The Truth Behind Netflix’s Incredible Success

Greg Satell
5 min readAug 29, 2020
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Today, it’s hard to think of Netflix as anything but an incredible success. Its business has grown at breakneck speed and now streams to 190 countries, yet it has also been consistently profitable, earning over $1 billion last year. With hit series like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things, it broke the record for Emmy Nominations last year.

Most of all, the company has consistently disrupted the media business through its ability to relentlessly innovate. Its online subscription model upended the movie rental business and drove industry giant Blockbuster into bankruptcy. Later, it pioneered streaming video and introduced binge watching to the world.

Ordinarily, a big success like Netflix would offer valuable lessons for the rest of us. Unfortunately its story has long been shrouded in myth and misinformation. That’s why Netflix Co-Founder Marc Randolph’s new book, That Will Never Work, is so valuable. It not only sets the story straight, it offers valuable insight into how to create a successful business.

The Founding Myth

Anthropologists have long been fascinated by origin myths. The Greek gods battled and defeated the Titans to establish Olympus. Remus and Romulus were suckled by a she-wolf and then established Rome. Adam and Eve were seduced by a serpent, ate the forbidden fruit and were banished from the Garden of Eden.

The reason every culture invents origin myths is that they help make sense of a confusing world and reinforce the existing order. Before science, people were ill-equipped to explain things like disease and natural disasters. So stories, even if the were apocryphal, gave people comfort that there was a rhyme and reason to things.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that an unlikely success such as Netflix has its own origin myth. As legend has it, Co-Founder Reed Hastings misplaced a movie he rented and was charged a $40 dollar late fee. Incensed, he set out to start a movie business that had no late fees. That simple insight led to a disruptive business model that upended the entire industry.

The truth is that late fees had nothing to do with the founding of Netflix. What really happened is that Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph, soon to be unemployed after the…

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Greg Satell

Co-Founder: ChangeOS | Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Wharton Lecturer, HBR Contributor, - Learn more at www.GregSatell.com