Nick D'Aloisio did not have a typical 17th birthday: instead of celebrating with friends and family, he was busy launching the second edition of his popular iPhone app, Summly. While most 17-year-olds are worried about exams and dating, D'Aloisio has kept busy by creating a news summarization app with over $1 million in financial backing.
Summly uses an algorithm to summarize news stories from the largest news organizations. The summaries are designed to fit a mobile screen perfectly.
"We worked very hard to create the user interface," D'Aloisio tells The Daily Ticker, "but equally, the technology is very robust…we've hired the best people in the world to create this algorithm that can take any news article, determine whether or not it's summarizable, and then produce a coherent paragraph of text automatically with no human intervention that's very scalable."
When D'Aloisio says he's hired the best people for the job, he isn't exaggerating. Summly works closely with the Stanford Research Institute to create the summary technology behind the program. SRI International also owns a small share in the company.
Summly has also partnered with News Corp. (NWS) in order to summarize articles that are normally behind a pay wall. D'Aloisio insists that other news organizations are also interested in Summly and that his application doesn't cannibalize traffic but instead drives interested parties to the news Web site.
"We're driving traffic, we're increasing discoverability of their content, and most importantly we're making it all look pretty and beautiful," explains D'Aloisio.
D'Aloisio has raised over $1 million in private funding through a slew of celebrity investors. Ashton Kutcher, Yoko Ono, Stephen Fry, and Zynga CEO Mark Pinkus have invested in Summly. Hong Kong Billionaire Li Ka Shing, who has helped fund Spotify and Facebook, invested $300,000 in the idea.
All of these investors approached D'Aloisio after hearing about his company. "It's really about people getting excited about the product," says D'Aloisio. "Everyone came to us and really saw potential in what we're doing."
It's easy to forget that D'Aloisio has just turned 17; he speaks with the confidence and knowledge of someone ten years his senior. There are moments, however, when his true age shines through. When asked how many people Summly employs, D'Aloisio leaned back and yawned, "There's, like, seven of us in London."