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How Unicorns are launched: Netflix

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July 19, 2023
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min read


Netflix, a name synonymous with online streaming, has redefined how the world consumes entertainment. Founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph, Netflix transitioned from a DVD-by-mail service to an international streaming giant and a producer of high-quality content.


Reed Hastings, a software entrepreneur, and Marc Randolph, a tech executive, combined their expertise to change the world of entertainment. Their experience with software development and product management was key to navigating the transitions and challenges that lay ahead for Netflix.


Legend has it that Reed Hastings was inspired to start Netflix after being frustrated with a $40 late fee for a rented movie. The founders wanted to create a more user-friendly alternative to traditional video rental stores.


Netflix's MVP was a mail-order DVD service, launched in 1998. The unique value proposition was a flat-fee, unlimited rentals without due dates, late fees or shipping costs. This novel approach caught users' attention and set the stage for rapid growth.


Netflix's journey to product-market fit involved several significant iterations, each aimed at addressing user needs and market dynamics more effectively.

The first significant iteration was a shift from a single-rental model to a monthly subscription model. Initially, Netflix followed a similar model to traditional rental stores, where customers rented individual DVDs. However, Netflix hypothesised that customers would prefer a subscription model, where they could rent multiple DVDs for a fixed monthly fee. This shift occurred in September 1999 and represented a major pivot for the company. The new model was well-received, providing the first strong indication of product-market fit.

A less successful hypothesis was the planned diversification into selling DVDs and VHS tapes. Netflix tested this in 1998, shortly after its launch. However, the additional sales did not significantly contribute to revenue and caused a distraction from the core rental service. Netflix quickly learned from this and decided to discontinue sales in 2000 to focus solely on DVD rentals.

The final pre-market fit iteration was a decision to eliminate late fees and due dates. Netflix hypothesised that customers were frustrated with the traditional late fee model. They tested a new model, allowing users to keep DVDs as long as they wanted, with the caveat that customers could only rent a new DVD after returning the previous one. This decision, implemented in 2000, was a major success and was pivotal in Netflix achieving product-market fit.

Through these iterations, each based on a hypothesis, test, and result, Netflix evolved its service and business model. They learned valuable lessons, refining their understanding of their customers and the market, leading them to product-market fit.

Finding Market Fit

Netflix had their Series A round in 1999, raising $30 million at a valuation of around $300 million. This funding helped Netflix to improve their DVD delivery system and invest in the personalisation technology. They found their product-market fit with the introduction of the subscription model and the customised recommendations system. By 2002, Netflix had reached over 600,000 subscribers in the US.


Today, Netflix boasts over 200 million subscribers worldwide and is valued at over $250 billion. It is considered a leader in the online streaming industry, setting trends and standards in the market. Netflix's focus is now on expanding its library of original content and fine-tuning its recommendation algorithm. They continue to innovate and provide a seamless and engaging user experience.

In summary, Netflix's journey from a humble DVD rental service to a global streaming service highlights the importance of lean startup principles, agile product management, and effective MVP development. It emphasises the importance of launching early, iterating fast based on user feedback and changing market dynamics, and the power of finding the right product-market fit.