Story of upGrad- India’s EdTech Major Redefining Online Education and Learning

(L-R) Phalgun Kompalli Co-founder, Mayank Kumar Co-founder & MD, and Ronnie Screwvala Executive Chairman & Co-founder, upGrad
(L-R) Phalgun Kompalli Co-founder, Mayank Kumar Co-founder & MD, and Ronnie Screwvala Executive Chairman & Co-founder, upGrad


Founded in early 2015, upGrad has successfully emerged as India’s largest online higher education company. Within a short span of 5 years, upGrad has impacted almost 1 million individuals globally.

Headquartered in Mumbai (Maharashtra, India), upGrad is also located out of Bengaluru (Karnataka, India). upGrad provides online programs in the areas of Data Science, Technology, Management and Law to college students, working professionals, and enterprises. These programs are designed and delivered in collaboration with top-notch universities like IIT Madras, IIIT Bangalore, MICA, BIMTECH, NMIMS Global Access, Jindal Global Law School, Duke CE, Deakin University, Liverpool John Moores University and others. 

upGrad ranked​ as India’s​ No.1​ startup,​ ​as per the LinkedIn​ ​Top​ ​Startups 2020 list. This is the third time in a row that upGrad has been featured​ ​in the​ top startup list by LinkedIn. ​The edtech major received the title of ‘Best Education Brands’ by Economic Times in 2020​ for the second time, post winning the same title in 2018. ​The brand made it to the​ prestigious​ GSV Global EdTech 50 List 2020, owing to its world-class learning platform. upGrad won the ‘Best Communication and Teaching Platform’ in the Education Innovation Awards 2020 by Entrepreneur India​ as well as received the title of ‘Best Tech for Education’ by IAMAI in 2019.


Founded by Ronnie Screwvala, Mayank Kumar, and Phalgun Kompalli, upGrad is a founder-funded company.

USP/Business Model

  • With a conviction to bridge the gap between working professionals and rapidly evolving industry requirements, upGrad’s journey started off with an entrepreneurship program and soon expanded its online portfolio in the areas of Marketing, Finance Operations, HR, Law, Strategy & Leadership, Analytics, Big Data, loT, Cyber Security, Al & Data Science. 
  • What differentiates upGrad from other edtech players is the learning experience that it offers. It brings seamless and quality higher upskilling online programs that are divided into modules with recorded sessions, quizzes, case studies, live sessions, and career guidance. upGrad also offers an integrated platform to code tests and submit solutions. It provides learners with steadfast placement support, resume building, interview support for a career switch, assignments, grading etc.
  • Its ability to provide meaningful career outcomes to its learners, stands as the biggest differentiator amongst other edtech players in the Indian market. upGrad, perhaps is India’s only player in the higher edtech market who is enabling its learners to achieve their fullest potential by providing transition in the desired role.
  • upGrad offers a plethora of online programs that are designed and delivered in collaboration with top-notch national and international universities like IIT Madras, IIIT Bangalore, MICA, BIMTECH, NMIMS Global Access, Jindal Global Law School, Duke CE, Deakin University, Liverpool John Moores University, and others.
  • As per a learner survey done in Q2, 79% of upGrad’s learners have attained meaningful career benefits out of all who were looking for professional growth, transitions, promotion, upskilling & other career outcomes. 
  • Out of the 79%, 42% of the learners are now confident about their profile and improved candidacy in the future for a new role. They reported various improvement, including:

    – Improvement in the quality of conversations
    – Frequency of blogging/ writing etc
    – Mentoring/ coaching
    – Entrepreneurship
  • Out of all the learners who started a new role within 6 months post completion of the program, 75% of the learners moved to a new role in a new company; 25% to a new role in the same company. These learners got an average hike of about 44%. 
  • With an 80% program completion rate, which otherwise is 3-6% for MOOCs, robust finest university credentials, strong mentorship, and steadfast placement education system and is in a position to tech platform, outcome-based learning approach, industry-relevant curriculum, finest university credentials, strong mentorship, and steadfast placement support, upGrad has established its position as the leader in the Indian education system and is in a position to achieve an ARPU of 2.5 L, highest in the Indian education sector.
upGrad - Brand Logo | Motiverge

Founding team

Ronnie Screwvala, Chairman and Co-founder:

