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Edtech Startups Are Gaining Users and VC Funding by Focusing on a New Product: Books

By Henry Kronk
October 29, 2019

While many recent edtech startups have leveraged digital technology to change the education experience, a wave of new companies have focused on a tried and tested medium: print. Numerous companies have recently applied what one might consider tech business models to products and services that aim to improve literacy, expand book-lending options, and get more children and adults reading.

The most recent notable example is Literati. On October 23rd, the Austin-based startup announced it had raised $12 million in Series A funding. Literati serves as a curated book-lending subscription service for kids aged 0 to 12. For a monthly fee, families receive a box of books that have been tailored to readers based on age. Readers can either send all the books back, or keep and pay for ones they like.

Book-Lending Subscription Service Literati Raises $12 Million in Series A

Literati’s value proposition is that adults don’t have the best idea of what book is right for their kid at a given point in their development. By getting the appropriate books to kids at the right time, they’ll be more inclined to choose an hour of reading over other devices.

“Our mission is to build a lasting company that stands for lifelong learning and sparks revolutionary excitement in books and literature,” said Founder and CEO Jessica Ewing in a statement. “We hit our stride in this round, adding key investors who really get our vision. We want to build consumer products that make life more meaningful, not merely more efficient.”

The round was led by Shasta Ventures’ Nikhil Basu Trivedi.

Another company, Square Panda, built their literacy platform and accompanying multi-sensory device to help kids learn to read via games and exercises. On October 28, the company announced it would be expanding its services to include print companion books that will accompany their existing platform.

A New Paradigm in Edtech

In the press release announcing their service, they say this marks a “new edtech paradigm: using technology as a means to an end, which is the reward of reading real books.”

“SquareTales is all about getting children to experience the excitement of reading a book independently,” said Square Panda CEO Andy Butler, in a statement. “Knowing as few as eight letters, a child can begin to read with SquareTales books that contain carefully matched text to what the child has already learned.”

Square Panda has raised $13 million to date over two rounds, according to Crunchbase (the most recent involved an investment from tennis pro Andre Agassi).

Another company, Little Bookmates, which uses a model similar to that of Literati, launched in Mexico in 2016. The company was one of 11 Latin American startups selected by 500Startups to join their startup accelerator this year. 500Startups also operates a VC program and was founded by Christine Tsai and Dave McClure.

Little Bookmates has a message similar to that of Literati and Square Panda. Translated into English, their site reads, “Fewer screens, more books … Paper books are the best means to share time with your children, get to know them, and have fun with them.”

The company loans books out for one month at a time.

In an interview with Publishing Perspectives, Little Bookmates founder Ariadna Trapote said, “receiving books for just one month creates a sense of urgency, so the books get read. And with our system, children can read 100 books a year, which is way above the national average.”

“Publishers love us because we buy books,” Trapote continued, “as do bookstores, and authors. We’re putting their books into people’s hands. Publishers contact us to ask our opinion about content and illustrations, because we’re in touch with their readers.”

Featured Image: Dollar Gill, Unsplash.

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