Billy McFarland co-founded the ill-fated 2017 Fyre Festival, and is currently serving six years in federal prison for defrauding investors of $27.4 million.
What We Discuss with Billy McFarland:
- The ideas that sparked what Fyre Festival was trying to achieve on an epic scale and the shortcomings that transformed it into a fraudulent, failed mess.
- The countless things Billy would do differently if he could have a do-over.
- The numerous ways in which prisons are warehouses of unmet potential.
- How Billy stays safe and sane when he’s in solitary confinement.
- Billy’s biggest regrets and what he hopes to have a chance to accomplish after he’s served the time he agrees he deserves.
- And much more…
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In 2017, the influencer-hyped Fyre Festival was supposed to be the can’t-miss event for any self-respecting millennial of means. It was co-created by Ja Rule and today’s guest, Billy McFarland, as a posh, modern answer to Woodstock on a beautiful, remote island in the pristine Bahamas. But Billy bit off more than he could chew and, rather than call the whole thing off, he convinced investors to funnel millions into the project only for it to fail and leave attendees stranded in the middle of nowhere with FEMA tents as their only shelter against the elements.
On this episode, Billy talks to us from inside federal prison, where he’s serving six years for fraud and on the hook for $26 million in restitution. We discuss big ideas, countless regrets (he’s had a few), lessons learned on the inside, the value of trust (and the uphill battle of trying to rebuild it once it’s lost), and Billy’s plans for the future once he’s served the time he agrees he rightly deserves. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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THANKS, BILLY MCFARLAND!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Con: Fyre Festival | ABC
- Fyre Festival Founder Speaks Out for 1st Time Behind Bars | Good Morning America
- Dumpster Fyre | Apple Podcasts
- Billy McFarland | Instagram
- Fyre Festival | Wikipedia
- Fyre Fraud | Hulu
- Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened | Netflix
- Fyre Festival Organizer Billy McFarland Sentenced to 6 Years on Fraud Charges | NBC News
- Billy McFarland Kicked Out of Cushy Prison, Writing ‘Fyre Festival’ Book to ‘Name Names,’ Working At Sewage Treatment Plant | BroBible
- Fyre Festival Organizer Billy McFarland Has COVID-19 | Oxygen Crime News
- First Step Act Overview | Bureau of Prisons
- USP Florence ADMAX | Bureau of Prisons
- What I Learned Spending the Day in a Maximum-Security Prison | Jordan Harbinger
- Brian Scudamore | How Failure Can Be Your Key to Success | The Jordan Harbinger Show 175
- 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds: How George Floyd Was Killed in Police Custody | The New York Times
- US Urged to Address Racial Injustice or Risk Further Instability in New Report | The Guardian
- How a Black Card for Millennials Went Down in Flames | Fortune
- Ja Rule | Twitter
- Jeff Bezos Becomes the First Person Ever Worth $200 Billion | Forbes
- The Rise and Fall of Elizabeth Holmes, the Theranos Founder Whose Federal Fraud Trial Is Delayed until 2021 | Business Insider
- Fyre Festival’s Billy McFarland Arrested for New Ticket-Selling Fraud | Variety
Transcript for Billy McFarland | Quest for Fyre (Episode 422)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] This podcast is brought to you by Microsoft Teams. When there are more ways to be together, there are more ways to be a team.
[00:00:06] Coming up on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Billy McFarland: [00:00:09] The magical thinking wasn't where I went wrong, it was how I embarked on that. And I embarked on that by lying and trying to take the shortcut. One thing jail has taught me is like our brains are constantly trying to give us excuses or reasons not to take the hard path, not to take the hard work, and not to make ourselves suffer. And that's what we need to embrace. We need to acknowledge that and say, "You know what? The hard path is the right way. It's not worth it to take the short cut and to go faster because things don't work." So I made the bad decision to lie to try to get what I wanted faster than I deserve to get it. And that's where I totally fucked up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:45] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. If you're new to the show, we have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional con man. Each show turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:10] Today, like I said, the occasional con man. Look, he's serving his time in prison. I'm going to give the guy a little bit of a break. Maybe you've heard of the absolute catastrophe that was Fyre Fest. Maybe you even had tickets. You know, that event with Ja Rule and a ton of Instagram influencers who swear they'd had no idea that any of this was going on. The whole thing was wrapped in sex appeal. It was supposed to be the Woodstock of our generation. People quit their jobs to go. People were selling their possessions to pay for these tickets. And this ended up being a bunch of rich millennials, stranded in the Bahamas, sleeping in FEMA tents. Yeah, that Fyre Fest. Few events, especially events that never even happened warrant, not one but two documentaries. So many things had to go right to make it this big of a failure.
[00:01:57] Today, Billy McFarland, the man behind Fyre Fest is on the show today. Well, he's not here, here. He's actually serving a six-year sentence in federal prison for fraud among other things. He's speaking to us today here on The Jordan Harbinger Show before the New York Times, before Vanity Fair and everyone else. So I'm pretty excited about this, especially as he's pretty candid in today's conversation. Or is he? I'll let you be the judge. Again, we did this one remotely while he's in federal prison. So the audio quality is not what you're used to hearing from The Jordan Harbinger Show. That said, well, I think it adds a little something, don't you?
[00:02:29] If you're wondering how I managed to book all these interesting guests, many of which are not behind bars, well, it's because of my network. And for this one, I let's just say I got friends in low places. I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, many of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. Unless, of course, they are locked up with no internet. Come join us, you'll be in smart company. All right, here's Billy McFarland.
Female Operator: [00:02:54] You will not be charged for this call. This call is from —
Billy McFarland: [00:02:59] William McFarland.
Female Operator: [00:03:01] — an inmate at a federal prison.
Billy McFarland: [00:03:03] This call is being recorded and is subject to monitoring. Hang up to decline the call or to accept, dial five now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:10] This is Jordan Harbinger from The Jordan Harbinger Show. How are you doing?
Billy McFarland: [00:03:14] Jordan, nice to meet you. I'm lying in the bed I made here, Jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:19] So how's your mood these days? How are your spirits?
Billy McFarland: [00:03:22] It's just super up and down here. We've been on some sort of lockdown since March due to corona. And that basically consists of just getting stuck in this giant warehouse room with like 160 guys and not being able to go outside too much. So that kind of sucks. I think I've just made the situation far worse for myself than I had to, by messing up on bail. I went to solitary confinement for three months, got transferred to a higher security facility, much further from friends and family comedy of errors caused by my mistakes, but I am thankful for that solitary experience. And I think it really changed my perspective on a daily basis, which will try to dedicate myself towards helping everybody that I let down.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:03] Where are you right now? I know you got transferred.
Billy McFarland: [00:04:05] So I'm in Elkton, Ohio. And what some friends told me what he googled up in Ohio. The Google description of the town is pretty nice except for the razor wire views. So I think the jails are in the entire town and certainly not nice.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:18] How come you moved from Club Fed in New York to Otisville to Ohio? What, what happened there?
Billy McFarland: [00:04:25] So taking a step back, I had my bail revoked and was sent to Brooklyn MDC where I was for seven months. And that was just awful, you know, full of violence here. You're stuck inside. It was really kind of a brutal place. And then from there, I went to Otisville, which is in Upstate New York. And the good thing about Otisville was I was relatively close to New York, so close to family and friends who were able to come. And then once again, I got in trouble there after only being there for six months and was sent to solitary confinement, which they call the shoe, in Otisville. So after three months in solitary, I was flown on Conair towards a couple of places. And then finally ended up in this higher security place compared to where it was at, in Otisville, Ohio.
