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Yahoo buys a teenager’s start-up

BIG companies swallow little ones every day. So … the purchase on March 25th by Yahoo (annual revenue, $5 billion) of Summly, a British start-up (annual revenue, nil), for a reported $30m would normally merit merely a shrug of the shoulders and some muttering about the curious economics of the internet.

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The deal is worth noting, though, for two reasons. One is that Summly’s founder, Nick d’Aloisio, is only 17: this summer he will be sitting his exams like other teenagers. He created an iPhone app to summarise articles in 300-400 characters, ideal for the smartphone-user wondering what he should bother reading.

Li Ka-shing, a Hong Kong telecoms tycoon, invested money in the venture, having got wind of an early version of the app after tech blogs wrote about it, Mr d’Aloisio says. Actors (Ashton Kutcher, Stephen Fry), artists (Yoko Ono) and entrepreneurs (Mark Pincus, co-founder and boss of Zynga, a maker of games) have also chipped in, taking the sum outsiders invested in Summly to $1.5m. Mr d’Aloisio says that he remained the largest shareholder.

The second reason is that Summly is just the latest of half a dozen start-ups snapped up by Yahoo in as many months. The internet company has also bought Stamped, Alike and Jybe, which built apps for personalised recommendations of, among other things, books, food and music; OnTheAir, a video-chat company; and, which created an app for curating and sharing articles.

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s boss since July, says she is determined to make the company a stronger force on smartphones and tablets. Yahoo was born on the desktop, but unlike Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook, points out Thomas Husson of Forrester, a research firm, it lacks a mobile platform, such as an operating system or social network, through which to provide its content. Yahoo, says Mr Husson, “will have to go through the various platforms to maximise reach”.

On mobile devices, thinks Mr Husson, personalised content will be …

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