The main way that students learn how to pass an exam is by reading from a textbook.

Traditionally, this has been built on the premise of publishers printing physical copies,
distributing to schools and taking cash payments.

This all comes at a cost, which is prohibitively high for a lot of schoolchildren in East Africa.

Tonee and I spend this episode discussing Kytabu.

They’ve turned the model on its head by digitising the content of these publishers, and allowing students and teachers
to access what they want, when they want it,
renting chapters from a book at a few US cents per day, paid for with mobile money

We also discuss how a lot of Kytabu’s employees are still at university, other trends that Tonee sees in the East African EdTech space and how a different interpretation of doughnut can completely undermine attempts from abroad to distribute educational content

It’s a great example of using scalable technology to disrupt an industry, and so I hope you enjoy

Here are some of the key quotes:

“Kytabu is an EdTech application”

We’ve taken the entire curriculum that a student needs to pass Kenyan examinations, put it on a mobile application, and rent it out using mobile money.

“It’s being used everywhere”

We’ve never done a national launch, but it’s grown organically and is being used beyond just Nairobi

“15,000 users”

Is the current number on the app. Our potential comes in being able to get it into schools more. There are 8 million schoolkids in Kenya, so the potential is there.

“Supplementary education”

This is the main demand we find for Kytabu: students who are studying in school, and want additional resource when they’re revising.

“On the app, it’s the same content that’s in textbooks”

All of the content which is on Kytabu comes directly from Kenyan textbook publishers. This means that it fits directly with the curriculum.


It’s a smartphone application which somewhat reduces the app’s reach, but we’ve still found that enough people have mobile devices to use it.

“You now don’t need to buy a whole textbook”

Because the book is stored in the Kytabu app, it means that people can just rent it for a day/ week/ term rather than have to find the cash to buy a book which could get lost.

“Around a shilling (1 USD cent) per day”

It’s super affordable and can be lower. We’re seeing schoolkids spending around 7-10 shillings a week to access the content that they need.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot…”

But for the publishers, it makes sense. This is a scalable way in which to distribute their content, and incurs almost zero costs compared to the printing, distribution and piracy costs that come with physical textbooks.

“Schoolchildren use it for revision”

We use students using content for 85% of their curriculum. Our assumption is that they have the other 15% in hardcopy”

“Teachers use it in class”

They download everything for a whole term in the subject. We can see each week when they are using the content, and so can work out what they’re teaching and when. They’re spending $2-4/ month for all of their content needs.

“We need all subjects”

It only really makes sense for us to get everything at once, rather than focusing on just specific subjects (such as Science rather than Maths). Teachers are looking for very specific books, rather than just “a science textbook.

“Only 16% of Kenyans have access to a book”

Not all of the books, not some of the books, but just one book. And so by being able to rent them through a digital platform it hugely improves the accessibility.

“The publishers have been great”

They understand how digital is the future and how they need to embrace it. Kenya’s largest publisher lost millions on piracy last year, and so it’s compelling for them to work with Kytabu.

“Kytabu works for them”

It doesn’t really make sense for them to build their own platform. Students are interested in content from different publishers. Textbook publishers are in the content production industry, not really making a digital platform.


That’s the sell we have with publishers. Publishers come to us now – it’s a compelling sell now that we have the relationships with the publishers.

“A lot of interest in video”

This is one of the main trends that I’m seeing in Kenyan EdTech, along with an increase in teacher generated content. Another is parents buying tablets for their kids to use in school.

“Kytabu is completely Kenyan”

The whole team is Kenyan. Without myself and the CEO, the average age is 22. The majority are still at university, who manage their time between studies and working at Kytabu.

“Education is big, but slow”

The main surprise is the scepticism around new educational tools.

“Traditional donor money goes to non-thoughtful programmes”

Programmes that look to spend money to send stuff out to rural communities often miss the local context. The stories need to be local otherwise they won’t be adopted or understood.

“We want video to be more than entertainment”

We want Kytabu to start using video into the learning experience, such as taking museum experiences and bring it to the classroom. We also want to define what Kenyan content can be.

“Kytabu means book”

In 69 languages. Crazy, right.

Social Media Follows etc.

Website : Kytabu
Facebook : Kytabu
Twitter : Kytabu