First Round: The youth of today

When First Round was 16… Actually, First Round can’t really remember what it was doing aged 16, but it can say with some confidence that it didn’t involve anything useful or constructive. Moreover, its computing skills amounted to a mastery of Street Fighter 2 on the Super Nintendo and a predilection for typing: “10 PRINT “You smell” / 20 GOTO 10” on an Acorn Electron.

But as First Round likes to tell strangers at bus-stops, the world is a very different place these days – particularly when it comes to the mysterious youth of today.

Witness Nick D’Aloisio, a well-heeled 16-year old schoolboy from Wimbledon in London. Rather than spending his down time squeezing spots, playing computer games and lusting hopelessly after unattainable girls, like any normal 16-year-old, our hero seemingly likes to relax by writing remarkably sophisticated iPhone apps – the latest of which, Summly, has attracted the backing of none other than Horizons Ventures, the VC firm owned by Chinese billionaire Li Ka-Shing.

The app uses a proprietary algorithm to create bespoke summaries of web page content. Frankly FR has no idea what that sentence actually means, let alone how you’d go about creating it when you’re knee-high to a foetus. But being inherently lazy, it certainly recognises the value of an app that saves you the bother of reading an entire web page on your mobile when you’re trawling through search results.

Li Ka-Shing almost certainly isn’t lazy, but he clearly shares this view – which is why his firm recently decided to throw $250,000 of his unimaginably gigantic fortune at the idea. And given that Mr Li’s previous investments include Facebook, Skype and Spotify, it would take a very brave magazine intro section to argue that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

First Round is an unabashed fan of inventors and entrepreneurs – particularly these days, when the world economy is going to hell in a handcart – so it has nothing but praise for this enterprising and remarkably polished young man (even though there’s nothing like seeing someone who isn’t even old enough to get behind the wheel of a car sell a brilliant labour-saving invention to a zillionaire to make one question one’s direction in life). And, of course, it’s all in favour of venture firms backing talent.

However, it can’t help but be slightly discomfited when said talent is barely out of puberty. Mark Zuckerberg and Andrew Mason were bad enough, but 16-year-olds? Before we know it there’ll be toddlers running around with an MBA from Stanford and a net worth higher than the GDP of Poland. Why can’t we just let our children be children, and spend their evenings playing violent video games instead?