Varun Agarwal, founder of Alma Mater, the college t-shirt store, and best-selling author, wears many hats. In his talk at the Summit, he focused on why it’s important for youngsters to just pursue their various passions, even if they are unrelated to each other
Like many other youth in our country, Varun Agarwal too, found himself entering the portals of an engineering college. But that was not where his heart lay, and the moment he failed to get his degree, he went where his dreams beckoned; to the world of film making.
Since his days in school, he was always seen with a handycam, making short films and music videos. And when he decided to pursue this passion, Agarwal sought work in a production house.
It was an experience that boosted his confidence and made him realise that he had it in him to succeed in life. This conviction is vindicated by the fact that he successfully straddles three worlds; being an entrepreneur, author and film maker.
Often, he turns his ideas into action instead of weighing out their pros and cons. “People tend to think a lot but not act, so I say, do first, think later,” points out Agarwal.
After pursuing his BE in telecommunication, Agarwal joined a production house where he worked with not one but two stars – AR Rahman and Preity Zinta. He recalls the feeling before he met Rahman. “I was s**t scared and schools and colleges don’t teach you what to do when you are so scared,” he confesses. But it also taught him that if you love what you do, then you do well.
When he met Preity Zinta for another video, she said, “That’s all fine, but who is the director?” He was not even out of his teens at that time and she thought he was playing a prank on her, MTV ‘Bakra’ style. “But it is moments like this that teach you a lot more than what 14 years of education don’t,” says Agarwal.
After I graduated from engineering I was trying my best to start my company but my mum thought I had lost focus in life; so she enlisted Anu Aunty to put me back on track. I started blogging about my experience with Anu Aunty and that led to the book.” – on his book ‘How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-founded a Million Dollar Company’
His stint as a director made him decide that he wanted to do something on his own.
He now runs a production house, The Last Minute Films, which has a channel on Youtube that has registered a million views. The firm is a Youtube partner, so every time anyone watches the channel, the channel gets paid – one of the few Indian channels to be monetised in such a manner.
Agarwal went on to start Alma Mater, a merchandising company for colleges and schools. “It is a brilliant idea and yet nobody was doing it,” he points out. “We didn’t know a thing about running a business and we are not taught Microsoft Excel in engineering, the most important tool for every business,” he jokes. So Agarwal and his friends went the informal way, contacting different suppliers they knew and learnt how to put a sweatshirt together. They had the logo of their school embossed and got permission to put up a stall in Bishop Cotton School, Bengaluru, Agarwal’s alma mater. Seeing him wearing his own shirt attracted the first customer and before the end of the day, the team had sold 2,500 hoodies! The idea seemed workable.
Seeing Cottonians wearing jackets with the name of their alma mater, demand for other such jackets also started pouring in and Alma Mater was well and truly in business. In 2010, Alma Mater commenced production and started to provide merchandise for various colleges and schools across India.
This is also where much of the trouble started. Everybody started dissuading Agarwal, telling him to take up a regular job. But that did not deter Agarwal, who thought that if this failed, he would have learnt something more from the experience. “We started growing and the media started writing about us which helped us slowly build our brand,” he says. As on date, the company services clients from over 3000 schools and colleges, and has sold to over 3 lakh customers and manufactured over 15,000 customized t-shirt designs. The company grossed annual revenues of a million dollars last year, certainly a wonderful milestone for the youngster.
“But the greatest moment of satisfaction was when, sitting in the same bar where we had first thought of this idea, my friend and I saw a boy walk in wearing that same Cottonian hoodie. I think that was the single moment of success. Money cannot motivate you forever…”
“I proved something to myself and when people realise that, they can be a success,” he simply opines.
Agarwal’s third claim to fame is his best-selling book, ‘How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-founded a Million Dollar Company’. Anu aunty is based on a friend of Agarwal’s mother who seemed to have taken on the mantle of an overprotective hen, countermanding his decisions.“ After I graduated from engineering I was trying my best to start my own company but my mum thought I had lost focus in life; so she enlisted Anu Aunty to put me back on track. The book is also about all those troubles I had to go through while dealing with Anu Aunty,” says a candid Agarwal. She was the biggest obstacle to Agarwal’s life and he started blogging about her. People started connecting with him, saying they had had similar experiences. And then came the suggestion that he write a book based on the blog, and thus, was born his first book. “It was supposed to be my life story, but I realised that it is the story of many people’s lives,” says Agarwal. As a result, it gained popularity quickly, spurring Agarwal into the league of best-selling authors.
Today, Agarwal finds that he is not straddling three but four worlds – that of films, entrepreneurship, books and also as a speaker. And this, he sincerely believes, is because he just does as his heart dictates. As he says on his website, “Most ideas fizzle out because everyone spends hours just thinking about them and not doing anything.” And that sums up Brand Varun Agarwal – the juggler.