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At this altitude I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Can I ask you a personal question now it is. Cybernetic organisms living tissue over metal embryos go to Paris, so. Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs, this is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Temperature, where it is my job to interview an attempt to deconstruct world class performers from all different avenues, all different areas of life, whether it be business, military, sports or otherwise.
Now, today, we have a very special guest. Although he is best known as the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, Mark Randolph's story has a lot more to it. His career as an entrepreneur spans more than four decades. He's founded or co-founded half a dozen other successful startups, including, most recently Looker Data Sciences, which he sold to Google in 2013 for two point six billion. That's with a B billion dollars. He's currently mentoring a handful of other early stage companies and advising hundreds of other entrepreneurs.
He's also an active seed investor in startups all over the world, author of an international best selling memoir and host of the brand new podcast, one of my favorite titles for a podcast I've seen in a long time that will never work. And we're going to talk about why that has some relevance to a lot of his story. In that podcast, he dispenses advice, encouragement and tough love to struggling entrepreneurs. We're not surfing, mountain biking. Our back country skiing.
Mark is a frequent speaker at industry events, works extensively with young entrepreneur programs, sits on the board of the environmental advocacy group, number one for the planet. I'm laughing, folks, because I just retook that about 17 times and shares the National Outdoor Leadership School's board of trustees. You can find him everywhere on Instagram at that will never work. Twitter at M.B Randolph with Facebook at Mark B. Randolph, LinkedIn, Mark Randolph and website where I'm sure you can find everything.
Mark Randolph, Dotcom. Mark, welcome to the show. Well, thanks, Tim.
That was quite a mouthful and I struggle with advocacy group as well too. So don't worry about that.
Too many consonants and vowels. I want to start perhaps in a in in the midstream of your chronology of sorts, little in the earlier chapters, and that is at 21 years old. So you're kind enough to send some some notes to me, but they're sufficiently cryptically written that I don't know any of the story, which is perfect, and that's what I like. So this alludes to surviving on the streets of Hartford, Connecticut for three days without money, watch, wallet, food, etc.
. Can you please tell me the story?
Yeah, it's an experience that probably you would find happening today. It kind of begins verging on something almost illegal. But I was working at the time for a program which took young people from urban backgrounds, sometimes adjudicated youth, as they call them. We used to call it hoods in the woods, but took them out into the back country to try and really stress them a little bit and help them learn about themselves. And it was a pretty powerful experience for them.
And as the training for us, they wanted us to have an experience where we felt similarly disoriented so that we could understand what they were going through. And of course, all of us were pretty comfortable campers, hikers, backpackers.
So they had to find something a little different. And the experiment they came up with involved taking us to an urban area. And for me, it was Hartford, Connecticut, taking away our watch and our wallet and our ID and dropping us off on a sidewalk at about 10, 30 in the morning and saying, we'll be back for you in three days. And they had us right off emergency phone number on our arm with a Sharpie just in case we were on our own dog tags.
But cheaper. Exactly. But listen, I would I was probably more likely to chew my arm off than I was to call that phone number. I was going to make it through this thing.
And, you know, it was pretty, pretty fun for a while.
And then, of course, you know, being a twenty one year old, you begin getting hungry. So your first chores is to find food. And my first tactic was, look, embarrassing even to say this, but I would go to the food court and I would hover until I saw someone get up from their plate and walk away with food still on it. And then like a seagull, I would swoop in and finish the food on their plate.
But that worked. And then I began saying, listen, I should maybe cut out the middleman. I wonder if I can get some money and I can buy my own food. And I came up with the idea that I would panhandle for it. And I thought to myself, well, how hard could that be? And the answer is really hard. Know, Tim, whether you've ever had a walk up to a stranger and put your hand out and ask for spare change.
But there is something deep in us, in our pride that makes that really, really hard.
And I tried four hours before I get the courage to even make my first ask. And of course, the person just looks down and walks past you and you just feel like nothing.
But little by little, you kind of begin to hone the ask, you know, what do you say?
How do you approach someone? What kind of person do you think is more likely to give you money? And after a handful of hours, I kind of had gotten the hang of it and the. Interesting thing, what worked for me was complete sincerity. At the beginning, I was trying, you know, bullshit. You know, I've lost my wallet. I had it taken from me.
I was on. And after a while, I just looked people up, walked up to people and say, can you spare some change? I am really hungry. And they could see it in my eyes and see it in my face. And that ended up being the most effective thing. And I have never, ever forgot that experience of begging for spare change on the streets of Hartford, Connecticut, because as an entrepreneur, it's part of the job description that you're always asking for money.
And I just have to say that when you have begged for spare change on the sidewalk, that asking a VC for 50000 dollars is nothing. So that is a great story.
Number two, if you're ever a professional wrestler or M.A fighter, I think Mark the Seagle Randolph is a great option for you.
And even as early as the panhandling experiment days, you're already split testing. And I think we're going to come back to that.
But I want to first go to the wilderness experiences or those types of experiences that you alluded to was that organization, the National Outdoor Leadership School, or was that a different organization?
That was a different organization during my summers, all through late high school and certainly all through college, I would spend three months a year basically leading either going on or later leading these backcountry expeditions.
And two months of the year, I would do them for the school called the National Outdoor Leadership School.
And then one month a year I would do it for an organization called the Wilderness School. And that was the one that was actually not done in the Rockies like Noles was. But it was done in down the East Coast, in the Berkshires, in the Catskills. And that was the program that was for the adjudicated youth where I had to do the Hartford Urban Immersion Program.
What did you take from Knowles?
And maybe you could elaborate a bit on that experience of the National Outdoor Leadership School. What did that provide you?
I mean, just to jump to the punch line, pretty much that taught me almost everything I know about leadership.
It's in a very it was a very special way of learning leadership. And just for some quick background, for those who have never heard of Noles, it's a leadership school, but it uses the wilderness as that classroom and the format, although, of course links are different, are pretty basic ways.
They take a handful of people. They bus you to a trailhead, they drop you off and off you go, and you're out in the mountains for 30 days and there's no contact. You're not coming back into town. You're a self-contained group. And then you get picked up in the 30 days and the course is done. But the learning methodology here is each day they break the group, which might have 12, 16 students into small groups, three or four, and they appoint a leader of the day.
And the leader of the day has responsibility for that group. What time they're going to leave in the morning, what the route is going to be, when they're going to stop for lunch, how long the rest breaks are going to be, whether they stop when someone's complaining about a blister or say, let's push on. And trailing behind you, of course, is one of the instructors, one of the, you know, leaders of the whole group.
But they're not saying anything. They're just watching and trying to make sure you don't end up being eaten by a bear or falling in a river.
But I started doing that as a student when I was 14 years old. And this was this opportunity to have real leadership responsibility to make real decisions with real consequences. But the most incredible part was you found out hours later the results of your decision making.
You found out what happens if you don't leave until 10, 30 or 11 in the morning. You found out what happens if you let the break linger for an hour and a half for lunch. You find out what happens. You take the wrong trail and you begin learning even more subtle things. You learn how to communicate with your group, how to communicate with confidence and clarity, decisions about things you're really not that confident or clear about when you need to ask your group for input and when you don't.
And I was learning that when I was 14. And each time you do that, you're given a bit more responsibility and end up coming back and being an instructor for the school. So all of a sudden I had higher level of leadership and eventually I was a course leader when I was in charge of the entire group for the thirty days.
And so for me, by the time I actually entered the workforce, became an entrepreneur with real stakes. I had been doing those things already for years, and it was this chance to learn leadership by doing it, not by studying it, not by talking about it, but by. Actually doing it, and that ended up being the most incredible preparation for the career that I ended up choosing.
Several follow ups here because I'm fantasizing about John Rambo first blood developing by developing my skills, not just communication, but practical wilderness skills that's partially tongue in cheek, but not entirely. Does the National Outdoor Leadership School offer programs or extended programs? So not just a long weekend, but a week or two for adults? I remember when I was when I was working on one of my books looking at different schools like Boss, the Boulder Outdoor Survival School. And I'm sure Noailles, if it has an adult program, if for for an adult who would want to experience something like this, are there options that you're aware?
Absolutely. Because you can learn leadership at any age. And certainly the format is slightly different. But there's courses which are, for example, as short as three days. There's courses that are as long as an entire year. They're semesters. I mean, the one I described is kind of the core offering, which is one month. But of course, it's unreasonable to expect an adult who has a job and a life to detach for an entire month.
So, yes, there's great programs for adults and they're given not just in the United States, but all over the world with varying degrees of difficulty, depending upon what your physical appetite is for for that type of thing. Let me ask you about communication, because you mentioned communication and how much that changed your communication with groups about decisions, say, throughout this entire process. And it makes me think of Warren Buffett, who will often say that his best investment was in a Dale Carnegie course on public speaking, because it just it puts everything else that you do on steroids.
