Matthew Glotzbach is the CEO of Quizlet, the learning app that uses flashcards, games and tests to teach thousands of subjects. He joined Quizlet from 12 years at Google, where he was most recently VP Product Management at YouTube. Prior to YouTube, he was on the founding team of Google Apps and lead product for Google Apps for Education. Matt studied mechanical engineering at Cornell and grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. We asked him how he runs his company and his life.
Location: San Francisco, CA
Current Gig: CEO of Quizlet, husband, and father of two wonderful girls
One word that best describes how you work: Focused
Current mobile device: Google Pixel XL
Current computer: Macbook 11″
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
My Midwest upbringing certainly shaped me and my passion for education today, but not in the way you might think. My mum is a teacher and, as with most teachers, gave her heart and soul to the job of teaching her kids. My dad worked for International Trucks for 35 years. I enjoyed a wonderful, relatively easy childhood, but my sister and I learned to work hard for everything we wanted and always did everything we could to be successful.
“Everything we could” back then meant we got the best grades we could achieve, tried to be the best at our sport, our instrument, our leadership role in whatever club we led, and so on. And 20-some years ago, that got us into good universities and eventually steady jobs. That’s pretty different than the environment facing today’s students, so I feel lucky to have the opportunities I did.
I started working in technology right after graduating from university and after a few years, joined Google as a product manager (PM) just a few months before they IPOed. I was at Google and YouTube for 12 years, working on everything from building Google Apps from the ground up, to running YouTube’s EMEA business (which gave me the opportunity to live in Zurich for a few years), to helping launch YouTube Red. I joined Quizlet as CEO in the autumn of 2016.
What apps, software or tools can’t you live without?
I’m multiplatform, and work across my personal laptop, work laptop, phone, tablet, home iMac and kitchen Chromebox (with touchscreen monitor). I live almost entirely “in the cloud”. I love G Suite, but admit my bias having been part of the founding team who built it. My home screen on my Pixel includes Google Photos, TickTick, Keep, my password manager, Drive, Calendar, Podcast Addict, Kindle and NPR One.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Simple. I’m into minimalist efficiency, so just my laptop and a power cord plus a small notepad and pen. I have a standing desk. The only things on my desk that aren’t work-related are a custom “Matthew Glotzbach, Quizlet CEO” mug my daughter made me when I got this job, and a desktop putting range for practising mini-mini-golf (this isn’t a real thing).
What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I try to touch things only once (for example, email, tasks, and so on) and I strive to make efficient use of every minute of my time at work, so that I can be present when I’m home with my family. I love to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, but I listen at 1.2-1.5x to be more efficient (depends on the material; too fast and you miss the tone and nuance). I do zero-inbox, and clear out my inbox in the evening before I go to bed.
What’s your favourite to-do list manager?
I use a combination of TickTick plus pen and paper. I’ve been using TickTick as a task list manager across web and mobile devices for years, but I try not to take my phone or computer out during meetings (there’s no point in being in a meeting if you aren’t paying attention), so I take tasks in my notebook as well. I then either complete the task and check it off in my notebook, or transfer the task to TickTick and “X” it out of my notebook.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
I don’t think I’m better than everyone at anything, but I do think I 1) work really hard and 2) am good at managing many things at once (going back to my midwestern roots, where the value of hard work was instilled in me). I embrace the chaos, and am good at keeping a lot of balls in the air and still being able to focus on details.
What do you listen to while you work? Got a favourite playlist? Maybe talk radio? Or do you prefer silence?
I consume a lot of NPR and podcasts (Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal, Planet Money, Masters of Scale and more recently Pod Save America) in the morning and evening, and while working out. However, most of the time during the day, I prefer nothing. I find it’s hard to focus and listen at the same time.
What are you currently reading? Or what’s something you’d recommend?
I try to read a lot of books, which is a change for me. As a child and early into my career, I wasn’t interested in reading books, but over the past decade or so that’s changed and I try to read a book every week. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction, work-related books. Some recent books that I enjoyed were:
- The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose
- Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson
- Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
I’m also a big fan of the public library. I try to get most of my ebooks and audiobooks from the Menlo Park public library; it’s amazing how seamless the library-to-Kindle process is. On a recent trip to the library with my daughter in Year 4, I was explaining to to her how the public library worked and she was blown away that there was such an amazing “free” resource at our disposal. “How does Amazon stay in business?” she asked with full sincerity.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I love to ride my bike. Exercise clears my head and is good for my soul. I’m going to complete two legs of a half Ironman in a month or so, which I’m excited about. Sadly I’ve torn my ACLs too many times to run anymore, so I’m focused on the swimming and cycling.
What’s your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early riser?
When I was 12, I had a paper route that started at 5AM. Since then, I’ve been an early riser. I get up at 5:15 every morning and either get a few hours of work done, spend some time reading, or do a workout (a swim or bike ride). I tend to wind down in the evening around 10PM with a little TV or reading and am usually in bed by 10:30 (or 11 at the latest).
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Finish what you start. Today, I think we’re calling that “grit”, but from early on, my parents always instilled in me an obligation to finish what I started. I didn’t have to sign up for that activity (for example, sport, science fair, and so on) again next go-round, but I always saw a commitment through.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
Ride safe. Study hard. Have fun!
We’ve asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? [contact text=”Let us know.”]