What is Summly, and how did you come to create it?
Summly is a technology I’ve been developing for about the last two years, and what it does is it automatically condenses and summarizes long-form text into summaries and snippets. When you’re on a phone—you’re rushed for time, you’re busy—you just have to look down and see the gist of something. So Summly provides this medium where you can skim and get an idea of what’s happening. Over the last three, four years, I’d been teaching myself to program and was very fortunate to have worked with the Stanford Research Institute over a period in 2012 to develop this algorithm, and that’s what Yahoo’s (YHOO) buying.
Well I’m still in the process of kind of self-teaching. I always had a fascination for technology and design, and so when I was 12, the App Store was announced, and this is a true story, I went into an Apple (AAPL) Store a few days later and was like, “I want to learn how to program.” The people at the store said, “We don’t even know what a program language is.” So I was a bit disheartened, and I spent six months waiting for the App Store. And when it went public, there were enough resources online to teach myself the basic level of programming. I released my first app that summer, and it was one of the first 3,000 apps on the App Store.
How did you do that so quickly?
I unfortunately had the dilemma of school and homework. So it was really in the summer holidays. I’d spend four, five weeks doing one app, and sometimes my time zone went a bit strange. I’d get up at midday and work till about 4 a.m. My parents at first were a bit concerned. They were like, “You’re 13. You shouldn’t be keeping these hours.”
How did the Yahoo deal come about?
We launched the app Summly on Nov. 1 last year, and we received a great response. We had almost a million downloads. … About a month later, these investors from Hong Kong, who represented Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, reached out to me. At the end of the phone call, they were like, “So how can we arrange a meeting? We want to do a phone call tomorrow at 11 a.m.” I said, “I can’t do 11. I’m at school.” And they’re like, “What, college or post-grad?” And I’m like, “No, high school!” They ended up flying to London to make sure I was legitimate, meet my parents. It’s such an exciting time to be joining Yahoo, where Marissa Mayer as CEO is a product person and was at Google (GOOG) for 12 years—and that’s an algorithmic company.
You’ll be working for her now. What’s your job?
I’m going to be working out of their London office, and they’re developing a mobile hub. My role will be trying to integrate this summarization technology into different facets of the mobile organization. What Yahoo is doing—and this is why I’m so excited—is they have these assets, these verticals. They call them daily habits: So it’s weather, stocks, fantasy football. The idea is that they want to create these personalized experiences for mobile phones, an app for each of these verticals.
And at the same time, you’ll be getting a degree from Cambridge or Oxford?
Hopefully. I haven’t been accepted into any university. Look, I’d love to continue my education.
So when they said, “The valuation we’re going to put on Summly is $30 million …”
You know I can’t confirm that. That’s reported, so take it as you will.
Let’s take it as $30 million and assume we’re in the ballpark.
I can’t say.
So what will you do with however much money it is?
The money just isn’t coming into my mind. We were approached by a few companies. When we began talking to Yahoo it became clear immediately. I spent some time on the campus, and I realized this is a company that has such opportunity on the mobile landscape. I think there’s a billion smartphones today. In two, three years, there’s going to be multiples of that.
Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s vice president of mobile, talks about a shift and how mobile-oriented this generation is.
Think about publishers. It started with print and then online. From a spatial perspective, the size of a piece of paper is kind of like a desktop screen. For about 400 years there hasn’t really been a change in the form of content until the mobile phone.