[00:05:05] So it was kind of a crazy journey that I did to myself, but ultimately it was like three months I spent in solitary, which hopefully we can talk about. I think it was just like the best thing to happen when you're just reduced to absolutely nothing to force, reflection, and confrontation with reality, the seriousness of my mistakes. I think it really improved my mindset and was able to help me understand just how serious they hurt people and hopefully, dedicate myself towards helping them in some small way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:31] And why did you get transferred? You didn't say what that was. Do you mind sharing that?
Billy McFarland: [00:05:35] I had a USB device.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:37] USB device, so like a flash drive.
Billy McFarland: [00:05:39] Exactly. I was working on my memoir. And it kind of gets back to the overall theme of, "I was just trying to go too fast," you know, once again,
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:46] Oh, so you've written a book or you're writing a book and — are you writing it by hand now? Or?
Billy McFarland: [00:05:49] Yeah, I wrote two books. I wrote one fiction book and a memoir. I wrote them by hand and then mailed them out to different friends and team members and they have of course typed it up and are getting those books edited. And it kind of gets back to the overall theme of, "I was just trying to go too fast," you know, once again.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:04] What's it like being moved to a new prison? Because it kind of sounds like the first day of school only the consequences — it's not necessarily bullying we're worried about or maybe it's bullying turned up to 11.
Billy McFarland: [00:06:16] Good question. The hardest thing is its distance from family. As you've seen with getting this call organized and getting everybody on the same page, communication is just so tough from here. And it's like hearing the calls from family and loved ones where they need you. They need to talk to you. They need you to be there and you just can't be there and you're so far away from them physically. So it's hard to come and actually see you, that's tough. And it just gets back to this bigger theme that every mistake hurts a lot more people than you would think when that mistake is being made.
[00:06:50] So the distance has been the overall toughest thing. And the less important level, getting moved around sucks. And due to COVID, we've been moving around different housing units. So I feel like I've had five different introductions to prison over the past, like three months here. And obviously, it's getting along with new groups of people and meeting new groups of people. You know jail, all jail, man, sucks. But at the end of the day, the worst punishment is just like hearing those calls for help or for love or support from family and loved ones and not being able to be there for them and it really sucks
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:18] When you say getting along with different groups of people, are you talking about like — I mean, everyone knows there's prison gangs and stuff, but how prevalent is that where you are? Like, do you fear for your safety, or is it more like, is it just hard to connect with people in general because you're behind?
Billy McFarland: [00:07:31] It's of course the unknown. You can wake up and get told to do anything, whether it's by staff, inmates, et cetera, you just never know what's going to happen the next day. You see a lot of crazy shit that you told me actually happened [three years ago, I would have laughed in your face and said, "No way the wall in front like that," but it's kind of eye-opening. I definitely felt like I was sheltered in terms of my perspective and exposure to how something actually happened. Where I am is, it's safe. It's definitely safe. It's more of being locked in a room with 150 personalities and it's just like the human aspect of that. But once again, it completely pales in comparison to what this does to family and friends and to care about you when you care about them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:10] How was solitary confinement? I mean, I know that's a ridiculous question. It's not like, how was your vacation, but how has essentially been locked in a box? Like, that sounds terrible.
Billy McFarland: [00:08:19] It really makes you think. And I think the biggest takeaway was I was just surrounded by a lot of like lost and forgotten men. In these solitary places where I was, it was also kind of like this transit solitary place, which basically means guys who couldn't be placed in a regular jail facility at any security level from the highest of the high to the lowest to the low were put there. And, you know, there was one guy who's serving a 30-year sentence and he was already locked in the same room for over three and a half years when I was there. He wasn't allowed to have a cellmate. He couldn't go outside with anybody. And it really just helps put things in perspective where you realize one, just how fortunate you really were, which makes the mistakes all the worse. And two, it helps you recenter. And it's like, if you just can't do something to make one of these guys feel a little bit better, who's just locked in the hole for decades, then you're really worthless. So I really appreciate how it just kind of recentered and refocused the mindset on creating value through good. Whereas I think I lost track of that in the days, leading up to my mistakes before.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:25] What do you do to stay sane when you are in a solitary confinement situation? Are you doing pushups every day? I mean, what do you even do just to not lose it?
Billy McFarland: [00:09:35] I tried to teach myself to write. So I wrote a couple of books and really just started thinking through the apology process and what's that like. I wrote a lot of letters to people that I hurt. And I think I learned just as much writing to them as they dissed my response. And that really just helped me understand the gravity of this and how I need to approach it moving forward.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:54] What kind of responses did you get from people who you reached out to since you were in there?
Billy McFarland: [00:09:58] I've spoken with some members of the team. And I think the concept of now being in jail for what? 27 months, I'm really surprised by who I speak with and also surprised by who I don't speak with. And some people were furious that it took so long and said, "What were you waiting for? I was waiting to hear from you." Others said, "We're just not ready to hear from you yet. And we never want to hear from you again." So it's kind of like a mixed bag. And that made me realize the apology process is just so different for everybody. And I need to respect that. I need to realize, you know, some people are just based on what I did or just hurt so much. And what I really did was beyond any financial damage, reputational damage, which is obviously terrible in itself as I violated trust.
[00:10:40] And now being in a situation for the past couple of years, where I live by trusting other people and being in jail and what that entails, just how serious it is to violate trust. And it kind of stings me in your court, realizing what you actually did and why it was so bad.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:56] Who are you surprised is not talking to you anymore?
Billy McFarland: [00:10:59] When people were around for a lot of the good, a common kind of game people will play — this person's only there for the fun or this person's there for everything. And some of the people who I expect you to only be there for the good times have been really, really dedicated, and guided their way to help me as much as they could, even though I hurt them in so many ways. And some of the people who I expected to still be there, aren't there. And that's kind of an eye-opening experience where it was just, it's really hard to tell, but none of this would have happened if I didn't mess up. So it's totally my fault.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:28] So in the past Fyre Fest fell apart, there've been two documentaries, which I guess you haven't seen those, right? The documentaries?
Billy McFarland: [00:11:35] No. And if I had the chance to, I don't think I could bring myself to watch it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:38] You don't think you would watch them? You're not curious. The curiosity would get to me, man. I'm telling you.
Billy McFarland: [00:11:43] I think it's kind of cool how much prison keeps away from you in terms of developing a clear mind, but at the same time, nothing is harder than hearing snippets of what's going on with your family that's not going well, or what's going on in the world or a negative story, or somebody getting hurt. Because then you hear this little snippet of information and you just can't act on it. We have 15-minute calls and during normal times, we're limited to 300 minutes a month. It's only 20 calls a month. So if you use a call or two to hear about like an ailing family member or something negative going on in the world, then you just walk away and you're just stuck. And it really took me a while to realize that both family and friends that you speak with as well as me being here have our emotional needs, that we try to get out of those 15 minutes.
[00:12:30] And it took me a while to realize that it needs to be calibrated from both ends. And we're both going through different experiences and arguably it's harder on the family than it is as an inmate. But how to calibrate all of our needs that we have into 15 minutes a few times a week and it's just, it's hard as hell, man, but that's kind of what we're going through.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:47] I've heard you've been busy in prison teaching music entrepreneurship. What's that all about?
Billy McFarland: [00:12:51] So when I got to Brooklyn, I taught a class on the vocation of music and we actually finished the class with the talent show where we brought in speakers and everything and had the students perform to the cellblock. So that was pretty cool. And then since coming to Elkton, I launched a project with Mike called Project-315, when coronavirus has first hit, they cancel all their visits here and a lot of people's families are struggling and they weren't able to talk to them. So we fund a little initiative to provide phone calls between inmates and families. And then like five days after we launched, the BOP made phone calls for free for everyone and that was certainly the first time I'd ever seen or heard of that. So that was pretty cool to see that the problem we were going after was real and that a good solution was provided.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:32] What draws you to teaching?
