Marketing in the times of COVID-19: upGrad
Arjun Mohan, India CEO, upGradupGrad
As the e-learning industry booms in the country, we catch up with EdTech leader upGrad.

Marketing in the times of COVID-19: upGrad

As the e-learning industry booms in the country, we catch up with EdTech leader upGrad.
  • In our latest interview series, we talk to brands to understand how they are coping with the new normal and their strategies towards navigating these difficult times.
  • While different kinds of industries try to grapple with the current situation and resort to lay offs and salary cuts, upGrad, on the other hand, is on its way to becoming a ₹500 crore brand by next month.
  • upGrad’s Arjun Mohan shares with us a few reasons why upGrad has seen an uptick in downloads by over 75%, its marketing strategy and plans to earmark ₹500 million for 2/3 acquisitions in FY 21.
With the nationwide lockdown, everyday hustle-bustle has come to a complete halt. We have more time for ourselves now than ever before and people are using this time to discover and hone their talent. They are getting experimental and extremely creative, using this time to gain new skills inside the four walls of their houses. It has brought online education to the forefront and helped accelerate its growth in India.

As a result, upGrad, a higher-education platform, has seen a 75% increase in app downloads and is on track to becoming a ₹500 crore brand by next month. In Q4, the app recorded over 100% Q-o-Q jump, as it expanded its portfolio two-fold by adding new programs under its Management and Data verticals.

We caught up with Arjun Mohan, India CEO, upGrad to further understand its marketing strategy, mantra behind its sustainable business and revenue goals for this quarter.


Q. How has the last month been for you? How have you observed the consumer behaviour changing? Have you witnessed any uptick in demand?

The novel Coronavirus has brought online education to the forefront, which otherwise was playing second fiddle to the offline model. Majority of India has become accustomed to the new normal, which indeed is a catalyst in this situation. Individuals have become extremely alert about the collateral damage (fears of job loss and insolvency) that they may suffer and are looking forward to utilising the additional time on hand meaningfully, by opting for upskilling options.

We have launched the largest cohort (batch) with 4,000 learners in March and have doubled our course capacity in April, to cope with the surge. We have moved to monthly cohorts which earlier was at a quarterly level with each class now having a peak of 1000 learners at a given time. Additionally, with over 6 lakh downloads till date, our Android mobile App (upGrad App) houses professional communities in the field of Product Management, Data Science & Machine Learning, MBA, and Digital Marketing with live discussions, exchange of ideas and opportunities within each community. In these communities, engagement in terms of comments and shares increased by 143% in the same period. Overall, the app downloads increased by over 75% after the lockdown was announced on March 24 this year.

Also, with remote working coming into force, we have witnessed a growing intent towards business & management programs. There’s been an increase in total interests and enrollments we have received for our Global MBA programs, which we have launched earlier this year in partnership with the renowned Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and Deakin University. These programs have contributed to 40% of the growth recorded in April.

Q. Have you introduced any new courses/tools to leverage this surge in demand?

We have now doubled our course capacity and moved to monthly cohorts (batches) which earlier was at a quarterly level, to take on the surge in demand from working professionals. Each batch now has a peak of 1000 learners at a given time.

Recently after the COVID-19 outbreak, we are allowing learners to start a university-certified MBA, Master’s or Diploma program at an initial cost of ₹10,000 only, and experience it till June 15, 2020. We have received more than 1,00,000 interests and over 1000 enrolments, so far. Additionally, we also launched a wide range of free programs, which offer 350+ cumulative hours of content in terms of recorded sessions, quizzes, live lectures, projects, etc., and have reported more than 26,000 enrolments, till date.

Q. Do you expect this uptick to continue even after the lockdown ends?

upGrad recently launched the whitepaper with FICCI in which research indicated that 92% of learning leaders have confirmed the adoption of online learning journeys from 68% in the pre corona period. Most of these are in building digital skills in the areas of Data Sciences, AI, ML, Full Stack Software Engineering, Digital Marketing and MBA courses.

Even before COVID-19, online education in India was on the rise, and people were making a gradual shift from offline to online. However, with COVID-19 hitting the world suddenly, the pandemic has steered everyone towards online learning, making it mainstream rather than just another option for learning and upskilling. Online education has hit the fast track and with various universities and colleges adopting edtech platforms, we think the demand will be sustained even after the COVID-19 era. The comfort, safety, and flexibility offered by online education will continue to steer the demand.

