One first-time entrepreneur’s trial by Fyre, and the lessons he pulled from the ashes.

Original story published in Fast Company.


If there was an award for the most disastrous event of 2017, Fyre Festival would probably take the prize. Billed as “Coachella for the Bahamas,” the actual “festival” ended up resembling an episode of Lost. You’ve probably read about the logistical mayhem, the performances that never happened, and all the lawsuits that followed.

But for me personally, Fyre Festival was my MBA in crisis management.


After a few years in the the ad-tech industry, I launched a New York City–based creative agency, DS Projects, aimed to produce brand campaigns that are dynamic, compelling and culturally relevant through strong stories and visuals, told by a new wave of authentic creators.

Three months later I got what I thought was the professional call of a lifetime–an opportunity to select and produce all the photos and videos for Fyre Festival. Initially, it started off as a conversation to hire one photographer, then it became a proposal to manage the event’s entire content production. Everything about it seemed like a great opportunity: the money, the scale, and the chance to meet sponsors, influential celebrities, and key support teams.

We eventually got the green light and drew up the paperwork. Because Fyre Festival seemed intimidating, we all upped our game and focused on what had to be done to make sure the end product would be outstanding. Despite a few early warning flags, like rumors around late payments to artists, we still felt that the opportunity was too good to pass up. A project like this seemed like a rare fast track into the big leagues. So after two weeks of hard work, we’d assembled 35 people from 10 cities with 2,000 pounds of gear. We were ready to go.

Adding to the excitement was that we managed to pull together a diverse and unique team, reflecting our great pride and ability to access to some of the best new-school creators in the world and bring our visions to life.

Within days of landing in the Bahamas, news broke that the festival was not going to happen. The groundwork, logistics, supplies, and other essentials for holding Fyre Festival simply hadn’t been properly arranged. While I was regularly speaking with the event organizers, I also obsessively refreshed my Twitter feed, because at that point I knew it would be the most reliable source of information. It quickly became clear that I was on my own. Since there were no contingency plans, damage control was up to me. My small team and I managed to secure 34 commercial airline tickets and one private plane to bring every person and piece of equipment home intact.

It was an experience I never want to repeat, but here’s what it taught me.


In retrospect, Fyre Festival was a bright, shiny object that blinded me to the risks of getting involved. Who knows what more diligence on my part would have revealed? It’s easier to fall in love with the potential wins than to acknowledge the obstacles that might get in the way of achieving them. The bigger the opportunity, the more scrutiny you need. My real mistake wasn’t in doing no due diligence; it was in rushing that process because the opportunity was fast approaching, and I was worried about missing out on it altogether. You’ll always be under the gun, but if an alluring project is simply too big to vet in the time you have, you might be better off safe on the sidelines than sorry because you jumped in too fast.


I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t calling my parents every few hours during the height of the crisis. Truth be told, I never really knew what it was like to be an entrepreneur until my foot hit the tarmac in the Bahamas. By the time we landed and assessed the situation in Great Exuma, the Bahamian island where Fyre Festival was meant to be held in April, I already felt like I was cracking. But my team didn’t care that I was a first-time entrepreneur, and nor should they. What they wanted and responded to was someone taking action and getting them out of the situation. This was tough to recognize in the thick of the disaster, but I’m glad I did. Freaking out would have encouraged my team to do the same.


Picking up the pieces as best I could was, in hindsight, an important step toward preserving my reputation. I wanted to make sure I’d be recognized as someone who could be counted on when the chips were down.

Soon after I got home, I sent an email to Founder’s Entertainment, the organizer of The Meadows Art & Music Festival in New York, with the subject line, “I need a W,” meaning a “win.” I signed off with, “Hoping I can turn the worst L of my life into a win.” In 45 minutes, the company replied that they wanted to discuss the opportunity further. Fortunately, we made a deal, and the end result was a success, giving us the big opportunity we’d originally looked for in Fyre Festival. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your reputation is to quickly and honestly concede defeat and show how you’re ready to try again under better circumstances.

The ball has continued rolling into the rest of the year, as we’ve been able to build relationships with Silvercar (Audi’s rental car company) to rebrand their company through a social media driven campaign, Reebok, Live Nation and others.

The Fyre Festival debacle brought down plenty of individuals and organizations, and it was a humbling experience for me, too. But as a new entrepreneur, the experience taught me a lot about what it takes to survive a tough challenge. With no experience, professional training, or PR consultants to bail us out, I had to rally my team and act fast to do right by the people we were responsible for. It was a trial by Fyre, and we survived it.

Dylan Hattem is the Founder of DS Projects.


Photography - The World’s Most Played Sport

Written by Dylan Hattem, Founder of DS Projects.

What is the newest sport with the highest growth rate, deepest level of engagement and international appeal yet has no rule book, let alone an official status? If you guessed photography, you are either a keen observer of social trends or simply one of 800 million active users of Instagram and have a front row seat on the energy and excitement of this new sport.

