The Future of Communication Technology: Grammarly’s Dorian Stone On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up How We Connect and Communicate With Each Other

Grammarly’s mission is to improve lives by improving communication. Every day, our AI-powered writing assistant helps 30 million people and 30,000 teams strengthen their communication and get the right message across. Whether that’s job seekers after their next role, students looking to excel in their studies, or businesses seeking to close more deals, Grammarly helps them communicate better to reach their goals.
New features are on the horizon to help our users identify key takeaways in their written communications and offer suggestions to ensure readers don’t miss important points. We are also exploring capabilities that detect a writer’s intent and are excited to bring our popular tone detector to more places, including our mobile keyboard.

The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dorian Stone, General Manager of Grammarly Business, which offers an AI-powered writing assistant to help organizations improve performance through better communication. Previously, Dorian was VP of Customer Experience Strategy and Marketing at Medallia. He was also a co-founder and leader of McKinsey & Company’s Global Customer Experience practice, and a Program Director and Volunteer in the Peace Corps.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve always been inspired by making the best use of the resources we have all around us. This motivation stemmed from spending a holiday with a college friend from Venezuela. I remember watching the sunrise over Caracas on New Year’s Day and my eyes opening to the richness all around me. I thought about how much energy we waste trying to capture wealth by fighting over resources rather than focusing on making more out of what we have.

Since then, I’ve focused on how to make things work differently in order to become better. In past roles, I took this approach to startups before they were cool — I was the second employee at a company trying to redefine how to bring employee benefits to market for small businesses. Then, I spent three years in the Peace Corps to help people figure out how to raise themselves out of poverty by building businesses based on the resources around them.

After graduate school, I decided to focus on building a new practice that felt “soft” to many people at the time, but I believed was immensely valuable: customer experience. I saw customer experience as a way that critical functions — such as marketing and operations — could build a powerful connective tissue with each other. And that would lead to greater value for customers, shareholders, and employees alike. Now, at Grammarly, I focus on another type of connective tissue: improving how people and organizations communicate wherever they are.

My focus has always been on making the “whole” much better than the sum of its parts.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

A particularly profound period of my career occurred when I diverted half of my time toward working with foundations focused on the social sector and financial inclusion. I worked on applying the learnings of customer experience and economic models to address what seemed like an insurmountable challenge: removing the economic barriers of financial products and services for the disadvantaged.

This work made me realize that when we aspire to big, bold challenges, new paths appear to solve problems that we wouldn’t have ever seen — but once we saw them, they became achievable. Unless people put bold aspirations down around a mission that matters, they often won’t have the opportunity to create those paths forward.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a few that have stuck with me. The first is from my dad. At every holiday, he would ask the same question of every person in the room, regardless of age: “What’s your five-year plan?”

Next is a short story: Two birds are sitting on a wire. One decides to fly away. How many are left? …two, because neither of them have done anything. This reminds me of the importance of taking action.

And finally, a series of mantras come to mind: 1) relentless forward movement, 2) participate in your own salvation, and 3) stare at the gaps, not the trees.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been fortunate to have many incredible people and mentors throughout my life, such as certain company founders and partners who took bets on me, my Peace Corps director Janice Jorgensen, and even my first boss out of college at the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues.

One individual, in particular, motivated me immensely: Gervase Warner, now the President and Group CEO of the Massy Group of Companies. He inspired my personal philosophy with the idea that we can have it all in the world. Not only did he have a fulfilling career as a partner at a top firm, but also lives his personal life to the fullest extent and with conviction. He prioritized his family, explored personal hobbies, and ran Ironman triathlons, while also finding time to support democratic processes and the economic development of the Caribbean region.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I am a believer in the importance of empathy and am grateful to work at an organization like Grammarly that holds this as a core value. If I had it my way, everyone — from Bill Gates to Elon Musk — would spend time walking in the shoes of the average American.

