by Brandon Reiter
We all know the story of Netflix: a DVD mailing service that exploded to becoming one of the most valuable corporations on the planet. But what we don’t know about (or at least I didn’t) is all of the complicated decisions and obstacles that the early Netflix leaders were faced with and overcame, that allowed their company to foster a healthy culture and build it’s historic success. In his new memoir, That Will Never Work, Netflix’s co-founder and first CEO, Marc Randolph, tells his compelling narrative in a very candid and friendly manner that should serve as a source of inspiration for any reader whether you are an aspiring businessperson, or just like a feel-good story.
The book covers the time period ranging from 1997, 15 months before Netflix launched, up through 2002 when the company went public. Randolph describes the early days and conundrums of Netflix’s founding and all of the complicated decisions they made. Randolph is a gifted and entertaining writer which is exemplified as he recounts his experience, providing both comedy and general business advice that is applicable for almost any company.
Randolph comes off as a remarkably selfless person who was simply fueled by a passion for building and problem solving, while treating his employees with the respect they deserved. Randolph didn’t necessarily have an overwhelming passion for movies or TV, but as a serial entrepreneur, he had a passion for coming up with ideas and turning them into a reality, no matter how many people (including his wife) told him, “that will never work.” GET IT?! THATS THE TITLE!
What I think separates this book from most other entrepreneurial memoirs is the choice of topics Randolph highlights in his text. Instead of a typical rags to riches story that shoves the importance of work ethic down your throat, Randolph focuses on other important topics like culture, respect, self-awareness, and strategy that makes this account so inspiring. He reveals how he and his partners were able to preserve the friendly small-team start-up culture even as Netflix grew into a massive conglomerate.
Netflix’s constant attention to employee morale completely revolutionized the way most companies (try) today to treat their employees with what are now common-place perks like unlimited paid time off, flexible expense accounts, working remotely, and so on. One of the scenes that stuck out to me most was when Randolph was working for his previous company, Pure Atria (now Pure Software), he overheard his employees complaining while they were in a hot tub. He realized then that it didn’t matter how many parties, luncheons, or hut tubs you gave your employees, what makes them happiest at the end of the day is being treated like an adults. Randolph hired people based on their talent and work ethic, and then gave them the freedom to work and complete their tasks without being watched under a microscope.
Another quality of Randolph that becomes evident during the book is his self-awareness. He made the incredibly difficult decision to step down as CEO from the company he founded, handing the reigns to Reed Hasting (still the CEO), because he knew that Reed’s skill set was better suited for the direction the company was heading.
Their are much more great lessons, quotes, and shocking events that Randolph sprinkles through the pages. He even caps it off it with an extremley helpful epilogue that summarizes all of the lessons he tried to shine a light on through his story.
Spoiler alert: It worked.