Interview With Gary Vaynerchuk

Posted Feb 19, 2013

Gary Vaynerchuk has been hustling since he was a kid.  Recently he started a company with his brother A.J. called VaynerMedia.  Before starting VaynerMedia, Gary was a video blogger and the director of operations at a wine retail store.  He has also authored a couple of books called Crush It!  Why Now Is The Time To Cash In On Your Passion and The Thank You Economy.

Mr. Vaynerchuk’s family immigrated to the U.S. in 1978 to Edison, New Jersey.  Vaynerchuk graduated from Mount Ida College in Newton, MA and turned his father’s New Jersey based liquor store into a retail wine store called Wine Library after that.  He launched in 1997 and helped grow the family business from $3 million in revenues to $45 million by 2005.  In 2006, he started a video blog called Wine Library TV.  Vaynerchuk’s wine reviews were done with a desk, a flip cam, a New York Jets bucket, and some of his favorite wines.

Last night I interviewed Mr. Vaynerchuk to find out what he is up to nowadays.

I started the conversation by telling Gary that one of my most favorite videos that he has created was back in 2008 about how to get advertisers on your blog.  Many people have a fear of getting on the phone with people and making a deal happen.  This video is the epitome of what Gary does that is not like most other people.  Below is that video:

Many people are too intimidated to make phone calls or make deals happen because they do not have the numbers to back them up when it comes down to their traffic or brand.  I asked him what he suggests people do to get over the hump of becoming confident, hustling, and making a deal happen.  Gary told me that people should sell what they have if they do not have the numbers backing them up:

“When I was a youngster, I was selling who I was going to be.  Now that I have some success, I am selling what I am and one day when I am an old dog, I will be selling what I did.  If you don’t have traffic, you discount it obviously — but you may be able to sell an experience.  I look at a company like Thrillist.  When they did not have the traffic on their website, they sold the parties that they threw.  I saw a Victoria’s Secret model talk about how she was gifted with looks and that she was monetizing from.  Every athlete, celebrity, actress, model, and scientist sells what they have.”

Gary is also an active angel investor and has put money into companies like Rapportive and Milk, both success stories.  I asked him how does he go about choosing what startups he puts his money into.

“It’s a 50-50 kind of thing for me.  The two things that I am really looking for is — does the company play in the space that I believe in (you know is it mobile, is it e-commerce, is it media — is it something I believe in an know) and the second is do I believe in the person.  It’s a mix of the human being and the space that they are playing in.”

I told Gary that I live in Michigan and sometimes feel that we are missing out on some of the startup and venture capital scene in New York and San Francisco.  I have a lot of family in Michigan and I was raised here so it does not make sense for me to leave.  Then I asked him if he believes about whether the location of a business can be an imposition.

“I do.  When I think about Wine Library — I built one of the biggest wine shops in New Jersey.  If it was built in New York, it probably would have been three times bigger.  So the answer is yes.  On the flip side, it depends on what you are doing.  It depends on how you are going about your business.  One thing that was interesting to me is that there was no limit to how I built my personal brand because of my engagement on Twitter and putting out content.  That could have been done from anywhere.  Clearly big cities have serendipitous opportunities.  The biggest reason I continue to live in New York for example is that I have a meeting tomorrow at 10PM.  That is something that you cannot pull off in the suburbs.  I’d be lying if I did not say that there were some limitations.”

He added that if he had a lot of family in Michigan, he’d be here too, but he would travel a lot more to make it happen.  “Every day that goes by, the more and more limitations are being taken away,” added Mr. Vaynerchuk.

I told Gary that I spend a large amount of my time building content and he has been doing the same between the Wine Library vlog and his books.  I asked him what the transition was like from creating content to switching into the services industry with VaynerMedia (emphasis added by Pulse2).

“It was an interesting time.  I had done wine videos every single week day for five and a half to six years.  When I switched, it was so foreign for me not do it anymore.  But I had my reasons.  I thought VaynerMedia had a chance to explode.  I wanted to go all in on it.  A.J. had been doing an amazing job holding down the operations and I thought I could help and take us to the next level.  That’s what I did and there was no regrets.  He added that the 1 a day Q&A had a little bit to do with missing content and engagement.  I have never said this in an interview yet, but I really really wanted to get back to building a business to remind myself that I was worth listening to.  I felt that people were starting to forget that I built a large business.  I felt like people were starting to think I was just a social media pundit / speaking-head / author.  I wanted to remind everybody and mostly myself that I was an operator.  I am definitely more romantic about being an operator rather than a communicator even though being a communicator gets me more accolades.  I needed to remind myself that I was an operator and that is why I switched.  So when I did it, I had an agenda.  And then growing VaynerMedia from 20 to 200 people in a year and all the financial growth appeased me and that is why I am gravitating back to a communicator again.”

I asked Gary if he could tell me what VaynerMedia does as a service.

“Our core is that we are a micro-content production company.  We basically produce content and story-tell and help our clients with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram.  The pictures, the videos, animated GIFs, cards, and all the copy coming from those platforms are coming from our creative teams.  Much like what agencies did for newspapers, radios, and TVs when those platforms were the key platforms.”

He told me that the company is also looking into creating campaigns for some of their clients.  Some of VaynerMedia’s clients include Pepsi, The New York Jets, Campbell’s Soup, and the Brooklyn Nets.

Gary has a huge following on multiple social media platforms.  So I asked him what social media tools he uses to reduce the clutter and noise.

“I use TweetBot for Twitter and it is my go-to platform.  I believe it is the most intuitive.  He also uses and Facebook Mobile.  I also use Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram on the desktop.  But I’d say TweetBot is my most go-to application.”

As we all know, Gary is an oenophile so I had to ask him what his favorite wine and food pairing was.

“One of the things that I am really into is red wine with fish, which is weird to a lot of people.  But actually this Saturday night I had a combo that reminded me of why I loved it so much.  A light red wine and fish is an incredible combination.”

He recommended that people try Beaujolais from France and a fish pairing.  He also said specifically that people should try a wine called Morgon. write about startups that are often times looking for funding so I asked Gary what the best way to pitch to him would be.

“It’s a complete brouhaha.  There is no real right answer.  Phil Toronto is probably the key.  Phil vets the deals.  If you can get past his filter, I would take a much more serious look at you.  But it can really come from anywhere.  I have invested in people tweeting me, recommendations from other angels, and cold e-mails.  There is a huge variety of ways.”

Gary has a lot of energy and I had a great time interviewing him. If you want to learn more about Gary, check out his keynote speech at the Inc 500 Seminar 2011 and an episode of him being featured by This Week in Startups with Jason Calacanis.