Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix, joined Joel Mier’s Managing Innovation course as a guest lecturer to discuss entrepreneurship in times of hardship with students.

“The only real certainty in today’s job market is that there is no certainty,” Randolph said. “The world is changing so rapidly that the career that may energize and fulfill you 10 years from now, may not even exist right now. That just doubles down on the importance of developing skills that are universal.”

As students in the Robins School have moved to exclusively online learning for the semester, Mier knew inviting his close friend as a guest speaker would help enliven the experience.

“Guest speakers are crucial,” Dr. Mier said. “They are able to give real-world examples of the principles and concepts that are addressed in each course, making them real and enhancing comprehension.”

Randolph is a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur, advisor, and investor. As co-founder and founding CEO of Netflix, he laid much of the groundwork for a service that has grown to 150 million subscribers, and fundamentally altered how the world experiences media. He also served on the Netflix board of directors until retiring from the company in 2003. 

“Looking back on my own college experience (from 40 years ago!), the most important classes that I took were the classes that taught me how to make and defend an argument, how to clearly communicate my ideas to others, how to detect b.s., and how to organize my thoughts,” Randolph told the students. “Only now do I realize that all that time I spent researching and writing that Sociology paper, didn’t pay off in teaching me sociology, it paid off in teaching me the process of learning something I didn’t know, and then communicating that learning to someone else. If I could only take two subjects in school, it would be writing and speaking. Even now, 40 years later, I use those two skills every day.”

He explained that as an entrepreneur, he learned to thrive in the unknown rather than be afraid of it. 

“Early in my career I fell into the same trap that most early entrepreneurs do: wanting to know in advance if my idea was any good before I did it,” Randolph said. “But of course, if you wait until you’re sure it will work, you’re almost always too late.”

Mier says understanding this philosophy is one of the goals of the Managing Innovation course. 

“Many believe that new products or businesses or even business models are the results of some ‘Eureka!’ moment while, in fact, they are often the result of an actual process,” Mier said.

Embracing the reality of uncertainty is critical to success as an entrepreneur, particularly in ambiguous times like the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, Randolph said, success is not defined by how much money you make, but rather by establishing a strong work-life balance.

“But fundamentally, what really led to success was realizing that business wasn’t success, nor was it money or fame. Success was learning how to be a decent businessman while simultaneously maintaining a strong connection to my family, as well as taking the time to pursue my outside interests,” Randolph said. “Only when I figured out that balance did I start to think I had achieved some measure of success.”

He hopes these encouraging words will help students remain confident and willing to move forward with their ideas and careers.

“The only thing that students need to do to start turning their idea into a reality is get started. The real skill these days is not coming up with good ideas, it’s being creative and clever enough to figure out a way to try your ideas. And every student has that ability,” Randolph said.

You can learn more about Randolph and his entrepreneurial philosophy in his new book, That Will Never Work, about founding Netflix. Randolph was also featured as an Executive Speaker in 2017, you can listen to his full presentation here.