Behind Netflix’s 35 Oscar Nominations: Data, Instinct And Empowerment

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Netflix logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Filip Radwanski/SOPA … [+] Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
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Netflix received 35 Oscar nominations today, the most of any distributor this year.
After gaining its first Oscar nomination in 2014 for the documentary “The Square,” Netflix has been gaining stride even bagging 24 nominations in 2020, more than any other traditional movie studio.  Today’s announcement highlights how the streaming giant continues its successful formula.
What could be behind Netflix’s formula for success?
The Data
The streaming giant, famously known for investing in data analytics, has regularly pointed to its expertise in data-driven programming as a driver of its success.   With its vast access to date to track when viewers start, stop, rewind, fast-forward, and pause videos, Netflix has developed the ability to leverage its data in creative ways. It’s flagship success, House of Cards, was purportedly based on analyzing data such as ratings and consumers’ viewing history. After triangulating that viewers who watched the original BBC production of House of Cards, also enjoyed watching films starring Kevin Spacey and films directed by David Fincher, Netflix gave the green light.  Netflix replicated this strategy with The Crown, a historical drama portraying the reign of Queen Elizabeth II which was launched in 2016. Andy Harris, CEO of Left Bank Pictures which produced The Crown, recounted how Netflix had already analyzed audience data and were ready to move ahead before he could pitch it to them. 

The Gut Instinct
And yet despite the prevalence and strategic use of data, the specific ways that the Netflix algorithm is leveraged in making programming decisions is largely black-boxed.  While Netflix publicly states that its reliance on algorithms is what differentiates itself from other streaming companies, even Ted Sarandos co-CEO and Chief Content Officer, affirms that the company optimizes for the best shows informed by data-driven hunches.  In other words, Netflix executives take the data available to them and make decisions about what television content to acquire based on their instincts.  
While Sarandos has been the most outspoken proponent of data-driven programming, some have ventured that what drives Netflix’s sophisticated algorithm is Ted Sarandos himself.  Specifically, Reed Hastings, Founder and Co-CEO of Netflix, has credited Sarandos for having the “golden gut.”

Indeed, there is a big difference between using data in combination with intuition and relying entirely on an algorithm. Media programmers like Sarandos, are still relevant as interpreters of cultural tastes and trends.  ”Data is not the whole story”. explains Linda Ong, president and brand strategist for the online channel Truth TV to Advertising Age. ”Data tells you what, but it doesn’t tell you why.” 
 When it comes to making decisions, Sarandos describes how he uses data to size an audience for a show or movie, but ultimately, that “gut feeling” matters a lot too and that both should be used together.  In practice, Sarandos concedes that his decision-making formula might consist of a 70/30 mix with 70% informed by data and 30% focused on judgement.  
The Empowered Team
And yet, a successful business also relies on a good team. Rarely does it depend on the gut instincts of a few.  It is understood that all VPs and most directors on Sarandos’ team have the power to green light projects, meaning they can approve House of Cards type deals without him. As Sarandos explained in a Television Academy interview, “Empowering people to make choices and hold them accountable has paid off for us [Netflix]. That’s the freedom or responsibility we talk about and it applies to greenlighting a show too.” 
Empowerment also extends to the actors, writers and directors that create content under the Netflix umbrella. Explains Sarandos in an interview with The Independent, “I really do feel like our key role is picking the stories and the storytellers and then creating an environment for them to do their best work, but mostly stay out of their way. We collaborate, but it’s always an invited collaboration.”
Perhaps what lies behind Netflix’s content success is not only data or pure instinct, but that an entire team has mastered the skill of “informed intuition”-what Hastings describes as “starting with the data, but making the final call with the gut.” And that there is an cultural working environment that supports and fosters it.

