LeverageEdu is a Delhi based startup founded by Akshay and Rajiv. Leverage Edu is a marketplace that helps students to connect with experts uses AI.
I strongly believe that when a student is able to accelerate their career, it is the whole’s family’s life which is transformed. That, in itself, is such a powerful and joyous feeling! To be able to do that for a million people in the next couple pf years, is what we have set our eyes on, says Akshay.
We got an opportunity to talk with Akshay, the founder of LeverageEdu. Read his full interview to know more about his journey as an entrepreneur and about his startup.
Give a brief info about your startup?
LeverageEdu is a marketplace that uses artificial intelligence to help students find best-matched experts and most relevant colleges for higher education. The expert, who is ‘just like them’, helps students with mentoring, workshops, and goes full stack, to help ace their dreams and accelerate their careers. We have 700+ mentors on the LeverageEdu platform today, from Stanford, Wharton, Yale, INSEAD, CEIBS, LBS, HEC Paris, Goldman Sach, McKinsey, NITI Aayog, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, top hedge funds, governments – and much more! Over 70,000 people have used out platform to discover better careers for themselves, of which we’ve had ~2000 customers. We are very close to touching the 1000 Career Conversations per week number, so growth has been absolutely thrilling!
What made you start your startup and what problem does it solve?
I hail from a middle class family, and growing up, had limited information about what path to take with respect to my own career. I believe I was very very lucky, to have found the right mentors at the right points of time in my life, which helped me get to whatever little I have been able to achieve in life. I also realise that not everyone might be as outgoing as I have been – and just for that, they do not deserve to fall behind. Hence, the single biggest thing which has driven me in life, is this: democratising mentorship to the last damn mile aka getting the right career advice to EVERYONE. That is the path we are on. I built out an app to do that when I was pursuing my MBA at ISB, and that app, made it to the Draper fellowship in Silicon Valley. However, later realised that to make it a business, there needs to be a more “valuable and concrete offering” – my co-founder, Rajiv, who’s spend a decade in higher education, brought just that. We debuted with College Admissions as our first category on LeverageEdu, helping students make it to colleges around the world via the experts on the platform – and today, we’ve added more categories within the Career Advice umbrella, gone deeper into being a full stack player within Admissions, and more.
Tell us about yourself, your previous jobs/ventures? What were you doing before this startup?
I first started out as an entrepreneur at the age of 6, selling glaze paper in school. Moved on to starting a club in my balcony when I was 9, letting all the other government colony kids play my board games, read comics, watch cartoons, by charing 100 rupees per month. Next, I ventured into organising parties for other teenagers at 16, selling sweatshirts directly to college unions, etc etc. Basically, a lot of side hustle. My journey within the Indian startup ecosystem started in 2007-08, when I helped organise some small events at American Centre, and later at 91Springboard’s first premise in Okhla. So in a way, I very publicly grew up in front of the ecosystem.
However, post undergrad, I picked up non-hustle jobs at KPMG and Ernst & Young, in finance and then consulting respectively. i broke out after another 3 years to work for a political party, and in quick consequence, joined ISB in Hyderabad for my MBA. ISB was fun, I stood up for the Graduate Student Board elections and became a Director, and later walked away with the Young Leader Award given at the school. Post the MBA, I was back in the world of startups – first heading to the Draper fellowship in Silicon Valley, then coming back to India and joining Snapdeal, and then joining Babajob.com, which I believe pretty much changed the whole game for me.
I started working on LeverageEdu again while still at Babajob, in July 2016, and then we finally opened shop in April 2017.
Where is your startup based out of? Why do you think that is the best place for you?
We are based out of Delhi. And this was a very personal decision, based on what geography me and Rajiv thought was best for the company/aligned with our strengths. Now, we have offices in Bangalore and Bombay also. As we continue to scale, this is a question that will face us every few months, given talent acquisition is the top parameter.
As a startup founder, what are you paranoid about? What keeps you awake at night?