I try to model empathy by supporting deserving organizations financially and personally giving away at least 3% of my income each year (this is based on the ideas of economist Jeffrey Sachs on ending poverty, which led me to believe that those more fortunate have more responsibility to contribute). I’m also committed to dedicating my time to multiple organizations, including serving on the boards of Tipping Point, a local nonprofit fighting poverty, and Randall Museum Friends, which provides fundraising for museum programs.

At Grammarly, we’ve been proud to introduce a free offering for nonprofits and NGOs worldwide to accelerate their vital work during the global pandemic. The offer is available through 2021, and Grammarly has already helped over 4,000 nonprofits — such as the LA Regional Food Bank, Techbridge Girls, The Water Project, and the Learning Disabilities Society of Canada — from more than 130 countries deliver on their missions.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting-edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Grammarly’s mission is to improve lives by improving communication. Every day, our AI-powered writing assistant helps 30 million people and 30,000 teams strengthen their communication and get the right message across. Whether that’s job seekers after their next role, students looking to excel in their studies, or businesses seeking to close more deals, Grammarly helps them communicate better to reach their goals.

New features are on the horizon to help our users identify key takeaways in their written communications and offer suggestions to ensure readers don’t miss important points. We are also exploring capabilities that detect a writer’s intent and are excited to bring our popular tone detector to more places, including our mobile keyboard.

On the Grammarly Business front, we’re building on the value we bring to individuals with more features for organizations to help them achieve results faster. For example, we’re exploring targeted capabilities for communications-heavy teams, like customer support, marketing, sales, and HR, and looking at new analytics and admin features to give even more insight into the link between better communication and business performance.

We’ve found that the value of Grammarly Business grows even faster than the share of individuals using it across the organization; in fact, our customers see up to 50 times their return on investment in driving organizational efficiency. We’ve been proud to see the immense business impact of our technology and look forward to helping even more organizations open up new outcomes.

How do you think this might change the world?

The possibilities we can unlock through better communication are endless.

Ineffective communication across millions of interactions leads to detrimental ripple effects, often stemming from unintended tone, inconsistent interactions, and disconnected engagement. By communicating more effectively, people and organizations can better engage with each other, overcome divisions and conflict, reach their full potential, and uncover new opportunities.

Consistency is a key — and undervalued — driver of all effective communication. Consistent messages, tone, and language in our personal and professional relationships play a critical role in supporting our unique identities and achieving our goals. Every email, text, web page and social media post has the power to make an impression on each individual that interacts with them. With Grammarly, you can be confident it’s the right impression.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

We take seriously our mission to improve lives by improving communication. That’s why at Grammarly, we innovate based on the needs of our users to bring real value to their personal and professional lives — we also listen intently and act on their feedback when something’s not quite as it should be.

Guiding our work are our EAGER values — Ethical, Adaptable, Gritty, Empathetic, and Remarkable. We believe our thoughtful, deliberate approach to applying these values sets us apart: they drive how we operate, make decisions, and build our product. The result is technology that connects and empowers people, backed by an integrity-first approach to supporting our users.

Our team is always engaging with new approaches to generate more value for the people using our technology. We’re humbled to hear from people all over the world whose lives our offering has positively impacted: small-business owners building their websites, nonprofit leaders applying for grants, women empowering other women, and many more.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Grammarly was founded in 2009 with the goal to help people communicate more effectively. We started by focusing specifically on helping with students’ spelling and grammar. The “tipping point” came when the team realized the impact Grammarly could have in all scenarios — from professional to personal writing.

In the 12 years since, we’ve expanded far beyond grammar and spelling into complex areas of language and communication, supporting our users wherever they communicate. In 2015, we introduced a free offering to provide all individuals with access to English-language writing support. For organizations, we launched Grammarly Business, our enterprise offering to help organizations improve their business outcomes through better communication.

And we’re just getting started — Grammarly is laying the foundation for the AI-powered communications space, with unmatched breadth, depth, and precision of writing feedback that helps people worldwide connect with one another and achieve their goals.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We’ve been fortunate to build a strong customer base with our offerings thus far, and now we’re increasing our focus on overcoming the impact of ineffective communication on businesses. Well before the onset of the pandemic, experts already estimated that poor written communication costs companies some $400 billion annually.

