2 Fast 2 Fyre-ious

Source: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/05/fyre-festival-pitch-deck

Date: 2016/2017

Outcome: Ha! You already know this part.

It would be very easy to skim through the Fyre Festival deck, point and laugh at some of the most outrageous claims, and say in hindsight that this was an obvious scam. But that’s a disservice to this deck and to what I’m trying to do with Startup Deck Review. The fact is this deck is fairly well-designed and intuitively structured. You really can learn some good lessons from this deck.

Unfortunately for the folks who had to read it (but fortunately for us), it’s also a solid gold toilet of a pitch. And reading about what other people have done wrong is the only way to learn what NOT to do in your pitch. I haven’t been able to publish as many failed pitch decks as I would have liked because it takes a lot of work to write fairly about pitches that didn’t succeed.

But with one William Z. McFarland now in prison for this dumpster fire — and, hilariously, with the label “(Fraudster)” appended to his Wikipedia page — let’s go ahead with a clear conscience.

Once we get past some legal mumbo jumbo (which I’ll touch on again very briefly at the end), there’s this purpose slide.

This is a good start! A purpose doesn’t have to be overly specific, but it has to be concise and expressive — it serves as a guiding light for the company you’re going to build. If you showed me this and then immediately told me there was going to be a world-class music festival at the center of this, that would have made sense as a marketing event — a demonstration of Fyre’s ideal world.

But then we are introduced to the “Fyre Bookings” part of the business, and this is the first major red flag.

There is a mismatch between problem and solution. Sure, live bookings and music management is a human-centric business with tons of friction and they could probably use some better tools, but Fyre jumps immediately to a marketplace solution that doesn’t solve some of the actual problems caused by this “solution.” If I’m a touring musical act, how much confidence do I have that your venue can handle my setup? How do I know you’ll promote me? How do I know you’ve read my rider and will abide by it? The human element exists in this process to support reliable vetting and representation on both the talent side and the booking side. Why should either side give up control to Fyre? If discovering talent or bookers in this market was a problem, it might be worthwhile. But the best talent and the best bookers don’t currently have problems finding each other, and so they would likely self-select off of the platform.

Fyre did show off a potentially profitable use case later in the deck: Coordinated influencer marketing. Had they built a product that made mass influencer marketing campaigns easy, that might have been extremely interesting. Probably not worthy of its own music festival, but arguably a real business!

I want to be clear: An entrepreneur making a pitch does need to go out of their way to get investors excited about writing a big check. Ideally, you can point to traction and growth and say “Aren’t you excited about investing in THAT?!” But if you’re very early on, you talk about the potential for the market to grow and change in big, exciting ways. You talk about how your company fits in now and how it will play a key role in catalyzing those changes.

You do not get investors excited with beautiful photographs, unattributed quotes, and utterly basic vision boarding.

I can say this as someone who thinks and speaks with entrepreneurs about mission, vision, and values on a regular basis and believes in them as key sources of competitive advantage: They don’t look like this.

They also don’t lie about who they’re working with. “PENDING” absolves Fyre of all responsibility for having to come through on these.

Lastly, this slide might be the most offensive waste of space in the entire deck:

How is this 360? This doesn’t look like a circle. What does this have to do with sponsorship? Is this seriously your sales pitch to brands? Can you show me any case studies or examples? No? Oh, that’s right. This is a distraction.

Am I being harsh? Investors are supposed to be economic buyers, but early stage investors frequently buy in on simple theses and founder-market fit.

But to the extent that all of these things should be authentic to yourself and your values, this pitch is clear about what kind of people they were: Party animals who wanted to lean in all the way on the worst elements of influencer culture.

And also this guy. The real hero of the story.

Other notes:

  • Amazing that the deck starts with TWO slides about confidentiality! If you don’t know already, sophisticated investors do not sign NDAs as a matter of course.
  • “Where is Ja?”
  • Team of rockstars arrested for arson.

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