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Jan 26, 2021
The content in this post has been approved by the organization, upGrad. 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 such as 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 founded, and how it is helping students and professionals pursue higher education online. Read on to find out more about upGrad's success story, founders, challenges, revenue, funding, business model, growth, etc. upGrad - Company Highlights What is upGrad? upGrad Education Pvt. Ltd. is an online higher education company that provides programs in the areas of data, technology, and management to college students, first-time job seekers, and working professionals and empower them 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 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 - Strategic Initiative 2020 In April 2020, with an aim to grow the learners' headcount and revenue, upGrad launched 4 major strategic initiatives: To Launch 35 new diverse online programs in the coming years. All of their 90 online programs would have a start date of every month rather than every quarter as done previously, to cope with the growing demand. To become the first in India to enable degrees with universities through blended, online degree programs. Strengthen its global footprint by targeting the 40 million strong South Asian migrant population worldwide. upGrad - Star India Deal | IPL 2020 upGrad has signed up for a high-value deal with Star India. This will enable upGrad to run its latest ad-campaign "Sirf Naam ki Nahin, Kaam ki Degree" across television and Hotstar (OTT platform) throughout the IPL 2020 (Indian Premiere League). This move was initiated to expedite the adoption of technology and online education. upGrad Ad-Campaign This is upGrad’s first major sports association and the on-boarding of an edtech player on Dream IPL 2020. “IPL is the most opportune occasion to reach out to individuals reminding them about the urgency to upskill and prepare themselves for the forthcoming competitive world. Our strategic partnership with Star will enable us with the right platform, thereby helping us reach out to a larger set of audience residing in the remotest corners of Bharat.” Said Arjun Mohan, CEO, upGrad 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 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 towards propelling the online education sector in India. upGrad Founders Ronnie Screwvala is the chairman of upGrad. 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 featured 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 at upGrad. 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 at upGrad. 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 strategies 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. He 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. He completed his Bachelors in Technology from IIT Delhi. upGrad has a workforce of over 400 employees and has 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 upGrad 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's, Mohan also worked with 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 upGrad's 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 employees are encouraged to take up initiatives. Promote Upskilling: Being a company that endorses upskilling, upGrad 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 on: Long term thinking with clinical execution. Empathy and impact. 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, co-founder of upGrad. upGrad - How It Began? Mayank has vast experience in the education industry, both as an advisor and an investor. He 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 idea behind 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, upGrad 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 the platform has over 35 programs. upGrad - Name, Tagline, And Logo “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: It had a smart twist. It had a nice connotation to the word “graduation”. upGrad is all about upgrading lives and careers by offering graduation and 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. upGrad also provides solutions to enterprises seeking the upskilling of their employees. In FY 19-20, upGrad entered into a 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. A key USP for upGrad is its mentorship; the very fact that the startup spends money on mentoring while others find a course and put it online. Some other differentiators are its 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. The company has also teamed up with Agora.io, the leading voice, video, and live streaming platform, to launch upGrad Live platform. It 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. upGrad is now capable of delivering quality education at scale. upGrad - Business Model And Revenue Model upGrad is largely a direct B2C company wherein the 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's completion. This pricing is the first of its kind in India. upGrad - Funding And Investors upGrad's founders provided the initial funding. The first phase of the investment went in to build the learning experience, product, content, and pedagogy. The second phase of the investment is meant for creating larger awareness amongst consumers and corporate entities. In August 2020, upGrad Raised INR 50 Cr Debt From IIFL Income Opportunities Fund (owned by IIFL