Did you know that hot dogs with boxed merlot are delicious? In 2006, Gary Vaynerchuk launched Wine Library TV, an online video blog that quickly gained a following of Vayniacs who began to organize offline gatherings. Gary brings “thunder” when appearing on various television talk shows, writing books, he has even created his own wines. This guy has paired wine with breakfast cereal! In 2009 he and his brother A.J. founded digital/social media agency VaynerMedia which, today, has more than 400 employees in offices in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. How appropriate that he was tapped as keynote speaker of the Lemonade Day Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards.
Russ: Welcome back to Businessmakers Show brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business, coming to you today from the Lemonade Day Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards, and I'm with a keynote speaker, none other than Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary, welcome to the Businessmakers Show.
Gary: Thrilled to be here. How are you?
Russ: I'm doing great.
Russ: It's a thrill to have you here. I'm sure my audience all knows who you are and what you've done. In fact, you spent about six or seven years on as the Wine Library T.V. guy.
Russ: But today it's all about Vayner Media.
Russ: Tell us about Vayner Media.
Gary: About five years ago, well even today, like right around this time five years ago my brother A.J. graduated from college. We always kind of promised ourselves we would work together. He's eleven years younger than me, so kind of my understudy always, and we started Vayner Media. At that point I'd already kind of gotten fame for not only doing the wine show, but kind of the business acumen behind it. And so I started getting approached by Fortune 500 companies when I'd come in and spend a day with them. And at first I'm like oh, that's silly. I'm running my own business, and then I started seeing what the fees were, and I said that's interesting. And you know, it was kind of a reaction. Basically think of myself as a reactionary entrepreneur.
Gary: Look at what the market's doing, respond to it. At that moment my brand was escalating as a thought leader in digital social business doings, and so we decided to start Vayner Media to do exactly that. And my brother A.J. ran it for the first two years quite a bit. I probably got the customers and kept onto them, but he was really the operator. And then when I retired in August 2011 from the wine show, I went fulltime and since then we've grown the company from 25 to 400 employees in the last 2½ years. And you know, I'm trying to think about how to say this without coming across a little douchey, but -
Russ: Don't worry about that.
Gary: I think Vayner Media right now is the leading kind of social media content agency in America. We work with clients like GE and Dove, and Bud Light, and big, big brands. And I'm excited about it.
Russ: Okay. But back when you were doing this consultancy with these -
Russ: With these big companies, was that ecommerce, was it social media, or was it all of the above?
Gary: It's really evolved. When we started Vayner Media in 2009 the first two years we did community management.
Gary: It was a strategy of hey brands. I mean, remember 2009 is already now five full years.
Gary: I mean, brands were still not on Twitter and Facebook. They didn't have pages. We had to explain to them they needed to be on it, and then we explained to them and what you do with it. And at that point going off what I was doing in 2007, '08, '09, which was responding and building my audience for what I was doing similar to this setup, which is a lot of fun for me. So that's what we were doing. And then in 2011 I kind of had an epiphany. I was like wait a minute, the market's changing, Facebook's making a change. They're the leaders. This is actually about creating content for these platforms. And that's when we became a content production house, and that has been what we are now. We are basically strategy, because without strategy you're dead. Anybody who's watching this, you're a business person, I would tell you that the biggest problem is most people don't have their strategy down. I mean, that's what - you know, it's really easy to - you know, I love to talk about hard work.
Gary: The hustle. You know, listen, if you're hustling and doing the hard work against the wrong thing, you're going to lose. And so you can work really hard to fill a bucket of water. If there's a big hole at the bottom of that water, your strategy was wrong. You're suppose to fill that hole first, then fill it with water. So having strategy and then we actually do the creative. So the pictures, the videos, the info-graphics, the words, the copy for Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, we're producing that.
Russ: So all of your clients, you're doing that for them.
Gary: We are.
Russ: Okay. What I find also interesting though about you, that right there, what you just said, all that stuff sounds big and very important, and executing business, but in addition to that, you seem to have this knack for prioritizing, for giving prioritization advice in the 80/20 rule, or I think as you call it cloud and dirt thing. You know, you really get into the detail about what they ought to focus on. Talk about that.
Gary: I think that because I speak in hyperbole, and because I'm very animated, and because I just have the DNA that I have, that I have empathy to why for a lot of people that know me a little bit, or even a lot, you know, the charisma, the oversized personality, the bravado, the obnoxiousness, whatever you want to call it. I think a lot of times overshadows the fact that I'm very execution ROI detailed, actually building. You know, this is the second business that I've taken from a base of $2 million to $3 million to over $40 million in less than four years. That doesn't happen through funny words or cursing on stage. That comes through hardcore execution operations. And for me on Vayner Media, much like Wine Library, the retail ecommerce business I built, I need to be the best person in the room. I take enormous pride in being the best person in the room. I need to know the details. And so if I want to give advice to people around Instagram, it can't just be a strategist of Vayner Media that knows it. I need to know it as well. And I spend enormous amounts of time perfecting my craft. I would say that I have a lot of pride in being a great architect. One that isn't scared to be a mason.