Ronnie Screwvala is a first-generation entrepreneur who pioneered Cable TV in India, built one of the largest toothbrush manufacturing operations, and went on to create a Media & Entertainment conglomerate – UTV – spanning Television, Broadcasting, Digital, Mobile and Motion Pictures, which he divested to The Walt Disney Company in 2012 Demonstrating an innate ability to merge creativity with commerce, Newsweek termed him the Jack Warner of India, Esquire rated him one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st Century and Fortune as Asia’s 25 most powerful. Onto his second innings, Ronnie is driven by his interest in championing Entrepreneurship – authored a book on Entrepreneurship titled Dream With Your Eyes Open, and is also focused to build his next set of ground up businesses in high growth and impact sectors. upGrad zeroes in on the massive opportunity that exists in creating an Online Education Company, of scale – focusing on the post-graduation, higher studies and specialization areas. U Sports is committed to building a sports company spanning Kabaddi, Football, Moto Sport + E Sports – via league and team ownerships as well as grass root training programs. 

Ronnie is also passionate about Social Welfare and is active along with his wife Zarina as Founder Trustees of The Swades Foundation, which operates with the single-minded focus of empowering one million lives in Rural India every 5-6 years through a unique 360 degree model with verticals in Water, Sanitation, Health, Nutrition, Community Mobilization, Education, and most importantly Agriculture & Livelihood, to lift them out of poverty permanently.

Mayank Kumar, Co-founder & MD, upGrad:

An education maven and accomplished entrepreneur, Mayank Kumar is one of the sharpest minds leading the edtech revolution in India. Mayank is the Co-founder & Managing Director of India’s largest online higher education company – upGrad, which within a span of 5 years has impacted almost 1 million learners globally.

Mayank has spent most of his professional career in the education sector, where he has been involved in deals with over a billion dollars flowing into the sector. 

He has served as VP – Education at Bertelsmann and as Senior Principal at The Parthenon Group. He further served as a Board Member of iNurture. He has also worked at the Tata Strategic Group, advising Tata’s strategic direction. An IIT Delhi and ISB alumnus, Mayank was named the ‘40 Under 40 Achiever of the year’ by BusinessWorld Disrupt in 2017 and ‘BW Education 40 under 40 Achiever’ by Business World in 2020.

Phalgun Kompalli, Co-founder, upGrad

Currently Co-Founder at upGrad, Phalgun Kompalli is an Indian entrepreneur, based out of Mumbai. 

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. He 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 Bachelor’s in Technology from IIT Delhi. He’s originally from Hyderabad.

Phalgun in his personal life is an introvert and his two passions outside work are football & travel (together!) Phalgun has travelled to 28 countries so far and has watched a football game in each of those countries.


India’s 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 called as Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) takes a steep cut and can be estimated to be around 26.3%. It also means that for every individual, there are three individuals who have not gone or enrolled for higher education in India. Therefore, the founding team at upGrad noticed that the lack of access 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. Secondly, the problem of affordability, where 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.

The early phase & challenges faced

There were several challenges that the edtech major faced initially. upGrad reached out to students, especially working professionals, who were never comfortable with the idea of online learning, as the dated perception of getting settled after the age of 23 or 24, was prevalent, back in 2015. It was also noticed that these individuals had never spent on their own education, it either was a parent-driven approach while they were in schools/colleges or an employer-driven approach, during their jobs.

The second stakeholder were universities, who didn’t know how to take education online, as the lack of conviction posed us a bigger challenge.

The third stakeholders were the corporates/employers who had never recruited employees, based on their online education qualifications or degrees. This further resulted in push-back from individuals for opting for online programs.

Therefore, it required upGrad to build precise strategies to bring these three stakeholders together, creating favorable consumer behavior in India. The company reached out to several universities and IIIT-Bangalore was the first one to join the bandwagon, because of its progressive leadership. For corporates and students, the edtech major introduced employment-linked programs, which also turned out in its favor. Quoting an example from the initial days, upGrad launched Post Graduation Diploma in Data Science with IIIT-B and got around 300 students enrolled in the first cohort (batch) at a price point of ₹2 lakhs, thereby contributing to the revenue of ₹ 6 crore, in just 3 months.

Therefore, the leadership at upGrad believes in providing a good product, and services along with the right execution capabilities, which in turn helps to create a market ahead of its time.


upGrad offers meaningful career outcomes to each of its learners that stands as the biggest motivator for the team. The edtech major claims to be India’s only player in the higher edtech market who is enabling its learners to achieve their fullest potential by providing transition in the desired role, acceleration of career, professional confidence.

