Gary Vaynerchuk is a New York Times bestselling author and American businessman who was born in Belarus and immigrated to the United States as a young child. Gary’s entrepreneurial instincts took over at a young age, when he owned a franchise of neighborhood lemonade stands and made $1,000 a weekend selling baseball cards. Much to his dismay, his father Sasha pulled Gary into the family business, a local liquor store called Shopper’s Discount Liquors. Before long, Gary recognized that consumers collected rare wines just like people collected baseball cards, and he was off to the races. Gary transformed himself into a wine expert, rebranded the store as Wine Library, launched a retail website in 1997, and by 2008 he had raised annual revenue from $4 million to $60 million. In 2006 Gary achieved one of his life-long goals when he was caricatured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in an article about online wine sales.
In February of 2006, Gary launched Wine Library TV, a daily video blog about wine. With the tag line “changing the wine world,” the show offered an unpretentious approach to an historically stuffy subject. As the audience grew and word spread of his informal and unorthodox approach to wine, Gary made numerous national television appearances as a wine expert, including spots on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, The Ellen Degeneres Show, The Today Show, Nightline, and Mad Money with Jim Cramer. In 2009, Gary was recognized as “Innovator of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast magazine, and as part of Decanter magazine’s prestigious “Power List” of the most influential figures in the industry. Wine Library TV garners 90,000 daily viewers and has now surpassed 800 episodes, featuring celebrity guests including hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, Travel Channel star Samantha Brown, Food Network host Ingrid Hoffmann, rock star Maynard James Keenan, Digg.com founder Kevin Rose, and esteemed wine critics Jancis Robinson and Daniel Rogov.
While developing the audience for Wine Library TV, Gary eschewed the traditional media tools he had relied on when building the retail store, turning instead to the social web. Gary joined the online conversation by becoming an active member of blogs and forums, and then proceeded to utilize web 2.0 tools such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with consumers online. The business world took note of Gary’s approach, and before long he was being invited to speak at conferences and corporations around the world.
Gary launched a second blog, garyvaynerchuk.com, where he dispenses business advice and comments on emerging technologies and cultural trends. As his following grew online, Gary became one of the first to reach Facebook’s friend limit and accumulated more than 800,000 followers on Twitter. Gary’s first business book, entitled Crush It! Why Now is the Time to Cash in on your Passion, was released in the Fall of 2009 and debuted as a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Gary proceeded to make tv appearances as a social media expert and business consultant on programs including CNN Your $$$$, Fox Business’s Your Money Your Questions, and The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch.
As Gary’s career as a speaker and writer continued to soar, companies of varying sizes approached him for consulting advice. The consulting role agreed with him, and in 2009 Gary and his brother AJ co-founded VaynerMedia, a boutique agency that works with personal brands, consumer brands, and startups. Gary is now also an angel investor in various startups, offering sweat equity to the projects he supports in addition to financial investments.
Gary’s ultimate goal is to one day own the New York Jets. Although his various businesses obviously play an enormous role in his life, he always puts his family first.
What are you working on right now?
My biggest focus these days is VaynerMedia, the consulting company I founded with my brother AJ. We are really looking forward to over-delivering and moving the needle for our clients in 2010.
3 Trends that excite you?
Geolocation is taking off in a big way.
Mobile in general is game changing, as smart phones end up in more and more people’s pockets.
And I think of the Internet as a whole as a trend honestly. I mean it’s less than 15 years old–we’ve only scratched the surface of how it is going to change our lives.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My philosophy of business has always been to surround yourself with good people who can execute. I’m an idea and concept guy; whether it’s with Brandon, the VP at Wine Library, with AJ and our team for VaynerMedia, or elsewhere, I have someone to follow through.
What is one mistake that you made, and what did you learn from it?
I had a chance to invest in Twitter very early on, and my gut told me to do it, but I didn’t. Since then I’ve started doing some angel investing and equity plays for products in the tech space that I believe in.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
In my book I talk about an online version of sportscenter. I still think someone should do this and it would crush!
A professional question of your choice?
I’ll tell you my least favorite question which I get asked all the time–how do I find my passion? That’s a tough one for me. If you don’t know what it is, you may not have that one thing you love enough. But I think deep down most people do. If you can think of 50 blog topics for your area off the top of your head, then you know you’ve got something.
What’s your favorite drink?
When is your next book coming out? Can you tell us what it’s about?
The timeline isn’t quite set yet, but it’s going to be called the Thank You Economy. This is a concept I’ve been talking about a lot lately and it’s one that I believe in heavily. The accessibility of communication online is dramatically changing consumer expectations and a lot of purchasing decisions are going to be “thank you” driven.
You’re one of the most inspiring and motivated guys I’ve ever seen, what inspires you? How do you keep up that intensity?
Every day when I wake up and everyone in my life is still alive, healthy, and happy, I’m pumped to attack the day. I also want to own the New York Jets one day and I have a long way to go to reach that goal!
Gary Vaynerchuk on Twitter
CrushIt – a Gary Vaynerchuk Book
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.