Move over Brian Wong. You my have lost your title as the youngest-funded entrepreneur. The new contender is a 16-year-old kid who has raised $1 million for his news summary app. For the record, he was only 15 when he received his first chunk of that change.
Nick D’Alosio’s story starts like any high school kid’s might: on spring break. The London-based teenager was on vacation with his pals when he received an email from a group of investors in Hong Kong. D’Alosio admits he almost didn’t open it. “Who are these guys?,” he wondered. Turns out, “these guys” were from Li Ka Shing’s Horizons Ventures (the same Horizons Ventures that has invested in both Facebook and Spotify). Horizons wanted to know more about the news-summarizing app (then called Trimit) D'Alosio had built and released months earlier in the Apple’s UK App store.
“I had just signed on to Twitter and I was using their mobile app. The problem was, I noticed that I wasn’t clicking through to the full content--it took far too long to download and it just wasn’t optimized for mobile. I thought why not produce summaries,” D’Alosio says of the initial idea. The teen has been building applications since age 12.
With Horizon’s initial $300,000 investment a year ago--and its connections--D'Alosio was able to demo his app (now called Summly) to a small group of investors in December. That led to more funding from big names like Ashton Kutcher, Mark Pincus, Yoko Ono, and others.
“News on mobile is fundamentally broken,” D’Alosio explains. “It’s not the personalization element that needs to change--it’s the content. A lot of start-ups are trying to solve personalization, but this is a step beyond that. People are just fundamentally not interacting with the content itself, that’s the issue. We’ve tried to algorithmically come up with a solution."
D'Alosio has used the $1 million to hire "some serious scientists" to improve on his original algorithm.
The algorithm works by selecting words from a given article to build a summary that will perfectly fit onto the screen of your iPhone--no more scrolling to read or waiting to load. If you want to read the entire article after the summary, access to it is a swipe away.
Despite the fact that he now must worry about things like business plans and investors and that he's been named a digital wunderkind by some media outlets, D'Alosio says he still wants to finish high school and attend university.
“A lot of people my age are doing what I’m doing. They’re doing tech, but they’re still in school. It just so happens that the Hong Kong people got in touch with me, but otherwise I’m just like anyone else my age,” D’Alosio says. “I didn’t think I’d be able to build a company at all. I believed in the idea, but because I was so young I didn’t think that people would take it seriously.”
For now, he hopes to continue working on Summly--though he admits he has other ideas. And D’Alosio wants to fill some big shoes. He looks to Spotify’s Daniel Ek and Instagram’s Kevin Systrom for inspiration. So, does he think Summly will sell to Facebook for $1 billion?
“Yeah,” he says, and laughs. “Let’s hope.”