As per a learner study done in Q2, 79% of our learners have attained meaningful career benefits out of all who were looking for professional growth, job transitions, promotion, or other career outcomes. These career transitions bear testimony to upGrad’s  learning delivery system, which includes a team of 700+ industry experts (SMEs), 150+ student mentors, and a robust support team at the backend. The brand has enabled around 1000+ job transitions in 2020, with placing learners in NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India), Flipkart, Amazon, HDFC Life, Naukri & others.

Journey so far

upGrad’s journey so far has been amazing and extremely invigorating as the team has achieved many milestones. In Q2 FY’21 upGrad reported a 50 per cent growth in their gross revenue, thus keeping the company on track for its forecasted INR 1200 crore annual run rate. The growth has been multifaceted this quarter:

  • 20 new programs were added in Q2 in the areas of Marketing, Finance, Operations, HR, Law, Strategy and Leadership, Analytics, Big Data, IoT, Cyber Security, AI and Data Science
  • Start date of programs, which used to be once a quarter till the last fiscal, had to be tripled this quarter to meet the growing demand.
  • This has led to reaching a cumulative of 0.9 million learners, which will gain further momentum in the subsequent months.
  • Career transition to other jobs for learners increased by 25 per cent in this quarter, which had previously contracted by 60 per cent compared to pre-covid levels.
  • The upGrad team size grew by over 800 during this Quarter to a total of 1800 employees spread over 1000 cities.

With 50+ new online programs in the pipeline, the edtech major looks at closing more university tie-ups in the coming quarters, thereby keeping the company on track for its forecasted INR 1200 crore annual run rate, a game-changer in the Indian edtech ecosystem. 


Let’s have a look at the positive impact & achievements of upGrad:

  • upGrad is 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
  • upGrad has won the title of ET Best Education Brands 2020
  • upGrad made it to the GSV Global EdTech 50 List 2020
  • upGrad 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
  • 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

Team Strength

The upGrad team size grew four-fold from 500 to 2000 employees spread over 1000 cities.

Market growth and response in the post Covid-19 world

The post-K12 market, where upGrad operates can be split into – a) Higher Education and b) Lifelong Learning markets.

a) Higher Ed market (HE) encompasses students opting for formal Higher Ed programs (college/undergraduate degrees, postgraduate degrees, PhDs, etc.). As of FY20 –

  • Total Addressable Market  is ~40 mn students

b) Lifelong Learning market (LLL) encompasses primarily working professionals opting for upskilling/ reskilling courses (certifications, diplomas, etc.) As of FY20 –

  • Total Addressable Market is ~50 mn learners

upGrad is also amping up its global outreach by branching into the APAC, Middle East, Europe, UK, and the North African markets. It is also expected to open non-linear business growth avenues by closing in on some strategic mergers and acquisitions that will support its exponential growth track record in the coming quarters.

Government’s role in supporting edtech startups

Amid the chaos of coronavirus, the sector that has started leveraging opportunities in a big way is education technology. While the demand for education apps and tech tools have been strong in the past few years due to rapid internet penetration, the pandemic has given a new lease on life to the sector, allowing businesses to tap into the multi-billion-dollar sector. Moreover, the leadership team believes that the announcement of the new National Education Policy calls for the digitally-driven education industry in India. The push would invariably lead to the mushrooming of more edtech players in the already crowded sector, allowing choices for learners and fuelling a price war for the players. This is where ‘quality’, one of the foundational pillars the draft NEP is based on, will drive value & outcome for the learners. Mergers and acquisitions will result in more online-offline blended learning methods, which will be fruitful for ultimate learners.


Future Plans

upGrad wants to be a Lifelong Learning partner for the working professionals and individuals, with the right program guidance, right feedback, and career services, that shall enhance their employability quotient and help them achieve meaningful outcomes, at large. 

Message for budding entrepreneurs/edupreneurs

“I believe we must focus on doing the right things and taking future-forward decisions in order to build an accurate product,” says Mayank Kumar, Co-founder & MD, upGrad. Initially, it is important for any entrepreneur or an edupreneur to be clear in his mind about the ‘one customer’ – from designing the product to structuring the marketing campaign, and to reaching out to the target audience. Such calculated moves shall fetch him multiple benefits and will deliver the desired results. Moreover, any start-up during its early phase is low on resources with a limited marketing budget. Therefore, the best people who will put the good word out for you and your products, are satisfied customers. Being an entrepreneur lets you follow your own path and solve some of society’s toughest challenges by creating result-oriented solutions.”

Hope this success story would motivate all the aspiring entrepreneurs. It is a part of our startup profiling feature story/interview series. We are on a mission to put forth the inspirational journey of successful entrepreneurs in order to spread some motivation during these tough times.

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