Draper University Alumni Spotlight: Akshay Chaturvedi
Akshay is co-founder & CEO of Leverage EdTech, which helps universities admit students better, faster, cheaper through their SaaS offering UnivGateway.
Draper University: Where are you from? How did your upbringing influence your decision to pursue entrepreneurship?
Akshay: I am from India, and have lived across three cities: Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Born in a middle class family, to a super ethical journalist father and a teacher mother, who sacrificed a lot to give me ‘access to education and growth’, I always tried to hustle my way to ‘match up’ with my friends at school. The first time I kind of started up was in grade 3, when I tried to sell glaze (gleamy-looking) paper to my classmates, at Re.1 each. It worked. Next, in grade 4, I started a ‘club’ — for all the kids in the colony who felt bored with the usual sporty evenings. Back then also, I followed the same routine — saw a gap, identified an opportunity to make something people will love and pay for, and just executed it! The club had comics, board games, books, etc and was open for 2 hours every evening. Years later, at 18, I started a sweatshirt selling business across colleges, and then used the same captive base to start an event business, organising parties for the young boys and girls who did not mind spending. More or less all of these ‘so-called-businesses’ saw success in the way they were meant to.
Draper University: How did you hear about Draper University?
Akshay: I owe a lot in my life to my mentor Heidi Roizen, who is a partner at DFJ and Tim’s long standing friend (here’s a little piece I wrote abut her last year, linked here). One fine October evening, Heidi told me about Draper University’s fellowship program, strongly recommending I apply for it. I google-d what DraperU was all about and was mighty impressed. There were going to be only 30 Heroes/fellows from all across the world, so I put forth the best application that I could, and thankfully enough, I got in. I graduated from my MBA at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, on the 10th of April and was on a flight to the United States of America for the first time in my life, on 11th April, the very next day. It all came together beautifully. And I was excited as hell!
Draper University: What was your most memorable moment at Draper University?
I have too many special moments from those four months to pick up one, be it meeting Heidi on Sand Hill Road in front of the IPO Certificate of Tesla (had been touted as ‘Heidi Roizen of the East’ by everyone in my batch before that, and Heidi was, like always, super kind), or the cup of tea with Bill Draper, the father of the venture capital industry, who looked into my eyes and told me I will do great things in life because ‘I was just like him’ — BUT — the Survival Week would take the top honors here! Living in a way I had never imagined I would — without my phone, on leaves and fruits in the forest, having eight people hug me as I collapsed on a minus-50 degree night, hiking from morning to night everyday for the basics — and what not! I hadn’t ever learned so much about myself, in such a short timeframe, ever before.
Draper University: Tell us more about your startup and its recent progress/traction.
Leverage forms a bridge between the developed and the developing world, making sure that all-essential aspirational connections happen through education, which is where the middle class spends a majority of their lifetime’s earnings. We help colleges admit students in a faster, better, cheaper way through our SaaS offering — and on the other side — help students take the right career decisions using Machine Learning-enabled Assessments, expert Career Advice, better education loan rates, and more. In the last 6 months that we’ve been in operation, we’ve made over $50k in revenues, and are growing profitably. We are also partnering with some big centers of learning and other education companies globally to deliver the best value and impact for our beloved customers. To take the next leap and beef up on technology plus team, we are raising a small seed round that has seen an amazing set of people (from both US & India) come onboard already to support us through this exciting journey!
Draper University: What is some advice you give to founders who want to find other co-founders and build their team?
Thanks to my last five years in the internet space, I have been able to interact with some really smart people, who want to do amazing things. On ‘finding a co-founder’, my two cents is to always try and align with someone who you’ve known personally for a while, and who you believe is as passionate and crazy as you are, to build a big beautiful company in the space both of you love. On ‘building the team’, I will repeat what an entrepreneur friend who runs a successful food-tech business in India told me once — “the best people will always walk in from the front door”. Your charm as the founder should rub people the right away!
Draper University: What are some common mistakes that founders make when pitching their startups to investors?
I don’t get it when people aren’t prepared enough before meetings, forget pitching. Basics before any meeting (which includes meeting an investor/mentor/guide) is doing a Google search on that person and then going a layer or two beyond that as well. Once you understand ‘who’ you are meeting, you’ll be able to better position yourself and what you’ve built/are building. Being honest in a chat about what you want, really really helps. Also, never harms if you meet the investor at the right time in the cycle of your startup, ie when you have some form of MVP, some traction, and some defined goal that you are chasing in the next 12–18 months.
Draper University: What are some hacks to help founders build their network in Silicon Valley and beyond?
Hustle hard! When I was in the Valley, and even when I returned back, I made a sincere effort to know people and ‘learn from them’. It’s also important to not aimlessly network. If you go to a conference/event/dinner, you should know before stepping in, what you want out of this. Is it those 4 people you need to speak to for more business/funding/learning? Or is it those 2 people who can unlock a connection that’s really important to you? Or is it genuinely a conversation or session that will help you upskill yourself? Always have an agenda with respect to what you want from your own time, but then, don’t ever confuse it with being mathematical about your relationships. Relationships, personal or professional, are meant to be honest, beautiful and giving — and we should always let them be that way.
PS: And yes, tangibly speaking, LinkedIn and asking people to connect you with more people — always works!
Draper University: Who are some alumni that you still keep in touch with at Draper University?
The friends that I made at DraperU turned out to be friends for life. I have been in touch with a whole set of people in the Draper ecosystem. I get to chat with my mentor Heidi now and then. Tim Draper, has also been very kind and very approachable, every single time I reached out to him in the last 2.5 years. Robby, whose house I lived in when in New York City, and I, always get on a call to catch up with each other’s lives. Niles, who was a batch senior to me, stayed with me when he visited India, and we ended up having a great time. Carol, Ana, Allie, Erin, Jack, Adi, Asra, Remmelt, Remy — we’ve all been in touch!
Draper University: What advice do you have for incoming Summer 2017 students?
DraperU is what you make out of it. Every day. Every minute. These 3–4 months are going to stay with you for the rest of your life. You got to give best in every single thing you do here — be it the hackathons that will numb you beyond anything, your waking up at 7 am for breakfast with everyone — and sleeping at 2.30 am after making enough progress, your bearing it all during the Survival Week — yet still smiling and cracking a joke, your making friends for a lifetime, exploring downtown San Francisco, MountainView, Palo Alto, Menlo Park — plus of course, San Mateo, and above all, absorbing what you will learn every single day, from easily the best minds in Silicon Valley, who’ve built the world’s best businesses!
- On Twitter as @akshay001 :) — happy to connect and help always!