In conversation with Gary Vaynerchuk and Nick Bell

During his tour of Australia, the acclaimed US magnate Gary Vaynerchuk took some time out of his very busy schedule to chat with Nick Bell on all things business, marketing, careers and competition.

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to network with many inspiring people from around the world. I sat down with US business guru Gary Vaynerchuk on his recent visit to Australia to talk all things business.

On scale

Nick Bell: In the early days, with my first agency, I grew from one person to 400 in two years and our quality probably wasn’t there as we didn’t have the systems in place. Nowadays, for any businesses I’m involved in, I run regular sessions where I pick apart all systems and processes to make sure they are not only running as efficiently as possible, but they are designed to allow the business to scale quickly.

Over the years I’ve also developed processes and systems in my agencies that I can rollout and with new businesses I either develop or acquire. These will not only allow me to grow a new business quickly, but to quickly turn around businesses that I’ve invested in that aren’t running efficiently.

Gary Vaynerchuk: By recognising that I don’t have the luxury of picking quality, meaning I’m not ideological or romantic. All I have to do is deliver for my customer more than they get from someone else. A lot of people make quality in explosive growth, an internal insecurity or ideology. For me, I think will this client get more bang for their buck from me than if they hired someone else.

We are built in such a contemporary way, that in today’s world, it’s highly likely that the million dollars you spend with Vayner Media is going to be a far more efficient spend then if you spent it with someone else. This allows me to not be crippled. Then, I’m in charge of quality control. It’s a game of firing. It’s having the humility to admit your mistakes and move on from senior executives. The only thing that matches my confidence is my humility, so I’m comfortable admitting my mistakes through action. I’m not crippled by the quality question because my client will fire me if I’m not delivering on quality.

[When it comes to systems and processes], bad systems tend to come at the expense of our margin, more so than at the expense of a client. Clients take advantage of bad systems in agencies because they take more out of them. Because I want to be disproportionately aligned with my client, I’ve almost been happy that they can do that. I don’t feel any anxiety of them whispering to their executive branch, ‘we’re getting a really good deal with Vayner. They’re not adding costs to us or billing us for extra hours. That’s our strength.

On competition

Nick Bell: I’m a firm believer that competition makes you better. I don’t get put off by competitors, in fact, I use it as a way to fuel my energy and hone my focus in business. It’s important to know what’s going on in the market around you, but not get consumed by what other people are doing. By knowing what your competitors are doing, it allows you to see gaps you can take advantage of. There is an angle with everything, you just have to find it.

Gary Vaynerchuk: I always believe you can’t slow down winners. I’m not the kind of person that looks at what you are doing, appreciates it, then tries to add it to my game – which I think a lot of people do well in sports and business.

My thing is that I’m so focused on what I’m doing, and I’m going to make assumptions that you’re going to do great too, and there is so much abundance, do I want to lose a pitch to you for Nike South East Asian, absolutely not. Do I think that there’s 95% of other people that stink, and if there is somebody who is good they deserve to win business? They absolutely do. It’s very bad business to suppress or be petty with other winners. I watch people do it with me all the time and I laugh. Your keyboard hate is not going to stop my growth. I would argue keyboard hate fuels my growth.

On going global

Nick Bell: I’m the cofounder of several digital marketing agencies across Asia, employing more than 700 people from Singapore to the United Arab Emirates. I’m also about to open an office in the next six weeks in Panama. I’m also focusing on opening up in Vietnam. I’m not interested in growing organically and seeing how things go. I want to keep pushing the boundaries and see how big I can grow each business.

Gary Vaynerchuk: Having a global footprint allows you to adjust to different micro scenarios. I’m building Vayner Media to buy businesses and run those businesses through the communications infrastructure. If the global economy melts and if Vegemite is for sale and I can buy it and re-brand it in Central America and I think that’s the arbitrage, then I want to be in a structural position to do that and that’s why I want to be in every market.

Biggest mistake in business

Nick Bell: My biggest mistake in business was not having a mentor when I was younger. I would have made fewer mistakes, shortened my learning curve, been able to scale my portfolio quicker and stay focused. When looking for a mentor, you need someone that has had success, built a seizable business and actually knows what they are doing.

Mentoring these days doesn’t need to be the traditional way of sitting down with someone for an hour once a month working through your challenges. Over the years I’ve met so many successful business owners, so I’ve created a WhatsApp group with 10 or so people, so if I need advice or recommendations, I shoot a message to the group and I get recommendations back. You can meet people through LinkedIn, your own business activities or you can join organisations such as EO and YPO.

Gary Vaynerchuk: I’ve made an enormous amount of mistakes. It’s taken me a long time to understand the buying decision cycle of clients. I come from retail, so November and December is when I get serious. Conditioning-wise, I haven’t been as strong in June, July, August and September to lock up clients for the new year.

We’ve also made endless hiring mistakes. We’ve created entitlement in the first five years that lead to a tough patch in year six and seven. We’ve been passive in going after business. So much business comes our way, meaning we’ve not diversified our portfolio in more B2B clients. 

Social media for business owners

Nick Bell: LinkedIn has been a great business resource for me. It’s allowed me to increase my network, gain investment opportunities and acquire new leads. It’s one of the biggest social media platforms in the world which still has organic growth, so now’s the time to be engaging with LinkedIn and building your following. If you want to use the platform, it’s important to know your audience and know who you are trying to target to allow you to refine your content offering.

Gary Vaynerchuk: I think [business owners posting on social media] gives you more of a chance for good things to happen. Why not? People are so fear-based. I only see benefits from it. It leads to awareness, which leads to consideration, which leads to purchasing. It’s important to not be full of shit, which is what a lot of people struggle with. But putting out content about things you know is a big, big move.

Next big industry to invest in?

Nick Bell: The health industry is a real focus area for me. In particular, I’m a massive believer in alternative meat. Due to the environmental and health benefits, I believe it’s going to take off.

Gary Vaynerchuk: I’m very fascinated by TV and film. As I’ve learned more about Hollywood, my skill set of storytelling and getting people to pay attention will probably play well there. So I’d be very surprised if five years from now I don’t have an actual film, an actually TV show in the system. 

How do you switch off?

Nick Bell: One of the biggest challenges I face when I get home from work is that I can’t switch off. Although I don’t see what I do as ‘work’ because I’m passionate about growing and investing in businesses, it’s still important for me to take time away from things like my emails, so I turn my phone to airplane mode at 9:30pm every night. I also make time to catch-up with friends or travel because I find that gives me a chance to clear my head and think through any issues I’m facing.

Gary Vaynerchuk: I don’t switch off but I usually collapse and go to sleep. I get home very late. I’m exhausted after 18 hours because I bring a lot of energy during those 18 hours. When I think of my school career, during those eight hours, I probably put out 40 minutes of energy, and I see people do that at work all the time. They work for nine hours, but they are really working for one hour. But for me, if I’m working 15 hours, I’m going for 14 hours and 52 minutes. So I don’t turn off, but I break down and go to sleep.

Nick Bell is a Melbourne-based entrepreneur and agency founder.

Image credit: Supplied