Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Exclusive: Kakai, Stealthy No More–It's a Kindle for Students and Much More

Founded last May, Kakai is one of the start-ups in Silicon Valley in the deepest of stealth modes, despite a panoply of high-profile players involved.

But while there have been sketchy reports suggesting that the start-up may be working on some kind of e-reader, BoomTown has found out exactly what it’s up to via reports of a concept video the company has shown potential investors and interviews with several sources close to the situation.

In simplest terms, it’s essentially a Kindle for students.

But that’s just the tip of what is perhaps one of the more ambitious and innovative efforts on the part of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who already has one hit under his belt.

That would be Osman Rashid, whose other start-up is fast-growing online textbook rental leader Chegg.

Chegg recently hired former Yahoo (YHOO) exec Dan Rosensweig as its CEO, taking over from Rashid, who wanted to focus on Kakai.

Interestingly, you can pretty much draw a straight line from Chegg to Kakai.

But rather than focusing on making an old business better via the Web, as Chegg does, Kakai is plunging right into the competitive tablet market that now includes Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), Samsung, Dell (DELL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and, reportedly, Google (GOOG).

While these efforts, including Apple’s iPad, for example, are mostly aimed at broader media markets, sources said Kakai’s effort focuses solely on the educational niche, offering a Linux-based foldable double-screened device.

Gesture-based and portable, it is designed to feel like a mix of a notepad and a book.

While Kakai declined to comment, sources said a key part of the endeavor goes well beyond the tablet itself by including robust software and seamless Web site to deliver course material, allowing for note-taking and offering other audio and video capabilities.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Kakai, which is nearing 50 employees, is now prepping the device to be ready for a demo in several months.

It’s paying for all this with almost $10 million in funding from prominent venture players like Andreessen Horowitz and First Round Capital, along with investors Mike Maples and Ron Conway.

In addition, Marc Andreessen is now on Kakai’s board.

Rashid, who founded Kakai with Babur Habib, has worked in companies related to the consumer electronics industry.

Until he reveals more specifics, though, don’t expect much from Kakai’s homepage (see below), which has a very funny trio of jokes that play with the company name, asking “Which Kakai are you looking for?”

The possibilities include Kakai Bautista, a singer-comedienne in the Philippines; Neferirkare Kakai, third Pharaoh of Egypt during the Fifth dynasty; and Kakai, an Austrian pumpkin that yields valuable oil that promotes prostate health.”

Not looking for the singer, the pharaoh or the pumpkin?,” reads the bottom of the Kakai homepage. “Well, we wish we could tell you more, but you’ll just have to cool your jets.”

Perhaps now it’s time to start heating them up.

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