Imagine a world where, with 4 snaps and the flick of a switch, you could build a computer yourself. Well, that world is here.
Introducing Kano, a new project that provides users with a complete computer system inside of a very small package – a LEGO-like computer, if you will. Just snap the controller circuit board into its case, slide in the wireless keyboard adapter, the power cord and the monitor, and you’re in business.
What sort of business you get up to is completely up to you. Kano is billed as a “computer and coding kit for all ages, all over the world”. It’s built upon the popular Raspberry Pi platform, upon which so much innovation is being built these days.
Excited by the potential uses of this product – educational, experimental and simply geekual (new word, I just made it up) – I had to talk to the people behind the Kano project. Thankfully, a loyal reader put us in touch with Yonatan Raz-Fridman, the co-founder and CEO of Kano.
An Interview With the CEO of Kano
Yonatan was kind enough to chat with me about the inspiration for this new product, the current status of the business, and the vision of how it will be used in the future.
Ryan: It looks like you guys have already raised $1.3 million in pledges through your Kickstarter project! How long has it been running for?
Yonatan: Just 25 days ago. We have 5 days left!
Ryan: Did you ever expect it would be this popular?
Yonatan: We thought we had a good chance of making a good impression, but yeah, we were pretty much overwhelmed with the reaction.
Ryan: For people who have never heard of Kano, can you describe the product?
Yonatan: Kano is the first computing and coding kit that anyone can make themselves. Essentially, imagine LEGO as a computer. It’s aimed for beginners and for young people, and for the eternally curious. It’s about taking something that is closed, like a computer today, and opening it in a way that gives you a glimpse inside. It gives you the ability to understand how things work, and at the same time creating things out of the box.
Learn to Build a Computer and Code
Ryan: When you first start up the computer, what comes up? Is it pre-loaded with anything?
Yonatan: Well, when you start, what boots up is the command line. We created our own boot-up command line, which is kind of a simple and fun thing where you get a small task while still in the command line before you boot up the OS. You start by kind of playing around in the command line – not too much – just kind of, as a glimpse. And then when it boots up you are in a totally new environment which we’ve created, which we call the Kano OS. So, you have the desktop environment, and you have access to all of the levels and the projects that we’ve created. Essentially, we took Debian Linux and built on that distribution our own OS.
Ryan: That sounds pretty easy and very cool!
Yonatan: Yeah! It’s pretty fun, and you know right out of the box, anyone at any time, anywhere and at any age, can see how simple it is to actually start.
Ryan: So, is it geared towards people who want to start learning how to code?
Yonatan: It’s geared for people who want to – in a really simple and fun way – understand what is a computer, and then based on that, start engaging with it in a way that will enable them to create on their own. You know, not just kind of play games, but first hack the game, push code into it, change it, then play and also share it with your friends so they can see what you’ve created.
Ryan: Could someone who has never programmed before pick this up?
Yonatan: It’s for people who have never touched a computer. It’s for young people who want to get into computing and coding. It’s for anyone who is curious about what is a computer and how it works. So, this is why we think it’s for anyone and that’s the direction we’re taking. Obviously, there’s a certain target group that is more fascinated by what they can create – essentially, young people. But, you know, we have customers who are anywhere from eight to eighty.
Ryan: It sounds like a perfect project kit for an educational environment like a classroom.
Yonatan: It’s definitely a learning tool and an educational tool. You can use it for education, for fun, for games.
What You Get in a Kano Kit
Ryan: What do people get in the kit? What does it come with?
Yonatan: We created an end-to-end computing experience. So, out of the box they get the Raspberry Pi, which is the only off-the-shelf item that we have in the product. For us, it’s like a key component inside. Sort of like an Intel inside. And then there are five building blocks in the product. You have the hardware, which is the Pi and our newly designed keyboards – we’ve designed a whole new keyboard. It has a trackpad but also two buttons on the left to enable anyone to drag and drop, unlike any other existing touchpad keyboard in the market.
Ryan: That’s pretty neat, so you have a trackpad on the right and the right and left mouse-click buttons on the left side of the keyboard!
Yonatan: Exactly! So it allows you to drag and drop, and not just use the keyboard for writing. For us, it was very obvious that we needed to do this, but when we looked in the market, we realized that there is nothing out there like that. So, couple that with the intuitiveness and the nice color of the keyboard and a very, very smart, industrial design. Anyone, when they get the keyboard, will see that straight away. That was a big project for us. You know, some companies start just on the premise of building a keyboard — for us, it was another element to the product which we designed by ourselves.