Photography always has had a power impact on civilization. In the language of images, photography is able to make time stand still, record and shape history, communicate stories, promote products and people, bind families and friends, create beauty and art and so much more.  Now, in it latest incantation, photography has evolved into something wholly new and unexpected—a sport.

Yes, a sport. Simply put, people from all over the world shoot for thrills and to compete for fame, glory and recognition.  The field of play is Instagram and other social media outlets where there is something special going on with the players beyond just posting the typical party and food photos.  To the photographic sportsters, the action is the hunt to capture images, either alone or with fellow shooters; the goal is to produce the best and most original images; and, while scorekeeping is not essential, success can measured in social media “likes,” recognition and respect in the community. To the few with outsized talent the ultimate prize is to play in the big leagues -- earning a living at what you love by working with the most respected brands and organizations in the world.

Like any sport, what matters most is talent. In the new sport of photography, it doesn't matter where you are from, what is your educational or professional pedigree or whether you have been shooting for decades or weeks.  What matters is whether you have the expertise and creative vision to shoot images that are compelling and demonstrate a point of view. Perhaps, that is one reason so many young people, especially urban kids without the benefit of expensive equipment or training have taken up the sport. Take 19 year old Ryan Parrilla. Ryan picked up a camera 7 years ago and quickly realized it was where he wanted to spend his time and energy. As a teenager, Ryan ditched his skateboard to practice and hone his photography skills.  He ran around New York City, often with like minded photographic sportsters, to see who could capture the best and most original photographs. In a remarkably short period of time, Ryan scored a remarkable successes with 90K followers on his Instagram account and recognition as a young phenom.  I may biased about Ryan’s talent because my team works closely with him but by any objective standard Ryan made it to the big leagues through his photographic work for adidas, Bloomingdales, Nike and other major brands.

While photography, of course, has been around for quite some time, there have been a few major developments which have jump started it to a sport.  First, not surprisingly, new technologies and social trends have been a critical driver. The ubiquitous iPhone democratized the ability to take quality images at virtually any time and the advent of social media allowed photographs to find like minded people to shoot with and share their images throughout the world. Today there are over 5 billion people in the world with access to a cameras (through cell phones or stand alone cameras).  Of course, the more serious sport photographers have higher quality equipment. As in any sport, players want the best equipment, whether the most powerful bat, lightest basketball shoes, or most pixels to gain that competitive edge enabling the player to do his or her best. The cell phone remains, however, a critical entry point to experiment and probe your passion.

The sharing culture and mass distribution via social media is equally important to the growth of the sport.  First, it is invaluable to find communities of interest, whether auto (Alex Penfold), street (gbergphoto), music (Greg Noire) nature (Nikk_LA), portraiture (Hannah Sider), or sports (Steven Counts), you name it and there is a community of photographers to shoot with and share the love and actions of photographer.  

Second, the photography uniquely combines the virtual with the personal.  Countless photographers have found each other through social media and shoot together.  Like any sport, like minded players enjoy the comradeship and social interaction of shooting together, sharing the action, the stories and thrill of bagging the best shot.

And, third, sharing culture takes images out of boxes and allows sportsters to display their work throughout the world.  Some of the more well known photographer have hundreds of thousands of followers. And keeping score is not just the followers and likes. It is the comments, respect and appreciation of the community.  New photographers are typically enamored of the images and lifestyle the elite athletes share on social media - leaving the newbies to frequently ask how they edit their photos, what gear they are working with and commenting on their photos with phrases like, “dope,” “that’s fire,” and hands together praying emojis (which signifies the praise they have for each other’s work). If you need proof, head over to the comment sections of 13thWitness, Steven Irby or Ani Acopian.

What do the elite photographic athletes look like and how do you measure success? Again, similar to any major sport, success is professionalism or earning a living at the sport and what you love. Some of the more well known photographers have directly parlayed their success to full time careers where they are shooting major ad campaigns.  These photographers offer not only their talent and but social media followers allowing them to act as brand advocates (influencers). They are true authenticators and for brands to be ‘recognized’ they have to go through them first. I know this, as the majority of the work we do at DS Projects is telling brand’s digital stories through the lens of these creators.   

 In fact, the largest and most relevant companies in the world have picked up on this subculture and are developing their marketing campaigns around these talented individuals. Gone are the days of having to need multiple years of experience and numerous degrees -- brands have noticed that these athletes have curated beautiful online identities and are increasingly looking at them to do the same for their own media channels. The outcome is more authentic, engaging and unique imagery.

For those who want to keep score, through instantaneous feedback via ratings, visual communication has created a common count or language for the entire world. And for those who want to do it for the love of the hobby, feel inspired and go out and shoo. The underlying theme is that photographer is a way to express oneself and look at the world with intent and creativity.


WPH Press Release


A spotlight on Miami through the lens of acclaimed photographers and social media mavens Jason PetersonRyan ParrillaStephen Vanasco and 13thWitness.

