‘Billy’s still Billy… he’s using different words but selling the same thing’: Fyre Festival fraudster’s former staff hit out as McFarland launches new venture with a remote island and slew of influencers (sound familiar?)
- Former employees who worked for Billy McFarland, the mastermind behind the failed Fyre Festival, are warning people to stay away from his new venture, PYRT
- McFarland, a convicted fraudster, announced PYRT as a ‘virtual immersive decentralized reality’ on TikTok with several similarities between PYRT and Fyre
- Ex-employees have spoken out warning McFarland is ‘using different words, but selling the same thing’ and PYRT appears to be ‘an exercise in smoke and mirrors’
Former staffers who worked for the conman behind the disastrous Fyre Festival, Billy McFarland, are warning people who might be taken in by the convicted fraudster’s new venture, to steer well clear.
McFarland, 31, announced his new venture, PYRT in a recent TikTok towards the end of last year describing it as a ‘virtual immersive decentralized reality’.
Yet despite technical language there appears to be striking similarities between this and his failed festival which saw around 5,000 victims defrauded out of $26 million.
Although still in the planning stages, in a new virtual event, McFarland appears to have not learned his lesson as he claims it will feature a livestream of ‘artists and creators’ having fun in the Bahamas.
It has led to former loyal staffers to speak out before McFarland gets too far ahead of himself, likely ending in disaster.
Billy McFarland, a convicted fraudster, has announced PYRT as a ‘virtual immersive decentralized reality’ on TikTok with several striking similarities between PYRT and Fyre
‘Billy’s still Billy. He’s using different words, but he’s selling the same thing,’ said Shiyuan Deng, a former product designer at Fyre Media
‘Billy’s still Billy. He’s using different words, but he’s selling the same thing,’ Shiyuan Deng, a former product designer at Fyre Media said to NBC News.
Another former Fyre Media employee was also struck by the parallels between the two ventures.
‘The similarities are there around the vague mysterious promotion,’ said another former employee who wished to remain anonymous.
‘PYRT appears to be an exercise in smoke and mirrors, buzzwords and empty promises of lavish trips to the Bahamas.
‘As a previous employee who trusted Billy’s leadership in the past, new customers, investors and employees should all proceed with caution,’ they warned.
But McFarland appears resolute into getting back into business as soon as he can.
‘I was talking to somebody yesterday and they’re like, ‘You can crawl in a hole and die, or you can go and try to do something and just like not promise any results,”he told NBC.
‘This time, it’s a little crazier but a whole lot bigger than anything I’ve tried before,’ McFarland said in an October TikTok video.
Using a whiteboard and poster in a clip filmed at his rented apartment, McFarland explained: ‘PYRT is not a festival. It is not an event. And it’s definitely not the metaverse,’ the convicted fraudster said in the video before going on to describe PYRT as a festival in the Bahamas combined with a virtual festival online.
‘He was really good at pitching but had no technical skills,’ said former staffer Shiyuan Deng of McFarland
In his vision, the project will partner with a ‘small, remote destination’ to host a ‘handful of artists, content creators, entrepreneurs and any of you guys who end up joining the PYRT crew.
‘At the same time, others across the world can join a virtual recreation of the island to not only watch what’s happening live, but they can actually come together with their friends to effect and even own their real world adventures.’
McFarland suggested his latest venture is only open to the public who wish to visit virtually. He claimed it’ll take place in an island in Exuma – the exact same island location for the doomed Fyre festival – but he didn’t clearly identify it.
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism said in a statement that no application has been filed by McFarland for an event in the Bahamas and the country regards him as a fugitive.
‘The Government of The Bahamas will not endorse or approve any event in The Bahamas associated with him,’ a statement explained.
The convicted fraudster had been teasing the announcement for weeks, first posting a cryptic video to his TikTok page teasing an event to which ‘everybody’s invited
Last year McFarland sent a letter to the government saying he was writing to ‘profusely apologize’ for his actions.
‘My main focus is how I can right the wrongs and how I can make the Bahamas and Family Islands, a region I care so deeply about, whole again,’ he wrote.
