How a Black-Card Wannabe Went Down In Flames
Billy McFarland was all smiles as he walked into a holiday party in December 2015, flanked by an entourage decked out in blazers and puffy coats. The DJ cranked tunes, a snow machine spit out flakes and his business partner, rapper Ja Rule, grabbed the mic for a throwback set. McFarland’s Black Card-like club, Magnises, had just expanded to the nation’s capital, its first foray outside New York. Next up was San Francisco, with plans for Chicago and Boston. It was time to celebrate.
And for a little while, he did. Over a few years the credit card-thin idea had attracted millions of dollars of investment capital and some favorable press. Parties, special events and some big names helped push McFarland’s brainchild past initial hurdles. But in the end, it was not to be. Another McFarland idea, one for a Bahamas music festival to hype his talent-booking service, Fyre Media LLC, would help bring it all tumbling down.
In late April, thousands of moneyed millennials flocked to the Caribbean for Fyre Festival, expecting a beach bacchanal. Instead they found “Lord of the Flies,” replete with a scramble for food and shelter that was picked apart in a global media frenzy. For McFarland, then 25, it ended even worse: He was charged with wire fraud and faces a dozen lawsuits. Federal prosecutors alleged he cheated investors in the startup out of $1.2 million by luring them in with bogus documents overstating its revenue.
Now, with McFarland exploring a possible plea deal with the government, expansion plans for Magnises have been scrapped. There’s little left of the company today, according to people familiar with its operations. Executives have departed for other jobs, the customer experience team fled to a former business partner and—while the website is still exists—there’s no way to sign up.
Magnises, a word that doesn’t really mean anything, was meant to be a passport to everything. For $250-per-year, members would gain entry to exclusive celebrity events, a concierge service to score hard-to-get concert tickets and restaurant reservations, and access to a swanky, shared hangout pad. They’d also get to meet up with other wealthy young folk who like to party: entrepreneurs, businesspeople and entertainers.