Today we talked with CTO and Founder of Quizlet Andrew Sutherland to learn the amazing story behind his business!
What is the prologue behind Quizlet, the smaller ideas, visions, or things that lead to starting the business?
Andrew: When I was in high school, I had a really difficult French III class. We would have weekly quizzes on vocab and it was always super challenging to study and remember all of the vocab for the quiz. One week I had a particularly difficult assignment: to learn 111 French animals. I realized I could build a tool that would keep track of what I knew and what I needed to study more. With that tool, I started getting better grades than ever, and that was the start of Quizlet. Today we’re used by more than 25 million students and teachers each month, so it’s pretty incredible that we’ve gone from helping one student with a quiz to helping people all around the globe study every day.
What was the turning point in your life when you realized that the world needed Quizlet?
Andrew: When I created Quizlet, I didn’t create it because I wanted to make a company; I created it because I thought it would be useful for my own studying. When I shared it with friends, it was incredibly gratifying to see that it also helped them! I worked on Quizlet throughout high school, and even when I went to college at MIT. I don’t know if there was a turning point when I realized “the world needed Quizlet” but a few years into college, Quizlet had gotten so big and was taking up so much of my time, that I had to make a choice — either finish up school and stop focusing on Quizlet, or see how big (and how successful!) Quizlet could be. I chose to leave MIT after three years, which was a super difficult decisions, but today in looking back, I know it was the right choice.
What were some of the biggest struggles/hurdles when you were first starting the business and did you have any approach to overcome these obstacles?
Andrew: I’ve always worked to surround myself with people who can compliment my own strengths. Because I was more interested in building learning tools than in running the day to day of the business, I knew it made sense to find great people who were excited about running the business and operations side of Quizlet. Years later, this still holds true: By focusing on finding great people who have skills that compliment mine, we’ve been able to build an amazing company and team here.
As someone interested in marketing, were there any creative marketing techniques that you used?
Andrew: One of the most interesting things about Quizlet is we didn’t do any traditional marketing for the first ten years. All of our growth came because people loved Quizlet and were telling their friends about it… and then they were telling their friends! The number one thing we did was build something that solved a real problem students face and make that solution simple and effective.
Has the business’s focus changed over the years and what’s your vision for the future?
Andrew: At the beginning, I was just focused on making learning tools that solved my (and my friends!) problems. Now we’re much more focused on doing that on a global scale. And, now that we have so many students using Quizlet, we can use data on how students really learn to power more effective and more efficient studying. This is a big area we’re investing in and something I’m excited to see more of on Quizlet over the next few years.