AJ Vaynerchuk is a co-founder of VaynerMedia, a social media agency that focuses on community management and social media strategy. AJ runs daily operations at VaynerMedia, while also serving as the key contact for many VaynerMedia clients. AJ also serves as an advisor to several startups, including WakeMate and Forrst. In the interview below, he answers my questions about hard work, Twitter, and the importance of surrounding oneself with great people.
MK: What do you think is the most important quality for a young business person to have?
AJV: I think confidence is so important. As long as you are productive and you execute, people will like you. It doesn’t matter if you are 35 and very professional or 22 and semi-professional. Just get work done and show results.
MK: At one point in your brother Gary Vaynerchuck’s book, he says, “It’s never a bad time to start a new business, unless it’s a bad business idea.” What’s your take on starting a good business, but spreading yourself too thin to do it well?
AJV: It really depends on what you are looking to accomplish. I’m involved in a lot, but I also work 19 hours a day. If I was working 9-5, then yes, I’d be spreading myself thin. But, I am answering client emails at 3 a.m. It’s more a matter of being willing to work a lot. I actually think people don’t spread themselves thin enough. That’s how you really learn –when you are spread too thin, so to speak.
MK: What’s the biggest mistake college students can make?
AJV: The number one mistake college students make is that they don’t look ahead. When I was in school, I went to classes and spent time with my friends and went to events. But, I also put a massive focus on what was coming after college. Don’t wait until after college to “figure things out.” Figure out what you want to do now. Don’t waste this time. The biggest mistake you can make is putting off what you want to do in the “real world” until you graduate. Don’t just focus on those four years, because you have a lot of life ahead of you. Look ahead, plan, and work hard.
MK: What advice do you have for students who are figuring out what they want to do after college?
AJV: Internships are both the most overrated and underrated things in the world. They are underrated because I think you learn more in a single internship than during the entire college experience. But they are overrated because students think that once they intern, their work is done and they are setting themselves up for a great career. But just having an internship doesn’t mean you are going to be ready for life after you graduate. You need to do so much more. Read up on your interests, stay ahead of your industry and be able to show that you know what is going on. Someone who’s had a few internships does not impress me. Go travel; go to a great conference in NYC or Ohio, even if it costs a lot of money. You might just meet the person there that will change your life that way.
MK: What differentiated you from your peers in college?
AJV: Foresight. I didn’t feel the need to go out every Friday night. I spent my time reading TechCrunch and Mashable. I spent my time on Twitter interacting with influencers and going to conferences during the weekends.
MK: Twitter is increasingly popular. How should students use it?
AJV: Use Twitter to find like-minded people and engage in conversations with them. Identify people in your industry and engage with them- or at the very least, watch what they post. Also use it to post original content. Don’t leverage Twitter only. Use other social networks and meet new people in person as often as you can.
MK: Knowing what you know now, if you could give advice to your former college self, what would it be?
AJV: This may sound crazy, but as an entrepreneur, I wish I spent less time on school. I wish I spent an additional 500 hours during senior year on my business and less time reading and writing school papers. This isn’t the case for everyone. If you want to be a lawyer or doctor, you need a great GPA. But if you want to be an entrepreneur, grades matter a little bit less.
MK: What do you think they key is to career and life success?
AJV: Having a great supporting cast. I have the best friends and family. There is a lot of pressure out there when you go and do what you love. Make sure you have great people around you. If you don’t, you are probably going to fail. That’s why it’s so important to build a strong network. Choose good friends, mentors and business partners. It takes willpower and self-confidence to do so, but build a strong group of people around you.
MK: How can college students build that self-confidence?
AJV: The best thing to do is step outside your comfort zone. Take a minute, even when you are really upset in a bad situation, to think about all the good things you have going for you. Remember all that you have to be grateful for. Be able to step outside of yourself.
MK: Final words of wisdom?
AJV: Have patience. People start things, and then give up after two weeks. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Nothing great in life comes easy. You have to keep going. All businesses–all good things–take time to build. Keep things in perspective and keep going. Start early, work hard, love what you do and be patient.
Melissa is the Marketing Director at Baking for Good, an online bakery that donates 15% of the proceeds from every sale to a charity of the customer’s choice. Previously, she was an Associate Brand Manager at Time, Inc. working on brand extension projects for numerous publications including: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, People, MLB, NFL and National Geographic. Melissa has a passion for magazines, writing, traveling and of course, the NY Jets. To find out more, read her blog, follow her on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.