If it's done well.
How did your communication change over time when communicating these decisions? In other words, if you were to look at the before shot and you have some audio of your first maybe kind of awkward attempts at communicating, and then you flash forward a few years and look at the after.
Could you give us an example or describe how those would be most different?
Yes, certainly. You're actually very astute to pick up. That leadership is a huge, early communications driven thing. And people are looking to you to, as I said, you know, communicate with some confidence and clarity where we're going. And there's lots of ways to do that. And one of the things that experience teaches you, one of the things that Noles teaches you is that we all have different leadership styles and you have to find a leadership style that works for you.
I mean, some leaders work much better by leading from the front. So when they're communicating, it's really here is what we're going to do. But other leaders are much more collaborative. They're one of those leaders where it's never quite clear who's making the decision because they're so good at soliciting opinion and having it come out as a group opinion. And it's also leadership is highly situational. If we're just going for a hike, I'm more than happy to sit.
And let's talk about where we're going and where do you think and how's everyone feeling today. But listen, when the shit hits the fan, when things are really nasty, when you're high on a peak, when the weather's coming in, there is no time for that.
And that case, you have to shift and realize now I have to basically say do this now and that people recognize in my voice the urgency of this, that there is not time to challenge this. There's not time to question this. If we don't go now, someone's going to get hurt.
I've spent pretty much my entire life continuing to work on communication skill. You know, when I look back at a college, the two most valuable classes that I took was a writing class and a public speaking class. And I use both of those skills almost every single day.
And I've also kind of realized that you never end ah, never finished getting better at them, you know, writing a book. Wow. That required all kinds of understanding of how much more complex this was than I ever imagined and all the things that I had to learn. And as I began getting into public speaking six or seven years ago, where I had to do this, not in front of five or ten people, but in front of five or 10000 people, it just steps it up incredibly.
But that's what's fun. I mean, learning a craft, that's that's the best. So let's let's hone in on what appears to be one of your superpowers and certainly craft and that is split test iterating.
We talked about the panhandling and as also an aspiring busker. So not only do I want to be John Rambo, but also busker at some point who like drums on the sidewalk for their money, anonymously, sit anonymously at some point.
But I see a reality show in this profession to mask the massive busker.
Yes. Oh, my God. That that Tim that Tim Ferriss drumming, just if I'm if I'm if I'm looking for other ways I can self immolate publicly, I will definitely, definitely jump on more reality television.
But when did you first cut your teeth or how did you most effectively cut your teeth professionally? And you can take that in any way that you like with with split testing in iterating. And maybe you could explain what that even means for people who may not know the term.
Sure. And this goes way back, I mean, to the very roots of entrepreneurship. You know, I guess probably the first thing I did was I was a I did candy arbitrage. You know, we're basically you recognized, wow, I can buy a bag of candy for dollar with 20 pieces in it and I can sell each of them for a dollar at school. And once you realize that there's this opportunity and you jump in and that's what I did when I was probably in fourth or fifth grade.
And but the iteration comes from what can I get away with? I mean, at first you buy it for 10 cents and sell it for 20 and you go, wow, that was easy. Maybe I can sell it for two dollars. And of course, it doesn't go so well, but little by little, as you keep trying different things, you hone in on the one that actually has the best return for you. I also sold American Seeds, which is probably the closest thing that America had to indentured servitude back in the 60s when I did it, where basically you went door to door selling seed packets and if you sold seven or eight thousand seed packets, you could win a 15 cent whistle or something like that.
But nevertheless, I was into it because I go up to the door and I'd pitch it and it wouldn't work. And then I'd have to try the next door. And little by little, again, you're trying different things. But what happens if I say I've put together a combo pack or if you buy three, I'll throw in a fourth for free and each trying all those little things to find out which ones work best, which ones work best for you, which one works best for the product you're trying to sell.
And you know, we can jump in this. This is a big piece of my life. You know, before I really became a tech entrepreneur, I was a direct marketing guy, you know, junk mail, direct response, television catalogues, mail order magazines, circulation. And that is entirely about testing things, trying different things and seeing which ones work, which ones don't. And for ones that work, what works better.
So I'll share something that I don't think I've ever shared publicly before. One people may have heard, which is I in college applied to a few different jobs. One was trilogy software, which I was very excited about, didn't get the job. Ultimately, the other one that I was excited about, which I which I also did not make the final cut for, was working at Capital One, Capital One for people listening. You might recognize that associated with credit cards.
At the time, they were one of the most sophisticated direct mail outfits. They were extremely analytical and very, very good at split testing. And I as someone as a kid who had terrible insomnia and watched lots of infomercials, I was fascinated by all of this iteration and the idea that you could over time determine exactly what worked and exactly what didn't.
Could you speak to, I suppose, a credo, a quote of yours that is a sharp contrast with there are no bad ideas. It is there's no such thing as a good idea. Could you speak to that and also maybe give us an examples of some ideas that started off really bad in your life? I'm not even sure where to start with. This is an overwhelming collection of bad ideas. I've over time, I've migrated and I've moved from thinking, oh, you know, there's no such thing as a bad idea until we are there are some bad ideas.
And now I am firmly convinced there's no such thing as a good idea.
Every idea is a bad idea. No idea performs the way you expect once you collide it with reality.
And the more I learn, the more I believe that it's true. And what that has forced me to do is say I've got to stop thinking about things and I've got to begin doing them, because that's the only way I'm going to figure out whether it's a good idea or a bad idea.
And that's hard for us. It's hard for people because people don't like to fail. They want their experiments to work. And so they do this terrible thing where you keep it in your head, where it's safe and where it's warm and where you can embellish it. And it's a great idea as long as it's all imaginary and in the safety of your head, it can, you know, grow and you can add on divisions and you can pivot it in the new areas.
And you've built this huge castle in. Your mind, and then, of course, if you ever decide to do it, of course it's way too big and too complicated to do so it's all about taking these bad ideas and colliding with reality as quickly as possible. And I will give you the classic classic idea, and this is actually the Netflix beginning. And it came from when my Netflix co-founder, a gentleman named Reed Hastings and I you know, we're both out of work trying to figure out what do we do next.
And I knew at that point that I was going to start another company and Reed was going to go back to school, but he was going to fund this startup. We were going to do we had to find the idea together. And there's a bunch of crazy ideas which I probably should go into with you just to give you. Actually, I'm going to take a second and do it, if that's OK. I want to tell you some of the crazy ideas that actually might have been Netflix, because they're examples of bad idea.
Good idea. Who knows?
So one of them was personalized shampoo where and I had this great idea and I pitched Reid that, OK, here's how it goes. Read you're going to cut off a lock of your hair, you're going to mail it to us. And then our team of ace hair scientists is going to formulate a custom blend just for you and then you're going to subscribe to it. And then Reid thought that was pretty stupid. So that didn't go any further. So then the next day in the car of carpooling to work with him, like, OK, here's the next one, custom dog food.
We're going to formulate a custom blend just for your pet, for its breed and its gender and its activity level or its climate or whatever. And he didn't like that either. And then the other one was video rental by mail.
That wasn't quite as bad because video rental was a six billion dollar category. But the problem was this is 1997. Video rental was on VHS cassette, you may remember, was big and awkward and expensive. And we bagged that one. And now here's the thing I was talking about, about good ideas, bad ideas. We one day heard about this technology called a DVD, and we were in the car talking about DVDs.
And it's small and it's light and thin. And then the idea popped in our head that maybe we could mail DVDs to people, that this might dust off that old video rental by mail idea.
But rather than saying what a good idea, let's do some research rather than rushing to the office and working on a business plan rather than, you know, putting together a pitch deck, we just turn the car around, mid commute and drove back down to the town.
We lived and tried to buy a DVD. And, of course, there weren't any it was in test market. So we bought a used music CD and mailed that to Reed's house in Santa Cruz for the price of a postage stamp. And the next morning we learned, is it a good idea or a bad idea? Because he had gotten this CD that it got to his house in less than 24 hours for the price of a postage stamp. And that was a way of knowing, is it a good idea or a bad idea?
And I have seen that play out a thousand, if not a thousand million times. We are constantly surprised. The one you think is great is terrible. The one you think is terrible is great. It's impossible to know and you try it so personally. Shampoo, custom dog food. Were there any non negotiable or non negotiable aspects, characteristics of the ideas that you brainstormed? So, for instance, listening to just the very short list, one of the questions that popped into my mind was what percentage of these businesses that you're brainstorming were subscription based?
Like were they was that a prerequisite? Were there any prerequisites or was it all just blank slate?
I think you've touched on one of the greatest ironies of the entire Netflix story. I think, yes, there was absolutely prerequisites. And just to back up the story of a hair, I mentioned earlier that I had spent 15, 20 years as a direct marketing guy. You know, I had done everything in direct marketing. I had done catalogs, I'd done mail order, I done magazines, circulation, now the subscription business. And so, you know, when in 1996, 97, the Internet was just starting to take off.
