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Gary Vaynerchuk on Hustle, Social Media, and Everything in Between

The American entrepreneur shares lessons on making it big in today’s digital world

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BY Rahil Bhagat - 10 Nov 2017

Gary Vaynerchuk, Courtesy Company

In the unicorn chasing, soylent eating world of tech start-ups, where terms like Blue Ocean, CPI and blockchain are bandied about with reckless abandon, few people hold sway like Gary Vaynerchuk.

The brash and savvy 41-year-old American has gone from wine entrepreneur to social media star holding court for an audience of millions eager to hear his thoughts on technology, life, and everything in between.

To these millions of eager hopefuls, looking to build the next Spotify or Uber, Vaynerchuk—or Garyvee, as his fans call him—is the Prophet of the Church of Hustle. His masterful VLOG series, called Dailyvee, is hugely popular around the world, as are his posts on his various social media feeds.

His company, Vaynermedia, works with a variety of Fortune 500 companies from around the world, as well as brands like Apple, for whom he appears as a Judge on Apple’s Planet of the Apps show, along with stars Jessica Alba and Will.i.am.

Work ethic = Hustle

As the influencer economy and digital platforms continue to grow, folks like Vaynerchuk, who have their fingers on the pulse of Generation Z are going to be shaping the start-up ecosystems of tomorrow.

But it all begins with hustle. “For me it’s important because I don’t think any of us can physically change how smart we are. I don’t think we can make ourselves more clever or strategic. But I do think that hard work is the most controllable aspect of entrepreneurship and business, that anybody can deploy, and I find that fascinating,” says Vaynerchuk, adding the best thing to do with that hustle is to develop it into a personal brand which, thanks to the reach of social media, is a much more achievable goal now than at any point in history.

The secret to Vaynerchuk’s social media prowess is in understanding the underlying nature of each of the major platforms. “When we go into six different apps, our brain’s chemicals are different,” he relates.

On Instagram. Vaynerchuk says, “Instagram is escapism for a lot of people. They're checking out attractive people, they're looking for a laugh, they're keeping up with culture, your brain is not in the same place on Instagram and LinkedIn.”

Vaynerchuk believes that the platform is so saturated with manufactured content that people crave sincerity. “Humor, beautiful images, quotes, micro clips that are insightful, it's very cliché; but I genuinely think at this point because of the maturity of the platform, the only thing that's breaking through is truth,” he says.

On LinkedIn. LinkedIn is about business and ambition foremost, points out Vaynerchuk.

What works best, he says, is “long form content. Because when you’re in LinkedIn and you’re in your Tinder moment of business, you’re in that mindset. You’re in your ambitious, what you do for a living, business mindset. It’s a very different mindset from when you're on Instagram.”

On Twitter. The platform people don’t get the value of, Vaynerchuk believes, is Twitter.

Says Vaynerchuk, “Twitter was always the anomaly in social media because it wasn't a content play, it was a community play. And that's why so many people struggle with Twitter, both media companies and individuals. It is the platform to listen, not talk, and nobody wants to listen.”

Twitter, he says, is the one place you can jump into any conversation. “On LinkedIn, it’s super fun for you to look at Branson or Cuban or Barbara Corcoran. On Twitter, you could literally reply to them on something they just said, and they’ll actually reply to you,” says Vaynerchuk, adding that if one looks at every A-list personality, Twitter is the place to get an engagement from 99% of them. “Including myself,” he relates, “The way to get me to reply and see what you’re up to is far more likely to happen on Twitter because it is built for communication, not for distribution of content.”

He asserts this is likely why Twitter has failed so many. “Everybody just wants to put out content, have people consume it, impact them for what they have selfishly behind that content, and move on,” he says.

Vaynerchuk credits Twitter as being an invaluable tool in his rise. A self-professed “nobody” on 2007 on Twitter, Vaynerchuk responded to Leo Laporte, Kevin Rose, and Pete Cashmore, “and more importantly, searched the word ‘wine’ and every single tech nerd who said ‘I'm going to Napa to drink wine this weekend’ I asked which winery they are going to, and when they were like ‘Whoa, I don’t know.’ And then I replied ‘Well you should go to Whitehall Lane.’ And then they would look at my profile and see Wine Library TV (Vaynerchuk’s blog) and they're like ‘Thanks dude.’ One by one by one by one, 12 to 16 hours a day, and then I was somebody.”

No platform, Vaynerchuk affirms, can elevate your brand quite like Twitter.

On self-awareness and relying on your gut

The first step on the journey of brand creation, according to Vaynerchuk, is sincerity and honesty.

Self-awareness around how one communicates in one of the three mediums of how people consume content is massively important. “Being a personal brand for the sake of being a personal brand is usually the quickest way to not be a personal brand. You have to understand what you do, what you talk about. I talk and talk and talk and have for the last decade, but you know I’m not talking for the sake of talking, or adding my two cents to every pop culture situation, I talk about the things that I know.”

Another issue that loads of start-ups are facing is founder burnout, where massive competition along with unproven business models force founders to take increasing risks to keep their company afloat. The question of whether to carry on just one more month or whether to throw in the towel is one that every founder knows all too well.

This is a question that Vaynerchuk hears often and, according to him, “Perseverance and delusion are kissing cousins.” The trick is in knowing when you are working on hopes and dreams alone, with little in the way of actual traction. Relying on your gut may not always be the best course of action, Vaynerchuk believes.

“You know, I think gut is scary because if you don’t have good self-awareness, your gut’s going to tell you to do it but you could be delusional. I think use people around you, use historical success, you know. I would argue, I'd rather somebody continue to persevere around something they love doing, kind of live paycheck to paycheck, but be so happy rather than be miserable,” he says.

Bullish on Voice

The next big market, Vaynerchuk believes, is in voice-activated assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana, but the lack of a killer app is holding the space back.

Contrary to what many believe, Vaynerchuk is all for the “walled garden” approach that big tech companies are using as opposed to a more open source solution where different companies can contribute to the same shared ecosystem. His reasoning for this is straight out of Gordon Gekko in the classic 1987 film, Wall Street.

“I think they should continue to put up walled gardens. It’s far more profitable. That's how they make money. I don’t think Google or Facebook or LinkedIn, Microsoft, or Apple has any obligation to society to open up the data so we have it better. I don’t think that has anything to do with business,” he says.

For now, Vaynerchuk’s big mission is to work with brands using the new age devices created by the digital economy. A great example of this is the influencer revolution, something the world’s biggest brands spend millions on every year to reach the Generation Z consumer.

Vaynerchuk’s advice for brands looking to engage influencer marketing?

“Run analytics. Look at their audience segmentation, understand their distribution, make a qualitative and quantitative decision like they do with anything else that distributes information,” he says.

At that point, Vaynerchuk says, “give them their brand and get the hell out of the way, and as long as they're not doing something egregious, approve the content. They know their audience way better than the brand does. So if they want to take the bottle of water and put it on their head and do this, that's going to work for their audience because that influencer knows that, and no brand manager should be like "No, our brand never goes on a human's head." If that's the case, then run print ads and get out of influencer marketing.”