Gary Vaynerchuk’s Success: From Humble Beginnings in Queens to A Well-Proclaimed King
Forming and scaling a huge empire from scratch, Gary Vaynerchuk is more than an entrepreneurial celebrity. As a rock star and leader of the digital marketing and social media sphere, the Belarus-born, New Jersey-raised, straight-talking entrepreneur — “GaryVee” to his fans – stands as one of the most influential and motivating business Gurus of all time. Nevertheless, his story is much more than a young man’s tale of luck: From a kid living through poverty and inequality to a prominent millionaire CEO in New York, Gary Vaynerchuk is the perfect example of how one can beat the odds and become a winner.
"We all need to reverse engineer what's actually happening in our world to win. My whole career has been predicated on reverse engineering – Understanding what I think is going to happen in the next 24-36 months and then figuring out how to work backward from there to map out the path to capitalize on it." Then, let’s start off exploring this business Guru’s inspirational story, on how he has worked to “reverse engineer” his own spectacular success.
Gary Vaynerchuk: From Humble Beginnings in Queen to Becoming an Uncrowned King
Who Is Vaynerchuk, or the Better-Known GaryVee?
Before delving into his thought-provoking success journey, let’s first cast a quick glimpse over Gary’s striking profile.
To start with, Gary Vaynerchuk is the chairman of VaynerX, a modern-day media and communications holding company, and the CEO and founder of VaynerMedia, a full-service digital agency servicing an impressive list of Fortune 100 clients across the company’s 4 locations.
In addition to VaynerMedia, VaynerX also includes Gallery Media Group, which houses women’s lifestyle brand PureWow and men’s lifestyle brand ONE37pm. Besides operating VaynerMedia, Gary does serve as a partner in the athlete representation agency VaynerSports, cannabis-focused branding and marketing agency Green Street as well as the restaurant reservations app Resy. Furthermore, Gary Vaynerchuk has also been invited to be a board/advisory member of Ad Council and Pencils of Promise as well as a longtime Well Member of Charity: Water.
What should also be noted is that this entrepreneur is a highly sought-after public speaker, a 5-time New York Times bestselling author, and a prolific angel investor with early investments in several tech behemoths such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Venmo, and Uber. Additionally, he performs the role of being a host for The GaryVee Audio Experience, a top 100 global podcast, and #AskGaryVee, a business and advice Q&A show which can be found on both YouTube and Facebook.
Gary Vaynerchuk's Journey to Reshape the Marketing World
Gary Vaynerchuk’s entrepreneurial journey began when he was born in 1975, in Bobruisk, Russia. He was raised by a mother and father who desperately wished to escape the communist regime of the Soviet Union. As a result, Gary and his family immigrated to the United States, with literally no knowledge of English, when Gary was just three years old. He lived with 8 family members in a studio apartment in Queens, New York, before relocating to Edison, New Jersey.
There, Gary’s dad worked in a small liquor store before saving up enough money to run a business of his own. In 1988, just 10 years after moving to America, Gary’s father became a partner in Shopper's Discount Liquors.
Like his father, Gary had an entrepreneurial spirit and was not afraid of hard work. Actually, as a young child, Gary started off his “professional” career by ripping flowers out of his neighbors’ yards and using his natural charm to sell them right back. Gary often calls himself a “purebred entrepreneur” having successfully upgraded this to operating an entire lemonade stand franchise, managing multiple locations, and commuting via big-wheel to collect his profits.
During a 2014 interview on TheBlaze, Gary shared that his parents were different from the majority of immigrant parents. Whereas most of them pressured their children to excel in school, his parents did not – they never minded the fact that he was not an “A” student. As for Gary’s explanation, they were not too worried over his academic performance partly since he was already earning $2,000-$3,000 a week from his various business ventures while in middle school.
To be more specific, in his early teens, Gary cornered the local market for baseball cards, often generating thousands in a weekend with his keen eye for deals, and his razor-sharp sales-tactics. All of those came to a halt when, at the age of 14, Gary’s dad literally dragged him into the family business. In the twinkling of an eye, he went from making thousands of dollars in a weekend to making $2 an hour bagging ice in the basement of Shoppers Discount Liquors, which his father had taken full ownership of by that point.
As soon as Gary identified “the Internet" as a land-grab opportunity in the late '90s, he transitioned his father’s local liquor store into one of the first e-commerce platforms for alcohol in the country, which fostered its exponential top-line growth. Over the following years, Gary would make it his mission to be a first-mover wherever he could capture potential sales opportunities: from email marketing to Google AdWords to flash sales.