Ryan: What’s amazing is you could almost just market the keyboard itself as its own product!
Yonatan: Yeah, if you look at the Kickstarter project, there are about a couple of hundred people who just pledged the keyboard – we call it the keyboard combo.
Ryan: Have you patented the design?
Yonatan: Yeah, we are going to register all of the things we’ve designed. Some of them might have a patent in it as well.
Launching a Startup Kano Style
Ryan: Might people expect to see a “Kano Keyboard” in major retail stores?
Yonatan: Well, right now, we’re pretty strict about keeping it as one product, but depending on demand, yeah that’s a possibility.
Ryan: Have you been approached by any of the big box stores yet?
Yonatan: No, not yet. There’s a lot of interest from big companies, but less from big box retailers. Quite frankly, we’re not really in a rush to go to the big box players. We don’t believe that it’s the right choice for us at this stage, especially from a brand perspective.
Ryan: Okay, so what are the short and long term goals for the brand?
Yonatan: You know, we’re trying to build something that anyone can relate to. It doesn’t matter if they’re in Nairobi or New York. Building a brand is very hard, not just for big companies, but especially for small companies who always have a shortage of resources. But, we feel today there is a phenomenal opportunity to build a new computing brand, and something that people are going to be very emotional about. Once it happens, the opportunities are immense.
Ryan: What inspired the product?
Yonatan: It was the stories of the founders and how each of us arrived to be a part of this. When these stories converged, it made the vision of where we want to go very, very clear. It was only after many iterations that we finally came to understand what the first product should be.
Ryan: Was there a particular moment when everything came together and the idea for this specific product was formed?
Yonatan: Yes, there was a moment at the end of November, last year. The three founders met together in London for a full day of brainstorming. Obviously one of many, but it was at this time that everyone put everything on the table, and it was at that point in time that this idea was born.
Computers Made Easy – No, Seriously.
Ryan: For anyone buying a new one of these, wanting to build a wireless server out of it – would you say such a project is complicated?
Yonatan: No. Seriously. A 10-year old who never touched a computer can start – in less than an hour – to make his own stuff.
Ryan: For a lot of the tech folks reading this, some of these projects aren’t always easy at all – usually they include a lot of steps to make everything work together. How do you make it so simple?
Yonatan: This is where a lot of the magic of what we are doing comes in. In a way we’re demystifying and simplifying things that before only great technology people were able to do. We’re trying to take the onion, and layer after layer, make it more beautiful and more simple so that anyone can enjoy it, without it making you cry!
Ryan: What does the timeline look like once the Kickstarter project has ended?
Yonatan: Well, I came back two days ago from China. So, as you can imagine, we’re already diving deep into things we only started two months ago. This includes building our supply chain, and being ready to ship and fulfill all of the expectations – getting the product done on time in the summer. Not only that, but also to get it done with the highest quality possible. So, that’s kind of the main mission that we have at the moment. At the same time, obviously Kano is moving forward, so we have plans which we’re going to start working on. Extending the product. Extending the platform. Start engaging more with our community. As I said, in 24 hours we’ve translated 20 languages of one of the books. It’s phenomenal. We have messages and emails from so many people, and we really want to get into it and start growing the family.
Ryan: Are things going well with the suppliers?
Yonatan: Yes, they are. We look at it as part of our complete experience, and it starts with how things are being made and shipped. So, we’re really excited. We’ve been working with some really good companies on our supply chain and fulfillment.
Ryan: Is there anything else you’d like potential customers to know about Kano?
Yonatan: The one thing I would stress is we know that we don’t know a lot of things, and moving forward we would really like to get any suggestions for improvement on our forum at talk.kano.me. We would love to hear any ideas for new improvements, for new offerings, feedback on where Kano is going. Hopefully, we’ll hear from people who are interested in collaborating with us when we open more and more layers of the product. We know there’s a lot of passion outside to what we do, so we’re keen on hearing all of the voices, globally.
As you can see, Kano is an inspiring product – a LEGO-like computer that you can piece together and start designing your own fun projects. It brings the Raspberry Pi base to a whole new user base who maybe would have never had the opportunity to really dig into computers in such a way. Kano is, quite simply, bringing computing to a whole new segment of the population, and that’s a beautiful thing.