A teenage sensation has been born. No, it’s not another overpaid footballer. And if you’re thinking One Direction, you are mis-directed. Neither is this article announcing the resurrection of Justin Bieber (thank goodness).No, I am talking about Nick D’Aloisio – Britain’s very own teenage internet millionaire. The 17-year-old London schoolboy has become an internet sensation for selling his online business to Yahoo! for, reportedly, $20m upwards. Summly, which provides bite-sized summaries of online and news content, has certainly fetched a tidy sum. News like this always get a mixed reaction. I say “bravo” – a big pat on the back for an amazing achievement. From my experience, whatever business you are in, to get that far takes a lot of hard work and determination, and that should be applauded. Lord knows, with the economy the way it is, we need more Nicks rather than fewer. Others will watch enviously and have a good moan and groan about how a trumped-up teenager has managed to nick such a big pay day when we are all working so hard to stand still. “Anybody could do what he does,” and “What is the world coming to?” the arguments go on. There is a third way of looking at it, however: If you can’t beat them, join them. So here are my top tips for becoming an internet millionaire (and, in fact, many of these points can act as a valuable blueprint to create value for any business you are in):
1. Find a real problem and a worthwhile solutionFor Nick D’Aloisio the problem was wasting hours trawling the internet for decent content. He wanted an easy way to access key information quickly. His solution saved people time and effort. Yahoo! serves content to hundreds of millions of users – that is a lot of time and effort that can be saved and the reason they snapped up the business. Successful entrepreneurs find a big enough problem – big enough that people will pay to solve it. Pay to ease the pain or to be able to do something better and more productively. If you can find something that is better than the competition, or better still, a new way of doing things that disrupts the current market, then you have answered the first question on “Who wants to be an internet millionaire”.
2. No pain, no gainBecoming an internet millionaire is hard work (especially if you have to fit your A-Levels in, too). I have yet to meet any entrepreneur who gets their product right first time. The idea has to be tweaked and perfected. Old plans are thrown out, new ones tested. D’Aloisio’s original product needed a fair amount of seed investment to turn it into Summly. It didn’t happen overnight and, no doubt, involved a lot of blood, sweat and tears (and, if my kids are anything to go by, the odd teenage tantrum). Customer testing can be a testing time for any business – but it is vital. Then, when you find what people will buy, what will really ease the customer’s pain, it is well worth it.
3. Think bigTo make a million you have to find somebody to buy your business. And buyers are only likely to stump up their cash if the problem you are solving is big enough. There is nothing wrong with lifestyle businesses that can support you, your colleagues and your family. But buyers are not looking for lifestyle businesses. They are looking for scale and the ability for a business to make big in-roads into a large potential market. In other words, do enough people really need and want your product? On its own, an online or mobile app is not a business (a mistake too many people make) – but you can certainly build a business out of the right app. In other words, if you want to make it big, think big.
4. Get by with a little help from your friendsIn reality, most internet businesses don’t have huge barriers to entry and competition could be just around the corner. However, generating PR and buzz can be a great differentiator. D’Aloisio appears to be a past master at this – highly impressive for one so young. After his original product was named “App of the week” by Apple he caught the eye of a venture capital firm, which in turn led to some celebrity backers, including Stephen Fry, Ashton Kutcher and Yoko Ono, no less. Basking in the limelight of high-profile backers helped his app get more than a million downloads after its launch. Getting noticed, getting networked and standing out in a very crowded market is crucial.
5. Don’t think about the moneyYes, I know this point is ironic given the title of this article. But money is not the primary driver of many entrepreneurs. It is the buzz of success, the sense of achievement, the desire to see a product out there and change the status quo. Put all your energy into getting the product right and grasping the opportunity rather than dreaming of untold riches and counting the money in your own head. If the business is strong, your chances of making money are strong – but lose focus and you may lose the prize. Asked what he would do with the money D’Aloisio said he wanted to buy a new pair of trainers and a computer. After that he was a bit stumped. All his time and effort had gone into business reality, not dreams. D’Aloisio got so much press because he is one of an all too rare breed in the UK – a young internet millionaire. And it is not just internet millionaires we are lacking. I would love to see so many more successful business people. So, a parting Easter thought: come on, entrepreneurs across the UK (young and old alike). I hope the D’Aloisio story eggs you on to real and deserved success of your own. Andy Yates is an entrepreneur and director of Huddlebuy.co.uk, Europe’s largest business money saving site.
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