And there's this little company called Amazon, which was actually starting to show some promise in selling books. I immediately, immediately saw that this was incredible. This was a direct response on steroids. This was the most incredible tool for someone who was a direct marketer. And so one prerequisite absolutely was I was going to do e-commerce. One of these ideas, it had to involve selling something on the Internet. The second prerequisite, as you probably picked up from the personalized shampoo, custom dog food, another one was custom sporting equipment like bats or surfboards.
Was that. I wanted it to have a high degree of personalization. I mean, I had been at the cutting edge of direct mail personalization, but that was lame.
That was the best we could do was. Dear Tim Ferriss, won't all your friends and neighbors at 27, you know, Crescent Circle, it was just so ridiculous.
And I immediately saw that with the Internet we could create a custom page just for you. So that was a prerequisite. And yes, I wanted a subscription. I wanted a recurring revenue business model. I wanted to sell once and then just fight to deliver a product that everyone wanted to keep. And this great irony is that Netflix started without subscription. I thought there's no possible way I can do a subscription business in video rental by mail. But it was so compelling on the other dimensions.
It was so compelling in terms of personalization, in terms of what we could do as an online site relative to what a bricks and mortar store like Blockbuster could do that I decided this was worth pursuing, even though it didn't have subscription. And just to get the punch line here, the reason that the book was called That'll Never Work, the reason that the blog is called That Will Never Work is because that is what every single person I pitched that idea told me.
You know, my investors, my employees, my my wife told me that never work. And they were right. It didn't work. And it took us a year and a half of one failed experiment after another, one test after the next.
And the thing that eventually turned it around was subscription.
I'm kicking myself even now. Yeah.
You guys are due dates, late fees ala carte. Absolutely.
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Do you iterated what did the approach to iteration look like?
In other words, did you have a system? I think a lot of people test, but it's in a pretty ad hoc way. Maybe they keep good records, maybe they don't.
How did how did you approach these tests over a year and a half? Well, it evolved and it evolved pretty quickly. You know, we launched this great excitement was April of 1998. So, you know, 23 years ago. Wow. And almost immediately realized there was good news and it was bad news. And, you know, the good news was we had a hundred thousand dollar month, but it was all selling DVDs. And that was kind of almost this last almost an afterthought of selling DVDs.
And the rental was sucking wind. We were doing, what, two percent of our revenue in rental because nobody would do it. And we go, OK, we've got to try some new things to try and unlock this rental business. And the problem wasn't that I didn't have ideas of things I wanted to try. I had tons of ideas. The problem is that back then I was a bit of a perfectionist. And so the tests we'd put together would be these many works of art.
We do custom photography or we would like lovingly craft and argue all the copy. We would, you know, spellcheck it and have copy editors review it and we would stress test the site and check every link. And as you can imagine, that would take, you know, two weeks to put together and then the test would fail and we'd look at each other and say, we just wasted two weeks and we'd say, OK, faster, and we cut some corners and do a test a week and it would fail.
And then we'd cut some more corners. And we begin to do a test every other day and then pretty soon to test every day. And soon we were doing four and five tests in the same day. And as you can imagine, they're getting pretty sloppy by then. You know, there's misspellings, there's the wrong image. The watermark is still in it. We're crashing the site and the links don't work. I mean, it is so sloppy, but this learning, it was incredible because we realized it didn't make a difference, that no matter how crappy this test was, that.
It was still going to surface things. So, in other words, if it was a bad idea, even these beautiful two week tests didn't make it a good idea. But if we had stumbled on something interesting, even with these unbelievable mistakes and crash sites and dead links, people still would raise their hand. They would shine the spotlight, they would call us. They would come to the door. And then you saw as plain as day what was working and what you had to then fix.
And it always surprised us. And so this insight informed everything from then on. And this insight was that it was not about having good ideas. It was about building the system and this process and this culture for testing lots of bad ideas. And Netflix has never turned back from that.
I've never turned back from that. I realized that the key to being successful is not how good your ideas are, it's how good you are at being able to find quick, cheap and easy ways to try your ideas. That's what I look for now in entrepreneurs. That's what sets apart the good ones from the mediocre ones.
So let's let's double click on that, because this is exciting territory. So if we if we just grab sort of analogous, let's say it's a comparison. It's a metaphor. Choose your word. But in the world of science, scientific research, the scientific method, really, it's like science per say, isn't this kind of God with a with a lab coat on. But the scientific method is a way of testing hypotheses. But the scientific method itself doesn't generate good hypotheses right there.
So there's there's something to be said for certain assumptions that are made, certain assumptions that are tested that come up then with the ideas or the statements to be tested. And when I'm listening to you describe this story, I would imagine there are many entrepreneurs who, after a period of time when they look at their revenue breakdown and they see 98 percent DVD sales, two percent DVD rentals, they say, you know what, great, we're going to double down on DVD sales, because that is the signal we are getting.
That is the product market fit that we are seeing.
And they would have become the I don't remember the exact name of the Columbia Records or these various outfits. They would sell music by mail. Right. So you'd become the equivalent or sort of the Amazon of of DVD sales. Why didn't you do that?
You know, doing a startup is kind of like riding a mountain bike downhill, which you've got to spend like ninety five percent of your time staring five to 10 feet in front of you. But every so often you've got to look up and see where you're going. And we were basically struggling to hang on to doing that hundred thousand dollar first month. But every time you looked up, you did not like what you saw Amazon, which right then was just selling books, had made no secret of the fact that they wanted to be the everything store.
And we knew that the next category they were going to go into was music and movies. We knew that pretty soon once DVD got a foothold, that Wal-Mart would begin selling DVDs, that Kmart would begin selling DVDs at PetSmart, would sell DVDs, that everybody would be selling DVDs. And we didn't think we could or want to compete was essentially going to be a commodities business. So the challenge was, wow, how do we get out of this?
How do we jump from a dead end business which is paying all of our salaries so we can write it for a while? But how we ultimately going to make the rental part successful? Because that's the only one which we think we can sustainably maintain. And the challenge here.
Was doubly bad because doing both things at the same time was really nasty. I mean, selling and renting was confusing to customers is really hard to describe what we did clearly and operationally. It was complicated. I mean, the checkout process was really complicated. Our metrics and analytics were all confused.
The warehousing, the inventory and the insight that came here was that we couldn't do both, that if we were going to be successful, we had to pick one of them. And so the challenge for us was like, which one? And as you mentioned, the temptation, the easy path was basically to say, well, let's stick with sales. It's paying 98 percent of our revenue. We'll figure it out.
But on the other hand, if we could get rental to work, that could be a huge business and one that we could probably own because it was so operationally complex, because the margins are so good and it points to this other incredibly important attribute for entrepreneurship besides this predisposition to action that I was talking about earlier, which is courage, 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. And that's just balls. You've got to say, I'm going to bet we can figure this out. And so let's let's bet. And Netflix's case, you know, we did that we almost six months in decided that all the things that were happening with sales was just making it harder. And so we stopped in a single day and walked away from 98 percent of our revenue and said, if we're going to make it, we're going to make it as a rental company.
Was part of that predicated on thinking of your. Now, this is not quite the right term, but kind of exit strategy in the type of business you are building in so much as thinking about kind of go big or go home. This is either going to be a publicly traded company or it's going to be zero. This is not a lifestyle business. We don't want a lifestyle business. Therefore, we are going to bet on this. We're going to bet on that two percent.
We're going to bet that we can turn that into 100 percent. And was any of that predicated on the possible outcomes that you had seen as your menu of options? That's really the I wish I could have wish you could have seen my face as you were asking that question, because I sincerely don't think I ever had ever crossed my mind one way or the other. Seriously, I never was thinking, oh, there never was an exit strategy. I never ate Netflix or any of the other preceding startups that I did thought about that this was all about solving a really interesting problem.
And the path to solving that really interesting problem led through having to be willing to walk away from the sales because that was not helping us solve the big problem.
There are realities to the business, of course, you you need financial permission to keep going, but I certainly wasn't thinking of mediocre success, could be a nice lifestyle business, that it was more that I was caught up in the excitement and intellectual stimulation of saying, wouldn't it be incredible if we could figure out a new model using the Internet to be a better way for people to rent movies? And that's what I thought about every morning when I came to work.
That's what I thought about all day. That's what I thought about when I went home. That doesn't lend itself to thinking I could probably get out easy here or I could return money to investors and go home. Never part of the plan.
How did you think about naming the company? What were some of the best, worst ideas that you or anyone else?
You know, naming a company is brutally hard because the criteria for a good name has a lot of elements to it. I mean, for one, you'd like something that was evocative of what you were trying to do. You want it to be easy to spell. You want it to have the dotcom available and maybe the biz and whatever the other possible things. You want to make sure you can also get alternate spellings. You want to make sure it doesn't mean some terrible obscenity in Lithuanian.
