upGrad - Send Your Career Soaring With Online Courses from Reputed Institutes

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With an exponential growth in the number of internet and smartphone users in India, turning online to get one's tasks done is now mainstream. Education falls under this umbrella as well. Online tutoring has many benefits, some of which are economical courses, flexible schedules, and 24/7 access to get doubts and queries cleared. This has made online learning popular irrespective of the age-group.

upGrad, a Mumbai based startup is bringing the best out of the online education segment. It has tied up with world-class institutes to facilitate access to career-oriented courses and assist Indian students and working professionals who want to upgrade their careers. We interviewed upGrad founder Mayank Kumar to know how the startup was started, and how it is helping students and professionals pursue higher education online.

upGrad - Company Highlights

Startup Name upGrad
Headquarters Mumbai
Founders Ronnie Screwvala, Mayank Kumar, Phalgun Kompalli, and Ravijot Chugh
Sector EdTech
Founded 2015
Parent Organization UpGrad Education Pvt. Ltd
Website upGrad.com

What is upGrad?
upGrad - Industry Details
upGrad - Founders And Team
upGrad - Work Culture
upGrad - How It Began
upGrad - Name, Tagline And Logo
upGrad - Courses
upGrad - Business Model And Revenue Model
upGrad - Funding And Investors
upGrad - User Acquisition
upGrad - Startup Challenges
upGrad - Competitors
upGrad - Acquisitions
upGrad - Advisors And Mentors
upGrad - Growth / Revenue
upGrad - Partnership
upGrad - Awards
upGrad - Future Plans


Check out this List of EdTech Startups in India | Emerging Education Startups


What is upGrad?

upGrad Education Pvt. Ltd. is an online higher education company that provides programs in areas of data, technology, and management to college students, first-time job seekers, and working professionals to empower individuals to reach their peak potential. These programs are designed in collaboration with top-notch universities like IIIT-B, BITS Pilani, MICA, Cambridge Judge Business School Executive Education, and others.

To enhance the learning experience further, a comprehensive ecosystem has been built which includes, but is not restricted to one-on-one mentoring, peer-to-peer learning, industry networking, and most importantly an expert career guidance. This ensures a holistic approach to gain the maximum out of the programs offered.

"We, at upGrad, had always believed in the potential of online education being able to transform careers. Hence, the development and adherence to the company’s vision statement since its inception in 2015 - ‘Building careers of tomorrow’.", said Ronnie Screwvala, upGrad founder.

upGrad - Industry Details

As per an IBEF report, the higher education market in India stands at US$ 102 billion. If we consider the online higher education market, it stands at US$ 247 million and is expected to grow by 8X to reach USD 1.96 billion marks in 2021. Techavio’s industry research report pegs the online education market in India to be worth about USD 18 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of around 20% over five years.

The total enrollment in higher education in India has been estimated to be 34.6 million, the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education is 24.5% for the age group of 18-23 years, and the distance enrollment constitutes about 11.05% of the total enrollment in higher education. The perception of recruiters towards online degrees in India has also changed since UGC permitted eligible universities to offer degree courses online. This decision is a revolutionary step propelling the online education sector in India.


Relevant Read: Notebook- An EdTech Startup That is Making Self -Learning Fun


upGrad - Founders And Employees

upGrad was founded in 2015 by Ronnie Screwvala, Mayank Kumar, Phalgun Kompalli, and Ravijot Chugh.

upGrad Founders
upGrad Founders

Ronnie Screwvala is the chairman. Ronnie is a well-known personality in the Indian television industry and the founder of UTV Group (now known as Walt Disney India), founder trustee of Swades Foundation, founder of Unilazer Ventures, Board of Advisor AIESEC India, and the founder of RSVP Movies. He has been named on Esquire's List of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century and ranked 78 among the 100 most influential people in the world on the Time 100 (compiled by Time Magazine, 2009). He was also listed amongst 25 Asia’s Most Powerful People by Fortune Magazine and titled the Jack Warner of India by Newsweek.

Mayank Kumar is the managing director and leads the overall operations. Before his upGrad stint, Mayank was the VP of Education at Bertelsmann—Europe’s largest media and education conglomerate—where he oversaw the education strategy and its multi-million dollar investments in India. He also served as a Board Member of iNurture—India’s No. 1 provider of industry-specific academic programs. Mayank holds a B.Tech from IIT Delhi and an MBA from the Indian School of Business. He received the coveted BWDISRUPT 40-under-40 Achiever of the Year Award'17 by BW Businessworld.

