When things go bad, education picks up: Mayank Kumar, upGrad

On Day 1 of e4m India Brand Conclave 2020, Kumar, Co-founder & MD, upGrad, speaks to Dr Annurag Batra, Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld and exchange4media

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Dec 3, 2020 5:11 PM

The fourth edition of e4m India Brand Conclave witnessed Mayank Kumar, Co-founder & MD, upGrad, in a fireside chat with Dr Annurag Batra, Editor-in-chief, BW Businessworld and exchange4media. Kumar shared his insights on the topic - ‘How a FutureForward Brand Transforming Ambitions'. 

Dr Batra started off the conversation by highlighting how Covid-19 has accelerated the growth of upGrad and acted as the ‘Chief Acceleration & Transformation Officer’ for the platform. He asked about the growth that upGrad witnessed in the last eight months and the future of edtech platforms. 

Elaborating on the growth of upGrad and how the pandemic has put online education in the spotlight, Kumar shared, “We have been growing at 100% YoY, this year. The plan was to grow close to 200%-plus. With Covid being there, it definitely helped us push the pedal on the accelerator much faster. It definitely brought online education to the main light and got a lot of PR coverage because of all these things happening in the Covid ecosystem. This is a good fact that when we announced work from home on March 27, we had about 600 employees. But today, on December 2, we are currently with about 2200 employees. And that scale-up of 3X-4X in the number of employees has happened completely remotely. So, that's been the challenge from a scale-up and the team perspective.”

“Overall, our business has quadrupled in the similar period. We are seeing good traction. People are coming in and are taking online education very seriously. So while the acceleration has happened, adoption too happened. One of the things that I say is what would have taken perhaps 3-4 years for online education to get into mainstream, happened in 3-4 months. So that's been a good positive sign overall. And I think because of that a lot of high-quality online education companies started coming in the recent past. And that has opened up a very different kind of ecosystem, which otherwise was not very easily accessible,” he added.

Citing the example of TCS & Infosys, Kumar explained the nature of adoption of online learning platforms and how data & technology have become popular fields. “The kind of programmes that have worked well within our brand, I think that in the broader theme of data, technology, those programmes definitely do well. Even today, with TCS and Infosys coming up with reports, one of the key things they always put down is what proportion of our revenue is coming through digital projects, and the general rule of thumb is that, in the IT sector, for every employee, you generate about $50,000 to $70,000 per year.

But if you're digital in nature, you generate about $120,000 to $150,000 per year. So Infosys is a $10 billion revenue company. 200,000 people at $50,000 give you $10 billion. But if they have to go to the $20 billion mark with fewer employees, digital is the way to go. I think data and technology are therefore very common fields that people look for, specifically in the Indian IT ecosystem. We are seeing a very strong traction coming from marketing and sales professionals, trying to learn digital marketing and trying to get to the mainstream on the digital side. We are also seeing equal traction from people who are currently in traditional sectors looking at doing a new age MBA,” he said.

Sharing his thoughts on post-Covid world and how things will pan out for online education, particularly upGrad, he remarked, “My personal take is that as a working professional, you don't have any other alternative. If you want to do a good master's postgraduate programme, you quit your job and take up something. Otherwise you don't have an option of saying, okay, I was going to an offline school, can I do online tutoring? Unlike that, if you don't have an option, online is the way to go. So we do believe that post the pandemic and after the market opens up, the positive will take more centre stage. People will accept online and lack of any options offline would mean that the trajectory will continue to grow.”

Kumar further stated that there’s a sense of confusion in working professionals about job security and upskilling. However, he believes that education is a counter cyclical business. So when things go bad, education picks up. “While you see a strong tailwind for the education sector online, specifically working professionals, there's also equally a sense of confusion in the minds of employees whether their job remains today, tomorrow or day after. While there is a thought of how to upskill and stay relevant. Finally, there's also the thought that if I don't have a job, do I invest in any further education. So I think those two counterbalance, but education is a counter cyclical business. So when things go bad, education picks up. So that's been a journey for us that there’s positive for higher adoption, there's positive for higher appreciation and there's a negative that my job will disappear tomorrow. And those are the ecosystems as we're currently working with and figuring out how to move from here to the next state. So we do believe in a continuous state, even post pandemic.”

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