Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review (Part 2): “Crush It!” and “The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk


If you didn’t read Part 1 of this post, you can find it here about my review of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Crush It!”

Part 2: The Thank You Economy

This is going to be less of a book review, and more of a “Hallelujah!”  The book is fantastic in relaying it’s overall goal of convincing brands both big and small that change is here and customer service is not just a choice anymore.  With the transparency that Social Media provides consumers, it is crucial to every business to create the meaningful relationships with all potential customers to build brand equity, as this will be the main driver in purchasing decisions from here on out.

Of the many great results of the wide spread adoption of Social media, the key point I grasped on to was the power in engagement.  This concept is still being lost on most brands and is why most of their campaigns that begin so well intentioned, never take advantage of the true value this new media platform can offer.  

A lot of Social Media campaigns aim to grab the most Twitter followers or Facebook Likes as possible.  While this can be a good start to a campaign, it can not be the end goal.  It is not in the quantity of the relationships, but the quality of the engagement that drives the value in Social Media.  We preach this at our company to all clients that ask us how to market the new product or website or widget we just built for them.  We tell them over and over again to focus on engagement of users.  These are the future customers, or even better, friends with many other potential customers.  Push marketing by spamming specials or coupons in exchange for a like or a follow is exactly that – spam.

I’m very proud that at Mindgrub we have always taken this to heart.  People ask me how we have marketed/positioned the company, and how we’ve grown so quickly in the past year.  I’m always proud to say we haven’t spent a dime on any digital marketing.  We engage with our community (and potential client-base) by participating in any networking events we can find, or speak at any event that will let us, or heck, even try to host our own.  We also try to seek out interesting technological debates and engage our community on Twitter and Facebook.  

Starting conversations about technology, provide advice and feedback to those searching for information on mobile technologies and we have valuable insight is all part of the package.  We could definitely be doing better, but without a doubt I can say we’ve grown to this point because of the Social Media efforts we’ve made so far - and will only keep growing at our current pace if we find bigger and better ways to engage with more people and create more of these types of relationships.

I think everyone and anyone needs to read this book (http://thankyoueconomybook.com/) and understand the new age of commerce we are living in.  As Vaynerchuk says, it provides boundless opportunity for those willing to take advantage of the gift Social Media has to offer.  It will also leave behind those unwilling to adapt to the changing mindset of the consumer driven market.  Transparency, honesty, authenticity, and caring will win out every time.  That I do believe and can get behind.

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You can read Part 1 of this post here about my review of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Crush It!”

Book Review (Part 1): “Crush It!” and “The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk


I read both of these books last weekend, which is why I am reviewing them together.  They are very different books with different messages, but a common theme of the importance to use new social media platforms to build brand identity (either personal or corporate) and connect/engage/build relationships with people.  In short, they are very interesting, quick, and informative reads and I recommend them both to anyone interested in building a brand, and/or entrepreneurship, on any level within any industry.  

I’d also like to say I’m embarrassed it has taken me this long to read these books.  They have flashed on my radar over and over and there is no excuse for me to have delayed in taking the initiative to read these books (and others that I am working through now) that are so crucial to what I do and consult about on an everyday basis.

With all that being said, here are my opinions on each book in two parts, starting with “Crush It!” (You can read Part 2: The Thank You Economy here).

Part 1: Crush It!

‘Crush It!’ is about following your passion; making your job what you love doing, and getting paid to do it.  I love this message and it mirrors the most powerful lesson I ever learned from my parents - that you will never be completely happy if you don’t wake up in the morning and absolutely LOVE what you do for a living.  In fact, you love it so much that you would do it for free. I absolutely agree with this idea in principle.  However, I think Vaynerchuk has taken several difficult assumptions for granted, which won’t allow me to take the leap with him in assuming anyone can quit their day job and make a living by creating a personal brand around their burning passion. 

First, he says working on your passion means you will be happy to work harder than you ever have in your life. I think there is a reason people don’t like to mix business with pleasure.  They don’t want to turn their hobby, the thing they are truly passionate about, into a livelihood.  One’s hobby may lose its luster when you feel required to write a blog about it, or tweet about it, and then get scrutinized over it, instead of sitting back and enjoying it.  Gary may then argue that it may not be your true passion to begin with, but I disagree.  People have the capacity to be truly passionate and excited about a topic that they may not want to pursue for a living.  There is nothing I love more than baseball, and I have worked in the industry in the past.  As much as I hate to admit it, there were definitely times while working I wished I could go off the clock and simply watch my favorite team for the love of the game – no more, no less.

Second, not everyone is wired, or as Vaynerchuk would put it, have it in their DNA to work 18 hours a day to get their personal brand surrounding their passion off the ground.  This is an internal motivation/work ethic issue, and not a passion issue.  Working hard, being patient through the slow times, doubling up your efforts when you don’t see results, and foregoing a stable, steady income is a lifestyle choice that not everyone can live with.  Someone who wishes they could talk about stamps for a living, and they want to leave their job in PR to do it; and they say they have the blueprint from ‘ Crush It!’ scares me more than a bit.  This book inspires, no doubt, but also gives users just enough information to make a poorly infomred decision.  A decision without fully understanding what their potential life choice will entail.  Some people are built for the entrepreneurial, risk-seeking, career life choice, and many aren’t.  Some may view anything more than a 9-5 job as working harder than they ever had, and not truly grasp living and breathing your job every second you are awake is what that life choice will require for a chance at success.  I’m nervous of the somewhat false promises that readers may perceive to be a very straightforward path to walk - which is you can just talk about what you love to ‘Crush It!’

