The Way I Work: Gary Vaynerchuk
Gary Vaynerchuk, 35, has been a salesman for as long as he can remember. It was lemonade as a kid and baseball cards as a teenager. At 22, Vaynerchuk took over operations at Wine Library, his father's Springfield, New Jersey, wine store, eventually transforming it into a $60 million-a-year business and one of the largest online wine retailers. Customers flock to the company's website for Vaynerchuk's daily video blogs, on which he reviews wine with a playful irreverence and a New Jersey attitude.
In 2009, Vaynerchuk parlayed his social media buzz into a new business, VaynerMedia, which advises large companies on managing their online communities. These days, Vaynerchuk splits his time between the two companies, packing his days with wine reviews, client pitch meetings, and a constant stream of tweets.
When it comes to social media, I think most companies are putting a couple of chips on the table. I'm all in. Engagement is key to building real relationships with the people you do business with. People want to be heard and feel like their opinions matter.
I typically spend four or five hours a day using social media to engage with people. Some days, I've spent up to 12 hours on TweetDeck. Every day, between every phone call or meeting, in every cab ride—during every spare second—I'm on Twitter. I have 850,000 followers, and I care about every tweet.
As soon as I wake up in the morning—usually between 7 and 8:30—I grab my laptop and start answering e-mails. I try to answer every single e-mail I receive, but it's tough. I get hundreds, maybe even a thousand a day. My assistant organizes my e-mail into folders for me, which helps. I also have it set up so that, when people write to me, they get an e-mail with a video of me promising to do my best to write back.
I usually spend about 15 to 45 minutes on the computer first thing in the morning. Then I'll shower and go play with Misha, my 20-month-old daughter, while I chat with my wife, Lizzie, who is a stay-at-home mom.
Every Monday, I make the trip to Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey. That's the only day of the week I'm in the office. It's about a 45-minute drive from where I live in New York City. I usually spend that time on the phone. The first call is always to my mom—we talk about family stuff. Then, I'll usually call Brandon Warnke, Wine Library's vice president of operations. I've groomed Brandon over the past few years to run things, so I can focus on VaynerMedia. But we talk two to three times a day on the phone. We'll discuss a range of things—problematic inventory, new products, pissed-off customers.
I get to the office around 10 a.m. and meet with the key managers. We have a fantasy baseball league—so, during baseball season, I'll talk trash about that for a few minutes, and we'll make some trades. Then everyone catches me up on the business. We'll talk about things like new orders, Robert Parker reviews, and which vineyards want to sell us what for how much.
After the meeting, I start picking the wines I want to feature on my online show, Wine Library TV. Some shows are super planned out, some aren't. I know wine so well that I don't need prep work. From age 16, I lived and breathed wine. I read every magazine and book about wine. By the time I was 23, I was doing all of the buying for the store, so I tasted a lot of wine. I know my shit.
Some people think I'm a huckster, but with the show, my intent isn't to sell our wine. It's to educate people about wine. There's a big difference. Too many companies think they want to do a video blog to sell merchandise, but if you turn your site into QVC, you lose. I have an audience that trusts me. It's about building a global brand—not selling four more bottles of Pinot Grigio.
When I started the show in 2006, I used to tape one episode a day, but I've gotten too busy. Now, I record all five shows—for Monday through Friday—in one day. I change shirts to make it look like it's a new day, but people are catching on.
I hate recording all the shows for the week in one day, because I want to be able to mention current events and pop culture. If Madonna punches Britney in the face today, I want to reference that on Wine Library TV tomorrow. Monday's episode is always the best, because it's hot off the press.
We usually tape from noon until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. It's superinformal. And since everyone knows that's the only day I'm in the office, employees will come by to say hello, or fans might show up and ask me to sign a bottle. I take random breaks to chat and sometimes ask people—like my dad—to make cameo appearances on the show.
I carry my laptop with me everywhere. If I have any downtime during the day, I'll jump on my computer and answer e-mails. At least once a week, I log in to Ustream, a free video streaming site that lets you interact with people. I'll send a tweet and let people know I'm online. Then, I'll sit at my desk for two or three hours, chatting with up to 500 people through my webcam. I get all kinds of questions: "How do I build my car wash?" "How can I get more traction with my blog?" "What wine should I have for my daughter's wedding?" I believe that kind of one-on-one engagement with people is key to growing my personal brand. And I love the Vayniacs, my fans.
