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  • Nine years...nine million users!

    Posted by John on December 21, 2021

    In just 10 days time Overleaf will be nine years old! Nine! It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a decade since John and I had our first conversations about WriteLaTeX that set us on the path that has led us to this point.

    And in the run up to that particular milestone, another one has crept up on us…

    At the start of this month, the nine millionth user signed up for an Overleaf account. Nine million! 🤯

    Back when we first started out, reaching eight thousand users as we joined the BGV startup programme—25,000 by demo day—already felt like a lot! Now we regularly see over 400,000 people each day on Overleaf!

    Here's our BGV demo day presentation from back in 2013:

    (as an aside: we did a follow up interview with Jake, David, and Artem, the three researchers pictured in the video still above 😊)

    It’s perhaps interesting to note that we gained our early traction before you could even register as a user.

    WriteLaTeX was built as a simple way to collaboratively edit LaTeX documents, and when it first launched there was no such thing as a user account; you simply remembered (or bookmarked) the unique URL for each project you created. It was during what I think was our second appearance on the Hacker News front page that we rolled out user accounts; it was scary deploying in the middle of the surge in traffic, but definitely worth it as we picked up our first registered users. I don’t even have one of the first two accounts ever created on WriteLaTeX, as after John registered his to test it worked, I was so focused on other things that someone else registered before I did mine :)

    In many ways I think this is one of the reasons we were successful (alongside luck and timing, which do play a huge part): we weren’t reinventing the wheel, we were just making it easier to do something we needed to do, which was to write research papers in LaTeX without getting into a mess of versions or conflicting installations.

    It also became clear fairly early on that it wasn’t just researchers using Overleaf; the ability to create and compile a LaTeX document without needing to install anything was a huge plus for many others too. For example, for students just starting to learn LaTeX, getting set up was often quite a significant barrier to getting started. Not because it was impossible to do, but because the steps and complexity involved often varied by computer. Overleaf removed this barrier overnight.

    Perhaps just as importantly, Overleaf also helped those teaching LaTeX courses. For a start, teachers no longer needed to allow a few weeks at the start of every course for setting up the software on everyone’s machines; they could instead get going on the course material much more quickly. Distributing homework assignments also became easier, and had the added benefit of always compiling in the same way for each student.

    Fast forward eight years and nine million users later, and those same basic principles still hold today; at its core, Overleaf is the simplest way to write and collaborate on a LaTeX document.

    We’ve always been very grateful for all the thanks and feedback we’ve received over the years; perhaps because the documents that people create on Overleaf are often those that they are especially proud of—think PhD thesis, student poster, your first research paper, or maybe even that beautiful CV that landed you your dream job—we see some quite emotional testimonials on Twitter when it’s successfully completed…and often get some on-point feedback when things go slightly awry!

    On this note, in addition to our usual channels we currently have our latest product survey open; please feel free to let us know any recent thoughts :)

    As we look ahead to 2022 (after taking a moment to reflect on 2021), we are continuing to focus our efforts on improving that core experience of using Overleaf. We want to make it easier for you to work together with others on Overleaf, and to reduce the ways in which you (or your colleagues) can get stuck. This is building on work that’s been ongoing over the past few years following the ShareLaTeX integration, and with our team having grown to over fifty during 2021, we are optimistic going into the new year…albeit there is always much to do!

    Here’s to 2022 🍻

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