Welcome back to another Hustle Harder episode, this is the first episode that we have recorded in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this episode, we sat down with Marsha Druker - the founder of Fuckup Nights Toronto and host of the Create Community podcast.
We were happy to sit down with Marsha and discuss some of the impacts that COVID-19 has had on her business and how she’s adapting. Hope you enjoy this episode!
Anyways, let’s get started.
Ali: Marsha, let’s start by you quickly introducing yourself.
Marsha: So I'm Marsha Druker, I’m the founder of Fuckup Nights Toronto, which is a chapter of a global speaker series and community where entrepreneurs and professionals come together to share stories of failure, also I recently launched a new podcast called Create Community where I chat with fellow community builders from Toronto and different parts of the world to really understand the human side of community and define what it's all about.
Ali: So let's all address the elephant in the room. We're all recording this separately from our own homes right now due to COVID-19. Everyone is in social isolation and quarantine. So obviously this is a very different format than how we normally record our shows in the studio all together. And why we really wanted to talk to you specifically today was because Fuckup Nights is an event based organization and having in person events isn't really available right now. So we wanted to get your take on how it's been affecting you and what you've been going through lately.
Marsha: So it really affected myself and my organization because it is event based, but we were actually supposed to have our three year anniversary event on March 12. And March 11th was the day that the Coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
So before that, that week was very much in a gray area. Like on that Monday, I went to an event with around 700 people. It was fine, you know, there was hand sanitizer and we weren't really shaking hands, but it was still fine to bring that number of people together. But as things sort of progressed throughout the week, we were able to see that the news that was coming out from Italy, a lot of companies were declaring that they were working from home. And it really became evident kind of like throughout the day on the 11th, that this event was just not going to be feasible on the 12th. It was still very much in a gray area, like there were no laws saying that events of that size are banned, the venue was good to go, and my team was good to go. I could have still done it, I think, but something just clicked in me where this event was supposed to be this amazing celebration, and we were supposed to have 350 people there. We had these amazing colorful decorations, and it wouldn't have been what it was supposed to be. So that was sort of what triggered that decision for me.
It was a really difficult process to actually go through and cancel everything. The day before I took a pretty serious financial hit with it, the biggest one being the catering order, which was all pretty much prepared. But one silver lining out of the entire situation was that we were actually able to donate that entire catering order to a shelter. So there's a shelter in Toronto that got food for 350 people and then as soon as that decision was made on the evening of the 11th and communicated I think things really started to escalate literally like an hour later. The NBA season was suspended, Tom Hanks got Coronavirus, and then on the 12th like the entire day was just crazy. I think that's when it really hit for people, like how real the situation is.
I realized that without a shadow of a doubt, it was the right decision to cancel that event or to postpone it, I should say, I still want to do it when the time is right. And it's going to be Fuckup Nights Toronto, three year anniversary plus X number of days. So yeah, that was the immediate impact of it.
And then from there, there's been a huge learning curve and challenge figuring out how to keep this conversation alive. Like the good thing about failure is that it could definitely continue to be shared digitally. So there's a few things that are in the works. We're looking at doing some virtual events that we'll be announcing in the coming days. And then we also introduced the new Instagram account - so at our monthly events, we have a bunch of activations and the most popular one is called the Fuckup Wall. So that's basically an area where our community can come together to share their failures in a really safe, fun, visual way. And it's basically a bunch of post-its that you can write down your fuckup in just a few words or sentences, and then post it up on the wall, and it's totally anonymous. And it just looks really cool and colorful, and people absolutely love participating in it and then just also looking at the wall and reading all the fuckups that are up there.
So we've decided to transition that fuckup wall to being virtual. We've created an Instagram account, you can follow it at @fuckupwall. It's like it was perfectly made for Instagram, we just have squares of the post that look really fun. And we're getting people to submit their fuckups either through DM on Instagram, or we also have a fully anonymous version available on fuckupwall.com. So that's been really fun to get off the ground, we just launched that this week and people are really excited about it. We've gotten some really good feedback and people have already submitted quite a few fuckups.