When I'm at Wine Library, I usually spend at least an hour with my dad, talking about something silly or something big. He still works at the store every day, running the back office and making a lot of the buying decisions. My dad is like a cactus—introverted and tough. I'm a people person, like my mom, but I got my competitiveness from my dad. He came to this country from Belarus with nothing and built a real business. He's my hero for giving me that need to run a business and for having enormous confidence in me. But there were times we battled about the business. I think he and I have a better relationship today, because I started doing my own things.
On Tuesdays through Fridays, I focus on VaynerMedia, which I started with my brother, AJ. We teach businesses how to use social media to grow their brands. I usually schedule a meeting in the morning—with my agent, my lawyer, or potential clients—and then head to our office downtown.
AJ and I started the company together in 2009, and now we have 20 employees. He's 24 years old, but we've been working together since he was 13. We used to spend Saturdays together, going to garage sales and buying stuff to sell on eBay for extra money. He knows me better than anyone, and I trust him 100 percent.
At VaynerMedia, I'm the hunter—I get new business—and AJ's the farmer who oversees each project and makes sure it gets done well. He's been teaching me to be a farmer, too. I usually spend about half of my time in the office. The rest of the time, I'm going to meetings with clients or prospective clients.
Our first client was the New York Jets. I'm a huge Jets fan, so landing the team as a client was one of the happier days of my life. In fact, every business decision I make gets me one step closer to my ultimate goal: to own the Jets.
I asked for a meeting with Jets vice president Matt Higgins, and we started talking about my success with social media. I said, "Let me show you what I can do."
We started working with Kerry Rhodes—a safety who now plays for the Cardinals—on spec. People are scared of doing spec work, but I believe it shows your willingness to hustle. We taught Kerry how to use Twitter and Facebook strategically to build his personal brand. Soon the Jets signed on as a paying client. We got the team on every possible social media platform. The Jets went from under 1,000 to 300,000 fans on Twitter and Facebook.
After our success with the Jets, we were able to land the National Hockey League as another paying client. We worked with the NHL on strategy and execution. It went from 500 Facebook and Twitter fans to half a million, just by caring. We're humanizing the NHL. For instance, every time somebody says, "Can't wait for the Rangers game tonight" on Twitter, the NHL will now respond with something like, "Have a great time!" Those fans feel different about the NHL.
Too many people think this one-on-one stuff doesn't scale, but giving a shit has an enormous return yield. For example, if a florist is nice to you, you'll buy flowers there, even if 1-800-FLOWERS is cheaper. Yes, it's hard work, but once everybody understands the value of engagement, everybody will do it.
Even if someone says something negative about your brand, that's a big opportunity. I go on Amazon.com and respond to every review people leave of my book, Crush It!, whether the review is positive or negative. When I get one-star reviews, I apologize for letting them down. Then we have a dialogue. Even if that person did not like my book, he respects that.
A lot of times, I get new business as a result of speaking engagements. I speak two or three times a month, which adds up to more than $100,000 a month. That's real money, so I have to be careful to not just become a speaker. I don't want to become just a talking head, the type of person I make fun of.
I have a 10-book deal with HarperCollins, so that takes up some of my time, too. My next book, The Thank You Economy, comes out in March. Last spring and summer, I spent a lot of hours with my ghostwriter, just riffing. She'd tape me, transcribe, edit, and send it to me. Then I'd stay up late nights, working on revisions. Now that it's done, I'm gearing up for the book promotion.
Every Thursday night, I do my Sirius radio show about wine and social media from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. It used to be on even later. I wanted to stay up late every Thursday night about as much as I wanted a punch in the face, but I was willing to pay my dues. This is about personal branding, and I want to be on every platform—the Web, books, radio, and eventually TV.
Dinner is usually my first meal of the day. I know it sounds crazy, but I rarely eat breakfast or lunch. A few times a month, I might have dinner with my lawyer or grab drinks with other entrepreneurs who are good friends of mine. But more and more, I try to go home after work and see my wife. We order dinner in—I like sushi. I usually stay away from red wine at night, because it makes me sleepy. I want to get another hour or two of work done. Usually, I'm catching up on e-mails.
Sundays are my day with family—and the New York Jets, which are like family. I don't care if Oprah and Obama called and said, "We need you"; if the New York Jets were playing, I wouldn't return the call.
As much as I love work, family's the most important thing to me. But I don't want to be the alcoholic who says he doesn't have a drinking problem. I wish I spent more time with my wife and daughter. It's something I struggle with. I'm scared to play the I'll-get-to-it card. These days, I spend about 90 percent of weekends with my family, which is a big accomplishment for me. Last year, it was 40 percent. At least I'm heading in the right direction.
Gary Vaynerchuk will be speaking at the 2011 Inc. 500 | 5000 Conference. To attend, click here.
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