Gary Vaynerchuk is Paris Hilton

Friday night I went to a local Boston social media event hosted by Jeff Cutler and Mike Langford, two of my favorite Boston-area social media buddies.  As far as I am concerned, Jeff and Mike could host a sandwich bag opening and I would be checking my red  Franklin Covey planner for availability.  And, I had heard so much about @GaryVee that I figured I had a good opportunity for a high value event.  But I have to make a couple of confessions first…

  1. I am not a GaryVee groupie.  I am not even close to his target audience.  Not only am I not a wine drinker (and, yes, one of my early jobs in PR was working for a winery association) but in general the rah-rah types leave me cold.  From what I had seen of Gary, and I follow him on Twitter and have checked out several of his online video shows, he’s a shorter, more foul-mouthed version of Tony Robbins, initially focused on the wine industry and now more focused on building the “you can do it” brand of Gary V.  In general, I get a few minutes into his show and want to go on to something else — quite likely this is for the reasons stated above.  I am just not his target audience.  (GV admits in his book that 12 percent of his audience leaves his videos almost immediately — a more than decent “bounce” rate — and he reasons that he can’t make everyone a fan. A good approach.)
  2. It’s allergy season, I am taking huge amounts of medication and I am over-tired and grumpy, so take this for what it’s worth.

GaryVee is the Paris Hilton of the social media world.  He’s famous for being famous (he has more than 800,000 followers on Twitter) and he has astutely built his brand using that information as a stepping stone.  (It doesn’t hurt that he’s had major media success as well — Today show, Conan O’Brien, etc.)  He and Paris even have about the same number of Twitter followers, he’s got a few more.  Not sure if Gary has been on TMZ.

Both Gary and Paris started out with quite a bit more than nothing and parlayed it into more.  His current book, “Why Now is the Time to Crush It: Cash in on Your Passon” purports to contain the secrets to turning your passion into a living.  But unlike the currently unemployed masses who will undoubtedly plunk (plonk?) down $19.99 for his book, Vaynerchuk had the cushion of an already successful family business to support himself while he searched for success and worked on building his brand.  Lots of folks don’t have that luxury.

During his on-camera conversation with Jeff and Mike at the Estate bar in Boston on Friday, GV talked about how he was initially reluctant to let loose with the full barrage of his real on-camera personally for fear he would lose some of his celebrity clients.  (Yes, lots of folks gave him their credit cards and urged him to spend wildly to build their wine collections, well before he was on Twitter.)  In other words, he had celebrity clients before he launched Wine Library TV online.  He talked about how he built his parent’s liquor store from $4 million to $10 million.  Yes, it was a $4 million business by the time he got his hands on it.  (Sounds to me like Mom and Dad are the real entrepreneurs here.)  The initial business was built on the back of traditional media with a lot of advertising dollars.

Don’t get me wrong, the comparison to Paris is not necessarily a bad thing.  I am not a celebrity watcher and I have no idea whether Paris or her handlers is responsible for her must-watch status.  I’ve caught a few Paris-isms out of the corner of my eye and gotten alternately a chuckle, a gasp, or a wince out of her.  She could be smart as a whip or dumb as a post — I have no idea.  I don’t know her.  What I do know is that she gets a huge amount of money to make personal appearances. She has made some movies and some commercials.  She’s seemingly ubiquitious on TMZ and Gawker.  She is a star because she is a brand and she has made herself into a brand.

In person, GV is personable and seems like a genuinely nice guy.  You want to see him do well (and buy the Jets.)  A lot of people in the audiance were genuinely pumped up and ready to take the leap into doing what they really want to do with their lives.  Good for them.  But some of the questions posed to Gary had the harsh ring of impending reality.  “When do you cut bait and fish in different waters?” “How do you know you chose the right passion?”

GV’s real messages (spin removed):

  1. Do what you love (’cause you are going to spend a lot of time doing it. This is hard work, folks.)
  2. This is going to take a long time, years probably.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  (Gary’s book actually does a decent job with this, although he talks in terms of 18 months, which is still not in line with his personal experience of several years.)  If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, you’ll know about the 10,000 hours rule.
  3. Yes, yes, use social media.  It’s the medium that works today but hey, if you can get on late night TV, the Today show, CNN, etc. that’s where your brand will really take off.
  4. And, if you want to be rich, it helps to have a good amount in the bank already.

If you are looking for instant success and wealth, be realistic — instant success unveiled is really the result of years of hard work, dedication, single-minded focus and luck.

7 thoughts on “Gary Vaynerchuk is Paris Hilton

  1. Unfiltered is how I captioned your link when I just tweeted it out. It’s the same perspective – with a bit more research – than I had when I first saw Gary on stage this past March.

    I like him much more as a person now that I’ve seen how he responds to criticism. I also am not sure he’s a brand just being a brand. Unlike Paris, Gary is doing some work to be successful. Sure, he’s on book tour and is enjoying the skyrocketing popularity of his brand, but it would be fake for any of us to apologize if we ran into such a situation.

    I think time will tell. If things peter out a little and Gary continues his focus on Wine Library TV and on buying the Jets, then we’re both right.

    If he flames out wildly and becomes a plastic celebrity, then I’ll invite you to tell me I was wrong to be in his camp. My guess is that he’ll continue to climb and continue to do things the right way.

    Could any of us do that with $4Million in funding? Perhaps. But how many of us would respond the way he has on the way up?

    Nice post.

    Chat soon.

  2. Wow, awesome post! I agree with you on so many points here! I wasn’t impressed with Gary at the Inbound Marketing Summit. I think the cussing is a SoMe thing…Chris Brogan’s got a potty mouth too. (It’s not nearly as bad/frequent and I can easily get value out of Chris’ words.)