Before joining Bertelsmann, Mayank was a Senior Principal at The Parthenon Group where he advised clients in the education sector on market potential, growth and market entry strategies, investment decisions, as well as revenue and profit uplift strategies. He participated in deals worth US$1 billion flowing into the education sector and worked with global clients across geographies traversing China, South-East Asia, Middle East India, and South America. He also worked at the Tata Strategic Group, advising Tata’s strategic direction.

Ravijot Chugh heads career services, product, design, content, delivery, and student success divisions at upGrad. Ravijot has been a part of Housing.com as a product lead, and with the Parthenon Group—advising multiple companies and private equity investors on due diligence, market-entry, and growth strategy in the education sector of emerging markets across the Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa. He also co-founded a social travel startup called 36hrs.in in San Francisco. Ravijot Chugh holds a Bachelors's degree in Computer Science from IIT-Delhi and was part of the Forbes Asia 30 under 30 cohort of 2018.

Phalgun Kompalli is the head of Sales and Marketing. He heads university partnerships and customer acquisition in addition to sales and marketing. Before UpGrad, Phalgun was a Principal at The Parthenon Group—an education strategy-consulting firm—where he was involved in advising large education conglomerates and investment funds on their growth and investment strategy in the education sector.

Phalgun has done significant work in the field of higher education and technology-enabled learning across India, the US, Brazil, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Phalgun worked at Opera Solutions before his Parthenon stint. Opera Solutions is an analytics firm providing consultation to Fortune 500 companies on their revenue and cost optimization initiatives through data analytics. Phalgun completed his Bachelors in Technology from IIT Delhi.

upGrad has a workforce of over 400 employees and had plans to add 100+ employees in FY 21. The company has recently strengthened its senior leadership team to capitalize on potential opportunities in the online education sector.

The company has appointed Tanya Ahluwalia as the Vice President – Brand Marketing, while Rahul Karthikeyan will head Digital Marketing. Tanya brings 18 years of experience to the table by working with leading organizations like Coca-Cola, BBlunt, Nike, Unilever, and Delta Corp. Rahul has in the marketing and advertising industry for the last 11 years in different capacities. He was the head of Digital Performance for the West Region at Wavemaker and worked with leading brands such as Vodafone, Eureka Forbes, NMIMS, and Flipkart.

In April 2019, Kushal Dev Kashyap, former Senior Manager ( Business Development) at Byju's joined the startup as Associate Director of Business Development. In May 2019, Abhishek Arora joined upGrad as the Chief Business Officer – Consumer Business.

Since its inception, the post of Chief Executive Officer was vacant. However, in March 2020, upGrad appointed Arjun Mohan as its CEO for India operations. Formerly CBO (Chief Business Officer) at Byju's, Mohan has over a decade of experience in the edtech sector. Besides Byju', Mohan also worked with reputed companies like Titan Industries, Tata Motors, Tata Realty and Infrastructure Ltd (TRIL), and Sir Dorabji Tata and Allied Trusts.

Over the last two years, the startup has developed a holistic digital education experience for working professionals and college students for upskilling and reskilling. We are happy that the new senior leadership brings diverse and rich learnings for upGrad to unlock the immense potential in the online education space and understand the Indian learners. We will continue this growth momentum, offering innovative opportunities for the working professionals and students to equip themselves with the new-age skills for the workforce of the future- Ronnie Screwvala & Mayank Kumar, Co-founders of upGrad.

upGrad - Work Culture

upGrad’s vision revolves around ‘Building Careers of Tomorrow’. The learning experience it delivers to its learners is at the core of its business. The team constantly strives for excellence and has a high degree of passion and pride in whatever it does. Some of the main highlights of their work culture are:

  • It is committed to building careers of tomorrow: People working with the company have a sense of job satisfaction and a feeling of doing something special since their contribution has the power to improve the customer/learner’s life and career.
  • It supports innovation: As an Edtech company, upGrad believes that technology is the future. That's why the employees are constantly motivated to take up innovative initiatives across various functions.
  • Open culture: The leadership team is highly approachable, the structure is flat, and encourages employees to take up initiatives.
  • Promote Upskilling: Being a company that endorses upskilling, it spurs its employees to take up its courses at discounted rates for staying relevant with changing times.
  • Encourage transparency and creative thinking: Being a young organization with an employee strength of 400+ and an average age of 28, upGrad is ready to push boundaries in the field of education,

The key traits of work culture are centered around:

  • Long term thinking with Clinical Execution.
  • Empathy and Impact.
  • Accountability and Ownership.
  • Delivering Excellence.    
"We at upGrad always look for passion in an individual, be it for work or outside work. The individual may be passionate about running, social work, movies, music, traveling, etc. For us, passion demonstrates how driven an individual is & how diligently they follow their passion.", said Mayank Kumar, founder of upGrad.

