You could hear a pin drop in the packed Shopify headquarters space during a recent Fuckup Nights event in Toronto as the speaker described her personal descent from successful financial adviser into clinical depression and mortgage foreclosure brought on by job loss and bad timing. The woman, at least a generation older than anyone else in the room, had everyone completely spellbound as she described her pain, loss and terror, the very things that later became the foundation for her new and happier life as a writer. Clearly, everyone in the room could identify with the pain but also with the hope and redemption.
Then there was the energetic guy who was so excited by the initial success of his new product startup that he ordered over $100,000 worth of t-shirts with his company logo on them.
Marsha Druker of Fuckup Nights is bringing authenticity to the Canadian tech community. You’ll hear stories at these events that you won’t hear at other tech events in Toronto. At Fuckup Nights you are usually in for an emotional rollercoaster as speakers tell their stories of failure and success. The event is intimate, fun and welcoming, and the learning and inspiration often occur below your level of awareness as you listen to these amazing speakers share their stories.
Aside from the speakers, the in-person networking opportunities and the gourmet quality pizza, you leave with a sense of connectedness to your fellow entrepreneurs and lots of new knowledge too.
At Fuckup Nights it’s the authenticity that gets you. The realness.
Marsha Druker has brought Fuckup Nights to Toronto, and the monthly event is coming up on its 1 year anniversary. We spoke with Marsha recently at a very loud coffee shop in Toronto.
Marsha Druker of Fuckup Nights Toronto
How did you get the idea for these events?
Fuckup Nights is a global movement. It was started in Mexico City in 2012, by three entrepreneurs who were talking about their own failures over a round of mescal drinks. They really loved what came out of it. They felt that it was the most honest business conversation they ever had, so they decided to do it with a bigger group of people and it just kind of grew from there.
I lived in Tel Aviv for about a year; I worked at a content marketing startup. I was going out to a lot of different events myself, and Fuckup Nights came up on my facebook. It popped up and I was like what is this crazy event name, I have to check it out. I went to this event and just fell in love with the vibe. I loved the stories that we heard and the types of people who were in the crowd. I just felt an instant connection. Everyone there was really open minded and they wanted to learn and they were thinking about what their next venture was going to be and how they could learn from the mistakes of others.
I had never really seen people share stories of failure before. Nothing like this existed in Toronto. Here, people were talking about success and how great they are, how great their company is. It is very shaped and curated. It’s great and sure it is inspiring, but you leave wondering how can I do this? How do I even start? It’s not super encouraging for someone who is just starting out.
With something like Fuckup Nights it’s real. People are being authentic. They are sharing the challenges behind the success. How did they get to where they are? It is something that really resonated with me.
So when I got back to Toronto I was looking for a new job, I was going to different networking events here and I remembered Fuckup Nights. I wanted to go to an event and searched to see if it was here, and it didn’t exist in Toronto yet. I was shocked. Before starting Fuckup Nights I’d never organized an event, I’ve never had a business, and I’ve never done anything remotely like it. But I thought; why not just go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? I’ll fuckup at something called Fuckup Nights (laughs). It’d be ironic at least.
Somehow it has been really successful. I think it was the perfect storm just waiting to happen. Toronto is such a meetup city. There are so many different events in tech, in marketing, in design, you name it, there’s a meetup for something. But there wasn’t anything that was looking at failure and there wasn’t anything eccentric and raw like Fuckup Nights is.
“They have ideas, they are curious, they want to change the world.”
There is a younger vibe at your events. The energy in the room is definitely younger, a more entrepreneurial energy. Why is that?
I’m not going for younger people per se, but I am going for a specific type of person. We are looking for people who are entrepreneurial – not necessarily entrepreneurs – but people who are entrepreneurial. They have ideas, they are curious, and they want to change the world. They want to meet new people, they really want to experience the world in a different way, and they are early adopters to technology.
It’s a really diverse crowd, people from all walks of life. We have people who are students, people who are working in corporate and people who are working in startups, given that our events are at Shopify – a hub for technology and for startups.
We do have people who are in their 50’s and 60’s but they have that same curiosity and they have that entrepreneurial mindset, so that’s what draws them to our events.
I went to my first Fuckup Nights on a whim and didn’t really know what to expect. I was completely captivated listening to these stories. I love to learn and I learned a lot. Importantly though, it put real human faces onto the Canadian tech ecosystem. It’s a cultural thing too, the mingling and the interacting in real life.
