What’s Next for Kno? Wouldn’t We Like to Know

On Friday, Kno Inc., the Santa Clara, Calif.-based, e-learning startup, scrapped its plans to make a signature tablet device and announced a new, singular focus as an educational software company.
In a short interview this morning, Kno CEO Osman Rashid told me he’s “extremely excited” about shifting from hardware to software. But after talking to him for 15 minutes, I still couldn’t get a clear sense of what the company’s new focus was beyond “software.”
Looking at a brief history of the company, it’s easy to see why we have a hard time getting excited about it, despite what its co-founder has to say.

  • May 2009: Kno is founded (as Kakai Inc.) by former Chegg CEO Osman Rashid and semiconductor industry veteran Babur Habib, who have known each other since the ninth grade.
  • December 24, 2009: Kakai closes a $7.5 million series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz, with reported participation from First Round Capital and Ron Conway. At this point, the company is still in “deep stealth mode.”
  • June 2010: Operating under a new moniker, Kno (short for “knowledge”) officially previews its product: an educational software platform and e-reader device. Kno claims its device will be beta-testing in students’ hands by late 2010.
  • September 9, 2010: Kno closes a $46 million Series B funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz with the participation of Silicon Valley Bank and TriplePoint. Kno also vows to have its “first customer ship later this year.”
  • November 8, 2010: Kno prices its tablets at $599 for a single-screen device and $899 for a dual-screen device. The company also announces it will start accepting “a limited number ” of pre-orders, and again promises to ship devices by the end of the year.
  • February 3, 2011: Anecdotal reports emerge that the majority of Kno’s pre-order shipments never made it to customers. Kno confirms a delay, but provides no more information.
  • February 17, 2011: Kno reportedly tells pre-order customers that shipments may not arrive until mid-April 2011.
  • February 21, 2011: Rumors emerge that Kno is shopping around its tablet hardware business.
  • April 7, 2011: Kno officially shutters its hardware business and offers full refunds to everyone who has received a Kno tablet. Company announced $30 million in funding led by Intel Capital (s intc).

We are not surprised by the company’s decision to hightail it from the hardware market. As Om wrote last year: “My inner cynic believes that the very adaptability of the iPad is going to be the single biggest challenge for Kno, which in my opinion is going to need a lot of money to realize its eventual ambitions.”
It looks like we weren’t that far off the mark. The $30 million Series C funding round announced today brings Kno’s total investment to $85 million — a pretty hefty sum for a software startup that has yet to ship its first product. It is hard to pin down the company’s valuation, but given that the latest funding round is some 30 percent smaller than Kno’s Series B investment, one has to wonder if the company’s post-money valuation has taken a hit.
Rashid was short on answers during our conversation, other than to say several times that Kno will make “product announcements in a couple weeks.” When I asked when Kno’s products will come to market or if the company will have a product for the iPad (s aapl), Rashid told me, “We’ll have to let our [OEM] partners answer that.” How will Kno’s offering be different from e-books sold by Amazon (s amzn), Google (s goog), and others? “This will become very clear in the coming weeks.” Does the Intel investment mean Kno’s software will run on MeeGo? “Working with Intel… may include MeeGo.”
I want to root for this company — the textbook industry has long been in need of a major overhaul — but at this point, it’s hard to say which way Kno will go.