Early life and education
Hastings was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father Wilmot Reed Hastings was an attorney for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the Nixon administration, and his mother Joan Amory Loomis was a Boston debutante from a Social Register family who was repulsed by the world of high society and taught her children to disdain it. His maternal great-grandfather was Alfred Lee Loomis, and he is a descendant of Edward I of England and Edward III of England on both his father's and mother's side.
Hastings attended Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door in a gap year before entering college. He graduated from Bowdoin College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics, which he found "beautiful and engaging".
He joined the Marine Corps officer training through their Platoon Leader Class, and spent college summers in the Marines, including a stint at the Officer Candidate School boot camp at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia in the summer of 1981. He did not complete the training and never commissioned into the Marine Corps—choosing instead to pursue service in the Peace Corps “out of a combination of service and adventure”. He went to teach math at a high school of around 800 students in rural northwest Swaziland, Africa from 1983 to 1985 after college. He credits part of his entrepreneurial spirit to his time in the Peace Corps, remarking that, “Once you have hitchhiked across Africa with ten bucks in your pocket, starting a business doesn't seem too intimidating”.
After returning from the Peace Corps, Hastings went on to attend Stanford University after being rejected from his first choice MIT, graduating in 1988 with a Master's Degree in Computer Science.
Founding of Pure Software
Hastings' first job was at Adaptive Technology, where he created a tool for debugging software. He met Audrey MacLean in 1990 when she was CEO at Adaptive Corp. In 2007, Hastings told CNN, "From her, I learned the value of focus. I learned it is better to do one product well than two products in a mediocre way."
Hastings left Adaptive Technology in 1991 to found his first company, Pure Software, which produced products to troubleshoot software. The company's growth proved challenging for Hastings, as he lacked managerial experience. He stated he had trouble managing with a rapid headcount growth. His engineering background didn't prepare him for the challenges of being a CEO and he asked his board to replace him, stating he was losing confidence. The board refused, and Hastings says he learned to be a businessman. Pure Software was taken public by Morgan Stanley in 1995.
In 1996, Pure Software announced a merger with Atria Software. The merger integrated Pure Software's programs for detecting bugs in software with Atria's tools to manage development of complex software. The Wall Street Journal reported that there were problems integrating the sales forces of Pure Software and Atria after the head salesmen for both Pure and Atria left following the merger.
In 1997, the combined company, Pure Atria, was acquired by Rational Software, which triggered a 42% drop in both companies' stocks after the deal was announced. Hastings was appointed Chief Technical Officer of the combined companies and left soon after the acquisition. After Pure Software, Hastings spent two years thinking about how to avoid similar problems at his next startup.
Hastings lives in Santa Cruz, California. He is married to Patricia Ann Quillin, and has two children.
He appeared in a front-page article in USA Today in 1995, posing on his Porsche. He considers that immature now and has said that if he ever appears on the front page of USA Today again it will "not be on the hood of a Porsche, but I would with a bunch of movies". Hastings sold his Porsche for a Toyota Avalon, but now drives a Tesla.
In 2018, Hastings appeared in a podcast series by Linkedin co-founder Reid Hoffman, Masters of Scale, and discussed the strategy adopted by Netflix to scale.