Stanford Startup Spotlight: Alma, Akshay Ramaswamy

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Akshay Ramaswamy, a senior, is a co-founder of Alma, “a social-academic college network geared towards helping students meet other students on their college campus and plan their academic paths.” The startup has recently garnered attention for receiving $1 million seed funding from investors such as Marissa Mayer.


1. How did you come up with the idea for Alma?

Akshay Ramaswamy: I was the first kid from my school to ever get into Stanford, and I had no one to ask questions to when coming here. It was super hard to navigate through thousands of classes and hundreds of clubs while trying to also make new friends. As an RA last year, I wanted to build a platform that would help alleviate this problem - thus we created Alma, a super powerful directory that would show profiles of people on your campus with information specific to college.

2. How has your startup changed since its establishment?

Akshay Ramaswamy: We were initially a schedule sharing platform, but since then we’ve added more features to make it more of a network, with a newsfeed and group messaging.

3. What was it like to have to go through the process of receiving funding?

Akshay Ramaswamy: We pitched 3-4 days a week all of spring quarter, driving to SF or Sand Hill Road. We learned a lot from out first few pitches, and after about a month we were very polished - I could recite our pitchdeck and metrics in my sleep. We learned to focus on the vision and the future in our pitches rather than the small details and that made all the difference.

4. Would you say Stanford’s startup-friendly environment helped you along the way of creating your startup?

Akshay Ramaswamy: For sure - we went through the Pear Startup Garage and Cardinal Ventures, both of which gave us a crash course on building a company - from legal things and hiring to accounting and finding product market fit.

5. Given that the startup has taken up a sizeable amount of your time, what motivated you to keep dedicating your time when you were busy with school and other extracurricular activities?

Akshay Ramaswamy: I think the biggest shift for me was cutting out other extracurriculars and making sure to schedule in my company like it was a 10-unit class. This way, no matter what’s happening in my classes, I stay disciplined to work on Alma consistently.

6. How do you define roles for employees and yourself in your company?

Akshay Ramaswamy: Since we’re a startup of 4 people and two contractors, we’re small enough such that everyone pretty much works on everything. We play to people’s strengths, however - some people are better at frontend design, others specialize in backend infrastructure. If there’s a skill we don’t think we have on the team, we go out and hire them. That’s how we went out and found our UI/UI designer, who’s was a crucial addition to the team given our lack of knowledge on UI/UX principles.

7. What are your future plans?

Akshay Ramaswamy: We’re currently expanding to other schools and hiring! The goal is to be at around 10 schools by this time next year, and we’re currently at Stanford, USC, and Cal. If anyone is interested in working with an up and coming Stanford startup with venture funding and a stellar set of investors (Marissa Mayer, LinkedIn execs) we’d love to talk to them!