upGrad Your Career with Distance Courses from Reputed Institutes

With an exponential increase in the number of internet and smartphone users in India, a huge chunk of the Indian population is now turning online to get many tasks done. From shopping to ticket booking, from searching for jobs to searching for life partners, young India prefers to do everything online. With everything else, online education is also gaining wide popularity. Online education has many benefits like low cost, the flexibility of learning time, facility to interact personally with instructors and peers and accreditation from reputed educational institutes, etc which have made online education the choice of many students as well as professionals. upGrad, a Mumbai based startup is catering to this need for quality online education by offering a variety of courses by reputed organizations online.

upGrad Startup Success Story

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

About upGrad
Online Higher Education Industry in India
Founders of upGrad and team
upGrad - Work Culture
How was upGrad Started
upGrad - Name and Logo
What is upGrad
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
upGrad - Awards
upGrad - Future Plans

About upGrad

upGrad is an online higher education company which provides programs in areas of Data, Technology and Management to college students, first-time job seekers and working professionals, with an aim of empowering individuals to reach their full professional potential.  These programs are designed and delivered in collaboration with top-notch universities like IIIT-B, BITS Pilani, MICA, Cambridge Judge Business School Executive Education and others.

To further enhance the learning experience, a comprehensive ecosystem has been built which includes one-on-one mentoring, peer-to-peer learning, industry networking and most importantly an expert career guidance, in order to provide learners holistic support to elevate their careers to the next level.

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’.

Online Higher Education Industry in India

As per the IBEF report, the higher education market in India stands at US$ 100 billion. When we look at only the online higher education market, it stands at USD 247 million and is expected to grow by 8X to reach USD 1.96 billion mark in 2021.

As per Techavio’s industry research report, the online education market in India is forecasted to be worth about USD 18 billion by 2022, growing at a CAGR of around 20% over the five-year period.

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, whereas 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 granted eligible universities permission to offer degree courses online. This decision can turn out to be a revolutionary step, boosting the online education sector in India.

Founders of upGrad and Team

The co-founders Ronnie and Mayank Kumar  Ravijot and Phalgun.

Ronnie Screwvala

Chairman of upGrad. Ronnie is a well-known personality in the Indian television industry. He is the Founder UTV Group (Now Walt Disney India), Founder Trustee of Swades Foundation, Founder of Unilazer Ventures, Board of Advisor AIESEC India, Founder of RSVP Movies.

Mayank Kumar

Managing Director, heads the overall operations. Before upGrad, Mayank was VP Education at Bertelsmann, Europe’s largest media and education conglomerate, where he oversaw the education strategy and its multi-million dollar investments in India. In this capacity, he further served as a Board Member of iNurture (www.inurture.com), India’s No. 1 provider of industry-specific academic programs.

Prior to 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$1Bn flowing into the education sector. He worked with global clients across all geographies including China, South-East Asia, Middle East India and South America. He has also worked at the Tata Strategic Group, advising Tata’s strategic direction. Mayank holds a B.Tech from IIT Delhi and an MBA from Indian School of Business. He received the coveted BWDISRUPT 40-under-40 Achiever of the Year Award'17 by BW Businessworld.

Ravijot Chugh

Heads Career Services, Product, Design, Content, Delivery & Student Success. He has previously worked with 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 in emerging markets across the Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa. He also co-founded a social travel startup called 36hrs.in in San Francisco. Ravi holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science from IIT-Delhi and was part of the Forbes Asia 30 under 30 cohort for 2018.

Phalgun Kompalli

Heads Sales & Marketing heads university partnerships & customer acquisition including sales & marketing  Prior to 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 education. Phalgun has done significant work in the field of higher education and technology-enabled learning across India, US, Brazil, Africa and South East Asia. Prior to Parthenon, Phalgun worked at Opera Solutions, an analytics firm consulting Fortune 500 companies on their revenue & cost optimization initiatives through data analytics. Phalgun completed his Bachelors in Technology from IIT Delhi.

Currently upGrad has a strength of over 400 employees and plans to add 100+ employees in FY 20. The company has recently strengthened its senior leadership team to capitalize on the 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 working with leading organizations like Coca-Cola, BBlunt, Nike, Unilever, Delta Corp among others.

Rahul has been associated with the marketing and advertising industry for the last 11 years in different capacities. Rahul was heading Digital Performance for the West Region at Wavemaker and worked with leading brands like Vodafone, Eureka Forbes, NMIMS, and Flipkart among others. and fintech, Abhishek Arora has joined upGrad as the Chief Business Officer – Consumer Business.

Over the last two years upGrad 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

upGrad - Work Culture

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

  • It is committed to building careers of tomorrow - People working with upGrad have a sense of job satisfaction and a feeling of doing something special since the product has the power to improve the customer/learner’s life and career.
  • It supports innovation - As an Edtech company, it believes that technology is the future. Which is why at upGrad employees are constantly motivated to take up innovative initiatives across various functions.
  • Open Culture: At upGrad, it’s all about keeping things transparent. 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, upGrad provides its employees to take up its courses for discounted rates to upskill their skill sets from time-to-time.
  • 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 upGrad’s work culture are-

  • Long term thinking with Clinical Execution
  • Empathy and Impact
  • Accountability & 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.

How was upGrad Started

Mayank has vast experience in the education industry and he has been associated with the industry both as an advisor and as an investor. Mayank observed how low infrastructure costs and large student base reduces the price of education via the online channel. This had led online courses becoming 53% cheaper than offline alternatives.

Besides, owing to the flexibility of time, schedule, etc, online education is more convenient. As such, there is a  huge scope for online courses in the education industry and so a lot of online education companies coming up.

