As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’m at South by Southwest Interactive, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world. It’s my first time and I’m meeting a lot of cool people and learning lots. I haven’t been to too many panels but on Friday night I got to see Andrew Warner of Mixergy interview Gary Vaynerchuck, Ze Frank and Tim Ferriss in person.
I love watching the Mixergy Interviews – Andrew is able to get big name people to get really honest and open about their successes and their shortcomings. This evening was no different. Each of the folks here have done amazing things and thanks to a mix of Andrew’s probing questions, the candor of the interviewees and perhaps a bit of drinking, we got to hear a lot of real talk.
Here are some takeaways.
Gary is the author of Crush It! and The Thank You Economy (affiliate links), but is probably best known for his popular videopodcast – Wine Library TV – which is about to reach 1000 episodes and has helped him sell millions of dollars worth of product from his family-owned business. Here’s what I got from Gary:
Building a business with your family, especially your parents, is HARD.
Gary and his father would get into big fights about Wine Library. Even though the fights were always about what was best for the business, they were still painful and frustrating. Gary ultimately chose not to work with his father on another venture, Cork’d (which he ultimately spent “around 7 hours” working on) because he realized he wanted to own the whole business and his father would have always held that over his head. Now he’s focused on VaynerMedia which he co-owns with his brother – also challenging, but much better because they have more of a peer oriented sibling-sibling relationship.
Have an irrational belief that you are the best
Gary, who in some ways is quite humble about himself and his achievements, also has held the belief that he is The Man and better than pretty much anyone. He talked about how his mom built him up so much that he was honestly surprised that he wasn’t the best looking guy he knew when he was in his mid twenties. When he first started working at Wine Library after college, a woman in his town made a remark along the lines of “Aw, that’s so cute that you’re working at your Dad’s company.” and all he wanted to do was say “Lady, you don’t know anything. I’m going to blow this business up. Your son knows dick compared to me.”
I’ve run into Ze Frank’s stuff once or twice before but never really understood what his deal was. I still don’t think I do but at least I know he’s legit: according to Wikipedia, he’s spoken at several TED conferences, won a Webby award and from 2006-07, hosted the show with zefrank which Slate called “a new kind of improvised conversation/performance art“. Side note: apparently it was Wine Library staff watching Ze Frank’s show that motivated Gary to start Wine Library TV. Here’s what I got from Ze Frank:
Many artists struggle to explain the creative process
Andrew kept pointing out interesting, creative things that Ze Frank had done and asked how he could be more creative. In my opinion, Ze Frank really struggled to answer this question. He hemmed and hawed, changed topics and talked about creativity in very abstract terms. The most specific thing he said was probably that to be creative in your marketing, you have to notice what you pay attention to, and then apply it to your own marketing projects. I think you can learn to come up with novel and original ideas, but when you ask a very naturally creative person like Ze Frank to explain how to do that, he/she will struggle.
Ask your Facebook friends a question every week
One great idea that Ze Frank gave the audience was that if they really wanted to master the “social media thing”, they should try this particular exercise: post a status update on Facebook (I guess Twitter could work too) with a question each week, and try to beat the number of people that reply to your question every time. This works especially well if you’re competing with someone else. According to Ze Frank, the exercise will force you to really think about how you can engage your audience and ask them things that will provoke a response. It sounds very interesting and I’m going to try it and report back.
Most people are familiar with Tim Ferriss from his books – The Four Hour Work Week and The Four Hour Body, both New York Times best-selling books. He’s a Princeton grad, has a range of interesting accomplishments (from tango to virtual businesses to kick boxing) and according to WIRED magazine, is the greatest self-promoter in the world. Here’s what I got from Tim:
Everyone gets hurt by bad reviews and negative comments, some learn to deal with it
Tim gets a lot of hate on the internet. Andrew Warner actually lead with an introduction of how Tim lies and cheats to get what he wants. Ouch.  Tim revealed that when The Four Hour Work Week first came out, he got a zero star review by someone who admitted he hadn’t even read the book – and Tim was like “Surely there has been a misunderstanding!” and proceeded to write a looong response to the guy’s review, which he says in retrospect was dumb and a waste of time. His publisher even called to say “Yeah, don’t do that again.” Tim’s learned to adapt to the haters and has a line that I really like, which is: It’s not the number of people who don’t get it, it’s the number of people who do. You can read that and more on his post on dealing with haters.
Tim is many things, but primarily he is a researcher and marketer
Tim talked a lot about reaching out to high level people and learning from them. And I realized that at his core, Tim succeeds because he is a great researcher and marketer. He finds out information about how to do things – gain muscle and lost fat fast, deliver female orgasms in 15 minutes, utilize virtual assistants and travel around the world without spending a fortune – and then markets the hell out of them. Most of the fitness advice in Four Hour Body is not profound: eat less carbs, do high intensity workouts, measure everything. And the things that are novel he learned from studying the best in the world, and doing self-experimentation. He then produces very compelling content that packages these ideas into highly shareable concepts and busts his butt to earn publicity for his work. It’s hard work but the formula works.
So that’s what I learned from Gary, Ze Frank and Tim at the Mixergy Live event at SXSW 2011. What have you learned?
 Tim called Andrew out on this and made Andrew quite embarrassed. It was pretty funny.