Money Basics

Fyre Fraud: Don’t Be Like Billy

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Billy McFarland is unctuous. To see for yourself, a Netflix documentary called “Fyre” (2019) and Hulu film called “Fyre Fraud” (2019) provide synopses of Billy’s professional life and public self-destruction via the disastrous Fyre Festival. But I’ll give you my own thoughts on this Fyre fraud herein.

Fyre* was supposed to combine a tropical vacation, Woodstock, and The Great Gatsby. Beautiful, cultural, exclusive. How exotic! Instead, it combined a tropical storm, Bernie Madoff, and Lord of the Flies.

*Note: from here out, my use of “Fyre” will refer to the festival, not the documentary

It was a music festival that promised a laundry list of hip hit-makers. It was a status symbol, where only the elite could afford to attend. Guests included global supermodels, social media “influencers,” and trust-fund beneficiaries. And it was all happening on Pablo Escobar’s former island in the Bahamas.

Fyre, it seemed, was too good to be true.

How Fyre Festival Ran A Black-Hat SEO Campaign | SEO Sydney
(L) From the Fyre ad campaign, and (R) from the actual festival

Too good to be true? You know where this is probably headed. Of course it was too good to be true. You can sell just about anything if you have beautiful models drinking colorful drinks on Pablo Escobar’s island. Speaking of which…I need to advertise this blog. Hmmm.

But my goal today isn’t to pile on top of Billy McFarland’s unrealized promises. The FBI has that covered. The low hanging fruit—don’t lie to thousands of people, don’t knowingly engage in fraud, etc.—has been thoroughly picked over.

Instead, I want to focus on this. As I watched Billy conduct Fyre fraud in the documentaries, I was struck by how his character traits were antithetical to the personal finance life that the Best Interest is trying to espouse.

Don’t be like Billy. He’s a flaming Fyre fraud. Instead, let’s learn from Billy.

Plan First, Execute Second  

A sound financial life starts with thinking. Thinking is free.

Think about the present and the future. Think about how much money you need to retire or to buy a new car. How much of your paycheck goes to groceries and gas and new pairs of socks?

I know you know this, but this style of thinking is called planning. Once you’ve planned, you can then spend that money, or execute your plan. At my job, engineers use the phrase, “Plan the work, then work the plan.” Plan out your financial strategy, and then execute that strategy.

If you do things the other way around—spend, then plan—you might find yourself buying tropical music festival vacations you cannot afford. Or you might end up inviting thousands of people to a luxury weekend experience while knowingly giving them no place to sleep. Bad plan!

At Fyre Festival, guests get cheese and bread instead of gourmet meals -  Business Insider
One of the gourmet sandwiches at Fyre. Yum!

You can also think about the past. You might call this learning or growing. Something like, “I once planned a huge party, but my understanding of realism failed me. I won’t do that anymore.” That’s learning! I think about financial mistakes that I’ve made, and I do my best not to repeat them.

Use Factors of Safety

On average, the stock market yields about 7% annual returns (after inflation). You put in $1000 today, and you’ll have $1070 (on average) one year from now. When planning for retirement, it makes sense that one would assume average returns—7% per year—from now until they retire. Why wouldn’t you?

The potential problem with this thought process is that the stock market has gone into long-term slumps. Some people get unlucky. Their working years might see worse-than-average returns.

Safety First. : gifs
Factors of safety…it’s like a helmet for your goat. Or cow? Or is that a llama?

So rather than assume the average, many financial consultants will suggest that you consider “worst-case” scenarios. Perhaps you should only use 5% average annual returns. This cautious conservatism provides you with a factor of safety.

Personally, I think 7% is fine. I’m not too worried. Here are two relevant articles, if you’re interested.

If you plan that things might go poorly, then you’ll be fine whether things are bad, good, or somewhere in between.

But if you plan that everything will occur in your favor, then you might end up losing millions of dollars on festival vendor expenses, spending six years in jail for Fyre fraud, and tarnishing your reputation for time immemorial.

Factors of safety can also be called slack. It’s one of my favorite terms.

r/Rochester - Can't we all just remain rational (Pittsford Wegmans)

What do you do when your winter vacation AirBnb is unheated? You call upon the slack provided by your emergency fund.

Or how about when you’re trying to glean silver lining lessons from a global pandemic? Slack affected home pantries, grocery stores, hospitals, manufacturing supply chains, airlines, hikers…you name it.

Slack—or the lack thereof—was everywhere around us.

