GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz.
LETICIA GASCA: Hi. How are you?
RAZ: First of all, is it Leticia?
GASCA: Well, the only person that calls me Leticia is my mother when she's angry. So you can call me Leti. That's fine.
RAZ: Leti - OK, great. OK, so Leti, can you introduce yourself to me, please?
GASCA: My name is Leticia Gasca. I'm an entrepreneur and a researcher. I am co-founder of the movement F***up Nights.
RAZ: Which we're going to have to bleep out, unfortunately, 'cause we can't say that.
GASCA: I know.
GASCA: I know. We never thought about the name, like, enough.
RAZ: No, that's fine. You run a - an organization that violates the FCC rules on decency. So we cannot use the name of your organization on our show.
GASCA: No problem.
RAZ: OK. So before we get to why you started F-Up Nights (ph) - which, by the way, are these events that you organize where people talk about their failures - I guess we should go back a few years, right?
GASCA: Yes. When I was in college, studying business, I met this group of Indigenous women. They were doing beautiful embroidered handicrafts.
RAZ: Where were they living - in Mexico City?
GASCA: No, they were living in the Sierra Negra in Puebla in a rural community in the center of Mexico. When I ask them, like, why are you doing this? Is this a hobby? Is these, you know, for the creation? And to my surprise, they said that they were doing this handicrafts because once a month, this guy was coming to the community and buying their products. And I ask, like, how much is this guy paying you? And they said 30 pesos, which was, like, probably $2.50 at that time.
RAZ: For each, like, bag or purse.
GASCA: Exactly. They just spent, basically, a month working on each bag.
RAZ: Wow. And what do they look like?
GASCA: They were, like, white pieces of fabric with psychedelic images embroidered. And I ask one of the women to made one for me. And, you know, I went back to Mexico City, and that embroidered bag was a massive success. Like, everyone wanted one - my friends, my family, my mother's friends. So, you know, I was still studying in college. I was studying business. I mean, that moment, everything looked really clear for me. Like, yeah, I should've start a business to help these women. I mean, they already had an amazing product. They just needed some help with the commercial part of the business.
RAZ: So Leti recruited four of her classmates to launch this business. They would pay these women more for their bags and then sell them to boutiques in the city - a win-win.
GASCA: Exactly. That was the idea - to create a business that not only had financial revenue, but also a social revenue.
RAZ: Leti and her co-founders did everything by the book. They drew up a business plan. They found investors, and they followed all of Mexico's strict regulations.
GASCA: And we thought that people from abroad would be crazy about these Mexican handicrafts that were so beautiful. But soon, we realized that we didn't have selling skills at that moment. I mean, we were in our early 20s.
RAZ: The bags started piling up. They couldn't find buyers. So Leti's co-founders started looking for other work.
GASCA: And I ended up doing everything on my own. And I think that I spent, like, six months in denial, waiting for a miracle. But to be honest, that miracle never happened. And I had to take the decision to close the business.
RAZ: Leti had to break the news to her business partners. That was hard. And she had to tell her investors, and that was hard.
GASCA: But to be honest, the worst part was to go back to the Indigenous community and tell the women that the business had failed. And it was our fault. I mean, they were doing everything in the best possible way. And I felt incredibly guilty, Guy. You know, like, I started the business to have a positive impact in this community. And when we closed the business, I felt that I had done exactly the opposite. And that broke my heart.
In fact, after we shut down the business, I took the decision not to talk about it. I felt so guilty that, basically, I hid my failure from my conversations and my resume. I did not know a single unsuccessful entrepreneur. And of course, I thought that I was the only loser in the world. And there was not a safe space to talk about business failure. I just decided not to talk about my failure for seven years.
RAZ: But then, one night in 2012...
GASCA: I was out with some friends, and we started talking about the real life of an entrepreneur. And one of my business partners said, like, yeah, but failure is more common than success. And he started sharing a failure story, and then another of my friends share a business failure story. And suddenly, we realized that we all have businesses that failed in the past. And we spent, like, three hours talking about our failures.
RAZ: And at that moment, you thought, wait a minute. This is the first time I'm talking about this.
