“With failures, you learn one of 99 things to avoid. So they are not that useful. I think it is more useful to learn from other’s0 failures.” – Reed Hastings
Who hasn’t heard of Netflix? “Netflix and chill” is the current adage. It is a media rental service that provides TV shows, web series, and movies to viewers all over the world. Reed Hastings is the man behind Netflix and is credited with revolutionizing the way we entertain ourselves.
In 1997, Netflix launched a DVD-by-mail service; today, it is one of the streaming industry’s behemoths with nearly 200 million subscribers and annual revenue of about $950 million. It is ranked as one of the top technology companies and is a MAANG firm.
The creator of Netflix did not always enjoy such success. MIT turned him down. During his first venture, he faced a lot of management and leadership issues, and twice he even tried to fire himself.
When he first started Netflix, he offered 49% of the company to BlockBuster, a then-dominant DVD rental company, but he was turned down. Netflix’s idea, according to Blockbuster, has no future potential.
The following is the story of Reed Hastings and how he founded Netflix, the world’s most popular video streaming service.
Reed Hastings was born on October 8, 1960, in Boston, Massachusetts, to Joan Amory Loomis, a debutante from a Social Register family, and Wilmont Reed Hastings, an attorney for the Department of Education, Health and Welfare during the Nixon Administration.
Reed attended Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Buckingham Browne & Nichols School. Hastings took a year off following his 1978 graduation from Buckingham Browne & Nichols School and worked as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesperson.
He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics from Bowdoin College. Reed Hastings went through the Platoon Leader Class as part of his Marine Corps officer training. He served in the marines during many of his college summers.
He taught high school mathematics from 1983 to 1985. After being rejected by MIT, he attended Stanford University to complete his master’s degree in computer science. Reed Hastings received his diploma in 1988.
Except for a few brief periods spent selling vacuum cleaners, training Marines, and serving in the Peace Corps, Reed Hastings has primarily focused his career on two areas: software development and CEO. He was a founder or co-founder in both of his careers, which contributed to his prevailing success and wealth in the media business.
In 1991, Hastings launched his first company, Pure Software, which developed a debugging tool for engineers. Hastings discovered that managing the company was very difficult as it started to grow more quickly. This stemmed from a lack of managerial experience.
He attempted to fire himself twice because he was in over his head and had no idea what to do. However, his board forbade it. His desire to “jump ship” increased as his confidence dipped, but his board declined, and he eventually figured out how to run an efficient CEO firm.
The business was successful at what it did, with annual revenue growth of twofold, but Hastings points to the 1995 IPO by Morgan Stanley as the turning point in his rise from engineer to CEO.
In 1997, Hastings sold Pure Software, then known as Pure Atria, for $750 million. After Rational Software bought the business, Hastings had enough money to concentrate on his next business endeavor as an aspiring media tycoon.
At this point, he decided to devote the following two years to planning how to prevent similar issues from occurring with his subsequent startup.
Hastings describes getting the idea for Netflix after incurring a large late fee for a movie he had rented from Blockbusters. He owed the store $40 and didn’t want to tell his wife about it. He couldn’t believe he was going to lie to his wife about a trivial late fee.
When Hastings was at the gym that day, he had an idea. He realized that gyms had a much better business model because you could pay a monthly fee and exercise as many times as you wanted.
Blockbuster was the dominant player in this market at the time. At its height in 2004, Blockbuster employed over 60,000 people and operated over 9,000 locations across the US. It was a massive beast.
In fact, Blockbuster had such sway in this industry that Reed Hastings went to them in 2000 and proposed a partnership by giving them a 49% stake in Netflix. Then, Netflix would merge with Blockbuster’s online rental division.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), Reed Hastings was rejected because Blockbuster did not believe the online model would work.
Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph co-founded Netflix in 1997. In its early years, Netflix offered customers in the USA a fixed-priced mail-order movie rental service. Netflix has cultivated a following of 44 Million subscribers through its Californian headquarters.
The company created a mail-order subscription-based business model that benefited from the development of both the internet and DVDs. DVDs were simpler to mail than VHS cassettes, and Netflix had a website where customers could place orders.
Early in the new millennium, DVD players were a common holiday gift, and, according to the company’s chief talent officer at the time, demand for DVD subscription services was “growing like crazy.”
Hastings accepts that having unlimited due dates and no late fees may seem obvious in retrospect, but they had no idea at the time whether or not users would make and use an online queue.
Netflix introduced a streaming service in 2007 that enables customers to watch movies and TV shows on their computers. Hastings attributes this shift in business strategy to YouTube and believes that internet television will be the future of viewing.
By 2009, streaming traffic on the platform surpassed DVD shipping. Since starting to release original programming in 2013, Netflix has produced several successful shows, including House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and Stranger Things.
In 2016, Netflix rebranded its DVD-by-mail service as DVD.com, A Netflix Company to capitalize on the success of its streaming business. Over 214 million people around the world were Netflix subscribers as of October 2021.
There are 74 million people in the United States and Canada, 70 million people in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, 39 million people in Latin America, and 30 million people in Asia-Pacific.
Netflix’s structure, functionality, people, and overall reach are truly remarkable. Hastings and Netflix must see to it that this demand is satisfied given that its 44 million subscribers watch more than 1 billion hours per month on more than 1,000 different devices.
specialized video servers distributed all over the world. When a subscriber clicks to stream a movie, Netflix determines (in a split second) which server is the most nearby. It then selects from dozens of video file versions the one that is most compatible with that subscriber’s device.
Hastings had to be very cautious when creating Netflix because of the difficulties he encountered during the expansion of Pure Software. He wanted to create a business that would expand quickly and become a powerhouse in the entertainment industry, but he also wanted it to keep its entrepreneurial spirit.
This came to pass, and as Netflix expanded, the company started to gain recognition for its innovative management techniques thanks to what Hastings refers to as a “Freedom and Responsibility” culture.
Netflix has a reputation for offering salaries that are significantly higher than average to recruit the best candidates. Additionally, employees have the option of receiving some or all of their compensation in the form of stock or cash.
Hastings doesn’t even have a dedicated workspace because he prefers to move around the corporate offices, where he can meet new people, take personal emails, and find available tables when he needs to sit down. Another example of his desire to contribute to a prosperous corporate culture.
As Netflix expanded, Hastings, joined the Giving Pledge, a campaign the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation started to pressure wealthy people to donate all or a portion of their wealth to charitable causes all over the world.
The heart of Reed Hastings beats with passion for other people. He is an excellent leader and entrepreneur. He is a prime example of what it means to be a good person and a successful businessperson.
Focus, business culture, and learning from mistakes are all skills that Reed Hastings possesses in spades. Hastings’ decision to wait to launch a new business before assessing the difficulties he faced with his previous one can serve as a lesson for all of us.
The inspiring and forward-thinking Reed Hastings will remain focused no matter what the future holds. We can take inspiration from this focus to realize our own goals in the same way that Reed Hastings did with Netflix.
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