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From the Ground Up: The Grammarly Story

By Alyanna Silvestre
Published December 03, 2021

What started as a mission to improve lives by improving communication is now Grammarly, a company recently recognized as the 10th most valuable U.S. startup, and for its founders, it’s only the beginning.

Turning an idea into reality and more

Grammarly’s origin story stems from a different startup that detects plagiarism in academic papers, MyDropbox. This startup was created by Grammarly co-founders Max Lytvyn and Alex Shevchenko back in 2002 and was then sold to educational services company Blackboard in 2007. As MyDropBox got fully acquired by Blackboard, Lytvyn and Shevchenko were left with a question that triggered the beginning of Grammarly: Why do students plagiarize? They then came up with a theory that those who plagiarize may find it challenging to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and intentions in writing. That said, Lytvyn, Shevchenko, and fellow MyDropBox veteran Dmytro Lider saw the opportunity in such a problem, so in 2009, they had the idea of helping students communicate and write better turn into reality with Grammarly.

The AI-based grammar and writing assistant was only made available on a paid subscription during its early days, focusing primarily on grammatical error correction. It started as a simple web app that is more complex than Microsoft Word’s spell checker. While the latter only corrects obvious spelling and grammar mistakes, the earliest version of Grammarly’s product did a more thorough scan of the provided text, and it only got better over time. It considers the document’s contextual spelling and tone, offers a list of suggested writing improvements, and presents explanations and examples. The product constantly improved with the help of the users themselves as Grammarly opted to solicit customer feedback which helped build a smarter algorithm.

The owners initially intended to sell the venture to universities open for new technologies, a market they knew well due to their previous experience with MyDropBox. However, what used to be a platform to support and assist students and those in the academe write and communicate better soon became a digital writing assistant for everyone.

“We felt that if we could assist with the basic building blocks of the English language—with the mechanics of writing—maybe we could help people have more confidence in their work and not feel the need to lift text from other sources.” - Max Lytvyn, Co-founder of Grammarly

A couple of years since its founding, the company decided to shift its focus from an enterprise model to a consumer model and redefine its target market as more and more individuals beyond the academe started to use Grammarly for various kinds of communication such as personal and work emails, professional writing, and even resumes. As they pivoted and adapted a freemium model to cater to a much larger audience, Grammarly took grammar-checking to the next level. It went beyond grammar and spelling, tapped the complex aspects of language and communication, and explored new ways to bring the service to wherever people were typing. 

Providing writing assistance to everyone

As Grammarly switched to the freemium model with only its online editor web app, it looked for opportunities to integrate its product on sites where people often write through various product offerings. They built browser extensions for Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari, created an add-in for Microsoft Office on Mac and Windows, and made it available on Google Docs and even LinkedIn. The company also revamped its Grammarly Editor online and released a desktop application, then released the Grammarly Keyboard for iPhone and Android devices and created an integrated editor-keyboard experience for iPad users. Additionally, aware of the importance of effective communication among team members in the workplace, the company launched Grammarly Business to help companies and brands connect with their customers through effective, polished, and compelling messages. And just recently, the company has found a way to break out of technical barriers associated with browser extensions as it launched Grammarly for Mac and Windows, a new desktop application that can be used on desktop operating apps such as Microsoft Office, Slack, Discord, and more.

Since the company now services different types of English learners and communicators across a variety of devices and interfaces, Grammarly further improved its product by introducing a tone detector, fluency suggestions, and extensive feedback—organized into four categories, namely correctness, clarity, engagement, and delivery—that helps users understand the reason behind each grammar mistake and writing suggestion. 

Becoming one of the most valuable U.S. startups

2021 may have been a bit tough to some, but Grammarly is about to end it with a bang. In a new funding deal, the company recently raised more than $200 million from new investors, including Baillie Gifford and funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, among others. This increases its valuation to $13 billion, making it among the ten most-valuable startups in the U.S.

“We believe this funding round is a great validation of our business strength,” Rahul Roy-Chowdhury, Grammarly’s global head of product, told in an interview with TechCrunch, an online media focused tech and startup companies. “We’ve been cash-flow positive from the very early days. The round also validates the strength of our mission to improve lives through improving communication. This funding round comes in the context of product innovation and product scaling.”

Sticking to its mission to improve lives through better and effective communication, the company said some of the funds raised will be used to invest in advancing its natural language processing and machine learning. This way, Grammarly will be able to provide writing assistance beyond what it can offer today because there’s much more to good writing than proper spelling and grammar.

Leading the way as the most reliable grammar-checking platform

It’s safe to say that we haven’t seen the last of Grammarly yet, what with its latest funding, the many product offerings it has created, and the way it aims to continue exploring ways to serve people better and enhance the meaning of communication all while respecting their values of being ethical, adaptable, gritty, empathetic, and remarkable, which fit the company’s EAGER founders and team members very well.