Got an idea for a new technology? Veteran entrepreneur Marc Randolph wants to hear about it.
Randolph, best known as the co-founder and former CEO of Netflix, invited students and others at the USF Muma College of Business Thought Leader Series to share their ideas with him during an hour-long discussion that was part history, part pep talk and all high-energy.
He traced the history of Netflix, a $16 billion company with over 139 million paid memberships in over 190 countries. But in 2000, Netflix looked nothing like it does today, he said. The company had about 100 employees, $5 million in revenue and was running about $50 million in the red. When an attempt to sell itself to what was then the industry giant, Blockbuster, fell through, Randolph recalled thinking “Now we’re going to have to kick their ass.”
Netflix now is the world’s leading entertainment service. The Blockbuster brand has virtually disappeared.
The story is inspiring for entrepreneurs, but sends a different message to a corporate audience.
“If you are the entrenched organization, it says you never know who is coming after you. They may not even be in business today,” Randolph said. “What it really says is big or small, if you are unwilling to disrupt yourself, you are leaving things wide open for someone else to disrupt your business for you.”
There are some common denominators for success, including a tolerance for risk and lots of good ideas.
“There’s a way you can come up with ideas which is fast and easy, and which every single person here today can use today to come up with an idea, and it’s simple. All you have to do is look for pain. Begin to see the world as an imperfect place, to train yourself to see flaws,” Randolph said.
Don’t worry about global problems, he added. “Think about the things you know well, what you see in your life and what you see in your job.”
Entrepreneurs also need confidence, and a belief in themselves, he said.
Since leaving Netflix in 2002, Randolph has worked with early-stage companies. In response to an audience question, he said he looks for three things in the people he works with.
A pre-disposition to action. “These are people don’t spend a lot of time thinking. They recognize that most thinking is wasted. They will learn more by doing and seeing what happens. Most of us are hard-wired to be cautious. The best entrepreneurs are the opposite. They plunge in and see what happens.”
The ability to triage. In medicine, that means to determine the priority of patients’ treatments based on the urgency of their conditions, and focus on the patients who will live if they get treatment. “A startup is like that. There’s 100 things and they’re all screaming. The skillful person has the ability to figure out what are the two or three things that if I get them right, everything else gets fixed too. It’s focus and the ability to ignore and that’s also a fairly rare skill. Most of us want to fix everything or we’re drawn to the thing that’s screaming the loudest.”
Likeability. “I’m drawn to work with people I like. There are a lot of extremely successful entrepreneurs who are assholes. They are so focused on being successful that people are collateral damage. I respect that in some weird economic way, but I don’t want to work with those people.”
Many people have ideas, but fail to act on them, Randolph said.
“The next time you have that great idea, don’t just think that will never work … do something about it. And if you tell your friends or your classmate or your teacher or your boss and they say that will never work, you should call me, because I like every idea.”