A chat with Gary Vay-Ner-Chuk

Like a televangelist converting an agnostic, exuberant video wine blogger Gary Vaynerchuk recently made some inroads with this non-believer. I saw the infamous WineLibraryTV.com critic speak a few days ago as a guest for the The Wealth Building Annex, a networking organization in Tampa Bay for small businesses.

Not familiar with him? He’s unavoidable in the wine business circles. About three years ago, when I first learned of “GaryVee”, I clicked over to his site, eager to witness the social networking hubbub. Within the first 10 seconds, I nearly gagged on his brashness, the constant sports references and the over-the-top “Jersey” act (he unabashedly reports that 12% of people leave after his obnoxious intro and it’s not an act). I never became a fan… but that was before. Before I actually met the guy.

I still don’t care for his video wine reviews, but after seeing him speak about how he single-handedly (and for little to no cost) grew the unstoppable traffic to his video blog, I respect him a helluva lot more.

Gary Vaynerchuk was destined to be that self-confident business guy in front of the room. He started a lemonade stand when he was a kid and by age 8, he had “chain” of seven of them in his Jersey neighborhood, called “Gary’s Lemonade”. My favorite story of the evening (and there were many) was that, in order to figure out where to put his lemonade stand ad signs, he sat on the street and observed drivers’ eyes as they rolled past. Kinda like today’s web analytics.

At 14, he went to work in his family’s liquor store business, bagging ice. At 16, he started studying the wine magazines that arrived at the store. A new love was kindled, beginning Gary Vee’s story. Then, in 1995 — while at college — he discovered the internet and somehow convinced his father to sell wine online — way before online was the norm. In seven years, he grew sales for the shop from $3 million to $20 million. And dad was happy.

But it wasn’t until February of 2006 that he launched Wine Library TV, turning him into a social media sensation.

The underlying theme during his talk was to “always focus on the message, not the platform”, and this led him to Twitter, Youtube and Facebook as free tools to disseminate his down-to-earth reviews to the wine drinking masses. He delivers an honest, funny and direct alternative to the traditionally snooty wine writers out there (ahem… of which I am not). I believe he succeeds, and point to a statistic I learned from him: Word-of-mouth converts to a sale 70 percent of the time since we don’t like being sold to. Traditional advertising can’t compete… Gary’s words convert once you trust him.

And we all like a funny guy, even if he drones on about football.

Gary is traveling around the country pimping his new book right now, not written about wine, but how to create an internet business based on something you love. It’s a good, quick read. A bit repetitive at times but I understand why — he’s trying to drill the lessons into your brain. Buy Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion for $13 on Amazon.

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