Ashish Goenka from Bombay Connect, a coworking space in Mumbai, India; hosted a special session on ‘FuckUp Nights’ at the Unconference in CUAsia 2017. He has organized this event many times in India as well and is the local license holder. The idea of fuckup night is, to be honest, vulnerable, share failures, celebrate them a little bit and understand them for what they are; they are not a source of shame, they are almost always an excellent source of learning.
Fuckup nights is a global event that was started a few years ago in Mexico City, and now in a whole bunch of cities around the world. Ashish does the same event with other coworking spaces in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Bali. When he started the Facebook page, it attracted lots of attention; he attributed the fame to the very catchy name. The reason why he began hosting ‘fuckup nights’ in India, is because he got sick of going to startup events and listening to the same old success stories. There seems to be a vague culture in Asia where failures are considered to be shameful, and people only have the option to sweep it under the rug and move on. However, Ashish wanted to change that conversation, so with support from a lot of partners, he began hosting it in India.
As part of the session, Ashish brought in speakers who have been in coworking for a long time, to share some of the challenges they’ve faced and the lessons learned from them. His first speaker was Benjamin Gattie, co-founder of the Working Capitol in Singapore. Ben shared one of the fuckup moments they had during the fundraising process for Working Capitol. When deciding to open a coworking space, there are limited sources of cash or capital, one of them is real estate developers. As per popular belief, there is a misalignment between coworking spaces and real estate developer, which was the origin of their fuckup. Ben confessed, “ You feel special; you go on a bit of a buying spree, you build your team, and when building the investor story, you could stray a bit from your core principles.” Soon enough, he realized that their intentions were misaligned, they began treating the process like a mergers and acquisitions transaction, and most of the time was being spent on dealing with lawyers, reporting to investors. They pulled out last minute because they did not want to go that route. Meanwhile, they had taken on many obligations, they had built their team and was left with all that when they decided to pull out. “It was a big wake up call for us, we regrouped, and I think it is essential to align yourself with the right people, whether it’s your team or investors. So you have to bring on the right partners, not all money is equal, trust your gut and settle in for the ride. It’s a bumpy journey.” said Ben
Ashish was inspired by Ben’s story and felt he could relate to it, based on that he decided to share one of his fuckups. Ashish had been in coworking for a while, and he later became aware of the fact that he had a first mover’s advantage. He felt as though he had not been able to capitalize on what they had built. However, after attending the first CUAsia, he realized that it was more than just scale and numbers and that everyone does not have to go down the same path. His next move was to stick to his gut, they did not raise any fundings, and despite that, they now have five spaces in Mumbai with a new one opening soon.
The second story Ashish shared was about this beautiful flagship space in Mumbai, India; they built their other spaces and accumulated the cash over time, which was later invested in one space. The fuckup there was that their landlord, who was not an investor in the business, had misused the land and built a lot more than he was allowed to. The municipal corporation soon came and shut down the building; this was six months into Ashish launching the space. He felt forlorn and forsaken when he thought of the massive amount of time and money that was invested into the new space, and not to mention the members that were occupying the soon-to-be-seized space. He shared his story with anyone and everyone; and with the help of some of his friends, they were able to invest in another space nearby and relocate the members. Ashish shares, “The point I am making here is that there is always going to be fuck ups, whether it is your fault or someone else’s, but there is always a way to find the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Next, Ashish invited Amarit Charoenphan (Aim), co-founder of Thailand’s first coworking space – HUBBA, to share the bumps in his journey with the audience. Amarit classified his choice of program in University to be his first fuckup. It struck him later on that he was never meant to be an accountant, and that he had wasted his time studying the wrong subject. This prompted him to go for a vision quest, which he pursued by joining a volunteering camp. It was the source of another one of his fuckups, as he later realized that the multipurpose building that he had helped build was going to be used as the village’s karaoke shop. His time and effort were spent on something that had no impact and was not sustainable. “So I asked myself, how can I continue to do good, make some money, but have a lot of impacts?” said Amarit.
Amarit spent the next two years doing nonprofit social enterprise work. He had tried to help 30 social entrepreneurs set their company, which resulted in only one company barely surviving. At that point, he understood that he did not have the ability or knowledge to advise entrepreneurs. He decided that to be a better supporter of entrepreneurship, and he needed to be an entrepreneur.
Along with his friend, Amarit ended up renting a place which looked like a great place to do a startup. They found this beat up looking house and fell in love with it. Another fuck up they had was that they had no experience in real estate, design or anything related to coworking. They were given only two weeks to consider whether to sign the lease or not, which ended up with them renting a property, with zero ideas as to what they were going to do with it.
Unfortunately, Amrit’s journey of fuckups did not end there. They spent the next three months ‘messing around with the designing and paying three months rent to the landlord’, and eventually launched their space. Two weeks into their opening, half of their team quit because they did not understand the purpose of the space and what it was for. Amarit realized that they had built an amazing space had no idea about what would go inside the space, what makes a coworking space work. They spent the first month with 0 members, despite having 5000 followers on Facebook before they launched. Amarit’s parting words to the audience was a sliver of the lesson he learned from his fuckups, “Don’t ever think about coworking as just a physical asset and a box; without content, people, chemistry, and interaction, it will just be a box.”