Entrepreneurs Swap Failure Stories As Part Of, Um, Mess Up Night

By Justine Griffin Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.

TAMPA

A bunch of tech guys and gals got together over beers and apps in Ybor Thursday night to share war stories about how they really messed up.

Like epic proportion mess ups that sometimes took out whole companies.

The event was called F---k Up Nights -- or FUN, the latter of which can be printed in a family newspaper.

It was a local slice of a global movement that launched in Mexico in 2012, where successful innovators and entrepreneurs get together and swap failure stories. Business communities in more than 42 countries and 100-plus cities around the world have signed on.

Local organizer Maria Alithinos saw her first FUN event at a Mercedes dealership in Germany. She loved it so much, she wanted to bring it home to Tampa Bay.

"We're so tired of hearing the same stories about how these guys are so successful and look at all the cool things they've done," Alithinos said. "What I like about FUN is it's the opposite. We all mess up. These stories are more inspiring because it shows successful people mess up, too."

The grass roots effort to get a FUN Tampa Bay event off the ground started a couple of weeks ago and has been making the rounds mostly through social media. On Thursday night, about 50 people packed inside Cowork Ybor, a small shared co-working office space by day, with an attached coffee shop and retail boutique next door.

There were students like 20-year-old Chris Paladino and 21-year-old John Publicover, who dream of graduating from the University of Tampa and starting their own tech startups some day. Then there were guys who had retired from their corporate jobs and were interested in trying something creative, but lucrative, during their off time. Some wore sweatpants, while others wore jeans and T-shirts. Some wore heels or dresses, or crisp button-down shirts and baseball caps. Most drank the free cans of Budweiser and Bud Light from a Styrofoam cooler in the back corner.

Chuck Papageorgiou, a successful serial entrepreneur from Tampa who has started companies ranging in size from five people to 1,000-plus, was tapped to be one of the first speakers.

Papageorgiou told the group how he washed away $7.5 million of his own net worth in just three months. All it took was one bad decision -- trusting someone he didn't know on his team to step up -- to take down an entire company he built from the ground up. His bankroll for the project -- a real estate investment group -- got nervous and backed out.

After the company folded, Papageorgiou took two months to regroup. And to drink a lot of wine, he admits.

"Whoever tells you to get right back on the horse doesn't know what they're talking about," he said. "It's important to take time to reflect and learn from it."

Papageorgiou is the founder and CEO of AvatarDSS, a medical company that uses math modeling to create treatment planning solutions through a partnership with the Moffitt Cancer Research Center. He's the founder and managing partner of Ideasphere, a consulting company that specializes in high-tech, logistics and financial services segments. He's also the co-founder and CEO of International Screening Solutions.

It felt a little like Silicon Valley right here in Tampa Bay -- an emerging business community that's not as straight laced as your typical chamber luncheon or young professional group networking happy hour. No one cared what you were wearing. It was okay to speak your mind, even if it included a curse word or three. Drinking beer with your boss was totally cool.

Speaker Brent Britton ran through four companies he started, or intended to, that flopped miserably. The tattooed and goatee adorning corporate intellectual property lawyer could have founded Tivo back in the 1990s, if only he knew at he was doing at the time, he said.

"Execution is everything," Britton said. "Ideas alone are worthless."

Scott Moore, the founder of Urban Body Clothing, a boutique line of men's apparel, shared a story about a charity fashion show contract gone wrong, in which lawyers battled it out over the word "provide." In the contract, Moore was to provide the clothing the models in the show were to wear for one night only. A misunderstanding led to the models thinking they could keep more than $17,000 worth of clothes.

"The lesson I learned is to be concise and precise, and know what you're signing up for," Moore said.

Thursday's FUN event should lead to more, Alithinos said. Another one is in the works for St. Pete, and a third possibly at a brewery like Cigar City, she said.

"Most of the time, we learn more from when we f--k up then when we do something right," she said. "I think a lot of people can relate to the stories shared, even if you're not an entrepreneur."

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