By Samantha Madison Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) So what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph shares a pretty interesting perspective.
To become a successful entrepreneur, you don't necessarily have to be all that smart, according to Netflix co-founder and first CEO Marc Randolph.
In fact, he says in business, everyone needs to remember the following: Nobody knows anything.
Aside from that, there are three things the Hamilton College graduate believes a person does need to succeed, though: a tolerance for risk, many different ideas and confidence.
"You have to be willing to start even when you can't see where it will lead," Randolph told Hamilton College students Monday afternoon. "If you don't take that first step, you will never get to the end. ... You never know which idea will be the one that finally solves the problem. The third thing is you have to have confidence. The truth is when you tell someone your idea and they say, 'That's never going to work,' the harsh truth is, most of the time they're going to be right. But you have to say 'Maybe, but if so, I am going to figure this out. If not this one, then the next one. If not that one, then eventually I am going to figure it out.'"
It was only after Randolph and Hastings had run through dozens of ideas on their carpool to work every day that the idea for Netflix came about. And it wasn't founded as the streaming service it is now; Netflix was originally a DVD rental and purchasing company that began on April 14, 1998.
The pair had previously talked about starting a video rental company, but it was too expensive and cumbersome to mail video tapes.
One day, on their drive to work, Hastings told Randolph about a new technology the size of a CD that could contain an entire movie. The pair quickly went out and tested their new idea, sending a DVD through the mail in an envelope.
It was successful in that the DVD made it to Hastings' house undamaged. But it would take a few years to iron everything out.
"I do not remember April 14 as the day that we toasted our success. I remember pushing a shopping cart up and down the aisles of an electronic superstore while our CTO piled in all the components that we would use that day to limp our servers along and get through day one," Randolph said. "We ended the day with 130 orders; I couldn't believe it. ... Just two and a half years later, we finally solved the no-due-dates, no-late-fees problem. Now we had 130,000 subscribers, even more astounding. ... Now, we have 130 million subscribers; we are in just about every country in the world; we make our own movies; we have our own TV shows; we're on memes. We're a verb for God's sake. It is unbelievable what has happened to Netflix."
During the hour-long lecture, Randolph weaved together his story of founding Netflix with a lesson for all listening on how to approach dipping a toe into the waters of entrepreneurship.
It's something the students took to heart.
Penelope Hoopes, a 20-year-old junior from Washington, D.C., said the talk inspired her to act on ideas and think about starting her own business.
Christine Rosto, a 20-year-old from New Jersey, said Randolph's words will stay with her should she decide on becoming an entrepreneur.
"You don't need to have this complete plan when making a business," she said. "You can kind of actually start from nothing and also that there's no bad ideas."
Maggie Horne, a 21-year-old senior from New Jersey, said knowing that Randolph went to school at the same school she is going to made her think.
"It was definitely cool to know that this came out of Hamilton, the place that I'm at," Horne said. "To know that in like 30 years, it could be one of us standing up there being like, 'I listened to the guy from Netflix talk about it and now I'm here talking about my experience.' To think about it that way: It could be me one day."
Randolph isn't just back in town to speak at his alma mater, but is actually doing a couple of talks in the area while he's in town.
He said he will be doing a similar lecture Tuesday at Syracuse University and another Wednesday at Mohawk Valley Community College.
While Randolph enjoys speaking to students, he said it's also exciting to get the chance to come back to a place he has loved for so long.
"It would be really awesome if this could be more revitalized; there's such an opportunity here," said Randolph, speaking after his lecture. "I wanted to demonstrate that there is kind of a start-up here and it is something that needs to be supported and then I want to do my own part in trying to support that.
As far as the visit to Hamilton, a huge amount of my success as an entrepreneur is attributed to the education and experiences that I got here and I really want to come back and give students this confidence that this liberal arts education is hugely valuable and that they should apply it and take these risks and try new things."