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2013-11-18 00:00:00QuickBooks Business of the WeekEnglish Alma Mater

Featuring Alma Mater

4 min read

Started by an engineering and commerce graduate who were schoolmates, Varun Agarwal and Rohn Malhotra started Alma Mater, a company that originally began by making merchandise and memorabilia for schools and colleges. Alma Mater offers a way for a student or alumni to connect with their school or college. Alma Mater has now branched out into working with corporate clients as well. We chat with them about their venture:

An excerpt from the Interview:

What made you start your venture?

We always wanted to get some goodies made of our own school Bishop Cottons. The idea for Alma Mater was born one night, over drinks at one of Bangalore’s popular pubs. We never thought we would actually go through with the idea since most ideas die out with the hangover the next day. We actually jotted down our business plan on a piece of tissue paper. We offer a unique way for people to connect with an institution they were once part of- our merchandise does this seamlessly. Once we started, we quickly realized that there are lots of people who wanted the same thing.

What has been the key to your business’s success?

The key to our business success has been our quality, service and the fact that we offer something that is very niche. Not many people in the country offer customization for 10 pieces because honestly it’s very tough to do.

What are the major challenges in your line of business and how did/do you overcome them?

Varun: The start-up process was actually unlike most start-ups. We didn’t waste time on market research, projecting numbers, drawing charts etc. We were pretty confident about our idea so we kept it simple. We got samples made of our own Alma Mater – Bishop Cottons and showed up on the Old Boys’ day to test out the idea and took it from there. We faced numerous oppositions from people around us. In fact my dad continued to call me a t-shirt salesman until we got featured in the Economic Times and mum constantly worried that no one will ever marry me because of this. Rohn: I’d say the biggest challenge as a young entrepreneur, at least initially was getting people to take you seriously- whether it’s the principal of a school, a vendor or your own parents.

It was frustrating to see age be a barrier but in hindsight being young also did help us in many ways. With most people, we found that once we got talking to them and showed them what we had done they were on board. The good thing was that we weren’t talking to people just with an idea. We had samples, we had sales, and we had already taken major steps to starting our business.

Do you have a mentor who guides/advices you on matters of the business?

Of course, our board members/investors Ravi Krishnappa and Joe Fernandes are our advisors.

Have you benefited from the use of any specific technology for your regular operations?

Yes, we have. We came up with a State-of-the-Art customization tool called Alma Mater Play. It lets users design and buy their merchandise within minutes. The Customized T-shirt tool has been in existence for quite a few years now but most of them are quite cumbersome to use. What Makes Alma Mater Play unique is that is really super easy to use- even your aunt could be a star designer. Also Alma Mater PLAY stands out because we give users the option to Doodle on the Tee and over 2000 art vectors and over 800 fonts to choose from.

The most unique part about PLAY is that it’s completely social. While we were working on Alma Mater PLAY we realized just creating a PLAY tool wasn’t enough, we had to make it social. So we came up with Play Groups. You can create designs using Play and save them in your Play Group. You can create a group for your school, college, company, start-up, biker gang, rock band or anything under the sun and then use Play to save designs in your group. You can also ask your FB page fans to create designs and save them in your Play Group. You can even collaborate on designs using Play Group. This has not only increased our revenue but also automated the entire process.

What, according to you, are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

We would urge young Entrepreneurs to take the leap first and then think rather than the other way round. Most people have some brilliant ideas but end up wasting too much time on projections, market research etc and eventually get lost in this. Like Branson famously says:”Screw it lets do it”. The toughest part is to Start-Up.

Once you do you learn along the way. a. Find a partner. Doing everything by yourself will just take you longer to get there and chances are you will make a lot more mistakes – ideally find a partner whose skills and core competencies are completely different from your own. And most importantly, someone you can trust blindly. b. It’s not about being the CEO. It’s about being the CEO, the HR person, the sales manager, the chai guy and everything in between all at the same time. Pride or inability to multi-task shouldn’t come in the way of work that needs to be done. c. It’s not for glory hunters. If you thought your company makes you work hard, start your own and you’ll know what working ‘late hours and weekends’ actually means.

Visit Alma Mater to place your order: Like them on Facebook: Alma Mater Store

Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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