Relevant Read: The Learning Buddy- Letting Children Learn through Augmented Reality


upGrad - How It Began?

Mayank has vast experience in the education industry, both as an advisor and an investor. Mayank observed the benefits of low infrastructure costs and a large student base in reducing the price of procuring education via the online channel. This led to online courses being 53% cheaper than offline alternatives. Owing to the flexibility of time, schedule, etc., online education is a pretty convenient mode of learning. As a result, many online education companies have sprung up to cater to the huge scope for online courses.

While there were companies in the K12 segment and platforms providing MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), none of them provided formal education coupled with a comprehensive learning experience. Mayank foresaw that the requirement for online learning would be much higher for technical certifications given the increase in the working population at that time. Again, none of the existing companies completely tapped into the online higher education space. This led to the ideation of upGrad that was subsequently launched in 2015.

“We first built a content team which has now grown by 5 folds. They created subject matter from scratch, collecting and collating industry trends and university curriculum. We quickly developed a tech team that focuses purely on the smooth functioning of our online platform. Since then we have always focused on building a great online learning experience by collaborating with the right universities like BITS Pilani, IIIT-Bangalore, Cambridge Judge Business School of Executive Education, etc. We also have collaborations with some of the industry's best such as Google, Flipkart, Gramener to name a few in order to create a cohesive and practical learning experience” says upGrad owner Mayank Kumar, explaining the inception phase of the company.

Starting with its first program in entrepreneurship, the startup has created some of India’s largest online programs to help thousands of professionals and college students achieve their career goals in the areas of data, technology, and management. Today their platform has over 35 programs.

“Interestingly, we had registered the company under the name of UEducation when we started. Very soon we conducted an exercise with an external agency to determine our brand name and logo. Through that exercise, we came upon the name - upGrad” adds Mayank.

As told by Mayank, two key reasons behind choosing the name 'upGrad' were:

  1. It had a smart twist.
  2. It had a nice connotation to the word “graduation”

upGrad is all about upgrading lives and careers by offering graduation or post graduation programs.

upGrad Logo
Narrating the concept of the company's logo, Mayank says “Development of the brand logo was an interesting exercise too. While we looked at multiple options - we liked the existing one where G was in upper-case and highlighted. The shape of the ‘G’ resembles the refresh icon. Hence the logo represents that upGrad is about enabling a refresh for your life and career”

upGrad - Courses

The online courses offered include MBA, IT Courses, Data Science, Machine Learning, Digital Marketing, Software, Blockchain, Insurance related courses, and more. upGrad has a structured educational program for every level of a person's career— right from college to professional employment.

In line with its vision of ‘Building Careers of Tomorrow’, this Mumbai based startup inspires college students to take the initial steps towards their professional journey. It focuses on getting them job-ready. The courses prepares students to crack the recruitment processes for different roles through aptitude training, resume building, mock interview prep sessions, and high focus on topics that matter in the field.

The startup has also launched programs with a guaranteed job for those who are seeking their first employment. The program offers a guaranteed job upon successful completion of the program. On the other hand, working professionals have the advantage of going back to the university through its immersive learning platform without the need to quit their jobs. On course completion, the learners become an alumnus of the partner university. They also get to attend on-campus hackathons and graduation ceremonies.

They also provide solutions to enterprises seeking the upskilling of their employees. In FY 19-20, upGrad entered in partnership with 2 of India’s leading IT services companies - Infosys and Wipro. These are multi-year deals and have a strong repeat element. With this, the company has established a strong position in the enterprise ecosystem as well.

The team has also introduced a concept called upGrad basecamp. This is a unique concept wherein the learners get a chance to network and engage in peer-to-peer learning through offline meetups. They also receive career support which involves resume building, career landscaping, mock interviews, interview guarantees, and more. The ‘Just in Time’ Interview Prep by upGrad helps out learners with last-minute interview preparation, guiding them through key concepts before interviews, and mentoring them through the joining process.

One of the key USP for upGrad is mentorship - the very fact that the startup spends money on mentoring while others find a course and put it online. Some other differentiators are - tech platform, interactive interface, and content—all of which have been created from scratch by the team. The team doesn’t aggregate content and assemble. About 60-70% of the upGrad’s curriculum comes from lecturers or mentors who bring in their real-life experiences to the learners. Once enrolled, learners can simply log on to learn.upgrad.com and access the course they enrolled for. Their learning platform lets users learn seamlessly and interactively.