Such a digital-driven approach handsomely increased sales, driving – the now rebranded – Wine Library from $3M to staggeringly $60M in turnover within just five years. Then, in 2006, Gary set his heart on pursuing a new avenue of content marketing, making his foray into crafting video content which changed his life dramatically. Particularly, Gary started one of the first long-form episodic video shows on YouTube in 2006 called WineLibraryTV, whose episode was released almost every single day for 5 years. Notably, Gary’s charisma and uncanny ability to engage with his community got his name as “The internet wine guy” as well as landed him appearances on national television with Ellen Degeneres and Conan O’Brien.
After growing his family business through what Gary calls “underpriced attention,” Gary began his own stunning journey of producing original business content as the voice of entrepreneurship online. Remarkably, in the year 2008, Gary delivered a keynote speech at Web 2.0 in New York City that marked a life-changing milestone for him. Such an impactful speech solidified and emerged as the backbone of Gary’s $1M, 10-book deal with HarperCollins leading to his first book, “Crush It!” in 2009 which hit the jackpot to become a global bestseller laying the foundation for his principles on media, marketing, and communication.
Soon after, thanks to Gary’s meteoric rise to fame as a web personality, he fostered relationships with various influential CEOs and investors such as Kevin Rose, Travis Kalanick, Ev Williams, and Mark Zuckerberg. These connections made Gary’s first forays into angel investing with early involvement with leading corporations like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
In 2009, after walking away from Wine Library TV, Gary and his brother AJ founded VaynerMedia, an agency focused on helping large brands tell their stories on social media. True to his own DNA, Gary never raised startup funding and began the business in a conference room at Buddy Media.
Securing early clients like the New York Jets or the NHL enabled them to scale at a rapid pace, outgrowing three offices, and scaling to over 500 employees in just six years. At present, VaynerMedia represents Fortune 500 clients like General Electric, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Pepsi-Co, and recently announced their move to Hudson Yards, Manhattan's hotly-anticipated, multi-billion dollar development.
Since its humble inception, VaynerMedia has flourished into a full-stacked agency with the best-in-class capabilities in paid media, strategy, full-service creative, influencer marketing, IoT & Voice, eCommerce, personal branding, SMB marketing, and in-house consulting. In 2017, VaynerMedia embarked on the publishing scene by acquiring premier women's magazine PureWow under the Gallery Media Group and restructured into VaynerX. Besides, the summer of 2018 also witnessed the launch of the second media brand under the Gallery Media Group umbrella, men’s lifestyle brand ONE37pm.
And again, true to his word, in his efforts of business expansion, the entrepreneur celebrity wrote four more New York Times bestselling business books and becoming one of the most sought-after public speakers. Five years later, Gary launched #AskGaryVee, a business and advice Q&A show online which later led him to launch DailyVee, a full-blown vlog documenting his life as a CEO. Pioneering the practice of building a personal brand, Gary Vaynerchuk devised an innovative content strategy by producing these pillar shows. The success of the show helped Gary grow his YouTube following to over 2.91 million subscribers, and paved the way for follow-on content on sites like Medium, LinkedIn, Inc, and Huffington Post.
It’s hard to imagine that there exist goals that GaryVee has not unfulfilled. Nonetheless, ridiculously, he does. On so many occasions did he state that his biggest life goal is to one day buy the New York Jets. It is his favorite “bucket list item” since the age of 5 and will not be something he is giving up on.
“Copiable” GaryVee-Proven Success Secrets
#1. Figure Yourself Out
“Your dreams don’t have to be “big” they have to be yours.” - Gary Vaynerchuk
Beyond any doubt, Gary has been a prominent expert when it comes to establishing a respectable and authentic personal brand, standing as one who is keenly aware of his own strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, he does talk openly about his ego and figure out exactly how he has a lot of it. “You have to know who you are. I know who I am, and I only play to my strengths,” Gary shared. “The reason I’m good [at what I do]… the thing—and I’ve got things; I’m a good communicator, I work hard—the one thing that does make me different that I know is I just understand what you’re going to do before you do it. I know what you’re thinking.”
As regards marketing aspects, there can be pressure to compete within the online landscape, especially on social media sites. Corporations, irrespective of their scale, are likely to showcase the highlight reels of their business online to deliver a flawless impression, yet Gary encourages authenticity. "You have to understand your personal DNA. Don't do things because I do them or Steve Jobs or Mark Cuban tried it. You need to know your personal brand and stay true to it.” With a solid commitment to authenticity, entrepreneurs stand great chances of convincingly communicating their unique proposition, exhibiting what tells them as well as their business apart from the rest.
