Last night I watched the schadenfreudeful documentary FYRE on Netflix, which chronicles a sociopathic grifter named Billy McFarland and his greedy celebrity partner Ja Rule, as they bilk investors and music-festival-going Instagrammers out of their money.
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The movie is a commentary on the power of social media models like Kylie Jenner, combined with a criminal disguising himself as a visionary founder.
FYRE has flashes of the familiar startup and entrepreneurial struggle, with insane deadlines and a cash crunch being resolved with a combination of brilliant, world-class marketing and bold fundraising driven by RFID bracelets being loaded with cash and angel investors pouring money into an event that the founder knows is a multilayered fraud.
McFarland’s enablers detail their journey from true believers in the original vision of Fyre, a completely reasonable concept to build a marketplace for booking talent, to the utter chaos of the weeks and days and hours leading up until all hell broke loose — and millennials were fed cold cheese sandwiches while fighting for shelter in leftover emergency tents.
When everything collapses, you’re left with everyone around the far-from-mastermind criminal, McFarland, leaving pain and suffering in the worker bees who tried their hardest to make his vision reality.
If you’re a founder, the important takeaway is that while grinding and hacking your way to success is what it’s all about, doing illegal things while selling your stock to investors is securities fraud.
Our justice system in America might be inconsistent and slow, but it takes particular pride in its ability to take down people who commit crimes in combination with a cap table (see Theranos, the Zenefits settlement, ICO actions, etc.).
When I started daily blogging for Calacanis.com, one of my first posts was one imploring founders to read biographies, which are an amazing way to unpack how success happens — and it’s often messy and far from a straight line.
Documentary and dramatic films about founders are also a great way to unlock entrepreneurial lessons — what are your favorite startup films?
Founder? Startup? Comments are open!
Note: I’ve only watched the Netflix FYRE doc, I understand there is ANOTHER doc on Hulu. Will watch that one next.