In today’s least shocking news, it turns out the organizers behind last month’s disastrous Fyre Festival are about as good at running a workplace as they are at throwing a luxury musical extravaganza.
Employees of Fyre Media, the tech startup behind the event, were recently informed on a staff conference call that they would no longer be paid, according to an audio recording leaked to Vice News. Nor would they be receiving a paycheck for the past two weeks of work.
One might assume that such an announcement means those workers are being fired.
Not so, says “serial entrepreneur” Billy McFarland, the company’s 25-year-old co-founder. Employees are free to keep doing their jobs for no money, he said on the call, an arrangement that many pointed out would also make them ineligible for unemployment benefits in most states.
“So to be clear … payroll’s not happening, but we’re all kind of just — we’re not being let go but … we’re just here?” one dumbfounded employee said, struggling to make sense of the absurd terms being offered. Eventually, McFarland said he’d check into the unemployment benefits issue, saying he wasn’t aware one must be fired to receive them, but it was obvious employees were nervous about whether he’d follow through.
The call has the awkward air of a meeting in which everyone is clearly outraged but a commitment to a semblance of professionalism turns everything into extreme passive aggression.
Fyre Media co-founder Ja Rule also phoned into the meeting, but technical difficulties prevented him from chiming in much.
“I’ve got a fucking bad hum in my phone so I’m gonna go on mute so I don’t fuck up the phone call, y’all hear it?” the rapper said in an exchange probably familiar to anyone who’s ever worked remotely.
“Ja, try dialing back in really quick,” someone advised.
Fyre Media gained infamy last month when the eponymous music festival it promised would be an opulent uber-Coachella on a remote island turned out to be more of a Lord of the Flies reenactment with Instagram kids.
Festival-goers, who paid upwards of $1,500 for tickets, were left stranded on the small Bahamian isle with “luxury accommodations” that amounted to limited food and water and a cluster of what appeared to be repurposed disaster relief tents.
The debacle naturally prompted a slew of lawsuits, including one class-action complaint seeking $100 million in damages.
Aside from the event, the company was also building a celebrity and talent booking app.
In another tense moment in the call, employees claimed the cofounders had misled them into believing that Comcast had invested money in the startup. Bloomberg reported that the telecom had a term sheet for a $10.5-million deal in March.
Earlier this month, the company’s bizarre pitch presentation to investors leaked, and it was a serious mess.
“We have not closed a Series A round, and that’s as much as I can say,” McFarland said.
At one point in the call, an employee mentioned a call from the FBI someone at the company had apparently received.
“Should we have any concern about the FBI, Billy?” another asked.
“I don’t know. I think that’s an individual thing,” McFarland replied with little explanation, offering the service of the company’s lawyer.
The FBI didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The call ended with a Twilight Zone-esque twist.
“Do we actually have any record of working for Fyre?” an employee asked, pointing out they’d need that to get unemployment benefits, too.
McFarland assured them that their pay stubs would serve as a record, but at least three employees on the call said they hadn’t received any. The company has reportedly been paying everyone in cash or wire transfers since last October.
McFarland promised he would follow up on the issue in an email later that day.
But a former employee told Vice the email never came.