17 year old Nick d’Aloisio is a British-born Australian entrepreneur whose skill, creativity and enthusiasm for computer programming have taken him to remarkable heights. His innovative mobile application, Summly, condenses long texts into short, accessible summaries, and was sold to Yahoo in 2013 for $30 million, making Nick the youngest self-made millionaire in history.
We caught up with him at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum…
What advice do you have for young people, sitting in their bedrooms right now with nothing to do but an idea?
I would say first off, just be curious. If it’s a technology-related idea, start Googling it, and get free reference materials online that can teach you slightly more about it. The internet is great for self-learning - you can teach yourself anything. Get to grips with the technology at hand - just try it and see what happens!
You recently called for skills like entrepreneurship to be taught in schools. What else do you think we can do to better prepare young people for life?
The idea that “it’s OK to fail”. When I was in school, “It’s okay to take a risk even if it doesn’t pay off” wasn’t communicated that much. In entrepreneurship the odds of failing are extremely high, but that’s a good thing because failing is an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and to get it right the next time. So many more people would try new things if they become OK with the prospect of failing.
Your app Summly is about cutting down long articles to concise summaries. It makes us think of a reproach often made about young people – that they have short attention spans, making entrepreneurship unlikely. What are your thoughts here?
Because of the information deluge streaming into mobile devices and on the internet, everyone has a short attention span now, not just young people. People are finding it very difficult to find what they’re interested in so they skip from one thing to another. It’s also about immediacy. People want instant gratification for clear information – at the very second they refresh their feeds.
Tell us about the projects you’re currently working on ...
I am not done with summarization yet. I think you could take the idea of summarization to another level, beyond text - so how about visual summarization? Use videos, images – an image can speak a thousand words!
What’s your message for young people today to encourage them to achieve their dreams?
To each young individual, I’d say: “Don’t be afraid, you can do anything now with internet and with communication.” To young people as a collective group, I’d say: “Encourage each other.” For example, I found it lonely to launch my own company - I was the sole founder and everyone else in my team is older than me. If you have a mate who’s really interested in what you do, collaborate and help each other out along the way. It really does have help to have one or two other people your age who have the same interests. You guys can learn together and reach for your dreams as one.