You you know, you want to make sure you can get a trademark. You want it now. You need to make sure it can. I get the Twitter handle? Can I get snap? Can I get ticked off? I mean, you need to cover all these bases and it's really hard now and it was really hard then and it's so hard that well.
So when you start when you found the company, when you actually incorporate and you say, OK, now I've got to begin paying people, I need to have checks, I need to enter into contracts, you're not ready to go through that huge uphill battle to figure out your name. You just come up with what's called a beta name. It's the name you're going to use while you're kind of getting ready to launch.
And our beta name at Netflix, this is kind of Netflix trivia was actually called KeBAL.
We were kibbled dotcom like the dog food you'd been in.
You'd been infected by the custom dog. That's great. And I just happened to own kibble, probably because I was so excited about the custom dog food idea and it and but the thing is, when I had an ad, I had a person who was one of my early investors at Netflix. It's a matter of fact, but on a board, but also a friend of mine who had done a startup with in the past who gave me the advice.
And he said, Marc, when you're picking your beta name, pick something so bad that when you finally get to the point you're trying to pick your real name and you're really struggling, you won't be tempted to use your beta name. So that was the other advice. So if you were struggling as of course, only getting to the end, you know, we're getting probably only two or three weeks away from launch and we still don't have a name.
And so we go, OK, we're going have to force this one. And we got everyone in a conference room and we on a white board made two columns and one, we brainstormed every possible word that was evocative of the Internet, you know, Nat and Webb and E! And then the other column, we brainstormed words that were evocative of video or rental and then began drawing all the, you know, the crisscrossing lines between them. And, you know, some of them were, I thought, pretty good.
My favorite actually was replay dotcom, which I thought, oh, that's pretty cool. But replay was available, but it cost 40000 dollars and they may as well quoted me. Forty million dollars at that point that I was going to pay forty thousand dollars for a domain name. And the other one was Cinema Center Dotcom. And then we had all the other variations. We have web flicks. We had Netflix with us six. We had, you know, all these crazy names.
And Netflix was far and away, no one's favorite. And I don't know whether you remember this, Tim, but back in the you know, in the 60s and 70s, the nickname for porno used to be a skin flick or skin flicks. And everyone's going, oh, we can't call flicks. And that X, that X is even worse. But, you know, after a while you're going on the list and you go, I can't get the domain name, it can't get the trademark.
This is already being used in Canada. And then finally you go, OK, this we've got to make a decision. And, you know, Netflix was a little Pawni, but it was the best we could do.
And I just want to underscore one thing. You said this really important, likely, at least at the time, available as a trademark across the board, right at domestically and internationally. If you look at something like replay, Dr.. Or even Netflix with the sex you can stretching a little bit here, but you can get into kind of descriptive, murky territory. And like you said, there are these checkboxes that are really important to look at very closely, a friend of mine, because we're recording this during the GameStop mania and excitement.
You know, a friend of mine was thinking of using the sort of WSB, Wall Street bats, et cetera, for a sort of spinoff business of sorts. And and he was about to put a bunch of money into developing.
And I said before you do that, make sure you go to the USPTO Pskov, take a look at who owns any trademarks and you may just dodge a massive bullet which which you ended up doing. So Netflix.
So we have Netflix now. You've invoked a name and the name is is one of the demigods, maybe even a major, not lesser God of e-commerce, and that is Jeff Bezos. So less than a year into this Netflix, little Pawni, but effective journey, you get you get a call from none other than Jeff Bezos inquiring about potentially buying the company.
Can you tell me about your trip to Seattle or anything else about that exchange?
Well, you've got to understand how it felt for me to get a call from Jeff Bezos.
I mean, this was two things. First of all, this was the idea that everybody said that'll never work. This is the idea that no one had confidence in. And to get a call from Jeff Bezos. I mean, the pioneer, the king of e-commerce. Oh, my gosh. The validation, it was like, OK, someone, not just someone, not just anyone, but Jeff Bezos sees potential in this. So it was this tremendously exciting moment.
And, you know, when he called, he was a little cagey. It was like, you know, listen, I loved it.
Come on up to Seattle. I'd love to meet you guys. Let's just come on up and we'll get get acquainted. So we didn't come out right out and say he wanted to buy the company, but it didn't take, you know, rocket science to figure out that's what this meeting was going to be about. As I mentioned earlier, they were just books at that point. And we knew that video or music or both was next on the list.
And so it was pretty sure that Netflix was a candidate to be a maker by a evaluation. In other words, maybe you could jump start into video by buying us. So Reid and I flew up to Seattle and this is pre, you know, pre Waze and Google Maps. We had printed out the map from a site called MapQuest MapQuest. I knew it was coming, if you can remember those days. And and I was so sure that had fuck this up, if you'll pardon me, because we were in we were in a pretty sketchy part of town.
I mean, what walking walking this broken glass on the sidewalk. There's people sleeping in the doorways. There's the hypodermic needles, there's sex shops.
And I, I go and there's no way that the pioneers of e-commerce are here. But yes, you turn the corner and there and that this old warehouse building through these dusty plate glass windows, I could see and and see that there was a sign, lo and behold, Amazon. And we go in and it's you can't picture this because it is jammed to the gills with people and dogs and pizza boxes and printers stacked on top of piles of books.
And people are crammed in five or six to a cubicle. They get ushered into this conference room and the conference table is four doors that are obviously not in doorways. They're on sawhorses pushed together by a conference table. And in fact, as you're walking in, we had noticed that every single person was working at a desk made out of a door. And it was, wow, this is pretty crazy. And we had this great conversation because Jeff and I kind of were totally riffing on this excitement of starting these companies.
And he was talking about when he had rigged up a bell that would ring every time an order came in, which is exactly what we had done. So we had this kind of opening day excitement stories to tell. But of course, we got down to business. And in fact, yes, they were interested in perhaps using Netflix to jump start in the video. And they talked to us, understood everything. And on the way out, we had the CFO of Amazon escorted us out and kind of did the Hintze.
She was, you know, in the event this happened, which to set expectations, it's probably going to be in the ten to fifteen dollars million range.
And that wouldn't have been so bad for something like. I'm working on for less than 12 months, you know, and at the time I owned 40 percent of the company, but it was really interesting what Reid and I talked about in the flight home, because, again, this is the company that everyone had said will never work. But we had managed to put together an e-commerce Web site. We had managed to find a copy of every single DVD available at the time.
We had forged these partnerships with all the DVD player manufacturers that were bringing us in customers.
And it felt like at that moment that we had got it all figured out and we kind of looked at each other and said, I don't think we're ready to hand someone else the keys. And so in some ways, this wasn't a trip up to sell the company, or maybe the trip up was to sell a company. But on the way back, it felt more like a commitment ceremony where we kind of had to look each other in the eyes and say, are we in or are we not in?
And I think luckily for the rest of the story we were in.
So you're you've you've described the flight out. I would love to hear you talk about the flight in and maybe it's part of this extends to well before that.
But how did you prepare for or strategize for the Amazon meeting?
Oh, the depths of.
And the reason I ask impart sorry to interrupt you and me both, but part of the reason I ask is that you mentioned a term that I think is really important and that is the buyer build decision. So Amazon can use you to jumpstart their video business, but they could also choose to build it themselves and sometimes big companies. I'm not saying this is what Amazon did, but sometimes big companies will invite smaller companies in to have them open the kimono, so to speak, and share lots and lots and lots and lots of details, sometimes under cover of due diligence so that they can then go ahead and just build everything a lot faster internally.
Right. That does happen. I'm not saying with Amazon, but it does happen.
So I'd love to hear how you guys prepared for this meeting.
So, you know, I'd been in Silicon Valley for 10 years. By that point, I knew that was certainly one of the components of someone, someone's interest. I knew there was always the chance that they'd just pick our brains and do it themselves. And so that navigation was a particularly tricky because we knew going in what to expect.
But I much prefer to be pretty forthcoming. And I've always believed it's better to assume good about people than to protect myself from bad.
I'm willing to get burned because normally it works better for me if I go in being vulnerable and honest.
But the real story, the preparation, you know, I laughed when you mentioned that because it really is in some ways, maybe it's a flaw of mine, but but the best is that I am a ridiculous overprepare for important things in my life.
And just to give you a really quick example of this, from way earlier in my life, you know, I was a second baseman when I was playing high school baseball, which is the that was the basically the end of my baseball career as far as I got. But I thought I was a pretty good high school second baseman. And one of the jobs of a second baseman is to backup first base when a throw goes to first.
And there was one particular game where all of a sudden a throw came to first base and missed first base. And amazingly enough, I happened to be back there and snagged the ball and threw the runner out a second. And when I came in, you know, the coach was going, that was amazing. How did you know to be back there for that play? And it was puzzling to me because I said, I am back there every pitch.
