“Taking smart risks can be very gratifying. Guessing right is a skill developed over time. Not all smart risks work out, but many do.” ~Reed Hastings
Reed Hastings, CEO and co-founder of Netflix, seems destined for greatness. Born in Boston and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Hastings has a sharp mind and an entrepreneurial spirit that has served him well over the years.
After graduating from Bowdoin College with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1983, Hastings went on to join the Peace Corps, “out of a combination of service and adventure.”
“It was an extremely satisfying experience,” he recalled. Hastings taught mathematics at a high school in Swaziland from 1983 until 1985, returning to the U.S. to earn his Master’s degree in in computer science from Stanford University in 1988.
Hastings’ first job after graduate school was with Adaptive Technology. There, he created a software debugging tool and learned the value of focusing on having one really great product rather than two mediocre ones. He left Adaptive in 1991, when he founded Pure Software, a company that designed products for troubleshooting software.
“Once you’ve hitchhiked across Africa with ten bucks in your pocket, starting a business doesn’t seem too intimidating,” he said in an interview with Fortune Magazine.
Adaptive was very successful very quickly, but without managerial experience, Hastings struggled with the rapidly expanding company. He learned from his mistakes and experiences, though, and after Pure combined with Atria Software and then Rational Software in 1997, he decided that his time there was done.
About two years after leaving his first startup venture, Hastings partnered with Marc Randolph to co-found Netflix. In order to avoid the same growth problems Pure Software had, Hastings tried to preserve the company’s entrepreneurial spirit while growing, attracting top talent, paying employees well, and instilling a sense of freedom and responsibility in all staff members.
Over the years, Hastings has been recognized for these innovative management tactics, and with the exception of a few missteps, Netflix has done extremely well. It’s gone from a video rental service to an online streaming service to a producer of original shows and films—all under Hastings’ guidance.