By Ellen McGirt
May 8, 2017

If you’re sick of the swagger that usually accompanies entrepreneurship and venture capital confabs, have I got a global movement for you.

Leticia Gasca co-created and runs the Failure Institute, the first think tank devoted to studying the nuts and bolts of business failure. The Mexican-born entrepreneur has some well-heeled investment and research partners: Government organizations, impact investment funds, Latin American multinationals, Mexico’s EGADE Business School and the Development Bank of Latin America among them. Their lofty goal is to help business leaders from around the world learn from their mistakes. Did you have a business that failed? Take this handy survey and help the cause.

The Failure Institute started as a series of one-off events called “FuckUp Night,” an evening that brings entrepreneurs together to share stories of their failures in a TEDx style setting. It remains the irreverent signature event of a now global program devoted to helping entrepreneurs succeed; some 10,000 people a month are showing and telling in almost 250 cities in 77 countries on six continents.

It all started in 2012. Gasca was fresh off her first failed attempt at social entrepreneurship, selling handicrafts made by indigenous women to wealthy folks in Mexico City. After a mezcal-filled night of sharing candid stories of dead businesses with friends, she realized it was “one of the most meaningful business conversations ever,” honest and full of real learning. Why not make it a thing? FuckUp Night was born.

From Gasca’s delightful profile in Ozy:

After settling on a regulated format (each speaker would have seven minutes and 10 slideshow images to share their story), the first FuckUp Night was organized a couple of weeks later — the first of around 1,000 events that have taken place to date. The growth has been totally organic, says Yannick Kwik, the new CEO of FuckUp Nights. They cannot market events on Facebook, Google or Twitter “because we have the word ‘fuck’ in our name,” but changing the name is out of the question (although hosts in certain Islamic countries are allowed to use the acronym, FUN). “When someone fails, they say ‘Fuck!,’ they don’t say ‘Darn this’ or anything else,” says Kwik, arguing that FuckUp Nights’ “punk, underground” roots have honesty and frankness at their core. Potential hosts from cities around the world contact the FuckUp Night team seeking a license to use the brand for a small monthly fee. Around 40 companies, from Coca-Cola to Microsoft to Citibank, have paid to host private FuckUp Night events for employees.

Gasca has embraced her calling as a failure visionary. And as fun and profane as it all sounds, the serious examination of failure has a real contribution to make to the global business ecosystem, in both data analysis and a collective culture shift. (Some countries are cooler with the idea of failure than others.) With some 200 FuckUp Night meetings a month around the world and dedicated Failure Institute surveys, Gasca and her team are on track to generate far deeper insights than anything available from academia or traditional case study models.

And it’s an inspiring idea. Anyone got any worst practices to share? You get the FuckUp license, I’ll bring the tequila.


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