Gary V.

Few people in the world are as recognizable by their first name and last initial as Gary Vaynerchuk. For anyone who’s been active online over the past few years, the name alone is enough to spark hours of conversation about wine, technology, social media, or the New York Jets.

On April 25, I had the opportunity to meet Gary Vaynerchuk (best-selling author, creator of and, founder of Vayner Media) and see him speak about his latest book — The Thank You Economy (Get it on Amazon. ) — in an intimate setting at the Barnes and Noble book store on Ohio State University’s campus with approximately 40 others.

As far as speakers go, Gary sits atop the totem pole of online celebrities, serving as keynote at prestigious events such as Le Web in Paris, Web2.0 in NYC, Big Omaha in Nebraska, and most recently at SXSW 2011 in Austin, Texas.

And yet, on a quiet Monday night in Columbus, Ohio, Gary proved, on a certain level, he is a normal person just like the rest of us…

  • Gary showed up to the talk 25 minutes late due to a scheduling error, apologizing profusely and admitting to sitting in his hotel room watching ESPN prior to the appearance to kill time.
  • He misses his family while he’s on the road, mentioning his daughter Misha and his wife multiple times throughout the talk.
  • He identifies both of his parents (both immigrants from Belarus) as his biggest role models growing up for instilling the values of honesty and hard work in him at an early age.

So how could such a down to earth guy grow into a wildly successful celebrity, both online and off? Here are three hypotheses:

    I can’t remember exactly how I heard of Gary (it was around the release of his first book, Crush It), but the first time I saw his video blog, I was hooked. In front of the camera, he is an excellent story-teller and over the past four years has transformed the stodgy and out-dated world of wine into a fun topic that is accessible to the masses. His enthusiasm is refreshing, and his excitement for life is contagious.So it was nice to see that excitement amplified in person (it’s no wonder LA-based talent agency CAA – the same firm that represents Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, David Beckham, and Julia Roberts – was willing to take him on as a client). Gary spoke about brands, social media, caring about your customers, word of mouth, and life in general for over an hour with as much energy and passion as a kid talking about their first trip to Disney World.
    During the Q&A portion of his chat, I asked Gary the following question: 

    “After 1,000 web episodes on WineLibraryTV, you made the decision conscious decision to transfer your audience over to the more mobile-friendly platform of DailyGrape. Aside from mobile, what other technologies or trends do you see emerging over the next five years, and which are you most excited about?”

    “Smart refrigerators, wallets going extinct, and a phone app that monitors your entire life,” he responded.

    (Wow. How’s that for visionary?)

    Gary went on to explain the role of micro-content we are currently sharing through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and how similar technologies will eventually be integrated into every aspect of our lives – including the kitchen.

    “Think about how powerful it would be,” he continued, “if your fridge could keep track of all the things you put into and take out of it. Eventually, it would know that you are,” looking down at the plastic bottle on the table, “an avid Aquafina drinker. And when you go shopping each week, you buy a new 24-pack of water that gets scanned into your fridge. Manufacturers could identify your habits, and run promotions to get you to buy more water… or offer you loyalty rewards for drinking so much.”

    (Whoa. And wallets?)

    “I’m not some crazy visionary,” he continued. “This stuff is already happening in Indonesia and Japan. People are storing their bank information on their phones and then swiping the phones to pay for things at the cash register. Soon enough, people won’t be carrying around wallets.”

    (Fair enough. And this “life app?”)

    “My brother (AJ, co-founder of Vayner Media) and I always talk about building an end-all app that stores everything about you and your life, right on your phone. I’m talking finances, diet, favorite places to shop, buying history, book and music preferences – EVERYTHING.

    So let’s say you type a goal into your phone to lose 20 pounds. The next day you go out for lunch and end up at an Arby’s, order food at the drive-through, and swipe your phone to pay at the window… and your phone denies the payment because you have a goal to lose 20 pounds, and all the calories you JUST ordered work against your goal!”

    The crowd chuckled, and then let out a collective sigh after realizing how far ahead of the game Gary is.

    We all know “big picture” people – the dreamers, the idea guys, the visionaries of the world. Gary had this to say about them: 

    “The next time one of your friends or family members comes up to you and says, ‘Did you see that product?! That company stole my idea!’ – punch them in the face! I’m serious. Ideas are commodities, they are worthless; it’s the action that’s valuable.”

    And this single quote is what makes Gary more successful than 99.9% of people. Gary is a doer:

  • Back when people were hypothesizing about how big the Internet could be, Gary was convincing his dad to move his brick-and-mortar wine operation online to take advantage of the upcoming paradigm shift. Today, is one of the largest online marketplaces for wine.
  • Later realizing the power of online video, Gary started giving wine the ol’ “sniffy-sniff”, swish, and spit on camera, taping over 1,000 live episodes for his websites, WineLibraryTV and
  • An early adopter of Twitter, Gary has amassed over 875,000 followers on Twitter – not by watching, but by sending over 46,000 tweets (!), most of them interacting directly with his fans (see below).
  • Gary then parlayed his online skills into a successful media company which charges top brands such as Caesar’s Entertainment, Pepsico, and the NHL thousands of dollars each month to manage their online presence.

Gary isn’t successful simply because he’s passionate, or because of his incredible vision. He is successful because he acts on his ideas.

What have you learned (or could you learn) from Gary?

How can you find your own way to redefine your industry?