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Twisted Fyrestarter

Founders can learn a lot from FYRE’s failure

A couple of weeks ago the phrase ‘take one for the team’ took on horrifying new complexity. I, (like most of Twitter, judging by my feed), discovered FYRE and sat in stunned silence. If you haven’t seen FYRE, go have a watch before reading on. It’s a cautionary tale of modern entrepreneurship gone wrong.

 

Lots of commentary has focused on the negative aspects of influencer marketing. However if you decide to part with hundreds of thousands of dollars because a model you’ve never met has told you to… well that’s on you, not the marketing model. Sure, influencer marketing presents some challenges, but it’s here to stay. It just needs to be smarter, and organisations need to invest a little more thought into it. Campaigns that fit the narrative of your brand and seem genuine will work, and there is nothing wrong with buying on recommendation. Actually, FYRE got that bit right. The narrative worked; are you a rich idiot who wants to party with models? If yes… part with you cash and meet us on Pablo Escobar’s old haunt.

 

I think the documentary is interesting for different reasons. I think any founder will recognise (to a point) themselves. You need a bit the devil inside you, distorting reality and telling you to forge ahead when others doubt your product or platform. I’ve met many, many entrepreneurs who have sold tech on the back of wireframes and then had to deliver. FYRE demonstrates the excesses of that dynamic, and how it can go wrong. But it’s a key ingredient in the hustle.

 

Another aspect of successful startups was also on show; Billy McFarland used mission and purpose to build AMAZING teams. That guy nailed what every founder hopes to nail. Over and over again on the podcast, we talk about purpose. It’s the fundamental ingredient needed to hire top talent. Tech talent is so hard to come by, that they need to buy into a vision. A charismatic CEO who can articulate that vision stands a better chance of success and gaining believers. It’s your guiding principle that guards against accepting the wrong investment, allowing your product or platform to morph into something unloved, and unintended.

 

Purpose is grounded in experience. The best start-ups I have met didn’t set out to build a business. They wanted to fix a problem they felt passionate about.

FYRE demonstrates just how powerful that purpose can be. Billy McFarland was a fraud. He belongs in jail. I am not advocating his actions in any way. That said, he was able to channel his drive and enthusiasm to build a seriously talented tech team. In the right hands his festival could have worked. It failed because genuinely successful startups are grounded in a desire to fix a problem. Billy, on the other hand, was blinded by the prospect of partying with models.

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