Some would say Marc Randolph is an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. He’s got the success story so many startup founders dream of: a radical, industry-upheaving idea that is now shaping what the entertainment world looks like. That idea? Netflix — a now incorporated monolith that boasts a yearly revenue of upwards of $25 billion.
Surprisingly, perhaps, Randolph’s motivation is not dollar and cents. It never was. In a recent interview, he candidly confessed as much: “Money has never been my motivation,” he said. Instead, the entertainment visionary focused on experiences. “That’s where the luxury is,” he noted. “And that’s not really a money thing but a planning thing.”
When you think about it, the experiential side of Netflix is really what sets it apart from the crowd. Yes, Blockbuster was all the rage in the ’80s and ’90s, but there wasn’t much new to the experience: It was more about volume and selection that were supercharged by a national infrastructure.
Randolph, along with co-founder Reed Hastings, flipped the script. They looked at movie renting as an experience stretching from the moment you think about watching a movie to the rental process, the watching of the movie itself, all the way through the return of your DVDs. They wanted the experience to be about the movie — so they added the convenience of mailed DVDs to the equation.
To be fair, Blockbuster did the same in short order, but Netflix — ever in tune with the experience of movie-watching — was already planning its next innovation of the at-home cinematic experience. Thus, in the 2000s, came streaming and, eventually, a string of Netflix-produced shows and movies of a caliber seldom seen outside of big Hollywood studios.
All of this boils down to a keen focus on experience and planning — both within the company and with an eye on the audience at home.
But there was another secret ingredient in Randolph’s success, which he matter-of-factly shared with in his interview: He left the company only five years after its birth, while its entertainment influence was still on the rise. Why? A humble realization: “The skills involved in startups are very different to those you need when you have a repeatable, scalable business model,” he said.
In other words, entrepreneurs who find early-stage success are not always — perhaps often not — the same ones who can scale the company. For Randolph, the skills he employed at the beginning — building a team, creating unambiguous business strategy, firing on outside-the-box innovation — might have held Netflix back after it got its footing and started seriously thinking about scaling.
This, of course, requires awareness. As you build, grow, and innovate in your own company, are you paying attention to the ways in which your contributions may hinder progress? Or are you focused solely on retaining control and ownership? Or perhaps, as Randolph also cautioned, are you spending too much energy on the money and not enough on the experience you’re delivering?
Both are critical lessons, especially in an age when, as Randolph himself hints, the glorification of the big, rich entrepreneur is conflated with the American dream. Clearly, it’s not that simple; the question for up-and-coming CEOs is, “Are you paying enough attention to realize that money-gilded glamour is a fiction and that success lies in creating valuable experiences?”