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商业 - 科技

Netflix联合创始人力挺业务分拆

Marc Randolph 2011年09月28日

Netflix一分为二之后,华尔街和消费者对公司首席执行官里德•哈斯廷斯冷嘲热讽,但公司联合创始人却对他的“勇气与决心”盛赞有加。

    Netflix首席执行官里德•哈斯廷斯上周宣布,该公司将分拆DVD租赁业务,将其改组为新公司Qwikster。我上次查看Netflix关于此事的官方博客时,这一公告后面有27,183条留言,其中大概有27,181条是负面评论。

    华尔街也不看好这一举措,Netflix当前的交易价已经跌到了两个月前的一半以下。就连我的朋友们也大惑不解,纷纷发邮件问我,这家公司是否“快要垮台了”?

    他们完全错了。

    我不仅完全支持Netflix的做法,而且还认为它是我迄今以来见过的最明智、最自律、最勇敢的举措。

    首先申明一下,我多年前就已不再为Netflix效力了,因此我没有任何内幕消息,不了解是什么具体原因直接导致了这一决定,也没有跟该公司的任何人士谈过这件事。对于该动向,我了解信息的渠道与各位完全一样。

    尽管如此,我理解他们的行动,也完全、彻底地理解他们这么做的目的,就好像我本人就坐在那张会议桌前参与了讨论一样。显而易见,这一举措强调的是专注,永无止境的专注,从Netflix创立第一天起就深深植根于Netflix基因中的专注。

    举例来说明吧。

    1998年,我和里德创办Netflix时,它与现在公众熟知的这家公司截然不同。队列(Queue)、不限量租赁(Unlimited Rentals)和无到期日无滞纳金模式等都还要再过一年多才会诞生,那时我们还采用标准的“照单点租”模式,设有到期日,超期不还要多交钱。

    对了……我们那会还出售DVD。

    事实上,我们卖的DVD还真不少。销售额非常庞大,我估计Netflix成立之后的第一个夏季,公司总收入中有95%来自DVD销售。尽管这确实有助于弥补一些成本,但对我们来说,这显然不是一种可持续发展的业务。用不了多久,亚马逊就会进入DVD市场,这是不可避免的,然后沃尔玛也来了,再然后是美国几乎所有针对大众市场的零售商。所有这些巨头都会吞噬我们的利润率,缓慢而坚定地将我们挤出这个市场。

    不仅如此,尽管方向很明确,但很难避免“尾巴摇狗”的情况。尽管我们明知道公司的真正未来在于租赁业务,可多数收入仍来自零售业务,很难不花时间侧重于后者的打理。

    更严重的是,由于我们尝试运作一家在两方面都做得不错的公司,结果不可避免地要被迫不断作出一系列妥协,导致我们最终在两方面都表现平平。我们的登录页和注册流程得满足两种不同的需求;我们的支付系统得处理两种类型的交易;我们的发货程序得适应两种类型的产品(一种有去无回,另一种还得收回来);我们的内容系统包含三种类型:有些影碟只能租,有的只能买,还有得可买也可租。

    事后看来,停止零售而专注于租赁业务显而易见是正确的选择,可是,当年担任首席执行官的我如此年轻,要放弃贡献95%收入的业务谈何容易?这可以说是我这辈子做过的最艰难的决定。

    不用说,这个决定奏效了。果断放弃95%的收入,不仅使我们全力贯注于剩余的那部分业务,而且在其他许多方面也显现出裨益——包括许多我们意想不到的好处。

    我们的设计人员不再需要设置满足两种不同业务需求的注册流程,我们取消了冗余的注册步骤、理清了网站上的指示并简化了注册程序,转化率也得到了提升。

    由于我们聚焦于更小范围的市场,我们得以明确自己的特色,使对外营销更加高效,我们的用户获取成本有所下降。

    由于我们所需要解决的问题减少,网站工程设计效率大幅提高,为确保质量而进行的测试也更简单了,各种绩效考核指标更直观了。它还铺平了道路,使我们得以实行一套可迅速反复测试的流程,帮助我们进行了重大创新,最终催生了队列、不限量租赁和无到期日无滞纳金模式出现。

    成功使我们更加大胆,对于专注策略我们更有信心了。经验表明,每次收窄专注范围,都会带来更多机会。我或许可以举出150个例子来证明,每一次新的成功又使我们更有信心,坚信有时候放弃部分成功的业务可带来更大的裨益,帮助更有前途的业务实现更大发展。