This Budget-Friendly SEO Tool Can Help You Improve Your Search Rankings

Amplify your organic marketing strategies without breaking the bank.
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March 15, 2021 2 min read
Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.
The world of digital marketing is extremely competitive. With so many people and brands competing for attention, it’s easy to make mistakes and fall by the wayside. Those mistakes are especially costly when you’re paying for promotion. Organic marketing, on the other hand, simply relies on optimizing your primary sites so that people can find you naturally through search engines. SEO is one of the most powerful and cost-effective marketing strategies there is, but it’s also a technically difficult one. Fortunately, SERPstash can simplify it.
SERPstash is a simplified SEO tool that will help you drive your pages up the search rankings. The tool breaks SEO into three simple steps: Identify competitors and keywords, research backlinks, and audit your page to identify improvement areas. With 21 user-friendly tools to boost your site’s ranking, you can completely overhaul your SEO without any technical expertise.
SERPstash allows you to analyze and filter ranking keywords related to your industry, discover who is ranking for those same targeted keywords, and find your current search ranking. You’ll be able to learn the top search queries bringing traffic to your site and find the 100 highest-quality websites linking back to your site, as well as who is linking to your competitors. With simple tests and insights from Google, you’ll be able to improve your site’s speed and SEO, and even discover if your pages are considered “mobile-friendly” in Google search results.
Amplify your SEO strategy with SERPstash. A lifetime subscription is normally $500, but right now, you can get a limited-time deal when you sign up for just $24.
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How to Account for Cognitive Biases as an Entrepreneur

Cognitive biases are unavoidable. They’re something we all have to deal with. But with these strategies, you can minimize your susceptibility to them, and ultimately make more rational, objective decisions as an entrepreneur.  
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Like it or not, cognitive biases have the power to negatively impact your role as an entrepreneur. These baked-in tendencies of the human brain are almost like bugs in our software. If properly managed and controlled, they pose almost no risk, but if left unchecked, they could fundamentally change how we see the world — and how we make decisions for our businesses.  
So how exactly are we supposed to gain control over our own cognitive biases?  
How do cognitive biases work?
Let’s start with an explanation of how cognitive biases work. A cognitive bias itself is any kind of system or tendency in the human mind that leads to a deviation from rationality. It could be your brain distorting perceptions, leading you to false conclusions about your surroundings. Or it could be your brain processing data in an irrational or inconsistent way, resulting in flawed or skewed decision making.  
In any case, a cognitive bias has the power to undermine facts and objective perceptions. As an entrepreneur, this can be devastating; it can lead you to believe falsehoods about the nature of your business or lead you to make irrational decisions in your business environment.  
Related: 3 Signs Your Relationships Lack Reciprocity
These are natural features of the human brain, often the vestigial leftovers of some evolutionary benefit. Accordingly, they can’t be easily rooted out. However, there are several strategies that can help you identify and compensate for the cognitive biases most likely to affect your way of thinking.  
Let’s take a look at them.  
Understand the most common biases
First, work to understand some of the most common cognitive biases that are likely to affect you as an entrepreneur:  

Confirmation bias. Confirmation bias makes us disproportionately value information that supports our current assumptions and disproportionately downplay information that contradicts them. In other words, you’re more likely to seek out and emphasize bits of information that support your existing beliefs. This is partially why it’s so hard to change someone’s mind on anything.  

Status quo bias. We have a tendency to keep things as they are, fearing new things and underestimating the potential value in shaking things up.  

The anchoring effect. We tend to get fixated on numbers. Seeing a high number, in any context, can make us overvalue and overestimate things for hours to come.  

The ambiguity effect. We’re much more likely to choose options with known probabilities than those with unknown probabilities (even if the odds of the known probabilities are unfavorable).  

The bandwagon effect. Unsurprisingly, we tend to favor positions and decisions we feel are supported by the majority.  

