Nucleus Book Review: That Will Never Work – The Birth of Netflix and The Amazing Life of an Idea

thumbnail image003To those who follow the world of business or tech, Reed Hastings is definitely better known as the originator of Netflix. I, for one, have to admit I really didn’t know there was another guy named Marc Randolph involved in the early going. That is, until my neighbor Sean O’Keefe gave me this book, knowing it would be right up my alley.

Randolph tells an intriguing story of the early days of this brand that changed an industry. Check that…I should say a brand that changed several industries.  Some highlights include:

The Canada Principle

At one point when they were starting to get momentum in the U.S., they contemplated expanding into Canada.  They had calculated it would lift revenue easily by something like ten percent.  Interestingly, they decided against it.  They felt like they had so many things they wanted to refine with the model and the operations that, despite the revenue lift—one they really could have used—Canada would end up being more of a distraction. It would dilute focus so they stayed concentrating only on the U.S. of A.

One Thing Done Well

I had completely forgotten–if I ever knew it at all—that in the beginning Netflix offered both DVD sales and rentals (they also had “adult” titles but that’s a different story).  At one point, sales were a much bigger chunk of their revenue but they had to make an important decision to flip that, which they obviously did successfully.

Vanna White’s Role

Yes, that Vanna White.  It turns out that Netflix had an opportunity to meet with Blockbuster and needed to get from California to Dallas for a meeting basically in less than 24 hours.  They chartered a plane and it turned out to be Vanna White’s plane that, when she wasn’t using it, she leased out to others needing private plane travel.

The Blockbuster Deal With Blockbuster

After the flight on Vanna’s plane, once in Dallas, they had a famous meeting with Blockbuster, which the Netflix team had been trying to arrange for months.  Blockbuster, then a juggernaut, evidently laughed the Netflix team out of the room when they heard the price Netflix wanted to become Blockbuster’s online division.  You know the rest of that story.

The Subscription Model

Today there are subscription models for everything (go to any car wash and sit through their annoying pitch while you sit there in your dirty ride).  In the late nineties and early 2000’s, that wasn’t the case and the idea of charging users a monthly fee versus a la carte DVD rentals was pioneering.

Those are just five quick hits but all in all, this was an easy and enjoyable read.  Randolph comes across as a guy who wasn’t afraid of hard work but also believed in having other pursuits…he practiced, but oddly never performed, with barbershop quartets for one.  He’s a likable protagonist for a brand that has become a part of millions of households.

If you like scrappy start-up stories, this book definitely checks the box.

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