Steph: It was so wild when you were talking about the March 12th event, I remember that week as well and it was crazy because for us, we were working in our office. And then every day, it just seemed to get progressively worse, like something new was happening and the ball started rolling so fast. I remember we left work on that Friday, assuming that we would probably still be in the office on Monday, but we weren't 100% sure, we had talked a bit about going remote. And then I remember Sunday night, all of the news started to really come out and snowball, everyone was going remote and so we decided to take the company fully at home. And now we've all been home for three weeks.
I'm curious though about virtual events, you mentioned that you're starting to transition a lot of that digitally. And I love the @fuckupwall account, I follow it, I think it's so fun. And I think that's a great way to engage people and that will probably continue to be a great way to engage people even outside of COVID-19 which is great. How are you coordinating virtual events? Are you thinking about doing any panel series or anything to keep Fuckup Nights alive? And how are you continuing to engage your community outside of the fuckup wall or through zoom calls.
Marsha: So the format of our usual events that are in person, we have three speakers that each have 10 minutes and 10 images to share a fuckup. And then we go into Q&A, and there's networking and food and drinks. I think we can really bring that to life in two different ways in virtual events.
So the first one that we're going to kick off with, it's actually on 4/20, we have a cannabis themed event. This was already on the calendar for a while. And this was going to be a special edition event where it's a fireside chat with Bruce Linton who's the founder of Canopy Growth. He's definitely made it really big in the entrepreneurial world but has also lost quite a bit as well and has some really interesting fuckup lessons learned that he can share so that one was sort of a natural event to transition to being online. There's no reason why a fireside chat can't be done on a zoom call. So I'm really excited for that.
And then Fuckup Nights as part of a global community, there's over 300 chapters. So I've been watching what other chapters have been doing. There's also been some coordinated effort on the global level. Because Fuckup Nights was started in Mexico City, there's a huge presence in Latin America. And they just recently did a Latin version of Fuckup Nights like quarantine edition, where I think they had over 2000 people from all over Latin America and Mexico. And basically, they still followed that format, where the speaker would present for 7-10 minutes and then they would have their slides up on a zoom call. And I think that worked really well. So I'm going to review that again and potentially look at doing that for a Fuckup Nights Toronto as well.
Ali: I think this is a very interesting time to have this discussion. I know it's something that you talk about on Create Community a lot is the importance of having both that in person and digital community and why we do need both. I think this is a perfect example of why everyone should strive to look at both ways to engage people, both online and then in person events as well. So I was wondering if you could just maybe talk about that a bit more about if you felt that now is the time that you're really trying to build that digital community with Fuckup Nights?
Marsha: Absolutely. I mean, kind of reflecting on it now, I almost see it as a fuckup that I didn't have a strong online community before I sort of needed to with this. It's always been something that I thought about and brainstormed ways to do it, but nothing really felt right because I really do think that the magic of Fuckup Nights is those in person events and those in person connections.
Another challenge with Fuckup Nights is that our audience is so very diverse. Like we have speakers that come from all different walks of life like entrepreneurs, executives, young professionals, artists, and e-commerce entrepreneurs. It's all kinds of people in our community. So the challenge with that is, I thought at the beginning, why don't I create a slack group for the Fuckup Nights Toronto Community. But because the majority of our community actually maybe has never even used slack because some of them work in corporate or they're creatives and they just don't use that as part of their regular workflow. So that idea kind of didn't work out at the beginning. Also consider starting a Facebook group, like a Facebook community for it. But it was just something that we didn't prioritize with the team because we were so focused on creating these monthly events and really shaping that in person experience.
So now we're kind of at the point where we're catching up. So it's not like we don't have an online community at all. Like we have an awesome email list, we have great social channels, we see a lot of engagement through them. But before this, we haven't really had a forum for our community and it's something that we're definitely catching up on now. But I think the thing is like it's better late than never, and there's always opportunities to do it.
Britt: What are some other things, ideas and strategies that you have to create your online community?
Marsha: So I think something that's really important as a community builder is to really just listen to your community and see what they would want and what they would be interested in instead of just trying to guess and put something out there. So I would say a really good first step is even just doing a survey with your existing community members, see where they're active, and what would appeal to them. And then really gaining a better understanding from there and acting on it.
Ali: Are there any fears that you have, if this was to go on more long term than we're expecting? And do you even see that maybe when in person events start happening again, there might be more of a mix of a digital portion that you'll keep throughout this along with the in person side of it as well?
