Hussein Hallak found himself in the darkest of places a decade ago: he was a million dollars in the hole, depressed and on the verge of suicide.
He’s now a successful entrepreneur with 10 companies to his name.
How Hallak got from Point A to Point B is at the heart of a new phenomenon called F***up Nights, a movement that’s part group therapy, part airing of grievances.
The event gives participants roughly six minutes to tell the story of their worst miscue in life and how they got through it. Ten slides are presented for 40 seconds each and a question-and-answer session follows at the end of the evening’s session.
The movement began in Mexico in 2012 and has spread to more than 150 cities in 50 countries across the world.
“I think Vancouver is a city that’s kind of obsessed with prestige,” said F***up Nights Vancouver producer/host Kei Baritugo. “But the thing is, we don’t really talk about failure and how the road to success is paved with failure. There are a lot of s*** sandwiches that you have to eat first.”
Hallak spoke at the most recent gathering in October and his presentation focused on a period in his life in 2005 and 2006. He was living in Dubai and attempted to launch a marketplace focused on selling Arabic art. He spent three years building it, invested a million dollars into it, maxed out all his credit cards, sold his house and took out loans left, right and centre.
The business failed within its first year.
“I was so depressed and suicidal,” said Hallak, 42. “I was going to kill myself and get it over with but I couldn’t bare the fact of leaving my family and my son. So I lived through it and had to work and pay everybody back. It was a total disaster.”
It took Hallak three years to get out of debt, and he’s been in Vancouver for just over two years. He’s now a serial entrepreneur and general manager of Launch Academy, one of western Canada’s leading tech start-up hubs.
In his line of work, Hallak finds himself presenting to scores of entrepreneurs all the time. Coupled with his background as a musician, Hallak is frequently on stage and comfortable with it.
F***up Nights was a different animal for him.
“I didn’t expect to be as nervous as I was,” he said. “I’m talking about my failure and really exposing myself, but the value for the people who were there was that they got to hear that it’s OK. I went through this big horrible thing, but I’m alive. I’m here today.”
Like Hallak, Tonye Aganaba feels at peace on stage. A musician recently signed to 604 Records, she got her time in the F***up limelight earlier this year during the fourth instalment.
Her bombastic booboo involved an email conversation that inadvertently got into the wrong hands: the participants in the conversation were bad mouthing another musician and the email was mistakenly forwarded to the person in question.
Music business parlance suggests you can never have enough friends, but one enemy is too much.
“It was just so brutal,” Aganaba recalled. “I wasn’t the one who sent the email, but I was complicit because I had spoken in a way that I should never speak about somebody.”
Getting the story off her chest was cathartic for Aganaba, but it also presented an opportunity for others to learn. That instalment of F***up Nights took place at the Gastown pub Guilt & Co., where Aganaba works as the operations manager.
“I wanted to stand up in front of my staff and say, ‘Listen, we all make mistakes.’ We’re all human and no one is infallible,” she said.