Lessons from Netflix

How did one rent-by-mail DVD service change the entertainment industry for good, and what can we learn from their success?


Streaming Furniture

It’s a common symptom of innovative companies to use the pioneering paths of others to help explain the steps they themselves are taking.

“We want to be the ______ of ________.”

“It’s like _______ but for _______.”

“You know _______? Well we do that but with __________.”

While these phrases have been overused to the point of parody, they became cliche for a reason: they really work.

At NORNORM we are no exception. We have always been quite partial to the phrase “If you could stream furniture, this would be it.” We like it because the concept of streaming comes easily to people — it is well integrated into people’s lives and is the way many of us conveniently and instantly get our movies, music, podcasts and entertainment. Not only that, but this comparison perfectly incapsulates the convenience, totality and independence of NORNORM — a fully circular, subscription-based furnishing service.

But streaming wasn’t always such an obvious or self-evident concept. Since we like to pay our respects to the thought leaders who changed the game before us, here is the story of a little DVD service that brought streaming into people's homes, lives and ways of thinking:

Changing the game

Before becoming the world’s largest streaming service with over 200 million subscribers across 190+ countries, Netflix was a service that sent your favourite DVDs to your house by mail. Back in the day (1997), this was an idea that directly challenged and disrupted the brick and mortar movie store industry that had been the quintessential norm for decades.

As with most great ideas, the DVD rental service started off humble and exploratory, with co-founders Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph sending each other one DVD through the post just to make sure it could arrive uncompromised and intact. A year later in 1998, a copy of “Beetlejuice” was the first rented DVD to be sent through the newly launched online service.

Over the years Netflix’s model grew and adapted — introducing a personalised movie recommendation system, user profiles and lists to better select a film to match your mood — until finally in 2007, Netflix launched its streaming platform and forever changed the way we access entertainment.

The lesson we take

At NORNORM we look to Netflix as a model game changer because, to us, innovation has never been about simply creating a better alternative to the norm — it is about inventing a solution so new, brilliant, intuitive and borderline obvious that it restarts the clock on normal completely.

True innovation changes our collective imagination of how things have always been, and it leaves us nostalgic over how things used to be. It is the punctuation between “That was then” and “this is now”. It’s the difference between getting your DVD’s in the mail, and streaming thousands of shows and movies on demand from anywhere.

It will also be the difference between buying your furniture, and subscribing to it.

It is time for change in the way we build and furnish workspaces. In 1920, 98% of companies owned their real estate. Now in 2021, that number has dropped to 4%. The average business will lease nearly everything — copy machines, plants, computers, office supplies etc. — and yet 98% still own their furniture. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, around 8.5 million tons of office assets end up thrown out and in a landfill each year.

So not only are we still buying the vast majority of our office furniture, we aren't even using it efficiently or sustainably.

At NORNORM we are working to re-invent the furnishing industry so that, one day, we will find the fact that we endlessly bought and threw out furniture just as strange as the idea that we once waited for a copy of Beetlejuice in the mail. Just like the companies that came before us, we are starting our humble and with a keen sense of exploration — trying to crack the code of how to create a fully circular business model in an industry that so desperately needs it.