Ahh, Fyre Festival. The gift from the content gods that just keeps giving. It couldn't just be the worst music festival in history, stranding hundreds of wealthy millennials between Miami and the Bahamas with nothing to do but hate tweet. Ja Rule's bro-run Caribbean island fever dream had to go and get itself sued for $100 million. And then the festival's pitch deck leaked and it's, well... utterly incomprehensible. After multiple readings I am still completely at a loss as to what Fyre Festival is actually selling.
Admittedly though, I do not have an MBA. Perhaps it's me who is doesn't get it. Fyre Festival could actually be the next unicorn, an AirBnb in waiting. So to find out whether I was missing out of the next big thing, I sent the festival's pitch deck around to some business experts—venture capitalists, business school professors, and successful entrepreneurs—to get their take. My main question was this: If you'd read this pitch before the Fyre Festival debacle, would you have invested or would you have run?
George HartleyI wish I had been in a boardroom for this pitch. It seems their business model was:
Co-founder of Bluethumb
- Idea: let's make the Cultural Experience of the Decade
- Pay Instagram celebs to shill it
- Ja Rule
Some of George's favourite slides:
Motivational text over filtered pics of babes: great on Instagram for likes. On a pitch deck asking for $25 million dollars: not so much.
Year one: Water. Seems legit.
I'm actually impressed they managed to wrangle all these big Instagram people into promoting this shit show.
$25 million. $25 million with literally no other information except to "acquire 500 managers." What valuation is the raise at? I.e. what slice of this wonderful company am I getting for my $25 million? What are the projected earnings? How is money even earned? Then the spend: that's $50k to buy a manager. How do you even buy a manager? Are they for sale? What does sort of return on capital does a manager give you?
The Raise slide is where actual investors start paying attention, as this is where they see what they actually get for the money, and the likelihood of how much will be returned on their investment. In the context of a very ridiculously deck, this slide is the most ridiculous.
Co-founder of Envato
If I were asking first time, high net worth investors who prized social status then that's probably exactly the deck I'd give them! If I were trying to get money from seasoned investors, then I'd deliver a far more realistic deck with more concrete operational details and a whole lot more numbers.
Any savvy investor would be looking at the deck to try and figure out what the risks were. From what was leaked it looks like a lot of the focus was on the involvement of influencers, but you can easily buy influencer advertising from marketplaces like Tribe.
If you look at the last pages at the deck at the team, there are about 15 people listed—none of them seem to have any operational experience. That is alarming straight off the bat. If I were looking at this deck I would be asking who was going to run the events on the ground and what chops do they have, because anyone should realise that bringing thousands of people together on a tropical island with no infrastructure is going to be pretty hard! The Fyre team is very marketing and fundraising heavy, and amazingly light on everything else... and that's what played out. An amazingly marketed event that went disastrously wrong.
You can try hiding behind obnoxious startup jargon and Instagram personalities, but you can't hide behind numbers. There is no defined problem, solution, business model, or traction. Doesn't it seem strange that the solution to recorded music revenue is live music? Live music doesn't solve monetising recorded content. Also, Ja Rule is so 2003, like when the iPod was a thing.
What's interesting about this pitch deck isn't what's in it but what was left out. Like Ja Rule's criminal record... and his history of criminal tax evasion. Influencers with big followings are great for publicity and exposure if they're legitimate and engaged followers but you need more than window dressing to run a successful event or business. A fancy designed pitch deck is one thing but due diligence, background checking, and reality are clearly quite another.
Fyre is not the first business to sugar coat their pitch deck but it's a great reminder to any business about the importance of transparency and honesty in communication. From a crisis management and communication perspective—it is clear Fyre had done little to no preparation—perhaps that's not surprising given they evidently hadn't prepared much for anything at all. Reputation and brand damage like this is hard for any brand to bounce back from.
Dr Anna Jenkins
Lecturer in entrepreneurship and innovation
Dr Paul Spee
Senior lecturer in strategy
University of Queensland Business School
There is actually a lot to like about the idea and the pitch deck that our students would score highly on if they pitched it as an assignment at the University of Queensland. First, the idea about hosting the world's largest musical festival is innovative. It would grab the attention of investors (who wouldn't want to tell their friends they funded the world's largest music festival?) Second, the design of the pitch deck is engaging—it conveys a powerful message through the way images and text are woven together. Third, the team demonstrates huge traction with more than 300 million social impressions.
So far so good! Where did Fyre go so wrong? The biggest problem is that Fyre essentially changes what it's pitching halfway through the pitch. What begins as a multi-sided booking platform just suddenly switches to a music festival. These have distinct business models and require vastly different expertise to establish and execute.
For each one different customers are targeted, and a fundamentally different revenue model is required to convert interest into actual paying customers. The question we would ask students presenting the pitch: how does experience in social media translate into expertise in setting up a music festival?
There you have it. Billy McFarland and Ja Rule probably would've passed a first year university business assignment but obviously failed by every single other metric available. Except for the fact that, just maybe, Fyre Festival seems to be a massive, expensive exercise to market a talent booking app and, to be fair, those "Fyre Starters" helped the festival sell out.
Don't forget those thousands of angry millennials, which Fyre trapped in some sort of Spring Breakers– Lord of the Flies mashup were paying customers (who now have a pre-sale ticket to next year's festival!) So vale, Fyre Festival. We surely haven't seen the last of you. And I am sure I speak for the entire internet when I say: We're very excited to see where you pivot to next.
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