Winner Spotlight: eKitabu Makes Digital Content Distribution Possible in East Africa
February 4, 2015
The Kenyan government pledged to get laptops into the hands of all students in the country during 2014. That promise has not yet come to fruition, but it has galvanized interest in digitizing educational content that will appear on these laptops. One startup tackling the distribution of digital content between publishers and schools is eKitabu.
“Kitabu” is the Swahili word for “book.” The company, in under three years, has become Kenya’s biggest ebook store. The startup sells ebooks and interactive content to schools in Kenya, and so far is active in all 47 countries. eKitabu won the education category in the Nairobi Challenge Cup last week. Will Clurman, CEO and cofounder of spoke after his victory about his larger goal yo advance e-learning across Africa.
Break down the overarching problem that you’re solving with content.
If you think about digital content distribution in the U.S. or in Europe, the first thing you start with is network everywhere. Ubiquitous, wifi. Here, not so much. So even at the level of moving the content from point A to point B you have lots of gaps. So we have to find lots of ways to get things done in that distribution channel, a channel that we’re effectively building with our own resources and own partners and even with our customers. It’s a very, very “gappy” place.
However, just to say something about Kenya: Kenya has a lot of hangups, a lot of challenges. But the thing that’s cool is it’s the world’s most advanced infrastructure for mobile payments, bar none. Kenya is a mobile payment economy beyond any on the planet.
So you use that mobile payment system in your favor. As you said, the distribution side of the house around educational materials is your focus. You’re not creating the content. But can you explain where you’re getting it from?
Seventy percent of the content published in Kenya is educational material. That applies pretty well to most African nations. Seventy percent of all content within Africa is educational content. We happen to like education a lot. It also helps that the bulk of the published material here is educational material, so in some ways that simplifies our distribution problem to, on the one hand, publishers and schools, on the other. And we have to find ways ways to fill in those gaps.
You’re in 275 schools at this point in three countries, including Kenya.
Yes. Only two schools in Uganda and two in Ghana. The bulk of our schools are in Kenya. But we’re expanding in East Africa throughout 2015 with some projects with our major partners. (Mobile telecommunications company) MTN, Longhorn Telecomm, Samsung. We’re very excited about these partnerships because they help us to enter markets,.
Tell me about your background that led to this business.
My business partner founded eKitabu in 2012. He worked for five years for an NGO called Digital Divide Data. It was founded by som MIT guys that we both knew. That company is a nonprofit in the U.S. and it converts books and records into electronic products. When my business partner was helping set up the Kenya operations for Digital Divide Data he noticed that lots of schools and lots of publishers wanted to go digital but there was no distribution platform, So, even if the publishers produced the content, which was a challenge, and they converted their content through DDD or their own means into electronic form, there was no way to reach the market.
I’d been working on mobile software for the past 15 years in Silicon Valley and on the East Coast. Matt and I met originally 17 years ago when we were both doing a research project at MIT.
During both your one-minute and five-minute pitches you mentioned Evan Burfield, 1776’s cofounder, and feedback that he’d given you. What was the feedback and input that you got from him and from the experience, in general, of being part of Challenge Cup?
This is my second year living in Kenya. My whole family is here now. So, I know the country pretty well at this point. One the one hand, you guys are doing a fly-by (of cities involved in Challenge Cup) but on the other hand you’re bringing a fresh perspective so it’s interesting to get the pulse of American investors.
One of the things that was particularly interesting to me, which validated my own beliefs and my own concepts was that traction today is everything in venture investment. So we focused on that. Evan’s feedback to us and really all of the startups in the education grup was you really need to bring out the traction and weave that into your story. Tell your story through the traction.