- Kano, a UK startup that makes build-your-own-computer kits for kids, just raised $US28 million (£21 million) in funding.
- It’s using the cash to fund a massive retail expansion in North America.
- The company is inspired by a challenge from the cofounder’s 6-year-old cousin.
LONDON — Back in 2012, six-year-old Micah Klein gave his cousin Alex a challenge: “I want to make my own computer, but it has to be as simple and fun as Lego.”
Fast-forward five years, and Alex Klein is CEO of Kano, a London-based startup that makes build-your-own computer kits for kids and people learning to code. With more than 200,000 shipped kits under its belt in 86 countries, it’s now dramatically increasing its presence in retail stores in the United States, and on Wednesday announced a $US28 million (£21 million) shot in the arm of venture capital funding.
Business Insider recently met with Alex Klein at Kano’s London headquarters. It’s almost stereo typically startup-y: Its 65-strong workforce sit nestled in an open-plan office in a rough-and-ready old department store in Whitechapel, East London, nestled behind a trendy café.
The company’s signature shade of orange is everywhere. A meeting room is built out of old Kano packaging boxes. A home-made self-driving toy car is balanced precariously on a ledge near the ceiling.
“It’s computers you make yourself like Lego,” Klein said. “You build computers, screens, and speakers step by step, following a story book, then you learn how to code music and arts and games.”
The young executive only came to entrepreneurship after stints in journalism and academia — during which time he met the inventor of the Raspberry Pi, a single-board computer beloved by hobbyists. “This interesting community had built up around this board, and hackers were sending this board into space, they were making bitcoin miners and Beowulf clusters,” he said.
“As someone who only firsr saw the inside of a computer when someone near and dear to me got angry with me and smashed my laptop on a concrete floor, there was something about this little brain, this board, all the pieces and components that surrounded it, was just very romantic to me.”
Klein cofounded Kano with Yonatan Raz-Fridman and uncle Saul Klein, and turned to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to get it off the ground. It was a smash hit: It aimed to raise $US100,000 (£75,000), but ultimately bought in more than $US1.5 million (£1.1 million) from 13,000 backers. The first kits shipped in September 2014.
Today, it offers a range of products, from a complete build-your-own computer kit that includes a screen, keyboard, board, speaker, microphone, and more, to a motion sensor and a “pixel kit” that acts as a kind of primitive programmable screen of LED lights.
On Wednesday, the hardware startup went public with a pair of announcements. First, it has received $US28 million in funding, with investors including Thames Trust, Breyer Capital, Index Ventures, LocalGlobe (which Saul Klein founded with his father Robin), Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and more.
Secondly: Flush with cash, it’s embarking on a major expansion in North American retail stores. It will now be in 4,500 stores — a fourfold increase — including every Best Buy and Target, as well as select Walmart, Barnes & Noble, Microsoft stores, and elsewhere.
As he talked, the young executive — wearing a sweater and and T-shirt with Kano’s logo — frequently played with a Kano kit, demonstrating its capabilities on the fly. With a few clicks of a drag-and-drop coding interface he built a program that reacted noisily and flashed when someone’s hand strayed too close to a sensor, or booted up a user-built app that displayed the weather anywhere in the world (San Francisco was sunny).
Its interface was simple and intuitive; it’s easy to see what customers can see in it. In its first few years, it’s been used to make everything from radio stations in Sierra Leone to clones of the mobile game “Flappy Bird.”
With a $US28 million jolt in the arm, things are looking positive for Kano — and for Micah Klein. He may only be 10 these days, but he owns shares in the startup he helped spark.
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