Tech maestro, Gary Vaynerchuk – one of the leading voices of the ‘new’ economy – predicts what will transpire in terms of engagement
When Gary Vaynerchuk bounced onto the main stage at Web Summit 2016 in Lisbon, it was the day after Donald Trump had been elected as the next President of the USA. Vaynerchuk, the Russian immigrant who grew up in New Jersey, and became famous for his wine portfolio and seeming ability to spot the next great investment, was in a feisty mood. ‘I refuse to let hate win,’ he roared. ‘Life is phenomenal!’
Where others at the conference openly despaired at the election result – and later sessions questioned the undeniable role of social media in bringing it about – Vaynerchuk wasn’t prepared to give up hope. ‘The minority of angry is much louder than the majority of happy,’ he asserted. And we can’t let that go on. His answer is to ‘deal with it – don’t dwell. In this arena there is no room for crying.’
What the saddened post-Brexit, post-Trump world seemed like on that day was something broken. ‘Broken, to me, means opportunity,’ said Vaynerchuk. But he added that you have to know yourself to know whether you can become the next great entrepreneur. And that means some tough self-criticism. ‘Inventing an Uber for delivering oranges to your house doesn’t make you an entrepreneur,’ he joked. Not all ideas are winners and to determine whether yours is requires a degree of honesty, he added. ‘Not everyone has to be number one.’
Are you tough enough?
‘Entrepreneurs get punched in the face 24-7, 365 days for the rest of their lives – if you can’t cope with that, you’re not prepared.’
That’s what he maintains has happened to him and, he believes, every time he’s kicked to the kerb, he comes back up that little bit stronger.
Sadly, Vaynerchuk also told the audience that this is ‘the greatest era of fake entrepreneurship’. He explained that there are a lot of people out there selling themselves up, and, undoubtedly, the web is facilitating this in many ways. For every great Instagram feed, there are hundreds of ‘Instash*ts’, he believes, and we need to look beneath the shell to get the truth.
Furthermore, according to Vaynerchuk, we’re lagging behind in terms of creative thinking when it comes to selling our next great invention. Tried-and-tested routes have become deeply ingrained – after all, they are generations old now – and we seem not to be learning the lessons that this fast-changing world is keen to teach. ‘Why are “normal” companies spending on TV, print and outdoor advertising?’ pondered Vaynerchuk. Our outmoded reliance on mainstream media in terms of advertising – and influencing – will be ruinous, he believes. ‘We are grossly underestimating what’s going on. Through digital, we’re experiencing the greatest shift in human communication since the printing press.’
Time: the most valuable commodity
‘Around $80 billion is still being spent annually in the US on TV advertising,’ he continued. Yet as everyone fast-forwards through the ads and watches less and less live TV, it means advertisers can’t react to events and certainly can’t interact in the way that web-based media can. In terms of advertising and consumer influence, ‘the web is now TV, TV is now radio’.
And as for pop-up ads on mobiles, he was incandescent. ‘It’s because we’ve got fat thumbs that click-through ratios are high,’ he said, noting that the people back in campaign headquarters glowing with satisfaction at their seemingly impressive engagement figures are in for some hard lessons. ‘Not all impressions are equal,’ he explained.
These are the bare facts, but we don’t seem to be able to change our thinking as quickly as the technology is developing. Why then are we throwing good money after bad? ‘We’re scared to take the risk to learn new platforms because it might not be a long-term solution,’ he said. Vaynerchuk was a great champion of now-defunct Vine but doesn’t regret throwing himself behind the platform, believing it was a risk worth taking.
‘Marketing is a mix of math[s] and art, and Facebook is the number one platform in the world today because it does this on a scale never seen before,’ he said. But the need to fill the ether is stymying some. ‘People are crippled by having to make content,’ he added. ‘Everybody is trying to create content but I think we should be documenting not storytelling – document the journey. We are all media companies.’
Feel the fear and do it anyway
Next came a typical ‘just get on with it’ message from the king of doing just that. If you want to succeed – whatever your area of expertise – ‘Fear is not an option if you’ve raised your hand for entrepreneurship.’ Vaynerchuk said he would ‘prefer to lose’ than to simply not try. ‘If you don’t have that in your stomach, find someone who does.’
Fear of failure is debilitating but also a waste of time, he added. ‘Chip away at the voices from the outside. Who are you scared to fail in front of? Own that fear to put yourself in a position to succeed. We are living in the greatest era. If you’re good enough, nobody can stop you. We have bigger chance than ever, and now nerds are rock stars!’
Ironically, Vaynerchuk finished his hugely uplifting speech with what would have been deemed an ‘urban myth’ not so long ago. Now it would be attributed to post-truth. ‘More people have died from being hit on the head by a falling coconut than through terrorism – data doesn’t lie,’ he said. But the internet does. In fact, there have been only 20 recorded deaths caused by falling coconuts documented since 1777 and, in 2014, 17 Americans were killed by acts of terrorism in the US. And, of course, heart disease, cancer, obesity and road accidents are significantly more worrying in terms of what might finish you off.
His point still stands, though. Fear and loathing is on the rise around the globe and a good dose of positivity – whether or not that’s in the form of ambition and ‘putting yourself out there’ – is perhaps the medicine we all need. Maybe it’s time for you to be the next mega entrepreneur.