I think I am most paranoid about two things, and both relate to “people”. The first one is finding the right people to join us in the mission, the people I work with is without doubt one of the most important factors in my life, and it’s something I spend a lot of time on. There is a constant effort to ensure every new person who comes on the team takes our level of intellect, hard work, hustle – all to a new level! Second, and as important as the first one, is “what difference we make to the student’s life”. I strongly believe that when a student is able to accelerate their career, it is the whole’s family’s life which is transformed. That, in itself, is such a powerful and joyous feeling! To be able to do that for a million people in the next couple pf years, is what we have set our eyes on!
Who are your competitions and how are you better than them?
We compete with the age-old tradition of taking non-expert generalist advice from that one person in the family who’s done well. That advice might be a good starting point, but definitely not enough to build a career upon. By using a marketplace model with hundreds of experts from tens of industries, functions, geographies, and artificial intelligence to match the student with the “right mentor” – we are able to deliver an experience which is 100x better, and also translates into unseen results in the lives of students!
How hard is it to have a work life balance as a startup founder and how do you manage it?
I read a tweet by Avnish Bajaj, the founder of VC firm Matrix Partners a couple of years back (when I was in the US), that talked about “work-life integration” – and have been a fan of that theory ever since. Because I madly love what I do and ‘making that difference’ is inherently so important to me from an existential level, everything else just flows in. Plus of course, God is kind.
Have you raised funding? If yes, then we would like to know the details. If no then please tell us if you are looking to raise.
Yes, we raised a seed round early last year, in July 2017, and then a seed plus that followed right after, in October. We are looking to raise a pre-Series A round right now, and keen to optimise for the right partners who will help us take the next fundamental leap in our journey.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you? Why do they have that? What’s the reality?
That’s interesting! Two of them, in fact. First one is that ‘I never sleep’, and that’s been built because I am somehow round the clock evangelising LeverageEdu – it’s the madness in the love, haha. That ain’t true, and I make it a point to get 6 hours of shut-eye if not traveling. Second, driven more out of perception again, is that I am inherently a marketer – while the truth is that I identify more with being an Operator, and Ops/numbers/every heartbeat of a move by a company metric, is what keeps me wired in. Of course, everyone who works with me knows that!
What gets you excited about this company?
What gets me madly excited, and at the same time, very satisfied and joyous deep inside, is ‘the opportunity of being able to change someone’s life’ at LeverageEdu. That feeling, like I said before, is extremely powerful. It moves me. It also, and rightly so, adds a lot of responsibility on our shoulders, and hence it’s something that remains our topmost priority at all times.
Tell us how a day in your life looks like? Your schedule for a day right from the time you get up till you hit the bed at night.
I spend 2-3 days with the Product/Technology team, and the remaining 4 with Sales/Operations/Marketing/Growth. On top of that, is a lot of external stakeholder engagement, which sometimes takes up considerable time. I try and fit all my meetings in the morning, and more or less always try to group everything outside office in the first half. I spend the second half in meetings with multiple internal stakeholders, keeping track of progress, running internal review meetings, engaging in product discussions around new features, minor tweaks, growth, etc. – and end it with going through a bunch of reports our Analytics lead puts together for me. While I am not able to engage with students as often as I used to, I still bump into some of them or get into a call with someone or the other who wants to get some advice, that still bumps me up like nothing does!
Tell us about your team and how did you meet each other?
I met Rajiv, my co-founder, in 2012. He was a revered Careers’ Expert, who had previously led International Education for publicly listed CL Educate, and I came to him looking for some advice, introduced by a common friend who used to work with me at Ernst & Young. We got along really well. He later helped me with my MBA applications, and when at ISB, I kept in touch with him on an informal level. When the thought of doing something in the education and careers space hit, I could think of no one else but him. Our Head of Technology, Aman, is also an old friend, first introduced to me in 2012 as well, on a side-hustle project. He was one of the most intelligent people I had come across. I knew if I was going to play Product Manager, Aman had to do the tech, he just ‘got me’ like few did. Rajiv and Aman were the first two people who I reached out to. Both took a fair bit of convincing indeed! As we went further down the road, juniors from college, friends of friends, and a lot of like-minded, same DNA folks joined in, many of whom are far better than I or Rajiv could be. We all love the problem we are trying to solve at scale. It’s fun!
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