What I Learned from Being Taught by the Co-founder of Netflix

Mark McKinney
Written by Mark McKinney on
What I Learned from Being Taught by the Co-founder of Netflix

I recently enjoyed being taught by Marc Randolph, the Co-Founder and former CEO of Netflix. Here are two key takeaways from his class.

1. Epiphany Stories: How to Get Billion-Dollar Ideas

For Randolph, one of the first questions he always gets is, “When was your Aha! moment for Netflix?” or “What was it like to have that eureka moment?” This desire to illuminate such an experience is entirely normal — it’s natural to want to boil a company’s success to one general story. However, that’s not at all realistic. In fact, for Randolph, he had a hunch that he was on to something, but there was no instant realization of Netflix’s billion-dollar potential.

According to Randolph, the ideation process is rarely stumbling upon a brilliant idea. Instead, it’s typically getting an intriguing idea and realizing it’s bad, or rather it’s incredibly underdeveloped and unrealistic.

And that’s perfectly okay.

Yet, it’s at this step where most people stop working and start thinking. You read that right. People incorrectly start thinking. From his experience in evaluating nascent ideas, Randolph says that no matter how much we think about an idea, it’s wrong. In fact, the more we think about it, the more it is wrong. So, what do we do?

This is when we need to start iterating — “Let’s just start and see where it goes” Randolph says. His goal is to experiment immediately in order to get feedback as quickly as possible. For many, this can become daunting as it often means getting resourceful and not waiting for others to help. Here’s an example: A college student once pitched an idea to him about a clothing-renting service. This platform would allow students to rent nice clothing from other students rather than having to buy a nice outfit. The student was requesting funding to pay for the development of a test app.

This is where Randolph tells them to stop.

He points out that they have not yet proven a market for the product. Initially, this was a frustrating first piece of feedback for this student. How would they get testers without first having a platform for them to test? But the student was thinking too hard.

Randolph redirects them to the iteration process. Instead of building an expensive app, he suggested that the student put a signup list on their dorm-room door. This signup list would say: “If you like my clothes, why not borrow them? Write your email down below if you’re interested.” From there, the student can determine the demand for their service. Plus, by having an email list, the student can also figure out the service’s essential components through direct conversations with interested users. Components like liabilities (stains, rips, or lost clothes), appropriate pricing, and logistics (Do renters wash clothes before returning? What sizes should be supplied?) can be collected for free. Not a single dollar is spent, nor a single line of code ever written.

For Randolph, the cleverness of a business does not come from the idea (ideas count for nothing). Instead, it comes from testing the idea cheaply and quickly and getting that market data as quickly as possible.

2. The Importance of Well-Crafted Introductions

Through Randolph’s experience of speaking to countless audiences, he realized that there is one essential skill that few can do well and is rarely touched upon in schools. That skill is introductions. This fundamental skill is the gateway to either a smooth relationship or one with a rocky start. So how can we get introductions right?

He instructs introducers to answer these three questions (not necessarily in this order):

  • Why this person?
  • Why on this topic?
  • Why to this audience?

These questions build commonality between parties. They quickly show why two people should take the time to get to know each other, dispelling awkwardness in the new relationship. But there’s also another component. When introducing someone to an audience (like a public speaker), you need to nail the landing. That is, you may give the most compelling introduction, but if you don’t end it just as compellingly, you quash all the work you just did answering those three questions. Here’s how to nail the landing in two key steps.

First, at the end of answering the three key questions, elevate your tone to be obviously excited. When you say, “Now please join me in welcoming…,” this is the point of your introduction where you are the most excited. Remember, you are selling the audience on why they should continue listening. Before you were doing it through your choice of words, now it’s primarily through your tone. Once introduced, it’s your job to gracefully pass the stage on to your guest. Do not leave the stage before they come on or exit the opposite direction your guest is arriving. Instead, stay on the stage and as your guest comes up, happily shake hands. By doing so, you are welcoming them to take the spotlight from you, and you are making this surrendering of the stage clear to your audience. This way, the transition maintains the energy you built, and you ensure your audience’s focus will effortlessly pass from you to your guest speaker.

By following this universal framework, we can help others build stronger relationships and expose them (and ourselves) to new opportunities.

Cover Photo Credit: High Point University

Mark McKinney

Mark McKinney

Hey there, I'm Mark. I'm a graduated Master's student from High Point University in North Carolina where I studied Entrepreneurship and Strategic Communication. Now, I'm a founder of the new ed-tech startup BlueSkyAI.