    每次召开产品会议时,除了讨论拓展哪些业务之外,我们都确保留出时间来决定放弃哪些业务。我们将其称为“清除藤壶”(一种海洋生物——译注),与船主们一样,我们发现:如果我们严于律己,定期把这些不可避免地会依附在船体上的小东西清除掉,我们在水面上航行的速度将会明显加快。

    我想,为公平起见,我现在也应该承认,并不是所有人都赞同我们摆脱这些“藤壶”的决定。比方说,考虑到早期我们四分之三顾客都是DVD买家,可以合理推断,我们停止出售DVD的决定不会让他们有多满意。喜欢“照单点租”的顾客,想必也不愿意看到我们放弃该模式,专注于不限量租赁项目。在此,我想向Netflix成千上万的早期顾客致歉,他们曾参与了我们的定价策略、功能测试和其他商业试验,但最终我们又放弃了相关业务。可是,尽管每个决定在短期内都是困难的,我始终坚信,为了保证公司的长期成功,我们别无选择。

    因此,尽管我已很长时间没有参与Netflix的运营,我可以很容易想象:近几年来,他们肯定越来越感到束手束脚——在决策时,为了与DVD租赁业务兼容,往往不得不放弃对流媒体业务最有利的选择,选择次优解决方案。如何制定考虑多种使用情况的定价策略?如何设计对应两种不同电影接收方式的通知?两种服务可享受的内容相差很大,如何进行管理?如何简化登录页和注册流程?

    今后就不必发愁了。不用再担心不同服务之间的兼容问题,这一点肯定会使Netflix更容易根据真正有前途的业务(显然是流媒体业务)做出最优的决策。定价、通知、内容、注册流程,全都会得到改善。

    顾客是否会心生不满?毫无疑问。我愿意做第27,184个留言的人,批评他们,因为涉及提价和发布Qwikster等事项的沟通显得笨拙、粗暴,毫无疑问使公司的品牌形象受到了损害。可是,对这类后果的恐惧是否应该使Netflix放弃这一决定,不采取措施保证流媒体业务今后拥有尽可能多的优势呢?当然不是。

    里德在博客中就沟通上存在的问题致歉,而不是就作出错误的决定道歉。在这两方面,我都支持他。

    我当首席执行官的时候,放弃DVD销售业务使我非常紧张,而我承担的风险不过是疏远成千上万顾客而已;里德现在表现出,他敢于做正确的决定,哪怕这会使几千万顾客不满。这种勇气与决心让我深感钦佩。

    正因为此,这家伙堪称世界上最优秀的企业家。

    马克•兰多夫是一位经验丰富的硅谷创业家、高科技公司经理人和创业公司咨询师。他曾是网络电影与电视剧流媒体服务公司Netflix的联合创始人,并曾经出任该公司第一任首席执行官。他的博客地址是www.marc randolph.com。

    译者:小宇

    Netflix CEO Reed Hastings announced last week that the company would be splitting off its DVD rental service into a new business to be called Qwikster. Last time I checked their blog post on the subject, there were 27,183 comments. Approximately 27,181 of them were negative.

    Wall Street didn't approve of the move either, and the stock is now trading at less than half the price it was two months ago. Even my own friends are sending me puzzled notes, wondering if the "wheels are coming off the cart."

    They are all wrong.

    Not only am I completely in support of what Netflix (NFLX) is doing, but I think it is one of the smartest, most disciplined and bravest moves I've ever seen.

    Just to be clear, I haven't worked for Netflix for years. So I have no inside knowledge of what specifically led to this particular decision, I haven't talked to anyone there about it. Everything I know about it I picked up from the same sources you did.

    Nonetheless, I understand what they did and why they did it as completely and thoroughly as if I had been sitting around the conference table myself. Plain and simple, this move was all about focus. Relentless focus. A focus that has been deeply embedded in the Netflix DNA since day one

    Here's an example of what I mean.

    When Reed and I launched Netflix in 1998, it was a very different company from the one you know today. The Queue, Unlimited Rentals, and the No-Due-Dates-No-Late-Fees model were still more than a year away. Our rentals were standard a-la-carte rentals. They had due dates. We charged late fees.

    Oh... we also sold DVDs.

