How to turn failure into success: an interview with Leticia Gasca


Leticia Gasca is the co-founder of the Global Initiative for Skills Portability, a think tank focused on helping leaders and organisations face the challenges of the future of work. Leticia also co-founded Shaping the Future of Work, the movement FuckUp Nights,  and the Failure Institute, the first centre in the world devoted to studying business failure.

What sparked your interest in failure?

While in college, I started a social enterprise with some friends with the mission to help indigenous women in Mexico to create an income stream through handicraft and improve their quality of life. We did everything by the book, as I was taught in business school, but soon we realised that the financial plan we had made was totally unrealistic. Back then, they were not teaching us about the lean startup method, rapid prototyping or minimum viable products.

After two years of working without a salary, we realised that the business was not working and we had to close it. It broke my heart and I felt so guilty that I decided not to talk about it for seven years. Until one night during a conversation with some friends – all entrepreneurs – I realised that we all shared similar stories of failure, but we’d never shared them. That’s when I realised that talking about your failures makes you stronger and helps in the process of recovery.

Why is it so important to talk about failure?

Drawing from my experiences, I feel that business failure is not as easily shared as other types of failure. As entrepreneurs, we must recognise that failure is more common than success, but unfortunately it’s still seen as a big taboo. Therefore, most people that embark on an entrepreneurial journey have a skewed perception about entrepreneurship, thinking they are the only ones that fail. The truth is that if we look at the numbers, 80% of businesses fail in the first two years.

That is why, we must change the perspective by creating a safe space for entrepreneurs to talk about their failures - the most important part of building resilience, a vital ability to be able to recover from adverse circumstances and to learn from them. But we can only do this through the power of personal example, by sharing our stories publicly.

How did you scale FuckUp nights to 300 cities in 90 countries?

FuckUp night was born as an experiment. The original idea was to just have a one-off event, but after seeing how successful it was we decided to host it monthly. At first, we tried asking attendees for donations, then we asked them to become patrons – neither worked. We eventually decided on charging the local organisers a monthly licence fee.We now have three revenue streams: 1) monthly licence fee, 2) corporate events and 3) research consultancy – working with governments and development banks by helping them understand why businesses are failing so they can make informed decisions.

What have you learned about failure that has surprised you?

Following the recent launch of our Global Failure Index, one of the most interesting things we found out is that the main causes of failure are related to bad financial planning. The good news is that this can be prevented by offering financial training to aspiring entrepreneurs.

There are also notable differences in how entrepreneurs react to failure. For instance, the most common reaction amongst men is to start another business within a year, while most women decide to look for a job, postponing the creation of a new business. Our assumption is that this is because on average, women suffer more from impostor syndrome.

Lastly, we found that high levels of bureaucracy can discourage business creation. In Mexico for example, the process of officially closing a business will cost you more than USD $2,000. In fact, the average life expectancy of a business in most developed countries is similar to the time it takes entrepreneurs in Mexico to close down a business – two years. For this reason, in 2017 we proposed a series of public policy recommendations that will see this process simplified. After working with the Congress, we helped change the law and starting this year, closing down a business in Mexico will only take one or two months.

What is one skill entrepreneurs will need to thrive in the future?

First of all, I think it’s really important to recognise that the skills entrepreneurs needed 10 or 20 years ago are not the same skills they will need to thrive now or in the future. Right now, we’re teaching young people valuable skills like data literacy, digital competencies, systemic thinking, cultural agility or critical thinking. Personally, I believe ‘lifelong learning’ are the key skills every entrepreneur needs to be equipped with in order to face the different challenges they will have to overcome.

What’s your top tip for turning failure into success?

I can’t stress this enough -  if your business fails, talk about it. It’s going to help you in the process of recovering and bouncing back. We must recognise that a failed business doesn’t make you a failure as an entrepreneur. You are more than your business. And the best way to turn your failure into a success is to remember that failure is an opportunity to learn and innovate.


Do you want to explore the theme of failure and innovation further? Join us and Leticia at our Global Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (GYES), taking place from 10-14 June 2019 in Cartagena, Colombia. GYES 2019 will bring together YBI members, leading experts, influencers and decision makers in the youth entrepreneurship sector to explore new approaches to the ever-changing needs, challenges and aspirations of young entrepreneurs globally.

Visit the GYES website to learn more.


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