I run behind first base, every pitch. And that's how I treat these kind of negotiations. I am ready for pretty much anything, I think, deeply about what could this meeting be about? What are the questions are going to ask, what do they really want to know? What are the best way to position our company favorably? What do I need to understand about Amazon to make the decision about whether I might want to have the company sold to them?
And then I go through what my answers might be. And of course, you've prepared a hundred different answers and you only end up using eight of them. But that's OK. That just means that it comes off more more positively for you. Don't try this at home, folks. Yeah, yeah.
So that'll never work. You heard it over and over again from possible sources of financing from everybody left and right.
With respect to Netflix, what were the biggest things that people missed or got wrong in terms of assumptions about Netflix that led them to conclude that never work? And I'll give just a quick example with, say, Uber, for instance, early on, they were turned down by everybody for financing just about because it was assumed that whatever market they had, their total addressable market, it was a fraction of whatever the current on demand black sedan, car service market was.
And that was an incorrect assumption because ultimately Uber Black ended up funding the R&D and subsidizing what later became Uber X. And before you know it, the market expands exponentially. So what were people missing or getting wrong that led them to say that'll never work?
There was two reasons that almost everybody drew on to conclude that will never work. And the first was Blockbuster, that here we were, this tiny little upstart.
Everyone said Blockbuster is the problem. And that just makes sense because Blockbuster at the time had 9000 stores, they had 60000 employees. They were doing six billion dollars in revenue. And the thought that we could get a foothold against that. And worse, it wasn't just getting a foothold against a bigger company. It was basically saying we're proposing a model where you come to the Internet and you order a movie and we mail it to you.
And this going to take anywhere from one to four days for that movie to arrive. And people could not get their hands around how that could possibly work when you could pretty much throw a stone from any place in the United States and hit a blockbuster.
Why would anybody do it through you when they could just drive five minutes and rent from Blockbuster?
And they had a point. We did have some things up our sleeve. Basically the fact that everyone hated Blockbuster. You always want to compete against someone that everyone else hates.
But we also. Why did they hate Blockbuster? Blockbuster. That part of it was blockbusters attitude. Blockbuster did not believe that they were in the customer service business.
And so people were frustrated with the experience.
They also relied in their business model on late fees, late fees.
I remember that, in fact, they actually had an internal term for it and they called it managed dissatisfaction and oh my God, that's great.
And you always want to compete with someone whose core tenet is managed dissatisfaction, that they also had a problem that because they weren't they were really in the demand fulfillment side, that they had this new release issue where a new release would come out and people like lemmings would all flock to the blockbuster and they would all want the same movie. And of course, Blockbuster can't afford to buy enough copies to satisfy every single person who wants it on day one, because their whole model is you buy it once and then you turn it 20 or 30 times.
And so what they have to do is basically say we're going to have a lot of people not getting the movie they came in for, and that will force them to come back again and rent it next week or the week after that and get the turns out of it. So all these things were fundamentally frustrating to customers and discovery.
You know, the reason that everyone flocked to new releases was it was so hard to find something else to watch that you would do that. If you may remember this, you go to the store and you basically begin doing this pacing like a tiger. You see at the zoo up and down each aisles, just hoping something leaps out at you that you haven't seen before, that you've heard of it you want to watch. And so you naturally gravitate to the new release wall, not because they're better movies, because it's a higher percentage of movies you haven't seen yet.
Anyway, lots and lots of reasons we go. This should be destructible, but blockbuster is just one reason. The other reason everyone said that'll never work was the fact that the DVD was digital, was a digital medium.
And everyone said, well, just a matter of time, months before this movie can be downloaded or streamed, who's going to want to get it on DVD when they can just stream it to the house?
And they were right about that latter one.
You know, we thought they were wrong about the timing, that it would be a long shot if it was going to happen in a few months. We thought it was going to be years.
But nonetheless, both of those were very reasonable objections about why this business would never work. And we really had to attack both of those if we were going to be successful.
So you invoked. Darth Vader in this particular in this particular movie blockbuster, and although the story of blockbusters also kind of amazing, I mean, just the Kasinga and the entire the entire arc of that is just amazing in and of itself.
Two years in the perfect storm of bad news as I have it here, led you to fly not to Amazon, but to Dallas to try to sell Netflix to Blockbuster. What happened there? What was the bad news? And how did that trip to Blockbuster go?
These stories have such twists and turns and ironic moments. You know, when we started we spoke earlier in our conversation about the the struggle to find the, as they say, repeatable, scalable business model. How we launched it didn't work, how we had to figure out how to get rental to work and how we struggled for a year and a half. And then eventually the thing that worked was this completely irrational combination of things. One of them, as I mentioned before, was subscription.
But the other thing was that one day I was in our warehouse and at the time we probably had several hundred thousand DVDs in the warehouse. And I remember looking around at these full shelves and thinking, what a shame they're doing us no good sitting on the shelf. I wonder if there's some way to store these movies that our customers houses let them just keep them and maybe they do, I don't know, peer to peer exchange.
Maybe they keep it as long as they want. When they want another one, they mail it back and we'll replace it.
And that idea, when combined with subscription, was worth a test.
And when we tested it, finally after a year and a half, it worked and it worked remarkably well. It took off. I mean, people were signing up in droves, thousands a week for this new no due dates, no late fees, subscription video rental program. Now, that's a great story. But as you may know about the subscription business, it has some great things about it and some bad things about it.
And the great thing about it is this recurring revenue. Once you've acquired that customer, if you take good care of them, they pay you month after month after month for years if you do a good job.
The downside is all the acquisition cost takes place up front, all the money you spend on marketing and fulfillment and customer service to get that customer is out the door. And it's usually a no way in excess of how much they pay you that first month. It takes having to be a customer for six to 12 months or even longer sometimes to recover that marketing expense.
So when orders are flooding in the door, on one hand you're going, this is fantastic. But it also means that money is flying out the door and that is not so fantastic.
And it's especially not so fantastic when you get to April of the year 2000 when all the wheels suddenly come off the cart of the dotcom bubble.
If I can mangle two metaphors there, sorry, but in other words, would it be easy in March? Basically, we just go outside the Netflix headquarters. We'd wave the green flag and the big dump truck full of money would back up and dump it into the driveway. And we went out with the wheelbarrows to bring the money. And all of a sudden you get to April and the drivers are putting their head down and averting their eyes and speeding past you.
There is not a cent to be had, especially not for a company with Dotcom and its name.
So we're desperate. We have finally cracked the code. We're succeeding, but we're going bankrupt in our success. And that was probably the lowest moment. And we read and I looked at each other and basically decided this is the time to, as they refer to it, time to pursue strategic alternatives, which is the Silicon Valley expression for basically we've got to sell this sucker, you know, and fast. And the obvious strategic alternative at the time was, of course, Blockbuster.
But, you know, they were huge. There were six billion dollars in revenue.
We were five million dollars in revenue, and we were one hundred employees and they were 60000 employees. So we know we tried get in this meeting.
Nothing, you know, wouldn't return the calls, would respond to the emails.
So this is all preamble to this meeting with Blockbuster. But it's such a crazy story.
The time they chose to call happened to be we are doing this corporate treat at a place called the Alice All Ranch, which is in the foothills outside of Santa Barbara.
And as you can imagine, it's pretty casual because not only is we're casual at work, so when you go to a retreat, you got to work at it. And I had brought nothing but T-shirts and flip flops and shorts.
And that's when they call and say we love. I'll see you tomorrow morning in Dallas and we're looking at each other and going. There is no way we can't get from this ranch in Santa Barbara to Dallas by tomorrow morning. And so we did the thing that you would prudently do when your many millions of dollars in the hole, which is we chartered a corporate jet to fly us to Dallas. Oh, this is perfect. So share with you one more piece of Netflix trivia.
So that jet was owned by Vanna White of OK, didn't see that coming either.
Anyway, we fly to Dallas. We end up being ushered up into this big 17 or 18 story glass and steel skyscraper. And they bring us into this conference room, which is the size of a football field and this beautiful endangered hardwood conference table.
And I remember sitting there going, oh, my God, every place has like paper and a pen and go, but they've got extra office supplies.
This this is something and that income, the blockbuster guys, and they're in their very expensive clothes and your alligator shoes, which is in contrast to me, who is in a T-shirt and shorts and flip flops.
I was jealous because Readhead had on a Hawaiian shirt. He had buttons.
But anyway, we make our pitch and we're going to combine forces that we will run the online part of the business. Blockbuster will run the stores. We laid out all the incredible synergies that come from having this blended model business and then we'd all live happily ever after. And it was going great. You know, they were they were leaning in. They were asking good questions. And then they asked, of course, the obvious question, which is how much how much are we going to pay for you guys?
