Emin Gün Sirer:
Let’s leave aside three unrelated factoids, namely, the Summly founder is only 17 years old, the company was in existence for only 18 months and Yahoo reportedly paid $30M for it. …
I want to first focus on this from a technologist’s perspective, and there is only one germane fact: the company developed no Natural Language Processing technology of its own.
They licensed the core engine from another company.
A lot of geeks have been yelling today about the Summly acquisition, which is really a textbook acqui-hire: a startup that appeared to be missing its growth targets was acquired for a fairly modest price and immediately shut down by a big tech company in need of good talent.
I don’t know if Emin’s assertion about the tech is correct. We barely know anything about Summly because the press has utterly failed at telling us anything useful about it.
All we really know is that Nick D’Aloisio is young. He started the company when he was 15. Did I mention he’s young? And he started a company. And he was only 15!
Now he’s a millionaire, and he’s only 17! Can you believe that? A tech millionaire! He’s only 17! And he must be smart. After all, he started the company when he was only 15. Young, smart, and now rich! What will his girlfriend think? (Really. Shameful.)
All we know about Summly itself is that it summarized web articles into three bullet points that occasionally made sense. And I only know that because I tried it while D’Aloisio was barraging me with manipulative, fake-“URGENT” emails much like these in late 2011. The summaries weren’t good enough for me to try more than a few times. But the press never talked about the actual product in their vapid articles about Nick D’Aloisio’s youth.
In the early days of Tumblr, David Karp didn’t tell anyone his age. He hired me when he was 19, and I worked for him for over a year before I learned that — and even then, I only knew because he let it slip in an interview. He wanted to keep it quiet for as long as he could because he knew that as soon as it got out, every story about Tumblr would just be about David’s youth.
He was right. After that, he’d give hours-long interviews with big newspaper and magazine writers, trying to tell them all about the product, and the article would come out as a vapid fluff piece about how young he was. It took years for Tumblr to (mostly) get out from under that image in the press.