How did John Hendricks begin his media career?
I grew up in Alabama during the civil rights era, and television was a lifeline to this other world and time that we all experienced in the South. And as a curious kid, I loved documentaries. Walter Cronkite had several series on in the ’60s; one was called You Are There. He treated historical events as news events, so you could go back to the Alamo and they’d have fictitious characters reenacting all the scenes, plus a reporter on the site reporting back to Walter about what was happening. I loved that kind of television — science and technology programming — and I’m still a news junkie. And so when cable started to develop in 1975, HBO took the simple concept of having a channel with one format, one type of entertainment. Then soon thereafter ESPN went on in ’79 and CNN in 1980. I was in the D.C. area at the time and had this lifelong passion for quality, documentary-style television, and I was waiting in the late ’70s for someone to create my kind of channel, and no one did. I finally decided to do it myself. I had the idea for Discovery in ’82, and so I researched the cable industry and was fortunate over a three-year period to raise enough money to convince others to invest and to go on satellite on June 17, 1985.
And so it started with this passion, but I think with most entrepreneurs, that passion has to reach a level of what I call creative obsession. Look at anybody who does something new in the world, like James Cameron, who creates new special-effect techniques or comes up with a new movie like Avatar. He was creatively obsessed for about four years making that happen. A chief characteristic of entrepreneurs is they start with a curiosity and wonder why something doesn’t exist. I have a friend, Reed Hastings, who was late on a video he rented from Blockbuster, and he forgot to return it. And so they sent him a notice that he owed them a $45 late fee. It was just so silly that he owed much more money than the movie was worth and so he thought, “There’s got to be a better way.” He’s a problem solver, so when he was working out the next week at his local gym, he said, “This is a better model; I pay my gym $30 a month, and I can use it or not use it as much as I want.” And so he created Netflix. And that’s kind of how it happens. Every entrepreneur I’ve ever met — whether it’s Jeff Bezos who created Amazon, Ted Turner who created CNN, Michael Dell with Dell computers — all went through these periods of total creative obsession. Whether it was two years, four years, six years or longer, it takes that kind of passion and perseverance to make something new happen, especially something that’s never been done before.