And we had obviously rehearsed this one on the plane. So Reid screwed up his courage and kind of leaned in and said, fifty million dollars.
And they laughed at us.
I mean, maybe not out loud, but I swear, John Antioco is like trying to hold back a laugh. And as you can imagine, the meeting went downhill pretty quickly after that. And it was this long, quiet ride in the cab back to the airport and even quite a ride back to Santa Barbara and the plane. And it was a crushing moment because we had finally gotten this meeting. It was self-evident to us that this blended model of online in stores could be an incredibly powerful force and Blockbuster hadn't seen it.
And so now, rather than this being that, you know, as I say in the movies, the deus ex machina moment where the heroes are backed up against the cliff and the Indians are lining the cliffs and there's sudden death and all of a sudden incomes the cavalry and plucks them to safety. But unfortunately, not only was Blockbuster not going to save us, Blockbuster was going to compete with us. And wow, that was sobering. And as we got back and said to ourselves, what's going to happen?
It was this realization that this was one of those problems, that there wasn't going to be a shortcut. There was not an easy way out. There was not something we missed that, you know, as my dad used to say to me, sometimes, you know, Mark, sometimes the only way out is through that we are going to have to confront this head on and take on Blockbuster. And, you know, it took us, I don't know, 10 plus years.
But eventually, you know, the company that had 9000 stores is down to one. And the company they could have bought for 50 million dollars is now worth two hundred and fifty billion dollars.
It's such an amazing turn when I think back to that moment to where Netflix is today.
But the amazing thing here is that when I tell that story to people, there's this dichotomy of reactions, because for the people who are the entrepreneurs, they're going, oh, this is so inspiring.
You know, like a handful of people with no experience in the video industry took down a six billion dollar company with sometimes I tell that story to corporate audiences.
And for them, it's a very different message because then it's basically you have no idea who's coming after you and they're going to come after you not doing the thing you do well, they're going to come after you doing the thing poorly or you don't do it all or you're scared to do watch out for the people you consider rounding errors to shake as far as one Yahoo!
Executive said to. Friend of mine, Alexis Ohanian, who co-founded Reddit, he said, oh, you guys are around here in a meeting looking at their traffic, didn't turn out so well for free. I love that question. I have so so I can see it from from a number of different perspectives. And first question I'd like to ask is related to your reputation for not accepting. No. As an answer. Right. So I'm trying to zoom in because hindsight 20/20, of course, it makes an excellent story.
But there are lots of startups that go out of business. There are lots of startups that don't survive the existential threats and the economic meltdown. They just do not make it through.
So when I go back to that point in time, you guys offer or suggest propose 50 million, they basically laugh. Why didn't you keep dropping the price until you found a price they would accept? I'm not saying you should have done that. I'm just wondering it must have been a whole mix of emotions. Why not look for the soft landing at a lower price or find a price that would finally be a yes. I think there was a couple of things.
We hadn't picked 50 million dollars at random, on one hand, it had no. Underpinnings in valuation, this wasn't based on multiples of next 12 months revenue or anything that you'd normally use to value a business that you were trying actively to sell. It was based on two things. It was based on number one, we had raised fifty million dollars to date and has spent most of it.
And this was a way for Renai to make our investors whole and that if it was going to be dramatically less than that, we were less interested.
The other one was the reasoning we thought that would make fifty million dollars reasonable was not what was Netflix worth to someone as an ongoing Netflix, but what would it be worth to Blockbuster to their six billion dollars in revenue to have a team of people who were deeply involved in the technology of video rental, which quite frankly, Blockbuster wasn't. And so we thought that them recovering their investment many times over purely by getting a small bump in the six billion dollars revenue would make it work.
But they're neither of those reasonings for them resonated. And so I don't think this was a question of, well, maybe 40, maybe 35. I think they would have gone back to some cash flow analysis or some next 12 month revenue, and that would have been dramatically, dramatically less sufficient that it wasn't worth us recovering pennies on the dollar for investor. Better for us to say, well, screw it. Let's. Let's prove these guys wrong. So next, I want to bring up I would love to hear you explain something that I see referred to as the Canada.
Now, I'll just going to I want to I want to read a line here, which is from it's on Bergkamp. But this is a quote from you. Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I'd certainly be extremely surprised to ever see ads on Netflix only because Netflix is so focused on the Canada principle. What in the hell is the Canada principle?
So the Canada principle, when you're starting out as we were in the United States and you're starting to get a little bit of traction. So this maybe where we're past the blockbuster thing are subscription. No due dates, no late fee program is doing gangbusters and people say you should go into Canada. Dabby, an easy 10 percent bump in your revenues because, you know, Canada's approximately 10 percent the market size so that states at first you go, well, that's kind of interesting.
Yeah, that'll be pretty easy ways to get a quick 10 percent. But then you begin to think about it and you go, I'm not quite so sure about the easy. I mean, for one, they do have a different currency. Some of our DVDs have different rights arrangements in Canada than they do here. There's this little issue of language that part of Canada actually speaks French and in fact, legally mandates that the materials are in French as well as in English.
And you begin accumulating all these small things which under some circumstances you might go. That's not a bad price to pay for an additional 10 percent bump in your revenue.
But what we realized as we were growing so quickly at that point that were we to take the exact same effort as minimal as it might be, that it took to get into Canada and just apply it back on our core business, we would get a way bigger bump than 10 percent.
And with the Canada principle really says is you've got to focus that the real key is picking the two or three things that are the most important, that if you get those right and nothing else matters and allocate all of your resources to that, and you have to very, very consciously choose not to do things which appear easy.
You've got to say, oh, there's Netflix clones launching in the UK.
Should we enter the UK to try and stamp them out, to beat them to the punch? And you have to say, no, we are way better taking the distraction that would occur, doing that and doubling down and the things that were already good at because that learning that acceleration will just pay dividends down the road. We eventually do decide to enter the UK, for example, but that focus that's at the heart of, I believe, what makes any startup successful is not getting distracted.
We used to also call a refer to it as scraping the barnacles off the hull, because as you're moving, you're testing things and you're trying things and you're slowly but surely accreting new features to your business. And of course, you have a new thing you want to try. And all of a sudden it's got to be reverse compatible with this. And you want to change the price. But you go, wait a minute, what about that small group who have this different offer?
And you have to consciously go into a meeting wherever you discuss what you're going to do next and at the same time discuss what are we going to stop doing? All those things designed to make sure you're putting all of your attention on the things that really matter. I love that expression, the scraping the barnacles off the hull. It's so true. I mean, this is particularly true in a way that's true in many things. But software development, I mean, you get paid for adding features or you get rewarded for adding features as a as a programmer and a seldom rewarded for removing features, which is how you end up with a lot of kind of bloated over featured software.
One of the quotes from the same piece that I mentioned is that I really like is these things which seem like low hanging fruit, never are adds or distraction, never an additive thing. It's the follow up to that that I have for you is what were some of the most tempting opportunities that in retrospect, were most important to say no to? You've mentioned a couple, right? Canada, you mentioned entering the UK. Were there any other temptations or internal pressures, anything that in retrospect were really important to have said no to?
There is certainly the temptation to do soft core or adult, not hardcore stuff, but adult content only because that's such a huge driver of new technologies.
And that took some discipline to say we don't want to get tangled up in that and not out of any moralistic preaching about what's appropriate or not appropriate. But purely because being a company which was pretty much had customers in every single county in the United States, we just didn't want to self leave ourselves vulnerable to a particular district attorney who was behind in the polls someplace and wanted to take down the smart alecky e-commerce folks way back in California. That was one we dodged early on games.
People talked about we should do games, but it didn't take too much thinking to realize that games do not have the shelf life that movies do, able to dodge that one. Probably the closest we came to getting distracted was as we approached what was going to be our first shot at an IPO. We had decided we were going to become a portal because Portals was the business model Dejour at the time, which basically said, no, no, you're not a movie rental site.
You are everything movies you're going to be your people come for showtimes, you're going to come to get reviews, you're going to be able to buy tickets. And we actually started down the path of building that out and we put in place our IPO prospectus based on the fact that we were going to be a portal. And when the bubble burst in April of 2000 and we had to pull our IPO, that was such an unbelievably lucky break because if we had ended up going public as a portal, we would have been committed and we never could have made that work.
You know, a friend of mine I'm blanking might be Mike Maples, Junior said to me, are actually I think it's Brandon Steane of Humans of New York fame, but said sometimes you need life to save you from what you want to give you, what you need, something along, something along those lines.
I'm paraphrasing, but yeah, sometimes those catastrophes are lucky breaks. I want to talk about something that is a bit of a 90 degree turn. But we've been, I think, talking a lot about strategy, about the business, about Netflix, and that's certainly on one side of the ledger. But while this is all happening, you have a personal life to think about, to manage well, poorly or somewhere in between. And I want to read a paragraph about Tuesdays at five p.m. and then I'd love to discuss this, because this is something that my girlfriend and I would like to work on.
