How to Scale a Business - Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

Mar 12, 2017 -

How does Netflix hire?

Netflix doesn't try to hire perfectly. If instinctively the manager feels like there is potential or would like to give the employee a try, the company will make the hire. You use a lot of data when picking stocks; but when you pick a spouse, you don't use a lot of data. The more emotional gut feeling involved then the less useful data is. And they use Linkedin for references. If within a certain period of time, they discover it isn't a good fit then they move them out. When doing so, it is important to be upfront and honest with the person.

When Netflix hires, they are looking for first principal thinkers. People who question things, are curious, and self-confident

During the on-boarding of new employees, management would go over a 100 slide PowerPoint deck. At the end of it, 2 out of 3 employees would understand what it all meant. But because there were some forward remarks in there, the other 33% would not. Some forward remarks included "adequate performance gets you a severance package" or "we are a team not a family". To those who didn't get it, they were slightly taken aback. It was as if they were ambushed. 

The decision was made to make the information available to every candidate. That way they are upfront with the culture. If every candidate got it then it would essentially be public. So that is what Netflix did. Netflix decided to just make it public. In addition, when something is written down it allows for more debate, which could lead to more collaboration and improvement. 

Reed attunes hiring and employment similar to that of running a professional sports team. Every year you compete for your position. For the company/team to be great, you need to have great people in their respective positions. When people were no longer good fits for the company, he would proactively provide them with severance packages. If he didn't do this, then the employee would probably undergo a three month behavior correction program and then when all of that is documented then that person would be let go. Either way there is a cost. There are three benefits to this methodology. First would be that the employee doesn't feel as bad because a minimum of 4 months pay is doled out. It is almost a bribe to the manager letting that person go, so he or she doesn't feel as bad either. Thirdly, there are no employee lawsuits because of the severance. 

What kind of culture should you build?

Strong cultures work regardless of what kind of culture they are. Weak cultures are essentially diverse cultures whereby people don't understand each other. 

Netflix didn't approach culture with "what is the most theoretical efficient culture?". Instead it was about the group of people working there and what they valued most. That was working with talented people. 

When the company was forced to downsize after the dot com crash, Reed thought that they would barely be surviving. Instead they got more productive because there was less "dummy proofing necessary" and everyone could focus on doing it right and fast. 

When Netflix became publicly traded, the employees were worried about less freedom and more control. However, quite the opposite happened. The company's managers focused on setting context to issues. They inspired and led people rather than micromanaged them. This involved explaining what they were trying to do. What constraints there were. Whether or not they needed to do it 100% precise or if there could be room for an approximation and then tidy it up afterwards. If you set it up this way there is less micromanaging. 

What is the role of the CEO?

The role of the CEO varies at different stages of the company. The first couple years you do everything from washing the dishes to coding to marketing and dealing with investors. You have so many disadvantages that you have to make up for it with talent and brute force. At every 5x or 10x you have to adapt to be more strategic, but still be a great leader. On Reed's scale, he is looking at whether or not they should focus globally or original content. But, he doesn't pick which country to be in or what shows. He delegates that down.

What are scale businesses versus network businesses? 

The bigger get scale economic businesses get the lower the marginal customer cost. Examples of this include Amazon and Netflix. You do have to run up losses to some extent before you start to make a profit. When Amazon and Netflix were smaller, they grew at great rates such as 80% and eventually down to 25%. These are good growth rates. A company can start 2-3 years before you do, but with scale you can knock them out.

Linkedin and Facebook are network effect businesses. The prize of being first is much larger than a scale business. For example, it could be worth selling 90% of the business to raise a billion dollars. It is a winner takes all business. In these kinds of businesses, you get these crazy practices where you grow by 300% to maximize opportunity. 

In network effect you get more of the first is forever because of the barriers to entry. Think of a barrier as how much pricing power you have. A ton of pricing power means you can raise prices and it is still hard to come after you.  

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