In his first visit to Malaysia, media influencer Gary Vaynerchuk was in town to deliver the keynote address at the 2018 National Achievers Congress held in Petaling Jaya’s One World Hotel earlier in the year.
I met the VaynerMedia chief in a hotel conference room, where he was relaxing with his team ahead of the packed event. Known to his fans as Gary Vee, he was in his usual comfortable attire and a little less boisterous – but no less frank – than his captivating Internet persona.
Gary Vee has millions of fans from around the world, but he was surprised at the number of people here who recognised him and asked for a quick chat and a selfie – something he happily makes time for everywhere he goes.
“When you have people coming up to you, wanting to shake your hand and take a photo, it’s better than having a million dollars … it just is,” he says as he reflects on just how far his Internet presence is felt. “It’s all about creating a legacy and having the compassion to give back to other people, that’s it for me.”
In his sit-down interview with Star2, he talked about the motivation behind writing his fifth bestseller, Crushing It! (HarperCollins), which served as a sequel to his 2009 book, Crush It!, which talks about how people can use the Internet to cultivate personal branding and social media presence.
Vaynerchuk – who built one of the first wine e-commerce sites in the 1990s, Wine Library – helped turn his father’s business from a US$4mil to a US$60mil company within just a few years after recognising the growth potential provided by the Internet.
According to Gary Vee, the digital space is “one big land grab” for anyone who has the courage and commitment to put the work into whatever idea they have in mind. To that end, he wrote Crush It! as a powerful “How to …” guide for people to get the most out of social media platforms.
“In 2006, I realised that this Internet that I’d grown up with – I’d been in e-commerce for a decade at that point – it was creating a huge change. Myspace, Friendster, YouTube, Facebook – this is different; it’s not what I thought it was,” he said.
“I never ever thought that I would write a sequel to that book. What happened, four years ago, when D-Rock (his documenter) came into Vayner, is that I decided to do content again and I started the Ask Gary Vee show on YouTube. Two years ago, when I started to build up my team, I realised that with podcasts and YouTube videos – this whole thesis I had – showed that the whole social media thing has been rising all the time.
“So I decided to write Crushing It! for a couple of reasons. First, I need to remind people that this thing is just starting – that Sally in Arkansas or Rick in Manchester or John in Indonesia can do this. I also knew there was a lot of people who had read the first book and had literally gone from levels of poverty to prosperity – they used to be sleeping on couches. I thought that this would be a lot of fun, to get people inspired to do this again, but this time it wasn’t just about me, I had proof – it felt right.”
“So, I wrote Crush It!, where I basically said that this was going to be game-changing and people can use this platform to change their lives.
Here in Malaysia, there’s growing recognition of the importance of digitisation and a lot of talk about Industry 4.0. However, there seems to be somewhat less action in this area within a culture that still prefers the traditional approach to both media and careers. What would it mean for leaders who fail to embrace social media and the digital space? And what about parents and the concerns they have about children spending too much time with technology these days?
“It might be hard to believe, but I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything,” Vaynerchuk insists. “I don’t have any advice for leaders who don’t embrace social, except to say come and talk to me in 10 or 20 years’ time and let’s see how things are.
“For parents who want their kids to become doctors or lawyers, they need to realise that they are wrapping all their self-esteem up in their kids’ future – how many of them are asking their kid what they want to be when they grow up? There are so many opportunities out there.
“What do you think is happening (with technology)? Kids are growing up with it now, it’s going to be an even bigger part of their lives in 10 or 15 years, and that’s the reality.”
To Vaynerchuk’s mind, young people have their own responsibility to know what drives them, and if that includes being an influencer or a digital marketer or creator, his advice is to focus on what matters.
“People are obsessed with numbers on social media,” he says, “but it’s all about offering quality content and keeping people’s attention with what you’re doing. I know people with 106,000 followers who bring in more money than people with millions of followers online. It’s because they’re offering something of value that people want to consume.
“For anyone who wants to put content out there, just put it out. Stop worrying about what other people might think and recognise that your judgements about how you live your life are more important and a lot more accurate than other people’s judgements.
“It’s like a cold pool. You have some people who dip their toe in first, then their ankles, then their legs. Soon enough, they’re in the pool. Then you have people who just dive right in. Either way, you’re in the pool – you’re not sitting at the edge waiting for something to happen.”
While Vaynerchuk heads a multimillion dollar digital consulting firm that services Fortune 500 clients across the company’s four locations, he gives away much of his knowledge for free through his social media platforms and his Gary Vee Audio Experience podcast. The obvious question? Why give away so much when you could charge a hefty fee for your insights?
Well, because his ultimate goal – besides owning the New York Jets – is to help as many people as possible, he says.
“I want to be the greatest entrepreneur of this generation, and I want to show people that this thing is just starting, and they can be a part of it – there’s enough for everybody. I’m driven by gratitude and compassion, but I’m also a competitor, so if people don’t want to jump on this, that’s cool – it leaves more room for me.”