[Photos: Flickr users Helge Thomas, Jenny Laird]

What My Three Years At Netflix Taught Me About Scaling A Startup

Ariel Tseitlin began working on Netflix’s cloud platform in 2011. Here’s what it taught him about culture and high-speed innovation.

BY ARIEL TSEITLIN

I joined Netflix at the beginning of 2011, just as the company was making the transition from operating in the data center to the public cloud. My job was to help build out Netflix’s cloud platform and manage streaming operations. It was an incredible three-year experience seeing the company scale its people, culture, and technology.

In my life since then as an investor, I still apply what I learned in my time at Netflix to companies big and small. These lessons I picked up there might not save your life, but they might save your business.

Culture takes different forms even while emphasizing the same goals, like transparency and high performance.

1. BUILD A HIGH PERFORMANCE CULTURE

What separates winning companies from their competitors often has nothing to do with the products or services they offer but with the cultures they build around employees. Netflix’s, of course, is renowned. One thing Netflix knows well is that a company’s ability to execute depends hugely on culture, which comes either top-down from the founding team or through formalized process and training.

As I consider companies to invest in, one thing I look for is a culture that encourages results and healthy competition. That’s a no-brainer. But less appreciated is that culture takes different forms even while emphasizing the same goals, like transparency and high performance. If I see a company that’s heavily compartmentalized or relies on a command-and-control structure, that’s a red flag.

There’s no question that companies known for strong work cultures areoutperforming their peers. What’s more, when these companies unveil a new policy, others take notice. Mark Zuckerberg’s recent paternity leave, for instance, has raised the issue of work-life balance for tech and non-tech companies alike. Netflix unveiled its own unlimited paid parental leave policy last year. Issues like these have become powerful recruiting and retention tools for tech companies, which is why some of the most prominent ones are following suit.

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