Merely being aware that these biases exist won’t make them disappear. However, you might be able to proactively recognize when your thinking is distorted by one or more of these biases. Thereafter, you can fight against them.  
Rely on concrete measurements
Any successful entrepreneur will tell you how important it is to rely on concrete, objective measurements. This is even more important in the face of our cognitive biases. If you have a subjective feeling that a product “should” be a specific price, do your research and see if you can find examples of products being sold at that price. Numbers won’t lie to you, and they make it much harder to invent a counterargument.  
Step outside your situation
We often get stuck with cognitive biases because we’re stuck in our own situation. If you’re negotiating a deal with a tough client, you may feel vindictive toward them, or you may evaluate their offer based on your current emotional state or past experiences. To step out of this rut, pretend you’re looking in as an outsider. If your friend were in a similar position, how would you advise them to proceed?  
Ask others for their insights
It’s not a great idea for entrepreneurs to constantly rely on others for validation or for new ideas. However, there’s enormous value in considering the insights and opinions of others — especially when challenging your own cognitive biases. If you feel a certain way, present the facts and data to someone you trust and ask them what they make of it (without volunteering your existing conclusion). If they feel the same, you can have higher confidence that you’re thinking rationally.  
Prove yourself wrong
Though counterintuitive, if you’re not sure about your conclusion, you should try to prove yourself wrong. It’s not hard to find evidence in favor of your current position if you look hard enough. But can you find evidence to contradict it? In many cases, this reframed approach can help you discover new facts or new details that change your perspective.  
Related: How to Improve Your Critical Thinking Skills and Make Better Business Decisions
Cognitive biases are unavoidable. They’re something we all have to deal with. But with these strategies, you can minimize your susceptibility to them, and ultimately make more rational, objective decisions as an entrepreneur.  

This FDA-Approved Belt Can Help Reduce Back Pain While Working From Home

Give your body the support it needs for a successful workday.
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March 15, 2021 2 min read
Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.
Working from home, you’re bound to find yourself in some unusual seating situations. Whether you’re propped on a stool at the kitchen counter, curled up in a lounge chair, or in your office chair, the human body is bound to break down eventually in a sedentary remote working life. When that pain follows you into your leisure time, it defeats the purpose of working in the first place.
Give your body the support it needs with the Lumbar Decompression Belt.
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This patented, FDA-approved belt provides clinical-grade traction via decompression therapy, lifting your upper body and unloading the weight off of your lower back, the company says. That way, your back muscles can relax a bit more, reducing stiffness, relieving pain, improving blood circulation, and increasing mobility in a safe, simple way. The belt increases nutrient-rich blood flow to impacted areas to reduce inflammation, and gently stretches your spine to relieve pressure on individual vertebrae and discs. Over time, the belt can even build up your immunity to injuries and muscle pain, the company says. You can wear it during activities, while working, or while resting and relaxing.
Using it is simple. Just secure the belt around your waist, attach the included pump to inflate the belt to your right settings, and then simply start going about your day, knowing you’re getting the right support.
Give your lower back the support it needs to keep you going through your day. Normally $299, the Lumbar Decompression Belt is 63 percent off now at just $109.95.
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Full Throttle Ahead: The Smart Way To Launch Your Brand While Keeping Your Foot On The Gas

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By Jennie Yoon, founder and CEO at Kinn, modern heirloom jewelry brand, made to last a lifetime — then, now, always.

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Congratulations. You’re almost at the finish line. When that seed of a business idea first came to you, this moment seemed a long way off. But you had an idea, conducted market research (then refined your idea), figured out financing and created your go-to-market products. 
The months immediately leading up to, and following, a brand launch are crucial in the life of your business and critical to its success. Lack of preparation for this time period is why many brands fail, so this final stage needs its own mini business plan. 

Brands don’t always get second chances after launch missteps. A bad review, product defects, an insensitive ad (rare is the business that can recover the way Kim Kardashian West’s did when transforming Kimono into SKIMS) can send your business into a tailspin. I bootstrapped my company and built it into a profitable startup in four months, and I attribute that largely to staying sharp in this six-month period. These guidelines helped me keep my focus on my long-term plans for my company instead of the short-term satisfaction of having a successful launch day. 
Three Months Pre-Launch 
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is a well-worn saying with good reason. Keep this saying top of mind knowing that the steps you take now can create customers for life. The key to a great launch is in attention to detail of these pre- and post-game activities:

• Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy Of The Good. You’ve committed to a launch date and you’re on a deadline. This isn’t a Ph.D. program that can drag on for years. You have a go-to-market plan, and you want it to be perfect. However, it’s possible to get a little too hung up on trying to make everything just right. Ad review meetings can go on for hours agonizing between two similar images, website designs can be tweaked endlessly and you can find yourself questioning every last decision because you think it’s your last chance. Well, it’s not. You’ll have other ads, you can rearrange your website, but you can’t get your time back. So balance perfection with pragmatism. Spending too much time on last-minute details can cause delays in areas that really matter (in addition to wasting precious dollars). Minimize the second-guessing and agonizing over the small details and make sure you have the big ones right. 
• Build The Buzz. Getting your launch publicity right starts with making sure you have a compelling message and a clear sense of your target customer. It’s Complicated is a great Nancy Meyers movie, but it shouldn’t be how a reporter describes your business after an interview. Have a killer elevator pitch and an arsenal of great anecdotes to pepper interviews with. Start with family and friends, and ask them to help spread the word. When I launched my company, people understood immediately that I offered classic pieces that they had grown up seeing on their mothers and grandmothers, but that they couldn’t find now in the sea of new trends. When it’s time to share your message, don’t fall victim to “shiny object syndrome.” A viral TikTok video or a talked-about billboard in Times Square can make you think, That’s just what I need! But you know your audience, so do what’s right for them by focusing on getting the message out to the right people at the right time. 
Three Months Post-Launch 
You’ve launched your baby into the world. This is worth celebrating, but your launch isn’t over. What happens in the three months after you launch a brand is vital to building a sustainable brand identity. This is time to be hypervigilant about your team, budget, customer feedback and public image, keeping these points top of mind: 
• Stay In The Conversation. You’re not after fifteen minutes of fame; you want long-term relevance. News cycles move fast, memories are short and new brands are launching every day, so you need to get creative to stay in the media. Think about all the areas your business touches. In my case, I wasn’t only going to engage with the media to talk about trends in jewelry design. I was going to talk about entrepreneurship, e-commerce technology, trends in gift-giving and the importance of heirlooms. These weren’t marketing gimmicks. These were authentic reasons why I launched in the first place.
• Check The Chatter. Customer feedback is always important, but never more so close to launch when people are hearing about you for the first time. Monitor feedback and morph when appropriate. Brands that acknowledge concerns with a direct, honest response can earn respect that boosts the brand.
• Check Your Benjamins. This is, unfortunately, also a very likely time in the life of your business when unexpected expenses will come at you fast and furious, so spend wisely. Even if you are VC-backed, act as if you’re bootstrapped, because cash can run out quickly. Try to find the right balance between having enough inventory on hand to satisfy demand without having inventory sit in storage. Working with manufacturers on made-to-order inventory is a great way to go if you can.
• Check The Pulse. Launches are exhausting, so don’t lose sight of the fact that your team is working overtime to make it a success. Paying attention to your team is just as important as listening to your customers, so keep those weekly team meetings going or host a Friday happy hour. However you choose to do it, check in with your team and let them know how appreciated they are. You can’t do this without them. 
Certainly, every launch is different, but most startups have these things in common: You are trying to make a great impression, build a long-term customer base and be fiscally responsible. These guidelines are good reminders to keep you on track to achieve that.

Five Prototype Methods For Developing An Invention Idea As A Startup

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By Kevin Mako, founder of Mako Design, the original product design firm providing world-class end-to-end product development tailored to hardware startups.

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Utilizing prototypes in physical product development is the key part of the product development process. Strategic, quality and methodical prototyping is the primary differentiator between a high-quality, successful product and a flop.
Prototypes are used to build, test, refine, finance, market and sell a new physical consumer product — and all of those elements are vitally important. To ensure a successful new invention launch for a product startup, prototyping must be done in the correct order and the right way, especially given the importance of user reviews today.