While there were companies in the K12 segment and platforms providing MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), there were no platforms providing formal education as well as 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 the time. Again, no existing company completely tapped the online higher education space. This was the genesis of the idea called upGrad, launched in 2015.

“We first built a content team which has now grown by 5 folds. They create subject matter from scratch, collecting and collating industry trends and university curriculums. 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” Mayank says.  

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

“Interestingly, we had registered the company under the name of UEducation when we started off. 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”.

The two key reasons for choosing the same was –

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

Hence, the name upGrad was chosen, as that meant upgrading lives and careers by offering graduation or post graduation programs.

upGrad Logo

“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”.

What is upGrad

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’, upGrad inspires college students to take the first step towards their professional journey. Its focus is to get them ready for the job. Thus, upGrad prepares them to crack the recruitment processes for these roles with aptitude training, resume building, mock interview prep sessions and a high focus on topics that actually matter on the field.  

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.  

For the first time job seeker, upGrad has also launched programs with a guaranteed job for those who are seeking their first employment. The program offers a guaranteed job on successful completion of the program.

On the other hand, working professionals have the advantage of going back to the university through upGrad’s 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.

upGrad also provides solutions to enterprises looking to upskill their employees. In FY 19-20, upGrad is partnering with 2 of India’s leading IT services companies - Infosys and Wipro. Both these deals are multi-year deals and have a strong repeat element. With this, upGrad has established a strong position in the enterprise ecosystem as well.

upGrad has also introduced a concept called upGrad basecamp. This is a unique concept where 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 differentiators for upGrad is also mentorship - the very fact that upGrad spends money on mentoring, while others find a course and put it online. Some other differentiators are the tech platform, interactivity and content, all of which has been created from scratch by the upGradup team. Grad 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.

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

upGrad - Business Model and Revenue Model

upGrad is largely a direct B2C company, where consumer enrolls into the program (post receiving an admit) and pays upfront for the program. For its enterprise business, the company pays upGrad for training their employees. With companies, upGrad has a certain proportion of its fees linked to success.

upGrad - Funding and Investors

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

Currently, upGrad is not actively looking at raising external funds. But there has been inbound interests from investors - both financial and strategic. upGrad’s focus is to invest in three areas-

  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. All the prospective learner 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, the payment option was made available to them.

upGrad’s approach of attracting consumers also included partnership with entrepreneurship-focused publications to spread the word around.

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

For increasing the customer base, upGrad 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 upgrade scale the program.  Following are some details of upGrad’s tie-up with national and international academic institutes-

Tie-up with 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 the over 20 programs.

In 2019, upGrad unveiled its first ad campaign. Featuring actor Vicky Kaushal, the film introduced consumers to upGrad. The film breaks the myth of online education being ineffective by showcasing how impactful the online education space is today & as good as traditional offline education.

The second part of the TVC 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 are set to make the customers realize that to remain relevant in today’s day and time, one has no choice but to learn and upskill. The campaign shed light upon upGrad’s unique online power learning approach to learners and demonstrates the influence of upGrad and the role it can play in the learner’s life by giving them the opportunity to transform their careers. It further intends to establish the fact that in this fast-changing world of technology there’s a massive demand for new age skills at the workplace and one need to upskill for a better career.

upGrad - Startup Challenges

Like all businesses, there were multiple challenges encountered. The most significant one amongst all was the stigma with 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, which was really a tough job.

Getting recruiters to accept that online education could be as rigorous as offline education, was the next crucial hurdle.

Thirdly, 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.

As rightly said by Mayank, “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”

upGrad - Competitors

upGrad competes with brands like Coursera, Edureka, Simplilearn and Unacademy who are also in the online space in the world of education.

However, there are features that set upGrad apart from its competitors. One of the main USPs of upGrad is the hand-holding that they provide to each of their learners. This practice is called ‘Student Mentorship’, while 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 ,entor’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 puts in.

upGrad - Acquisitions

upGrad acqi-hired Acadview Software in 2018 thereby venturing into the college education space. Before this, upGrad had acquired Pyoopil Education Technologies, a mobile-based SaaS (Software-as-a-service) product used by companies to deploy online training.

In 2019, upGrad acquired CohortPlus, India’s largest and the most active community on Product Management and one of India’s largest communities on Data Science.

upGrad - Advisors and Mentors

Emphasizing on the importance of knowledgeable advisors for an entrepreneur Mayank said “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

upGrad has been on an upward trajectory since inception and has so far empowered careers of over 300K working professionals in India. In the last 2 years, the company’s gross revenue has increased by 6X. upGrad witnessed a 113% jump in its gross revenue from INR 57 crore in FY 18 to INR 121 crore in FY 19. The robust financials have helped upGrad to consolidate its position as the largest online higher education company in the country, basis gross revenue generated from the Indian market in just 3 years of its operations.

upGrad - Awards

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

  • In 2016, upGrad got selected as the official education partner for Govt of India’s ‘Start-up India’ learning program. In the program, upGrad offered entrepreneurship program 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 only, upGrad 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 has 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.
  • upGrad has also been awarded the ‘Best Tech for Education’ by IAMAI in 2019.

upGrad - Future Plans

In the next 5 years, upGrad aims to train and build careers of over 1 million learners and consequently in a cascading effect its impact will reach at least 5 million working professionals associated with them. This growing ecosystem, in the long run, will give the momentum for establishing upGrad as India’s largest online higher education company with a strong focus on employability. In the long run, upGrad is all set to revolutionize the online learning experience and enhance the employability quotient of its learners through career building.

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.          

Website: upGrad

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About Chayanika Goswami

Chayanika is an MBA in Finance and a trained Digital Marketer. SEO and content writing are her hobbies turned profession. She is a rover. In her free time she loves travelling and cracking jokes.