Fuckup Nights is an event series and a movement where people share their professional failures. Every month, in events around the globe, three or four people get up in front of a room full of strangers to tell how they have messed up professionally. The business that crashes and burns, the partnership deal that goes sour, the product that has to be recalled—they tell it all. Co-founder Julio Salazar gives us the story behind Fuckup Nights.
How did you come up with the idea?
Julio Salazar: The idea was born at a party I visited with five friends in Mexico City, all of us entrepreneurs. We were talking about our plans for the next week and if anybody would join this conference that all of us had gotten invited to. It was funny, because we all simultaneously said: No!
Julio Salazar: It's always the same thing: Somebody is giving a talk about a big success. Why is nobody talking about their failures? We all agreed that these are the stories that should be shared. Because successful people always messed up at some point. So, that night we spontaneously decided to meet next Thursday and talk about our failures.
Successful people always messed up at some point.
I guess there was alcohol involved.
Julio Salazar: We were having dinner and drinking Mezcal, which is a little bit stronger than Tequila. Each of us shared a very personal story about failure. Businesses that went bankrupt, fights with partners. We had known each other for two years, but we had never spoken about how we had failed in a business before. It was a magical night. We learned more about each other through these stories than through any other story we ever shared.
That was the moment the format was born?
Julio Salazar: Yes, we agreed that we needed to organize an event for entrepreneurs to share their fuck-up stories. Each of us was to invite five friends, we bought the beer, got this small podium and a projector screen. There was music and kind of a party mode, but no real organization. But all went well. And the speakers told us that it was an incredible experience to share a story they hadn’t shared with anybody in their whole life. They felt like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.
So you decided to do another event.
Julio Salazar: We grew organically. By the eighth time we organized the event we were already running low on money, because we bought all the drinks ourselves. What started with forty people and six cases of beer quickly became an event with 150 people and thirty cases of beer. This was when we started to sell tickets to the event.
Julio is one of the co-founders of Fuckup Nights and managing director at Cirklo in Mexico City. He advises global corporations, social enterprises, and entrepreneurs on innovation in business strategy, organizational design, and social impact. Julio is a member of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network.
What does the audience look like?
Julio Salazar: The audience is very diverse, 60-year-olds, kids, entrepreneurs. In the beginning, it was very hard to find female entrepreneurs. Finally, we found a woman who talked about her failures in a very vulnerable and powerful way. The women in the audience realized that the whole concept is about being vulnerable, open, and accepting. After this we got a lot of inquiries from women who wanted to speak.
Are there any rules for the speakers?
Julio Salazar: We coach them prior to their talk. We tell them things like: No matter what you are saying, it has be human. You cannot point fingers at others. They also have to share their key learnings.
In a classic Power Point presentation?
Julio Salazar: They have seven minutes, ten power slides, and forty-five seconds for each slide. And we keep an eye on the time!
The idea quickly spread globally. Did you push for it?
Julio Salazar: Not at all! A woman from Spain approached us, because she had heard about it through a friend who had been there. She loved the concept and told us: Spain is in a recession right now, people need to laugh! This is why we created the Fuckup Night’s manual, which is basically everything you need to know to organize this event. You strictly have to follow these rules.
Julio Salazar: You cannot charge money for the event itself, just for the beer. As a speaker, you have to be honest and share real stories. There is no gambling and smoking. Also, you cannot have a rooster fight at the event.
Julio Salazar: I know. We try to make it funny. And people love it! They knock on our doors now. Within six months we scaled up to 100 cities. In the past year alone 250 cities worldwide organized Fuckup Nights.
Are there countries where the concept works especially well?
Julio Salazar: Germany is definitely our favorite country! They even created a Fuckup craft beer that is sold during the events. We grew faster in Germany than we did in the U.S. The word “fuck” is very controversial in the U.S. A lot of organizers could not find sponsors, because they asked them to rename the event. Our advice: If you do not get sponsorship because of the name, you are approaching the wrong sponsors. They really have to understand what this is all about.
Julio Salazar: It’s not about a name, it’s about changing cultures. It’s about being transparent, vulnerable, and creative. It is controversial, but is also helps a lot of people.
It’s not about a name, it’s about changing cultures.
Julio Salazar: Too many people get caught up in what others think. The minute you get up in front of a hundred people, you feel empowered. Even if you have to talk about something you are bad at. That tension is incredible. This kind of irony has always worked for us. The more vulnerable you are, the more powerful you get.
What is your personal learning after witnessing so many Fuckup Nights?
Julio Salazar: It helps me cope with the fear and anxiety I live through as an entrepreneur on a daily basis. Without my Nights job, this may have drowned me already. But instead, if my team comes up with a new concept they say: Well, if it fails we will learn from it. And I know that there is nothing I can say.