International investor Andrey Lebedev, LP at NYC-based VC 13Ventures and San Francisco Mindrock Capital funds, believes that investing in socially responsible businesses is the path to productivity and happiness. His latest project, which expands educational technology in developing countries, proves Lebedev’s philosophy goes beyond words. He is also an investment director and partner at a private investment club, Digital Disrupt, where startup founders can find support and community.
How did you start investing in projects that benefit the common good? What’s your strategy?
My approach is simple: invest in fast-growing, socially responsible businesses that can scale up globally and help people. That’s what brings me joy and inspires me to be productive. I’ve been focusing on EdTech and other technologies for emerging markets for years, especially Africa and Russia. Now my strategy is paying off: I had a few big exits that made a substantial profit on investment. For example, Tetrika, an exam prep startup I supported, was acquired by a major Internet company in 2020.
Initially, I wanted to design interactive multimedia books for children, but eventually shifted to online learning. In Africa and Russia, for example, I invest in products that help children review what they learned at school or prepare for their exams. We established a new company, K-Platform, which creates apps to empower teachers through gamification. We collaborate with local schools, so teachers can have a hand in developing the products their students use.
What’s the purpose of your new venture, private investment club Digital Disrupt?
Digital Disrupt brings investors together around their common goals and aspirations. Although it’s not a traditional VC firm, we do fund tech innovations that are reshaping the online learning industry right now, and other industries as well. For example, one of our new projects, Musico, is an Israeli platform supporting in-person, remote, and “hybrid” music education.
Our custom investment solution model is based on transparency and collaboration. On average we consider ten new projects each month. Because we are a private club, the decision-making process is faster than it would be at a VC firm. It doesn’t take us long to perform due diligence for startups.
We’re aiming to foster the kind of community where successful founders can help early-stage startups with networking and intros to large companies. Eventually, we might establish a VC fund, but for now I’m happy with the pace of decision-making. It’s fast and efficient, and our members enjoy a relative amount of freedom.
You recently launched a new project in Kenya. Why is this destination appealing to you?
For investors focusing on EdTech, Africa is the new China. The continent needs new technologies to build a sustainable future. From 2015 through 2020, the number of African tech startups with financial backing grew six times faster than the global average, according to VC firm Partech Partners.
Kenya became our launchpad for the rest of the continent because of the country’s high mobile penetration rate. This means that most children in Kenya have cell phones, so we’re able to reach them. We’ve been working closely with local partners and teachers, developing apps to help kids bridge the knowledge gap after a difficult pandemic year.
Is there any project you’re particularly excited about right now? How is it beneficial for people and businesses?
Now that people are starting to travel again, post-COVID anxiety is on the rise. Before the pandemic, I invested in a service called Skyguru, which predicts and explains all the processes happening during the flight, including physical sensations — why the passenger feels what they’re feeling, if their ears are popping because of air pressure changes in the cabin, for example. Now the app is upgrading to integrate more entertainment content and other new features, such as AR. Although it’s hard to predict the next strategic move for airlines, I believe they’ll be focusing more on value-added services, including educational content and entertainment. Also, I’m glad we can help people deal with travel anxiety and difficult situations on board.
What are the next growth areas for impact investing in the post-pandemic era?
I think some of these could be personalized services to meet different consumer needs and improve their lives on a daily basis, or so-called “services on demand.” Storage companies and services that help with decluttering could definitely flourish right now, since people are starting to move again. Personalized fitness, skincare, and beauty services too, as employees are returning to in-person work, and people are getting back into the swing of normal social life. Public mobility services, such as rideshares, e-scooters, and bike shares will keep attracting conscious consumers, contributing to lowering transportation emissions.