“We believe a better world is created through the combined accomplishments of compassionate, creative, and committed individuals focused on a common purpose.”
So says the introductory blurb on the website for the Kings Cross branch of Impact Hub, a “community of social businesses addressing challenges both locally and globally.” Impact Hub has workspaces all over the world, and over 11,000 global members, collaborating, mentoring one another and exchanging ideas. An inspiring network of entrepreneurial creativity.
Luckily however, for the modern founder, Impact Hub isn’t just tolerant of failure, it actively encourages people to discuss their disastrous business cock-ups in front of hundreds of others.
Fail fast! Fail harder! You could be forgiven for thinking that no entrepreneur is worthy of the name until they have gone toe to toe with calamity and had sand kicked in their face by a 300 pound Gorilla – but survived to tell the tale.
You’d probably be right. Every second Tuesday of the month Impact Hub (which, incidentally looks like a giant Gazebo, both inside and out) hosts F*ck Up Night. The concept began in Mexico City in 2012 and has gained traction across the globe with founders seemingly ever-keen to relive stories of mismanagement, misfortune, mistakes and missteps in front of an attentive, curious audience.
It must be a cathartic experience – it certainly felt like it on Tuesday. Hosted by Robert Fenton of Hipsters Hackers & Hustlers fame 4 brave speakers took the stage and relived their darkest moments as budding entrepreneurs. It took admirable bravery, not to mention honesty, but the good news is all 4 are still in the game, some with new projects, some reviving old ones, and some whose companies flourished in spite of the setback.
So Without further ado:
A Fishy email leads to a forced name change
Jonathan Rose is the MD of Motion Fish Media Project CIC, a social enterprise and video production company that matches media graduates to businesses looking to make videos
A worthy endeavour indeed. But it wasn’t always called Motion Fish Media Project CIC. Oh no. Jonathan agonised for weeks over the best name for his new business, finally settling on “Big Fish Small Fish”. He liked it so much he decided to trademark it.
A few months later, he received a somewhat comical looking letter purporting to be from a business with the same name – in fact not even the same name, but a similar one. Jonathan thought it must be spam, and binned it.
A mistake, as it turned out. He soon received another letter, and this time it had a deadline. The letter gave Jonathan one month to change his name or he would find himself in court. Jonathan pictured himself in court – and he didn’t like what he saw in his mind’s eye. So he reached out for advice, and to his surprise he found many legal companies were willing to help him. How nice of them, he thought, until he saw what they wanted to charge him. Think again, Jonathan!
So did Jonathan got to court and steamroller his out of line aggressor with a sort of similar name? Actually, he didn’t. He took the advice he was given and changed his name, and since then, his business has achieved more than he ever thought it would.
Ok so it’s not Watergate, but there are lessons to be learned. Always check your spam, and don’t trademark unless you really need to. Keep it simple, stupid.
When the passion is gone, it’s time to end the relationship
Chi Phan worked for an investment bank but it didn’t make her burn with passion; but after discussions with a fellow employee, the two thought they had hit upon a plan to change the way that large corporates would provide health and wellbeing training to their staff.
They quit their jobs, and Chi estimates she put 500 hours into the project, and her new business partner was also diligent, but soon cracks began to emerge in the relationship. “My vision circle and her vision circle overlapped and I thought that would be enough, but the values weren’t quite there”, Chi told us. “I began to dread every meeting”.
Both acknowledged they were different people and that, now and then, they would pull in different directions – but hey, that’s business, they agreed, we don’t have to always agree on everything.”
But sometimes you just get the feeling that things aren’t going to work, and Chi had it in spades. They arranged to meet one Wednesday, but on the Sunday before, Chi received a lengthy email from her erstwhile business partner, outlining all the differences between the two, and indicating that she couldn’t go on.
Dumped by email – Chi was rightly upset – she has never seen her business partner since, and although she would like there to be closure (“it still hurts to talk about it”, she told us), ultimately, she knew that her passion for the business had disappeared and that was what had caused the scism.
“I never lost faith in the project, but I began to question if we were the right people to take it on. We were together for the wrong reasons. On paper it should have worked but after six months my passion for the project began to fade, and in business, that can never happen. If it does, it’s time to move on.”
Chi’s advice? “Have the courage to step back from something if you lose the passion for it. Remember that personal relationships change, and that’s ok. Relationships, like businesses, aren’t a science. Always commit from the heart, and if you can’t, stop! Chi has since moved on to bigger and better things.
Entrepreneurship is a learning curve – you have to be patient
Francisco is from Ecuador, and has always wanted to be a politician. He moved to the US to study Political Science to further his ambitions and while he studied, he launched a successful networking group which iterated into the project “Social Media For Good” using social networking tools to pressurise politicians and create change in the system.
While in the US, studying in a small town in Texas, he began to work for a Texan tycoon and politician, to whom he explained the “Social media for good“ project and the networking events, which were growing all the time.
His boss decided he would fund his protégée’s project to the tune of $50k, but when Francisco’s plans changed (he won a scholarship to study at the London School of Economics and abandoned plans to continue his studies in America), his mentor unexpectedly withdrew the funding.
“I was devastated, I was angry”, Francisco remembers, “I felt my boss and his wife, who I had become friendly with, had reneged on a deal. But you know what, why I arrived in London, I realised that the studies were hard, a full time commitment.”
So although he launched the Ecuadorian Youth Ambassador’s Network, the LSE SU Ecuadorian Society, the LSE SU Social Innovation society and kept Social Media For Good going all through his time in London, Francisco had to admit, maybe his boss had a point. It wasn’t the right time for funding the project.
“I’ve still got the passion and the ideas”, he says, as well as a body of research and videos he made back in Ecuador and some hugely valuable feedback. “And I still want to become a politician”. Stirred, but unshaken, Francisco learned that entrepreneurship can be a marathon, not a sprint.
12 Years In The Making – Lost Vagueness Project Has Found Its Voice Again
Sofia was a Glastonbury fiend and a high flier in the British Film industry, working on projects like Bridget Jones diary, The I.T. Crowd and Peep Show. She decided she wanted to create a documentary about the legendary Lost Vagueness parties at Glastonbury, where it’s rumoured Pete Docherty and Kate Moss got hitched, and to which Fatboy Slim once wore a bumble bee costume (yes, a bumble bee costume!).
But plans change, priorities change, and Sofia left the hedonistic world of film and festivals behind her and found herself in Newcastle, raising a child and joining in lullaby singalongs in the local Church Hall.
Sofia isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) Bon Vivant to experience the quiet life, but luckily for her, she is back on the scene!
After returning to London she managed to find an opportunity mentoring film students and before long old contacts resurfaced and the blood began to pump through her veins once again.
Sofia had always felt a debt towards the people who had taken a stake in the original project which had laid dormant for so long, until they had abandoned all hope, but, 12 years after the original idea was hatched, in a world that had changed almost beyond recognition, with social media providing opportunities outside of the main channels she had pitched unsuccessfully before, Sofia reconnected with her old backers and decided to finish what she had started.
A Kickstarter campaign is the result. Sofia will be back at Glastonbury this year. And the cameras will start rolling again. Action!
Fancy attending the next Fuck Up Night? Sign up to the Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers Meetup Group – or even sharing your own story of failure and how it affected you and your business? Email firstname.lastname@example.org