Now emerging trends, many intensified in the past year, are increasing the cost companies pay due to ineffective communication. In particular, increasing globalization and digital disruption mean more communication happening in more places between employees, customers, and stakeholders. This amplifies the impact of communicating ineffectively across the organization — but also the benefits companies can realize by addressing it.

Business leaders need to recognize that overcoming this “hidden cost” of ineffective communication is table stakes to reaching their objectives. We want to be there to help every individual and business succeed, and our continued growth shows what we already know to be true: Strong communication is at the core of thriving companies.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them, of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

In many ways, the pandemic only accelerated what were already growing trends: accelerated technology adoption, increasing diversity, and changing consumer and employee needs, to name a few.

As the world becomes more distributed and diverse, Grammarly is now more vital than ever in helping our users meet these new challenges and demands. With people and teams collaborating across more locations, functions, and systems than ever before, it’s exceedingly challenging to maintain clear, consistent, and compelling communication and engagement.

More communication is also happening in written form and asynchronously, especially amid growing video conferencing fatigue. In fact, a recent survey of ours found 43% of professionals are emailing more, and 41% are texting more now to communicate with coworkers than before the pandemic — making a writing assistant even more impactful.

We help fill these gaps by empowering people worldwide — individuals, professionals, students, native and non-native speakers — to communicate their message effectively, through offerings tailored to their specific needs and goals.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each)

1) The world is big, and there’s a place for everybody’s passion in it. I wasted so much time early on trying to figure out which defined path made sense to be successful. We think we have to do what’s practical in life because we’re afraid to be left out in the cold, but I’ve learned that the world will reward you for following your passion and doing it the best you can.

2) The sports injuries of your 20s catch up with you in your 40s. I think that one says it all. Take note.

3) Solving most business problems comes down to root cause and mathematics. I learned the power of numbers from working with Rodger Voorhies, President of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on financial inclusion. If you want to change something fundamentally, you have to think about changing economics (think of innovations like Netflix and Airbnb). By understanding the mathematical drivers behind those economics, you can bring about creativity and fundamental change — and it’s easier than you think.

4) We underestimate our own range and potential. I’ve had the honor of interviewing some extraordinary women; two that stand out are Tyra Banks and Brené Brown. Tyra has incredible range; she is skilled in so many different areas and can quickly shift from one to the other. Brené has been able to pair unstoppable courage and a fighting spirit with extreme approachability. Both women are examples of creating their worlds rather than fitting within what they were offered — and it radiates from them as a state of being.

5) Keep your balance with a “deep keel.” I learned this from working with the late William J. Hughes, former U.S. Ambassador to Panama and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, while in the Peace Corps. William had the weight of international relations on his shoulders but always kept a “deep keel,” just as a keel keeps a boat steady in the water. He taught me the importance of finding balance in the silliness and relaxation in life, even when dealing with difficult issues.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would spark a movement to redefine cost accounting. If we truly considered the cost of our consumption and held ourselves responsible for paying that cost, we could address so many global issues — from population growth to sustainability, pollution, and climate change. Like hikers taking a “pack in, pack out” mentality, we need to consider the full scope of consequences whenever we make decisions and take action. This way, we would know those choices are, by definition, value-creating and sustainable because we’ve already knowingly accounted for their true cost.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find me on my LinkedIn profile, keep up with Grammarly Business on our Learn page, and follow our broader work at Grammarly on our blogTwitter, and LinkedIn.

In terms of doing better with what we have, my primary focus is on Grammarly and helping individuals and organizations improve their communication to deliver results more quickly, both personal and organizational. Broadly, I would encourage readers to check out the local organizations they patronize and see what steps they can take to better the community and world around them. Remember that empathy is the most important commodity, and money is no replacement for connection and meaning.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.

About The Interviewer: David Liu is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, an award-winning unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication. Liu is known for his visionary leadership, organic growth strategies, and future-forward technology. Liu is highly committed to achieving a greater purpose with technology. Liu’s business insights are regularly featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, Tech Crunch, and more.


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