Russ: All right. That's cool. Talk specifically about that sky and dirt thing. That was great.
Gary: The clouds and the dirt?
Russ: The clouds and the dirt.
Gary: You know, very simply in business talk, it's about having great execution and having great vision, and kind of strategy to where the market's going. I think most people even who are watching this are spending way too much time in the middle. The politics. The minutia. The drama. The process, which completely blows my mind. And to me, it's all philosophy, and downright execution. So for me it's you know, do you - for example, and you know this, and many of you know this, you're about to know this - in 2006 I believe there was an ROI in social media. That was it. Religion. The clouds. Yes, there was an ROI in social media because for me I'm a guy who only pays attention to where the attention of the user is. Wherever the eyes and ears are, that's where I want to be.
And I'm not scared to jump into a place early. Just like ecommerce in 1996. Just like Google Ad Words when it first came out. So that was my clouds. My top line philosophy was there's an ROI in this. Well then to be great at it, I had to stop in essence being the CEO of a $50-million-a-year family business that I helped build and I had to become a practitioner, and I had to spend fifteen hours a day on Twitter and Tumblr, and Facebook, and learn. That's the clouds and the dirt.
And what's happening in corporate America specifically is it takes them so long to make a decision around the clouds. They outsource the dirt, and that's where the opportunity lies for entrepreneurs.
Russ: Do you advise them to kind of change that?
Gary: Of course, but we're not in a place yet. I'm starting to feel the effects of us building a big business, but up to now in classic corporate America mentality, we didn't have enough clout to get the senior people to buy-in. Right? They continue to buy into the tried and true. And look, I don't look like a Boehner McKenzie, you know, strategist, and I understand that and I respect that. But what I love about business, and what I love about entrepreneurship is it's like sports. Right? It's fair. Like you're either going to win or you're going to lose. I continue to just focus on winning, building businesses, getting results, and a funny thing happens. The more hard work I put in, the more results I get, the luckier I get with my opportunity to influence and help others. And so we do, but the truth is, corporate America is a big battleship that's slow. And that's why I have a lot of you know, empathy for entrepreneurs because they're much more risk interested.
Russ: Absolutely. Absolutely. Totally. I also like that part about where you get great grades for predicting things, and you say well, I don't. You know? I just try them. So talk about that, and then make a prediction. What else have you tried?
Gary: You got it.
Gary: So what you're referring to give context for the viewers is I get a lot of credit for being right about where the market's going to go, and I always say look, I'm not Nostradamus. I'm not predicting. What I'm really good at is - and I'll give you the prediction in the way I communicate this. There's a product called Nuzzel. N U Z Z E L. I love it. I think it's the first news aggregator that I've used. What it takes is all your Twitter friends and it shows what they're sharing, and then it just organizes what they think is the biggest stories of the day. I've used it every day since I've downloaded it about a couple of weeks ago.
So now I'm talking about it for the first time actually right now with you. I believe in the product. I've used it every day for a couple of weeks. I see its value. I've used a lot of its competitors. So I'm not predicting that Nuzzel is going to be incredibly successful. I'm going to talk about it. I think it will. You know, listen. Everybody talks about me being right about Twitter, or Tumblr specifically I get a lot of credit for, or Vine I get a lot of credit for. Nobody talks about my interest in Yobongo, which I was really wrong about. So you have hits and misses.
Here's what I'm good at. I put in the work, I pay attention. It wasn't hard for me to predict Vine was going to be important. It was in the top twenty-five app store for three months straight before I started talking about it, yet by standards of the outside world, people are just now being like oh, this Vine thing is pretty good. So I don't think it's that I'm a great predictor. I just think I'm faster than a lot of people.
Russ: Okay. Well Gary, before I let you go, take us back to the beginning. The Wine Library T.V. You know, number one, did you think it was going to get as big as it did in the beginning? And number two, if that's not the case, when did you realize wow, this is getting big?
Gary: Yeah, and do you know what's funny? I haven't talked about Wine Library T.V. in a little while, and I always hated this question, because you know, you'll see why. I actually think it ended up being a little smaller than I thought it was going to be. I was very confident. You know, you can't imagine how much fun I'm having right now sitting in front of these small cameras, because when I did this in 2006, and this is February 2006, so it's the end of 2005. I mean we're talking about a little while ago. I'm sitting in front of a camera like this, and everybody - I mean my whole office, everybody at Wine Library thought I lost my mind. Nobody knew what I was doing. What's this thing called You Tube? I mean, it's less than a year old at this point. I just was confident. And look, my career will be wrapped up when it's all said and done and yes, the hustle and all that stuff.
Gary: But the truth is, and you know, we've poked at it. I do have intuition. Here's what I have. I really understand the consumer. I understand that every person that's watching behind these cameras and listening behind this, I understand them. I understand the every woman, the every man, in America, how they buy. What gets them excited. What makes them think. And so when I see innovation that's the next generation version of what has always worked, I never fear jumping in two feet first and figuring it out.
Russ: Gary, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us.
Gary: Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Gary Vaynerchuk. And this is the Businessmakers Show brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.