Gary Vaynerchuk is the host of Wine Library TV (with over 80,000 viewers a day) and Director of Operations at his family’s company, Wine Library, in Springfield, NJ. He grew that business from $4 million to $60 million in only five years, and is now the co-founder of VaynerMedia and a consultant for Fortune 100 companies. An in-demand public speaker, Vaynerchuk has keynoted at events such as FOWA and South by Southwest, and also appeared on many television shows such as “Ellen DeGeneres”, “Late Night With Conan O’Brien”, “The Today Show”, and CNBC’s “Mad Money With Jim Cramer”. Vaynerchuk’s second book, “Crush It!“, came out earlier this month.
I sat down with Gary at LessConf in Jacksonville, Fla., to talk about working hard and building brands.
Nancy: You are famous for cheerleading, for telling people to work an 18 hour day. How has being a dad changed your perspective on that?
Vaynerchuk: It hasn’t. I don’t necessarily need people to work 24 hours a day. I need them to not do stupid stuff when they’re unhappy. If that ends up being 12 hours a day, or seven, or four, that’s fine. Because obviously family is first. And a lot of times for a lot of people, your first job is first, because that’s what pays your mortgage. It’s just at night, instead of plopping on the couch and eating junk food and watching Baywatch re-runs, there’s a lot of opportunity to build brand.
Nancy: Although you are known for doing all that motivational speaking, recently it seems to me that your focus has shifted a little bit away from pure motivation into a little more practical advice, especially with the book. Can you talk about that shift a little bit?
Vaynerchuk: It’s always been there. It’s just that the “rah-rah” stuff is so sexy, and people focus on it. I’m not a motivational speaker as my profession, or a life coach, or a self-help dude. I build businesses. I built a $70 million wine company. AJ and I, my dad and I, our partners and family have spearheaded Vaynermedia, which is well on its way to being a million dollar company. And Gourmet Library. And I was the kid that was making a thousand dollars a weekend selling baseball cards, which if you prorate it is $52,000 a year for one day a week’s work. So, this is a knack, this is a skill. I’ve always said be patient, hustle, you know, practical advice, but it always got pushed to the side. So this is no shift…this is probably why I wrote the book. Because in a book environment, I think it comes through more for a lot of people. It doesn’t get lost as much, because there are sections just devoted to it.
Nancy: You’ve been investing in a lot of startups lately. What gets your attention or gets you excited about one? Like at my house, when we’re looking at a new tech product, it has to pass the mom test of “could our moms use it?”
Vaynerchuk: Well, I don’t think that I would invest in any startup if that had to be my barometer, because moms get involved later. Products iterate to become mom-friendly. Mine is, is this valuable? And does it invoke emotion? Those are the two things that I’d look at. Does this product make people think about something, feel something? Facebook inherently created an environment of your world, gave you a feel of speed, almost like having a fast Porsche that you never saw before. So those are the kind of things that I look at.
Nancy: So you assume that if it brings that kind of feeling, that that’s a good investment down the road, because it’ll gain some traction?
Vaynerchuk: No, that’s just some of the things I look for from a product standpoint. Then I look at who’s the entrepreneur — who’s driving the car. That’s imperative to me. And so, there’s a lot of factors. Is the product over-hyped in the mind of the entrepreneur, which means it’s not going to be as good of a deal for me? There’s a lot of practical things that I look at.
Nancy: You’re talking a lot about personal branding, finding your passion. What are the top three skills that you think people need to be able to craft that sort of branding for themselves?
Vaynerchuk: I think this is what’s important: I think everybody can win. Everybody is going to win. Not everybody is going to be Oprah, there’s going to be a lot of Donahues, and a lot of Sally Jesse Raphaels, and a lot of Geraldos, right? What I think is important is this, for people to understand: The fact that we all can now go to Yankee Stadium and tap the plate and get a swing at the bat, was not real three years ago. You couldn’t become a brand. What you were going to do — leave your kids and your husband and fly to LA and find an agent? You had no shot. So that’s what I’m screaming about. Not that necessarily everybody’s going to win on this epic level and everybody’s going to make a trillion dollars, but do not disrespect the fact that everybody has a swing at the plate. And that’s a big deal.
Nancy: Everybody knows you want to buy the Jets. Do you have any other goals?
Vaynerchuk: The only goal that I have is that, and to spend time with my family and make sure that they’re healthy. And even the Jets goal is a big one but not something I’ll let define me. I’m not going to jump off a cliff if I don’t end up buying them.
Nancy: A lot of web workers spend a lot of time on the road, just like you do. What’s the number one piece of travel advice that you’ve picked up in your time on the road?
Vaynerchuk: That’s a great question. I do a lot of interviews, so when I get a new question, they’re good. The number one piece of advice? I think there’s only two things you should do as a businessperson in this web world when you’re flying. Two: Sleep or do email…no in between. Hardcore get in the trenches with your audience and answer their questions, or get the rest you need to execute it. Don’t watch a movie. And I understand you need time to unwind, people need that. But that stuff needs to be cut out a little bit. That part, where you’re watching Seinfeld reruns on your flight. That’s those two hours that really are the difference in building a big business. Now if you’re happy, and content, then watch Seinfeld.
Are you really working towards your goals? What are you giving up?