that will never work

April 10, 2020

I had an MCO vision.

In that vision, I’m lying down everyday reading a book. In that vision, I finish one book everyday, and in fact that one Sunday the kids were being so quiet and well-behaved that I smile as I finish my second book that day. Oh, pure bliss. In that vision, I have new books being delivered to me because I had finish all the hundreds of books on my book shelf. That was my vision. My beautiful MCO vision for myself.

The reality of course LOL-ed at that and spat at my vision. Mondays to Fridays are filled with back to back video calls with the team (seriously, everyone I speak to says they work even harder from home and they’re all so tired. SAME HERE!), night time is me cooking for half hour, showering for 2 minutes and scolding the kids to pick up toys for 3 hours. After the kids sleep, I pick up a book but end up snoring on Fadza’s lap with the book… on my face.

I’m trying, guys, I’m really trying!

So you can imagine the celebration in this house when I finished this book which is now a new favourite of mine. I. FELT. ON. TOP. OF. THE. WORLD. Like seriously, I was the WOMAN that day. I finished a book, WOOHOOOOOOO!

It’s about the birth of Netflix, how it all started and how the story is a little different from what Reed Hastings tells everyone. So the company was founded by his friend Marc Randolph (they talked about in the car – sounds familiar?!!! Me and Fadza talked about FV in the car too! Why are we not valued at $150billion yet…). In this book, Marc shared a lot on the early days and the issues and memories they had – I loved reading it because it brought back so much memories of FV’s early days too. So many teething problems like email templates, server crashes, begging companies to collaborate with you, getting rejected by VCs, so many that he shared. Did you know Netflix started as site that sells and rents DVDs?

One of my favourite stories was a coupon deal that they did. They were desperate to get Samsung’s attention but Samsung didn’t entertain them as they were just a small startup. So they went to Toshiba instead and Toshiba took the bait. Because of this, Samsung felt threatened and they said ok to collaborate. Haha. Kinda like dating in real life too huh – you want the guy only after you see him with another girl. Anyway, so they did a “Buy one Samsung DVD player, and get 10 free DVD rentals from Netflix” to tap on Samsung’s customer database. Customers had to enter the serial number of the DVD player into Netflix website to redeem. Suddenly they saw a HUGE HUGE increase on free DVD rentals that were causing them a lot of money loss. They thought something was fishy. They went to the local electronics store and they found the problem – the serial number was written OUTSIDE of the box. So no one had to buy anything, they can just key in the serial number into Netflix website and got 10 free rentals just like that. Customers – 10, Netflix – 0.

And many more of these kind of stuff that he shared. It was so interesting and relatable. Even giant companies make such simple mistakes, and they’ll always bounce back if they don’t give up! They also had partner problems, Reed actually told Marc to step down as CEO and he should be CEO instead, but Marc knew it was the right decision as the company moves from startup to scaleup. Reed then took the company to greater heights, laser focused, with Marc by his side as President. The book was so honest and so heartwarming, sharing the pains of what startups go through.

I won’t spoil it anymore for you (go read this book!) but here are some lessons that stood out the most for me:

  1. Focus. A company must always focus. Don’t try to do too many things at once. (He calls this the Canada principle where Netflix chose not to expand out of the US yet because even though Canada looked tempting, it meant that the team would lose focus and split resources)
  2. No doesn’t always mean a no.
  3. You can write a business plan, but reality is that it will change many many times. Be adaptable. (If they followed their business plan, they’d still be selling DVDs and probably be bankrupt now)
  4. People will always tell you “That will never work”. His advice is that “Nobody knows anything”. Just do it, because you will only fail if you don’t try.

After reading this book, I realised that I got more excited as he talked about the company in the latter part of the book – the unicorn part, the big data part, the IPO part. I love that dream, I love that vision, I love that challenge of growing a big company. Even though startups have so many fun memories, the scaleup part excited me more. There’s no right or wrong, obviously, it’s just personal preference. So even though I loved the book, I related more to Reed than Marc. Funny how you discover yourself more and more as you read more books.

Hope this review helped!

Ok, brb. Gotta get FV to $150Billion. LOL.