Marsha: Of course, there's a lot of fears around how long this is going to last and how long the organization could actually be sustained. Because we are an event based organization, the virtual events, they're going to be great to keep the community going and to keep that conversation around failure happening. But the reality is, I mean, our revenue comes from events and from sponsorships. And with virtual events, it's really tough to get either like, I don't feel comfortable asking anybody for money at this point, whether it's attendees or trying to engage any new sponsors. So for now, it's really just going to be sort of a community effort, really just a way to keep the conversation alive. But of course, I'm not sure how long it could be sustained without any revenue coming in. So that’s definitely that concern.
And then also having taken the financial loss with canceling that three year event. That was not fun. My other concern is seeing how our relationship with in person events is going to change after this. It's hard to even predict what's going to happen. I think it could kind of go like in two different ways either like we get out of this and people are just so starved for human connection that they're going to be so eager to come out and so excited to come and celebrate our anniversary.
Or there could be a fear with people being cooped up for so long and wearing masks and gloves and just really like getting an understanding of how easily a virus can spread. I think some people might still be really hesitant to continue to come out to events in the future, especially larger events. So I don't know, it could be like one of those two scenarios, I think it's really hard to say now. So definitely, we'll see how it goes with the virtual events, what kind of engagement we get with that, and potentially we'll continue to do both.
Steph: On that note, I'm curious as to how you think just human interaction in general is going to change after this whole situation? Because we've all been cooped up, some of us by ourselves, some of us with the same people for weeks, and who knows if it's going to be months or weeks or however long we're going to be in this situation. So I know before like obviously, a handshake was something that you do when you first meet people, do you think that these normal rituals are going to change?
Marsha: Honestly, they might. And no one has the answer to this. But I think it really depends on how long this continues. I mean, if we can kind of start going back to like, some resemblance of a normal routine after this, like maybe in a month or two, then I don't see human interaction changing that drastically, maybe at the beginning, but I think people will let their guard down as time progresses. But if this ends up being for much longer, I think it could change, where maybe handshakes are frowned upon, who knows? It's really hard to say.
But I think the other thing is like, a lot of us kind of expect to go back to normal life after this, but that doesn't exist anymore. The world has already changed so much. We're kind of entering a new world after this. And in a way it's kind of it's exciting to see how it shapes up and, and how we can really interact with people after this.
Ali: It's interesting because something else that I've been reading as well that I think we're all gonna have to go through and experience is, obviously everyone is working remotely at this time. And that's a really difficult transition for a lot of people, it's not easy to just suddenly switch remote and to have your entire organization be remote. But then there's also the entire thought of switching back to it not being remote. And people get used to their routines, everyone is creating their routines in their homes and their day to day lives here.
So that's going to be something else that all organizations and everyone is going to have to figure out how to work through and deal with is that transition to things going back to “normal” or what they were like before and it’s going to be interesting to see what our new normal is going to be because I can see it being a bit of a hybrid of what it was like before and then the extreme that we're in now.
Marsha: I think so too. I think it's going to have to shift to a hybrid. I think there's going to be a lot of resentment if you know like, there's companies out there that have been really strict on everybody having to come into the office, we don't have a remote work culture. And then now they were forced to adapt. And I'm sure their employees saw that they can be just as productive if not more productive at home. So to go back afterwards, I don't think they're going to have a lot of success being like, okay, now we have to always be in the office. I think people are gonna demand more flexible schedules, and they're going to have proof that it worked.
But then obviously, there's some jobs that are of course, performed much better being in person and that really require high collaboration. But yeah, I can really see us kind of moving towards more of a hybrid model and I can see flexible working arrangements being a lot more popular, which is a really good thing.
Ali: Aside from just chatting about how you’re engaging the Fuckup Nights community online, obviously you have a team of volunteers that you always work with for these events. How are you continuing to engage with them and keep that team morale even though the events aren't happening in person, is everyone's on hold until things go back to in person? Or are you still all communicating and working together in some way.
