Can this movement get SA entrepreneurs to finally embrace failure?

Updated on 20 April 2016

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Can this movement get SA entrepreneurs to finally embrace failure
Target miss

South African entrepreneurs are known to have a profound fear of failure, now there is a platform where they can celebrate their mistakes as stepping stones to success. The initiative is called FuckUp Nights and it was launched two years ago in Mexico City from what was originally a casual meeting of friends talking at a pub about their startup failures.

The event is now hosted in over 50 cities around the globe including Miami, Brussels, Dubai and Johannesburg.

The goal of the initiative is to celebrate startup failures through storytelling. At each event three to four guest entrepreneurs are invited to share with other entrepreneurs their stories in a seven minute long talk followed by a question and answer session.

FOF crippling SA entrepreneurship

Fear of failure and entrepreneurship rates are linked. Research by GEM shows that South Africa has low rates of entrepreneurial intention.

Among the factors that influence the intention to start a business is high opportunity, capability perceptions, and a low fear of failure. In Senegal and Botswana fear of failure rates are less than 20%, while in South Africa it’s 30.9%.

“The ecosystem over-glorifies success but it doesn’t speak to the stepping stones to success”

South Africa scores at just 10.9% compared to Botswana and Senegal who have the highest stated rates of entrepreneurial intentions with over 60% of adults in those countries reporting that they intend to start a business over the next three years.

Lesley Williams, co-founder of Impact Hub Johannesburg, an accelerator for startups with a social impact, has been hosting the event in Johannesburg for over a year. She says one of the problems in the South African entrepreneurship ecosystem is that entrepreneurs are expected to put their best foot forward, and because failure is not talked about, they lose out on important lessons.

“So the idea of FuckUp Night is that we learn from each other’s failures. The ecosystem over-glorifies success but it doesn’t speak to the stepping stones to success. I’ve been in situations as an entrepreneur where an investor won’t invest because ‘oh my goodness somebody has failed!’, there’s negative brand association or there’s fear that the person could mess up again.”

“Whereas in a lot of thriving economies, and the US is quite leading in terms of creating a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, once you’ve failed in business two or three times that shows that you have true grit and resilience. You’ve learnt from your mistakes and you are more likely to succeed. And that is what we’d like to bring to the local South African ecosystem,” says Williams.

Learning from our screw-ups

Recognised as Vuyo, ‘The beeg beeg dreamer’Vuyo’s restaurant founder, Miles Kubheka, shared with the 50-plus crowd at the trendy Mellville Rooftop Night Market, 27Boxes, about the crushing failure of his first sit-in restaurant in Braamfontein – made more spectacular by the public glare that surrounded the launch of the brand.

“Once you’ve failed the business two or three times that shows that you have true grit and resilience”

Failure is a double-edged sword, he said. “You should fear it, but it should never stop you from starting because then you’ve practically failed before you’ve even started.”

Kubheka says that the importance of failure is that it makes you think of all the decisions you make and makes you responsible.

“More often than not people are not afraid of failing itself, its actually what come with it  – the negative stigma, the loss of income. But we need to fail more – if you do more, the chance of failure is more but the chance of success is more as well.”

Also in attendance, entrepreneur Akhona Bashe shared this sentiment adding that it’s important to let people know that entrepreneurship is not glamorous.

“It is very much hard work especially in the beginning,” says Bashe, “It is not just about passion. There’s also real issues, money-related issues and many other things entrepreneurs go through and I think that these need to be shared.”

Bashe says the event is the perfect platform for knowledge-sharing and for encouraging each other, allowing people to understand what entrepreneurship is really about.

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