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Fyre Festival: The value of sound judgment

In the spring of 2017, “luxury music festival” goers converged in the Bahamas for a sold-out event popularly promoted by hundreds of social influencers. It sounded too good to be true. Turns out, it was.

As disaster unfolded at Fyre Festival, it captured the world’s attention – in real time. The event built by Instagram went down in Insta-worthy flames. But how did something promoted by the likes of Kendall Jenner and the world’s top supermodels crash and burn? The answer: entrepreneur and event organizer, Billy McFarland.

Fyre Festival was McFarland’s brainchild, and he raised it – to the tune of $27 million in investors’ money. Unfortunately, grew those dollars into promises he couldn’t keep. Tempted to the island with gourmet food, attendees fought for scraps. Promised luxury villas, they slept in old FEMA tents. Those who’d spent thousands on the “experience of a lifetime” turned to social media to air their grievances. Word of the failures went viral. The bands pulled out, the parties were canceled and many attendees were left stranded on an island with hardly any clean water. Worse, Bahamian restaurant owner, MaryAnne Rolle, who spent $50,000 of her savings to provide food for the event, was never repaid by the festival organizers.

Today, McFarland’s unprincipled decisions have landed him in prison on multiple accounts of fraud. He certainly provided the experience of a lifetime, but one that many would soon like to forget.

The Youth Entrepreneurs curriculum is based on a set of eight Foundational Values, core principles we believe are essential to lifelong fulfillment and success. The Foundational Values we teach are consistently carried out in everyday interactions, and this story presents an excellent opportunity for students to see them in use in a real-world scenario. 

Educators: Leverage this story and follow-up questions for classroom discussion.
Students and alumni: After you’ve read the story, reflect on these questions. 

Sound Judgment

  • How did Mr. McFarland fail to use Sound Judgment in his decisions?
  • Who did his decisions benefit? Who did they harm?
  • Fyre Festival both lived and died on social media. What judgment questions should you consider for yourself when posting on your social accounts?
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Be Principled
  • How did Mr. McFarland fail in terms of being a principled entrepreneur? 
  • If he had acted in a principled way, what would Mr. McFarland have done differently?
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Win-Win Focus
  • Was Mr. McFarland thinking about creating win-win partnerships? Why or why not?
  • What could Mr. McFarland have done better to improve the experience for festival goers? His relationship with his investment partners?
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