Q. How does this quarter look like for you? Do you still see upGrad meeting its goals?

The current COVID-19 situation is a net positive for online education. In Q4, upGrad recorded over 100% Q-0-Q jump, as it expanded its portfolio twofold by adding new programs under its Management and Data verticals. We have witnessed a 72% growth in booked revenue in April and touched the 53K paid learners mark at the ARPU of ₹ 2.5 lakhs, highest across the online education landscape. We have also successfully crossed the mark of 5,00,000 learners, who are largely working professionals, from the South Indian cities of Bengaluru, Hyderabad, followed by Mumbai, Delhi NCR, and Pune.

Additionally, this quarter we have partnered with the Top B- School - IMT Ghaziabad for an 18-month online program, followed by a job guarantee by upGrad; we have also partnered with the renowned O.P. Jindal Global University for 2 new Degree programs- a 1-year LLM in Corporate & Financial Law and a 2-year MBA in Digital Finance and Banking.

Therefore, to conclude, I would like to add that with our revolutionary initiatives, and well-structured programs that help professionals’ transition in their career, we look forward to doubling our revenue by June 2020 and crossing an annual run rate of Rs 500 crore.

Q. How do you see the online learning sector shaping up for the lockdown?

COVID-19 has dramatically changed the education landscape across the globe. Even in India, online education has proved its robustness as compared to the offline institutes that have been shut for an infinite period. Owing to its flexibility and feasibility, learners in the coming times would prefer to take up online programs from the comfort and safety of their houses. Also, as the trend continues, with more and more renowned universities adopting e-learning and investments reducing in infrastructure, the cost of education will substantially be reduced. Therefore, to conclude, I would like to add that the online learning sector is anyway on an upward trajectory and will continue to rise in the future, making it the way forward.

Q. You had announced last month that you are looking at acquiring companies. How is that search coming along? Have you found your partners yet?

Capitalizing on the boom for the online learning sector, both worldwide and in India, we have earmarked ₹500 million for 2/3 acquisitions in FY 21. We are in active discussions and have also shortlisted a few prospective companies. However, it is too early to commit who these companies are, as we are still in the process to meet some great entrepreneurs and understand their vision.

Q. Tell us a bit about your recent campaign?

The new #AageKiSoch rap song, is the sequel to upGrad’s upskill anthem by the same name which was launched last month and reached 30 million individuals. This quirky piece aims to inspire young Indians to stay productive and upskill themselves during the nationwide lockdown. The latest music video is a fresh take on how professionals and college students now have extra time in hand and can use it meaningfully to enhance their professional growth, at large.

upGrad through its marketing effort is trying to shed the stereotypical perception of education brands being serious. These two sets of videos (last ones and this one) bear testimony to the fact that creativity and storytelling is at the centre of our marketing communication. We used animated graphics for the latest music video -features possible without any shoot that yet turn out to be a visual treat.

Q. In these uncertain and stressful days, how are you communicating with your audience?

With the remote working concept, individuals and working professionals have been deprived of a very important aspect of human civilization- which is socializing. To minimise the adverse effects of the widespread pandemic on the psychological health of individuals, we had launched a ‘COVID-19 Awareness Program’ last month. It was a 5-day long online program, wherein the domain experts gave live talks on safeguarding one’s finances, and career along with mental health in the current scenario. Also, expert sessions were hosted live, allowing for active interactions and query resolution for the ~4500 participants who participated, completely free of cost.

Additionally, we understand that the remote working has also brought other side effects to the forefront, like lethargy, lack of interest in work, monotony, etc. Therefore, to motivate individuals to use this extra time on hand, meaningfully and to promote productivity, we have launched #AageKiSoch campaign last month, and have successfully reached 30 million individuals.

Q. What does your media plan look like? Which medium gets your lion's share?

At the beginning of the year, we announced a budget of Rs 175 crore as a part of our media plan for the year 2020, wherein we have Rs 100 crore allotted for television and Rs 75 crore for digital. Both the mediums have seen higher traction during the pre and post COVID-19 outbreak and therefore, we are continuing with it.

Q. How big is your team right now and how is upGrad helping its employees deal with lockdown blues and anxiety?

Happy employees are more engaged and productive. For us, the emotional wellness of our employees is crucial as it is the driving force to make people the best of themselves.

Boredom and loneliness can impact mental well-being and therefore, productivity as well, if not nipped in the bud. At upGrad, we have tied up with YourDOST as our Employee Wellness Partner to provide expert counselling to all our 1200+ employees with round the clock support on career, relationships, work-life balance or anything else that bothers them. In times like these, with such tie-ups, we strive to support our employees in every way possible.