1. Home-Built Prototype: This is a crude first physical version of a new product. This type of prototype is usually roughed together by the inventor. It is generally built with materials from stores and/or pieces from other products.
Pro Tip: This is a good way for an inventor to help conceptualize the product if they are not yet clear on how it will work or what their vision for the invention is. This is also by far the cheapest prototyping method, so if time is not critical, it is worth spending a little effort hacking something together to help think through the idea — even if you’re just borrowing some Legos from your kid!

2. Early Prototype: This is a rough prototype that is built from a simple or non-professional CAD (computer-aided design) model. This can be made by an inventor who learned some CAD basics or who got help from a junior CAD designer.
Pro Tip: Although this stage may feel like progress is being made, it is usually not the most efficient use of both time and money (and both elements can be critical for a hardware startup). Generally, the prototype here won’t be useful or relevant for any formal product engineering or marketing, nor will help much in the development of the CAD design, as great CAD needs to be designed from the ground up, not patched over a rough CAD foundation.
3. Rough Professional Prototype: This is a rough prototype that is built from professionally designed three-dimensional (3D) CAD. It is generally built using 3D printing or other relatively cheap, quick, but professional prototype methods. The goal here is to build the first quasi-functional prototype.
Pro Tip: This prototype is critical and is not to be confused with the early prototype above (which is not critical). A rough professional prototype works to flush out the mechanical engineering challenges and opportunities. This prototype is built from professional industrial design and mechanical engineering CAD files from seasoned experts. Essentially this prototype is a relatively inexpensive way for engineers to test and refine the difficult or experimental parts of an invention. If this step is skipped, it will be far more expensive down the development road.
4. Cosmetic Prototype: This is a nonfunctional but very cosmetically appealing prototype using advanced materials prototyping methods. Essentially the exterior of the product will look like an off-the-shelf product; however, the internals will only be rough or relatively crude.
Pro Tip: Although this is an exciting phase given that the invention is now beautiful in real physical form, this is an optional prototype in development. Despite the 1,000-plus products we have developing for hardware startups, only a few folks elect to build a cosmetic prototype. They often built one only because they were in such a critical rush for marketing or promotion materials that they could not wait another couple of months for the completed final prototype. As an added tip, if you are going to do a cosmetic prototype, do it in tandem with the final version of your rough prototype to minimize the time delays.
5. Professional-Grade Final Prototype: This is a final prototype that is both professionally designed and fully functional, both cosmetically and mechanically. This is a prototype that nearly identically mimics a production unit.
Pro Tip: This prototype is the most exciting one as it is the first working version of the invention idea. It is great for marketing, pre-selling, raising financing, etc.; however, its best value is in product testing. This is so that all the kinks (and opportunities) can be ironed out before going into production. If the product is more complex, revisions of parts or the whole of this prototype may need to be redone to ensure the end result is a rock-star product that is ready for manufacturing. The quality and performance of the prototype should be at a very high caliber to ensure that almost zero decision-making is being done by the manufacturer. The manufacturer simply needs to follow the build instructions to make each of the parts and assemble the product at volume.
In conclusion, great products are derived from great prototypes, which are derived from great design. As a startup in modern times, where user reviews are front-row-center in buyers’ purchase habits, it is paramount that a new invention is released as a high-quality product. Given that budget and time are almost always restricted for startups, the simplest way to ensure great quality is to follow the above prototype best practices and keep your product features as limited and simple as possible. This allows you to focus on a key feature or benefit so that you can ensure that one (or maybe two) key features of your product are done right the first time you go to market.

Email Marketing Isn’t Dead: Your Guide To Boosting Email ROI With Relevance Improvements

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By Amine Rahal, entrepreneur, writer and CEO of IronMonk, a digital marketing agency specializing in SEO and CMO at Regal Assets, an IRA company. 

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Email marketing doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves. While SEO and voice search often hog the spotlight these days, old-fashioned email marketing still brings in higher returns, according to business owners. 
In fact, a 2019 survey found that over 70% of marketers believe email marketing generates “good” or “excellent” returns as a marketing channel — a higher satisfaction rate than both paid search and organic SEO.