GASCA: Yeah. That was surprising for me. In fact, I have said that it was like an exorcism for me in the sense that I have nothing to hide anymore, you know? Like, we felt that something was going on in that conversation, and we needed to replicate that same conversation with more friends. So that same night, after sharing our failures, we planned a session to bring our friends together to share more failure stories.
RAZ: Every single one of us, at some point, will fail. So why is it so hard to talk about? - because if we talk about it and really try to learn from it, failure can feel less lonely, less final. We can think of it as a setback, and setbacks, well, they're just temporary. So today on the show, we're going to explore ideas around setbacks, how we can change what seems like a crushing defeat into a steppingstone. And for Leticia Gasca, that night changed her perspective and changed her life. Leticia Gasca picks up the story from the TED stage.
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
GASCA: That night, I realized that - A - I wasn't the only loser in the world, and - B - we all have hidden failures. I realized that sharing your failures makes you stronger, not weaker, and being open to my vulnerability helped me connect with others in a deeper and more meaningful way and embrace life lessons I wouldn't have learned previously. As a consequence of this experience, we decided to create a platform of events to help others share their failure stories, and we called it [Expletive]-Up Night.
It has been surprising to see that when an entrepreneur stands on a stage and shares a story of failure, she can actually enjoy that experience. It doesn't have to be a moment of shame and embarrassment, as it used to be in the past. It is an opportunity to share lessons learned and build empathy. We have also discovered that when the members of a team share their failures, magic happens, bonds grow stronger and collaboration becomes easier.
RAZ: It's almost a cliche, but you - in some ways, you have to acknowledge, reflect on and talk about failure in order to learn from it, don't you?
GASCA: Oh, totally. And I think that sharing these stories is something that really helped us learn from those experiences. Another thing that I learned is that it's really hard to learn from your failures if you haven't lived all the grief related with failure, you know. Like, it's like - I think that somehow, when a business fails, that is really similar to losing someone you love.
GASCA: Like, you are going to be in denial. You are going to be angry. You're going to be sad or depressed. And finally, you are going to accept what happened. And the only way to really learn from your failures is to analyze that failure from the perspective of acceptance, where you already know what really happened, and you can even say, like, oh, this was my fault (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)
GASCA: We never imagined that the movement would grow this big. We are in 80 countries now. In that moment, our only intention was to help our friends see that failure is something we must talk about. It is not a cause of humiliation, as it used to be in the past, or a cause of celebration, as some people say. In fact, I want to confess something - every time I listen to Silicon Valley types or students bragging about failing fast and often, like it's no big deal, I cringe because I think that there is a dark side on the mantra fail fast.
Of course, failing fast is a great way to accelerate learning and avoid wasting time. But I fear that when we present rapid failure to entrepreneurs as their one and only option, we might be promoting laziness. We might be promoting that entrepreneurs give up too easily. I also fear that the culture of rapid failure could be minimizing the devastating consequences of the failure of a business.
When my social enterprise died, the worst part was that I had to go back to the Indigenous community and tell the women that the business had failed and it was my fault. For some people, this could be seen like a great learning opportunity for me, but the truth is that the closure of this business represented much more than that; it meant that the women would stop receiving an income that they really needed. For this reason, I want to propose something - I want to propose that we must put aside the idea that failing fast is always the best. And I want to propose a new mantra - fail mindfully.
RAZ: So what does it look like to fail mindfully?
GASCA: For me, failing mindfully means being aware of the impact of closing a business. That is why I am convinced that you can fail in a good way and in a bad way. I know that this can sound weird, but for me, failing in a good way is to fail mindfully, to be really aware of what is happening and to try to minimize the negative consequences of the failure of that business.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GASCA: I am so sad to say that I spent seven years denying what had happened, not talking about it. And I think that my life could have been much happier (laughter) if I had, like, this courage or vulnerability or this safe space. What I know now and what I can share with other entrepreneurs is that if your business fails, share that story. And also, the most important part is sharing those lessons, sharing those learnings with the world.
RAZ: That's Leticia Gasca. She's co-founder of F-Up Nights. You can check out her entire talk at ted.com. On the show today, ideas about setbacks. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.