September 3, 2014
When last we spoke with Alumnify they were proving to us, and by extension a larger group of young entrepreneurs, that an entrepreneurial career path is more than viable right out of college. The alumni networking startup, co-founded by college entrepreneurs AJ Agrawal and Eghosa (Iggy) Aihie, had just won $40,000 of the $50,000 pot at the University of San Diego’s (USD) V2 Pitch competition.
Since then the startup has been anything but dormant, securing over 10 university-clients on their platform and growing with a steady progression. When I heard about their most recent bout of funding, I reached back out to Agrawal and Aihie. Only a year removed from undergraduate graduation, these two are absolutely killing it.
Tech Cocktail: How did your victory at the USD SIC help to get you where you are now?
Agrawal: The $40,000 prize money from USD allowed us to fuel our sales and marketing so we could get more clients and expand our reach. However, greater than the money was the attention and press that came afterwards.
We had noticed gradual progress before we won, but after sealing the victory everything started happening fast. Biggest among the new opportunities presented us was a $500,000 funding round.
We decided to raise the funding in milestones, starting with a modest $150,000 round followed closely by a $165,000 investment from Village88, an investment fund created by Michael Choi and Richard Wang.
Currently we’re being as conservative as possible so we can continue to generate more revenue, giving us a larger run rate. As opposed to many start-up CEOs, I’m a big fan of raising money in small quantities, slashing expenses, reaching milestones, and then raising a little more.
Big rounds of funding are definitely helpful but often unnecessary: the longer you can hold out, the more control you can keep over your business. We’re currently adding about 2-3 schools a month as customers, and we’ll sustain this growth as long as possible.
Tech Cocktail: It seems like USD has really backed Alumnify and helped you guys get some traction. Are you going to pursue any further action with them in your venture?
Agrawal: Obviously the initial $40,000 and board member investments were huge in terms of support from our alma mater. They even invited us back to speak about Alumnify to current USD students interested in entrepreneurial careers.
All of the attention has also sparked questions from alumni and students both about when we’re going to be launching to the Torero Family. We’re still waiting for the right time to launch at USD, but we’re absolutely working hard to announce an official date soon. It’s humbling to see how much USD has given back to us since we set out.
Tech Cocktail: As we know, USD wasn’t the only organization giving you support. Can you go into a bit more detail about your partnership with Village 88?
Agrawal: Michael Choi was originally the founder of the Coding Dojo Bootcamp, and I’m an alumnus of the program. We built version 1 of Alumnify at his Bootcamp and then started talks of investment with them.
Then, last month, Village88 invested $165,000 into Alumni which will help us make amazing improvements to our existing solution. Specifically, the plan is to build out new features like rewards systems and an interactive admin dashboard.
And getting to work alongside Choi and Wang has been an amazing experience thus far. They really understand our mission and where we want to take Alumnify.
Tech Cocktail: What’s the driving philosophy that keeps you guys going?
Iggy: One of the core values that we look to push is uniqueness. Too many leaders take themselves too seriously, and that can cause them to become isolated from the rest of their team.
When we started Alumnify, one of our overarching goals was to always be authentic and welcome uniqueness from every team member on staff. We always want our colleagues to love what they do and feel like they can be themselves without having to worry what others think.
Outside of that we put a lot of effort on culture growth. Every team member is encouraged to improve themselves both mentally and physically, because when you can help people grow outside of work they’ll be happier, more productive, and work harder.
Of course, all of this wouldn’t be possible without our focus on communications and company culture. Our CTO Michael Greenberg actually made it one of his top priorities to have fluid communications throughout the entire company.
Tech Cocktail: Have you encountered any competition in the alumni engagement space yet?
Iggy: We’ve come across Evertrue, who have been a great competitor for us to date. However, at its core, we’re both solving different problems with our solution geared more towards the young alumni demographic.
People keep asking us if they’re our rivals, and I think it’s because both of us are building solutions for alumni engagement that haven’t been seen before. We tend to view it as more of a constructive, healthy, and fun competition with other dedicated entrepreneurs.
I always smile when we can get a customer on the board who’s also considering Evertrue through, and I’m sure they feel the same.
Tech Cocktail: You guys really have a good chemistry. How do your entrepreneurial styles complement each other?
Agrawal: We’re a yin and yang team: he’s more of an aggressive risk taker, where I am much more conservative. What makes us a great co-founder team is that we’re polar opposites in many ways when it comes to business.
Eghosa is someone who trusts his gut, has amazing confidence in any situation, and wants to keep growing rapidly. I am much more focused on data, steady growth, and have a habit of spending as much time as possible before making major decisions. I think you need both personalities in business, and it’s definitely helped us get to where we are.
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