“Our mission is to continue to deliver courses that drive higher employability, with evolving industry-relevant skill sets, thereby attempting to bridge the gap between the job market demands and the future proof talent.”
Mayank Kumar (Co-Founder & MD, upGrad)
Founded in 2015, upGrad is one of the very few integrated LifeLongLearning tech companies in the world, spanning a learner base from college students to working professionals within the age group of 18 – 50 years, and adding value across the board.
Incepted by Ronnie Screwvala, Mayank Kumar & Phalgun Kompalli in 2015 with the vision to impact the lives of millions of learners across the world, upGrad is gaining huge popularity in the entire EdTech industry today.
In an exclusive conversation, Mayank Kumar, the Co-Founder & MD of the company shared insights about the journey of upGrad, the role of the company in the education sector and its plan for the future.
Explain briefly about yourself and upGrad? How do you correlate with upGrad?
Pioneering the online higher education revolution, upGrad is actively changing the lives of millions of learners for the better by “Powering career success for every member of the global workforce as their trusted LifeLongLearning partner”. We uniquely drive deep learning for the real world, by creating original content, by harnessing industry experts across the globe to offer learners a hyper-personalized, comprehensive one-stop solution to skills and employment. Combining the power of our own proprietary AI-driven technology platform with an army of counsellors, who handhold learners for the entire duration of their course, upGrad learners are not just upskilled, but also mentored to crack job interviews and yield concrete ROI after course completion. We believe in enabling the global learner base with the requisite new-age skills to enhance their employability quotient by mapping job roles with their existing skill sets.
We have curated our course offerings across the entire gamut of the value chain including, undergraduate courses, campus & job linked programs, Study Abroad programs, short-form courses to executive programs along with Degrees, Masters and Doctoral. The EdTech major has a learner base of over 2 million across 100 countries and over 300 university partners and robust enterprise business with a client base of 1000 companies worldwide.
Even in the pandemic year (2020), 450+ companies including ZS Associates, PayTM, Gartner, Flipkart (Walmart-acquired), Accenture, E&Y, have hired 1200+ learners from upGrad’s talent pool. Furthermore, in 2021, we witnessed a surge in career hikes and placements offered to our learners. Our career transitions jumped 57% from JFM, 2021 to AMJ, 2021 and another 12% from AMJ, 2021 to JAS, 2021, with Q-o-Q transitions peaking at 1233% (Q1, 2020 versus 2021) and 1149% (Q2, 2020 versus 2021). Most recently, a few learners from the upGrad talent pool have crossed the annual CTC threshold of INR 1 crore, thus strengthening the existence of online education at large.
Elaborate on the programs offered by your company. How are these programs helping professionals achieve their career goals?
We offer over 100 courses across disciplines including Data Sciences, Technology, Management, Law, Arts, Finance, Marketing, Human Resource, Healthcare, Analytics, and others. With the view to make our learners employable despite career breaks or sabbaticals, we focus on inculcating learners with the evolving skills currently in demand across the current job market, from the best universities across the world.
Our programs are designed and delivered in collaboration with leading National and International universities including Liverpool John Moores University (UK), Liverpool Business School (UK), Deakin Business School (Australia), Duke Corporate Education (US), Michigan State University (US), University of Arizona (US), Northern Arizona University, (US), University of Frazer Valley (Canada), Yorkville University (Canada), IIT Bangalore (India), IIT Madras, IIM Kozhikode, IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay amongst others.
Our online programs have helped professionals both experienced and freshers, to hone their skills and get career growth in terms of better pay, promotion, or a better-suited job with one of the Fortune 500 companies. Furthermore, many upGrad learners have been hired after long sabbaticals and career breaks due to the skills they have acquired during the course. Therefore, our alumni base is spread across blue-chip organizations including Gojek, PayTM, Gartner, Flipkart (Walmart-acquired), Accenture, and E&Y.
Elaborate how the company came into being, its journey, and where it stands today.
Back in 2015, India wasn’t well placed to accept digitalisation, and this caveat had resulted in issues like accessibility and affordability of education across the country. Our K-12 segment or let’s say the school-going population roughly holds about 300 million people, out of which only 270 – 280 million students are currently studying, including the rural areas, with a participation rate of about 80% in schools. As we move towards higher education, the overall participation ratio, which is also known as Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) witnesses a steep decline and can be roughly estimated to be around 25% – 30%. This meant that for every individual, there were three individuals who did not enrol for higher education in the country. We wanted to solve this lack of access that we noticed. This was the primary challenge that India faced, thereby contributing to larger macroeconomic issues in the country. Online learning programs, therefore, came to aid such critical situations.
Furthermore, the affordability challenge made things worse, as students and working professionals were required to travel to other locations which could be significantly expensive and have to bear the accommodation cost along with other miscellaneous expenses. These challenges were also eliminated with the online learning model. Therefore, upGrad was born with a conviction to bridge the gap between working professionals and rapidly evolving industry requirements.