If you’re already leveraging email marketing but aren’t getting the results you want, you might have a relevance problem. As the owner of two digital marketing companies, I’ve helped countless clients optimize their email marketing strategy by following these key guidelines and techniques.
Email Relevance 101
We all know what it’s like to have our inbox flooded with newsletters we couldn’t care less about. Like clockwork, they either get sent to the trash bin or remain forever unread. The reason you never open them is they aren’t relevant to your interests or needs.

If your email open rate is low, it probably has more to do with the relevance of your email than the subject line you’ve written. Below, I’ve outlined some of the best ways to boost your open rates via relevance-building. 
Step 1: Revamp Your List
If your mailing list is bought and paid for, forget about it. Ditch it and start fresh. If your mailing list is organic but not converting, you also need to change your email recruitment strategy. 
When recruiting subscribers to your mailing list, you need a marketing funnel. Since that goes beyond the scope of this article, I recommend checking out this informative article on funnel construction. The key difference is that the CTA at the end of your content must always point to your mailing list, and the prompt should involve a benefit (i.e., discount, promotional codes) in exchange for their email.
Cleaning up your email list starts with proper targeting. If your content is hyper-targeted to your niche, and solves real problems that your niche has, then chances are you’ll accrue a list of IDs that are interested in opening your emails. 
The same goes for invalid email addresses. If you use email automation like HubSpot or MailChimp, you can adjust the settings to immediately weed out “stale” addresses. For manual users, you’ll have to do this manually whenever emails bounce back. 
Step 2: Optimize Timing
Timely messaging is important. If your message is inapplicable to your readers, they’re not going to open it. Studies have found that most people shop online on Sundays and Mondays, so announcing a sale on an e-commerce product might be optimal on these days. Likewise, holiday emails should be sent out well in advance (two or three weeks) so that your audience has time to consider making a purchase throughout the holiday season.
Step 3: Consider Context-Triggering
Personalized emails should be sent out at various points triggered by customer behavior. For example, a clever reminder email (i.e., “Can We Help You With That?”) should be sent out a few hours after a prospect has abandoned a shopping cart.
Likewise, welcome emails should be sent after someone joins your mailing list. The same goes for reengagement (i.e., “We Miss You! Here’s a Coupon for 10% Off”) if a customer has gone a specific amount of time without visiting your website.
Step 4: Curate Your Audience’s Emails
Segmentation is important if you want to maintain your audience’s attention over time. When users create an account on your website or sign up for your mailing list, ask them what kind of content they do and don’t want to be informed about. This way, you can avoid sending irrelevant emails to customers and instead send them information they’re interested in (i.e., sales and promotions, but not long-form informative content).
Step 5: Subject-Line Optimization
Your subject line is critical. However, it still ranks second in importance to relevance. Once you’ve tweaked your emails to hit more relevant targets, then you can move forward with subject-line optimization by following these basic rules:
• Keep it brief (I recommend 40 characters or less).
• Create a sense of urgency or time-sensitivity.
• Avoid fluff words or jargon.
• Avoid using personal names in subject lines.
• Make it clear that there’s a benefit for the reader inside.
Your subject line has to draw the right kind of attention. If you’re spammy or misleading, you’ll blow all the trust you’ve built with your mailing list and your open and conversion rates will suffer as a result. For more on proper subject line etiquette, check out my full-length guide to subject line mastery.
Putting It All Together
Irrelevant emails never convert. They don’t even get opened. That’s why you should never rely on mass email blasts without first considering whether they’re truly relevant to your audience. Fortunately, you can tweak your email marketing strategy to make your messages more timely, personalized, and targeted. 
Email marketing and content marketing are inextricably tied. If you build high-quality content that solves important problems for your audience, then a dedicated and targeted mailing list will naturally build with time — assuming you include your email sign-up in your CTA. This is the first and most important step in crafting emails that convert.