Lift Off: Startup Lessons from Netflix’s Success

Is Your Startup Doomed? Netflix Wants to Change Your Mind

Why do 70% of startups – even the most promising, innovative ones – crash and burn? Netflix, with groundbreaking research it hopes will turn the television industry on its ear, reveals startling insight about why most television series – and your startup – might be doomed before ever lifting off the ground. What separates a wildly successful startup from an abandoned, forgotten project?

Like television executives launching the pilot of the next sure hit, business owners with innovative, creative solutions seek to gather traction in a crowded, noisy space. But it takes more than a strong hook and compelling plot to write your startup’s success story.

Netflix, waging war against network television’s “love at first sight” approach, warns that viewers rarely get hooked on a new show by the pilot. With fierce competition for prime real estate in the broadcast schedule, the pressure’s on to make a lasting impression right away. But viewers don’t think that way. In fact, it takes 6-8 episodes or more before a viewer becomes a loyal fan that keeps coming back. Positioning itself as the player in the industry who understands the fans, Netflix argues that it takes time to cultivate a following for Mad Men or Big Bang Theory.

The world of startups looks a lot like the television industry. In a sea of chaos and noise, thousands of bright ideas compete for prime time real estate in the hearts and minds of a technology-hungry – but distracted – target market. When the pilot fails to hook viewers, great ideas get scrapped because those ideas appear to lack viability.

Don’t let that describe your story. Instead, put on the Netflix mindset to stack the odds in your favor.

Plan for a controlled takeoff – not a rocket blast.

It takes less than ten minutes for a space shuttle to get off the ground and into space. It takes over a million pounds of fuel to make that happen.

That’s the kind of launch most startups expect. With an idea that can’t lose and a million pounds of ingenuity to get you off the ground, you’re ready to launch into the stratosphere. But that’s not how the real world works. Many brilliant ideas barely get off the launching pad, because they’re built with this mindset.

That’s the case Netflix makes to TV execs. You’re throwing profit away when you scrap great shows because hardly anyone noticed the pilot. Viewers take a while to warm up to your plot. Let’s be honest: bad ideas get nowhere in a world hungry for solutions that make life better. But great ideas become dead projects every day, too. How do you keep yours from becoming one of them?

Control your expectations, and prepare for a bumpy ride at takeoff.

Overnight successes might be fun to read about, but they’re extremely rare. Almost every profitable startup started out in obscurity, without gaining traction for months.

How long does this take? Plan to sustain your startup without much fanfare through the birthing process. Like giving birth, it takes most startups about 9 months to see sustainable fruit from the implementation of the next great idea. Most who stay afloat for years take about six weeks to set up, 3 months or more to see its first noticeable wins, and 9 months or more before things really take off.

Mad Men took six episodes to catch on. How I Met Your Mother took eight. What’s your plan to stay on the air until the episode that hooks your viewers airs?

Your second act is more important than your first.

Here’s another thing TV execs and successful entrepreneurs both know: people aren’t sticking around for the next episode if you don’t continue to bring value. Once you’ve hooked people on your great idea, what comes next? Why should they stick around to hear what you have to say, keep buying from you, or come back for more?

Why is Apple so successful? Because they make great stuff. But they also understand what makes people loyal: Apple keeps you coming back because you’re scared you’ll miss out on the next dream solution you’ll wonder how you ever lived without. That didn’t happen by accident. Terry Oyama, who helped design the original Macintosh, said, “To be honest, we didn’t know what it meant for a computer to be ‘friendly’ until Steve Jobs told us.” What problems will the next iPhone solve that you don’t yet know you have? Time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: throngs of evangelists can’t wait to find out.

That’s the climate you must create for long-term success with your startup – an attitude in your target audience that they haven’t seen anything yet. Without that second act, your pilot is meaningless and no one will stay tuned. What about you? Are you built to withstand the turbulence of takeoff and forward-thinking enough to create evangelistic fans? Get in touch today to fuel your takeoff with the right mix of branding, public relations, and social media services that make you brilliant and ignite real influence.


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