In the first few days of June, we had the chance to join Fifteen Seconds Festival – the business conference for curious minds – as partner. As it is every year, it was a wonderful chance to tank so many interesting ideas and thoughts. We want to share some of them with you.
That’s why I met with Leticia Gasca in Graz, co-founder of FuckUp Nights, which is a global movement that organizes events where people talk about their business failures. Leticia and I sat down after her keynote and I asked her what has to happen for you to learn from failure.
Would you be so kind as to briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Leticia Gasca, but you can call me Leti. Only my mother calls me Leticia, when she’s angry. I was born in Mexico City but I’m now based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am co-founder of FuckUp Nights and executive director of the Failure Institute. We are sister organizations. On the one hand, you have the movement FuckUp Nights and on the other hand, you have the Failure Institute that is a research center.
What is the Failure Institute?
At some point we realized that we were gathering a lot of data and failure case studies. We needed to do something with all of that in order to provide valuable content to the world. That’s how the Failure Institute was born. We’re building our own data platform that is probably the largest source of business failure data in the world.
What is your job at the Failure Institute?
I am really good at managing teams and creating ideas and making the impossible possible. The big problem with research is funding. Most of the time research is funded by large companies or by big universities. And the truth is that most of the researchers are not able to research what they really want to research. We are trying to make a business model out of the Failure Institute in order to research those topics that we think have more value to the community.
What were you doing before you founded FuckUp Nights?
During my studies of business administration and marketing, I founded a social startup, which – guess what – failed. I was inspired about the social enterprises movement and I felt like it was very easy to create such a business. Naive, totally naive. (laughs) This is my failure story, and my experience in how I handled this failure ended up in the idea of FuckUp Nights.
When this social business failed, I entered the editorial world. I worked for a couple of magazines as business journalist. When FuckUp Nights was born, I was a features editor for Expansión magazine, which is the largest business magazine in Mexico. It was hard to quit that job every journalist wants to have. However, I decided to quit and to follow my dreams. I want to have an impact on the world, and I thought I could do more by working for that idea.
Why is it important to talk about business failures?
First of all: Business failure is not as easily shared as other types of failure. We wanted to create space for that. I think it’s important to talk about it for two main reasons. The first one is: failure is more common than success, but we never talk about it. Therefore, we get the wrong impression. We wanted to change the perspective. The second one is, since we never talk about it most people feel like they’re the only losers in the world. However, the truth is very different. Most of the people in the business world are losers, but they don’t accept it.
It’s important to talk about failure so that we don’t feel so bad. But can you also learn from it?
Of course, I think you do learn more from failure stories than from success stories. Let me give you some practical examples: I have heard many stories of business failures because people did not read the small letters at the end of the contract. After hearing so many stories about that, I always read the whole contract. Or the other story of businesses that failed because of lousy financial planning. Since then I always look for good accountants and a good CFO – I know that it’s super important for the success of any company.
I think that’s what’s amazing about FuckUp Nights. In some way it’s a sort of informal education, where people that don’t have any studies related to business will go and learn something practical that they can apply in their business the following day.
The movement is present in over 200 cities all over the world. Is there a big difference in how failure is treated in all those countries?
Yes, there is a difference. Of course. But it may not be what you’d expect. I always had the idea that the US is the paradise for failure. But that’s not true. I mean, it’s true that Silicon Valley is a really good place to fail. They already know that it’s common to fail. There are even investors that will never invest in your company if you have not had a failure before. But in the rest of the US there is still that sigma of failure that you find in Latin America.
The place with the strongest stigma on failure is Asia, especially Japan. There they have this idea that if your business fails, you are not only failing to your investors and your employees, you’re failing your family and to your whole community.
Failure is a state of mind, because you can change it so easily form a pessimistic perspective to a positive one.
Is that also what you meant in your keynote: ‘Failure is a state of mind’?
Totally. It’s important to know that if you experience business failure, it’s not you that failed, but your business. It’s all about your perspective on that failure: It’s important to learn that you are not the loser, but as a successful person, you should learn from that experience. Failure is a state of mind, because you can change it so easily form a pessimistic perspective to a positive one.
And how about the difference between men and women and the way they treat failure?
Yes, that is also very interesting. In fact, we’re working on research about that. We have a theory that businesses founded by women fail less, and that women recover faster from failure, because women have networks of vulnerability. We have friends and many social contacts, which help a lot in the moment of failure. Women are more resilient.
This is the idea you presented in your keynote as well, isn’t it. Social networks are very important to recover from failure.
You need resilience to recover from failure. Science has discovered that the number one factor that leads to resilience is good social networks. That’s why people who are more socially connected with friends and family recover more quickly from failure. Moreover, what counts is not the number of friends you have, but the quality of those friendships. It’s like in the sports world and in athletics: If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.
Does the way in which failure is treated have any impact on business development in any specific area or region? Are there e.g. fewer start-ups in Japan, because they are afraid of failure?
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) measures different parameters each year. One of them is the fear of failure. This is the percentage of the population that says they would like to start a business but doesn’t do it because they are afraid of failure.
The GEM shows that in Africa, Oceania and Asia the fear of failure is very high and so the number of new businesses is lower. People are less willing to start a new business, especially when they already had a business that failed; they are not willing to try again.
Thanks Leti for these interesting insights into the idea of failure. Do you want to add anything?
Yes, of course: Let me add that there are five cites in Austria organizing FuckUp Nights, and 14 cities in Germany. We would be happy to welcome everyone to these cities.