The company has also teamed up with Agora.io, the leading voice, video, and live streaming platform, to launch upGrad Live platform, which is built to replicate a real-time classroom learning experience for their learners by providing greater interactivity, real-time doubt resolution, in-class concept check and session analytics to gauge live session performances.

Learners have spent close to a million hours of learning on the platform. This is a huge testament to the learning platform that the team has built - which is now capable of delivering quality education at scale.


Relevant Read: Be Exam Ready with OnlineTyari


upGrad - Business Model And Revenue Model

upGrad is largely a direct B2C company where consumer enrolls in the program (post receiving an admit) and pays upfront for the enrollment. For its enterprise business, the company receives payment from companies for training their employees.

upGrad’s program pricing reflects its commitment towards getting students placed. 50% of the program fees are collected from the learner, only if they get placed after the program completion. This kind of pricing is the first of its kind in India.

upGrad - Funding And Investors

The company has been funded by the founders themselves. It has not raised any external funding. The first phase of investment went in to build the learning experience, product, content, and pedagogy. The second phase of investment is emphasizing on creating larger awareness amongst consumers and corporate entities.

Currently, upGrad is not actively looking at external funding. But there have been inbound interests from investors, both financial and strategic. Their focus is to invest in three segments:

  1. New programs
  2. Greater awareness
  3. Product and learning experience

upGrad - User Acquisition

For the first 100 customers, upGrad used a lot of offline events to promote its initiative. The founders personally spoke to each of the learners. Prospective learners had to share their video profiles and SOPs (Statement of Purpose) before enrolling. Post that, they were given 2 weeks of learning content for free. Only after experiencing the free content was the payment option made available to them.

“We had expected that initially, 50-60 learners would enroll, but 100 ended up enrolling in the program. It was one of the most exhilarating and humbling experiences for us” recalls Mayank.

The approach of attracting consumers also included partnerships with entrepreneurship-focused publications to spread the word around. For increasing the customer base, they focused on some of the subject-specific channels to attract learners. It tied up with universities to launch the next set of programs. Those partnerships helped scale the programs.  

upGrad has tie-up with the following educational institutes:

  • International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-B)
  • Birla Institute of Technology and Science
  • Pilani (BITS Pilani)
  • MICA
  • Duke Corporate Education (Duke CE)
  • Cambridge Judge Business School
  • Institute of Management Technology (IMT Ghaziabad)
  • HDFC Life for insurance-related courses.
  • IIT Madras, for certification course on Machine Learning and Cloud

In 2019, upGrad unveiled its first ad campaign featuring actor Vicky Kaushal. The film breaks the myth of online education being ineffective by showcasing how impactful the online education space is and equally good as traditional offline education.

The second campaign was based on the insight that the Indian working professionals are in a state of inertia where they feel that they do not need to go back to learning once they have a job. These films ought to make customers realize that one has no choice but to learn and upskill themselves to remain relevant in today’s day and time. The campaigns shed light upon their unique online power learning approach and demonstrate its influence, and the role it can play in the positive transformation of an individual's career. It further intends to establish the fact that in this fast-changing world of technology, new-age skills at the workplace are coveted and that upskilling is a necessity.


Relevant Read: My Class Campus- An All in One Education ERP


upGrad - Startup Challenges

Like all businesses, there were multiple challenges encountered. The most significant was the stigma surrounding the credibility of online education. There is a general perception that online education is frivolous. upGrad had to prove otherwise through its product, customer experience, and success stories; this was a tough job.

Getting recruiters to accept that online education could be as rigorous as offline education was the next hurdle. Finally, when it came to product pricing, upGrad priced itself at a discount to offline providers, but at a premium to other online providers. It was an uphill task to explain the value proposition of the programs to the learners.

“The entire task of building a higher education brand is made more arduous by the prevailing consumer mindset around education. Education in India is considered by many as a time-bound, one-time activity, post completion of which one starts working and does not go back to studying again. It is a mammoth task to change the mindset of the people by convincing them that education has no age limit, lifelong learning is the new mantra and need of the hour for all” - Mayank says.

upGrad - Competitors

Top competitors of upGrad include Coursera, Edureka, Simplilearn, and Unacademy.

However, there are features that set it apart from its competitors. One of the main However, some features set it apart from its competitors. One of the main USPs is the hand-holding provided to each of their learners. This practice is called ‘Student Mentorship’ and the team behind this is known as ‘Student Success’ at upGrad.