    Gary is on a wave of inspiration and energy. Social Media is still the darling shiny new object that will save the business world and pull us out of the recession. (being glib here) Gary’s found a way to ride that wave to early popularity. He’s got a bit of the ‘balloon boy’ approach to getting attention (sans hoax) – he’s doing outrageous and unheard of things in the wine world. And that is the root to the rise of his popularity. Before Gary, wine had an aloof and elitist “personality”. He’s pulled it down to the masses and there are tons more people in the masses than the elite, and that’s his wave, his SoMe rise to fame.

    I do ‘like’ wine, but have too many other things going on in life to invest my time with Gary, so like you, I’m not pulled in to his core business (wine). But again, I agree with you, Mike and Jeff are two of the best guys Boston has to offer to the SoMe world. There’s always a smile and a hug waiting…and a genuine interest in what’s happening with you. They get the Social as much as they are masters of the Media and it’s great to see them at any event.

  3. Thank you so much for coming Bobbie! It killed me to miss last week’s Mass Innovation Night be I was head down preparing for the show.

    BTW: We have taped a brown bag lunch episode!

    As for Gary, I simply love the guy. I think you make a very solid point that he built his much of his success from a foundation set by his parents but as he has mentioned before, the $4 million business didn’t net a lot of take home money. And I totally agree that he started his social media rock stardom with an edge that many of us don’t have at the outset. As an example, he didn’t have to think twice about the affordability of SXSW or other big conferences. He could fly in back in 2007 and throw together a wine party and grab attention by the neck. But, even if we neutralize the money thing I think he’d still be huge.

    He’s told the story of his lemonade stands and baseball card business many times. Gary is a born hustler. But hustle alone isn’t what makes him great. He is also a master showman. His energy is off the charts and he do whatever it takes to make sure he finds the spotlight. That makes him cool but still not great.

    What makes Gary great is his caring, engagement and willingness to pay it forward. You heard the story about how he let Thomas Edwards, @URWingman on Twitter, sleep on his floor at SXSW because Thomas couldn’t afford a hotel room of his own. The night before our event I watch Gary on UStream answering people’s questions for over an hour while he wolfed down his dinner at 11 PM. He thanked people over and over again and engaged everyone, even the haters, despite having to be at the airport for a 6 AM flight to Boston.

    Then there is the pay it forward part. Gary has had some huge names on his Wine Library TV show. He’s also been on the biggest of the big shows himself as you’ve mentioned above. Yet, two days after being on the Today Show he joined Jeff Cutler and I on stage for an hour and stayed for another two hours signing books for our audience. For a guy who is being paid $10,000+ per speaking engagement and earning millions annually through his various ventures to be willing to carve out that much time at my request as a friend…that is greatness.

    People love him, not because he’s famous but because he love them and he’s will to prove it. I am very grateful to Gary Vaynerchuk for what he has done for me and I will follow his lead and pay it forward as well.

    Although, I do hope you are right about him being like Paris Hilton, I think I’d like to have her as a guest on the show. How cool would that be?

    Mike Langford
    CEO, Tweetworks LLC

  4. Bobbie –

    Nice post. I, too, am not the right audience for Gary Vee – which is odd since I spend so much time talking about work/life happiness. But my take on many of these weblebrities is they were early adapters and gained a large piece of the pie when there were very few takers.

    I definitely enjoyed the event and look forward to talking about it and how it relates to work/life on my website.

    But had it not been for Jeff & Michael, I, too would have skipped it. And had it not been for the fact that the book was part of admission…I would not have purchased it. (But hooray for giveaways!)

    It was really fun…I’m still processing…but your take works for me…although I do think Gary Vee is more genuine and authentic than Paris Hilton.


  5. Hi Bobbie,

    My problem with Gary’s message is much more business focused. Yes, his message of “do what you love and the money will come” is old, but with a new wrapper.

    But while he does, as Mike points out, pay it forward, he doesn’t seem to put the same effort into promoting the other people within his own organization. If you read the “about” pages of his various sites, like Cinderella Wine, he doesn’t name any individuals associated with it. Not even himself. But if you look at the tweets, they come from co-tweet.

    I’m sure he’s not the only person within his wine organization to have a passion for wine. I’m sure that when you go into his shop you’ll probably meet a great salesperson who can make wonderful suggestions. Who is that person? Is that person tweeting, blogging and making videos? Is that person building a personal brand?

    If Gary is the face of the organization and Gary decides to shift his focus (say, to the Jets) will the organization survive without him?

    The fact is, Gary is overwhelmed and can’t continue to be as “personal” as he currently is with a mass audience. The mechanics don’t work. I addressed that here:

    The lesson for businesses isn’t how passion can help you, it’s how you can take that passion, turn it into a business, and then build something bigger on it.

  6. While I mostly agree with you, I have a couple of exceptions, But first let me say that I have no time for the Gary’s message of follow your passion, an old theme wrapped in a new package, sort of like a regifted present that everyone likes but no one can really use.

    Then again, as you say, I’m not his target audience.

    I will say, though, building a business by 250% is no mean feat. As marketers and PR people, we have all seen countless companies with great products that have failed to grow market share. Growing companies may or may not take entrepreneur skills, but it does take business acumen.

    Looking beyond Gary’s overwhelming desire to tell the world how great he is, I saw a guy who has shewdly managed his personal brand, both in wine sales and podcasts. In today’s social media world, that’s skill to be admired.

    Finally, though some loophole of paying at the door of the event and not in advance, I didn’t have to buy the book. Thank goodness, because after hearing him speak, once at home I would have put the book where it belongs, in the recycle bin.

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