15-year-old creates cloud, Web app integration program

It’s a pretty amazing story, but one that 15-year-old Daniil Kulchenko relates quite calmly. After spending a year and a half of his spare time on an application to help him move Web applications into the cloud more easily, he started a Twitter account for the fledgling Phenona.

It was a logical move, and one that would allow him to connect to other users that had the same problem, but once the Twitter account was up, “people started contacting me, asking what I was doing, and they were really interested in the idea.” Kulchenko was messaged by a lot of “people who said, ‘I really need this’, ‘this could help me’, or ‘this is useful’.”

Before he started the Twitter account, Kulchenko hadn’t really thought of Phenona as a commodity. But once the feedback started pouring in, “that’s when I started working on refining it for public consumption,” he says. “Once I started working on [a public version], I saw the business potential in the idea.”

For a short time, he began developing it as a product that he could sell privately to a small group of users. He even began steps to start a private beta, one which might draw in customers and help him test the public version. According to Kulchenko, he “wasn’t even thinking about an acquisition at the time”; in fact, he “didn’t even see that as a possibility.”

But just as he began the private beta for the newly productized Phenona, he got a call from Vancouver-based ActiveState Software Inc. Says Kulchenko, “they’re really cool people and I’d known about them for years before they contacted me.”

But it was no coincidence that ActiveState stumbled upon Phenona. According to Bart Copeland, CEO of ActiveState, “we’re very active in the open source community.” ActiveState had been specifically following the open source community who utilize the Perl-based Mojolicious open-source framework. Phenona used Mojolicious and “when we dug down into what Phenona was and who was behind it, we were intrigued that it was being done by a 15-year-old named Daniil.”

That, and the fact that Phenona was really good. “He’s an incredible individual and ahead of his time.” According to Copeland, “what was so amazing during the entire process was that we never really felt like we were dealing with a 15-year-old … Sometimes I thought there was someone behind him, but that was definitely not the case. There were certain discussions we had whereby it absolutely evident this was pure Daniil, and only Daniil.”

And that’s also how Daniil got started in programming. Sensing an innate understanding of computers, Daniil says his parents gave him books on programming at age 11. “My parents really jump-started the process. They gave me a few books and my dad gave me some advice, because he’s a proficient programmer,” but it was only the beginning of what became his foremost hobby. He describes himself as “self-taught” and started doing smaller projects and even some consulting work in the last couple of years.
As for Phenona, Copeland insists that, despite the unusual circumstances, this was a deal “all about the talent behind Phenona, the technology, and the know-how.” Having just recently announced their cloud platform, Stackato, Copeland thinks Phenona will “fit nicely into our cloud product roadmap.”

So, after a short negotiation, ActiveState acquired Phenona and hired Kulchenko part-time in order to allow him to finish his schooling. While Copeland says acquiring technology is really more about acquiring the talent behind it, not interfering in Daniil’s education was paramount.

The next step for Kulchenko is finishing high school and continuing to work with ActiveState on Phenona. After that, he’s less certain. He hasn’t figured out his next project.

“I haven’t thought about that far into the future,” he said. “I generally live in the present.” He is confident, however, that a degree in computer science is in his future, regardless of his current career success.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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