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A night to learn from failure


Lia Patricia Hernández, who is Panamanian, believes that before being successful, you first have to fail and try over and over again.

To replicate this message countless times, Hernández organizes since December 2014 a monthly space in Panama for entrepreneurs to share in 10 minutes what obstacles they have found on their way to moving their business forward.

This space is called FuckUp Nights, an initiative that has been held more than 25 times in Panama, which is no more than “a night to learn from failure,” Hernández, who is a lawyer and founder of the Panamanian Institute of Law and New Technologies, explains. This organization supports FuckUp Nights in the country with a cooperation agreement with the National Secretariat of Science, Technology, and Innovation (SENACYT) to promote a culture of entrepreneurship in Panama.

FuckUp Nights is a worldwide movement that was born five years ago in Mexico City. A group of friends was meeting in the backyard of a house talking about negative experiences they’d had in their different activities, whether professional, entrepreneurial, or personal, and that is where the idea was born to hold discussions in which people could talk about the failures, mistakes, and screw ups they had in their businesses to tell them to other people and break that barrier or taboo that people have about failure, since in many events we talk about good and positive things but we never talk about the negative side and the problems that we’ve had to face to become successful people.

Since then, FuckUp Nights is held in all five continents, 56 countries and 209 cities. FuckUp Nights is even being held in 35 languages. FuckUp Nights tends to be an event that is not large scale or where crowds of people attend because people are not used to talking about their failures in public. Panamanian society is very conservative regarding this. Therefore, we try to make the event small for the person to be able to open up and talk without any type of embarrassment, shame, or shyness about their experiences so that the public can also ask questions. We try to make it a very interactive session between the speakers and the audience, and promote networking among participants.

FuckUp Nights has a talk show format, similar to other initiatives such as TED Talks and PechaKucha. According to the international FuckUp Nights manual, every presentation must last 7 minutes, but in the Panamanian format it has been proposed that they take 10 minutes each, based on a presentation with 10 slides. Three entrepreneurs are invited to share their experiences, and after each presentation there will be a break for the participants to drink something and talk among themselves.

How would you describe the FuckUp Nights Panama experience?

I’ve had a lot of fuckups, even as an organizer. I’ve had fuckups like not being able to find a place to hold the event. In Panama there are not many places with spaces adapted for an event with 100 participants, and if there are, they are not in an accessible location.

We’ve also had fuckups with other issues, like partners who have left because they didn’t trust the project or they don’t see it as profitable, and we’ve also had volunteers who come and go. There always has to be people who believe in this and who want to give their contribution.

In order to reach the 28th edition, many things have happened, more positive than negative, but I’ve also had, fuckups, therefore, the FuckUp Nights movement has not been easy. The most positive has been to have the support of people who have selflessly helped us; even people who have media exposure in Panamanian media that I have called and said I want your help being a speaker, and they have happily come to help. I have also asked them for sponsorship and they have done it and not everyone does that, so I will always be grateful to those former speakers and former sponsors that have supported in one way or another so that FuckUp Nights can continue.

Which are the most frequent fuckups?

The most common experiences that entrepreneurs have is to not trust in lawyers, and not wanting to receive legal counsel to create a partnership agreement. The most common mistake is having legal issues.

I have also heard about entrepreneurs who have had obstacles along the way to get to where they are now because often times they have been discriminated based on their gender, social status, and even their ethnicity, and in spite of all that they have moved forward and now they are doing well.

What is the main mission of FuckUp Nights?

The main idea of FuckUp Nights is to show that we can also learn from mistakes, and that it is not only a saying but a reality. The speaker talks about all the bad things that happened to him, what mistakes he made, and also about how well he is doing now; then, it is possible that if a certain mistake happened to him it can also happen to you.

Many times FuckUp Nights can serve as therapy and it helps people move forward. There are no therapists for work or entrepreneurship issues but there are people who have been through the same experiences you have and who can tell you what to do. Not everyone functions in the same way, but it is always good to have support from people who, just like you, have gone through a similar situation.

What is the secret to achieving a successful undertaking?

I think that the key for a successful undertaking is to keep walking until you can find or achieve your objective.’ In this road, you will find many obstacles and make many mistakes. You will screw up, you will have a fuckup, but in the end you will reach your goal. I recently heard a phrase that said life is like a bicycle: if you want to reach your objective you have to keepcycling, you can’t stop because you found an obstacle along the way, you have to keep moving on and fighting for what you want.

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