The tech industry was buzzing this week after Yahoo announced its acquisition of Summly. It wasn’t so much the acquisition itself, but the entrepreneur behind the idea. You see, Summly was founded by 17-year-old British whiz kid Nick D’Aloisio.
We liked The New York Times headline the best: “He Has Millions and a New Job at Yahoo. Soon, He’ll Be 18.”
That got us wondering: What’s it really like to sell your company before you’ve completed high school?
Since we’ll never get to experience that feeling ourselves, we turned to the one expert we know. You may recall the story of Daniil Kulchenko. We featured him on GeekWire — including an appearance on our radio show — nearly two years ago after he sold his Seattle startup company, Phenona, to Vancouver, B.C.-based ActiveState ar the ripe age of 15.
Just shy of his 18th birthday, we’re happy to report that Kulchenko hasn’t fallen off the rails like some one-hit-wonder teen star. He did buy himself a Mustang after he learned to drive, but that’s really the one luxury he allowed himself, choosing instead to save his money (possibly to bootstrap his next startup).
He’s finishing his senior year at Inglemoor High School, and is weighing whether to attend college or start his next company. He still works part time for ActiveState, and he answered a few of our questions today via email (in between clases and work time, presumably).
What are you to these days? “As was planned, Phenona itself was shut down soon after the acquisition, but much of the tech was integrated into Stackato. My schedule’s stayed more or less the same since the beginning: working part-time for ActiveState, taking online college classes at Cascadia, and going to high school in the morning. It’s been an incredible learning experience and I’m really grateful for the opportunity. I’ve evolved quite a bit as a software developer – easily learned more over the past two years than all the years before combined. In terms of future plans, I just got my acceptance letter from UW a few days ago, so that’s something I’m thinking about in the weeks to come. On the one hand, it’s a significant investment of time that I could spend on work or other projects, on the other, I don’t want to miss out on the college experience.”
Having been through the acquisition process yourself, what advice would you give to Nick D’Aloisio as he integrates his company with Yahoo? “Nick’s situation is quite a bit different from mine. He had employees, investors, and an office, so the process will certainly be more complex in his case. For me, as a founder and sole employee, I found the integration itself to be very straightforward and painless. But I guess the main ‘switch’ that would apply to both of us would be that you’re no longer the “main guy” of the startup and are instead working for someone else – it’s a significant shift and is constricting on one end (less control) while liberating on the other (people higher up are making the tough calls). It was the first time I was working for someone on a day-to-day basis (and it looks like it will be for Nick as well) so it was quite the adjustment.
Any advice for Nick on how his relationships with friends, parents, teachers, etc., might change now, and how he should deal with these changes? ”With the right friends, your relationships shouldn’t change at all! I hear about it every once in a while and my friends do joke around about it, but it hasn’t really affected my relationships with them in any noticeable way. You’re still the same person as you were before. However, an acquisition like Nick’s does open many doors in terms of developing new relationships (as Phenona did for me). You meet a great deal of new people and make many friends through the process (both professionally and personally). My advice would be to make use of the opportunity to the fullest, to go out there and meet people, participate in events, gather new perspectives, and enjoy yourself!”
Any financial advice for Nick? Any lessons learned on that front for you? ”I’d say save — or invest, if that’s your cup of tea — as much as you can. I did buy a Mustang last September, but have kept the significant majority in savings. The great thing about getting money from an acquisition is that the capital you receive can later be used to bootstrap your next big idea —instead of having to take funding from someone else. You gain the ability to fund your own startup and keep full equity.”
What has it been like working for ActiveState and juggling school, as well? “Surprisingly easy. And that’s made possible by Washington State’s Running Start program which allows me to switch out high school classes for college classes that I take online. As a result, I’m only at school for 2-3 hours every morning and have the rest of the day available for work, college, and free time. ActiveState’s also been very flexible and enabled me to build my work schedule around school events and classes, which has helped immensely.”
Are you working on any new projects or startups? “Nothing public yet. :) I have a few ideas that are in their early stages, but they’re a ways out. Will drop you a line as soon as I have something to share though!”
GeekWire’s Todd Bishop contributed to this report. Follow us on Twitter @GeekWire.