By Tamara Pupic
FUN DXB Vol II event, a recently held second gathering of entrepreneurs in Dubai’s Al Quoz area, sought to help all those who are looking for more efficient ways of dealing with failure and the unpleasant emotions that come with it.
Failure is defined by many as simply “...the opposite of success.”
If you broach this subject with entrepreneurs, many of them will tell you that failure should be viewed only as an integral part of success. In fact, entrepreneurs seem to enjoy sharing stories of how they faced adversity head-on.
Last month at Café Rider in Al Quoz, FUN DXB – a UAE-friendly name for a global franchise of monthly start-up meet-ups – held its second event geared towards encouraging entrepreneurs to admit their mistakes in public.
It was the first time for Yousef Al Barqawi, a Dubai-based serial entrepreneur, to open up about his experiences of failure on stage.
“Clearly, when admitting failure one of the things that has to happen is that either you look back to learn from that experience because you’ve passed that point or the alternative is that, when people talk about it, they just want to get some of that pain out,” he tells StartUp before the start of FUN DXB Vol II.
“They are trying to unburden themselves.”
A former finance professional, Al Barqawi has set up a number of JLT-based ventures – Fraiche Café & Bistro, billed as ‘a democratic fine dining experience’; 59 Degrees, an artisan coffee boutique at AstroLabs, and Yoga Room, one of the first Ashtanga yoga-focused yoga studios in Dubai – in the last few years.
But it was far from plain sailing, Al Barqawi told an intimate audience of up to 100 entrepreneurs and others, who all willingly paid a AED100 entrance fee to learn a few lessons about failure. ‘They’ve got a bargain,’ the four speakers must have thought.
The F***Up Nights concept was developed in Mexico in 2012 as a series of informal gatherings of entrepreneurs where three to four speakers are given around seven minutes and 10 images to explain how failure feels and what it looks like. It has quickly spread around the world, from Mexico City to Tokyo.
Last year, Jay Menorca, the owner of Abregana, a Dubai-based events company, teamed up with a group of friends to bring the concept to the UAE. His first failure-themed event, FUN DXB Vol I, held in December 2015, proved to be a success.
“As a local organiser here in Dubai, we aim to follow the same event format which is three to four speakers, seven minutes talking time, with 10 images projected on the screen,” Menorca explains. “However, speakers tend to extend their timing as the storytelling becomes very personal.
“Sharing these dark stories in front of the crowd is never easy, sometimes it is the very first time that they are letting all these stories out from their chests. So we tried to extend few more minutes to their allotted time.”
The first group of “bold and strong entrepreneurs,” as Menorca describes them, to share their stories at the event held in December included Nada Zagallai of GlamBox, Osama Romoh of Digital Labs, Tahir Shah of Moti Roti, and Daniel and Chris Vahanian of Organic Press Juice.
At last month’s event, Al Barqawi was joined by Warrick Godfrey, director of Fetchr, Tarig El Sheikh, founder of Beneple, and Dr. Petar Stojanov, managing director at GPP Global.
In addition, a few attendees were given an opportunity to come on stage and present their failures in three minutes, which is the so-called ‘open mic’ short format Menorca has added to the original concept.
But FUN DXB is by no means the first failure-themed event to be held in Dubai.
FailCon Dubai, a mini conference aimed at building recognition for “failure stories” in entrepreneurship, was held at The Cribb, one of the city’s co-working spaces, in the summer of 2014.
The event was also part of an international franchise – FailCon – a one-day conference launched by San Francisco-based entrepreneur Cassandra Phillipps in 2009. During the following few years, the concept was also quickly accepted by entrepreneurs worldwide.
Ironically, fowever, the worldwide conference celebrating failure somehow failed.
Phillipps has been reported as saying that part of the reason was that failure chatter had become so pervasive in Silicon Valley that a conference almost seemed superfluous. “It’s in the lexicon that you’re going to fail,” she told the New York Times recently.
Speaking to StartUp, Al Barqawi says that failure has been celebrated for not the correct reasons. “It’s okay to fail but the whole point of what we are trying to do here is to tell you: ‘Look, this is where we have made mistakes, please don’t make those mistakes.’
“For a lot of us who have made these mistakes and are here, we are lucky to be here because, guess what, 90 percent of all businesses fail within the first year. So we are in the 10 percent or maybe less than that. The statistics are really against us being here.
“So don’t celebrate it and look at it just like: ‘Let’s have a laugh about it’ but look at it as a learning experience. Learning from others will help you pave your path. Failure is never cool.”
Al Barqawi’s words align with the intentions of the organisers of another similar event Fail Forward. Billed as a ‘crash course in intelligent failure,’ the conference was first organised in Toronto in 2014. The concept is a brainchild of Ashley Good, an international consultant who also advises entrepreneurs on how to deal with failure constructively.
Good started her consultancy business after working for Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB), a Toronto-based organisation that publishes an annual “failure report”. The report lists examples of the risks their employees take and the trends and lessons they learn along the way.
In addition to the ongoing battle against the fear of failure worldwide, October 13 has been declared as International Day For Failure to encourage people to throw away the shame associated with it.
“We aim to organise FUN DXB every month for the next 12 months of 2016 and break the social stigma that failure is synonymous with shame,” says Menorca. “We would like to penetrate all the communities of the rising numbers of entrepreneurs in Dubai, especially the start-ups and SMEs.
“The more open and often that we talk about failures, the more it will be easier for us to deal with it and use them as our stepping stone on our long journey to success.”
The talk about failure is often an analysis of how to prevent it.
Talking about his main failure-related lessons, Al Barqawi advises entrepreneurs not to underestimate the value of research, asking questions, and seeking advice. “You can never plan enough. You can always plan some more. Lack of planning is almost an unforgivable sin in entrepreneurship,” he said.
“The second thing is that luck is not a good business model, which unfortunately a lot of people count on.”
Similarly, another speaker at the event, Dr. Stojanov, explains that his fruitful career as a professor in Australia, a corporate suit-and-tie guy in Germany, and finally an entrepreneur in Dubai, provided him with a different perspective on how to approach business challenges, including failure.
“What’s really interesting is that the way I tackle scientific problems is the same way I tackle business problems,” he says.
“When you think about it, any challenge that a business faces is really driven by data. So if you take that information and process it in a particular way you can actually create actionable insights and strategies to deal with that.
“Some of the challenges that entrepreneurs have is that they don’t tackle things from a results-based hypothesis-driven approach. As a scientist, I really approach things in that way so I try to take all of those learnings and apply them to solving business challenges.”
During 2016, Menorca explains, the FUN DXB team plans to present at least 44 failure stories of local entrepreneurs from different sectors.
On their agenda is also a number of the event’s editions tailored to the needs of local entrepreneurs. A few of local start-up incubators, accelerators, and co-working space communities have come on board to help them in this endeavour.
Lastly, they are planning a special event with over 1,000 entrepreneurs in attendance for the FUN DXB’s one-year anniversary in December 2016.
Menorca says it will be the biggest FUN event all over the world, which begs the question - why would Dubai want the title of the world’s biggest collector of failed experiences?
“Failure over here is actually a lot more risky,” says Al Barqawi when asked about whether local entrepreneurs perceived and experienced failure differently from their peers in other parts of the world.
“It’s a lot more expensive because if you look at a company start-up cost over here, it’s much higher than in other places in the world.
“And, for example, there are no bankruptcy laws which, of course, a lot of companies count on because they are taking a very big risk and if it doesn’t work then they need something to fall back on.
“So failure here is much more dangerous experience to go through and it’s not something to be taken lightly at all.”