And here it is. And we feel free to fact check. I vowed early on I was not going to be one of those entrepreneurs who is on his sixth startup and his sixth wife. So we had this tradition that every Tuesday without fail, five p.m., I left the office and my wife and I did a date night. And at first when you announced that that's going to happen, everyone goes, Yeah, yeah, sure. But I was serious.
If there's a crisis, well, we're going to resolve by five p.m.. OK, you have to talk to me. Great. On the way to the car. Fantastic things happen. Can you please speak about this decision and how you stuck to it and implemented it? Because I know a lot of couples and I'm part of one of them who have kind of committed to this, but then it falls by the wayside. This happens a lot.
And I would love to hear you tell your story and share any advice that you have for people who might want to emulate this.
I've always had my priority to be balance. And like everyone, I screwed it up. But I was able to self correct right about when I turned 30. So, of course, during my 20s and late 20s, I worked like a dog and my girlfriend, then my now my wife. You know, I think that was hard on the relationship.
The fact that I would go and work on weekends, I would be there till eight or nine o'clock at night, essentially squeezing in my relationship and whatever spare time was left from the business that I was working on. But I was also short changing, not just her, I was short changing myself. I mean, my passion is outdoors. You know, my passion is backcountry skiing and mountain biking and surfing and kayaking and alpine climbing. And these are not things that you can squeeze in between your eleven o'clock and your one o'clock calls.
If you want to be able to continue to do those, you've got to make space for them. And so I kind of had this moment where I said, I am not going to lose these two important parts of my life and began compartmentalizing. And that's when the date nights started. And it was not just Netflix as other companies prior to that where they saw this happen. And, you know, people talk all about corporate culture and they write manifestos and they put together slide shows and they carve it in their building cornerstone.
But, you know, culture is not what you say is what you do. And so people all preach about we believe in balance and take care of yourself and then they don't act it.
And what was so fascinating about me having that discipline that at least one night a week I would leave at five o'clock, no matter what was going on, is that once I got through the first two or three months of it, it got immeasurably easier because people stopped asking.
They stopped trying to put meetings on the calendar.
After five on Tuesdays, they realized they were going to have to resolve this crisis on their own or do it before or five if they wanted me to help.
And the best part the best part was that everyone else began realizing that they could do this, that they could not only leave at five o'clock on Tuesday because they realized there was nothing that I was going to drive that was going to pull them back.
I was modeling how I really wanted the culture of that company to be, and I'm still pretty busy. But I still managed to get away and go for a five or six day back country skiing trip. I still get to fly up to northern Alaska new two weeks in the no attack river, because I make space for that and I prioritize that space and the things I have to get done. I make sure I get them done before I leave and they prepare to get picked up by someone else while I'm gone and then I can jump back in when I return.
And it's hard, but it's important. It does not happen if you wait until let's see if I have enough time.
It only happens if you make that time. How did you land on Tuesday nights and did it start off on a different night and just work up on Tuesday?
I don't remember. Yes, it moves around and it moves. So, you know, the shorthand every Tuesday is probably a little bit just making it a simpler story. The point is, it's every week at a lot of times the babysitter can't do it on Tuesday. So fine, we're going to do it on a Thursday. But it wasn't so much the discipline of that. It was the fact that this is going to happen and this is going to happen before anything else gets scheduled.
But I would say, by and large, it was Tuesdays or sometimes Wednesdays.
Could you tell a story of a time that it was stress tested where there was a crisis that was large enough or a situation that seemed important enough where you're like, oh, God, I really it would be it would probably be best for the business for me to push date night. Are there any examples of how you've navigated that that you could share?
Yes, of course. There are. The founder of Nulls guy named Paul Petzold used to say rules are for fools because in the mountains things happen.
And even though all of your processes and systems, they do it one way, sometimes you've got to do it a different way. And it's also like people I know who are really disciplined about their eating. Listen, once in a while you got to let loose. You've got to be able to fall off the though eating well wagon and have, you know, six slices of pizza. But it's fine as long as you get back on the next day.
It's one of the core principles of meditation is that, oops, I've gotten distracted.
Let's get back to it.
So, yes, there are certainly circumstances where those TUE rules got broken, but they were dramatically the exception and the trick was when recognizing when it happened and not to have that be the camel's nose under the tent, but to say that was a once in a long period exception. And certainly things that happens when Netflix went public, when we were fighting for our life with, you know, with Blockbuster, when there's personnel crises that I just have to be there for.
But it's certainly it's something that my partner, my best friend can understand because she sees that the consistency is there on the other side of it. And that if I'm saying this one time, I need to do this, that I'm not just making it up, not knowing an excuse. Can you make any recommendations to the number one? I love the expression camel's nose under the tent. I've never heard that before in my life. It sounds amazing.
Sounds like the sounds like the good title for a parable of some type.
And here the question I have, what advice would you give to people who want to implement a date night? Like what are some tactical pieces of advice or best practices, recommendations for those who are starting off with some training wheels they don't even know what to do. Does that mean watching movie and eating popcorn? Is it going out and having dinner? Let's pretend that covid doesn't exist just for the moment. What are some of the bodies, some of the things you've learned over time?
Any recommendations? Yeah, absolutely. First of all, these aren't one size fits all. This worked for my wife and I. This worked for the type of business I was in when I was the boss and I could do this.
Obviously, you may not be able to do this if you work for someone else. You can't just go. I'm leaving at five o'clock. Thanks very much. It's recognizing the principle behind it and saying what would work for me. That's part one. Part two is do not design a New Year's resolution with 18 different things in it.
Any of us who made resolutions? No, you're lucky if you can make one of them happen, no less trying to have this aspirational list of all the things that you think would be wonderful if they happened. So start small.
Say I'm going to put my phone away every Saturday from 9:00 in the morning until Sunday morning and be present and see how that feels.
I mean, other words, take steps which are possible, take steps that are manageable. And then the third thing I'd recommend is I'm a big believer in establishing habits. And this, of course, has been beaten to death, but doesn't make it any less true is that pick something and try to stick with it. It is more important to find something that you can reasonably do over the long haul than it is to make this a huge jump.
But not be able to hang onto it and it's with practice, with realizing that, wow, if I don't do email all weekend, the world didn't end, you know, or if I said I'm going to do it from four after five on Sundays, that no one freaked out, maybe I can try something a little bit different in a few months, that's all.
Doesn't need to be what I've done or what worked for me is what works for for you. It's the principle. It's that business is secondary. I really believe that, you know, you can have all the money in the world, but if you don't have a strong relationship or you're not doing the things that make you happy when you're not at work, what's the point?
You know, let's talk about that type of clarity and specifically what I have down here in my notes as a moment of clarity that you experienced through which you found your purpose in life.
So that's that's a statement I definitely want to unpack. And that seems to have led to writing your book and ultimately to your new podcast. What was this moment of clarity? What was the purpose that you found clarity around?
I've had two big phases in my life, and I have to briefly I have to give you the first piece because it'll explain what happened in the second one. And I've always believed that if you get older, you are incredibly lucky. If you find out two things, two important things about yourself. And the first is what are you good at? And the second thing is what do you enjoy? And I was remarkably lucky early in my life, in my early 20s to discover those things and even more lucky that they were both the same thing.
And it was early stage stuff. It was entrepreneurship. It was starting things. I love it. I love that challenge. I love the problem solving. I love sitting around the table with the smart people solving really hard problems. And there's the immodesty alert. I'm actually really good at it. And just because I have some of those innate skills, maybe it's from all the direct marketing stuff, maybe it's just that I'm really good at focus or have an innate sense of triage.
But I've been incredibly lucky that I've gotten to pursue that for 40 years. And I started a bunch of companies, all of which were so exciting and so fun, and two of them which did remarkably well economically, too.
And that was my purpose for the first fifty some odd years of my life. And then I had left Netflix and I left Netflix back in 2002 to no less than three. So quite a while ago. And I was drifting a little bit. I mean, I was pretty fulfilled because I was mentoring other early stage companies. I was working with entrepreneurs. I was kind of getting my fix.
And then I got invited to come to Necker Island, which is Richard Branson's, you know, the founder, Virgin billionaire, his private island in the British West Indies, to come for four days and hang out in the beach and kite surf and party. And that's pretty special. And I said, no, thank you.
And that decision lasted about as long as it took to tell my wife about it. And then all of a sudden, no, I'm cancelling my boys mountain bike week that I had planned for that same time. And all of a sudden we're buying sunscreen, but we got it.
It wasn't all going to be this fun and games. I was going to Necker Island because they wanted me to do a 40 minute presentation on turning dreams into realities for a conference of women, successful business owners.
And the title of this conference was Finding Your Purpose. And I was going back to my wife.
I go, I will go, I'll do my bit.