We started our journey with entrepreneurship programs in 2015 and expanded our portfolio to now offer online programs across the areas of Tech, Management, Data, and Law with over 2Mn learners located across 100+ countries. We have also made an investment to the tune of INR 100 crores, to build our learning platform and make world-class education convenient, without even having our learners step out of their comfort.
upGrad as an edtech player is currently in a leading position and recognized for its robust tech platform, outcome-based learning approach, industry-relevant curriculum, finest university credentials, strong mentorship, 85% program completion rate and steadfast placement support.
We have achieved profitability this quarter, exceeding USD 300 Mn in ARR, spurred by a 150% growth Y-o-Y in revenues and a stable 70% gross margin, across all income streams. We will continue our expansion and build a very strong, integrated, connected model in Higher Education across multiple geographies.
What makes your company stand out from competitors? Mention points of difference.
What sets us apart is the 360-degree learning solution at an unbeatable value for learners. There are four pillars to our differentiation in the online education space:
- Content: We have an in-house original content & pedagogy for over 100 courses across Data, Tech, Management, Humanities, etc., in partnerships with 300 top universities across the globe (US, UK, AU, India).
- Deep Personalization: We leverage data of how a learner has performed in specific areas of the program to suggest what specializations would better suit them. This involves identifying what is a natural strength for the learner through assignments and quizzes to provide intervention in areas where the learner could be weak.
- Adding the ‘human’ to the tech: Our team of career coaches, handhold and guide each learner throughout the duration of their course to ensure smooth onboarding, mentorship and continuous learning motivation. Each student over a year goes through 1:1 coaching sessions from their future hiring managers, business leaders and has access to multiple tracks, job recommendations etc. based on skills and profiles which are all AI-driven.
- Technology: Our modules are highly interactive with a perfect blend of synchronous & asynchronous learning – 30% live class experience & 70% recorded lectures, industry-driven assignments, quizzes, games, group projects making the experience interactive and engaging. There is flexibility to learn at your own pace and at the same time we offer community learning to not let anyone feel isolated from the peer network.
- Career outcomes: At upGrad, 83% of learners attained meaningful career benefits as audited by one of the Big Four firms, out of all who were looking for professional growth, job transitions, promotion, or other career outcomes. Strong research outcomes in master’s Programs, both in terms of PhD admissions & research publishing. Most recently, a few learners from the upGrad talent pool have crossed the annual CTC threshold of INR 1 crore, thus strengthening the existence of online education at large. The direct impact on a learner’s career growth is the measure of success and satisfaction for us.
What do you think is the biggest change that has happened in the EdTech industry? How is your company capitalizing on the same?
The biggest change or revolution is the penetration of online education in the smaller markets of the country. Without the barriers of location and constraints of time, travel, resources etc. there is now a wider learner base accessible and vice-versa. Learners from tier 2, 3 and 4 cities are now aware of online platforms and with the affordable pricing, variety of content, specialized courses to choose from, there is a surge in Indian youth & working professionals enrolling for a better career and future. Another important change this has implied is the regionalization of the course content to be delivered in local languages. The government’s push for Digital universities will further this vision significantly and I believe this is going to be the biggest game-changer in the education sector.
How is upGrad contributing in building India as a Global Talent Hub?
Our endeavour and mission are to continue to deliver courses that drive higher employability, with evolving industry-relevant skill sets, thereby attempting to bridge the gap between the job market demands and the future proof talent. The content we offer through our multiple courses is backed with this research, learner profiles, skills, interests, employer requirements in their industry and the recommendations based on the skill gap which is AI-powered to help build and develop the right talent for the future of workplaces globally.
upGrad Career Trends Report (April – September 2021), indicates that the hiring trend has witnessed a predominant inclination for roles across Technology, Data Science and Data Analytics domains due to a strong need for expertise in cloud architecture, cybersecurity, full-stack development, and AI/ML disciplines. This has led to a rebound in hiring with up to 42% growth during the April – September, FY 2022. upGrad’s year-end salary trend witnessed a significant jump for Technology roles as skill demands reached its peak, with learners receiving the highest CTCs in the range of INR 1.23 Cr, INR 1.2 Cr and over INR 1 Cr.
The employability for India’s tech talent is higher and the sector is looking at the growing demand for talent pool in India irrespective of domain changes or differing experiences. Our industry-relevant professional reskilling and upskilling courses enable learners to steer their careers as per the current trend and find jobs in suitable roles. We are extremely glad to contribute to making India a global talent hub and providing worldwide employment opportunities to the hidden talent in India.
One of the crucial things in an EdTech company is finding the right faculty. How challenging has it been to pick the right set of talent for the students?
