We all love a good success story – they’re what motivation is made of. But what those rags-to-riches tales often gloss over is an epic stuff-up along the way.
It’s these mistakes that maketh the start-up, according to the organisers of FuckUp Nights, a global movement that began in Mexico in 2012. Now in more than 250 cities around the world, the monthly events bring entrepreneurs together for one simple, yet refreshing, reason: to hear honest stories of professional failure.
“The journey of the entrepreneur is very much about mindset and how you interact with change. It’s an up-and-down journey that has a lot of turns,” says Tiah Goldstein, a startup advisor who runs FuckUp Nights on the Gold Coast. “And if you think that nobody else has failed along the journey, you’re wrong.”
Tiah first discovered the events when she was in Israel, researching ways to foster the blossoming startup ecosystem on the Gold Coast. “A friend told me about FuckUp Nights and I thought, yes, this is what I’m bringing back to Australia,” she recalls. “In Israel, angel investors will not talk to you unless you’ve had runs on the board; and runs on the board from their perspective are failures. I wanted to create a stronger narrative around failure in Australia.”
She’s not the only one intent on changing the conversation – FuckUp Nights also run in Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane, and Tiah plans to expand her events to Byron Bay and the Sunshine Coast. The meet-ups attract hundreds of people who want to hear candid stories of disaster because, says Tiah, it makes them feel less alone.
“One of the reasons I like FuckUp Nights is that it unifies everybody,” she explains. “I don’t care if you’ve exited and made $15 million and are taking people to Jupiter. You’ve fucked up in order to get to where you are. Giving people the opportunity to talk about it in a really clear, concise and vulnerable way that provides opportunity and permission for other people to fail as well.”
At each event, three speakers from the business world spill the details of their greatest mistakes for 10 minutes, then field questions from the audience. The event runs for around two hours, giving attendees the opportunity to network in a friendly, supportive space later on.
It’s geared at inspiring the entrepreneurs who attend, but Tiah says the speakers often get as much out of the experience as the audience. “The word ‘cathartic’ is what I hear from every single person,” she laughs. “One person said, ‘I feel like I’ve just been to my therapist!’”
Tiah’s own experience in setting up the events hasn’t been smooth sailing – she admits the cheeky profanity of the name has made it difficult to advertise the event and secure sponsorship, and says she learnt early on to make it clear to prospective speakers that it’s not a platform for selling. “That was a mistake that I made,” she confesses. “A couple of people came up and were trying to sell their services – but that’s not what this is about.”
Instead, she says, it’s about fostering community and connection, and reminding the next generation of Elon Musks that failure is a key part of the success puzzle. “If you ignore the failures, you’re not learning. Failure is just a learning opportunity,” she says. “If you don’t have the ability to recognise that, you’re probably not going to get very far.”
As the saying goes, failure sucks, but it sure as hell instructs.