Quizlet's New CEO: Inside His First 100 Days in Office

Quizlet's New CEO: Inside His First 100 Days in Office

Image courtesy of Quizlet

Matthew Glotzbach spent more than 10 years at Google, a Fortune 500 company with tens of thousands of employees. Now he’s checked off 100 days running Quizlet, a company of 50—mostly new hires—that recently received its first round of venture funding.

The former Vice President of Product Management at Youtube is the newly minted CEO of Quizlet. He’s in charge of fast growth: The company claims 20 million monthly active users and 50 percent year-over-year growth for the past several years. The company is also moving aggressively into international markets and has even hung German and British flags over its localization team’s desks. Quizlet’s services are now available in German, UK English, Spanish, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Japanese, as well as American English.

Glotzbach has also helped drive a complete Visual overhaul of Quizlet’s design that was released August 10. He’s got his hands full, which has him thinking about professional learning, the freedoms of user-generated content and a woman he met in the grocery checkout line.

EdSurge: You recently took a great deal of venture funding. What differences do you see in Quizlet before and after that?

Glotzbach: The idea was to really accelerate and pour gasoline on the fire of this great thing that we’re sitting on. Quizlet had already grown to reasonable scale, and the team was limited only by its ability to deliver new things. That team was only 15 people. Now it’s 50.

The funding allowed us to pursue getting Quizlet into every country in the world in every language. That’s engineering, market outreach, user support and operations—you can’t really do that effectively on a 15-person team. You’re seeing initial manifestations of that—whole new versions of our application, an ambitious product roadmap, aggressive international expansion, staff growth—to meet our aspirations.

Quizlet was founded on user-generated content, which gives us a lot of freedom. It wouldn’t have been a high priority to develop quizzes for passing the Bar if we were creating our own content. I was in the grocery store recently wearing a Quizlet t-shirt, and the woman at the checkout counter said, “Oh I use Quizlet! it saved my life during college. I graduated because of it. Then I used it to learn all the checkout codes for these vegetables! The corporate training manual pointed us to a Quizlet set.” That would have never been a use case I would have thought of.

One in three high school students use Quizlet, but why isn’t that one in two? We’re popular with things that require a deep foundational knowledge like medical science or languages. How do we expand that to other subjects and higher orders of learning?

Tell me about the new, redesigned Quizlet.

The great thing about Quizlet is that it’s been around a long time, and it has a sizable user base and a lot of traction in the US. The flipside of that is that it’s been around a long time. We thought it was time to freshen it up to modernize it and streamline the user experience. Any time you have an application where you’re adding functionalities over time, it’s good every now and then to look at all the parts holistically and make it a better experience.

As we’re going international, that creates another opportunity to do things in a more universal way as you localize everything. We want it to be more iconography-based. For instance, the word for “add” is nice and simple in English, but in German it’s four syllables.

Why are you moving internationally now?

The application has always supported multilingual content because it was originally geared toward language learning, but the experience was never localized. A student may be using Quizlet to study German or Ukranian, but they’re doing it within the frame of an English app.

We’re also seeing a lot of growth in K-12, college, graduate school and vocational learning, which I suspect is the fastest-growing segment. If you’re a high school student, you know about Quizlet. If you’re a 40-something person in the legal profession, you don’t necessarily know about Quizlet until you’re taking that next certification. Then, all of a sudden, you find that someone’s already made a set with all the legal content you could ever need.

Are you targeting professional learning?

We’re not specifically targeting any one segment, but we’re doing our best to ensure that the app is useful universally, in all those different use cases. Making sure it’s not pigeonholed to middle school English or high school French. We want the form and functionality to be part of a broad, generalized platform.

Farther afield, we’re hoping to move more into assisted learning. We’re building out our data science team. Today, you find your content or class on Quizlet, and you study that content with one of our features. We have features for spaced repetition studying, but how do we provide a more guiding hand to help you study for next week’s bio test? You know what you need to learn, and you know when you need to learn it by, but you’re on your own as to how to do that. You’re asking yourself, how should I spend my time? That’s an area where we can take our expertise, our 10 years of data and machine learning based on our data to apply that to how people learn. Often, the ways we study are ineffective, and we’re looking into how we can make those processes more efficient.

How do you find it different than YouTube?

We’re much smaller. We have large ambition but limited resources with which to reach that. We have to be much more selective with where spend our resources. On the other hand, we’re much more agile.

What are your visions for the company?

I want to built a great tool that millions of people use to learn every day. That said, generating revenue and being profitable is also very important to me. That gives us the ability to continue to go after that broad vision and make an impact.

And the industry?

I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the next five years or so, we see a few big players emerge in the edtech space. When that happens, we’ll see some consolidation. I also find it fascinating that the big question in edtech is “How do you build a business out of it?” That’s what I find attractive about Quizlet. We’ve managed to build a consumer-facing edtech company. I would even describe it as a consumer-facing tech company that happens to be in education.

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