“We’re in your wallet,” says the pioneering and irrepressible CEO of Magnises, Billy McFarland. “Now we want to be in your life.”
McFarland, 22, is the innovator behind the Magnises Card, a prestigious “back metal card” geared to young adults in their 20s and 30s providing the perks and benefits more relevant to this generation than those found in other cards, whose benefits skew more towards gas or grocery discounts. “We want to hit our demographic where they live,” says McFarland, who has already sold five businesses at his precocious age. “We want to provide relevant events, a social community, and the ability for members to gather – whether in our West Village townhouse, at our varied events such as entertainment extravaganzas, Speaker Series, Happy Hours or networking events. We are constantly building our programming, and we have already opened the doors at various fitness clubs and clothing emporiums for our members, with travel packages on the way.”
The object: bring a cross-section of Young New York together, where the members can form new relationships, trade business ideas, and enlarge their “circles.” The company centers around its card, allowing members to book restaurant or club reservations, event tickets, or just spend time in the Townhouse. So far, 2,500 New Yorkers have been accepted – out of nearly ten thousand applications – to join the organization. Membership is by application only, with a Magnises team vetting applicants and conducting phone interviews to find the right mix of entrepreneurs, financiers, writers, artists and those from all professions to provide a compelling mix of members.
Notable events Magnises has hosted for its cardholders include a launch party with the rapper French Montana, who has reached #4 on the Billboard hot 100 singles chart. “I was an early Magnises member,” says cardholder Rami Zeidan, “and this event showed the quality of people I could associate with and expand my group of friends and contacts, while providing unforgettable events and access.”
The company has also run events with rapper Ja Rule, who recently thrilled almost 200 members at a Montauk concert, winning over an enthusiastic crowd on a summer afternoon. The event was the talk of the Hamptons, with the rapper performing from his extensive catalog of top 10 hits while mixing with the crowd (and securing his own card).
Another Magnises highlight was a boat cruise around Manhattan Harbor, fully catered and with surprise guest Jim Jones, whose hit single “Ballin’” was the New York Giants’ team anthem. Halfway through the nighttime cruise, Jones arrived on the yacht via speedboat, performing in front of 100 shocked guests.
Yet Magnises is more than its content side of social events, speaker series, “meet-and-greets” with celebrities, hot restaurant and club reservations, career networking and community; it’s a sexy business party. “We speak to the investment community,” says McFarland. “We are establishing a going concern, with plans to expand into markets nationwide. Advertisers and merchants will want access to our clients. New York is the first step.”
“There is a powerful business plan here,” says Rob Rosenblatt, co-founder of American Express’s Centurion Card and former CEO of Russell Simmons’ Rush Card. The company does not handle the back-end of the credit business itself, but merely transposes the stripe from the users American Express, Visa, or any other credit card onto the Magnises Black Metal Card, with billing handled by the legacy credit cards.
In order to achieve this, McFarland reached beyond the realm of social, event and party planners to establish an executive team that has caught the attention of investors (he has raised millions of dollars so far through a Series A round) and anticipates even more of a groundswell of support as the card becomes a true “brand” and “voice” to help overwhelmed residents find their way through their cities.
“People have so much they can do but so little time,” says McFarland. “We want to super-serve them by placing then in a powerful community with head-turning events. We treat every member as if he or she is our only cardholder. We have a ‘never say no’ attitude: we will work with all cardholders to get what they want.” His executive team has the experience and the chops to execute that vision. “As long as Billy continues as the visionary,” says COO Matt Morchower, “our team will make the card legendary.”
His board, investors and team engender confidence and excitement among the investment community, as McFarland has already seen in his fundraising efforts. Among his Board Members and investors are Lance Weaver, the former Chairman of MasterCard International, who brings a wealth of industry knowledge, respect and career credibility to the undertaking. He is joined as an experienced hand by Rob Rosenblatt, Magnises’ Executive Chairman and the co-founder of the American Express Centurion Card, the flagship offering of that company. His ability to reach a certain demographic in the business is unparalleled. Also backing the venture is Kevin Liles, the former CEO of music industry giant Def Jam Records, where he guided the careers of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Usher, and Trey Songz. Liles will be able to supply a continuing pipeline of entertainers for company events. This group is complemented by Bill Gray, the former CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, whose branding, positioning and marketing expertise will allow the card to extend its brand as it rolls out nationally. He has brought on Matt Morchower, a co-founder of Marquis Jet, as his Chief Operating Officer who emphasizes customer service. Morchower’s company was ultimately purchased by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway.
This team provides the expertise and experience to complement the demographic-friendly staff that knows that their customers demand. It caught the eyes of early backers including Deep Fork Capital and Great Oaks Venture Capital that have recognized the combination of the “app-driven” nature of the company paired with the “human element” of the organization, and came forward with investments.
The company’s vast cross-section of members helps tell its story. Among cardholders is pro ski racer Sam Tarling, who is often found in the Townhouse, his home-away-from-home in New York: “The community is invaluable,” he says. Chef Lauren Gerrie, the private chef for Marc Jacobs and owner of bigLITTLE Get Togethers, enjoys the ability of Magnises to recommend activities for her in New York during her rare free time. “I ask a lot of questions, and remain curious about what is out there and how I can be a better person.”
Stephanie Davies joined to maximize her New York experience. The Vice President of Atlantic Street Capital also thrives on the community aspect of the organization while finding those with like interests…who can have these outings arranged by Magnises. “ The most important experiences in New York typically don’t involve the where,” she says, “they involve the “with whom.” Finally, to single out another one of Magnises’ 2,500 (and growing) members, Derrick Fung enjoyed a Magnises-run event in the Townhouse. The VP of talent agency SFX and CEO of Tunezy adds, “I was at the townhouse for the event surrounding Game 1 of the Rangers/Kings Stanley Cup– it was great to be surrounded with all types of different people.”
As the company expands into added markets, member growth has been exponential. The company is on pace to garner several million dollars of revenue in its first year, a noteworthy beginning for a startup still establishing its brand in a crowded landscape. “We discovered an under-served demographic,” says Bill Gray. The result has been powerful. Now we need to hit the accelerator. Nobody is patting themselves on the back here.” — Brianna Bines | Chic Metropolitan