Marc Andreessen is normally enthusiastic about the startups he’s invested in. Still, when I spoke to him last week about Kno, he surprised me by saying it will be “the most powerful tablet anyone has ever made.” And he’s backing up that claim with a new investment – Andreessen Horowitz has put even more capital into the company as part of a new $46 million debt and equity round. Silicon Valley Bank and TriplePoint Capital also invested in the round. Kno has now raised over $55 million.
The company is still planning on getting its first dual-screen tablet computer to market by the end of the year, says CEO Osman Rashid, although he won’t get specific on the price. It will be less than $1,000, but that’s as close as they’ll get.
Why is the device compelling? Andreessen and Rashid talk about how Kno is offering a total product – software, hardware and services – that will be compelling to the college user. They can purchase textbooks and view them just as they look in printed format. Users will be able to take notes, draw on the pages, etc., just like the print versions. And they’ll be able to access those books on a variety of devices – even eventually their desktop and laptops – because Kno’s software is built on webkit and designed to run on a variety of hardware setups. And there’s a normal web browser too for the Internet in general.
As for textbook pricing, Rashid says the model will work. Imagine an iTunes for college textbooks, he says, and users who purchase the tablet and all their books will be paying about the same amount v. just buying print books over the first 13 months. That means individual books on the Kno will be priced lower than the average of $100 for the print versions.
Will it all work? It’s probably best not to bet against this founding team. Rashid also cofounded Chegg, which rents textbooks to students. No one thought the idea would work, but the company is absolutely killing it right now. The best evidence so far that Kno may work is this – Early student testers are telling the company that they’ve stopped bringing their laptops to class and just use the Kno now.