The Great Indian Dream
In 2014 September, as part of his Zero to One book launch promotion campaign, Peter Thiel did an AMA (ask me anything) with Forbes’s subscribers. In that AMA, he was asked about the most important and influential book he had read. Strangely, the book Thiel mentioned wasn’t a book by Rene Girard, the Stanford professor – philosopher who Thiel acknowledges as a big influence, but rather an obscure book called The Sovereign Individual, written in 1997.
That was the first time the book leapt into the (Global) Silicon Valley or the global startupscape consciousness. It soon became required reading in the libertarian part of the startup universe. And with Brexit, the book began becoming wider reading across the political landscape as well, for the book had broadly anticipated the fissures and fractures that would lead to Brexit. It is not just Brexit that the book foresaw. It foresaw cryptocurrency too! More critically it saw that society would increasingly become unequal, governments would globally become dysfunctional, and that countries would increasingly become likely to break apart, spurred by the consequences of the information revolution#. As a result, they said that the individual who stood the best chance to succeed was the one who achieved sovereignty over his or her affairs, delinking themselves from increasingly dysfunctional nation states, societies and communities. Thus the title The Sovereign Individual.
The key theme of the book is unbundling your destiny from that of your nation state. It encourages you to separate your trajectory from that of your society or community, and take the steps necessary to fulfil your potential, and eventually become sovereign individuals. This is well understood by Indians, who have historically been practicing the principles of individual sovereignty since they could. Educated and ambitious Indians have been migrating to countries that are receptive to their skills, which provide fertile ground for them to plant themselves in, and grow. Historically it has been largely the educational elite (graduating from IITs and other elite colleges and getting scholarships to US / UK), or the blue collar underclass (typically to Middle East, but also through family networks to the West) that have been able to decouple their destinies from India and migrate abroad. This has for long been the great Indian dream. But what if you are not in either of these categories? How can middle-class India decouple their destinies to achieve sovereignty?
Enabling the great Indian dream
Enter Leverage Edu. Founded in 2017, by Akshay Chaturvedi, Leverage Edu’s mission is to help each of us realise our potential, independent of our backgrounds or birthplace^.They enable this by helping you navigate the pathway that will unlock talents, and enhance skills. Traditionally the ideal pathway has been through admission to a dream international college. And thus Leverage Edu has chosen to help its customers get into the international college of their choice, thereby kickstarting them on the path to realise their potential.
Leverage Edu is part of a flourishing but fragmented sector of education, comprising international higher education enablers. Much of this sector is populated with small mom & pop establishments, hand holding students through the admission & application process. Barring a few high quality shops, most operators are of questionable quality. Tech isn’t an integral part of the operation. This is odd because the market size isnt trivial. Last year around 850,000 students took flights out of India into colleges ranging from Berkeley to Bath, from Australia to Armenia.
Even as their customers got savvier on the tech front, and got more greedy with their ambitions, these establishments have stuck to their traditional styles.
It is into this landscape that Leverage Edu has emerged, disrupting the status quo with innovations such as their mentor network connecting applicants to those who have undergone the journey before (perhaps even graduates from the same dream college), entirely digital process flow to track the application + advisory process closely, and using data science to help surface better college recommendations. Through the use of tech and a customer first attitude, Leverage Edu is helping reshape the college admissions process. Over the past few years Leverage has interacted with ~275,000 students and assisted ~8,000 students with their international admissions journeys.
Blume’s bet on Leverage Edu
Blume first invested in Leverage Edu in late ’18, as a coinvestment with DSG Consumer Partners. This was one of the first cheques from our present Fund III. Our thesis was not so much an edtech thesis as much as it was about migration tech, for we believed that Indians are powerfully motivated to leverage foreign education to break free of present societal and economic shackles. We also saw that in a country where ~9m Indians graduated annually and wished to enter the white collar segment, there were only about 500k or so annual jobs created that met their aspirations. Migrating abroad via the college path was an escape valve for the Indian economy, one that would be relevant for a long time.
Investment decisions typically fall into one of two buckets. They are either thesis bets or founder bets. Leverage is one of the few that could fall into either buckets. As founder bets go, it is the rarest kind of bet – a single founder startup; led by Akshay Chaturvedi. We saw in Akshay much the same traits that the best founders had – an obsession with a large unsolved problem, a hunger for learning, an unbridled ambition for growth etc.
‘The hottest fires make the hardest steel’
The real worth of a founder and the team he or she has built emerges when things don’t go to plan, and certainly Akshay and Leverage have had their bit of challenges, not the least being the COVID-19 pandemic which has induced a fair degree of uncertainty and delays in the college admission process. It is these moments when circumstances beyond your control introduce uncertainty into your business, impacting revenue realisation and causing delays in funding, that truly test the founder spirit and conviction.
There is a saying that it is the hardest fires that forge the strongest steel, and that couldn’t be truer. Leverage has not only grown 4x (300% topline) during COVID, as Akshay and the team he built came together to pull off a remarkable rally, but have also convinced Tomorrow Capital to come aboard as new believers, joining Blume Ventures and DSG Consumer Partners on the captable.
We are delighted to welcome Tomorrow Capital, a truly hands-on, operator VC, backed by one of the well-known entrepreneurial families of corporate India to Leverage. Tomorrow Capital will lead Leverage Edu’s Series A of $6.5m. Blume is delighted to double down on Leverage, and will be investing in this round as well. Other investors in this round include DSG, Karan Khemka who led Parthenon’s education consulting practice for India and Yashraj Akashi, curator Tedx Gateway amongst others.
We are delighted for Akshay and the Leverage Edu team, for now they have the ammunition to target the next wave of ambitious students, pursuing the Indian dream. More capital for growth, more capital to transform lives, and more capital to build a brighter, better India.
Onwards and upwards, Akshay and Leverage!
*****Footnotes / Endnotes
# Remember this was written in ’97, and for the authors to trace the consequences and second order effects of the then nascent information revolution out to today’s divided and fractured landscape was nothing short of revolutionary.
^ Leverage Edu’s mission, as stated on their website is as follows.
“Leverage Edu was founded on the vital premise that each of us has the right to uncouple our destiny from that of the country we are born in; in order that we are able to better realise and fulfll our potential. At Leverage, we believe our potential is independent of our nation’s potential, and that we have the right to separate our trajectory from that of our birthplace. We are the true ‘masters of our fate, the captains of our souls.’ We control and determine our destinies, not our birthplaces. We will never stop believing in the power of your potential, and we will never rest until you start on the journey to realise your true potential.”