Marsha: So actually something really fun that we did on that Thursday where we were supposed to have our three year anniversary event, I hosted a little thing at my place where I think six or seven of the volunteers came out and we ate the cake that we were supposed to have at that event. That was a really great team bonding thing. And we were able to just chat and vent about having to postpone this event that we've all been so excited about and working so hard for. So that was sort of the first thing that we did, we're still continuing communication in slack. It's still fairly active.
And then aside from the volunteers, I have a couple part time students that work with me, so they're working with me until the end of May, and I haven't changed that, their roles are still really important. It's nice to see that the team is still really engaged. Everybody's going through their own challenges. Everybody's adjusting to this crazy time period.
On a personal side as well, it was an adjustment for me, like those first two weeks were really difficult emotionally just having to cancel the event, it was also my 30th birthday, just like a few days later, not how I pictured myself marking that milestone either, cancelled my party around that as well. So there was definitely a lot of emotional turmoil, I would say those first two weeks, like, of course, putting everything into perspective and realizing how lucky I am to be in the situation that I am. But I think you can still grieve things that you were excited for that didn't pan out the way that you thought they were. So I definitely took some time just kind of to myself, I didn't rush into announcing any new events. I communicated with everybody on the team and with our community, but I didn't rush into announcing anything before I was sort of ready to fully dedicate myself to it.
Steph: That was so sad. I remember watching that weekend. I was sad for you that the Fuckup Night’s birthday was canceled and then your birthday was canceled. On that note, now that you know, it's been a couple weeks, you've had some time to grieve. How are you using your time during the pandemic, and maybe what’s some advice that we can all give to other people, obviously dealing with the same thing to stay productive, stay happy, and hopefully push ourselves through this difficult time.
Marsha: I think a really key thing is establishing a routine for yourself. I think it's really easy to kind of slip up now. Myself, I'm definitely a night owl so whenever I'm out of a more strict routine, I just right away default to it. I'll just stay up and I'll get really into working on something and then all of a sudden, it's like 3 or 4am and like, how did this happen?
So really just trying to shape some kind of routine, but also maybe not fighting with yourself too much. Like if you do work better at night, you know, you can do that like now's the time for it. Or if you want to wake up super early, just like finding something that works for you. And then trying to create some kind of routine. Also a really key thing is maintaining your sense of community. Now, I think that's one thing that's really going to help with your productivity and also mental health. So I think that, you know, social distancing, it doesn't have to mean social isolation. And then really taking the time to work on projects that maybe have been on the back burner for a while or something that you're really excited about, but haven't really had time to execute. I think now's a really good time to do that, too.
Ali: What are some of the ways that you're making sure that you're not isolating yourself socially?
Marsha: So one thing that I did the first two weeks, I think part of it was so rough because I live by myself in the city and like in a pretty small condo, and it's weird because I'm actually really naturally introverted. I love having that space, I already usually spend a lot of time alone, but I think when it's forced upon you, it feels very different. So one thing that I did, I kind of isolated myself for two weeks and then I ended up going to my parents, so I'm staying with my parents now and it's been a lot better.
For me, I think mentally just being around other people, and then also being in a house versus a tiny condo, like there's something about being able to go to a different room or go to the backyard or even go for a walk around the neighborhood where it's way less busy than my neighborhood in the city. So that's been really helpful. My birthday, it was really nice, I was able to celebrate with friends on zoom, had a bunch of different zoom calls for it, one of my neighbors surprised me with a really cute surprise.
And then there's just so many cool things happening virtually like TechTO is a really good example. They pivoted very quickly to doing online events, and they had one specifically, I think this was like a week or two ago at this point where it was TechTO and they had Mayor John Tory and they had different leaders from the ecosystem in Toronto really share how they're going through this time right now, what's working for their teams, what's been working for them on a mental health perspective. It’s been really helpful sitting in on that and also having an opportunity to network within that forum as well and meet new people.
I think using social media even more, just chatting with people on my different social platforms and then as often as possible taking those conversations to either FaceTime or a zoom call and really connecting with people one on one that way has been really helpful to me.
Ali: So ending off the episode, Marsha, thank you so much for coming on. And I'm really happy to hear how Fuckup Nights Toronto is switching to focusing on that digital community and that there is growth and strength there for you as well. And also excited to see what you're going to do in the future with virtual events and continuing the @fuckupwall Instagram account and how you'll continue to grow that community. Thank you so much for coming on.
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