We interviewed Billy McFarland

and asked him the tough questions that nobody asked.

Welcome to the most epic corner of the internet, HOSTED by POSH! Every Thursday, we're your go-to newsletter spicing up your inbox with captivating tales of event transformations, ingenious tips for hosting unforgettable events, and clever hacks to make the most of any budget.

This is the interview you never knew you needed…

Since it’s our job to distill the biggest stories and lessons in the event-hosting world, we felt it was our duty to share Billy McFarland’s story with you all.

Yes, Billy McFarland. The founder of Fyre Festival.

Billy, typically painted as the villain of the Fyre Festival fiasco, shares the initial spark that set Fyre ablaze and eventually consumed it. It’s a unique perspective and a reflection on the power of marketing and the sway of celebrity influence.

Check out the exclusive interview we had with him as we explored the origin story of Fyre Festival before it collapsed. This Q+A is filled with intrigue and lessons for any aspiring event host and marketer.

But, before we dig in, be sure to catch the full episode:

Billy McFarland: Attracting celebrities is akin to attracting investors. The question is, how can you provide them access to something they wouldn't have without you? For instance, an investor may not have the time to run 30 startups. So, he or she can invest in 30 startups and you essentially do the work for them. In my opinion, dealing with celebrities operates in a similar fashion. So, it's about finding out what they want access to. We began with Magnesis. We had a demographic that I believe was highly aspirational. We had thousands of young, successful, high-earning individuals in New York City. Whether you were a Barry's Bootcamp or a hip hop artist trying to sell a song, you wanted this demographic to consider you cool. So, it's all about offering direct access to a highly desired fanbase.


How Billy McFarland managed to attract celebrities to promote, attend, and invest in Fyre Festival 👀 #fyrefestival2022 #fyrefestival2 #fyr... See more

We scheduled a few dozen hip hop acts to perform at concerts. Word started to spread about the high quality of our fan base. The artists would come to our events and we would organize extraordinary experiences for them. They'd share a helicopter ride or a flight to the Bahamas with some of our members, really interacting with their customer base. We started to hear stories like, "Oh, you know, I met this guy from Google," and if you're a hip hop artist, you're probably not usually conversing with the head of machine learning at Google. They would exchange ideas and form relationships in industries they weren't previously exposed to.

Eli Taylor-Lemire: So with that said, how did you manage to secure all the celebrity investors?

Billy McFarland: We were on an island with some of the most famous people in the world, which created an ideal environment for fundraising. Whether someone wanted to discuss logistics or music talent, we could do something extraordinary to close the deal. It became a rather unique, albeit fascinating dynamic.

"Here I was, a 24-year-old, talking to a fifty-something billionaire who believed that Fyre would grant him access to an even more exclusive circle."

Billy McFarland

Eli Taylor-Lemire: Whether or not it seemed feasible, it seems they just wanted it to be real. They wanted to be part of it. It seems to me that many investors bought into the hype, right?‍

Billy McFarland: One of the things that surprised me and altered my approach was when we raised a funding round from a person who, at the time, and still is, a very influential figure in the finance industry. Strangely enough, this person was never mentioned in the media for investing in our company. He's very successful, with a large company and hundreds of employees.

‍He invested a significant amount of money in us, sat down with me, and made a pitch. He wanted our help to get this project in front of power players and decision-makers. He kept using the word "they" and referred to us as "they" - the billionaires. In his mind, Fyre was his vehicle to gain access to this elite group. This encounter was a bit of a mind-bender for me - here I was, a 24-year-old, talking to a fifty-something billionaire who believed that Fyre would grant him access to an even more exclusive circle.

Avante Price: Do you have a grand vision for what you want to accomplish next? Obviously, you want to repay people, but there are also rumors of a Fyre 2. Do you have any other large-scale ventures in mind that could potentially change the world?

Billy McFarland: Ultimately, I aspire to excel in the technology sector. My grand vision involves a world with no human celebrities in 20 years. I foresee a future where we become a factory creating these celebrity figures, much like Disney. This, to me, is the career-defining move for whoever can figure it out.

Eli Taylor-Lemire: You mean, like virtual celebrities?

Billy McFarland: Yes, exactly, virtual celebrities. That's the most intriguing concept to me, but it's going to take time. It's a ten, fifteen, twenty-year project. In the meantime, I think my focus should be on rebuilding trust and repaying people. The best way to do that is through a series of smaller ventures, whether that's television, film, a Broadway show, or even Fyre Festival 2. I need to stay in my lane, focus on my strengths, and seek partners to handle the rest.

Eli Taylor-Lemire: Two things we value highly at POSH are storytelling and aesthetic. I believe there's been a significant shift towards this approach, a prime example being Liquid Death. The product is essentially just water, there's no innovation behind it, but the brand itself is the product in a sense. Many of your ventures have heavily emphasized the brand, and sometimes even before the product. When were you first exposed to a company that had such a powerful brand?

Billy McFarland: This is a new thought, but I think what happened to Liquid Death is going to happen in technology now. Products will become so commoditized, and it will be relatively easy to build a tech product compared to ten years ago. It will then all be about the brand and grabbing attention.


Fyre Festival founder talks about the future of branding & tech #billymcfarland #fyrefest #money #liquiddeath #brandingstrategy #techbran... See more

Eli Taylor-Lemire: Where did you first notice this trend?

Billy McFarland: That's an excellent question. Honestly, I'm not sure.

"I think my understanding of a brand came down to this: how can you take someone to a place that they can't get without you?"

Billy McFarland

Eli Taylor-Lemire: Were there any inspiring advertisements you saw that led to those initial Fyre ads you put out?

Billy McFarland: Actually, I've done zero formal research on how to market effectively and haven't studied it in depth. My experience dates back to raising money for my first company and making software for numerous record labels and TV networks.‍

Essentially, I was a computer whizz, but I didn't know anyone who worked at a record label. Suddenly, I found myself selling software to the CEOs of major record labels. To me, the brand became about access. I would tell my college sophomore friends about my meetings at Def Jam's office. They were blown away, as their current aspirations were to land an internship at a bank within the year. I think my understanding of a brand came down to this: how can you take someone to a place that they can't get without you?

Eli Taylor-Lemire: So, moving forward, after having time to reflect on everything, what's your main goal coming out of this experience?

Billy McFarland: I believe my primary goal is to repay everyone while simultaneously achieving something remarkable.

Avante Price: How do you intend to do that? You obviously need a lot of capital to innovate and generate new ideas while you're busy paying people back. What does that situation look like?

Billy McFarland: It's quite challenging, and it's something I'm currently grappling with. I need to generate buzz to create large-scale value. However, by making noise, I'm angering a lot of people who've tried to hinder me along the way. So, I'm navigating this delicate balance of how to convey that creating a stir will ultimately lead to value for those I owe. It's a balance I'm trying to strike. I don't know.

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That’s all for this week, folks. We’ll see you next Thursday. In the meantime, happy partying.

— Avante, Eli, and the POSH team