UK tech prodigy makes millions by selling app

A LONDON teenager has become one of Britain’s youngest millionaires after selling a popular smartphone app he developed at 15 to Yahoo.

Nick D’Aloisio, 17, designed and built Summly, an iPhone app that condenses news articles for reading on the move after teaching himself to write computer code. Since its launch, the app has reached close to 1m downloads and yesterday, D’Aloisio announced that Summly had been sold for a sum believed to be close to £20m.

“It’s beyond my wildest dreams, I really still see this as a hobby,” he told City A.M., adding that the acquisition means he and Summly’s staff will be working on Yahoo’s mobile apps at the US company’s London headquarters in Soho.

The acquisition, which will see Summly shut down, comes as part of Yahoo’s new plan to focus on mobile services under Marissa Mayer, the former Google executive who joined Yahoo in the summer. Since taking over, Mayer has completed a number of so-called acqui-hires – acquisitions made in order to hire the talented staff behind a business rather than for the business itself – with D’Aloisio by far the youngest to date.

“Across Yahoo, we’re focused on creating beautiful experiences that people are excited to use every day -- products that inspire and delight. We can’t wait to work with Nick and the Summly team to do just that,” Yahoo mobile boss Adam Cahan said.

The teenager’s family is the majority owner of the business, although Summly’s profile has been helped by a number of big name investors such as Stephen Fry and actor Ashton Kutcher. Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing’s investment fund Horizon Ventures also provided the backing to get the app off the ground.

D’Aloisio said: “Our vision is to simplify how we get information and we are thrilled to continue this mission with Yahoo’s global scale and expertise. For us, it’s the perfect fit.”

PROFILE: NICK D’ALOISIO

ALTHOUGH he is not yet old enough to be a director at his own company, Nick D’Aloisio has been making iPhone apps for almost as long as they have existed. Having got hold of his first computer at nine, he taught himself how to write code from books and web tutorials at home. In 2008, aged 12, he designed FingerMill, a virtual treadmill for fingers, and in 2011 D’Aloisio created Trimit, an early version of Summly which could analyse news articles and condense them into bitesized versions. “I was always fascinated by how we consume and read information and I thought I’d do something myself,” D’Aloisio said.

The success of Trimit beat everyone’s expectations when it hit Apple’s iPhone App Store, and the company named it app of the week. The attention attracted an investment from Hong Kong’s Li Ka-Shing, which gave D’Aloisio the funds to hire a team and set up a Shoreditch base from which to launch a redesigned version of Trimit, now called Summly, last year. In the months that followed, Summly gained hundreds of thousands of users and D’Aloisio was forced to put his studies on hold as he flew to California for investment meetings.

The 17-year-old says he will continue to study for his A-levels in the evening while he works in Yahoo’s London office during the day, where he is expected to stay and work on integrating the Summly experience into the Silicon Valley firm’s apps.

D’Aloisio lives in Wimbledon with his mother, Domestic and General lawyer Diana, and father Lou, who works at Morgan Stanley.