GaryVee Uncorked: Wine Library TV's Gary Vaynerchuk
Vaynerchuk learned how to be a storyteller, to drive sales of baseball cards and play off the buyer’s passions. "Baseball card and football card collecting was a lot about the athlete, and if you knew about the athlete and knew how to position the athlete to upside, it definitely became something people would buy into," he says. "They were buying into the story of the athlete, whether it was Cal Ripken Jr. or Frank Thomas, [or] Ken Griffey Jr. That became a very important accent to wine, later on in life."
Vaynerchuk eventually began working at Wine Library, a liquor store in Springfield, N.J. While he hated the work at first, he turned a corner when he discovered that there were wine collectors who were just as passionate as the baseball card buyers he’d already known. "That was the hook, that was why I got into it," he says. "Knowing that there were collectors in wine was a big, big deal for me."
As he’d done with baseball cards, Vaynerchuk educated himself, learning the stories of the various vineyards and recommending wines he believed in. He ran the company from 1998 to 2005, building one of the country’s largest independent wine shops. But as a restless entrepreneur, that only satisfied him for so long, he says.
The Storyteller Goes Online
"I turned 30 in 2005, kind of freaked out and said, ‘Okay, I’ve got more in me than this,’" Vaynerchuk says. Wine Library TV (tv.winelibrary.com) was the outlet he was looking for, and he started it in February 2006.
The program wasn’t his first venture online. Vaynerchuk had already been building his store’s sales for 8 years on the internet, and online sales were a large reason for the store’s success. The show was something different, though, and it was risky for someone used to selling to a reserved and affluent clientele.
"In ’03, ’04, ’05, I started noticing that the Web was becoming extremely social, and that my developers were reading blogs," Vaynerchuk says. "Then, all of the sudden, video blogs came to play. In the summer of ’05 I noticed my developers watching two different video blogs. One was called Rocketboom and the other was called Ze Frank’s The Show, and those two really inspired me.
"I looked at it and said, ‘This is going to be game-changing.’ Then YouTube started becoming important and I just knew that that’s kind of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do, and it turned into a very good situation because it was a platform that was very much on the rise and I caught it at a good time, and I just knew it was the ability for me to talk direct to consumers without a filter. I didn’t need a television station or a newspaper editor or a radio show host to basically put me on. I could do it myself, and that became very empowering and exciting."
In moving toward video blogging, Vaynerchuk brought two assets that have helped earn him a following. One, he knows the wine market. He’s not a dabbler experimenting with new purchases and sharing his thoughts. He speaks with an insider’s knowledge of growing locations, grape varieties, and vintages. He begins every tasting with a thorough inspection of the wine’s bouquet—by giving a "sniffy-sniff," as he calls it—and describes the aroma and taste in detail. He manages to play both to the collector who knows wine and the neophyte oenophile who’s trying to find his or her way.
Second, and perhaps more important, Vaynerchuk is a natural ham. He ramps up his energy, cracks jokes, and brings his passion and sense of humor to the show. And while he loves having a partner to mix it up with (watch episode No. 655 on kosher wines, starring Vaynerchuk and his father, to see two seasoned pros go after each other), he can comfortably handle the show all by himself.
Along the way, Vaynerchuk has learned a great deal about the personality needed to pull off an online video success. "A lot of people have no ability to do video, right? They just don’t have the charisma or they don’t have the onscreen presence," he says. "Just don’t lie to yourself; know what you’re good at. I definitely know what I’m good at and I try to stick to that. Do it around a subject you’re obnoxiously passionate about, because anything short of it is not going to allow you to succeed. Be very determined and understand that it’s going to take an obnoxious amount of hard work. Nothing too complicated: it’s just passion and hustle and being very aware of what it takes to succeed."
Wine expert Gary Vaynerchuk takes a few minutes at the South by Southwest conference to discuss how online businesses can prosper by growing community.