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What Entrepreneurs Need to Learn From the Fyre Festival Disaster

Fyre Festival 2017
Image Credit: Fyre Festival

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the infamous Fyre Festival. This 2017 music festival turned disaster/international laughing stock has re-entered the public eye due to documentaries released by both Netflix and Hulu that detailed precisely what went down. If you haven’t watched either doc, let’s just say it’s somehow much worse than we all initially thought.

The good news is that entrepreneurs can learn some extremely valuable lessons from Billy McFarland, the leading man behind Fyre, was described as “either the smartest guy in the room or absolutely insane” by his team. He’s now facing 6 years in federal prison and yet started running scams when he was out from bail after the first fiasco.

Entrepreneurs need to pay attention to precisely what happened here, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes. Startup culture tends to idolize guys like McFarland who take significant risks. Sometimes, it works out, and genius truly is present. Sometimes, you turn into a laughing stock.

Here are some key takeaways to make sure you don’t make the same mistakes:

1. Backup fantasy with fact

This is where you need to start. It’s great to dream big and make plans; well over 50% of Americans want to be entrepreneurs, reports Forbes. However, in reality, only 4% of the population actually are entrepreneurs.

How is there such a massive difference between desires and the actual work of being an entrepreneur? The answer lies in execution. The reality of being your own boss is stressful, draining, and requires large quantities of talent, hard work, and luck in turn.

When the Fyre Festival trailer dropped, it was clearly selling a fantasy. It branded itself as “a quest to push beyond…the boundaries of impossible.” World class supermodels like Bella Hadid and Haley Baldwin swimming in crystal clear waters, beautiful crowds at large concerts, endless luxury, waterside cabanas: these were just a few of the promised teased by the trailer.

The reality of the event has been widely shared: leftover hurricane relief tents, soaking wet mattresses, limited food and water, no influencers in sight. Fyre Festival created the fantasy with absolutely no plan to back it up. After they sold 95% tickets within 48 hours of dropping the trailer, the plan stopped there.

A realistic timeline and solid plan are necessary for all entrepreneurial visions to become a reality. Don’t get caught up in the dream at the expense of the details! That’s what makes that 4% successful over any others.

2. Don’t surround yourself with yes men

Billy McFarland was the ideas guy, the dreamer, but certainly not the planner. He had a team of dozens of successful, artistic designers and organizers working under him. These people had no problem coming forward for interviews with each of the documentaries, but at the time, no one could voice their very reasonable concerns.

McFarland was reported over and over as having a ton of charisma and positivity, and would answer any issues with “We’re not a problems-focused group, we’re a solutions-oriented group, we need to have a positive attitude about this.”

These buzzwords probably sound familiar. While positivity is a great trait to have while dealing with stress, it can only get you so far. Certainly not all the way to the Bahamas. You need a team that will listen to you and support you, sure, but you need someone to tell you when you’re off the mark. “Leaders need to surround themselves with those who are willing to step in and prevent a disastrous decision from taking place,” says Art Rainer.

Mckinsey reports that 97% of employees and executives believe that lack of alignment impacts the outcome of a task or project. Build your team with humility in mind. You need to be checked sometimes, and admitting that is an enormous strength.

3. Know when to call it

Sometimes, your business idea just isn’t going to succeed. That’s just a reality of the entrepreneurial life. The key here is to know when to call it quits. There were a laughable amount of points throughout the “planning” process where admitting defeat would have saved the entire team time, money, stress, and jail time.

McFarland ignored all of it, and finally cracked “when all the guest arrived to the mess,” explains Complex. “After all the guests had left and locals who worked on the festival started demanding money, he was nowhere to be seen.”

The Fyre team could have postponed the festival, explained the issue, or just flat out cancelled, especially when the night before Day 1 the festival site was flooded with rain and the tents and mattresses were ruined, not to mention, the stages were half built and there wasn’t enough temporary housing for 2/3rds of the attendees. Bad press and financial blowback would have been better than the complete disaster of the actual event.

Make sure to begin with a bulletproof process for your entire business pitch, including a plan for failure. Cover your financial bases, make sure everyone involved gets paid appropriately, and learn for the future.

Not every idea will succeed, and that might actually be a good thing for your long term career. You just need to know when to call it. Learn from the worst, become the best. There’s a reason Fyre Festival has become so notorious. The power of influencers and social media as well as the manipulations of McFarland and the naivety of his team all combined into one of the most memorable events of the last few years.

Entrepreneurs just getting started as well as seasoned business people need to take note and make sure not to repeat these same mistakes. Have a solid plan, a reasonable and communicative team, and a realistic timeline, and you’ll be on the right track.


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