Tech entrepreneur Billy McFarland launches a high-end, low-cost version of the AmEx status symbol. Wale & French Montana are among the card-holders.
Getting better access doesn’t always mean having bigger bucks. Just ask Billy McFarland, the 21-year-old college dropout who launched Magnises, a kind of aspirational black card for the younger set, which has caught the eye of investors and advisers like Kevin Liles, former president of Def Jam Recordings, founder-CEO of KWL Enterprises and a partner in Lyor Cohen’s new label, 300.
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Members of Magnises, which McFarland started in August and officially launched earlier in March, receive perks for using their dressed-up debit and credit cards that are made of heavyweight metal: guaranteed reservations at restaurants like La Esquina, special fitness classes at gyms like David Barton and access to Magnises’ New York townhouse, a type of Soho House-like hangout used for meetings and parties, located in the West Village.
This perks-and-privileges community — Magnises’ website promises “24/7 concierge, special treatment and discounts at numerous high-end brands and restaurants” to its 600 card-carrying members — has caught the eye of a number of notable investors and members since McFarland first plotted how to get his hands on his own black card last summer. As a young tech entrepreneur, working on his third startup called Spling, he didn’t exactly qualify for the American Express version, which supposedly requires users to spend a yearly minimum of $250,000.
“I’m in the entertainment business and I’m constantly hearing about different things,” says Liles.
Liles isn’t the only one taking note in the music industry: A&M/Octone Records’ David Boxenbaum is an investor as well, and rappers Wale and French Montana have not only performed at private Magnises events but are members themselves.
“Some of them have applied and some have been gifted memberships for being spokespeople for the brand or in exchange for performances,” says McFarland of his more high-profile card-holders, which also include actress Rosario Dawson and Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta.
“I heard about it through my friend [visual artist Jamison Ernest], who said these kids are launching a black card for cool kids,” says Saporta. “They asked me to do a party.”
“The team behind Magnises are some real Zuckerberg types. They know what’s up and they know how to make stuff happen,” adds Wale. “Once I met them I knew they would be blowing up, so that’s why I got involved.”
But unlike the highly coveted AmEx black card, the Magnises edition isn’t directly associated with a financial institution. Instead, McFarland’s version takes a member’s credit and debit cards, transfers the information onto a blank black metal card and offers perks for using it. An annual membership fee is only $250 — the hard part is getting accepted.
“Billy has not in any way allowed me to use it, because he feels I get the ultimate VIP experience in New York,” says Liles with a laugh. “He put me on a waiting list, but I should be getting my card anytime now.”