Gary Vaynerchuk transformed online wine sales at his parents business through his passionate and entertaining wine videos online. The New Jersey based wine retailer took to the web in 2006, and since then his popular Web video series “Wine Library TV” has boosted both Gary's public profile and his parents' liquor store — from a $4 million annual business into a $45 million one.
His video blog attracts an average 80,000 viewers for daily tastings and commentary, and Gary has appeared on mainstream media outlets from Conan O'Brien to The Today Show. His unconventional approach to wine (he convinced O'Brien lick a rock and to get at some of the notes common in wine) has earned him a cult following.
This week, he released the first book in his ten-book deal with Harper Collins. "Crush It! Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion" advises readers on how to turn their hobby — through enthusiasm, hard work and the power of the Internet — into a successful career. I caught up with Gary to chat about how he built his business on social media and why successful people who advise against working hard are lying.
Your new book is about following your passion. Is it important to have an area of expertise to follow your advice?
This is why you have to focus on the passion part. You'd be surprised how many people think of themselves as enthusiasts that really are experts. It's a switch of the dial. It's very obvious to me that I know more about the New York Jets and football than the majority of announcers. It's nothing personal, it's nothing egotistic. I think there are lots of people who have that same passion for cooking. Do you know how many people who cook at home have more expertise than television chefs? I think that people relate that they have a passion. They just don't think of themselves as experts. There is a global lack of self-esteem.
Do you attribute your success to being ahead of the trend of online video?
I firmly believe that if I started tomorrow, in six months I'd be in a very big place. Commitment and hustle and hardwork are the most important thing. Being first to market is fun. This is the first time I've ever been first to market. In retail, people have sold wine before. I was first to market with the video blog, but I definitely had to eat a lot of crow. In February 2006, people were not talking about video blogging. I had to be extra enthusiastic. If you stuck it out you could be the voice of a new genre.
You have a video response to new emails that explains why you might not get back to people immediately. It reminded me how much your brand has grown since you started. Do you lose some of the personal touch of social media as you expand?
It's caring that i care about. Scaling caring is easy. You have to be creative and come up with videos like that one. But a human being is only so scalable. I focus on effort. I just try. Trying, when it's authentic and people can see it, I think it's appreciated. You lose some emotional people who say you've sold out or don't care anymroe. But you can keep 85% of the ones who are practical and understsand — the guy had a kid, this is the way things go.
Is damage control easier in social media?
Absolutetly. Now you can be on video responding to the criticism in 30 seconds. Back in the day, if you had criticsm — what if the press didn't give you a platform to rebuttle? That happened a lot. What are you gonna do, buy an ad? You've heard how people bought ads just to get their message out. You don't have to do that anymore.
Is there a limit to how far social media can take a business?
Everything has a limit. Social media doesn't reach everybody. it depends on where you're going. Can a brand just rely on social media to build a business? I think it can. You start building and then you can start doing other things. I definitely think it can. It's the only platform where you can not spend much money and get a big, big return. There are so many free tools now that you can start up with nothing. That's pretty much the thesis of everything I believe in. The fact that you can create, distribute and advertise for no money. Stuff that cost millions of dollars back in the day. Back in the day, by the way, was about ten years ago.
But is it harder now?
It's harder. The end. We're going to live in a thank you economy. it's going to be all about customer service.
What do you make of Caterina Fake's argument that working hard is overrated?
I think she's out of her fricking mind. Because why? Because she freaking words hard. I just don't get that. The people that talk about not working hard are the one who work the hardest. Tim Ferriss (of the 4 Hour Work Week) works all the time. Caterina (who helped found Flickr and search engine Hunch) works the hardest. I totally disagree with that.
She's really ambitious and trying to create a business. Somebody who's lazy and making $40k a year, if she flipped the switch would make $100k a year. There's been plenty of big time ideas that people didn't work hard on that failed. And there are a ton of lame ideas where the person squeezed every once out of that lemon and made it successul. Working hard is a fundamental requirement for success. Show me the one person who hasn't worked hard and is successful. When you can show my that person, then I'm in. I'm dying for someone to give me a good example. The only people who don't work hard and have it good are the ones who have parents who worked hard. The ones working off the hard work of someone prior to them.
How much sleep are you getting these days?
About four hours. The baby has not really been the issue. The baby hasn't really crushed me, it's the book.
So your book is called "Crush It!" but it's crushing you?
Ha. Yeah, that's true. It's funny.