The Fyre Festival Founder Was Known For Another Controversial Business Venture Before That

by Lia Beck

In the new Netflix documentary Fyre, about the epic fail that was 2017's Fyre Festival, viewers get a deeper look at the man behind the event, Billy McFarland. McFarland is currently serving six years in prison for fraud related to Fyre Festival and for additional defrauding, but before he became known for screwing a ton of people over, he had another business. McFarland had a "credit card" company called Magnises that was meant to be an elite credit card for wealthy millennials... or, at least millennials who wanted to seem wealthy. Also, the card was made out of metal, because luxury.

Magnises is what McFarland was known for before starting Fyre, an app and website that was supposed to change how people booked musicians. (Fyre Festival's purpose, in fact, was to promote this venture.) Fyre includes clips of McFarland appearing on news shows to talk about the card, which required $250 in annual dues and included "benefits" like offers for reduced price concert tickets. Magnises also held exclusive parties, including some at a clubhouse in New York City's West Village.

But, while it was known as a credit card, it was more of a membership program with perks that was linked to a card the member already had. According to a 2013 New York Times story, "It is just a way to dress up your everyday Wells Fargo or Bank of America card. Magnises simply transfers the data from the magnetic strip of that old card onto its blank metal card, like copying a CD, and then the Magnises card can be used in place of the original."


Fyre doesn't explain exactly what happened to Magnises, and it seems that it finally burned out with Fyre Festival. According to Observer, the Magnises site was still running in May 2017, a month after the festival was scheduled. In August, Bloomberg reported that the site was up, but that there was no way to sign up for the service. Now, the site is totally gone, but Twitter and Instagram accounts for the company are still live; although they haven't seen any new posts since the spring of 2017.

A Business Insider report from January 2017, three months prior to Fyre Festival, explained that there were many complaints from Magnises members, including event tickets and trips being cancelled or rescheduled. According to Bloomberg, "While it’s clear that Magnises was already having difficulties, the festival’s very public failure and McFarland’s subsequent arrest may have been the final blow."

After Fyre Festival, McFarland was arrested for fraud, and was arrested again for defrauding people through something called NYC VIP Access while he was out on bail from the first arrest. As reported by NPR, in October 2018, he was sentenced to six years in prison and three years probation. He was also ordered to pay $26 million in restitution. According to Fyre, he also is banned from being a corporate officer or director.

The Netflix documentary, which gives a look at McFarland's rise, but primarily his downfall, debuts on Jan. 18.