Billy McFarland: [00:13:34] There are just so many people who have gotten to meet here who just have the craziest life stories who are serving absurd amounts of time. We're talking 20, 30, 40 years. And at the end of the day, they all still have some good in their hearts and a lot of them have talent too. And I was a big believer before jail, or I guess I would argue that everybody in America had opportunity. And while that still might be true, I think I was totally wrong. Just opportunities so far from equal across the board. And I just felt like so many people lack exposure and that just completely limited the opportunity and chance to have life and work. And seeing the talent go unused, it just sucks, man. And it makes me feel for a lot of people and a lot of families who are struggling from the cycle.
[00:14:22] And I think for the first time in decades, just talking to inmates, the system is starting to change. So they called the First Step Act. It was passed a couple of years ago, which aims to provide more programming and more education for a lot of people, which is great. And now that BOP is taking a proactive approach to population control to making these places more manageable. So I think the political administration has taken an approach that hasn't been seen in many decades. And a lot of inmates here are fortunate for that. And I think if given the proper opportunity, some will grasp it. And that's all you can really ask because if you can change for our two families by giving everybody here a chance. That's really cool.
[00:14:57] So if all these changes that are happening to the prison system can give inmates the chance, that's going to change the family's lives. And some people are going to take those opportunities to take them seriously. And I think that's really cool. That's finally being seen and changed from the administration to BOP.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:12] What will teaching music entrepreneurship, for example, what will that help you achieve if anything, after a release?
Billy McFarland: [00:15:18] So there's so many guys in Brooklyn who I just never would have come across in my life and vice versa and I had a lot to learn from them and hopefully I could teach them a little bit too. And we get together. It was pretty cool. Some guys that are wanting to be on the management side, some guys want to be artists. And to sharing life experiences and really just creating a group setting where people who have made mistakes and are serving really greatly for those mistakes that come together and try to create some good. It was fun. And it created a way where days are meaningful for a lot of people who didn't have a lot to look forward to, and me included.
] Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:48] So is this the new Billy that we're hearing or are you the same Billy that tried to pull off the Fyre Festival? Like, is this Billy V2? Because a lot of what we're hearing right now, it sounds a lot like what we've heard and seen before. And even when I asked before on our first call, if you were a con man, we had 10 seconds of silence.
Billy McFarland: [00:16:06] When I think about the mistakes that were made and what happened, there's no way I can just describe it other than what the fuck was I thinking. And I think that applies to so many people on so many decisions that they made. However, I tried to justify it at the time or shortly after that, or for the period after that, it's wrong and it doesn't matter. And there's just no way to say it, I was wrong. And I hope now that I can in some small way, make a positive impact and hopefully actually bring help to those people that I let down.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:33] But a lot of people are going to go, "Ah, you know, he lied before, how do we know this is something different? How do we know that he's not just saying this because he's in prison?"
Billy McFarland: [00:16:42] I think to start, even if the Fyre Festival was the success and everything that I believed or I'd hoped is probably a better word that it was going to come true, I'd still be in jail. I was still guilty. And what I did was I lied to my investors and other partners about the status of our company, how much money we had, how much money we were making to get the money that I thought we needed for the festival. So regardless I was wrong, but through all these mistakes, I think there were some positive takeaways. And that really was this theme that I like to harp on now that when different people connect, who wouldn't usually meet, there's a lot of good value and innovation that happens there. So there's no way around my mistakes and how bad and serious they were but if I can use the positive aspects that I learned to do something good, then I think that's a big one.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:32] You believe in the value of different types of people meeting that would normally never meet. How do you feel that has happened for you in the past few years? I mean, I assume you never thought you would be spending your days with convicted drug dealers and violent criminals and also people that are probably have done similar things as you have, depending on which location you've been locked up in.
Billy McFarland: [00:17:52] So my friend here is serving a 26-year sentence. He's 11 years in and he started a sentence that the famous ADX Prison in Florence, Colorado. And I think he is one of the most genuine people that I've met in my entire life. And he has a heart made of complete gold. And it's so ironic on paper, he just seems like the worst person in the world. When you really get to know him, you realize how much good is there.
[00:18:16] The lessons that I've taken from this are really amazing, but it also shows you that someone who I probably wouldn't have met before, just has so much to offer in terms of friendship, and a relationship and a bond. And there's so much good and generosity in his heart. I was a big believer before jail that everybody in America had opportunity. While that's probably true, it's just completely unequal across the board. And there's so many little things that could be done to give more people a chance.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:40] I'm curious what you think could be done with some of these folks that you've met. I volunteer a little bit in prisons as well, and I meet a lot of inmates. And honestly, I think it's a — I say this all the time, it's a warehouse of unmet potential. I mean, I do resume screening and I help them prepare for jobs when they get out. And some of these guys, they have ideas and they go, "Oh, it's probably a dumb idea but—" And then they tell me their business idea and I often am in the position where I have to tell them that, "Not only is that not a dumb idea, but that the company exists and is worth $300, $400 million already and was a franchise company." 1-800-GOT-JUNK is one of those companies that I heard the concept first from an inmate and then looked it up and said, "Oh, this is a very successful company." I assume you've had similar experiences there where you think, but for this guy being born in the hellish inner city of Brooklyn, Detroit, wherever, this person would have been a very successful business owner.
Billy McFarland: [00:19:36] I think the one word is exposure, exposed to different options, different people, and really exposed to different career paths. And so my friend and I were talking here about how, as a kid, if you could be exposed to other opportunities, how he thought that would have dramatically changed his life. And then around the same time, George Floyd was killed and the entire world started realizing about all the racial injustice that exists. And then I realized that exposure just isn't really from one side. It's not just showing guys like who I'm friends with here, different things when they were kids. It's also about showing how white people, what black people have gone through for the past X hundreds of thousands of years.
[00:20:11] And so I think the top of exposure really helped both sides and just being here, it really helped me see from a ground level, how A we were only seeing it from one side, and B, just how important it really is for the world as a whole to understand each other and to acknowledge what's going on and to improve on it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:27] Going back to Fyre Fest a lot of people are thinking, "Okay, you try to plan a festival. It didn't really work out. It's happened before. A lot of things get canceled. A lot of events don't work out, but once you know that the festival wasn't going to go as promised or as planned, why didn't you call it off?" It seemed like there were just so many opportunities to say the bands aren't going to make it. The stage isn't going to make it. The toilet plumbing, whatever, isn't there. Like why not stop then?
Billy McFarland: [00:20:53] So I think the first thing that needs to be said is I was guilty and there's absolutely no way around that. I lied to people. I lied to investors. I lied to sponsors. And the lies were around this idea that I had where I needed to raise more money, or I thought I needed to raise more money to execute the festival. I did everything I could to try to pull that festival off. Looking back, there were thousands of management decisions that made that were totally wrong and totally incorrect. That of course contributed to the failure. At the end of the day, I lied to a lot of people who were supporting me, who were supporting the vision, and that's inexcusable.
[00:21:31] But the actual event — so a lot of people don't know, but the decision to cancel the festival was made when I was told that three people had died at the event. Thankfully, no one was actually physically hurt in any way, but up until I guess the last minute and the arrival of people, we thought it was going to work. And 27 of the 30 artists were fully paid and the other three were paid for the first weekend. It wasn't the fact that artists weren't paid or certain people weren't there. It was due to people getting hurt and not being able to manage the situation. And this stems from a larger overall problem and a lot of management decisions I made leading up to it. But up until the last second, I believe incorrectly we could pull it off, and obviously, I was wrong.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:11] So before you got the notification, the fake notification that people had died from pig bites and gunshots, you saw a lot of problems. I mean, you even said — and I believe this is from the Hulu documentary — "That every day we'd wake up to an issue, we'd solve it and there'd be another one," which is, by the way, any business that is throwing any kind of event or doing any project runs into issues like that. And you're playing whack-a-mole, right? That's literally every entrepreneurial endeavor ever. At what point did you realize that there was a problem that you could not solve?
Billy McFarland: [00:22:43] When I heard, people had died. I had been doing events for years with Magnises and I was so used to, at that point, people running to me with these problems, saying "We can't do it. We can't proceed for X, Y, and Z reasons." And every time we figured out a way to pull off the event and make it worthwhile. So it's kind of in this mode where every problem was surmountable. And I definitely didn't realize how difficult it was to essentially build a city out of nothing in five or six months. And I was totally wrong and also I made a lot of really, really bad management decisions along the way, which were underlined by lies to investors. While I was wrong, every kind of intent was there and I wrongly thought that it could be pulled off until the news of the death came.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:29] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Billy McFarland. We'll be right back.
[00:23:34] Now, there are more ways to be a team with Microsoft Teams. Bring everyone together in a new virtual room, collaborate live, building ideas on the same page, and see more of your team on the screen at once. Learn more at microsoft.com/teams.
[00:23:48] And now back to Billy McFarland on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:23:54] Female Operator: [00:23:54] You will not be charged for this call. This call is from —
Billy McFarland: [00:23:57] William McFarland.
Female Operator: [00:23:59] — an inmate at a federal prison. This call is being recorded and is subject to monitoring. Hang up to decline the call or to accept dial five now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:09] Look, you're really good at solving problems. One particular stroke of genius was when you were running out of funds, you decide to make the event cashless so people have to preload wristbands with thousands of dollars. So you've got another influx of cash from the attendees outside of the ticket prices. I'm sure you've reflected on this sense now that you're behind bars. I mean, if you were running something that was any sort of regular business, you would have been well-suited to that. I mean, this is exactly what a lot of entrepreneurs who are flying by the seat of their pants do, it's just, you took some steps over the line. Do you see it anyway as a shame that you weren't running, I guess a real company that did something that didn't turn out to be Vaporware?
Billy McFarland: [00:24:49] We're planning on doing the festival on an island called Norman's Cay. There is barely sewage let alone banks or ATMs. There's no way having people use ATM machine to withdraw cash is reasonable. The timing of the wristband was certainly announced to help with our cash flow with that concept existed far before that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:08] When you solve problems in a business, do you get a sort of thrill from that? Or was it just pure stress? I know a lot of business owners and its stress and they're freaking out here and there, but there is from personal experience a little bit of a thrill about playing whack-a-mole maybe not necessarily one problem after another, but solving a problem that comes up and just blasting through obstacles, it gives you a sense of confidence. Did you feel that at all?
Billy McFarland: [00:25:31] So the first thing is decisions I was making for the company, we're impacting the livelihoods of hundreds of people. If you're supporting families and their children and everything comes along with that, I need to take every management decision a lot more seriously. And I totally fucked up on that and that's not fair to those people. In terms of handling problems, I think I've got a personal level, I handled bad news, really weirdly. I shut down for 30 seconds when receiving the news and kind of feel like the world is over. But then I convinced myself pretty quickly that all of a sudden this bad news, that should be used as a positive and to turn it into a good thing. I think that's really good in a lot of situations, but it's also really bad in a lot of situations where I feel like no matter how bad things are, or maybe how bad the path that was going down, that could actually make a positive out of that.
[00:26:20] That's something I've grappled with and thought through a lot. At the end of the day, nothing overcomes the fact that people as well-being were rooted in the decisions I was making and beyond the lies to investors, even on the decisions where I thought it was doing the right thing for the company. I needed to be more mature and thoughtful about how I handled them
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:38] With all the juggling, such as finding one investor to get a quick infusion of cash in order to pay off, another investor or a vendor whose loan or invoice had come due. What's your level of stress like at that point?
Billy McFarland: [00:26:50] We had something called the urgent daily payments document. And basically, it was a Google Excel sheet that I wake up to every morning. And essentially, it was a list of payments that we had to make that day, or else the festival couldn't proceed. That was kind of the instructions that the team had in that document. So bank wires closed like outgoing at four o'clock. So I wake up at nine. I have a few hours to get the money in and then a few hours to get the money out. And in a couple of months leading up to the event, they went from a couple of thousand dollars a day to a few million dollars a day where I had to wake up at nine in the morning, find three million dollars by noon and then make the payments by four.
[00:27:26] I just went totally wrong and how I raised that money. And there's no excuse and I wish I could have just woken up one of those mornings in the beginning and I just had stopped. You know, you can get help. You have a lot of smart people who are helping you, things would have been okay, but I hadn't had the patience and I lost my morals with my impatience in that and I fucked up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:43] Were you feeling the stress or do you feel like you're almost immune to that sort of thing in some way?
Billy McFarland: [00:27:50] I think it sucks. The stress is awful and I kept looking for ways to find excitement, I think is the best way to put it, make it seem like the stress is worthwhile. So whether it was doing crazy free dives or trying to create escalations or doing things in the air flying that we shouldn't have done. I think I was looking for ways where I could justify the stress that I was enduring. And that's just a road to one place and it's not a very good place. And I think I just learned so much from how awful and terrible that feeling of my style is. And if you just have like transparent motive and purpose of everybody, life is so much better and nothing beats that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:24] What happened to the Fyre app? You have any ideas?
Billy McFarland: [00:28:28] The concept behind the Fyre app was trying to add transparency to the booking process in the entertainment industry. Through my previous company, Magnises, I was booking a lot of music artists to perform for our members. I just found that the entire process to be so antiquated and just full of smoke and mirrors. We had all these offers for artists and they weren't getting there. They're going through all these layers of middlemen who are tacking on fees and not really even understanding what the artist wanted.
[00:28:55] And the idea for the Fyre app came when I was talking with Ja after all he's performed at a Magnises concert, asking why he rejected our previous offers and he had no idea what I was talking about. So I built the Fyre app as a way to allow buyers to just contact artists and talent directly through technology.
[00:29:13] Where the app is now, I'm not sure. The Fyre Festival company was forced into bankruptcy. So I'm going to let that play out and hope for as much recovery as possible for everybody's work.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:24] Of course, yeah. Do you ever regret jumping from the app business into the festival business?
Billy McFarland: [00:29:29] I think the biggest mistake before I went awry was just setting an unrealistic time frame for the festival. Had we given ourselves a year or two and had I obviously not made the terrible decision to lie to my backers, I think we could have been a bit better place, but regardless of the mistakes that I made or what made things go wrong. So that's where things started and ended.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:49] So did you, at the time knowingly lie to the backers to get their backing?
Billy McFarland: [00:29:54] I knowingly lied to them to raise money for the festival. Yes. And that's what the crime was. The crime was inexcusably lying about the status of the company to get the money I thought I needed for the festival.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:04] What is the plan for restitution? I think, is the total 26 million, am I on point there?
Billy McFarland: [00:30:09] It's around there, yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:11] Yeah. So most people work their whole lives, they never even get a fraction of that — well, they technically get a fraction of it. They never get close to that, I guess you would say. What's the plan for that? How are you going to do?
Billy McFarland: [00:30:21] I think the wrong approach for me is to look at the actual dollar figure. And the most important thing is realizing that I violated one of the most intimate things that I was given, and that was trust. Before anything happens, I need to build that trust. And of course, rebuilding trust includes making financial amends, but I think more importantly is how it's done. So I'd rather do things the right way and have the financial figures be smaller or less successful than do things inappropriately and try to rush to pay off that amount. So I have no idea how long it will take. But I do know I will dedicate myself towards doing it and I'm going to do it properly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:59] And what happened to the merch? Like there was all this merch, the Fyre Fest t-shirts and hats, and all that stuff. Where did that end up?
Billy McFarland: [00:31:08] I believe that the government has auctioned off the authentic Fyre Festival merchandise that I had in my possession that was handed over to them. What we did was go ahead and design a Fyre line that was inspired by my time in solitary confinement. So it's almost like prison solitary meets Fyre key. Each piece that we designed, a company is a story of something totally unexpected that happened to me in solitary and really something I was exposed to they never thought I would be exposed to, and then taking the stories to design a piece of merch. All the proceeds -- or all my proceeds -- are going to restitution. But they made a line inspired by solitary confinement, you know, fashion plus island wear
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:49] What's an example of a fashion trend that comes from prison?
Billy McFarland: [00:31:53] Sagging pants — the derivation isn't very good, but it comes from jail.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:59] Yeah. You know, you hear about that coming from jail, but I think the — I'm never sure how accurate those kinds of, especially when you hear something like that from a 65-year-old white guy on the news, you're like, "Is this coming? What kind of source am I dealing with right now?"
[00:32:12] You're going to be doing a podcast, which it's going to be called Dumpster Fyre, from what I understand. I love the title. You're going to donate those or not donate but those proceeds are going to go towards the people that were harmed by Fyre Fest. Correct?
Billy McFarland: [00:32:26] So I own 50 percent of the Dumpster Fyre podcast and my entire stake will be given to restitution.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:32] I know from personal experience, podcasting can be a great living, but it's going to be a stretch to hit 26 million. Do you have other ideas for how you might go about restitution?
Billy McFarland: [00:32:41] I think the first thing I need to do is take responsibility for all of my actions and really train myself to operate properly, following all the rules, and just giving complete transparency. That's where things need to start, but there's definitely a bigger picture. So just kind of giving you some more background, the Fyre Festival was never supposed to be about expensive ticket packages or promises of top food and glamorous accommodations. It really just took a life of its own.
[00:33:08] It started because it was about this desire I had really a need to share this little island paradise that I stumbled upon and all the magic that I was finding on this Island. I was just so desperate to share it with as many people as I could. And what people don't know is that the Fyre Festival was really the culmination of dozens of trips or really many festivals that ran to these islands in the years before Fyre. It started first with Magnises where we took these small old propeller planes and flew them from New York to the small islands in the Exuma and eventually grouped taking a lot of Fyre app talent. And it was during these trips where a childhood friend said, "You should totally do a treasure hunt on these islands for Magnises members." Then the real Fyre Festival was spun.
[00:33:51] So I'm sure people have seen highlights or videos or clips from the various talent or entertainers or people or members of companies islands, but what does true two really about was what did we bring 12 people, 24 people, 300 people to this one little island and have them to spend three or four days together with adventure and trying to make the inaccessible, accessible, and just spending time, quality time with people they wouldn't usually spend time with and see what kind of relationships come by way of that.
[00:34:22] And as this worked on a small scale and as a group, the idea for the Fyre Festival was to expose thousands of people to this. And along the way, I obviously totally messed up, and more importantly, I hurt a lot of people. So I think before we get to the real dream and vision that I've been putting together, I need to take full responsibility and I need to take the first step towards rebuilding trust. And I think it really starts and ends with trust.
[00:34:48] So while this podcast will focus on connecting different people, it's really about the foundation of using the podcast to build trust and doing good. I love to almost tell people what I'm going to do on the podcast and then do it. And that's the only way to build trust.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:03] The documentaries would have us believe that all the artists and laborers, suppliers never got paid at all. I can tell that that's not true by the bank statements. And I know that you're not in a position to do so now, but if you could go to the Bahamas, what would you say to the people there who work to build the festival grounds, suppliers, vendors, et cetera.
Billy McFarland: [00:35:22] Close friends who remained in the Bahamas and I've spent a lot of time talking to them to understand the damage of who was hurt and what really happened. One of our most critical team members in the Bahamas actually died of a heart attack six months ago. And he had put a lot in the line to make the event of success. And I feel completely indebted to him. And that news, it crushed me for a while. And it's kind of like, as much as I can talk about making plans or trying to make amends it's any to go so much deeper with that. And I don't think I have the answers right now other than I'm sorry. And I feel the pain and living with the pain and I don't know if there would be made up for it, but I'll certainly try.
[00:36:03] And I don't think I appreciated trust enough. I was young and took it for granted, this idea of trust, where people just put their blind trust into me and I took it too far and I ran too far. And sitting on the other side of the coin now from jail, where trust is really like life or death. Trust is everything in jail and realizing that I was the one who violated trust for thousands of people. And now I'm asking for others to trust and really needing others to trust kind of a fucked-up situation and really brings to light, like what actually happened.
[00:36:35] I think one of the hardest things to swallow is realizing that you put people in situations that generally impact their life for a significant period of time. There's no excuse and I'm sorry for that. There were a lot of people that were hurt. These are two examples. I, unfortunately, don't know the exact numbers and stuff like that for everything that's out there. And I know that the overall total is just scary, crazy, almost like an unfathomable amount. And I think the only thing I tend to do is by doing the right thing every day, trying to pay that back one step at a time. It's not going to happen in a week or a month or even a year. But following the rules, operating within the allowed boundaries and trying to create some value, and dedicating all of that value back to everybody that was hurt.
[00:37:18] That's not enough, but I think the only appropriate response is to spend my time and send my love to spend the next couple of years doing nothing but that. I dream of being in a place where I could provide some sort of help or value or good back to the various people that were hurt and know they mean something different for a lot of people who were hurt, but that's the dream and that's the motivation. That's the goal. It could be anything to be ambitious.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:43] You've heard the expression, fake it until you make it. It's pretty popular in Silicon Valley. Did you feel like you were just this close or was there something else going on here? Because you tried for Bezos and you ended up with Theranos instead?
Billy McFarland: [00:37:55] So one thing I had to learn through my earlier companies’ years before Fyre was — like, I tried to instill myself the idea of, "To be comfortable with being uncomfortable." And I think that had a lot of good, but also a lot of bad with it where it always led me to push for more. So whenever I was at a certain point in my career, my company, it quickly felt inadequate and I wanted to do more. And I felt like I owed it to everybody around me to do more. And I kept finding what seemed like a total fantasy or far-fetched dream one day, a week later would have been surpassed and then seemed almost like boring or irrelevant and needing to then once again, push the next level, to keep things pushing. And this whole idea of living where things were never enough that wasn't going to end well.
[00:38:43] And ultimately, I lied and compromised my morals, which is awful and inexcusable, but I think it started with this constant push for more. And acknowledging that and recognizing that, I think it's really important towards moving forward to do things the right way. I need to understand what the intentions and motives are behind the daily actions and find happiness in doing things properly and taking the appropriate steps rather than just being completely unsatisfied and looking for more.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:14] What was going on with that sort of the second arrest while you were on bail, right? Most people are on their best behavior when they're out on bail, not selling tickets to events that they don't even have. So what was the plan for that? What was the strategy behind that? Was there a strategy behind that?
Billy McFarland: [00:39:30] This took me the longest to be truthful to myself about what really happened. I think I was just in denial for so long that I could have possibly followed up such a fucked-up event with another mistake, especially while being on bail, as you said. There's no excuse. I was just so wrong, man. I was desperate and thought I could take myself out of a hole when getting arrested and being on bail is the exact opposite time where you should be doing anything. And I should've sat down and shut up and reflected on it by mistake sooner, rather than trying to correct them with potentially even worse mistakes.
