This is the first in a series of interviews related to The Influence Project.
Gary Vaynerchuk made his name as the host of Wine Library TV, hit bestseller status as the author of Crush It!, and is the founder of the consulting firm Vaynermedia. His hyperactive approach to pushing the power of social networks has earned him the distinction of being the original Vayniac, a label an ever growing legion of devotees embrace (46,700 Facebook fans, 852,000 Twitter followers). Admittedly a divisive personality, Vaynerchuk readily concedes that 15% of the people who come in contact with him will think he's "the biggest douche bag." He's alright with that, and steadfastly believes in his powers of conversion: "It's all self-awareness, I know eventually I'll say something smart."
In a recent conversation, the self-proclaimed (and hyperbolic) "Triple Z-list celebrity" talked about his big goal: "I want to reach every person on earth." He also expressed an appreciation for the power of the micro: "If two people follow you and care about what you say, that shouldn't be underestimated." Surprisingly, the fast-talking, self-referencing, own-question answering man who put the "us" in hustle (yes Mr. Vaynerchuk, if you use that, I want full credit), kept his Twitter Tombstone remarkably tight. Read on.
When did you first go online?
In 1995 in a college dorm room. While all of my friends were saying "holy crap, we can pick up chicks on this!", I was saying, "Oh my God, I can sell baseball cards on this!" That was my first experience as an individual. I went online with winelibrary.com in July of 1997, that was my first professional online play.
What is the most interesting thing you're working on right now?
Probably The Thank You Economy. I never thought I'd be a person who would want to write books, but the fact that I'm trying to tackle the subject of the ROI of social media in book form is maybe not the most profound thing I'm doing, but definitely the most interesting. I promise you not a single English teacher I've ever had would have thought that this would be going on right now.
How do you gauge a person's online influence?
To give you the transparent, honest answer: I really don't. I definitely think there's some way to understand how people emotionally feel about somebody, but I don't think data collects it. They're not going to click your bit.ly link or click your TweetMeme retweet every time. I probably look at how people's influence online translates to the real world: How do their books do? Do their movies get watched? How many people show up to hang out with them [on Ustream for example]? Those kinds of things mean a lot to me. I think no matter how successful Fast Company is with this data, I don't think data always captures emotion and I focus on emotion.
Who do you influence and how?
I influence anybody who is able to get through the chaos of my first impression. I think a lot of people are turned off by the cursing, the insanity, and the intensity [For example: http://www.ted.com/talks/gary_vaynerchuk_do_what_you_love_no_excuses.html]. Once they're able to get past that and recognize that I'm coming from such a good place, I think I influence people who also come from that place. I probably influence the "non-businessy", "zenny" person who says "holy crap, wait a minute, we can be a little bit businessy?" I impact that person quite a bit. I think I also influence the people who are too dirty and too "businessy" to get a little bit more clean and think about the bigger picture. I'm a little bit more of a salesman for that world and that's what creates my little interesting paradigm.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Probably the fact that I picked an amazing girl to marry. I feel it was the best decision I could have ever made. Maybe the influence I've had on my brother AJ's life? It makes me proud to look at who he is as a 23 year old man that has the maturity, the desire, the balance, and the wisdom that he does. Obviously my parents deserve a lot of credit, but I can take a little bit more than I probably deserve only because I've been such a big influence to him since I'm 11 years older.
When was the last time someone in your network inspired you to do something and what was it?
Scott Harrison from Charity Water made me realize that I didn't have to wait to do the right thing and help people.
What's one thing you've done online that lit up your network and caused a major reaction?
When I was live on Ustream and I asked people to post their phone numbers. I started calling them randomly and it caused complete chaos for the 800 people that were in there.
How much time do you spend tending your various social media outlets?
At this point, probably in the ballpark of 4 to 7 hours a day.
What is your favorite blog?
It's not really a blog, but it is. I would probably say now—TechMeme. I'm a big fan of Mashable and TechCrunch and other outlets like that, but TechMeme obviously does an amazing job of aggregating.
What is your worst experience in the digital world?
I am such a half-full guy. This is ridiculously obnoxious for me to say, but first and foremost every answer I'm about to give is not true because I'm not capable of thinking about negative stuff. I'd say when I disappoint people because I haven't engaged with them and they wonder why their friends got engaged with, but I haven't gotten around to them yet. Maybe just letting people down? That's a bullshit answer though.
Twitter Tombstone: In 140 characters or less, how would you like to be remembered?