“If people tell you ‘it’ll never work’ — that’s when you’re on to something.” Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph takes the path less travelled

Back when Blockbuster still reigned supreme, Marc Randolph decided to see what would happen if he sent a DVD through the post. "It'll never work!" they told him...

Marc Randolph wants us to think more about the little guy. “I think there’s this whole over-glorification of the big money side of business, which is a disservice because the vast majority of companies are not huge tech ventures, they’re not VC funded. They’re people using their savings, because their objective isn’t to build these huge companies to make themselves and their investors rich — they want to have a job they enjoy, they want to provide an income for a handful of employees, and they’re perfectly happy with that,” he says. “I really believe there’s honour in that and that we’ve made this fetish of fund-raising and the idea of becoming this big, rich entrepreneur.”

Randolph knows of what he speaks. He’s the host of a podcast that goes by the name ‘That Will Never Work’, in which he advises people just getting started with their business as to where to go next. He’s the author of a book with the same title. At the same time, he’s a big, rich serial entrepreneur — a business mentor and angel himself, one of whose latest investments was in the data sciences company Looker, which sold to Google for $2.6bn. Oh, and he was the co-founder and founding CEO of something called Netflix.

Marc Randolph and his son on the way to the Netflix IPO, 2002

Randolph, who lives in California and spends as much of his time as possible climbing mountains, kayaking through rapids, cycling through forests — just about anything, in fact, instead of sitting in front of a screen, and the irony of this is certainly not lost on him — didn’t start out big. He launched the US edition of a computer magazine and helped establish a PC mail order business. He worked on a few Silicon Valley start-ups, helping to found an automated software tester. It got acquired by a company called Pure Atria. Randolph hit it off with the founder, a guy called Reed Hastings.

When Pure Atria was acquired, the pair started riffing on ideas for a new project. Personalised shampoo for dogs was one of them. Anything was on the table, contrary to the naysayers who would keep telling him ‘it will never work’. And not least because, he stresses, on paper most business ideas sound a bit dumb. And because, of those that get off the ground, most end up being something very different anyway. 

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