Facts are the Best Influencer

How many of these do you recognize?

  • Just Do It.
  • Think Different.
  • The Most Interesting Man in the World.
  • Does she…or doesn’t she?  
  • Got Milk?
  • Where’s the beef?

(In order: Nike, Apple, Dos Equis, Clairol, the California milk industry, and Wendy’s)

Economics is based on the idea that informed consumers will make rational choices. But, as Noam Chomsky would point out, “You take a look at the first ad you see on television…it’s purpose [is] to create uninformed consumers making irrational choices.”

I bought that Jeep because it climbs boulders and stuff.

-A Jeep owner who will never take his Jeep over boulders and stuff

Most people do not make purchases because of rational reasons—because an item fits best, works best, or is most efficient. Instead, they purchase based on how a product makes them feel. The advertising industry is trying to take advantage of your feelings in order to separate you from your hard-earned dollars.

Fyre caught fire because of its outstanding advertising campaign. Did I mention the beautiful half-naked women?

Bella hadid gif 4 » GIF Images Download
“This writer…he’s so funny

Billy McFarland paid 400 of the most popular people on Instagram to post an advertisement for the festival. “See you at #fyrefestival,” wrote these popular people. Soon, masses of Instagram users were asking themselves, “What’s Fyre? Why are all the cool people suddenly talking about it? Is Tom Cruise going? IS TOM CRUISE GOING?!?!

To answer the pertinent questions: no, the Best Interest was not asked to advertise on behalf of Fyre. And no, Tom Cruise did not go. Tom’s absence—that’s the real Fyre fraud.

You see, these 400 social media “influencers” were helping Fyre sell a feeling. I’ve covered that feeling a bit already (see: music, models, Escobar).

But this feeling, it turns out, had no basis in reality. The idea of Fyre made people feel cool, feel rich, feel hot. But the festival itself made them feel dehydrated, feel endangered, and feel like a complete hack just ripped them off. Advertising isn’t always fraudulent, but it was certainly a Fyre fraud in this case.

Facts speak for themselves. For everything else, there’s influence.

-Jesse, the guy writing to you right now. But it sounds like a real quote, right?

I know I sound like a square. Like a crank. Like a curmudgeonly skeptic of the advertising industry. But I want to assure you: that’s because I am a curmudgeonly skeptic of the advertising industry.

I don’t want toothpaste that will make me “playful, creative, and sophisticated” like Shakira. People. Come on. It’s toothpaste.

I really enjoy how this Jeep commercial informs the viewer about the vehicle’s horsepower, towing capacity, and gas mileage.

Ha! Just kidding. Instead, you’ll feel like you’re being chased down by Hans Zimmer’s orchestra. “Freedom drives us forward because legends are forever.” Freedom? Legends? Are we talking about Braveheart? MERCY!

The crowd pleads for “Mercy” as an English magistrate tortures William Wallace via a force-fed Fyre Fest sandwich. The horror!

Mercy—Just End It

Oh man. You see how Billy McFarland gets me worked up?

Now, I’m not expecting anyone to boycott the advertising industry. The real point of today’s article was to point out some of the Fyre fraud’s mistakes and do right to correct them.

  • Plan first, execute second. It’s why you want a budget.
  • Use factors of safety, like in your retirement planning.
  • Stick to the truth. “Influence” is for the birds.

If any of you happen to be a global supermodel, please contact jesse@bestinterest.blog for some advertising opportunities.

For the rest of you plain Janes, a sincere thank you for reading the Best Interest. If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.


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About Jesse Cramer

I’m Jesse. I’m an engineer, a new owner of an old home, and an avid reader/writer. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@BestInterest_JC) or on Reddit (u/BestInterestDotBlog). Many of my posts have been directly influenced by my readers. It’s the most fun part of writing this blog. And as always, thanks for reading the Best Interest.
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2 thoughts on “Fyre Fraud: Don’t Be Like Billy

  1. Great article and fun read, Jesse. I always thought the premise of “Field of Dreams” was pretty dumb even though the movie was enjoyable. “If you build it, they will come.” Talk about a lack of planning. Leaves out that what you build needs to produce value AND they won’t come, you have to go find them! At least Billy realized the second part.

    1. Hey AZ. Thanks, glad you liked it.

      Yeah, Kevin Costner had a pretty distinct advantage in Field of Dreams: ghosts. When ghosts of dead baseball players come out of your corn field, your business model doesn’t need to be great. His bleachers only fit, like, 50 people. Kevin—come on! But at least he had ghosts.

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