[00:40:07] The only way to proceed is to operate completely differently. And it's become kind of like this extreme transparency kick, where I want to publish everything, all the numbers, all the stats, all of our division and just be open. And beyond the right thing, I think this is the best way to live. If people are bonding over just knowing what each other are thinking and what we're trying to accomplish like that's when the best relationships I think are formed and values are created. Look, that's the human, and that's what life's about. I think that's where happiness is found. So it was totally wrong. That was awful. And I'm sorry for that. It was bad, but if anything, it helped me take that complete 180 and understand how I should be living.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:47] You had a big vision. I mean, it was huge and you got so close, it's just something great that everyone wanted to be a part of and people still want to be a part of it. I mean, there's making a podcast about you. They make TV shows. We did an interview for ABC a couple of weeks ago. I mean, people are still interested in this. I have to wonder if there's going to be a Fyre Fest version two. I assume you wouldn't call it that but are you thinking of doing something similar with maybe a little bit more of a game plan in the future?
Billy McFarland: [00:41:13] Are you going to come?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:14] I mean, I'm not going to say no, right? I mean, I'm almost sad I missed the first one. Although spoiler alert, it didn't work out so well, so maybe I'm lucky I stayed home and watched it on Hulu and Netflix. But yeah, I mean, as long as I got a place to sleep, that's not a FEMA tent. Yeah. I mean, look, I'll be on the early enrollment list.
[00:41:30] So is there going to be a Fyre Fest 2.0? I mean, there's a lot of brand equity in Fyre Fest.
Billy McFarland: [00:41:36] So you told me you're coming, so I have to do it, but in all seriousness, the most important thing right now is just to take the right steps and kind of rebuild that trust before I go out and do any of that. And I know a lot of people have been saying they have plans to do another one or this or that. I just think with so many people who have been hurt or left out — kind of left out to dry is probably the best way to say it. The most important thing to do is to take steps to help them and to establish that those steps can actually be made. But if there's anything that makes you want to create and build and do it's being locked in a cage for months or years. What people don't really understand is that the dream of the Fyre Festival was never about these expensive ticket packages or create plans or boats. It was about sharing this little island that I thought created this like ultimate magic when different people would come and spend some time there. And I really just wanted to share that magic with as many people as possible.
[00:42:32] So my plan moving forward is more about how I can use technology to connect as many people around the world as possible. And then through those connections, allow them to kind of create good and value. And then through that, if I can help everybody find their own little slice of magic, I think it's really, really cool. So whether it's a festival, a treasure hunt on hotel, that could be part of it, but the real theme is how can I take this time to learn how to dedicate myself towards helping everybody I let down. And then take the steam of connectivity and exposure and use that to connect as many people around the world as I can.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:09] This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Billy McFarland. We'll be right back.
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[00:43:49] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of those who support us, keeps us going. To learn more and get links to all the sponsors you've heard, so you can check them out for yourself, go to jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don't forget, we've got a worksheet for today's episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast.
[00:44:08] And now for the conclusion of our episode here with Billy McFarland.
Female Operator: [00:44:13] You will not be charged for this call. This call is from —
Billy McFarland: [00:44:16] William McFarland.
Female Operator: [00:44:18] — an inmate at a federal prison. This call is being recorded and is subject to monitoring. Hang up to decline the call or to accept dial five now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:28] When you were building the festival and the app, did you feel that as an entrepreneur, as a salesman that you maybe had to sell something that didn't even exist yet in order to create it? And at what point did you go from selling something that you'd intended to build, to selling an illusion or a fabrication?
Billy McFarland: [00:44:44] I think I was more worried about failing people who backed me and put in the effort. So whether that's working full time, whether that's investing, advising, I always had this one-track mind where I needed to make everybody win. And I thought I kind of make myself important and worth will be determined whether I can make all these people who had put their faith in the win. To me, the illusion was telling investors that our company was way better off than it was. And that's where the crime was committed. There was never a point where I thought, okay, we're doing a festival that we can actually build. I was wrong. And I totally separate from the crime. I failed at building the festival, but I'm not in jail for failing to build a festival. I'm in jail for lying about her company's numbers. I got in over my head. I tried to make it too big, too many people, and it was too much. And that led to the real problem, which is the lying.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:37] What would you recommend? What advice would you have for somebody who finds themselves in over their head, as it were, and tempted to stretch the boundaries of what's legal, what's morally acceptable either because they're in business or they found themselves in some other venture? What would you tell that person to do?
Billy McFarland: [00:45:54] I had really smart people around me and I could've just sat everybody down and said, "Look, guys, here's the reality of the situation." But I had this inflated concept that I could keep figuring it out. And the fact that we did keep figuring it out somehow or some way is what made the failure, the failure that it was. But I should've had the understanding and I guess I lacked the maturity to take a step back and say, "You know what? This is getting ridiculous. Yes, it might've worked the past 20 days, but it can't keep going on forever."
[00:46:21] Looking back when I found myself, not telling everybody the full truth and the full lay of the land that's should, would have been the first red flag. If you feel like you have to hide things from your team members, your partners, your investors, you're doing something wrong and not only is it wrong and immoral, it's just like, you're adding unnecessary complications to your life. There's no reason why everybody was working towards the same bullshit, know everything and make it all the more likely that that goal is actually accomplished when people are on the same page.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:52] Tell me where you think people have gotten you wrong. How have you been misunderstood? Have you at all been misunderstood? You know, where do you think the media and the public have gotten something wrong about you?
Billy McFarland: [00:47:04] I think from what I've heard, there's just been a lot of stories told that aren't accurate in terms of what we have or didn't have at the festival, what we tried to do. And then next is just from getting a list of people who I think spoke. I hadn't even heard of some of them. I think the person who said he was a creative director of the company of Fyre. I'd never met in my entire life. I've never heard of it. But I think there's a whole audience who, for whatever reason, just decided didn't want to interview. And really diving into the real stories about the work that was done, but also how I made mistakes against all of that positive work. I think the lessons and the entertainment gotten so much deeper than the narrative that's been told so far
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:40] Take me back to that particular week, right? Like you're there on the island. People are coming in two days. There's not enough accommodation. There's not enough food. There's not enough water. There are not even enough toilets, no plumbing. How is it that you had villas when the site we see in the documentaries, it looks like — it's a vacant construction site?
Billy McFarland: [00:47:58] So addressing the villas first, there was the festival site, which had X number of hundreds of tents, which we spent a little over a million dollars just on the tents plus furniture plus mattresses, plus everything else. Then outside of that, we had the cruise ship, plus a couple of hundred villas all over Great Exuma. And as we got it through a little bit before we had literally villa rental street teams and their entire job for the months leading up to the festival was to go to every single villa or large house they could find on the island and try to rent. So we would take families, give them money to send them on vacation, and rent their house for two weeks. And we do these hundreds and hundreds of instances. But then there were also like as questions arose, we had kept having small wins along the way to go. "We need more housing." "Oh shit. We just started an empty cruise ship, like two days' notice. What are the odds?" Boom, cruise ship arrives. People get excited.
[00:48:45] Then the stage goes up, but the stage is fucking awesome. We got a really, really high-quality stage. They're blasting the music. They're playing the lights and all of a sudden it feels really real. So along the way, all these great little wins happened, but that's just covered up for the poor management that I had overall, which, you know, overrode all of the good things that are being done.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:04] Like what's going through the mind of Billy McFarland? Paint that picture for us.