Yes, it is a crucial and very significant factor to onboard the right faculty for the programs being offered. Earlier it was more challenging as we had to scout and partner with faculties who were available and interested full-time to deliver the online course content and could dedicate that much time. With the pandemic and workforces moving to remote culture, it was an opportunity for us and many industry experts, who could partner with us to bring in their expertise and specialized insights without any location constraint and were able to give the desired time and attention to their learners throughout the course duration. The virtual environment was supportive for the online education sector as the faculties were more accessible and we were able to rope in the world-class industry experts with decades of experience to deliver, share and exchange notes with the learners. This helped our learners, bond with the respective faculty, learn all about the industry from the professionals directly and make better decisions for the next big career move.
In your opinion, what defines success? What is your success mantra for building a credible brand?
Our success lies in the success of millions of learners on our platform. As mentioned before as well, our mission and vision are aligned to make a substantial difference for our leaners’ career path by nurturing, mentoring and training them on the desired skills, connecting them with the right resources and enabling them to achieve their career goals. We are very focused on the career outcomes for each individual and our programs.
My success mantra would be: Get yourself Redundant. Every entrepreneur or edu-preneur must build a team/an army of the right people who can help him drive the business correctly, especially in their absence. Distributing ownership is the only way to grow with people who will further get a chance to stretch their leadership and support your business to stand strong in the long run.
What is your company’s mission?
Our mission is to ensure that every learner gets the desired career outcome and to do so, we envision powering career success for every member of the global workforce as their trusted LifeLongLearning partner.
Awards and Milestones:
upGrad has been the recipient of many awards. Some of them are listed below:
- Awarded the Education Company of the Year by TechCircle in February 2022
- Awarded the Edtech Startup of the Year Award at Education Innovation Conference 2022.
- Won Bronze for its marketing campaign, Sirf Naam Ki Nahin, Kaam Ki Degree (upGrad and The Womb Communications)
- Ranked amongst top brands on the 2021 Burgundy Private Hurun India 500 list!
- Positioned as No.4 startup in India, as per the LinkedIn Top Startups 2021 list.
- Awarded in the category of Best Career Planning Platform on 22nd June 2021 at the Ed Tech X 11th Indian Education Awards 2021.
- upGrad & IIITB – Executive PG Programme in Data Science is ranked No. 1 among the other Online Data Science Programme in India by HR Association India.
- Won the EdTech of the Year Award, 2021 at TechIndia Transformation Convention, 2021 organised by Industry LIVE.
- Awarded in the category of Best Online Platform for Higher Education on 29th July 2021 at Global Brands Awards 2021 conducted by Global Brands Magazine.
- Included in the Emerging Startups of Continued Learning list for Tracxn’s Emerging Award series that recognises the topmost companies in Continued Learning from across the globe
- Named to this year’s GSV EdTech 150 – a list of the 150 most transformative growth companies in digital learning
- upGrad has ranked amongst the Top 50 in the FT Asia-Pacific High-Growth Companies 2021 List and overall 7th among all Indian industries, in terms of revenue, as per The Economic Times and Statista ranking.
- No.1 startup in India, as per the LinkedIn Top Startups 2020 list. This is the third year in a row that upGrad has been featured as one of the Top Startups by LinkedIn after 2018 and 2019
- Won the title of ET Best Education Brand 2020
- upGrad made it to the GSV Global EdTech 50 List 2020 / upGrad is in the 50 Most Transformational Growth Companies in Education Technology by GSV in 2020
- Won the ‘Best Communication and Teaching Platform’ in the Education Innovation Awards 2020 by Entrepreneur India
- Received ‘Takshila Award’ by the 3AI Pinnacle Awards 2020 for upGrad’s programs in AI, Analytics, and Data Sciences
- Received ‘Best Corporate Training Programme’ by the 10th Annual Indian Education Awards 2020
- upGrad’s Android App received the award under ‘Innovative Initiative’ at the mBillionth Awards 2020.
- Best E-Learning Company of the year 2020 by BW Business World, – Top Education Brands Awards.
- Received IAMAI ‘Best Tech for Education’ 2019
- Awards under the ‘Best Education Brands’ by Economic Times in 2018
- ‘Most Innovative Companies in India’ by Fast Company in 2017
Mr. Mayank Kumar – Co-Founder & MD, upGrad
- 40 Under 40 Achiever of the year’ by BusinessWorld Disrupt in 2017
- BW Education 40 under 40 Achiever’ by Business World in 2020.
Mr. Phalgun Kompalli – Co-founder, upGrad
- Forbes 30 under 30 Asia for consumer Tech, in 2018
- ‘BW Education 40 under 40 Achiever’ by Business World in 2020
Mr. Arjun Mohan – CEO – India, upGrad
- Gold Medal for best outgoing student 2010-2012, IIM Kozhikode
- Merit scholarship winner for both years basis academic performance at IIM Kozhikode
- Gold Medal for scholastic performance NIT Calicut