You Can Learn a Great Deal from a 17-Year-Old

Quizlet LogoI must have first heard of Quizlet through Lifehacker. Studying my SAT words (believe it or not, vocabulary is not one of my strong suits) is not as much a distant memory as it is for others who have been out of high school for 8 years. I remember taking classes, buying flashcards, and doing whatever it took to have a decent Andrew Sutherland, Founder of Quizletunderstanding of large words to score well on the SAT. In that way, I wish Quizlet, an online application to make learning vocabulary fun and engaging, was available back when I needed it. Fortunately, for students who do, 17-year-old Andrew Sutherland has already gone well along on his way to make learning big words a little more exciting.

I was reading a recent interview with Andrew, who built the application out of a passion and a need — I don’t think anything like Quizlet exists anywhere else. I know that whenever I go to the house where I grew up, I end up finding a bunch of flashcards that I no longer want to see anymore (man, what a waste of paper!) I also remember being “elected” as the note-taker in high school; one of the easiest ways to absorb lecture notes and book notes was to type up questions and answers in a frequently asked questions document and ask myself the questions again and again. I definitely could have seen myself “quizletting” back in the late 90s… too bad Andrew was only about 8 years old then.

What amazes me is that Andrew, with no idea of where this was headed, took the initiative to build an extremely successful community. But more so, this quote from Andrew blew it away for me:

[The most important thing that I have learned during this process was h]ow to treat my users. They’re Quizlet’s biggest asset. Recently, I’ve made a point to personally respond (and with no message templates) to each private message and feedback item that comes in. It’s important to me to be an actual member of the Quizlet community, not just some executive looking down at a bunch of growth statistics. That means actually using the site for my homework and being very candid on the Quizlet blog about direction and ideas. I think people really feel a connection when the site’s owner is also one of its biggest users. Of course, as the site gets bigger it’s tough to keep up on everything that happens, but that’s a worthwhile tradeoff for me.

To me, this is an incredible thing and the best customer service experience anyone could ever ask for. We see sites become successful all the time. Once funding goes in, it almost always follows that the site creators distance themselves from the “politics” of the site (especially with a growing community), instead hiring “worker bees” to partake in conversation (if at all) on their behalf. But every site creator or executive owes it to their members to be part of the site, especially if s/he had been involved in the beginning. I could say that without a doubt, Andrew has hit the nail on the head: community participants feel great to know that the man in charge is not sitting on a pedestal; instead, he is being part of the community, interacting with the community, listening to the community, and making an effort to make community participants’ experience an extremely pleasurable one.

Andrew, all I can say is that you’re not even legal yet but you’re teaching a lot of your elders an extremely valuable lesson. May there be more of you in the future, those people that follow your example. :)

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