If Marcus Buckingham was right, that leadership is “rallying people to a better future.” – then as much as you may think of him as a marketer, as a merchant, or as a hustler (in a good way); Gary Vaynerchuk is – above all of that – a leader. With the recent release of his first book Crush It: Why Now is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion, Vaynerchuk continues to rally (lead) those of us who might listen to the better (and inevitable) future of business in a world turned upside down by…bandwidth.
His steady contention is that the gatekeepers of radio, and television, and newspapers are gone – and that anyone (not to be confused with everyone) can turn their passion for anything into a successful life doing what they love. But it isn’t what he believes in, but rather the evangelist-like, unstoppable purpose in that belief that makes Gary Vaynerchuk a true and authentic leader. It’s easy to believe and be passionate about something in a sprint. But the long-haul delivering of a message and sticking to it – in the face of detractors – is what makes people follow. It can’t be taught at business school; it can’t be faked; it comes from inside, and Vaynerchuk has it – in spades.
An early-adopter of…well…everything - Vaynerchuk redefined the possibilities and power that can be wielded by all of us with just a solid idea, technology, and a massive dose of hustle. The 34 year old businessman and video blogger (tv.winelibrary.com) from New Jersey has managed to parlay his passion for wine and an enormous amount of effort into an almost addictive personal brand that is well on its way to out-grossing his family’s sixty-million dollar wine business. In late 2007 – he branched out from Wine Library TV to start conversations about his ideas for business (and anything else really) at garyvaynerchuk.com – in his initial “120 seconds about something besides wine” episodes, he can be seen talking about personal brands. Five months later he was still talking about personal branding, and then in September of last year, he delivered what I believe to be the most powerful, relevant, and cogent 15 minutes on the new world of business….ever. Given at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York – complete with raw language and vehemence – Vaynerchuk is open, and honest, and completely exposed with his idea that success is about passion, authenticity, and hard work. Period.
On Message – and Authentic
A year later and still on message – his beliefs, and the man himself, remain unchanged. His first book is dipped – cover to cover – in authenticity. Explaining why that is so important, he devotes a chapter to his (ever consistent) belief that being real and true to yourself is everything. Lamenting the 12% of Wine Library TV’s viewers that switch off during his …unlikely… introduction to a program about wine, Vaynerchuk says:
“If I tried to tone things down and make myself appealing to that missing 12%, I can guarantee that everything I’ve built until now would start slipping away, because now every time I’d get in front of that Flip Cam I’d be putting on an act.”
(note: To get an idea how many 18,000 unique visitors – to a video blog about wine – is , consider that the top-ten selling US wineries generate well under a third of the web traffic – combined)
I know what you’re thinking – but wait:
Right now, most of you may be thinking what I am – that telling people to follow their passion, and to work hard, and to be authentic is nothing (even remotely) new. You’re right – it isn’t. We have all heard that from any number people for an equal number of years. The difference is that Gary Vaynerchuk appears to be one of the very few people that actually are as authentic as they claim we all should be. Here are some examples:
One Take Wonder:
Fast approaching his 800th episode of Wine Library TV - Vaynerchuk has never done take two. There is no editing, no do-overs – no clean up. Watch his shows and you’ll get everything. He waves at passersby in his office, flubs his words, drops things, forgets the wine, spills it, gets up to answer the phone…anything. “Oprah edits” he mocks. In fact, the only edited version if his show is the highlight reel that is proof enough that he never edits. Leader’s are authentic.
Recently, Vaynerchuk had to stop doing the most non-scalable business practice ever. From 2006 to just a short while ago – he answered every email he received. Now that’s no big deal if you get a hundred a day – but Vaynerchuk was getting over 700 – and still answering every one of them. The replies got shorter as the number of emails grew – but the point is that the guy has been engaged – truly engaged - with his viewers. Still answering as many as possible – he still makes time for meaningful engagement and connection with his audience. If you want to hang out with him for a week, he’s invited everyone on vacation with him Leaders are accessible.
In keynote after keynote – Vaynerchuk always manages to fit in the notion that you must genuinely care about your customers. Again, the idea isn’t original – sales gurus have been touting that notion since before I (or my young friend Gary) were born. But in an almost impossibly connected way, he lives that notion. A couple of weeks ago – and quite out of the blue – I got an email from Vaynerchuk that set me on my ear – but you’re going to need some background:
Back in May, I clicked on a deal on the winelibrary.com site. The offer was that if I would buy two advanced copies of Crush It, I would get a free shipping code to winelibrary. Always in the market for a good deal on a bottle or two, and looking forward to the book in any case – I bit. The shipping code never came. I had heard that he answers every email, so I copied him when I asked his service guys “What gives with my shipping code?” I sent it on May 21st and got a replay back that afternoon from his team with an apology for the mix-up – and the free shipping code. True to his word, Gary chimed in with a quick apology and a smile – and I was completely happy.
Now, earlier I referenced the guy as “my friend, Gary” but I want to be clear; I’ve never spoke to him, I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, and I haven’t seen every episode. I am simply an occasional watcher of his show, a fan of his business ideas, and an occasional buyer from his store. If I had to guess, I’ve got to be in the bottom 10% of his customer base in terms of annual purchases. So when I got a second reply to my “what gives with my shipping code?” email – over four months later (he still had the original email?) I thought it was some glitch with his outbox. It wasn’t: I was copied on an email to his operations VP, Brandon Warnke, telling him to give me a free shipping code for the rest of 2009 – I was on the floor. That was caring. It wasn’t some auto-reply. It wasn’t some deal meant to pull me into some blow-out product pricing. It was one guy digging into his massive client base, and finding an opportunity to give a damn.
Did he need to do it? Of course not. Wine Library offers good prices on a massively huge selection and ships immediately and I would have happily been a customer for years and I would have bought from them regardless – but what their leader got for caring about this particular customer – just like he said he would – is a raving fan. I simply do not buy wine without checking winelibrary.com – in fact, if they don’t have it, I don’t need it…..and better than that (since I don’t own a restaurant) , I have become yet another unpaid salesman for his business. Leaders make fans.
At the end of the day – a leader is as effective as his or her results. So think what you want about his methods; whine (no pun) about the perceived advantages the guy came to the table with (I disagree – but go ahead); scratch your head all day about his assertions that now is the time to start a new business; but be honest with yourself enough to admit that his results speak louder than any excuses. Vaynerchuk – for better or worse, and all points in between – is leading. He is rallying us all to a better future, and I for one am listening.