Before he co-founded the Fyre Festival, a disastrous music event on a private island that was supposed to be a luxury haven with Instagram models and Ja Rule but was actually a partially built tent city with feral dogs, 25-year-old Billy McFarland dropped out of college and started a combination credit card company and private club for millennials. Its customers said the company sold concert tickets it didn’t have and withheld thousands of dollars in refunds for months at a time.
The history of the card, called Magnises, gives reason to doubt that McFarland’s promise of refunds to Fyre Festival customers will be as simple or quick as he implies.
Magnises, McFarland said in 2014, is “Latin for nothing.” And McFarland did all the things that founders of startups with meaningless names do: He raised a few million dollars, produced a bafflingly unnecessary product and got his photo taken lying on top of six young women while holding his credit card.
Magnises marketed itself as a credit card for millennials, but because it was made of heavy matte metal and has a nonsense name, cardholder Gabe Saporta, an entrepreneur and synth-pop musician, told The New York Times in 2013that “people don’t even believe it’s a real credit card.”
People were right. Magnises isn’t a credit card. It’s really a credit card for their other credit cards: Customers pay a $250 annual fee for the metal card, which they can load their credit card information onto so they can buy things with it, which, of course, is what a plain old credit card does anyway.
What Magnises promised was access to certain restaurants and events, something offered by credit cards like American Express. Magnises also turned a West Village townhouse into a club, where New York society photographer Patrick McMullan and his DJ son would hang out with minor celebrities and real estate brokers. There was an app, too.
Oh, and singer Ja Rule was the company’s creative director.
The card didn’t do what it said it would do, according to online reviews. “Imagine if using OpenTable cost $250/year ... that’s Magnises,” a review of the card by Michael Worley reads. And that dim view appears to be a best-case scenario. Another customer, Shawn Lee, wrote that it took a month and a half of daily refund requests, a dispute charge with his credit card company and a complaint to the Better Business Bureau to get a refund.
It’s unclear exactly why Magnises didn’t have the tickets it said it had or couldn’t process refunds quickly. A Business Insider report on the complaints indicates that understaffing and inexperience were factors.
And those problems, along with a great deal of hubris, appear to be part of what went wrong with the Fyre Festival on the island of Exuma in the Bahamas. It was supposed to be a multi-weekend music fest headlined by Blink-182. Tickets cost up to $250,000. Guests ended up stranded with no way to leave the island, where there were scattered amenities and limited bottled water.
A former Fyre Festival employee wrote in New York Magazine that the warning signs should have been obvious. A month and a half before the show, there were no vendors, no stage rented and no transportation. “We were standing on an empty gravel pit and no one had any idea how we were going to build a festival village from scratch,” Chloe Gordon wrote. Ja Rule visited the site, Gordon says, and basically seemed to just hang out on his yacht.
Gordon’s final assessment is withering:
I cannot explain how or why the bros running this festival ignored every warning sign they were given along the way. The writing was on the wall. I saw it firsthand six weeks ago. They overlooked so many very basic things. And baby, they forgot to make me sign an NDA.
A spokesman for Fyre Festival scheduled a phone call with McFarland to comment on this article. McFarland didn’t call, and the festival spokesman subsequently did not answer numerous calls from the HuffPost. The Fyre spokesman called again later, though, after offering an exclusive statement to another publication, then hung up after HuffPost questioned him about the missed interview and changed arrangement.
Ja Rule responded with a statement apologizing to those who were stuck on the island and denying any blame for the fiasco: