"We talk endlessly of best practices," Columbia University political science professor Chris Blattman once wrote on his blog. "Why don't we write more about worst practices?"
It's an excellent question.
Bragging and self-promotion might be good for your career, but a close examination of your failures is more likely to benefit your business (and perhaps even your character). Of course, focusing on your shortcomings is tough medicine to swallow. For Leticia Gasca Serrano, a business journalist turned entrepreneur from Mexico City, and a group of four founder friends, a few drinks helped it go down.
Sitting around one night in the fall of 2012, they realized they'd all failed in business at some point but had never talked about those experiences. "We were drinking mescal and talking about failure for three hours," she recalled to Inc.com. "We realized that had been the most meaningful business conversation we had had in a very long time."
The experience was so enlightening that the group decided to share it with more friends the following month. Thus began F***Up Nights. Despite the NSFW name that betrays the events' beginnings as a hobby among friends, the concept of gathering together entrepreneurs for a relaxed but revealing evening of sharing their failures has expanded rapidly. It now encompasses events in 42 cities spread across 15 countries, including India, Australia, and Chile. Fifteen months in, Gasca Serrano even quit her job as the editor of one of Mexico's largest business magazines to organize the movement full time (officially it's an NGO with the printable name of Failure Institute).
The format is simple and low-key. Brave volunteers address a group that can range in size from a few dozen to a few hundred monthly, sharing their failure stories in 10 images and seven minutes. But just because it's straightforward, doesn't mean it's not superpowerful, according to Gasca Serrano. She chalks up the rapid growth of the idea to a hunger for realism in startup communities around the world.
"I think it totally has to do with giving a more realistic approach to what being an entrepreneur really is," she says. "I have heard many times things like, 'When I came to F***Up Nights I realized I was not the only loser in the world.' In Mexico, and I think in many countries, 75 percent of companies close before their second year. This is a space where you can realize that and learn from it. It's the part of the story no one tells you."
The organization is hoping to spread this message of truth and balance further, aiming to reach 100 cities in the next year. For those interested in helping F***Up Nights grow and local entrepreneurs air their mistakes, the organization has written "The F***Upers Manual," which teaches organizers how to plan an event step by step (and of course also reveals the screw-ups of the idea's founders in building the events). Just email the group or get in touch via social media and they'll send you a manual if you're interested.
What's funding these efforts? The F***Up Nights team realized they were sitting on a goldmine of failure stories, and looked around for a way to monetize this asset. They have been supported thus far by a sponsorship from a university to research common causes of startup failure in Mexico. (No. 1, no surprise, is running out of money because the founder underestimated the financial runway needed to get the company launched and profitable.) The result is a Spanish-language publication called The F***Up Book. A crowdfunding campaign to get it translated into English is now underway.
Would you be interested in attending or organizing a F***Up Night?