The Netrepreneur: The Early Years of Netflix’s Reed Hastings

He used to teach mathematics in Swaziland as an American Peace Corps volunteer. So, when 48 year old Reed Hastings decided to found his own software company, some eyebrows were raised. But Hastings would prove the disbelievers wrong with the subsequent founding of Netflix, the largest movie-rental service via mail in the U.S. With over 10 million subscribers and sales in the billions, Hastings proved he was able to go from living in Africa, to living in affluence.

Hastings was born on October 8, 1960 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a prominent lawyer who once worked in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Nixon Administration. "One weekend when I was about 12, my parents, sisters and I were invited to Camp David, when the president wasn't there," recalls Hastings. "Elliot Richardson, who held several cabinet positions, invited us. We rode around in golf carts, had a tour and I saw that President Nixon had a gold-coloured toilet seat."

Hastings attended Buckingham Browne & Nichols High School, and subsequently studied mathematics at Bowdoin College in Maine, where he won the prestigious Smyth Prize for mathematics. "I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school," he says. "I majored in math because I found the abstractions beautiful and engaging."

After graduating with his Bachelor's Degree, Hastings felt the urge to join the Marine Corps. He signed up for their Platoon Leader Class, and spent two years in their boot camp in Quantico, Virginia. "I found myself questioning how we packed our backpacks and how we made our beds," he said. "My questioning wasn't particularly encouraged, and I realized I might be better off in the Peace Corps." After that, Hastings petitioned the recruitment office of the Marines and was granted permission to leave.

In 1983, Hastings found himself in Swaziland "out of a combination of service and adventure," working as a mathematics professor for the Peace Corps. He stayed there two years before deciding to return home. "It was an extremely satisfying experience," Hastings recalls. "Taking smart risks can be very gratifying."

Back in the U.S., Hastings was accepted into graduate school at Stanford. His first choice had been M.I.T., but he did not get accepted. "I had never been to California and arrived in late summer," he recalls. "Driving up to the campus I saw palm trees. I was dry and brown. I asked myself, ‘Where's the ivy?' Within a week I had fallen in love with California."

Hastings graduated from Stanford with a Master's Degree in Computer Science in 1988, and was subsequently hired by Adaptive Technology, where he worked on developing a debugging software tool. But, Hastings wanted more of a challenge, and he wanted to work for himself. Taken together, Hastings decided the only option was to set off on his own and start a company.

After all, he says, "Once you have hitchhiked across Africa with ten bucks in your pocket, starting a business doesn't seem too intimidating."

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