The Pitch Doctor: Fyre Festival – great deck, even greater disaster

- August 20, 2020 3 MIN READ
When great ideas turn bad...


Welcome to our new, regular column, The Pitch Doctor, with Cheryl Mack, Head of Community at Stone & Chalk.

When Mack appeared on the Startup Daily show recently on ausbiz, we asked her to name the best pitch deck she’d seen. She only half-jokingly replied “Fyre Festival”.

So today, we’re launching The Pitch Doctor If you’d like her to analyse a pitch deck, please send it to startupdaily[at]pinstripemedia.com.au and we’ll get the doc to examine it and share her diagnosis here. 

We kick off with Mack’s analysis of that now notorious pitch deck.


Was Fyre Fest doomed from the start?

We all know the story. Guy pitches, guy gets investment, guy completely over-reaches, guy does a bunch of sketchy, then fraudulent things and lands a six-year federal prison sentence.

I don’t think Billy McFarland started out with that in mind. One thing I do know is that the pitch deck was a good one – Fyre raised US$26 million (A$36m)  in funding.

Many people look at the whole story of Fyre and say “how did he get so much investment and support?”

McFarland was able to create a lot of hype and FOMO around both the product and the event, and a lot of that had to do with being great at pitching.

His later business actions notwithstanding there’s a lot we can learn from the Fyre pitch deck.


What they got right:

Clear Value Prop: Prospective investors reading Fyre’s deck were left in no doubt about who Fyre was for, why they would feel compelled to spend money on it, and how it would drive value for them. Startup founders pitching to investors should know that this is an indispensable part of their pitch – you must be able to articulate your value proposition in a compelling way, demonstrating an underserved need and product-market fit.

Simplicity: Many of the slides in the deck are simple in terms of both layout and language. Their message is clear and provides concrete details about what the product is. They are also good about using the right language with regards to their traction. They use “We’ve built” when referring to the product that currently exists, and they use “We will” when referring to future plans. This clearly shows prospective investors where things currently stand.

Emotion-Evoking: While the slides aren’t littered with photos, the ones they do use, are strategically placed to induce the right FOMO emotions at the right time.

Credibility: One of the biggest reasons Fyre was able to create such huge hype was the credibility of the influencers they recruited. Showing you have the right people on board, whether it’s the team, advisors, or partners, goes a long way towards securing investors.

What they got wrong

Mistakes: I see this often in so many decks, but it still baffles me every time. It’s deeply concerning to see such obvious grammar, spelling, and word mistakes. It’s not that hard, just proof-read your slide deck carefully.

Vague Diagrams: There is one slide in the deck that I need to call out, as I see this often as well; vague, useless diagrams with little/no context or useful information. This type of slide doesn’t contribute anything to the slide deck.

Over-promising: The Fyre team clearly did not have the capability to execute what their pitch deck promised. Founders need to be confident, but that confidence needs to be grounded in reality. Promising things you can’t deliver is not the path to success.

Fraud: Not technically part of the pitch deck, but it should go without saying that McFarland’s actions – which saw him convicted of fraud – provide a model of what not to do after securing the backing of investors.


Diagnosis: Good pitch, woeful execution

Taken alone, this is a very good investor pitch deck.

The real failure here was in the business execution, failure to engage or listen to appropriate expert advice, and a willingness to breach laws rather than being honest with backers and customers.

The lessons that can be learned from the botched execution are clear, but that doesn’t mean startup founders can’t also recognise and absorb the strengths of the original pitch.

  • Cheryl Mack is Head of Community at Stone & Chalk
  • She’ll be on the Startup Daily show on Friday, Aug 21, at 2.20pm to talk about the Fyre Fest deck. Watch here

NOW READ: Why founders need a pitch deck AND investor deck (and they’re not the same thing)