Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO and co-founder of VaynerMedia and partner at Vayner/RSE, was the first guest for the fall 2017 CornellTech@Bloomberg Speakers Series, tackling a wide range of topics, including entrepreneurship, his passion for the New York Jets, and high-flying tech companies. Vaynerchuk, a social media guru, serial entrepreneur and four-time New York Times bestselling author, was interviewed by Bloomberg anchor Scarlet Fu at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters on Thursday, September 28.
Throughout the discussion, there could be no mistaking Vaynerchuk’s point of view: Business is easy. It only seems hard because most people don’t hustle, or are incentivized to do the wrong thing. Vaynerchuk reserved his harshest criticism for two groups of people: wanna-be entrepreneurs who say they’re going to become billionaires, and the leadership of large public companies.
“I think your actions should match your mouth and your ambition. It’s super hard to build a substantial sustainable safe business working from 9 to 5,” he said. “Hard work is an unbelievably controllable variable compared to the serendipity of the marketplace, or the God-given talent you have. It’s a very important variable that is a differentiator if you want to be successful.”
When Fu asked him how working crazy long hours was possible for people that didn’t have the time or resources of Vaynerchuk – she referred specifically to herself, as a working parent – he didn’t give.
“Life’s about options,” he said. “Everybody’s got stuff. I’m not naïve, and there are extreme circumstances for some people. But, it’s just remarkable that you can do so much between 7 PM and 2 AM to change the outcome of your life.”
Vaynerchuk also said that highly-paid executives of public company who can’t seem to figure out how to compete with their digitally-native challengers actually know exactly what needs to be done. They just don’t seem willing or able to make the sacrifices necessary to get it done.
“They are trying to milk the next 24 to 36 months because their bonuses and stock options and their life when they’re done running this company is based on what the stock price will be in 24 months,” he said. “They’re not dumb. They’re just selfish.”
Why Amazon Will Win
In a discussion about some of the largest tech companies, Vaynerchuk made it clear that, at the end of the day, he thinks Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg will emerge as big winners. In fact, in the middle of what everyone seems to agree is a bubble for early stage companies, Vaynerchuk was insistent that Amazon and Facebook are “grossly underpriced.”
Zuckerberg, said Vaynerchuk, is one of the all-time great entrepreneurs. “He day-trades attention. He stole Instagram,” Vaynerchuk said. “He moved a desktop company to full mobile when it was painful and cost-prohibitive.” Vaynerchuk also predicted Facebook will “easily” navigate concern over Russian use of the site, as well as any backlash against large tech companies.
When asked what Amazon’s next move was, Vaynerchuk didn’t hesitate: “Being sued by the government.” But he was still believes Bezos could be a better entrepreneur than even Steve Jobs. “If the government doesn’t stop [Amazon], I think they could win the whole f***ing thing,” he said. “When you start understanding that Alexa is this close to being the next search engine, when you understand that you’re brushing your teeth and you run out of toothpaste and you say, Alexa, reorder it for me… They are an unbelievably crafty business.”
He didn’t think that Amazon’s success was necessarily bad news for smaller, independent merchants and manufacturers, though, suggesting instead that those companies should just sell direct to consumer. “Then Amazon has nothing to do with you.”
On Uber, Vaynerchuk was less sure. He said speaking about Uber was difficult for him, given that Uber’s ousted founder and CEO Travis Kalanick is, “one of my dear, dear friends, one of the first friends I made in tech… I really adore him. I understand there’s a lot of things in the press that have been tough. … I’m hopeful, like when you care about somebody.”
When asked to name an interesting up-and-coming entrepreneur, Vaynerchuk named Rachel Tipograph, founder of MikMak. Though he didn’t know exactly what her company did, joking she’d pivoted it six times in the last 15 minutes, he said “Her tenacity is intoxicating.”
You can watch the entire discussion here.