Matt Hulett is a seasoned executive with more than 20 years of experience leading product, sales, marketing, operations, and engineering teams for global software companies. He joined Rosetta Stone in August 2017. As President of Language for Rosetta Stone, Mr. Hulett is responsible for driving innovation and growth for all aspects of the company’s Consumer, Enterprise, and Education language businesses, including the strategic direction and execution of product, sales and marketing, and infrastructure functions. Prior to joining Rosetta Stone, Mr. Hulett served in many executive roles, including CEO of Clickbank, SVP & President of RealNetworks’ game division, CEO of AdXPose, and Division President of Expedia.
Thank you so much for joining us, Matt! Our readers would love to get to know you better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you got started?
I’m a 4th generation Northwesterner. I’m your typical type-A executive who reads and collects comic book memorabilia, is an avid runner and loves music. I actually started out in the software industry after pretending to be a software programmer at a reinsurance company. I had never programmed before, let alone really used a computer much. I had a database programming book on my desk and it wasn’t too long before management caught on. I was a college student needing to make ends meet so I took a number of temporary jobs. One of those jobs was at a fast-growing software company where I received an internship during my junior and senior years in college. That experience and company not only helped pay for much of my college expenses but also honed my interest in the business side of the software. I am very thankful to have had a generous shot at that company because it launched my career in technology.
What was the “aha moment” that led you to work for Rosetta Stone?
I knew Rosetta Stone as the iconic language brand. But I didn’t know at the time the company had a fast-growing literacy business focused on helping K-12 students read. Most people don’t know I am dyslexic and my youngest child is as well. Struggling with reading hit very close to home and I saw an opportunity to apply my business skills to a problem that positively benefits society.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned?
One of my first jobs was at a Volkswagen dealership when I was in high school. My task was to wash cars and fill the tanks with gas.
I was overzealous in my duties and I accidentally started a car that was in gear. The little Jeep jumped the curb and hit a light pole. The entire front end was damaged. I was mortified. I collected myself and marched into the general manager’s office. I offered to pay for the damage and apologized. The GM smiled and appreciated the honesty and explained that insurance would cover it but just “tone down the intensity a little bit.”
I’ve found that as long as you are earnest in wanting to make a difference by working hard and striving to make an impact, you need to be honest about your mistakes and hold yourself accountable to them.
Rosetta Stone offers different subscription lengths. For a quick trip abroad 3 months sounds like it will do the job. But to really be proficient in the language what is the minimum recommended time?
We recommend practicing several times a week for at least 6 months in order to reach a level of proficiency that allows you to comfortably discuss familiar topics. We have also found that making use of Rosetta Stone’s live tutoring feature accelerates language learning by giving the learner more opportunities to practice interactive speaking with a language instructor. To reach an advanced level, learners will need to spend several hundred hours studying and conversing in the language — and consistency is key, so they need to practice on a regular basis.
Rosetta Stone’s TruAccent enables a subscriber to get the right enunciation of words and phrases. How does this work? Can a person adapt to the rhythm and speech mannerisms of a foreign country sufficiently to fool a native into thinking he is a native?
TruAccent® uses thousands of hours of recorded speech data from native speakers to train its acoustic models on sound patterns and grammar found in natural language. These models use machine learning to continuously train and improve TruAccent over time. The overall emphasis for the learner is on the intelligibility of speech.
Learners can adjust how precise the speech-recognition is. We chose a default precision level we think works well for most learners. It won’t accept clearly wrong answers but allows learners to proceed without perfect pronunciation, while also indicating the pronunciation isn’t perfect.
Most people who start learning a language as adults will always have a “foreign” accent. However, once you become very good at mastering the sounds and rhythm of a new language, it’s definitely possible to pass for a native.
How well can a person learn a language without being immersed in the culture — without hearing the language spoken and speaking the language on a continuous basis?
You can learn a lot by using Rosetta Stone because it’s designed to immerse users in their target language with reading, listening, writing and talking exercises. But users who live amongst those who speak it too will definitely take language learning to the next level. That’s why we also recommend live tutoring to enhance what you can learn from technology alone.
Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. What is Rosetta Stone’s mission/purpose?
Our vision is really to enable anyone to learn how to read, write and speak with confidence. We have a wonderful team of passionate individuals who could easily get a job anywhere else, but they have opted into our vision. We pride ourselves on being a learning company that deeply cares about creating positive outcomes for our young adult and adult learners.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and customers?
The easiest way to demonstrate values in action is to commit to building products that produce outstanding results for our customers. We reinforce product outcomes by being in constant communication with our customers to understand their needs and feedback. All of our teams use CRM tools, data analytics tools and communication software that keeps us informed of areas where we can improve. For employees, we have frequent company town halls and open office hours with executives where we encourage two-way communication. Our values are our culture in action. Our culture is aligned with changing the world through the power of language and literacy education.
Do you have the number one principle that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Stay true to your Northstar, or said another way “‘your one thing.” One of my favorite quotes is from a ’90s comedy called City Slickers: “The secret to life is just one thing…just one thing. Find that one thing, and nothing else matters.” I find if you really understand the one thing that drives you, it can be indispensable to you as you traverse short-term obstacles.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Early in my career, I worked at a software company called RealNetworks. I was the product manager for one of the most popular products on the internet at that time. This was the early internet era and we were all working crazy hours. I launched a paid version of my product that was also free to the market. We also launched in retail stores at the same time. I was under a ton of scrutiny prior to the software release; my project plan was literally laminated and expanded to cover the president’s entire office wall (he labeled it “Project Matt”). We launched the product and thankfully, it was wildly successful. I never considered giving up because the entire company was founded on the idea we were creating a new mass medium for communication. Like we have talked about in this interview, the belief in a core mission can drive your body and mind beyond what you previously thought was capable.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Things are great and my business is thriving. My personal values are focused on integrity, passion for what you do and having a bit of fun along the way. I don’t take myself too seriously and I really enjoy learning new things. Keeping curiosity alive and continuous learning is really what keeps me excited and sharp. As long as you have a strong sense of what brings you happiness in your craft, success does tend to find you.
However, the older you get, it’s less about your individual success and more about your team’s success. I honestly get more excited about seeing my team members grow in their careers than I do spending time thinking about mine. This feeling parallels my family life. I get fascinated with what my wife and kids are doing and how they are approaching their lives. In fact, my wife recently started a company called Rock Grace which is a non-alcoholic wine alternative. She is getting a ton of traction and I am learning so much from her.
Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Here are my top 5:
- Take care of your employees first. If you take care of your team, then they will take care of your customers.
- Take care of your customers. Set a high bar for customer service, track it and reward your team for great customer service.
- Remove friction in decision making. Empower your employees to make decisions at the right authority level. The speed of smart decision making is a competitive advantage.
- Track everything. Monitor everything you can from customer feedback all the way to product behavior. Drill those insights into a few key performance indicators.
- Reinforce your values. Strong values that are integrated into your hiring, performance reviews, employee meetings and everything you do will reinforce the right culture that enables world-class customer-centricity.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you’re grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My cross country coach Pat Tyson was a huge influence on me. He coached me from 7th grade through high school and had a massive impact on me in terms of developing grit but also learning to enjoy the journey on the way to achieving a goal. Today, he is one of the most successful cross country coaches in the United States. In fact, his philosophies on life and competition were molded during his time running for the University of Oregon for Coaches Bill Dellinger and Bill Bowerman, the coach of four NCAA champion teams and the co-founder of Nike. He was also the teammate and roommate of Steve Prefontaine who is an icon in long-distance running.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Be a mentor. Be the rocket fuel for our kids and young adults. Make a 1:1 difference with someone who needs guidance and advice. You don’t have to start a new organization to do this. I’d recommend finding a program that delivers tangible results to children or young adults. One organization I support is Year Up, a one-year, intensive training program. It provides talented and motivated, yet underprivileged, young adults with a combination of hands-on skills development, college credit, and corporate internships. The organization is wonderful, with happy graduates and corporate donors that hire their graduates!
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