February 1, 2021

Marc Randolph on Building Netflix, Battling Blockbuster, Negotiating with Amazon/Bezos, and Scraping the Barnacles Off the Hull (#496)

Illustration via 99designs

“You have to have the willingness and the confidence to walk away from sure mediocrity to bet everything on the long shot of a big success.”

— Marc Randolph

Although best known as the co-founder and first CEO of Netflix, Marc Randolph‘s (@mbrandolph) career as an entrepreneur spans more than four decades. He’s founded or co-founded half a dozen other successful start-ups, including, most recently, Looker Data Sciences, which he sold to Google in 2019 for $2.6B. He is currently mentoring a handful of other early-stage companies and advising hundreds of other entrepreneurs. He is also an active seed investor in start-ups all over the world, author of an internationally bestselling memoir, and host of the new podcast That Will Never Work, where he dispenses advice, encouragement, and tough love to struggling entrepreneurs.

When not surfing, mountain biking, or back-country skiing, Marc is a frequent speaker at industry events, works extensively with young entrepreneur programs, sits on the board of the environmental advocacy group 1% for the Planet, and chairs the National Outdoor Leadership School‘s board of trustees.

Please enjoy!

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear another episode with a paradigm-shifting entrepreneur? Listen to my conversation with Sir Richard Branson, in which we discuss clean meat, cryptocurrency, dyslexia, energy-generating habits, PR stunts, lessons learned from Nelson Mandela, limiting risk, and more!

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Marc Randolph:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn

SHOW NOTES

  • Here’s the story behind why I’ve taken to calling my guest Marc “The Seagull” Randolph. [05:35]
  • In his youth, what did involvement with the National Outdoor Leadership School (which he now chairs) teach Marc? Does NOLS offer such programs for adults? [10:00]
  • While discovering his own penchant for leadership, how did Marc’s communication style change? [15:27]
  • Homing in on a superpower: split testing. Where did Marc get bitten by the bug that endowed him with this ability? [18:27]
  • I share something I may have never shared with the public before, Marc explains what he meant when he said: “There’s no such thing as a good idea.” He details some of the ideas he and Reed Hastings worked on before arriving at what we know today as Netflix, and shares the test they did to determine if the idea of video rental by mail was good or bad. [21:28]
  • What were the prerequisites of the business ideas Marc and Reed threw around before arriving on what would become Netflix? [27:11]
  • What did the approach to Netflix’s iteration look like in the early days, and what, in Marc’s opinion, sets apart good entrepreneurs from mediocre ones? [32:20]
  • How did Marc and Reed overcome the temptation to gear their startup toward what seemed to work in the ’90s and what would go on to change the face of media consumption in the 21st century? [35:50]
  • Marc answers a question he perhaps never considered. [40:17]
  • How did Marc and Reed think about naming the company? What were their best and worst ideas, and how might arriving at this decision be different now versus then? [42:14]
  • Marc dishes about the time e-commerce demigod Jeff Bezos invited Reed and him to a sketchy part of Seattle for a “talk,” and how they prepared for it on the flight up. [46:19]
  • People told Marc and Reed, time and time again regarding the Netflix business model, “That’ll never work.” What were they missing? [56:09]
  • On the perfect storm of bad news that led to Marc and Reed trying to unload Netflix onto its then-biggest competitor: Blockbuster.[1:01:09]
  • Why didn’t Marc and Reed negotiate with Blockbuster for a lower buyout price when the company balked at the initial offer? [1:11:19]
  • What is the Canada Principle, and how has it guided Netflix’s unique business model in ways others might think of as leaving money on the table? What were the most tempting opportunities during this time that had to be turned away as distractions from Netflix’s main focus? [1:14:06]
  • How did Marc stick by his commitment to honor a regular date night with his wife without letting hectic startup life disrupt the balance? Has this tradition ever failed the stress test? [1:20:16]
  • What advice does Marc have for the success of couples considering instituting a similar date night tradition? [1:27:48]
  • The moment of clarity through which Marc found his purpose in life that led to writing That Will Never Work and starting a podcast by the same name. [1:30:32]
  • What can listeners to Marc’s podcast expect? [1:37:10]
  • What would Marc’s billboard say? [1:40:05]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:44:04]

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