Asset Management Limited, an India-focused global asset management firm). It aims to acquire edtech firms this fiscal year. "Our specific interest for targeted companies are those that can fast-track our ambitions in the degree programs or add a whole new line of online programs to our existing range, example finance, law or medicine," said Ronnie Screwvala, Founder, upGrad There have been inbound interests from investors, both financial and strategic. upGrad's focus is to invest in three segments: New programs upGrad - User Acquisition For the first 100 customers, upGrad used several offline events to promote its initiative. The founders personally spoke to the learners. Prospective learners had to share their video profiles and SOPs (Statement of Purpose) before enrolling. They were then 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 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). 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 that it is as good as traditional offline education. The second campaign was based on the insight that 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 they have no choice but to learn and upskill themselves to remain relevant in today’s day and time. The campaigns shed light upon upGrad's unique online power learning approach and demonstrated its influence along with 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. upGrad - Startup Challenges Like all businesses, upGrad encountered multiple challenges. The most significant one 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; and 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. upGrad - Competitors The top competitors of upGrad are Coursera, Edureka, Simplilearn , and Unacademy. However, there are features that set it apart from its competitors. One of the main USPs is the hand-holding provided to each learner. This practice is called ‘student mentorship’ and the team behind it 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. upGrad - Revenue And Growth In the last 2 years, upGrad's gross revenue has increased six times. It witnessed a 113% jump in its gross revenue from INR 57 crores in FY-18 to INR 121 crores in FY-19. upGrad has been on an upward trajectory since its inception and has so far empowered the careers of over 300,000 working professionals in India. In 2019, the company reached a 1250 careers transition mark. In a short span of around 5 years, this startup on-boarded over 21,500 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 this COVID-19 duration, upGrad on-boarded over 100 colleges and universities onto its platform to pave the way for blended online learning as the future of education. For the month of June 2020, upGrad reported Gross Student Revenue of INR 50 crores per month. That will tend to grow to INR 100 crores per month by September 2020. It aims at reaching INR 1200 crores by the end of this fiscal year. Due to the high investments for upcoming launches in Q1 2020, upGrad reported a nominal loss. The company’s total revenue increased by 95%, from INR 85 Crore in FY19 to INR 163 Crore in FY20. However, the healthy increase in revenue was offset by an 87% growth in the company’s expenses, from INR 129 Crore in FY19 to INR 241 Crore, leading to an increase in the company’s net loss for the year. 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 the space of online education, upGrad has been recognized and awarded by many prestigious bodies. In 2016, it got selected as the official education partner for the Government of India’s ‘Start-up India’ learning program. Through the program, upGrad offers entrepreneurship programs in 2 languages—Hindi and English—to the budding entrepreneurs of India. In 2017, Mayank Kumar, the co-founder and CEO of upGrad, was recognized as the Achiever of the Year by BW Disrupt (Business World) at its 40 under 40 event. In 2017, the startup was featured in the list of ‘Top 10 Most Innovative Companies India’ by Fast Company. The company received the ‘Best Education Brands’ award by the 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. upGrad - Future Plans In the next 5 years, upGrad aims to train and build the careers of over 1 million learners and expects its impact to reach at least 5 million working professionals associated with it 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. After raising INR 50 crores from the IIFL Income Opportunities Fund, upGrad is looking forward to acquire edtech firms this fiscal year. "We are in active discussions. There are some interesting opportunities in these times and some great entrepreneurs too, and we are excited to bring those companies into upGrad as we look at growth this year," Upgrad co-founder and chairman Ronnie Screwvala said upGrad - FAQs upGrad was founded in 2015 by Ronnie Screwvala, Mayank Kumar, Phalgun Kompalli, and Ravijot Chugh. Who are the Top Competitors of upGrad? The top competitors of upGrad are Coursera, Edureka, Simplilearn, and Unacademy . How much funding did upGrad raise? In August 2020, upGrad raised INR 50 crores From the IIFL Income Opportunities Fund. How much is upGrad's revenue? In the last 2 years, upGrad's gross revenue has increased six times. It witnessed a 113% jump in its gross revenue from INR 57 crores in FY-18 to INR 121 crores in FY-19. Is upGrad free? Some of the courses offered by upGrad are free. To make the most out of upGrad's features, you should register for upGrad's paid programs.