Reed Hastings has come a long way from slinging DVDs through the mail. As the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, Hastings grew his company from an innovative idea into an industry-shaking, award-winning media giant. His own frustration with rental DVD late fees inspired the company’s genesis. After years of trial and error, talent development, and “dissent farming,” Netflix has overturned media distribution—killing off those pesky late fees completely.
One of the platform’s great advantages over other streaming services is its AI-enabled user interface that tracks customer viewing habits and recommends what to watch next—especially from the ever-growing selection of Netflix original content. What may surprise many is that Hastings never envisioned using his master’s degree in artificial intelligence in his original DVD-mail venture. But thanks to his time studying computer science at Stanford University, he was prepared when it came time to transform his company from a video rental website into a 21st-century entertainment standard-bearer.
Netflix and Hastings seem to have a symbiotic relationship, and when the owner goes hands-off, innovation is driven by the platform itself—and the need to stay ahead of the competition. Netflix has been noted for its internal blunt honesty, where employees have a unique balance of freedom and responsibility. Mediocrity is quickly doused, either by offering well-compensated severance packages to underperforming employees or canceling beloved-yet-under-watched original series. The CEO wants to fill his company with the brightest and best, which now includes acquiring and developing award-winning content that rivals HBO and other cable stalwarts. The more big-brains under his employ, the less work for Hastings. It’s a formula that’s hard to argue against.
In 2014, Stanford Graduate School of Business awarded Netflix its ENCORE Award for Entrepreneurial Company of the Year, before the rest of Hollywood started catching up to the streaming service. In fact, Hastings credits Stanford for inspiring his entrepreneurial spirit and no-nonsense approach to business. The school also informed, and reinforced, his ideas about public education, sparking one of his personal passions. He founded the Hastings Fund with a seed of $100 million dollars, aimed at supporting childhood education, and is signed onto Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge charity initiative. He is also committed to growing high-quality charter schools and developing transformative technology for the benefit of education. As the executive who once doubted the potential of Netflix for kids, it’s likely Hastings will soon be leveraging his platform into the classrooms of the future.