MIAMI, FL  – Today, Washington Park Hotel, Miami’s newest design-forward hotel, is debuting a modernized version of a hotel art program that speaks directly to its social media savvy guests: a collection of photography exclusively commissioned by acclaimed photographers Jason Peterson, Ryan Parrilla, Stephen Vanasco and 13thWitness. The artists, who were thoughtfully selected for this program, have garnered social media notoriety and a cult-like following with a combined audience of over 2.5 million followers on Instagram.

Outfitting each of the hotel’s four lobbies and 181 guestrooms, the photographs offer an urban, unfiltered and fresh point of view. From intimate vignettes to aerial views, the work captures each artist’s differing perspective on Miami, while maintaining a cohesive thread tied to the Art Deco history and unique culture of South Beach as well as the DNA of the boutique hotel.

The melding of old and new provides an idiosyncratic juxtaposition, as modern photos enhance the landmarked hotel’s vintage aesthetic. The images, which vary from black-and-white to splashes of vibrant color, complement Washington Park Hotel’s Art Deco style and retain a modern elegance through sleek, simple frames. The subject matter ranges from cityscapes to graffiti-tagged streets to sandy beaches, exhibiting four distinctive portrayals of Miami that are as unique to each photographer as the artists are to one another.

“Through the success of social media, these artists have garnered significant followings to further catapult their careers and bring thoughtful photography to the masses,” said Jeff Toscano, SVP of Lifestyle Hotels at Highgate. “With this new program, Washington Park Hotel is thrilled to be at the forefront of an innovative concept that creates an intimate, yet accessible experience in a medium beyond one’s smartphone or social feed.”

Publicly exhibiting the social media-bred photography is a nod to Washington Park Hotel’s hip and style-conscious demographic that constantly use digital channels to showcase personal experiences in real time. Much like the hotel itself, the images are approachable by nature. Each piece emphasizes the diversity of Miami while seamlessly transporting the hotel’s vibrant surroundings into its interiors.

The focal point of the program is an oversized photograph anchored above the hotel’s check-in desk, which will rotate with a new work by each artist throughout the year. The first in the series is “Balance” by Ryan Parrilla, an image that captures a brief moment on a rainy day when the sun carried out its daily routine by peeking out over the horizon, representing a link between the photographer and his subject. Additional work will be on display in the three other lobbies as a living gallery which guests and locals are encouraged to interact with from the moment they enter the buildings.

“While their styles and perspectives may differ, their work is united through the shared medium of new school photography”, said Dylan Hattem, Founder of DS Projects who was tapped to build upon this vision. “With the proliferation of social media and accessibility to high quality photography, interest has exploded - creating one of the most important movements in the history of photography and is a leading force in popular culture.”

With hundreds of incredible galleries, museums, and cultural centers in Miami, the vision for the Washington Park Hotel was to add a fresh outlet to showcase this emerging photography style to that scene.

Highlights of the collection featuring each artist's’ unfiltered and fresh approach includes the following untitled works:

Washington Park Hotel is owned by The Carlyle Group and Witkoff, and managed by Highgate, a premier hospitality investment and management company whose growing portfolio includes more than 100 properties in gateway cities worldwide.

For reservations or more information visit or call 305-421-6265. Washington Park Hotel is located at 1050 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139. Rates start at $199/night. @wphshouthbeach // #WherePlayHappens.


About Washington Park Hotel

Washington Park Hotel is a collection five of Art Deco buildings built in 1943 at the height of the South Beach Art Deco boom. A true urban oasis, the new hotel boasts 181 guestrooms and suites, pool and lush courtyard, on-site bar and restaurant Employees Only, and tropical lobby cocktail bar Swizzle. Located in the heart of South Beach, just two blocks from Miami Beach’s most pristine powder-sand beaches and a half mile from Lincoln Road, the boutique Washington Hotel is a space inspired by the creative life, an atmosphere developed in response to, and in homage to, Miami’s cultural renaissance of art, music and food.

About Highgate

Highgate is a premier real estate investment and hospitality management company widely recognized as an innovator in the industry. Highgate is the dominant player in U.S. gateway markets including New York, Boston, Miami, San Francisco and Honolulu. Highgate also has an expanding presence in key European markets through properties in London, Paris, Barcelona, Vienna and Prague. Highgate’s portfolio of global properties represents an aggregate asset value exceeding $10B and generates over $2B in cumulative revenues. The company provides expert guidance through all stages of the hospitality property cycle, from planning and development through recapitalization or disposition. Highgate has created a portfolio of bespoke hotel brands and utilizes industry leading proprietary revenue management tools that identify and predict evolving market dynamics to drive out performance and maximize asset value. With an executive team consisting of some of the industry’s most experienced hotel management leaders, the company is a trusted partner for top ownership groups and major hotel brands. Highgate maintains corporate offices in New York, London, Dallas, Chicago and Seattle. For more information, visit

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