Don’t let Anu Aunty stand in the way of your startup!

When in the 12th standard he decided he would study filmmaking. But he ended up joining an Engineering college due to his parents’ persuasion. In spite of this he learnt filmmaking on his own and shot videos with Pentagram, AR Rahman and Priety Zinta among others. At 25 he runs 3 startups: Alma Mater, a memorabilia company for schools and colleges in India; Reticular, a Social Media Marketing Agency, and Last Minute Films, an independent production company founded in 2008. Bangalore based Varun Agarwal is now all set to bring out a book on his entrepreneurial journey: “How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-founded a Million Dollar Company”. All entrepreneurs have their own share of “Anu Aunty” while starting up, people who discourage and undermine your work as an entrepreneur. Let’s learn more about how Varun dealt with Anu Aunty!!

“The book is basically about my journey of being an entrepreneur. How I started Alma Mater, the problems I faced, the things I learnt. The book is a must read for anyone looking to start an e-commerce company from scratch. I think in India most people don’t like sharing their experience because they think they shouldn’t “share their secrets”. This is quite the opposite abroad where young entrepreneurs constantly write about their experiences and where there are so many books on those lines. I hope my book brings about a change.” says Varun about the book. He answers a few more questions about the book and himself.

Tell us more about your journey as an entrepreneur.

When I was in the 12th standard, I decided I would study filmmaking. I applied to a bunch of colleges, but forgot that it wasn’t so easy to do what you like in this country. My parents were quick to trash all my plans, and I was forced to study four torturous long years of engineering.

I naturally didn’t want to give up on my passion, so I started making films whenever I got the time during engineering – which seemed to be filled with never-ending tests.  There were times I got so depressed. I was on the verge of breaking into some tragic Bollywood song. Using the best “filmy” emo dialogue I could muster, I got my mum to buy me a camera. After I got the camera, I taught myself to write, shoot and edit film.

In 2007, I made a music video for one of India’s top rock bands, Pentagram. The video got noticed, and was played on VH1 like 51 times a day. (Actually 51 times a day!). A production company in Bombay saw the video, and flew me down to offer me a full time job to direct. Not to be some assistant or intern, but to actually start directing. I was 20 years old then. My mum still wasn’t convinced, and asked me to come back to finish my engineering.

In 2008 barely a few months out of college I was directing videos for Phat Phish Productions in Bombay. Within a few days of joining I found myself in Chennai at the studios of AR Rahman directing him in a video. A few weeks later I was directing Priety Zinta in music video for a song by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. In spite of this my parents were very skeptical.

In 2009 I decided to start a company with one of my friends. Yet again, I faced a lot of opposition from both family and friends.  It was an E-commerce company, and no one around me got it. The idea was born over a drunken night at one of Bangalore’s famous pubs ‘Noon Wines’. We actually wrote down the entire business plan on a piece of tissue. Ideas like these are born every time young, enthusiastic entrepreneurial minds meet up over drinks. But in the light of day, everything fizzles out.

Thankfully for us, it didn’t.

What made you decide to write a book on your experience as an entrepreneur?

So I used to write a lot of blogs on the Facebook page of my company Alma Mater. The blogs used to be about the challenges I faced while setting up my company and the usual stereotypical mindset of my parents and this aunt “Anu Aunty”. The blogs were a huge hit and people started constantly asking me about Anu Aunty. Each blog would get like 70-80 likes and numerous comments. At this juncture a lot people started coaxing to me to write a book about my story. I never took any of them seriously because I’m not a writer and have never been one. But each time I would write a blog more people started hounding me to write a book. So just to test the waters I sent a couple of my blog posts to Rupa Publishers. Surprisingly they replied in a couple of days asking for the complete manuscript. Now that I knew a major publishing house was interested I started writing and turned in my manuscript which they loved.

At a young age you are in a way a serial entrepreneur – what other plans to you have in the pipeline? What are your plans with your current ventures?

My current plans are to develop and solidify my 3 current ventures – Alma Mater, Reticular and Last Minute Films. As far as the future is concerned I have like 8 ideas ready to be converted into businesses if only I had the time. Sometimes I wonder why God gave us only 24 hours in a day. Besides if I start another company my girl friend is probably gonna kill me!

What’s your advice to young college kids out there thinking of starting up?

My advice would be simple – take the leap first and then think. Not the other way round. That’s because a lot of people end up wasting a lot of time planning, thinking etc etc. Like Branson famously said “Screw it, let’s do it”

Varun’s book “How I Brave Anu Aunty and Co-founded a Million Dollar Company” will be out in March. You can follow updates on the Facebook Fanpage here: https://www.facebook.com/anuauntybook                       

Image: One of the proposed cover designs for the book.