How Ronnie Screwvala built the ed-tech platform upGrad?

Ritika Deshpande

upGrad Startup Story

upGrad, headquartered in Mumbai, is one of India’s fastest-growing ed-tech companies and South Asia’s largest digital learning platform.

Whether you’re simply looking to refine or upgrade your preexisting skills, or if you’d love to get a stupendous job at the world’s most renowned companies but you lack the competence to take the giant leap, you’ve stumbled upon the perfect platform.

upGrad, founded in 2015, is an online educational platform co-founded by Ronnie Screwvala, Phalgun Kompalli, Mayank Kumar, and Ravijot Chugh with the intent of revolutionizing the way people learn. 

Why upGrad? 

upGrad was mainly founded to target working professionals who needed a bit of upgrading their skills to keep up with the ever-advancing world of technology.

Working professionals and their skills are becoming obsolete and redundant and we’re living in an era where our parents had one job for 30 years and in today’s day and age, within 5 years, a person has gone through 3 or 4 job-changes. We’re moving from a job-based economy to a gig-based economy,” is what Mayank Kumar, co-founder, has to say about today’s working environment where we constantly uncover new jobs such as UI/UX developers, digital producers, etc. on an everyday basis.

For those working professionals who have no option but to continue at their jobs, upGrad becomes their online university. “The rapid change of skills is what is causing a huge discomfort in the minds of working professionals,” he adds.

Another reason why upGrad exists was the need to optimize the online space for education. “We’ve got 150 million people who should be in college today and out of that, less than 20-25% are going to college. So in India, if we have to continue growing, it just cannot happen purely offline” These were the two fundamental ideas that the platform was based on.

What does upGrad offer?

upGrad works by collaborating with top global universities and offers an array of courses including MBA, Data Science, Marketing, Management, Law, AI and ML, and plenty more.

In 2020, the company launched upGrad Abroad, which facilitates going abroad for future education. It’s a never-heard-of-before platform where you get to start your course online in India and complete it in the country of your choice including Germany, the UK, the USA, Ireland, France, Australia, etc., offline.

The company also launched upGrad Rekrut, a recruitment solution and staffing solutions company.

Additionally, upGrad also provides free courses and masterclasses for those on a budget but still wanting to keep acquiring knowledge. These courses include Introduction to Marketing, Introduction to Python, Workplace Emotional Intelligence, Web Analytics, Fundamentals of Cybersecurity, etc.

Furthermore, if your future seems foggy and you’re repeatedly confused about what’s next, upGrad offers free career consultation for you to make the right choice. 

upGrad Startup Story

Mayank Kumar, one of the co-founders, graduated from IIT Delhi with a B.Tech degree in Mechanical Engineering and started working as a consultant in a Tata Group. He also has an MBA from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. His increasing interest in the education sector was totally accidental, according to him.

upGrad Founders Startup Story
Co-founders: Mayank Kumar, Ronnie Screwvala and Phalgun Kompalli

After graduating with an MBA, he worked with education companies to help them grow which made him dream about his own educational institute. With two of his IIT Delhi batchmates, Phalgun Kompalli and Ravijot Chugh, he went for it. The three of them had also formerly worked together at the Parthenon Group.

Their fourth co-founder, Ronnie Screwvala is a film producer and the founder of UTV. He was trying to figure out his life path after UTV and looking out for opportunities in the educational sector.

Somehow, the four of them got connected after their ideologies aligned. Several fruitful conversations later, he pitched in as the fourth co-founder and upGrad was finally launched in 2015. 

At the beginning of upGrad, their life was nowhere near a walk in the park. Right when they started out, they received backlash for charging money for online courses whereas people expected to put them out for free.

I think those counter-intuitive steps that we took, everyone called us foolish, stupid in the early days” But he later says that those truly helped them to establish themselves meaningfully.

A project that started out with a tiny 3×3 room, upGrad is now one of India’s largest educational platforms with its alumni working at Accenture, Amazon, Microsoft, Visa, Ola, etc.

Just 4 years into its lifelong expedition, upGrad became India’s largest online higher education institute by having the highest gross revenue in the Indian Market.

And about 5 years in, in 2021, upGrad reached a valuation of over 1.2 billion, making it into the dream unicorn club that every entrepreneur wants to proudly wear a tag of.

upGrad has been awarded Best Tech for Education IAMAI 2019 and ‘Best Education Brands’ issued by Economic Times in 2018 and 2020.

Today, the platform has over 2 million registered learners across 100 countries and will continue to impart knowledge irrespective of where you are in the world!

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