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Fail faster

Hi MD,

Failure hurts. Nobody likes to prioritize failing. That is why we make plans and write extensive roadmaps to ensure our efforts result in wins.

Yet in a world that's increasingly spinning out of control, failure should be seen as the default outcome. Anyone who's competing in a mature market knows that winning is hard and rare.

If your competitors are smart, well funded and are willing to work as hard as you, how do you win? Well, the basic business theory suggests that you win by having a competitive advantage over others. You do things your competitors are not doing.

But most competitive advantages wither away with time. They become common knowledge and hence erode with time. So, the question you should be asking is: what competitive advantage is not commonly known and exploited yet?

I think the answer to that question involves failure. Most organizations are risk averse and do not like failure. And that is what you can convert into an advantage for you. You should fail faster to gain an advantage over others.

You obviously don't want to fail on purpose - there's no glory and advantage in that. By failing faster, I mean killing the projects, ideas and initiatives that have no impact sooner rather than later.

Here's how you do it.

To kill ineffective projects early, make sure every proposed project in your team is getting measured against an existing baseline. You can use A/B testing for that. No matter what you do - tweak your AdWords bidding strategy, launch of a new product, or hire a new team - unless you A/B test an initiative against either not doing anything or the current implementation, you'll not know whether there's any impact of the effort you're putting in.

The most commonly acknowledged benefit of A/B testing is increase in conversion rate. But an even bigger benefit is freeing up organizational resources and bandwidth from things that don't work.

Finding out something isn't working out sooner allows you to put your resources behind something that may actually work. In that sense, a failed A/B test needs to be celebrated as much as a successful A/B test because without the A/B test, you may have made changes directly and would have realized too late that you've actually made things worse. In the meantime, your team members, your organizational bandwidth, your mental space - all would have been occupied by something that is not working (but you're not aware of it because you haven't A/B tested it).

Embracing failure is still uncommon and that is why the most successful companies use it as their competitive advantage. Google kills tens of products each year. Facebook's mantra is "move fast and break things".

So, what seems like a failure from the outside is really their secret sauce.

If you have a story of how failure of a project actually worked in your favor, do share your story with me. I read and reply to all responses :)

Regards,
Paras Chopra
Founder and Chairman, VWO

@paraschopra on Twitter

PS: These letters are getting cross-posted on our website too. Read my past letters here.



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