OpenMarkets Health's 'Failure Contest' celebrates big mistakes with a $500 bonus

by Michael Hines
September 5, 2017

Startups are known for taking risks and not being afraid of failure. But few startups openly celebrate mistakes the way OpenMarkets Health does.

The healthcare equipment marketplace holds a monthly competition, aptly named the “Failure Contest,” which rewards the person who made the biggest mistake with $500.

Yes, you read that right.

“If you were a traditional healthcare company, you would never say it’s OK to fail,” said senior VP Tom Derrick. “But a different mindset is necessary when you’re building technology.”

OpenMarkets was founded in 2011 to help hospitals save money on equipment by giving them direct access to suppliers, along with full workflow and budgeting tools. For suppliers, the company offers access to more potential customers and a reduced sales cycle.

OpenMarkets brought on a new CEO, former SurePayroll CTO Michael Fineberg, last fall to help build a more product-centered culture. As part of that effort, Fineberg decided to start the failure contest.

Derrick says the contest began in January and was born out of a mistake the engineering team made.

After causing a minor data leak during a software deployment, the dev team was too embarrassed to tell the sales and marketing departments about their mistake. When word eventually got out, Fineberg saw it as an opportunity to build transparency and trust.

“The rationale here is that at a product company, it’s OK to fail. You’re taking large risks and trying to be innovative in your thinking,” Derrick said. “The key is that you teach others about your mistakes and learn from them.”

The submission process for the failure contest is fairly straightforward. Employees email their CEO every time they make a big mistake. That email details the mistake, what was learned from it and how the employee will work to help others avoid making the same miscue.

At the company’s monthly meeting, the biggest loser and their mistake are announced to a round of applause.

Derrick says initiatives like the failure contest have played a key role in OpenMarkets Health’s growth. In the past 12 months, the company has celebrated a major software release and seen a 277 percent increase in sales. The platform boasts over 400 hospitals in 40 states along with 75 suppliers.

OpenMarkets is looking to hire new rails developers and salespeople to its West Loop office, which currently houses a staff of 20.


Image via OpenMarkets Health.

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