What I Learned from Interviewing the Co-Founder of Netflix

Image by Thought Leader Chat Podcast

It’s not often you’re using a product or service and receive an email from the Co-Founder of the company while doing so. It happens even less often when that service is Netflix.

You can imagine my surprise when my phone lit up midway through a late night Netflix binge-watching session (shout out to Stranger Things) and I had received a reply from Marc Randolph’s assistant confirming his interest in appearing on my podcast.

I arose from the edge of the couch I was perched (things were heating up on Stranger Things) and I stood still. Frozen in disbelief.

It seemed ever so strange to me (pun intended) that a Co-Founder of the biggest media streaming service on the face of the planet (192.5 million users at the last count) would acknowledge a young entrepreneur like myself, never mind confirm their availability for a one hour chat for a podcast in it’s infancy.

It didn’t really start making sense to me until I read Marc’s book on founding Netflix, That Will Never Work, and sat across from him virtually over a Zoom call, as is the new norm these days, that he was a person with a business idea and ambition like myself.

Marc co-founded Netflix in 1997 and was the company’s first CEO. Netflix’s initial business model included DVD sales and rental by mail, but Marc made the decision to abandon sales about a year after the company’s founding to focus on the initial DVD rental business. The company’s primary business is now focussed on its subscription-based streaming service which offers online streaming of a library of films and television programs, including those produced in-house. It’s safe to say Marc laid the groundwork that revolutionised the way the world consumes media.

Marc valued his time like any other entrepreneur should, and that value came from imparting wisdom and helping others to reach the height of their ambition. A true Thought Leader in every sense of the word, I learned more in that 54 minute conversation than I have from any course I’ve ever undertaken.

It’s Easier Than You Think To Get Time with Successful People

One of the biggest things I learned from interviewing Marc came from the process of inviting him on to the podcast.

Look, I’m not going to pretend it’s easy to get time with successful people. I’m just saying it’s easier than you think.

I reached out to Marc with a message via Instagram in which I told him what I admired about his entrepreneurial journey and asked him if I could share it with my podcast listeners.

Marc responded politely and directed me towards his assistant who would deem ‘if, how and when’ we could record the podcast.

After emailing back and forth and selling myself, the podcast and my intrigue around shedding light on a different aspect of Marc’s story (spoiler alert: we didn’t just talk about Netflix), I finally got the yes.

You’ll have no doubt heard the old idiom ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ and that is true to a certain extent. Had I not reached out to Marc then we would never have met and I would never have been able to write this article.

However, I believe the moral of this story is be confident in yourself and your ideas. Have that bravado to reach out and when you do, sell yourself well. Most importantly, flatter and show interest in the person whose time you want a piece of.

They might not say yes all of the time. Everyone is busy, especially successful entrepreneurs.

However, they’re a lot more likely to say yes if you take a keen interest in them and shedding them in a good light. Make it about them, and only talk about yourself in the interests of serving them.

Keep all that in mind, and you’re a lot more likely to get the yes.

Don’t Fall In Love With Your Ideas

Hands up if you’ve been guilty of this one!

We’ve all had that eureka moment where you think you’ve found the fool proof solution to a huge problem. You’re immediately convinced you’ve just had the best idea ever as you scribble away in the Notes App in your smartphone.

That ‘million dollar idea’ however will be consigned to just that for eternity, as you put off implementing it for one reason; you’ve fallen in love with it.

You will never succeed as an entrepreneur if you fall in love with your ideas.

Not only will the idea never get off the ground as you don’t want to see it become a failure, but you will be so short-sighted when it comes to recognising failures in your business plan that it could never possibly be a success.

Take it from the man who founded Netflix.

What Marc Said: Everyone has ideas, but the single biggest barrier they have is they don’t want to start because this one idea is so precious to them. They want to keep it in this nice, safe, warm space, which is right between the ears, because the idea will never fail there.

It can grow up to be big and successful in your head. It’s only when you put your idea out in the world that you realise its flaws and that it’s not going to win the Nobel Prize. If you think each of your ideas are precious, you’re going to build them up and build them up and build them up. Then, of course, you can’t do it, because your idea is so big.

However, if you get in the habit of taking the idea when it’s nothing, and putting it out in the world; it’s easy. The single biggest skill for starting a company is having that ability to quickly and easily take your ideas and try them. If you can get that skill down, you can just crank through ideas.

It’s Impossible to Tell A Good Idea from a Bad Idea

Although you should never fall in love with your ideas; don’t let people discredit them either.

Yes, you may have had a really crazy idea in the past, that you never truly believed in, which was thrown into a casual conversation with your friends before being laughed out of the room. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

If you have an idea that you truly believe in; don’t let people tell you it won’t or can’t work.

The truth is they have no idea if it will or won’t.

Some people close to Marc thought Netflix would never work.

What Marc Said: It’s funny because I called the book ‘That Will Never Work’ as I heard it so often. You hear it from your investors, you hear it from your employees, and you hear it from your family, and my wife famously said that Netflix will never work.

It almost becomes the incentive to say, ‘I’m gonna prove that I can make it work.’

Pretty soon you realise that most people have no ideas, and that it’s almost impossible to tell a good idea from a bad idea. Anyone who’s telling you it’ll never work is really pretty clueless about it. I encourage everyone, to tell people your idea and forget the secrecy part of it. Just tell people your idea, because they’re all going to say that will never work.

You Can Never Predict the Success of Your Business

One of my first questions for Marc was ‘did you ever think you’d be here at this stage of your life?’

What I was really asking was ‘did you ever think Netflix would be as big as it is?’

From the outside looking in you always assume that, when people found companies that become household names, they know the potential of the business and how big it will become.

It’s a silly notion in hindsight. No one can predict the future and if you had expectations for a company that would become as big as Netflix, you’d be feeling short changed in 5 years time.

What Marc Said: When you start a company, you really have no idea what it’s going to be. In fact, your dreams are never as big as what Netflix became, that would just be ridiculous to be dreaming that you’re going to start a company that takes on the size and scale and impact that Netflix did. This whole Netflix thing and the whole Looker thing have such huge elements of luck to them. I did a bunch of things right but it is easily could have gone in so many other directions. So in that sense, not at all.

Just Do It

Sorry Nike; you don’t have ownership of those three words.

The only way you’ll know if your idea is going to be a success or a failure is to implement it.

Take the stabilisers off the bike and let your idea roam free into the world.

You’ll always find one million excuses not to do it, but if entrepreneurship is in your blood; you’ll find a way.

If the worst comes to worst, you’ll be living in an apartment with six people eating Ramen. If I were you, I’d be willing to take that risk.

What Marc Said: The very best way to learn to be an entrepreneur is just to do it, the second best way is to watch closely somebody else doing it.

The advice that I give to people, the advice that I gave to my own children and that I give to my children’s friends, is really simple. It’s to find the smartest person you know, that will take you seriously and do anything they want. So if you want to be in a certain industry, forget startups. Don’t say I have to be in this job or this level, or make this much money. Just get in the door. Get into a place where you can watch the people who are good at it, even if you’re sweeping the floor in the corner, because you’ll learn so much more from seeing it.

I had chance to work with three phenomenally good entrepreneurs in my career and learned incredibly powerful things from all three of them from but they weren’t teaching me. I was watching them. They were explaining why they did something the way they did it. I cannot stress all of this enough.

My advice to younger people is don’t worry about the money. Do what you have to do, sleep six people to an apartment and eat ramen. Get as close to the real thing as you can.

Listen to the podcast episode in its entirety here.

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