Third, Vaynerchuk references this in his book, but in my opinion, does not drastically enough describe how difficult it is to create best-in-class content.  He notes how if you are truly passionate about something, you will be able to create first class content.  Are you not comfortable in front of the camera?  Then do a podcast!  Don’t like your voice?  Write a witty blog!  Well, what if you’re not a good writer either?  Or a creative person by nature?  Telling people all they have to do to live the life they always wanted by simply following their one true passion by creating amazing content sounds a bit like describing steps 1 and 10 in a process without saying how difficult it is or lucky you need to be to get from 2 to 9 first.

He couches his arguments and is careful not to speak in direct absolutes about this, but creating amazing content is really hard!  There’s a reason some people are magnetic on camera, or have a voice you can’t stop listening to on the radio, or write witty blog posts/columns that you can’t stop reading.  Those people have endless amounts of talent (and training, and practice) that separate them from the crowd.  Even if someone is truly passionate about their one topic and has the DNA of an entrepreneur, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can be creative enough or interesting enough to make a living out of their personal brand.  Vaynerchuk may truly believe this to be the case, or maybe I interpreted his message incorrectly, but I think it is dangerous to tell everyone and anyone that their passion can be their payday simply by using a little elbow grease and flexing some social media muscles.

To summarize, I think the message behind the book is phenomenal, and I agree with it 100%.  I also love the inspiring nature of loving what you do for a living, and the importance of building a personal brand  (*Note: He is definitely correct that one's web presence will become, if it hasn't already, the resume of the 21st century).  However, I caution some of the readers to be wary that it is rare to become a Perez Hilton, or a Deadspin, or a Wine Library TV.  To truly take that leap requires talent, dedication, belief in oneself, and incredibly risk-seeking entrepreneurial DNA that isn’t for everyone.  And on top of that, you need to get lucky.  Really lucky.

Part 2: The Thank You Economy here

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Startup at SxSW


I have taken a brief hiatus from blogging due to the dizzying pace at which life has been moving lately.  Back in March, I was with my company launching a new social, mobile game called TAG.  Attending panels all day, happy hours all afternoon, and parties all night was fun, entertaining, informative…and exhausting. 

I was asked a lot when I got back from friends, family, and business peers: “How did it go?”; “Was it worth it?”; “Are you going back?”  Hopefully I can describe the experience well enough to answer all three.

“How did it go?”

The launch went extremely well.  Of course, there is a reason why they call it a “Beta” launch, and there were the occasional hiccups (Trouble installing the app via OTA [Over The Air]; Slow upload times for kill shot photos due to AT&T and SxSW killing 3G speeds; Slow game moderators), but they were all informative and did not disrupt game play or people’s enjoyment of the game.  We ended up with 10+ Baltimoreans playing across Austin for a couple of days.  The winner was someone who I hadn’t known – which is definitely the point of this game and framework (Make new friends! Socialize! Engage!). 

There was a ton of great data to work with when we came back to improve the game, and a wealth of great ideas from the newcomers to TAG to help improve game play, add game modes, and encourage further engagement between users and their social cloud.  All-in-all a big win for us, and only increased our excitement and encouraged us to keep pushing forward with TAG.  If you’re interested in Beta testing and have an iPhone – contact me and I’ll try to hook you and a couple of your friends up.  Hopefully within the next 3-4 weeks there will be a TAG game in both the iTunes App Store and Android App Market. (Update: Now available for free download from iTunes here.  Android still on its way.)

“Was it worth it?”

We had two talks – one on Singularity and one on Social/Mobile Gaming, and both were well attended and received.  Everyone was very excited about the things we were doing and we collected many business cards after the talks and met a lot of interesting people.  Only time will tell if this was truly worth it (in terms of new business and popularity of TAG moving forward), but in terms of brand awareness and a great PowerPoint slide to put into our capabilities deck/portfolio it is a great feather in our proverbial cap.

“Are we going back?”

We are still undecided and just put in a couple of topics to the SxSW Panel Picker that interest us a great deal, and we hope interest the rest of the entrepreneurial/technology community at large.  If we get selected to speak again, or course we will attend.  Maybe not in full force with a large percentage of our Management, but definitely with at least the speakers and a Biz Dev guy checking out any of the new angles to attack with.

If we don’t get selected, we may sit this one out.  I think it may be too saturated and popular to accomplish anything worthwhile there for a startup such as mine.  In otherwords, it may have gotten so popular, the signal-to-noise ratio makes it too hard to seek out and begin relationships with valuable biz dev contacts (investors, agencies to partner with, advisors, local entrepreneurs to work with, etc), or make an impression on those potential clients you are trying to court.

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All in all, it was a phenomenal experience that I wouldn’t give up in a second.  However, it may be hard to justify continuing to go knowing that as SxSW continues to grow at its frenzied pace, there may be better opportunities at smaller, more focused trade shows to find the customers we’re looking for, and have other agencies that would like to find a technology partner find us.