Just Do It: Birthing Your Ideas and Entrepreneurship with Netflix Co-Founder
A Thought Leader is often someone who has not only an industry changing idea, but who has an idea that changes the world. In spite of the negativity and doubt that faces them, they pursue their goal with an unrivalled passion and belief in both themselves and their idea, making incredibly difficult decisions along the way with a bigger picture in mind. Today’s guest is someone has done just that.
Marc Randolph co-founded Netflix in 1997 and was the company’s first CEO. For anyone who has been living under a rock for the past decade, let me tell you a little about them. 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. With over 180million users worldwide, it’s safe to say Marc laid the groundwork that revolutionised the way the world consumes media.
After retiring fully from the company in 2003, Marc has been an active investor and a booster of the Santa Cruz tech community. In an entrepreneurial career spanning over 4 decades, Mark’s founded or co-founded six other successful start ups and mentored hundreds of early stage entrepreneurs. Recently, he co-founded analytics software company Looker Data Sciences, which was sold to Google for $2.6 billion, where he now serves as director.
Liv: Is this where you expected to be at this point in your life, Marc?
Marc: When you 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.
On the other hand I'm going to say yes, because ever since I was young, I always realised that this thing that I love doing that really made me whole was this startup thing, that it was getting to sit around with smart people and solve challenging puzzles. I get to do that today. In some ways, my dream did come true. I never expected the financial success or the notoriety, but I really didn't think about it or even want it that much.
Liv: Is entrepreneurship the one thing that you always wanted to do?
Marc: Yep. It's a compulsion you're driven to do it, aren't you? Certainly now it's very different because entrepreneurship has been so glorified. Back when I was a lad, there was no such thing as being an entrepreneur, but now there's movies and TV shows about it. It's turned into this thing that people strive to be but I think for the wrong reasons. They think it's this path to money or fame or that they envision what they do all day is be on Shark Tank. In reality, it's a very, very different experience. Once you do it, however, it's the best job in the world.
Liv: How important would you say it is for entrepreneurs to not get too attached to and fall in love with those first ideas?
Marc: 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, I think, 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.
Liv: How do you cope when someone doubts an idea that you believe will work?
Marc: 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're going to learn about things you may want to check out. You're going to learn about people who've tried it before, you're going to learn about approaches. So even though you get universal rejection, and even though most people are wrong about it, it doesn't mean it's not a valuable thing to do. The creativity that comes out of two people is about 50 times what can come out of one person. When you add in the third person, you exponentially increase it again. That's why in my opinion, you know, most of these great ideas in the world have come from teams, not from individuals.
Liv: I know you work extensively with universities. Do you think that there's a lot of work to be done for people to view entrepreneurship as a career path?
Marc: The first myth to dispel is that entrepreneurship is a path to success. Most entrepreneurs are not successful. If you're in it because you want a self directed career, if you want something where every day is different, you want something where what you do every day is solve interesting puzzles, and work with really smart people and create something from nothing; that's the reasons to do it.
As far as universities are concerned, I'm actually very cynical about going to school for this. I'm not cynical about going to school in general, I think you there's a lot of huge benefits to becoming educated.
If you want to learn how to be an entrepreneur, be one. You cannot learn this in a classroom. You can learn some of the skills that help I mean, you can learn accounting and you learn finance but that's not entrepreneurship. You have to be doing it.
Liv: What is it that attracts you to the chaos of startups?
Marc: There is a lot of chaos in startups, but what draws me in is the puzzle solving. It's that there's problems and there's no immediate answer. You've got to figure it out and that is so fascinating. I was involved in 7 startups over 40 years and then at some point, you go, that's enough. It's exhausting.
You want to be able to have a more balanced life where you have a chance to spend time with your other passions and your family, etc. You can't walk away entirely though as you need that fix.
For me, staying engaged with startups is a way to sit down with these smart people and solve these really interesting puzzles. I can do it in a way that let's me go home at night now. I do this because I love it. I love the personal feeling of solving something interesting. I love helping someone take their ideas and help them figure out what is the one that's going to work.
Liv: What is it that drives you to help younger entrepreneurs?
Marc: There is a sweet spot in younger people, where they have, all of a sudden, this realisation that they can do something on their own. Growing up, a lot of the time you think there's certain paths you have to follow and all of a sudden it begins to dawn on you that there's this other path that you can go on your own, but it's extremely scary to do that.
I've kind of realised that part of my mission in life is to unlock people, to smack them on the side of the head and go, you can do this. You're smarter than I am, you're harder working than I am, and you're probably better prepared than I am. This is a question of attitude. This is not some external thing. This is not money. This is not where you live. This is not resources you have and this is not your education. If you want to be do something on your own, you can do it.
Liv: How would you advise an entrepreneur that is looking to take that leap works on their own mindset?
Marc: It's a really important thing to talk about. Although 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 older son said those scary words 'I want to be an entrepreneur too.'
I was scared he might be doing it for the wrong reasons because there's certainly a huge bias in looking at me and thinking, 'this is what happens to all entrepreneurs.'
I said okay, but you need to do an internship year or an internship summer working for a startup founder. You're not going to work at Google or Facebook or Uber, those are not startups. You're going to work for a tiny company, and we're going to find a really great CEO. And we did.
He spent that summer seeing what this person did every day, and he came away from that. thinking entrepreneurship looks really awesome.
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.