Alma Campus: The Social Network for StudentsBy Brian Chan
Alma Campus straightforwardly pitches its platform as “a college-exclusive social network.” Various social networks already vie for the attention of young adults, but Alma believes it has found a unique niche addressing the needs of higher-ed students; it promises to provide a one-stop shop platform for university students to communicate, share academic knowledge and campus opportunities, and foster communities and groups.
From Personal Experience as Students
The Alma Campus team: (left to right) Andrew Chang, Tyler Smith,
Chetan Rane, Akshay Ramaswamy
Throughout being involved in various campus communities, working alongside many of their peers, and serving as a Teaching Assistant and Resident Assistant respectively, Chetan Rane and Akshay Ramaswamy repeatedly encountered the same problem: their classmates wanted a resource to learn more about other students’ academic and campus experience, but existing websites and platforms weren’t able to provide this information.
“Alma is unique because the profiles you see are people you are interested in and actually see everyday,” says Chetan. He and Akshay, both incoming seniors studying Computer Science at Stanford University, co-founded Alma with the goal of creating a comprehensive academic-social network.
At the time of its launch, Alma’s features included the ability for students to fill out their academic schedules and details to share with other users, search for other students in dorms, and share their interests and activities. It also featured a matchmaking system where users would receive new matches each week with other students who shared classes with them.
1st in Your Network
The social media industry itself is massive already; CB Insights records $1.67 billion in funding for social media startups just in the past year, with a growth of 59% over the previous year. From this perspective, user acquisition and participation will be both Alma’s greatest indicators of success and toughest obstacles.
With students’ social lives already being engaged by Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, and other tools such as Slack and GroupMe being used by campus communities, there is already a form of exhaustion that users face when requested to fill out yet another profile — this could be exacerbated by the comprehensive academic history, interests, and more requested by Alma.
Successfully achieving this, however, would yield many benefits. A consolidated platform with a daily user base of university students across the nation promises many opportunities for monetization, including advertising and partnerships aimed at such a unique and powerful demographic. There is of course also a potential for valuable data to be gleaned from such a platform.
Institutional partnership with schools themselves is not too far of a stretch either, as one could see the advantages such a platform could provide for a school’s population, with the interests of administrators aligned as well. However, this would come with its own social risk when being associated with the official school. Either way, other options to improve growth would be to implement ways for the extensive profile-filling process to be automated.
Akshay shared that plans for upcoming product features include “newsfeeds” for communities and clubs within which members will be able to post, providing a powerful use case different from pure social media. Such a unified platform of interaction could potentially replace the previously mentioned mix of current campus communication tools, driving up daily user interaction. Overall, there are a number of potential opportunities in the future.
The Current Report Card
Led by Norwest Venture Partners, Alma’s seed round closed at 1 million, including other investors such as Lightspeed Venture Partners, Felicis Ventures, Rough Draft Ventures, and individual investors including Marissa Mayer. Akshay and Chetan have also brought on two other founding team members and software engineers, Andrew Chang and Tyler Smith, to assist with Alma’s upcoming growth.
Alma’s January 2018 launch at Stanford garnered over 2,000 signups, with 60% of users coming back weekly to conduct searches or find information. No money was spent on advertising or customer acquisition, yet the founders were soon directly contacted by students from 15 other universities who expressed the desire to see Alma on their campuses.
The upcoming fall release will likely garner plenty of student feedback. “I like the idea behind it, but the ease of access isn’t high enough,” says David Pantera, a rising sophomore at Stanford who used it during Alma’s early 2018 beta launch. “It would also be nice if I could create filters when being matched with people to find similar interests, or if it could automatically suggest joinable groups for users,” he offered.
Beyond the Classroom
The founders plan to utilize the strong nature of university student networks to continue to grow Alma’s user base. One challenge they are looking forward to, Akshay says, is “figuring out each university’s nuances and navigating [their] strategy to fit each type of student culture.” For this reason, they have been actively hiring diverse and influential campus ambassadors at each location to help Alma’s introduction to each campus ecosystem.
Furthermore, the founders are interested in expanding beyond the current student ecosystem; they have plans to grow into the alumni space, where over 100 million alumni are tied to institutions but may feel disconnected from their alma maters. In fact, the founders shared, the idea of members of a university being more connected with each other was what inspired the platform’s name.
This growth is currently in action, with Alma launching at Berkeley on the same day as this article’s publication as their first semester begins. Additionally, the founders plan to have introduced the platform to all the UCs and USC this fall and the Ivy League schools at this time next year, with other schools such as Northwestern, OSU, and Duke in their sights as well.
With over 7,000 colleges/universities and 20 million college students in America, Alma’s mission to become the go-to platform for university students is intriguing and definitely one to watch as time goes on.