Adopting a powerful raison d'être to grow faster at OpenClassrooms

Written by Luc Bretones, on 12 October 2021

Yes, yes, school's out! At least as we know it: on its platform, OpenClassrooms opens the door to future-oriented training. Providing access to everyone is the mission of this rapidly growing company. Ensuring that the teachings are as professionalizing as possible is its ambition. As a pioneer of mission-driven companies, OpenClassrooms has adopted a resilient purpose that attracts applications, market share, and investments. What if the new generation of companies chose a mission that makes sense and has an impact to become essential?

OpenClassrooms, from a hobby to a booming business

OpenClassrooms was born from a dream of middle schoolers, those of its two young co-founders, Pierre Dubuc and Mathieu Nebra, in 1999, when they were 11 and 13 years old, respectively: to offer online programming courses they would have liked to have in class. What was once just a simple hobby turned into a flourishing startup ten years later. Certified as a mission-driven company in 2019, it has more than 420 employees in 2021, relies on 2000 teachers, continues to grow rapidly, and aims to conquer new markets in Asia and North America.

Over time, the aspirations of its founders and the needs of its customers have changed, and the startup has aimed higher. OpenClassrooms has significantly expanded the range of teachings it offers. The state-recognized diploma programs it now offers to its clients (individuals, private and public sector companies) online cover everything from coding to project management, as well as the deepening of soft skills, with the goal of allowing everyone to achieve their professional ambitions through training.

A powerful purpose that deeply influences the organization

As a typical new-generation company, OpenClassrooms has adopted a compelling, powerful, and impactful purpose - Making education accessible - a fantastic guiding star that determines both the paths to take and those to avoid, as well as the horizons to imagine and the limits to set. It resonates throughout the organization and increases the organization's agility. Alive, the purpose acts as a catalyst that accelerates decision-making.

Certainly, it is essential that leadership seizes it to communicate internally and can evaluate it through appropriate KPIs. However, a purpose can only come to life once it is understood, accepted, assimilated, and used by all employees. This is the case for OpenClassrooms, which details extensively in its Vision what the three words of its purpose exactly encompass (and offers its employees training on it). Not only should education be made accessible to all, all the time, everywhere, but also, and above all, online training should be "professionalizing". OpenClassrooms' Vision serves as a creed that gives substance to its purpose.

Collective values ​​serving the company's growth

This purpose revolves around four cardinal principles co-built by all employees: We dare, We care, We persist, and We tell it as it is. Four pillars around which every decision made by the organization is anchored to remain aligned with the purpose and to make it live on a daily basis. Four collective affirmations that give meaning to the work of leaders, managers, and all employees.

Indeed, OpenClassrooms' rapid growth is the result of putting these principles into practice. The company started exclusively in the B2C market. Many advised Pierre Dubuc and Mathieu Nebra against moving to B2B. Yet the two co-founders dared and persisted.

Their strategy paid off, as they managed to attract 1500 corporate clients since then. Again a few years later when OpenClassrooms wanted to venture into providing services to the public sector (B2G). Once again, a great success that the two co-founders attribute in large part to the application of their principles, derivatives of their purpose. OpenClassrooms is now present in three market segments: their purpose has allowed the company to grow at breakneck speed.

A talent magnet purpose

Such a purpose, as assertive as it is, has enabled OpenClassrooms to attract and retain talent. The applications sent to OpenClassrooms do not deny this. They almost all contain a reference to the mantra Making education accessible. This mission entrusted to the company resonates in the job market with the quest for meaning that more and more people are undertaking, a quest amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. People of all generations want their personal purpose to be aligned with that of the organization they work for.

Moreover, the fact that this purpose is not just an intention declaration hung on the wall for decoration but permeates the entire organization is crucial in the loyalty of employees (and customers!). Every month, the company surveys its employees and asks them to rate their own engagement. In their remarks, the same words keep coming back: making an impact, helping people, making sense, realizing how much we are changing people's lives. Pierre Dubuc no longer counts the cases of employees approached by traditional companies who have preferred to stay at OpenClassrooms rather than accept the big salary promised to them. People are proud of their work and its concrete impact.

Becoming a mission-driven company to improve performance

Armed with such a purpose, OpenClassrooms leaders did not hesitate when the PACTE law adopted by Parliament in early 2019 allowed those who wished to become mission-driven companies. The mechanism is demanding and entails costs for the company: it consists not only of enshrining a purpose in its articles of association but also of monitoring its implementation through the establishment of a stakeholders committee and the publication of an impact report, all accompanied by an audit on the reality of its respect in the organization. However, it did not scare OpenClassrooms, for whom the mission-driven company certification corresponded to a logical progression and their company philosophy.

OpenClassrooms leaders did not, however, expect the mission-driven company status to have such an impact on its employer reputation. The finding is clear: it is much easier to recruit and retain talent since the company has been certified as a mission-driven company: compared to 2019, the number of applications doubled in 2020. Similarly, the brand has greatly benefited from this new status. Customer feedback is glowing: they appreciate buying its products because they feel aligned with the purpose and vision developed by OpenClassrooms. The impact on sales is consequently felt.

Having a strong purpose and assuming it in its statutes is a real differentiator that explains today why OpenClassrooms is growing so rapidly.