Yesterday, Gary Vaynerchuk did his final episode of The Daily Grape, his daily online video show featuring passionate wine education and Gary’s personal wine recommendations. Wine isn’t usually a topic for a college admissions blog, but Gary did his first show (originally entitled Wine Library TV) on February 21, 2006. And he went on to do over 1,000 episodes that routinely drew over 100,000 viewers every day. I think students, counselors and business owners can learn a lot from Gary’s example.
1. He’s passionate about what he does.
Watch any of Gary’s shows and you can tell he doesn’t just love wine; he loves educating people about wine. He’s not phoning it in—he’s throwing his energy and enthusiasm into it. He’s barely restrained. There’s no faking that kind of passion. You get the sense that he’d do this even if there were absolutely no business upside to it. That’s exactly how successful college applicants should pursue their activities. Play soccer or write poetry or volunteer at the hospital because you love to do it, not because you’re hoping it will help you get into Cornell. Of course, that kind of passion without regard for how it will look to colleges is what usually produces the most successful college applicants. And that’s why Gary’s videos brought in millions of dollars of revenue to his family’s wine business.
2. He wasn’t trying to please everybody.
Gary can’t stand stuffy, pretentious wine snobs. He doesn’t believe you have to spend $60 to get a good bottle of wine (that's why he reviewed great $12 bottles). He wanted to make wine less intimidating to the uninitiated. That’s why he used terms like “Sniffy Sniff” and “My big-ass glass.” That point of view means that lots of people, especially the wine snobs, aren’t Gary fans. And he’s totally OK with that. He wasn't trying to win everybody over. He was appealing to the people who are most likely to appreciate him for exactly who he is. That’s how students should pick colleges. Don’t try to mold yourself into something that all colleges will like. Instead, pick colleges that fit you and who will appreciate you for who you really are. Private counselors should do the same thing with their businesses. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Instead, be honest and open about the types of families you love to work with. Politely turn away (or fire) those families who are predisposed not to like what you do and refer them to someone who will be a better fit. Then focus all your energy on pleasing those customers who are inclined to love what you do the most.
3. He marketed by sharing.
Gary understood that the best way to demonstrate his expertise was to share it liberally. So he gave away his knowledge and recommendations for free to anyone who would listen. He didn’t charge people to watch. He wasn’t worried that someone was going to rip him off and start a competing online wine TV show. Gary out-shared, out-taught and out-contributed the competition. When you market by sharing like this, people come to trust you. And that’s when your business grows. When they’ve learned from you for free, they’re more likely to pay you to learn more. Private counselors should follow Gary’s example and share as much as possible. You don’t have to give your services away. But sharing will lead to more sales than selling will.
4. He built an audience.
His willingness to share helped Gary build a huge, loyal audience. Every day, he did a show from his office that 100,000 people tuned to hear what he had to say. And it didn’t cost him anything. He didn’t have to advertise. He didn’t have to spam them. He didn’t buy mailing lists or set up a table at conferences. He built an audience who gave him their attention. His most fervent fans even called themselves “Vayniacs.” You can’t buy that kind of loyalty with advertising and marketing. You have to earn it by showing up, sharing and building trust. And Gary always knew that as long as he was making the Vayniacs happy, he’d have a good business. Share, build an audience, delight your most loyal fans, and repeat the cycle. That’s a good formula for any small business.
5. He was great enough to be missed.
At the time I’m writing this, 731 people have commented on Gary’s final show. They're thanking him for opening their eyes to new wines, revealing how much his daily shows have become a part of their lives, and telling him how much they’re going to miss him. People are sad to see him stop broadcasting. The Vayniacs are heartbroken. What better way to measure whether or not you’ve done a great job? If I stopped posting this daily blog tomorrow, would 731 people thank me and tell me they were sorry to see me go? Nope—but it’s a great goal to shoot for. Whether you’re a student running the Spanish Club, a counselor working at a high school or a private counselor running a business, let’s show up every day and do the kind of job that will make people miss us when we eventually move on to something else like Gary did today.
By the way, Gary graduated from Mt. Ida College. He didn’t need to go to a famous college to be successful. And neither do you.