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Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph: ‘Follow your dreams’ is ‘terrible advice’

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Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph speaks at The Audi Innovation Series in June 2018.
George Pimentel | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph says the "most dispensed advice in the history of mankind" might also be the worst.

At Cape Cod Community College's recent commencement ceremony, Randolph told the class of 2022 that three common graduation speech words — "follow your dreams" — constitute "terrible advice."

"It's not the advice itself that's bad," Randolph, 64, said. "It's bad because all the well-meaning people telling you to follow your dreams leave out something important. They never tell you how."

Randolph said there's nothing wrong with following your passions or interests, but it's difficult to monetize them without knowing how to execute your goals. His advice for the graduates instead included phrases like "there's no such thing as a good idea" — essentially meaning that you can't know whether something is a good or bad idea until you try it — and "stop thinking, start doing."

Randolph explained that he'd learned those lessons from his own career. Before he and Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix, they were co-workers at a software development company called Pure Atria who shared daily car rides to work. During those car rides, Randolph said, he'd pitch Hastings dozens of ideas, from personalized shampoo to dog food.

The pair came up with the idea to ship rental movies in the mid-1990s. At the time, it was arguably a bad idea: DVDs weren't yet a mainstream entertainment medium, and cassette tapes were too heavy and costly to ship to consumers.

Betting on the future success of DVDs, which could be more efficiently shipped without causing damage, Randolph and Hastings launched Netflix in 1997, with Randolph as founding CEO. Randolph left Netflix in 2003, four years before it started streaming movies in 2007.

Today, despite recent setbacks, the company is a leader in the massive online streaming industry: In 2021, the platform reached roughly 222 million monthly subscribers. That success would have never materialized without Randolph's willingness to try new things — and fail at them.

Before launching Netflix at age 39, Randolph worked for a CEO of a sheet music company and managed a bar in Colorado. By his own estimate, he was also once "the worst realtor in the state of New York," he told graduates. According to CNBC Make It, Randolph previously wrote in a blog post that during his eight-month stint in realty, he made zero sales and rented exactly one apartment.

Randolph related those experiences to graduates as a reassuring gesture, he said. He left them with one parting word of wisdom: Chill.

"Whatever it is you want to do, you've got time," he said. "Don't worry about your career following a straight line ... Uncertainty is exciting, and I'm jealous because you have the whole world in front of you."

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