Editor's note: This is the first installment of "45 minutes on IM," a new interview series that I will be doing, hopefully weekly. Instant message is hardly the newest or hottest communication medium, but it is a very effective way to have a conversation. Because the medium is kind of contemporaneous, I've decided to maintain a bit of the on-the-fly flavor of the discussion, including the occasional "all-caps" response. But we'll skip the smileys. Please enjoy these interviews, and if you have suggestions or feedback, please let me know.
If you've been to the South by Southwest Interactive festival in the last three years--or to any number of other technology or social-media conferences for that matter--you would have had a hard time missing Gary Vaynerchuk.
A very high-energy social-media consultant, Garyvee, as he's known, is also a prolific and successful wine blogger and seller. His Wine Library TV is a big hit, and at SXSW he's known for hosting (almost) impromptu wine parties, organized on Twitter and attended by hundreds of geeks eager to quaff his varietals and to get a chance to pick his brain.
In addition to regular, highly paid speaking gigs--his SXSW talk this year was one of the best-attended and best-received of the entire conference--Vaynerchuk also runs, along with his brother A.J., Vaynermedia, a consulting business with clients like the National Hockey League, the NBA's New Jersey Nets, Forbes, and more. Garyvee has also authored "Crush it," a best-selling business book about how to use social media to build trust and business.
Sports is clearly a big part of Vaynerchuk's life, as evidenced by the clients listed above. But he also has said that he made a substantial amount of money when he was in school selling baseball cards.
To listen to Vaynerchuk speak requires a breather afterward. He's one of the most high-energy and blunt speakers around, and it's that combination, plus a biting humor, that draws his big crowds, his book's buyers, and his more than 850,000 Twitter followers. Yet, in a recent video, Garyvee admitted that he's been increasingly struggling with managing his "work/work balance." As a result, in the video, which he shot in a Sydney, Australia, hotel room with a stunning view of the city's iconic opera house as the backdrop, he explained apologetically that he was going to start cutting way back on speaking commitments, interviews, mentoring, and more so that he could "get smarter," and focus on his business and his clients.
Nevertheless, he agreed to be the first "45 Minutes on IM" interview subject. The interview was interrupted after about 15 minutes because he had to run off to the NFL Draft.
The business of baseball cards
Q: Welcome to the first installment of "45 Minutes on IM!" Thanks for taking the time to do it. I know you're very busy. So, I have to start with a bit of politics. As you know, President Obama has to name a new Supreme Court nominee, and some have suggested he nominate a non-judge. Meanwhile, it's come out that many on the court are kind of tech-challenged. So...I've been telling people it should be you. If asked, will you serve?
Vaynerchuk: WOW! So first things first. One of the only books I have read is "The Nine," a book about the Supreme Court.
By Jeffrey Toobin?
Vaynerchuk: Yup. And I am obsessed by the Supreme Court. So I would have a hard time saying no. But I want to buy the New York Jets and this may derail me. I would probably ultimately say yes, but on second thought I might have to pass!
Wow...That would be hard to pass up. What obsesses you about the Supreme Court?
Vaynerchuk: I am not sure. I am stunned that they actually make the decisions.
Fair enough. So before I get on to technology and social media and all that, I have to ask about something I saw in your bio. What does 1952 and Mickey Mantle mean to you?
Vaynerchuk: HAHAHHAHA. BEST CARD EVER!
Vaynerchuk: I wish!
Well, so you say that you made $1,000 a week selling cards. How did you do that? (I have 38,000 cards in my basement, by the way).
Vaynerchuk: I sold cards in the malls of New Jersey. Bridgewater and Raritan expo center. I bought cards from kids at school during the week and sold them during the weekend.
What kind of cards? What era? And who were the buyers?
Vaynerchuk: Buyers were older customers. Cards were from 1987-1992. [I was a] huge 1990 Leaf guy. 1990 Upper Deck. Skybox for basketball. I was huge into all four sports!
What was your favorite card that you had/have?
Vaynerchuk: 1986 [New York Knicks center] Patrick Ewing Fleer Rookie. Pat is underrated.
Mine was my 10 Don Mattingly rookies, until they became worthless.
Vaynerchuk: I had so many 1984 Fleer Don Mattinglys.
I had Topps.
Vaynerchuk: I have to run [in a minute]. I can use my wireless card in the cab. I got caught today because I am going to the NFL DRAFT.
I almost said Mattingly rookies [by the way].
I will need to sign off and then back on when I get in the cab in 10 minutes.
Keeping it real
Here's why I love doing IM interviews: I get a perfect transcript, and it lets both myself and my interview subject be more thoughtful and eloquent. But, let's be honest, it also lets us do other things while the other person is thinking or typing. So, for mine and my readers' edification, what other things have you you been doing while I'm typing?