“We even hear it from our students as well till today, that there is no other brand that has been able to provide this level of direction, guidance, motivation and support the way we do. The moment a learner is assigned a batch to begin the program, a student mentor gets in touch with them. From day one onwards, the learner/mentee and student mentor start communicating regarding program specific topics. From then on the learner’s experiences, life’s problems and joys become an unforgettable part of the student ,mentor’s life too. Such is the bond that we build with the learner. And when that learner receives his certification/diploma at the end of the program, nothing makes our student mentor happier than to see his mentee succeed” - Mayank Kumar.

Also read: Coursera - World's Largest Online Education Portal!


upGrad - Acquisitions

upGrad acquired Acadview Software in 2018, thereby venturing into the college education space. Before this, the company had acquired Pyoopil Education Technologies, a mobile-based SaaS (Software-as-a-service) product used by companies to deploy online training in 2016. In 2019, upGrad acquired CohortPlus, India’s largest and most active community on Product Management and Data Science.

Acquired Date
Pyoopil Education Technologies Pvt Ltd October 2016
AcadView October 2018
CohortPlus July 2019

upGrad - Advisors And Mentors

Emphasizing the importance of knowledgeable advisors for an entrepreneur, Mayank says “there are many acquaintances who have been helping me, guiding me as I go along the journey. As an entrepreneur, you tend to dive deep into execution and thoughts, thereby sometimes failing to look at the bigger picture. It is always good to meet with well-wishers, bounce off ideas and get an outside-in perspective,”

upGrad - Growth / Revenue

upGrad has been on an upward trajectory since its inception and has so far empowered careers of over 300K working professionals in India. In 2019, the company reached a 1250 career transition mark.

In a short span of around 5 years, this startup on-boarded over 21.5K paid learners and impacted more than 370K individuals globally, making it India’s largest online higher-education company, based on gross revenue generated from the Indian market in FY18-19. In the last 2 years, upGrad's gross revenue has increased six times. It witnessed a 113% jump in its gross revenue from 57 crores in FY-18 to 121 crores in FY-19.


Relevant Read: Stay Ahead with Technical Courses from TAD Courses


upGrad - Partnership

In 2017, upGrad in collaboration with 'Invest India' developed the 'Startup India Learning Program'. 'Startup India Learning Program' is a free online entrepreneurship course by Startup India.

upGrad - Awards

Being a well known and reputed name in online education, upGrad has been recognized and awarded by many prestigious bodies.

  • In 2016, it got selected as the official education partner for Govt of India’s ‘Start-up India’ learning program. Through the program, they offer entrepreneurship programs in 2 languages—Hindi and English—to budding entrepreneurs of India.
  • In 2017, Mayank Kumar, Co-Founder, and CEO, was awarded as the Achiever of the Year, by BW Disrupt (Business World) at their 40 Under 40 event.
  • In 2017, the startup was featured as the ‘Top 10 Most Innovative Companies India’ by Fast Company.
  • The company received the ‘Best Education Brands’ award by Economic Times and made it to LinkedIn’s ‘Top 25 Startups’ in 2018.
  • Two of the co-founders, Ravijot Chugh and Phalgun Kompalli, are listed in Forbes 30 Under 30 class of 2018.
  • In 2018, upGrad’s Machine Learning Program - PG Diploma in Machine Learning and AI in association with IIIT Bangalore, was ranked as the #1 Course on Artificial Intelligence in India by Analytics India Magazine.
  • The company has also been awarded the ‘Best Tech for Education’ by IAMAI in 2019.

Relevant read: Unacademy raised $110 Million from the likes of Facebook and Others!


upGrad - Future Plans

In the next 5 years, upGrad aims to train and build careers of over 1 million learners and expects its impact to reach to at least 5 million working professionals associated with them in a cascading effect. This growing ecosystem in the long run will serve the momentum for establishing it as India’s largest online higher education company with a strong focus on employability.

The company is all set to revolutionize the online learning experience and enhance the employability quotient of its learners!

"Distance learning has been the precursor to upGrad, while augmented learning will be the successor. As a virtual university, we want both students and educators to benefit from embracing new technologies for higher education. Universities on the other side of the globe have been quick to adopt new-age technologies. It’s time our country picked up the pace, as upGrad’s online power learning experience is as good as offline, if not better." - Mayank Kumar.
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About Chayanika Goswami

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About Rishabh Rathi

I am a computer science student and freelancer. I love learning new things and challenging myself.
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