Shevchenko and Lytvyn became friends while studying business administration at the International Christian University of Kyiv in the late 1990s before they moved to the US and Canada to pursue masters’ degrees in that field. The idea for Grammarly came from a previous company they created to help prevent plagiarism.
“We founded Grammarly with the goal of using technology to help people communicate what they mean, a mission born from our own experiences as non-native English speakers,” Shevchenko said. “Our roots gave us a unique perspective on the complexity and power of language in helping people reach their goals.”
Lytvyn, who along with Shevchenko is a Canadian citizen, has said he prioritised customer service in the company’s early days, when it was built for universities. Soon after starting Grammarly, he told the help desk to transfer calls to him, and he would ask users about the product until they hung up.
The company’s breakthrough came in 2014, when it offered a free plan with basic features and the option to pay for advanced ones. A year later, it released free browser extensions. That helped it build a loyal base of customers and about 30,000 teams at big-name companies, including Expedia Group and Cisco Systems.
Hoover, for his part, has been at Grammarly for more than a decade, joining in 2011 from venture-capital firm General Catalyst Partners after learning about the software while looking for help with his own writing.
“I was blown away by the product and the team,” he said. “We were founded outside of the US, and didn’t raise money until we were eight years old as a company. And it’s very unique that we’re profitable. We have been from the early days.”
The company faces a number of new challenges in its next stage of growth. For one, researchers have expressed worry that its software could fundamentally alter human expression.
It echos the broader tech industry’s concerns about artificial intelligence, which range from Elon Musk’s warnings that it could be used as “weapons of terror” to former Google executive Kai Fu Lee’s prediction that automation might replace 40 per cent of human jobs in 15 years.
“Authentic communication is very important,” said Andrea Lee, a professor at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee who has studied how software such as Grammarly influences English language learners in countries like South Korea. “Students may not put in the necessary effort on assignments if they are reliant on Grammarly.”
Hoover said the company offers feedback that provides “learning moments,” rather than purely automating users’ writing, but it’s conscious of the risks around drowning out human expression.
Grammarly must also withstand a number of new AI-powered writing aids, including Microsoft Editor. The company is trying to stay ahead of the competition with new products, including for desktops, Grammarly for Developers and a partnership for a Samsung keyboard.
Jim Ranalli, an English professor at Iowa State University, helped apply for a grant to purchase 1,500 Grammarly premium licenses for students in writing-intensive courses. He said the product’s feedback is particularly useful for fixing subject-verb agreement problems, incorrect prepositions and missing articles.
“It always finds one or two things I’ve missed in an email I’m about to send off,” Ranalli said.
Grammarly expects the business world will find this kind of cleaner writing especially rewarding amid the move to more flexible work arrangements. Poor communication could be costing US companies an estimated $US1.2 trillion annually, according to a Harris Poll study released last month that was commissioned by Grammarly.
“We’re now at a very unique point in time to use software to enable people to communicate effectively, to augment them,” Hoover said. “To fundamentally enable people to communicate and connect, to unlock problems, reduce disputes, come up with new ideas. All those things are relevant to remote work.”
The Business Briefing newsletter delivers major stories, exclusive coverage and expert opinion. Sign up to get it every weekday morning.