Billy McFarland: [00:49:08] I don't think the number of accommodations or number of the bathrooms was actually the problem. I think it was the management decisions I made. That was the problem. And didn't properly handle the arrivals, the guests. I think the biggest wrong decision I made. On top of all the illegal stuff, which by far as the worst was the night before the festival, a storm came through and we've had this kind of checklist, like the four or five final things that had to get done. And I just remember waiting hour by hour, like when does the rain going to stop, when's the wind going to stop? When's it going to stop it? We couldn't finish building everything we needed to do with the storm. And people started arriving early the next morning. And I think at that point I made the decision that would put the straw in the camel's back, which is that instead of having people come to the festival site, which would have probably worked. We set them to a different part of the island to this restaurant in the dock area, where we sent over all of our boats and jet skis and alcohol, and essentially gave like an open bar and free rein of the boats and the jet skis, and tried to use that last 10 or 12 hours to get everything up to snuff.
[00:50:12] During that time, one of our trucks ran over the waterline, which picked out our piping. And I made a lot of other management mistakes, but by the time everybody got back, it was dark and there was ended up lights and a lot of the guests were drunk and that's what all the rumors of people getting killed started happening and just became too overwhelmed. And that the event was actually canceled.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:30] But the fraud was, it was so blatant, right? I mean, in the Fyre app, you'd claimed $35 million in bookings and it was more like a million and a half. You'd said you generated millions in revenue is more like $60,000. Like that's not rounding up. That is blatantly making shit up. Were you thinking at the time, all right, this isn't right. This isn't in the realm of reality that this is an actual crime.
Billy McFarland: [00:50:51] It was totally fraud and it was totally wrong. I'm in jail for it and I deserve to be in jail for it. My ill-thought process was I'm building a lot of brand, of a lot of value here and I set a timeframe that is way too close to make this stuff still happen. I know at the end of the day or I thought that at the end of the day, the brand would get enough value to make everybody whole and make everybody financially successful. So I thought that the shortcut was to say, "Fuck it. Let's do whatever it takes to build this because I actually know I'm creating a lot of value and I'll pay everybody back and make it all worth their while." I was totally wrong. And I wished I scheduled the festival two years in advance. And it's completely honest along the way and if that meant we couldn't do it then, okay. We can't do it. And I totally fucked up, but that's what the thought process was. It was certainly fraud and illegal.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:41] Do you think you're drawn in by the status that came with celebrities and Instagram influencers? Because Magnises, right, the card brand, that was a pure status play. It even sold status in the form of you can buy this card, you can buy this membership. You can get elite parks. Fyre app was also a business that made sense and had legs, but it clearly didn't come with as much potential for status as a festival like Fyre Fest. I'm trying to get to the heart of what's the draw that led to the obsession or the magical thinking that got out of control in the first place. You had your eye on a prize, you know, you've had a lot of time to reflect on that. What was it that really got you unhinged?
Billy McFarland: [00:52:21] Fyre Festival started by running Magnises member trips on something we called Magnises Air, which is just a little propeller airline that we've launched to fly people to essentially unchartered territory. And the reasoning behind that was and the reason why I started at Magnises was because I wanted my friends who worked in certain industries to meet people outside of their industry. So if they've worked in tech, I wanted them to meet the people who worked in fashion or finance or entertainment. Because when those meetings did happen, that's been a lot of really cool things kind of came to be.
[00:52:51] And I felt like just by leaving college and moving to New York as an 18-year-old, running a tech company, I was just experiencing so much that I never thought I would experience. And every time something new or different would happen, or I would go through and experience something. I wanted to share it with everybody. I wanted to show my friends, my family, and like, "Guys, look what's out there. You have no idea like what we found or what we're doing." And that's how Fyre Festival started. I just wanted to show everybody Norman’s Cay. I was bringing all my friends down and I know there's all these stories that came up with the idea of whatever it was.
[00:53:21] The reality is there was a high school friend who said, "You should totally do a treasure hunt on Norman's Cay for your Magnises members." And that's how the Fyre Festival started. It was just this dream of sharing with people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:31] A lot of people have said, and even the court documents have said, "Billy McFarland is subject to magical thinking. He's prone to magical thinking. What do you think about that? What do you have to say to those people who think that you're thinking too big?
Billy McFarland: [00:53:44] I think that if you look at every great innovation in the world, whether it's technology, architecture, medicine, all those concepts started as a crazy idea in someone's head. The magical thinking wasn't where it went wrong, it was how I embarked on that. And I embarked on it by lying and trying to take the shortcut. But one thing jail has taught me is like our brains are constantly trying to give us excuses or reasons not to take the hard path, not to take the hard work, and not to make ourselves suffer. And that's what we need to embrace. We need to acknowledge that and say, "You know what? The hard path is the right way. It's not worth it to take the shortcut and go faster because things don't work." So I made the bad decision to lie to try to get what I wanted faster than I deserve to get it. And that's where I totally fucked up.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:29] So you think moving forward when you get out, I mean, are you going to start a business venture? I know you're barged from having a C-suite or director position in a business. But if there's one thing I know about entrepreneurs and business owners, it's that you're hard-wired that way most of the time. I mean, you, you, of all people, any entrepreneur, it's like a fish out of water. If you have to go get a job in a pre-existing organization and stick with that kind of thing, it's just not the way — it's just not your nature. Do you see yourself having problems with that upon release?
Billy McFarland: [00:54:59] The first thing I need to do is prove that I can operate within the boundaries and show that I'm dedicated through whatever venture it is, dedicating all those values or good to helping those I hurt, but of course, I had a plan and I had a vision that I'm looking forward to creating. And once you got nothing makes you want to build more than being locked in a cage.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:18] A lot of people think that you were scamming from the get-go, right? I was getting a haircut the other day and the barber's like there's money stash somewhere. So I'm not totally sure about that. I heard you had your family on the island and if this whole thing was a con from the get-go, rarely, would you expect somebody who's doing that from the jump to bring their family to the scene of the crime if the whole thing is just one big lie.
Billy McFarland: [00:55:40] I legitimately thought the festival was going to be executed. Some of the last-minute things that we did in a week or so before, which you've gone through and seen in the statements. There's been a lot of talk about housing. We needed more housing. So we actually found and chartered a cruise ship in like the week before the festival and had that parked right off-site. It got to a point where we were running these cargo barges, almost to a weekly between Fort Lauderdale and Great Exuma. And I believe our last barge got there Tuesday and the first guests were scheduled to arrive on Thursday. We still needed to bring over more mattresses, more materials. So we started chartering cargo planes that would take a container and fly it from the US to the Bahamas. And then we truck that container over to the festival site. Seriously, a lot of those cargo plane charges in there as well. And finally, we couldn't wait for mattresses to get shipped from China.
[00:56:32] So we literally went to Amazon and bought a million dollars of mattresses, had been shipped to Fort Lauderdale, and brought those over on the boat and the planes. So we were doing everything to the last minute. And should I have seen that things weren't going well? absolutely. More importantly, was I committing fraud to my investors and partners? Yes, and that's a big issue, but the attempt in the effort was to put everything I had, which I believe the statement shows, and trying to make this thing work.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:57] Unless what I'm looking at from the bank statements is not legit somehow. You know what I'm seeing here? It seems like a lot of work to fabricate something like this, just for little old me, but I'm getting a little stressed out, just looking at all the money going in and out of these accounts. And I can imagine how you felt spending $5.4 million in a matter of weeks. I see that you're paying for flight service. I see that you're paying for wireless service. There are other charges on here that are significant, that I can only imagine are to vendors. It's very clear that you were trying to do something, pull something off here. Well, I've done other investigative reporting to put a very fancy spin on looking at a PDF. When I look at other scams, they just look different. I'm not saying that this didn't turn into something that it wasn't meant to be, but it's clear from what I'm looking at right now that this wasn't all empty promises. Bad management. Yes. But it's hard to look at this and say, "Oh, he never planned on having a festival on this island at that time." I can't really come to that conclusion. It would be impossible. But also, you were dealing with some pretty high-flying folks looking at the names on these statements. I mean, you are obviously very convincing and well-connected.
