Sunday 22 January 2017

Meet The Real Man Who Can Teach Anyone To Build A Computer From Scratch

Alex Klein

When Alex Klein asked a classroom of children to tell him how computers worked, they were full of ideas – sadly none of them were close to being right.

One child even suggested the way music found its way on to YouTube was 'magic'.

It was this lack of understanding that set Klein on a mission to demystify computers, sparking a journey, which led to the birth of Kano – a £149 do-it-yourself computer that claims to be as fun to make as Lego and so simple a child as young as six can do it.

Today, more than 100,000 have been sold across the world, and it has raised nearly £14million in investment – even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has one.

Klein's idea for the firm took shape when his six-year-old cousin Micah challenged him to make a computer.

He teamed up with entrepreneur Yonatan Raz-Fridman and secured an investment from Micah's dad – serial investor Saul Klein.

Working from Klein's north London flat, the duo bought 200 Raspberry Pi computers – a very basic electronic gadget, which teaches children how to write computer code – sourced parts from China and boxed it all together so people would be able to build a computer of their own.

The kits include cables, a keyboard and the computer, and can be plugged into a TV or existing monitor.

Kano has since launched a build-your-own computer screen kit, and a build-your-own camera, speaker and flashing light board are next.

Kano's success lies in an easy-to-read story book that accompanies the computer.

The device has proved popular – and won the support of former London Mayor Boris Johnson who, with a group of schoolchildren, was pitted against his New York counterpart Mike Bloomberg in a race to build a Kano computer as part of London Tech Week. Bloomberg's team won.

When Theresa May visited India last month, Kano was held up as an example of Britain's booming tech industry.

Today the flat in north London has been swapped for a large white space behind a trendy cafe in east London, typically equipped with exposed ceilings and a meeting room of beanbags with a plastic bonsai tree.

On one side, staff sit on picnic benches resting on green rugs and in another corner, hundreds of Kano cardboard boxes have been stacked up to create a sound-proof office.

The 'cathedral' – the large open-plan office with high ceilings – houses the firm's 50-strong team.

The computer got its name from Kano Jigoro, the father of Judo, because of his reputation as a dedicated teacher. His picture hangs on one of the walls.

'Our aspiration for the business is big. In five years we definitely aim to be selling millions of units and engaging tens of millions of people worldwide,' Klein says.

Born in London, Klein moved to Seattle at ten where he went to a school full of children whose parents worked for Microsoft. That is when he became interested in the workings of computers.

'Everyone was geeky, but I was more of an arts kid so I went online to try and learn how to code,' he says.

Klein moved to New York for a spell as a journalist before returning to the UK to begin a master's degree at Cambridge. He then teamed up with Raz-Fridman and discovered the Raspberry Pi.

The credit-card-sized computer works like a larger model when used with a monitor, speakers and mouse.

It was founded by a team in Cambridge to promote the teaching of basic computer science and is sold in the UK under licence by tech giant Premier Farnell.

To help him get the firm up and running, Klein brought in the expertise of former Sony Playstation developer Alejandro Simón.

Kano is now one of the biggest individual buyers of the Raspberry Pi in the world, as it forms the heart of its product.

'It was part luck, part sweat, and part quality of executive. The market for low-cost computing is huge. We're bringing the creativity back to computing,' says Klein.

Its first crowdfunding round, through Kickstarter, raised £1.2million and allowed Kano to order its first shipment of parts from China. It became the most crowd-funded education technology product in history.

But building a global supply chain from scratch was not easy and there were several bumps in the road. Klein, 26, remembers having to send an email to 14,000 campaign donors to tell them it would be months before they would receive their computer.

Kano was let down by a supplier that did not include enough copper wires in their cables, and they later found working conditions in the factory building the batteries were not up to standard.

The latest crowdfunding round has a goal of just over £400,000 and was oversubscribed a week before the deadline.

Buyers have come from across the world. In Sierra Leone, a teenage boy with a Kano computer worked out how to stream music tracks from the internet and broadcast them across his country – effectively creating his own radio station.

Other buyers have included an adult education centre in South Africa, and US veterans from operation Desert Storm. Most Kano users create apps and games, which can be uploaded to share with other users on the Kano community website.

Kano joins a series of other 'coding toys' on the market. Fisher-Price has launched a £49.99 Code-a-Pillar, and Lego has launched Mindstorms, where children programme a robot's movements.

Klein and Kano show no sign of stopping. The first computer released by Kano was one-tenth of the operating speed of today's models, and the company has held talks with Toys R Us and Barns & Noble.



Etiam at libero iaculis, mollis justo non, blandit augue. Vestibulum sit amet sodales est, a lacinia ex. Suspendisse vel enim sagittis, volutpat sem eget, condimentum sem.