I think with most meetups and events that you go to, people go for the networking aspect of it. Sure the content is fantastic and you want to be there to listen to the speakers, but for a lot of people, the opportunity to meet like minded people to expand their own networks, to be able to find people to collaborate with on whatever they are working on. I think Fuckup Nights brings all that together.
How was that first event?
It was interesting in a lot of ways. I pretty much planned the entire thing on my own. I vetted all the speakers, I found the location, I found the partners, I organized all the logistics, I did all the marketing for it. I think the first one was the hardest in terms of finding speakers – finding 4 people who are going to be brave enough to share their stories of failure and be so raw and open in front of an audience when it was something they have never heard of before…
For me the challenge was that I had never organized events before. Things that I think would have been second nature to somebody who was experienced at something like this was new for me.
The marketing for it was probably the most interesting part: having the word ‘fuck’ in your name makes it a little bit difficult. You can’t promote posts on facebook or twitter – they get rejected. I tried and failed. So it was all about finding ways to spread the message organically. I hustled to get the word out.
My soft launch of it was at TechTO. There was a TechTO event happening the night I got the rights to Fuckup Nights. I didn’t have anything set up. All I had was a twitter handle. I had no outside anything. I pitched it. Coming soon, stay tuned, follow us. So much came out of pitching it there. Awareness was there, I had a few potential partners approach me, and a few potential speakers, people who wanted to join the team. It really got the ball rolling. It kicked my ass into gear. I announced that I was doing it, and there was no turning back.
Any event organizer will tell you one of the scariest parts is that you have this big space you need to fill and most of the ticket sales come in the last week and the last day. I was checking Eventbrite every two minutes. We were at the DMZ for the first one, which holds around a hundred, and until maybe the last two days before the event 16 or 20 people had registered, but then it snowballed and sold out and there was a wait list. We were at capacity. It was crazy!
As soon as we had that first event everything started happening really quickly so it was no longer a challenge finding speakers. There were people who came to the first event and loved it and said they had their own fuckup they want to share, asking how they could get involved in a future event. The DMZ recommended people from their ecosystem. Shopify have been our top partner. After the first event we moved into the Shopify venue and they’ve just been with us every step of the way; helping to find speakers, and personally working with their community development team has been such an amazing learning opportunity for me. They have really been able to coach me and help me along.
“Toronto was craving something like this. They didn’t know that they were craving it, but as soon as it existed it resonated.”
There is a need obviously, if it launched that well and got traction so quickly.
Toronto was craving something like this. They didn’t know that they were craving it, but as soon as it existed it resonated. Bringing the right partners onboard was major. When I was first thinking about it I was considering going smaller scale for the first events and doing it in a small co-working space, and then closer to the event I changed my mind – you know what, I thought, this could be something big. That’s why I got in touch with DMZ and I think having that kind of name behind it and being in that location just had a lot of credibility. Same thing with Shopify and the other partners I am working with now.
You are coming up on your 1 year anniversary!
We are going big for our 1 year anniversary. We are going to be in a much bigger space for that event – we’ll be at the concert hall, the old MTV building. It’ll be five hundred people, which is a big jump from our usual 200 in the Shopify space. We have three prominent speakers, and potentially more. We have a musical performance. It’s going to be a birthday party. It’s going to be a Fuckup Nights on steroids! One of my favorite musical artists, Danelle Sandoval is performing, we have a DJ and we have the venue until 2 am. It’s going to be a party.
At the 1 year I am going to be sharing my own failures and also do a look back at the year of Fuckup Nights. I am looking forward to that.
When is the Fuckup Nights anniversary party?
March 15th. Tickets are available here.
I am really excited about is doing more themed events. Our speakers come from all walks of life. We have people who are in corporate, we’ve had entrepreneurs, we have had ecommerce entrepreneurs, we had a burlesque dancer share a story, artists, people from all walks of life who have story of failure that they have recovered from and have lessons to share. There is really an opportunity to do more themed events, for example we are doing one with JLabs – the incubator for medical startups. We will be doing one for advertising fuckups. So I think that will be a very cool way to narrow in on specific partners and speakers. That is one of the ways I’ll be growing it. Not necessarily through bigger events, but more targeted events.
There are a lot of really amazing companies popping up, especially in fintech, Ai, and retail related startups. I think Toronto is really becoming a more desirable place to live and work. It’s an exciting time to build a company here, to work for a startup, and I am really curious to see how things evolve.