Mis à jour le lundi 11 décembre 2017
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Handling Failures

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Failure at work is a big taboo. Why? Because most of us are trained to fear failure at school. Failure is synonymous with bad work, it's something that should be avoided at all costs. No wonder kids don't raise their hand often in a classroom: they're afraid to look stupid.

Startups live in a very different world. If you want to succeed at OpenClassrooms, you should prepare yourself for multiple failures. You should even become addicted to failures. 😮

How failure is viewed at OpenClassrooms

A startup like OpenClassrooms experiments a lot. We live in such a dynamic and uncertain environment that, to offer the best service, we need to try a lot of stuff. And when we try something new, we should accept that we'll fail.

In fact, success usually comes after a series of try/fail cycles:

Try - Fail - Try - Fail - Try - ... - Success!
Try - Fail - Try - Fail - Try - ... - Success!

In order to succeed, you are likely to have to fail first.

If you never fail, you're probably not trying something very risky. That's probably ok and even recommended in most companies, but at OpenClassrooms it's the opposite: if you never fail, it could become suspicious. 😛

You won't be blamed if you fail. In fact, you will be appreciated a lot if you can say: "I tried this, it failed. Now I think it should work like this, I'm trying...".

Yes, we fail

Let's put you at ease right away: yes, we fail at OpenClassrooms. We've failed numerous times in the past, and we will fail in the future. Here are just a few examples:

  • We once had a job board that we hoped to monetize. It took us some time to build it... just to discover that it was really hard to sell job space on our website. We sold around ~10-20 job offers, before shutting it down.

  • We tried to attract more premium users by creating bonus chapters for them at the end of courses. While a few people signed up for this reason, it was far from our objective. At the time it got us 80 Premium users over several months, instead of the 200 per month that we expected.

  • We had a temporary offer: "Buy 1 book, get a free month of Premium". We spent money to create promotional bookmarks and posters to display in bookstores... We only had 70 people sign up, while we sent out more than 1000 promotional codes. We still have a pile of those useless posters somewhere. 😁

  • We tried offering a promotional code for our users' birthdays. It earnt us 10 conversions a month, instead of the 50 we expected at the very least.

All these failures sucked, for sure, but they never put us in real danger because they were small trials. We try to accept failure quickly, to move on other things and try other stuff.
It's perfectly ok if your idea fails. Just try doing it in a way that won't put the company in danger. It should lead to a small failure: losing two weeks of work is ok, while losing six months is bad.

Here is a snapshot of that document:

We measured our ideas... more than 90% of them were failures
We measured our ideas... more than 90% of them were failures

What you should do

Here is a quick summary of what you should do:

  • Try new stuff often

  • Talk about your ideas to get other viewpoints

  • Set up an objective, and measure how it went a few weeks later (not months) to determine if it was a success or not

  • If you feel like you're onto something: keep trying! Refine your idea

  • If it's a dead end: drop your idea

Or, if you prefer charts:

How to try new ideas
How to try new ideas


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