A Lesson In Failure


Earlier this month marked the one-month anniversary of Career Hangout (CHO). It also marked the final episode. Career Hangout was an ambitious idea for a collaborative project between me and Laurie Ruettimann. We wanted to find a way to “pay it forward” and use our collective HR insights and networks to provide job search and career management advice to professionals.

We spent two months focusing our time and energy on getting CHO ready to air – designing a logo, building a website (actually two of them after we changed WordPress themes), registering social media profiles, booking guests, finding a producer, learning about Google Hangouts On Air (HOA), testing HOA, teasing/marketing/promoting the show. . . you get the picture. We invested hours of time into CHO before broadcasting our first show.

The show debuted 9/18/12 with our first guest, Alexandra Levit. We got off to a great start, but encountered our first HOA glitch halfway through and lost the connection to our guest. Unfortunately we later learned issues with HOA would pretty much be a CHO constant, as three of our four episodes had technical difficulties. We adapted on the fly to the technical difficulties and learned a bit more each week. We felt that despite the technical challenges, we were still getting good content out to job seekers, and (hopefully) making an impact in their careers.

We weren’t. Well, we were based on the handful of comments and feedback on CHO that I received, but we weren’t reaching the audiences that we had expected or hoped. Our viewers, audience, and social sharing dropped dramatically after episode two (we’ll call that one the Craig Fisher bump).  Despite our efforts and the compelling insights and advice our guests were sharing, we didn’t have much external engagement around CHO. The time and effort that went into putting on a weekly live broadcast, and the limited return and impact we were making, put an end to our ambitious plans – at least for now.

So, what did I learn? 

  • Building a community is hard. I didn’t think it would be easy, but perhaps I was naively optimistic that the combination of great guests, smart content, valuable insights, and a little bit of marketing would draw viewers. It won’t. I learned that it takes time to build a community. It takes commitment, persistence, marketing, and more (in addition to all the above items I mentioned).
  • Give yourself a realistic expectation of a time commitment, and then double it.  I knew that fully committing to CHO would mean spending a lot of time working on each episode, but my calculations on exactly how much time were wrong. We invested hours and hours before we recorded a single show. Each week had a rough formula for me and Laurie including: show scripts, research, intro blog posts, teaser blog posts, day of blog posts, social media promotion, social media call for questions in advance (we received one in four episodes), updating the CHO website, etc. It added up. Add that onto a demanding day job (or 3+ demanding day jobs in Laurie’s case), and you quickly find yourself working nights and weekends. As committed as we both were to the idea -  and ideals - of CHO – all of that took a toll.
  • Being an early adopter is great, but relying on nascent technology has risks.  I’m a Google fan. I’m trying to follow Chris Hoyt’s lead and get more involved in Google+. I’m intrigued by video. That seemed like a perfect lead-in for Google’s Hangouts On Air (HOA) platform. Laurie and I had quite a few test sessions on Hangouts. Few were glitch-free, but with the technical prowess of Lance Haun at the helm as our producer, we thought we could work through them with practice. We couldn’t. Despite our detailed “guest guides and HOA best practices,” Laurie running 100 feet of Ethernet cable so she could be hardwired, and seven different webcam combinations (the actual number may be higher); HOA is just not ready for primetime. Factor in the audacious idea of a live weekly show embedded in a third party website, and the odds were stacked against us before we even started.
  • Good ideas alone are not good enough. Could our execution have been better? Probably. Could we have more aggressively marketed the show? In hindsight, yes. Accepting failure comes with a dose of humility. I believed in CHO and wanted it to succeed. It didn’t live up to my (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. In that sense, we failed. And that’s okay. Failure is one of the greatest teachers we have in life. It keeps us grounded, hungry, and hopefully makes us smarter.

Well, there you have it: my post-mortem CHO recap. We leave a four-episode legacy as our contribution to the internets. Is CHO really dead and buried?  We all remain committed to helping job seekers so the door is open for a re-birth at some point in the future but we’ll see.

Career Hangout wasn’t all about failure for me. Through CHO, I developed stronger friendships with Laurie and Lance, I met some new friends who were gracious enough to be our guests, I learned a lot about live video broadcast, and also learned valuable lessons about what not to do. Laurie and I will still be producing CHO after dark. CHO 2.0 may happen down the road. We'll see what the future holds, but I know I'll take these lessons with me.