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Photo Pieter Musterd  (Flickr) Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 - Hamburg by night

Oh fuck! I’ve ruined it! – Well, keep calm and go to a FuckUp Night, you’re not the only one failing with something.  These events take place all around the world. Every speaker has a few minutes time to tell the audience what he or she has fucked up and what he or she has learned from that. Sad events? No way, there are enough reasons to laugh, no matter if out of sympathy or relief. Daniel Plötz organizes the FuckUp Nights in Hamburg and explains for E&M why it’s all about falling down and getting up again.


E&M: People organizing events usually want it to be a success. So what makes you deal with failure?

DP: The idea comes from Mexico. It all started there in 2012 and they have a built a brand around it. The guys in Mexico had the same reasons as we have: There are so many events dealing with success. People telling you how successful they are in whatever business they are doing. Start Ups that succeeded. Events like 12 Minutes Me. And much more.  But so far nobody has ever talked about the story that comes before the success. Most people fail many times before they find the right way. So the core message of all the Fuck Up Nights is: When you fall, stand up and try again.

In 2014 the first FuckUp Night in Germany took place in Düsseldorf. And when we heard about it, we started organizing the events in Hamburg. I talked to the Mexican guys and they gave us the rights for Hamburg. It’s very organized. For example, as it is a brand you get the marketing materials from them. But we aren’t very strict. Usually the format of the events is that every speaker has only seven minutes. There wasn’t a single time when that worked out.

E&M: What did you fuck up?

DP: I’ve been working self-employed for some years in the advertising industry and I had many situations which I would call an “everyday life fuck up”. Every now and then something goes very wrong or there have been some customers which were a pain, but I had to find a way to deal with it.

But that’s not the main reason why I’m organizing these events.  What bothers me most is that from all the success stories you don’t learn anything! Okay, it’s nice to hear that someone managed to build a business in a certain sector. But you can’t just go and go the same thing. However, from other people’s failures, you can learn a whole bunch of things!

E&M: Where do you find all the failed people willing to talk publicly about it?

To find new speakers every time is the most difficult part! It takes quite an effort. Failure is still an absolute No-go. Many people, who are now successful businessmen or founders of good running companies, don’t dare to talk about their initial failures because they are too afraid about a negative impact on their businesses.

But I think it’s normal. Small children fall down again and again and again until they finally learn how to walk. With building a business it’s the same. Most of our speakers are from the start up scene.

And by the way all the people that have been at our events as a speaker have all fucked up something, but nevertheless they all managed somehow. Some of them have lost really a lot of money, but they all found a way to make a living.

E&M: If it’s such a no-go, then why do people nevertheless take part in FuckUp Nights?

DP: They want to share their experiences so that others can learn from them aswell. Some of the speakers are relieved afterwards that they have talked about their fuck ups to other people and got it off their chest.

E&M: And what’s about the audience? To hear stories about people surviving their failure, do you think it encourages people to do whatever they want to do?

DP: I truly believe that all the people who came to our events have left afterwards with more courage than they had before they came.  

Last time we had a special promotion to make people stand up for what they really want. We got 1000 Euro from a sponsor and we told the audience during the event:   “Whoever has the courage to come up on the stage right now and to tell us what he or she would love to with that money has the chance to win it “. We wanted to encourage people to fight for what they truly want to do. I mean, is this case it’s not even their own money they put at risk. At the end two young guys who want to make their podcast more professional and another guy who wants to build a Lastenrad won the money.

E&M: The events are taking place in many cities all around the world. Do people have the same attitude towards failure everywhere?

DP: No, not at all. I’m convinced that Germany is one of the countries where people have the biggest fear to fail. Here are so many people holding on to a job they don’t even like doing just because they are afraid of losing their status. It seems so important to them to go to the office every single morning that they don’t even really think about what else they would maybe like doing much more. In Germany everybody is afraid, founders as well as investors.

In America, like in Silicon Valley, it’s a lot different. All the people who now run big, famous companies have failed with many other businesses before. Also the investors think differently. They rather pay attention to the person, if he or she will be capable to run a company, instead of looking only for a five years business plan to make the yield as secure as possible.

E&M: When you take the USA as a contra example, do you think, the fear to fail is a German specialty or is it rather a European characteristic?

DP: It’s a German thing. If you look at other countries like for example England or Spain, they don’t have as much social security as we have, but still, here in the Germany to have a job comes first in life. To go to work every morning is the most important thing for us. You might sometimes even call it self-mortification although people really don’t have to. But still, to give people the chance to talk about their failures publicly and to give other the chance to learn from it, is something that works worldwide.

I myself decided to stop working self-employed and luckily found a job that I really like and where I don’t need to do all the annoying stuff like accounting. I made the decision to earn less but in exchange have less stress.  And people should have the possibility of a free choice everywhere. If someone wants to give up his office job to become a farmer, he or she should have the freedom to do it.



Ines Küster studies Urban and Regional planning and works as an author and journalist. She currenlty stays in Hamburg, but has also lived in the UK and Poland for a while. She loves asking people a lot of questions and has the strong hope that many small steps, by many committed people, will lead to a more sustainable and solidly united Europe.


 Teaser Photo: Sjoerd Wijn (Flickr) ) Licence CC BY 2.0