And then we'll spend three to four days on the beach. That's about I went gave my speech and I decided I'd hang out and listen and find out what this finding your purpose stuff is all about. And I listen to the first speaker and then I sat down in the chair again and then the second speaker and put my towel under my chair. And one day led to the next to the next. And pretty much I had realised I had dramatically overbought on sunscreen, but it made me think, what is my purpose?
I was here as a speaker, but it was speaking to me and I was going, I have this amazing platform because Netflix has done remarkably well, largely since I left for the things that have nothing to do with me except perhaps my DNA and the foundation I established.
But because of it, people will I can get 10000 people to come sit and hear me speak for an hour. I can get thousands of people to read things that I've written.
But what am I doing with that? What's the point?
What do I really believe in that I want to use this thing for? And it was that, like you said, that moment of clarity where there was I was not doing the right things with it and I had.
They change it, and what I decided simply was this, that all this 40 years of being an entrepreneur and all these tips and tricks and secrets that I learned to get startups off the ground, we're not surprisingly the exact same tips and tricks and secrets and approaches and attitudes that you could use to get any idea off the ground and that all of us have these great ideas, but that most of us never act on them.
And I decided then and there that that was my purpose, was to give people that nudge, give them that support, give them that encouragement that says, I can do this, I can have this idea. I've always got to do this doesn't need to be a business. It could be I'd love to live in the city, but I can't afford it. How can I figure this out? Love the changed jobs. How can I make that happen?
How do I start? And it led to the book, you know, that will never work, which on one hand is the starting and growing of Netflix.
But it's really more fundamentally these lessons about how do you take an idea and make it real. For years I've been mentoring early stage companies. I've been doing these hourlong advisory calls. When people write me and go, I'm struggling with this, with that. And I say, let's get in the phone for an hour, let me see what I can do to help. And about a year ago, I began recording those calls because I thought this might be interesting to somebody.
And it was remarkable because when I did play these tapes for people, it totally resonated with them. They empathize with the protagonists who are struggling. Some of the tips I was giving them, they could apply to their own stories. And that fundamentally is what led to me saying this is an opportunity to actually make it even more broadly available, which is what led to the That Will Never Work podcast, where it's basically not me, you know, interviewing people.
It's me just doing what I do all the time, which is helping other early stage entrepreneurs take that idea and make it real or take the idea they've already made real and bring it to the next level or turn their side gig into a real gig. It's a it's been remarkable and it's a it's just so fulfilling in that.
And to be quite honest, it's not entirely altruistic. I still get now to sit down with people and sit around the table and solve these really interesting problems. But I don't now need to stay until 1:00 in the morning working on it.
So that will never work the podcast. This is where you dispense the advice, encouragement and tough love to an assorted cast of characters, including struggling entrepreneurs. Could you give us a teaser of the format? It sounds like it's conversational, just like these these phone calls that you recorded.
Can you tell us about any of the any of the people who who make an appearance of the types of people?
Well, what's really fascinating is when I started doing this, I kind of thought I'm going to run out of topic, that we're going to hear the same things over and over again.
How do I, you know, do I do an app or how do I raise money or.
But what you realize is everyone struggling with something different and they're all coming with these incredibly fascinating businesses.
You know, one of the young women that I interview early on is that she was a worked for a pickup artist for ten years. You know, the kind of people who train men to pick up women. And she finally said, this is totally awful. And she started a business that helps people find genuine connection, men and women, as running these seminars to do that. But we're struggling with how to build the funnel to end up making this economically sustainable business, whether that was a fascinating business another woman runs.
And not that this is not the themes. You don't draw too many lines between these.
She runs an erotic art gallery online and selling very, very high end quality erotic art. But of course, the most obvious place for her to promote would be social media. But she keeps getting banned. And so she's struggling with how do I walk that fine line? How can I perhaps lean into this problem and become maybe a spokesperson for unreasonable censorship?
Another person is on the verge of breaking ground on a 60000 square foot indoor adventure park in Texas with things like zip lines and spellings and beer. Now, what could go wrong with that?
But he what he was calling about was he realizes at once, this thing is open.
That's an 80 to 100 hour work week. How is he going to maintain balance in his life with all of this happening?
It's just the remarkable stories that are interesting people. They're funny. And I learn things. And I'm hoping the people who are listening will not only be entertained, but also learn something as well. Sounds incredible. Can't wait to listen.
And that will never work. Can be found wherever podcasts are found or as a particular outlet. Is it exclusive anyway or is it not? And ubiquitous.
Well, we're trying to make it ubiquitous, but I'm pretty sure unless you have some very obscure podcast platform that you prefer Will, you'll find it all the obvious places.
Perfect. I just have maybe one more question, one or two more questions for you. And this has been so much fun. So this is a question that sometimes leads to a dead end. So it's not always easy to answer, but I'll try it anyway because it's fun. And that is if you had a billboard, metaphorically speaking, on which you could put an image, a, quote, question, a fortune cookie mantra, anything to get that message to billions of people, assuming they would understand what's up there, what might you put on such a bill?
Oh, this question you're not going to believe.
Oh, this is well, you know, we earlier we said we I would be very transparent, vulnerable, because I actually I've had this discussion with my family before. And a quick background on this doesn't have to be quick. I've got all the time. Okay, good. Take your time.
So four or five years ago, maybe a bit more, maybe ten years ago, I was driving. I live in Santa Cruz, California, which is pretty much the most politically left leaning city in the most politically left leaning state. And I was driving by and it was one of those things where everyone was protesting and I can't know what the issue was, but it was one of those things like, you know, honk if you're for this, but everybody was for that.
And I go, why are you if you really believe so strongly in change, why are you doing it here where that issue is going to win?
Ninety nine to one.
Why don't you why aren't you going and doing that on the corner in Arkansas or whatever. The politically opposite. Polar opposite is from California.
From Santa Cruz. And it gave me an idea as always does when I usually when I come up with something that's a problem, instantly comes up with the idea.
And I was going, what if I made a platform that allowed people to do that, which is they have an issue they feel strongly about how could they express that concern but do so in a place where it actually might make a difference, trying to advocate for the issue you believe in, in a place where that is actually being contested. And I don't mean presidential swing state things, I mean small issues.
And then I go, well, the cool thing would be if these were crowd sourced campaigns. And I think the way to test it is to do billboards that we will do a crowdsourced contest for this issue of what the billboards should say, and then people will vote with their dollars on which billboard with the understanding of a billboard wins, that all the money flows through that billboard and then the money goes to actually running that billboard someplace else in the country where in the world.
And of course, that idea didn't go anywhere.
But one of the things we were joking about is what would be the universal billboard to put up.
And my family loves these types of exercises because they very quickly veer toward the absurd. So the reason I was so embarrassed that you asked this and I will confess what the billboard we decided we would put up everywhere would be, and it would largely be to support horse owners that we we know and it would say off OK, and then a big heart. And then Ed, you know, half hearted. That is the billboard car.
I can't believe I said that. Well, that's great.
I'm being transparent, half hearted or half love erectile dysfunction or there are so many different ways to read.
I like that. It's kind of tough to write it out. It's kind of a Rorschach test. It's it's kind of a word just like a license plate.
It's a hook. Oh, well, then a picture of a heart and then Ed halfhearted. Oh, I get it off are the half hearted her father. Yeah. I haven't lost hope in this billboard universal billboard idea.
Mark, I would expect no less from Mark the Seagle Randall. And this has been so much fun.
I really appreciate you taking the time and I've greatly enjoyed this. Is there anything else you'd like to say or share or requests of this audience before we wrap up any closing comments at all that you'd like to make?
Certainly, I. I would really have missed my chance if I didn't say something to the people who are listening here. I talked before about what kind of my whole purpose is trying to give people this nudge. And all my years as an entrepreneur, all my, you know, six, seven companies, all the people that I've worked with, all the companies I've coached, the most fundamental thing I've learned that separates the people is they start. They stop thinking and they start doing and if I could encourage every single person who has an idea and I know you all have an idea, I know everyone is taking a shower, has had an idea.
But what really separates people is the ones who actually get out of the shower and do something about it. To paraphrase Nolan Bushnell. And so I would just say, think about that.
Think about the next time you have the idea that you don't make an excuse, that you don't say, well, I need a co-founder, you I need an MBA, I need financing. And that's ridiculous. If you have an idea, the only way you're going to find out if it's a good idea is to do it.
So take that swing here. Here, take that swing.
Mark Randolph Dotcom that will never work on Instagram, Twitter and be Randolph Facebook, Mark Behrendorff, LinkedIn, Mark Randolph. And of course, will link to all of these things and more in the show. Notes that Tim Up blog for Slash podcast. Mark, thank you so much for all the time.
Tim, it was such a pleasure and thank you so much for the time. I really appreciate it. And to everybody out there listening, thank you for tuning in. And until next time, get out there in the world. Take that swing.
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