#2. Be Consumer-Centric, Not Competitor-Centric
As Gary wrote, "I am and always have been consumer-focused. The reason I don’t pay attention to my “competition” is not because I’m brash or cool. It’s because it doesn’t matter when you’re obsessed with the end consumer… Because it starts and it ends with the end consumer and where the attention actually is. I will always do actions that bring you the most value because then I get value in return.”
It is undeniably reasonable to state that as you put too much thought for your competitors, this may intimidate and perhaps boggle you down. Over obsession with your rivals will get you nowhere except a never-ending rat race in which you are ultimately left exhausted edging out the others. From Gary Vee’s entrepreneurial perspective, true and major success comes from focusing on your consumers instead. Never lose sight of what’s truly pivotal when you’re making efforts to obtain field sales. Instead of getting so worked up about your competition, it’s a greater idea to turn your energy toward offering your consumers with added value.
#3. Think Like Startups
As for Gary Vaynerchuk, the most successful companies, whether being old or new, typically are ones who adopt the thinking mindsets of startups. A plethora of Gary’s clients are large, well-established corporations - General Electric, Toyota, Nike, to name a few — with long histories, tend to gravitate towards him. Interestingly, for those who have partnered with him, they agreed that he “boasts” a unique ability to leverage innovative solutions typically adopted by startups to address legacy problems.
“We’re one of the most valuable brands in the world, but he taught us how to behave like a startup,” commented Linda Boff, GE’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Gary and his team were really essential in helping us think through the right way to behave on social media — in short, to act as a person would, rather than a company.” Whereas Vaynerchuk exhorts efforts of learning from the experienced masters, maintaining an upstart’s enthusiasm and open-mindedness is, by all means, a "must-have" property for successful entrepreneurs.
#4. Wisely Experiment
“All your ideas may be solid or even good…But you have to actually EXECUTE on them for them to matter.”– Gary Vaynerchuk
Another Gary Vaynerchuk-approved success strategy is to run experiments. A core repetition in this marketing expert’s major achievements is one he repeats all the time: Experimenting with the unknown. Apparently, Gary’s first “experiment” is an outstanding example. He deployed the power of the Internet and Google AdWords to ignite the profitability of his father’s wine business, which served as the pivotal steps on his journey to realize his greatest talent - the talent for harnessing the Internet-based tools to establish an ever-lasting personal brand.
There goes without saying that not all experiments will succeed. Yet, Gary does hold a solid belief that in order to actually capture the possibilities to learn things and yield positive results, it is of primary necessity to try out new ideas. After all, “ideas are worthless without the execution; execution is pointless without the ideas.” Given that, it is advisable to reconsider and/or re-strategize your company processes, being 200% sure to embed into your DNA the concept and reality of running experiments.
#5. Play the Long-Term Game
It is more than critical that business owners, especially SMB runners, ascertain to stay committed to their long-term vision despite the distraction of monetary opportunities that may arise online. Let’s take an example - Jay Shetty, as a viral content creator, once said “no” to a $1 million deal. Whilst being offered a position to host a show that would encourage its viewers to gamble, Shetty decided that it did not align with his long-term goal to promote wisdom and thus he outright rejects it. Given the fact that he lost out on $1 million, his popularity has continued to rise since the incident.
When it comes to Gary Vaynerchuk, he sincerely shared that, “the most successful entrepreneurs are driven by legacy over currency. I’m obsessed with my legacy. Every decision I make is predicated on the long term. It’s not about what’s in my bank account.”
Should you wish to do extremely well in the game of business without disrupting other pillars in your life, it is a prerequisite that you wake up each morning pondering what solutions need to be found today. Instead of solely targeting monetary chances, entrepreneurs need to be wildly curious and driven by the game of business on a micro level while seeing the macro outcomes. Relentlessly and consistently investing in yourself and your purpose-driven growth will ultimately be remunerated with wealth.
The Bottom Line
Breaking tough barriers to establish an expanding empire, Gary Vaynerchuk is without a doubt one of the most talked-about entrepreneurs within the social media world. His notable success is incontrovertible proof that relentless work ethic and the ability to communicate authentically counts.
“Your legacy is being written by yourself. Make the right decisions.” No matter how many decisions he has made - and how many among them are the right ones, Gary Vaynerchuk has indubitably left an impressive legacy as an eminent entrepreneur.
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