Varun Agarwal and Rohn Malhotra’s Alma Mater is more than just a line of merchandise and memorabilia for institutions. They are keepsakes from the best years of our lives

Nostalgia coupled with a few tipples at a bar in Bangalore, and Varun Agarwal and Rohn Malhotra came up with a cracker of a start-up idea…that of setting up an e-commerce portal where they would make merchandise and memorabilia for institutions. And thus Alma Mater was born in 2009. “The aim was to make merchandise for every school and college in India. We have now catered to over 2,500 schools and colleges across 160 cities and 12 different countries,” says Varun. Not just the metropolitans, their clients also come from small towns and cities such as Jabalpur, Ranebennuru, Belur, Laxmangarh, Dhanbad, Shillong, Ernakulam…

Rohn and Varun were classmates at Bishop Cotton Boy’s School, Bangalore. Varun then moved to Mumbai to pursue film-making and Rohn was a management consultant at KPMG. “I had come down on a short break to Bangalore and we met up at a pub. We started reminiscing about our school days and how we missed school and thought why not make something for it? The first jerseys we made were of course for our school and had Cottonian printed on it,” says Varun.

Initially the plan was to name the company Backbenchers Inc. but they soon figured out it wouldn’t go down too well and thought of the more appropriate ‘Alma Mater’.

Alma Mater’s client list now includes schools, colleges as well as companies such as Google and Facebook. “A lot of people make cheap quality T-shirts. What we make is for keeps and therefore we invest in quality,” he says.

Alma Mater sources its materials from Tirupur and other places in North India. Most of its manufacturing is done in-house. “Earlier it would take four to five days for an order to get placed as the clients and our team would spend time deciding on the colour, design etc. Now we have introduced Alma Mater Play, a feature that let’s you design your apparel on our website. You can save your design and get your friends to do the same and then vote for the best design,” explains Varun.

The company started with a capital of Rs. one lakh and now has a whopping annual turnover. The initial phase was quite tough for the duo. There was no salary for the first six months, but despite that they persevered. The team now has 20 people and the plan is to get more on board.

The start-up also inspired Varun to author a book last year. Titled How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-founded a Million Dollar Company, it sold 60,000 copies.

He’s currently working on a sequel which will talk about how the two young entrepreneurs took forward the business from there. “Anu Aunty is the negative influence in every youngster’s life. I didn’t realise there were so many people all over who have dreams to start something new. I received mails from at least 30 people who had started a new venture after my book,” he adds.

Sure, that’s an inspiring story for young entrepreneurs but if a trendy jersey/hoodie with your alma mater’s name is all you want, you know who to call. For details visit www.almamaterstore.in