    In fact, we sold bucket loads of them. So many, that by the end of our first summer, I would guess that 95% of our revenues were coming from the sales of DVDs. Although this did pay some bills, it was obvious to us that this was not a sustainable business. It was inevitable that at some point in the near future we would have Amazon (AMZN) entering the DVD business. And then Walmart (WMT). And then just about every mass market retailer in the country. All of which would have crushed our margins and slowly but surely driven us out of business.

    Not only that, but even while the going was good, it was hard not to let the tail wag the dog. Despite knowing that the true future of the company was rental, it was hard not to spend time focusing on the area of the business where most of the money was coming from.

    Most importantly, by trying to run a business that did two things well, we inevitably were forced to make an endless series of compromises that resulted in us doing neither of them well. Our landing page and sign up flow had to accommodate two different paths. Our checkout process needed to handle two types of transactions. Our shipping process had to accommodate two different types of products (one that had to come back and one that didn't). Our content system had to accommodate titles we could only rent, ones we could only sell, and ones where we could do both.

    In hindsight, it seems like such an obvious decision to stop selling and focus on renting. But wow – for a young CEO like myself — turning away from the source of 95% of our revenue was just about the hardest thing I had ever done.

    Needless to say, it worked. Not only did walking away from 95% of our revenue have a way of focusing the mind on the remainder of our business, but the benefits began showing up everywhere – even in places we never suspected.

    By freeing our designers from having to create a sign-up flow that accommodated two types of business, we were able to cut out steps, clarify instructions and simplify the process. Conversion went up.

    By spotlighting a narrower benefit, we were able to clarify our positioning, resulting in more effective external marketing. Our acquisition costs went down.

    By focusing on a narrower set of problems, it made engineering much more productive. It made QA testing simpler. It made metrics more intuitive. And it paved the way for us to implement a process of rapid iteration and testing that ultimately uncovered the big innovations that ultimately led to the Queue, Unlimited Rentals and No-Due-Dates-No-Late-Fees.

    The success emboldened us and we gained confidence in this approach, each time finding that narrowing our focus expanded our opportunities. I could probably come up with 150 examples, with each new success giving us renewed confidence in the benefits of folding partially successful hands in order to double down on more promising ones.

    At every product meeting, in addition to figuring out what to do, we made sure to devote time toward deciding what not to do. We referred to it as "scraping the barnacles," and, like boat owners, found that if we had the discipline to regularly remove all the small things that inevitably accreted to our hull over time, it would have a noticeable effect on how fast we could move through the water.

    I suppose it's only fair to mention at this point, that not everyone liked our decisions to get rid of these "barnacles." For example, since early on nearly 3/4s of our customers were buying DVDs from us, it probably is safe to say that they were none-to happy that we stopped selling them. Ditto for the customers who loved renting a-la-carte only to see us drop it and focus on the all-you-can-eat program. While I'm at it, I'll throw in an apology to the tens of thousands of other early Netflix customers who were part of price programs, feature test, and other business experiments that we ultimately decided to discontinue. But as hard as each decision was in the short-term, I never questioned whether it was the right thing to do for the long-term success of the company.

    So even though I haven't been at Netflix in a long time, I can easily imagine the growing frustration they must have felt these last few years as they made decisions they knew were suboptimal for the streaming business in order to maintain compatibility with the DVD business. How to work out pricing that covers multiple use cases. How to come up with messaging that embraces two different ways to receive movies. How to manage the significant differences in the content available between the two services. How to simplify the landing page and sign up flow.

    Well no longer. Not having to worry about compatibility between the services makes it infinitely easier to optimize every decision around the real prize, which is clearly streaming. Pricing. Messaging. Content. Sign-up-flow. All better now.

    Are customers upset? Undoubtedly. And I'll be the 27,184th to say that the communications surrounding both the price increases and the Qwixter launch were ham-handed, tone-dea, and have unquestionably damaged the brand. But should fear of either of these things have prevented Netflix from taking this step and ensuring that their streaming service has every possible advantage going forward? Absolutely not.

    In his blog post, Reed apologized for not communicating well, not for having made the wrong decision. I agree with him on both counts.

    But what is truly mindblowing, is that when I was CEO trying to screw up my nerve to walk away from selling DVDs, I risked alienating tens of thousands of customers. Reed is showing that he has courage and conviction to do the right thing despite having tens of millions of them.

    This is why this guy is the best entrepreneur on the planet.

    Marc Randolph (@mbrandolph) is a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur, high tech executive and startup consultant. Most recently Marc was co-founder of the online movie and television streaming service Netflix, serving as their first CEO. He blogs at www.marc randolph.com

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