began as a hobby has turned out, and how much he has accomplished at such a young age:

“It’s a surreal journey. I guess I always saw this as a hobby — it’s just a passion of mine. And the fact that it’s [resulted in] an acquisition is something I never expected… and it wouldn’t have been possible without Horizon Ventures and Li Ka-shing, who took a gamble on me as a teenager. I really owe it to them and to everyone who has been by my side supporting me.”

The young entrepreneur said he has had a number of learning experiences along the way — including one described in a Gizmodo post from 2011 entitled “How I Made a 15-Year-Old App Developer Cry” — but added that it has been “a really incredible journey,” and he is looking forward to the next chapter with Marissa Mayer and Yahoo. One thing is for sure: If everyone at the company was as eager as D’Aloisio seems to be, the company would have no reason to fear the future.

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