Good writing is a sign of knowledged and professionalism. Thanks to two Ukrainians, the world now has an online grammar checker for English writing that is used by millions of people.
Grammarly is a web-based service where one can upload a text in English and have it scanned for errors within a matter of seconds. The service checks more than 250 grammar, spelling and punctuation rules, and has 10 million unique users. Over half of them are native speakers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and other countries.
The service was developed in 2009 for academic needs, but later, Max Lytvyn and Alex Shevchenko, the co-founders of Grammarly, expanded the circle of potential customers and developed it to serve anyone on the Internet who wants to make their writing flawless.One can register on Grammarly’s website and check texts for free. In this case, the service checks the most obvious common mistakes. Signing up for a premium version guarantees a more complex check-up. This version costs from $29.99 monthly to $139.95 yearly.
“If a user just wants to write an email to his friend, the free version is enough. When a user wants to apply for a job, or write a report, then they buy the premium product,” Lytvyn said.
The Grammarly developers work at the company’s Kyiv office. (Photo credits: Anastasia Vlasova via The Kyiv Post)
The service can also automatically detect what type of English the client wants to use, American or British, and it fixes mistakes accordingly.
The team started with 10 people, but now the company employs 150. More than half are developers situated in a Kyiv office, while the rest of the team is in San Francisco.
Ukrainians account for 7 percent of Grammarly users. This rather large number can be attributed to the presence of the company’s office in Kyiv and its regular attendance at events organized by the Ukrainian tech community.
“We don’t hide the fact that we have an office in Ukraine… In fact, we managed to make this product because we started in Ukraine and found talented specialists,” Lytvyn said. “It’s just that we started to do a product not for Ukraine, but for the world. This is a good rule for all product companies.”
According to Lytvyn, the company is now the leader in its niche, not to mention a pioneer in its field.
“It’s a big innovation. Nobody else in the world does what we do. But the success of this innovation is explained by the fact that there is a place on the market for it,” Lytvyn said. “If people didn’t need it, no matter what innovation it is, it wouldn’t be successful.”
The company did encounter challenges on its way to success, however, including widespread distrust in electronic checks of writing.
“The existing companies created a very negative impression of the electronic checking of writing. That’s why people who tried it were sure that the computer cannot check orthography,” Lytvyn said.
The built-in spell checkers of Microsoft Word and Google Docs have been and still are the biggest rivals of Grammarly.
But Grammarly’s website said it “checks your text for 10 times more mistakes than Microsoft Word.”
Microsoft Word’s spell checker was developed more than 10 years ago, according to Lytvyn. “While developing our technology, we targeted the web from the very beginning. All work is done on web servers and then displayed on a laptop or any other client’s device,” Lytvyn said. Lytvyn and Shevchenko were friends long before starting Grammarly. They met in 1997 and studied together at the International Christian University in Kyiv. That’s where they started My Dropbox, their first tech service that checks texts for plagiarism.
It was a non-profit at first, then commercialized in 2004, after which the partners started selling the service to universities. It gained popularity with more than two million students in 800 American universities. The partners then sold it to the U.S. educational technology company Blackboard in 2007.
Afterwards the duo started Grammarly with their own money
They think it will be quite difficult for others to enter the niche that Grammarly occupies.
“It demands a big investment, and it’s diffi cult to make a technology that can check the quality of writing,” said Lytvyn. “But we always work with the assumption that someone will overcome this barrier.”