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.