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Fix the mess

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  • | 11:00 a.m. April 29, 2016
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The idea behind F*ckUp Nights, and its more family-friendly name, FUN Tampa Bay, is to share common, and sometimes not-so-common, mistakes entrepreneurs make — and how they overcame the calamities.

Here are three stories entrepreneurs Justin Davis, Meredyth Censullo and Chris Fasick shared at the latest installment of F*ckUp Nights Tampa Bay, held April 21 at the Rialto Theater.

Chase the right data
After working with an accelerator program and participating in several business pitches, it seemed everything was lined up for Justin Davis' brand advocacy app, Drawer.

The app allowed users to mark cool restaurants and places they wanted to visit, and evangelize about the places they loved. COMO Hotels and Resorts hoped to use his app as a digital concierge. During presentations, Davis would show a picture of a world map with the app's users up on the screen with little flags throughout the world.

But there was a problem: Davis, who runs Tampa-based Madera Labs, a user experience Web design company, wasn't tracking “real” users. He instead tracked people who downloaded the app. “I spent the next two years telling myself the delusion that this was working,” Davis admits. “No one was using it. I wasn't being honest about what was really happening.”

A Business Observer 40-under-40 recipient in 2013, Davis says he should have talked to users to understand what they would actually use, instead of focusing so much on pitch competitions. He also wishes he had a revenue plan from day one, rather than planning to figure it out after it hit it big.

One final lesson Davis learned: separate yourself emotionally from your idea. A friend helped him come to the realization he needed to shutter the app. He said, “If it's not a f*ck yes, it's a no,” Davis recalls. “If it's not winning, it's losing.”

Small details
Meredyth Censullo, an 18-year television veteran, says her biggest f*ck up was not making things clear in her contract.

The issue goes back to 2009, when Censullo, a Tampa area traffic reporter, started to broadcast traffic updates through what was a brand new medium: Twitter.

Censullo quickly figured out how to build an audience. She tweeted traffic updates she read and retweeted areas others were stuck. She sent personal messages to individuals who would tweet complaints about being late to work due to accidents, telling them, “next time check my feed!”

Says Censullo: “At the time it was groundbreaking.”

Soon Censullo had her picture and Twitter handle broadcast not just on air, but on a billboard in Tampa. She trained others in her field how to use social media and did a TED Talk on the subject at the Poynter Institute. She won an Emmy for the work in 2013.

In April 2014, she was fired. Though she says doesn't know what prompted a change, the news station requested her Twitter password. Censullo had built her following to 22,000 people. There was nothing in her contract about social media. But she says the news station claimed it owned her account because she worked on it during the workday.

It was a tough lesson. “If you're going to bring ideas to the table, talk about expectations from the beginning and get them in writing,” she says. “Be clear on what you can and cannot do.”

Censullo turned the lesson into a positive. Through her connections she built a business that provides social media consulting work for small businesses.

Preparation is key
After six months of relationship building, Chris Fasick scored a big gig with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014 for his company, Premier Photo Booths.

The company has grown quickly through customized photo booths at events that let people instantly upload a photo with a logo to personal social media newsfeeds. After a big hit event at Margarita Wars, which gained more than 137,000 impressions on Facebook, Lightning officials asked the company to supply two photo booths for seven hockey playoff games.

For the first game, Fasick says the company showed up and realized the Internet wasn't strong enough to upload photos immediately to social media. The arena didn't have a strong enough Wi-Fi signal and it only had one hard-line connection. Having decent Wi-Fi was something Fasick assumed would be a given. But across 20,000 fans on smartphones, it wasn't.

So for the second game, Fasick said he was prepared to knock it out of the park. He brought in his brother, who worked for tech support at Verizon Fios, and they set up a remote Wi-Fi network.

Everything was all set — until a representative from the NHL stopped by and told them outside networks weren't allowed in the stadium during a playoff game. Failed again.

“Try and prepare for everything,” Fasick says. “You can't predict someone shutting you down through your Internet, something you take for granted.”

This story was updated to reflect the correct spelling of Chris Fasick.


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