Written by David Silverberg

If a monthly speaker series called Fuckup Nights Toronto could have a relevant quote as its motto, novelist C.S. Lewis's wise words would work: “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

Based at Toronto's Shopify headquarters in the Spadina-Adelaide area, Fuckup Nights Toronto themes every event with real-life stories courtesy entrepreneurs, artists and everyday people revealing how they got back up after falling hard.

Marsha Druker, the founder of the Toronto chapter of this global series, says she and her team curates each event to reflect the many entrepreneurial stories of failure, while also reaching out to myriad corners of Toronto's cultural scene. “We've had drummers, magicians, burlesque dancers, all discussing the mistakes they've made along the way,” says Druker. 

Failure is healthy, she adds. And the stories don't always end happily. “The speakers heal from their losses, and they learn something from it, and so do we in the audience,” Druker notes.

Which speakers resonate most with Druker? “It should be a story beyond a business failure, but perhaps a personal failure too. The ones we've had about facing mental health challenges have been really powerful for us, and the entire room can connect with those kinds of stories.”

She goes on to say how Fuckup Nights Toronto, which began in 2017,  is not a typical tech/startup event. “We create community around sharing and learning from failure. We’re here to break down stigmas, and amplify the message that failure is healthy and essential to learning and growing.”

Tickets cost between $20 and $25, which includes drinks and free food. Each speaker has seven to 10 minutes to share a story of failure, and up to 10 images can be projected on a screen facing the audience. Speakers are unpaid but they are given a free high-quality video of their talk at Fuckup Nights, courtesy the event's videography partner Absurd Visuals.

Past speakers include Sascha Darius Mojtahedi, CEO of Bunz Trading Zone; Jane Lee, co-founder of LaunchPop; Khallil Mangalji, founder and CTO at Fiix; Jeremy Shaki, CEO of Lighthouse Labs; and CBC producer Donna Bishop.

Available in more than 300 cities, Fuckup Nights is a worldwide phenomenon that began in 2012 when Mexican entrepreneurs shared drinks of mescal and shared their stories of failing with their startup ventures.  

Another speaker series is also encroaching on Fuckup Nights' turf: FailCon hosts tales of business bungles and invites interested producers to host their own FailCon in their city.

Fuckup Nights is spreading fast across Canada, reaching Montreal, Vancouver, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Edmonton, Halifax and five other cities. The Toronto chapter is particularly bustling, with 180 attendees per event.

“Fuckup Nights Toronto quickly became one of the most successful and active Fuckup Nights chapters in the world. In addition to the hard work and passion from our team to make this happen, the dynamic of our city plays a huge role in that,” Druker says.

It's hard to ignore the eye-catching name of the series. Druker says the F-bomb isn't just for shock value; it's symbolic of what the show intends to portray.

“Calling it Fuckup Nights, well, it's raw, it's honest, it's unfiltered and authentic. And that's what each event is all about.”

Photo credit Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real