A 20-something tech entrepreneur is the man who helped rapper Ja Rule organize the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas. It was in 2015 when Billy McFarland, 26, first hit the headlines with his new credit card for millennials. Sometime around then, McFarland hooked up with Ja Rule. The Queens rapper even appeared on Fox News to promote the card. Much was made of McFarland’s young success and the fact that like so many other tech entrepreneurs, McFarland had also dropped out of college.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. McFarland Has Been Referred to as ‘Ja Rule’s Tech Partner’
In the lead up to the Fyre Festival, a Vanity Fair feature referred to McFarland as Ja Rule’s “tech partner.” McFarland told the magazine, “We didn’t just want to be a tech company that was a pure enterprise with no consumer awareness. So a festival was a great way to go and do that and beyond people who are attending.”
During his appearance on Fox News, Ja Rule was referred to as the Creative Head of Magnises. Ja Rule spoke about his involvement with the company in a December 2016 interview with All Hip Hop, “Me and my brother and my partner-in-crime, Billy McFarland, man, we started this company called Fyre. It’s been going really good, man.”
Vanity Fair reported that Ja Rule and McFarland were paying nearly 500 Instagram influncers to promote the festival on their channels. McFarland told the magazine, “We didn’t just want to be a tech company that was a pure enterprise with no consumer awareness. So a festival was a great way to go and do that and beyond people who are attending.”
The same piece notes that during the festival a literal treasure hunt was planned with the winner receiving $1 million. The hunt was the brainchild of Ja Rule and McFarland, with the help of Spartan Races.
On April 17, the New York Post speculated in a report that the festival’s organizers were “in over their heads.” That was based on rumors that guests had not received proper itineraries and even that some of the performers hadn’t been paid. A source told the Post, “It feels like they have good intentions, but are out of their league … Several companies bailed on working with them because they were very disorganized. They don’t return calls.”
The Wall Street Journal had reported on similar problems earlier this month.
2. In January 2017, Users of McFarland’s Credit Card Reportedly Wanted Their Money Back
McFarland released Magnises, a credit card for events, in the summer of 2014. For a yearly fee of $250, users get invited to a range of events and parties in their home city. The black card is now gone and has been replaced by an app, Magnises NOW. The catch is that you have to promise to spend $250,000 per-year on the card.
By January 2017, Business Insider was reporting that users wanted their money back because the card was not delivering on promises. According to the website, there are around 40,000 members of the service with the company securing $3.1 in venture capital funding. McFarland told BI, “We’ve hit some roadblocks along the way, and that’s what happens when you grow really quickly, and that’s on me.”
Upon the company’s launch, McFarland told the New York Post about the name, “[Magnises is] Latin for absolutely nothing. The name is made up, but it sounds grand, doesn’t it?”
3. McFarland Began His First Tech Company While a Freshman at Bucknell University
McFarland explained in an interview with Technical.ly that he began his first tech venture while a student at Bucknell University. He left the school in May 2011 and went to work on Spling, an online ad platform where McFarland is still the CEO.
The company began in Philadelphia before moving to New York City. McFarland said, “I quickly realized it was pretty unrealistic to leave school one day and expect to have the resources and network to succeed in a city like New York the next.”
4. In 2015, McFarland Was Sued for $100,000 Over Damage He Allegedly Did to His West Village Apartment
As part of the launch of Magnises, McFarland began renting a sprawling apartment in the West Village to run events out of. He told Business Insider at the time, “I brought friends to the townhouse for happy hours and that was really fun.”
The New York Post reported in June 2016 that McFarland was being sued by his landlord for damage done to the apartment. The landlord was looking for $100,000 in damages saying he needed to put in three months of repairs into the space. McFarland countered saying the suit was “not valid.” The rent was listed by the Post as being $13,750.
According to his Facebook page, McFarland grew up in Short Hills, New Jersey.
5. McFarland Has There Will Be a 2018 Fyre Festival
McFarland said in a statement, via Variety, that there will be a make-up 2018 festival in the U.S. for all attendees of the 2017 incarnation. He said, “We will make sure there is infrastructure in place to support us.” While McFarland added that $1.50 from every ticket sold will benefit the Bahamas Red Cross. The rest of the statement read:
The Exumas didn’t have a really great infrastructure — there wasn’t a great way to get guests in here – we were a little bit ambitious. There wasn’t water or sewage.
It was almost like we tried building a city out of nothing and it took almost all of our personal resources to make this happen, and everything we had, to make this festival go on.
In an Instagram post after the chaos unfolded, the organizers said that things had “got off to an unexpected start.” That message added, “Thank you for bearing with us as we work through the growing pains that every first year event experiences.”
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