Vaynerchuk: HAHAHAHAHAHA. Awesome. I'll be back in 10 minutes. I'll ping you.
Note: Unfortunately, Vaynerchuk wasn't able to get his Sprint card to work, as he direct-messaged me on Twitter a few minutes later. After a bit of negotiation with his assistant--also by IM--we agreed that we'd pick up the interview the next morning, with 30 minutes remaining of the original 45. And at 9:16 a.m. Pacific on Friday, he popped up in my iChat window.
Vaynerchuk: Yo. Lets do it!
Great. So, how was the NFL draft?
Vaynerchuk: Awesome. Good times!
Give me an anecdote from last night. Something you won't easily forget?
Vaynerchuk: I love my brother [A.J. Vaynerchuk, also a Vaynermedia partner] and anytime I spend time with him my heart smiles. That's the real answer. If you want real.
I do. Real is the goal.
Vaynerchuk: OK, well, that's how I roll.
Were you happy with the Jets' choice in the draft [Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson]? Did they accept your advice as their future owner?
Vaynerchuk: I liked it. Rex [Ryan, the Jets head coach] wants cornerbacks. And no, they don't listen...YET.
The Q&A quest
On the streets of Austin during [last month's SXSWi festival] I asked you about what went wrong with the @ev interview [the disastrous keynote interview of Twitter CEO Evan Williams]. You pointed out the lack of Q&A with the audience and said that you were thinking of starting a whole Q&A conference.
Vaynerchuk: That is TRUE.
I saw in your videos from earlier this month that you also want to do a Q&A show. Are they the same idea, or two prongs of the same idea? And what's the plan?
Vaynerchuk: Prongs. I want to do a Q&A weekly on Ustream and then I want to do a conference.
I think it's a great idea to do a conference, but I wonder how many big companies will want to have their execs (like Twitter's Williams) subjected to nothing but audience questions. How much of an issue do you see that being?
Vaynerchuk: NONE. Whoever doesn't want it doesn't have to come. Enough will go there!
Can you explain just a little bit about how the conference would work?
Vaynerchuk: I will go on-stage and announce the speaker. The speaker will have two solid minutes to say who they are and what topic they like. They will have a bio page on the conference Web site with topics they like. That's it. Peeps roll up and ask away!
What is the problem you're trying to solve with a conference like that?
Vaynerchuk: Engagement. And VALUE. Why should peeps go to a conference and watch [speakers] brag about what they DID?
But don't you think speakers will sometimes find a way to turn audience questions into answers where they basically say what they would have said if they were just talking at the audience? Kind of undercutting the value of Q&A? Like, say, politicians always do?
Vaynerchuk: They will, and they will not be well received. And then they will lose.
Turning ideas into action
Let's get back to you. In your big video announcement earlier this month, where you announced big changes in your life, you talked about, among other things, removing TweetDeck from your computer. Did you take it off? And more importantly, did it STAY off?
Vaynerchuk: I did! I still have it on my phone. I am interacting more. What I wanted to stop doing is what I am doing with you right now. Less interviews and talks and less about MY brand. And more learning and client work via Vaynermedia.
Do you feel that it's been working? I mean, have you been successful in making some (or all) of those changes? Notwithstanding that you're doing this interview right now?
Vaynerchuk: I think so. I have said NO more times in the last three weeks than I did in the last three years!
How does that feel? I would imagine relief tinged with a lot of guilt.
Vaynerchuk: GUILT. Period!
I asked this right before you had to run to the NFL draft yesterday, but you didn't have a chance to answer. So, the great thing about IM is it lets you do other things while you're in a conversation with someone. So, what else are you doing while we're doing this interview?
Vaynerchuk: Working the crowd on cinderellawine.com. HUGE offer today!
I was going to ask about wine. You still as passionate about it as ever?
Vaynerchuk: Always. It holds a place in my heart! I love drinking it and learning about it. But it was never my number one. Ever. It's family/Jets/business/wine.
Right. Well, it's clear that you are an ideas guy. It's kind of scary how many ideas you seem to come up with. What's it like inside your head, Gary?
Vaynerchuk: CHAOS. But controlled. And lots of love. I am one happy person. I like playing business chess: OK, so Facebook has a new global "like" button. But what happens NEXT? And then...That's all I do!
Do you feel like you are able to manifest most of your ideas? Or do many of them just float away because there's so many?
Vaynerchuk: Almost all float away. It's the ones that come back that I execute on.
OK...one more minute. So tell me something that's happened to you because of social media that's blown your mind (not involving your family).
Vaynerchuk: The [famous wrestler] Iron Sheik tweeted at me. WWF FTW! Not WWE.
Well, that's 45 minutes.
Vaynerchuk: We're done? Seriously?
Thanks so much for being my inaugural "45 Minutes on IM" interviewee.
Vaynerchuk: I like this. This is so cool, bro! Great idea.