Adolescence: Nick D'Aloisio
success at every stage nick d'aloisio

How many pimply-faced adolescents salivate over a story like Nick D'Aloisio's? He taught himself to code at 12 and at 15 created a news summary app that prompted investor Li Ka Shing's Horizons Ventures to invest $300,000 in the technology. After a few more rounds of funding and a name change to Summly, D'Aloisio sold the app to Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) for a reported $30 million in March 2013, joining the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based tech giant from his home base in England. Now 17, he hobnobs with investors and advisers like Ashton Kutcher, Vivi Nevo, and Yoko Oko.

"I try to maintain a level of humbleness to this," he told the Guardian newspaper, adding that his motivation wasn't simply monetary reward. "Because the motivation was technology and product, this is just the beginning of what I want to do."

Research by University of Chicago economist David Galenson finds that innovators who make their mark early on in their careers tend to accomplish conceptual breakthroughs, as opposed to those who innovate through experimentation and laborious research -- which can take decades.

"There are two very different kinds of people who make innovations. The people who are traditionally regarded as geniuses are the people I refer to as conceptual. They have a brand-new idea," says Galenson, author of Old Masters and Young Geniuses. "The ability to form new abstractions tends to be greatest early in your career."

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated June 13 2013 11:14 AM ET
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