When questioned about the involvement of the island nation in his latest project, McFarland quickly played it down.
‘I think that once everybody is paid back, I’d love to have a conversation to see if that relationship can get repaired,’ he said. ‘It’s still a journey for me and I’m not perfect in terms of marketing.
The fraudster characterized the event at the time as a way for him to make amends for his previous misdeeds, prefacing the video with the admission that he ‘f***ed around’
‘My answer is there’s no rush and I’ve had four years or five years to really understand what I suck at and try to get help there,’ he said.
‘Really kind of getting back to tech, which I think is where my unique skillset lies,’ McFarland added.
But McFarland will face hurdles no matter what he tries next. He is banned from serving as the director of a public company ever again.
His latest project comes only months after he was released from prison four years into his six-year sentence for wire fraud.
In another recent interview he admitted the ‘most f***ed up part’ of his scheme was lying to the investors who spent $26million on the hyper-exclusive event.
This new venture also appears to be partly a scheme to make up the debts he still owes to both the Government of the Bahamas and to wealthy investors, as $50 from every $250 PYRT jacket sold will go towards the reparations.
The Fyre Festival in Greater Exuma was a disaster, with guests paying more than $1,000 only to find that there were no accommodations and the scheduled performances were canceled
McFarland characterized his venture as a way for him to make amends for his previous misdeeds, prefacing the video with the admission that he ‘f***ed around.’
‘As you might know, I f***ed around,’ he said. ‘And because of that, I definitely found out.’
‘You might have guessed, but I’m working on something new. This time it’s a little crazier, but a whole lot bigger than anything I’ve ever tried before,’ he continued.
His FYRE Festival drew masses of attention in 2017 as wealthy investors lured by the promise of celebrities flocked to the island of Greater Exuma — only to find there was no food, toilet, music or even basic accommodations.
Those who paid upwards of $1,000 were then left scrambling to get off the island with many forced to sleep in tents usually reserved for those left homeless by hurricanes or other natural disasters.
McFarland pleaded guilty in 2018 to two counts of wire fraud, and was sentenced to six years in prison. He also faced a $26million forfeiture order.
The site was unfinished by the time wealthy partygoers flocked to the Bahamas in 2017, and were forced to sleep in tents that were disaster tents left over from Hurricane Matthew in 2016
He has spoken out about his failures in other recent interviews, acknowledging to Full Send Podcast that investors had told him the Fyre Festival was doomed for failure even before people started arriving to the island.
‘I was kind of caught up in this mindset that like, we have to go really fast. And the downside is there’s great artists in a beautiful location, but it’s not perfect,’ he said of his decision to not cancel the event.
‘And I didn’t comprehend the downside is that people can’t stay there. It’s just like not ready. I just like didn’t understand the downside,’ he explained, noting that he was still early in his career in website design.
‘I don’t know what I was thinking,’ he admitted. ‘We launched like a trailer to see if anyone would care and it kinda worked. And then we were like “alright, four months, we’re doing this.”‘
A photo of a sad looking cheese sandwich that was handed to guests in a Styrofoam container
In a separate grilling on Good Morning America last year he was asked why he didn’t simply cancel the event when he realized it was going to flop.
He said he was so desperate to ‘prove himself’ to his employees and investors and that he refused to listen.
‘I was wrong. I messed up. I was so driven by this desperate desire to prove people right,’ he said.
‘I had these early investors, backers, employees, and I think I was so insecure that I thought the only way to prove myself to them was to succeed and that led me down this terrible path of bad decisions.’
‘I need to apologize and that is the first and last thing that needs to be done. I let people down,’ he elaborated.
‘What I told investors was wrong and I think the hardest thing for me is the trust that I violated… whether it was friends, investors, or employees, people gave up a lot to try and make this happen.
‘How do I call them now and look them in the eye when I let them down? I just really should have canceled everything and stopped lying.
‘I should have listened [to my employees]. There is no excuse.’
McFarland pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in October 2018, and was sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in March 2022 after only serving four years