Adam Sandler’s new basketball movie Hustlein which he plays a scout trying to circumvent the system to bring a prodigy from abroad to the United States, is the highest-ranking English-language film on Netflix right now – thanks in part to its 84.5 million ratings. hours of viewing. on the platform in the past week alone, according to the latest Global Top 10 data from Netflix.

If you drill down to the individual account level, you’ll find that one of the many Netflix accounts that watched the film in recent days belongs to Marc Randolph, the man who co-founded the streaming service with its current co-CEO Reed Hastings. .

When Randolph told me a few days ago that Hustle was the most recent title he had watched (and liked) on the platform, it was not at all difficult to imagine why a businessman would enjoy the film. Not to mention the guy who, along with Hastings, first pitched the bizarre idea of ​​what would become Netflix while carpooling to work everyday with Hastings in 1997.

It will never work

Randolph has written a book about his role in Netflix’s origin story, the paperback version of which was just released this month. The title, It will never work, expresses a sentiment that Randolph—seated in the passenger seat of Hastings’ Toyota Avalon during their carpool rides together—would hear Hastings in response to his insights. Again and again.

Personalized shampoo. Personalized dog food. Mail order sale of vitamins. No, no and no. Here’s why it will never work.

Like Stanley Sugerman, Sandler’s scout for the Philadelphia 76ers in Hustle, Randolph was keen to try something new and daring. “Reed would just sit there staring out the window like he hadn’t heard me,” the 64-year-old serial entrepreneur told me, recounting how he would make a succession of arguments for Hastings. “But I knew his mind was spinning at about 100 miles an hour. Working on every idea.

An exterior shot of a Netflix office building with a large Netflix logo on top. Image source: FG/Bauergriffin.com/MEGA

If Netflix can be said to have a beginning, it was here during the free-flowing conversations between Randolph and Hastings. As they spoke, they cruised along Highway 17 – with time off and nothing but California sunshine and the dominance rolling ahead of them.

“Okay, Reed – got one for you”

Both men were in that position in the first place, in that car at that time in 1997, because they were, in fact, both about to be unemployed.

They both worked at the time at Pure Atria, the Hastings software company. It was sold to a larger company, and as a result, Hastings and Randolph were, as Randolph puts it euphemistically, about to be “fired.” Randolph, for his part, reacted as he always has: Leaving one company meant it was time to start another. “Reed wanted to keep his hand in the game, and he said, ‘How about this – I’ll be your angel investor. And I said, great. He had put the money. I would create and run the company.

“We just needed the idea.”

close up of man with goatee
Netflix Co-CEO Reed Hastings. Image source: KCS Presse/MEGA

In the middle of the series of misfires, there was a moment when Randolph suggested the winner – renting videos by mail – to Netflix’s future top executive. Hastings also rejected that one. At the time, movies were still transported on VHS tapes. Way too big, bulky and expensive to send to customers on a large scale.

The idea was shelved.

Until Hastings later discovered a new video format at the time called DVD. It was thin and seemed inexpensive to ship, like a CD. But would it crack or break in the mail? As he mentioned the format to Randolph, on one of their many car trips, they decided to pull over and turn the car around halfway. They wanted to put the idea to the test, right away.

Netflix’s eureka moment

“We tried to buy a DVD, but there wasn’t one,” Randolph told me. “Not in Santa Cruz, California, anyway.

“So we just bought a second-hand music CD. And then we went a few doors down and bought a little pink gift envelope. As if you were posting a greeting card. Put the CD in the envelope, addressed to Reed’s house. The next morning, when he came to pick me up, he had a small CD intact, in a small envelope which had arrived at his house in less than a day for the price of a stamp.

It was the eureka moment. DVDs by mail, streaming video content, original shows and movies like stranger things and Hustle — it all started one summer day in 1997. When Hastings and Randolph walked out of Logos Books & Records on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, after buying a used Patsy Cline greatest hits CD.

When it arrived in the mail, undamaged, at the Hasting house, that was all they needed to convince that this idea of ​​renting DVDs by mail had legs.

Everyone knows what happened next. Randolph, meanwhile, left the company in 2003. He is more passionate about the early days of a company’s life cycle, not so much about running a more mature company. That’s what his current podcast, It will never workalso focuses on because it helps its guests think through and solve real business problems.

Netflix Founders

That said, Randolph has withheld some information from Netflix’s launch and early days that is instructive about what’s going on in the business right now. And where it might go next.

On the one hand, Randolph told me, “what I’ve learned is that success is proportional to the number of ideas you try.”

In a roundabout way, there’s some relevance in there to the punch Netflix took this year. The latter, of course, took the form of everything from the company’s share price plummeting 70% to the expectation that Netflix might report the loss of up to 2 million subscribers when it will release its quarterly results again in July.

Netflix has been so successful in the streaming game, for so long, that it’s been inviting all comers to give it a try. Some particularly wealthy challengers, such as Disney, Apple and HBO, reduce this supremacy. So much so that Netflix has abandoned some long-standing pillars of its user experience once considered sacrosanct.

The binge-it-all-at-once model, for example, is no longer tamper-proof. Many of his shows are now on a weekly release cadence. Ads are also coming to the platform. Netflix even offers a brand new content format: mobile video games, available at no additional cost.


Reed Hastings: “Extremely Brave”

Don’t count Randolph among the Netflix bears, though. One of the key things about Hastings that he told me “is that (Reed is) capable of making extremely difficult decisions in a very unbiased way. He always focuses on making the right decision, without getting bogged down in all sorts of secondary considerations.

“And that translates into courage. Reed is an extremely brave person.

Indeed, it’s this same version of Hastings that, if the past is any prologue, will surely pull Netflix out of its current malaise. The same Hastings, in fact, who foresaw the need to shift the company’s focus from DVDs to online streaming. And, from there, to original content. The same Hastings who correctly identified the technology format, DVDs, that would make the venture possible. And who wrote, in the preface to Hamilton Helmer’s 2016 book 7 powers: the foundations of business strategy:

“Strategy is an unusual beast. Most of my time and that of everyone else at Netflix has to be spent on superb execution. Fail at this, and you will surely stumble. Unfortunately, such execution alone will not guarantee success. If you don’t apply your strategy correctly, you run a risk.


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