When Summly founder Nick D'Aloisio got a cold email last summer from Li Ka Shing, the now-17-year-old didn't recognize the Hong Kong billionaire's name.
But the precocious entrepreneur is more than learning fast. He's disrupting the mobile media landscape — and he's just getting started.
In December 2011, D'Aloisio launched Summly, an Apple iPhone app that generates concise, visually attractive summaries of news articles. The app offers an easy way to consume news on mobile devices in one snapshot, without having to continually scroll down to read more.
D'Aloisio has since been courted by elite investors and advisors, including Li Ka Shing. "I explained that I was only 15, but that didn't discourage him," said D'Aloisio on CNBC's "Squawk Box." The billionaire invested $300,000.
From Homework to Transformative App
The app idea struck D'Aloisio when he was 15, as he was preparing for history exams.
Sifting through search results using browsers such as Google and Microsoft's Bing can be inefficient, D'Aloisio realized. Instead of clicking on a single result, then returning to the original list of results, he realized shorter, accurate content summaries would help him pick the exact content he wanted, faster.
Programming since he was 12, D'Aloisio then created an early app iteration that automatically transformed news articles into Twittertweets and Facebook status updates. Apple subsequently featured the app, and the investors and advisors came calling.
How the App Works
Automatically generated summaries of content isn't something new. But what Summly has been able to do is create an algorithm that automatically summarizes news articles with nuance and content.
It's not just a scrape of the first two sentences of a story. The entire bite-sized summary also adjusts to fit the screen size of the smartphone, so longer smartphones will yield longer summaries.
The app will be expanded to accommodate Android platforms. And Summly hopes to offer summaries in French, German, and Spanish by year's end.