Some would say Marc Randolph is an entrepreneur. He has the success story so many startup founders dream of: a radical, industry-shattering idea that is now shaping what the entertainment world looks like. That idea? Netflix — a now-recorded monolith with annual sales of more than $25 billion.
Surprisingly, Randolph’s motivation may not be a dollar and a cent. It never has been. In a recent interview, he candidly confessed this: “Money has never been my motivation,” he said. Instead, the entertainment visionary focused on experiences. “That’s where the luxury is,” he noted. “And that’s not really a question of money, but of planning.”
If you think about it, the experiential side of Netflix is really what sets it apart from the rest. Yes, Blockbuster was all the rage in the ’80s and ’90s, but there wasn’t much new to the experience: it was more about volume and selection fueled by a national infrastructure.
Randolph and co-founder Reed Hastings reversed the script. They viewed movie rental as an experience that spanned from the moment you think of watching a movie, to the rental process, to watching the movie itself, all the way through to handing in your DVDs. They wanted the experience to be about the movie — so they added the convenience of mailed DVDs to the equation.
To be fair, Blockbuster did the same in a short time, but Netflix – always in line with the movie-watching experience – was already planning its next innovation of the home cinema experience. Thus, in the 2000s, came streaming and eventually a series of Netflix-produced shows and movies of a caliber rarely seen outside the major Hollywood studios.
All this comes down to a sharp focus on experience and planning – both within the company and with an eye to the public at home.
But there was another secret ingredient to Randolph’s success, which he shared in his business interview: He left the company just five years after its founding, while its entertainment influence continued to grow. Why? A humble realization: “The skills involved in start-ups are very different from those you need when you have a repeatable, scalable business model,” he said.
In other words, entrepreneurs who find early-stage success aren’t always—perhaps often not—the same ones who can scale the business. For Randolph, the skills he used in the beginning — building a team, creating an unambiguous business strategy, deploying out-of-the-box innovation — may have held Netflix back after it took hold and got serious. started thinking about scaling up.
This, of course, calls for awareness. As you build, grow and innovate in your own business, do you pay attention to the ways your contributions can hinder progress? Or are you only focused on maintaining control and ownership? Or maybe, as Randolph also warned, you’re spending too much energy on the money and not enough on the experience you’re delivering?
Both are crucial lessons, especially at a time when, as Randolph himself points out, the glorification of the “great, wealthy entrepreneur” is mixed with the American dream. It’s clearly not that simple; the question for emerging CEOs is, “Are you paying enough attention to realize that money-gilded glamor is a fiction and that success lies in creating valuable experiences?”
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