Billy McFarland: [00:58:08] A lot of people who were supporting. I took their trust, lie to them, and violated that. And I want them to know how seriously I take that. And for everybody else, it doesn't matter who may or may not have lost money or who was involved. Simply lying about our better numbers to get more money to spend it, whether I thought it was right or wrong, that's fucked up. And I deserve to be where I am. I know I've learned and I hope for a chance, but it's going to be a long road to get there. I just want to acknowledge that no matter how it's different the picture may be as to what's in the portrait, the underlying crime is that, and there's no getting around it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:41] What's your biggest regret 20/20 hindsight?
Billy McFarland: [00:58:44] Lying and misunderstanding the value and importance of trust and how leading isn't about just foraging and venturing into new ground. It's about being the last person there and being a support system. So everything you say is happening at the front happens throughout and being the person that needs to fall back on delivering. And that's where I failed. There's real responsibility in all of these dreams and ideas, and they're not just dreams and ideas. To make them real, you need to own that responsibility and I lost sense of that. I'm sorry.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:14] What's one thought you want to leave people with today?
Billy McFarland: [00:59:17] I still think, I don't know how to apologize. I've tried writing people letters. I've spoken to them on the phone. And rightfully so everything has mixed results. So it's just kind of been a thought process where I know what I'm sorry for it, I know what I want to say. It's probably a unique situation for every person and I need to understand that my apologies probably won't be accepted. And if they do eventually it'll take years and years. But I hope to show you over the next couple of years through actions and through the transparency of my intentions of making this up to you in some small way. So thank you for believing me at one time. I took advantage of you. It's fucked up. It's not going to happen again. And I'm going to dedicate myself to try to show you how seriously I take this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:55] I really appreciate your candor here. I mean, what do you sort of dream about? I mean, of course, freedom, but is there anything like your favorite food or something like that. That you're just like, man, you wake up at night and you're upset you can't get a Philly cheesesteak. I'm just curious.
Billy McFarland: [01:00:10] I will do a lot of things for shrimp. I don't care how old, how frozen. I love shrimps.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:17] I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, here's a trailer from my interview with Laila Ali, daughter of legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali. She's got a great story about how she ended up the only other boxer in her family and how she carries her father's legacy. Whether you're into sports or not, I think you're really going to dig it.
Laila Ali: [01:00:36] You have to have it in you to want to be a fighter. It's not something that you just go, "Oh, I think I'll just try boxing," you know? Because you're going to get your ass beat if you don't train and you don't have it in you. When you get that opportunity, it was a brawl. I mean, it was bloody. It was like crazy. And I was like, "I want to do that." You think anyone punching you would hurt, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:51] Yeah, sure.
Laila Ali: [01:00:52] But as fighters it's like, "Oh, that person could punch, that person can't." Tapping you, tap, tap, tap. And then every once in a while, that bam! It's that hard one, "Ooh, okay I felt that."
[01:01:00] You're listening to your camp saying, "She's not finished, she this, she that." And then you have to get your ass in there and then you feel that punch like, "No! She can punch. No, she's not just a pretty face." If you see me across that ring looking at you like, "You remember all that stuff you talked about? Now, it's about to happen. It's just me and you. Nobody else can get in there with you." You know? And it's like, "I'll remind you of all the things you said." They didn't know that street side of me. Not everyone has that. You don't have to.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:18] Sure.
Laila Ali: [01:01:19] But I do. Now you get to meet someone, just see how they walk, see how they hold their stuff, and see if there's any fear in their eyes.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:24] What was your father's reaction to you wanting to box?
Laila Ali: [01:01:27] He didn't like it.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:28] No.
Laila Ali: [01:01:28] No.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:29] You guys were aspiring before you even put the gloves on.
Laila Ali: [01:01:31] Oh yeah. He supported me though. He came to a lot of my fights. He couldn't be all of them. I could always see that glare in his eyes and him being proud. And just to come into that arena and having everyone chanting, "Ali, Ali," and you just see him light up to see me in that ring and him just remembering himself. Our boxing styles are similar, the way I'm shaped, my body shape. So just seeing all of that had to be a super crazy experience for him.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:55] For more with Laila Ali, check out episode number 309 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:02:02] Thanks to Billy for doing the show. Look, I know a lot of people love to hate this guy and I understand that, but I think there's something to be said. He wanted to get his message out here and you know, there's a part of me that really does feel a little bit for somebody who's in their 20s and is having their 20s and early 30s/their entire life potentially defined by this and is locked away for a while. I mean, no matter how much you might think somebody deserves a punishment that they're getting, it is sometimes a little bit painful to see a non-violent criminal in a cage, even if they might deserve the punishment that they had coming to them.
[01:02:34] Now, I found it interesting that during the press conference, Ja Rule introduced Billy as his partner in crime. I mean, that just turned out to be literally the case. Although Ja never actually faced — it's so weird calling somebody Ja — he never faced any punishments with this. In fact, he's now all, "I didn't know anything about it", which I find almost impossible to believe.
[01:02:53] They also have merchandise among the mementos of Fyre Fest are sweat pants, shirts, tokens that are emblazoned with — and I'm not even kidding — "A conspiracy to change the entertainment world." Okay, interesting choice of words.
[01:03:10] Billy really did undergo trial by documentary. And I do wonder, is this the new Billy McFarland that we're hearing or is this the same Billy McFarland that tried to pull off Fyre Festival? Is there a Billy version two? Because a lot of what we heard today might be similar to what we've heard before. And look, the guy is convincing. If you saw the documentary, you know, there was one guy Andy, who was literally about to take one for the team in order to clear some containers of water that we're shipping to the island for the festival.
[01:03:40] If you haven't seen the documentary, well, I won't spoil that little tidbit for you. Let's just say you're going to rewind to make sure you actually understood what he was saying. You might even rewind two or three times because it's that unbelievable. Is he a genius who just got too big for his britches? Or is he merely a con man? You be the judge. Also, you can find more from Billy McFarland in the Dumpster Fyre. F-Y-R-E, podcast, Dumpster Fyre. We'll link to that in the show notes. Thanks to Notorious Network for making this happen for me. They're the ones who do the Dumpster Fyre podcast. I highly encourage you to go have a listen. I certainly will be doing so.
[01:04:15] There's a worksheet for today's episode in the show notes. A transcript for today's episode in the show notes. There's no video of this interview. There's a video of me talking on a phone if you want to see it. We'll put some clips up on the YouTube channel, jordanharbinger.com/youtube is where you can find us there. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram. You can also hit me on LinkedIn.
[01:04:35] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships, using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, that's free. It's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig the well before you get thirsty. Many of the guests on the show — with a few obvious exceptions — contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[01:04:53] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. And of course, my amazing team that includes Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know someone who will be interested in this story, Fyre Fest really did make the rounds, please do share this with them. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode of the show, please do share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on this show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:05:31] Now, there are more ways to be a team with Microsoft Teams. Bring everyone together in one space with a new virtual room, collaborate live, drawing, sharing, and building ideas with everyone on the same page, and make sure more of your team is seen and heard with up to 49 people on screen at once. Learn more about all the newest Teams features at microsoft.com/teams.
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