Gary Vaynerchuk was born in Babruysk, Belarus, in the former USSR, and came to America with his parents. When he arrived in the U.S., his whole extended family lived in a studio apartment in Queens, New York. And today, the 41-year-old runs a multimillion-dollar digital marketing company that he founded, VaynerMedia.
The 800-employee business has locations in New York, Los Angeles, London and Chattanooga, Tenn. Clients include Fortune 500 companies like General Electric, Budweiser, Toyota, Revlon and Unilever. Vaynerchuk is also a best-selling author and maintains an active social media presence for his more than 3.5 million fans, many of whom are obsessed with him and his work.
Vaynerchuk succeeded despite his humble beginnings and despite the fact that he was a D- and F-student in school. He attributes that success to his unshakable self-confidence.
"I do believe that the people who care less about what other people think about them tend to have a better life. It's just liberating," said Vaynerchuk, speaking at the SXSW Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas, Friday. "I genuinely believe that self-esteem is the ultimate drug in life."
Vaynerchuk got his confidence from his mom and he is, in turn, "obsessed with driving self-esteem into my children."
The entrepreneur has always hustled. As a kid, he cut the flowers in his neighbors' yard and sold them back to those same neighbors at a profit. He ran a neighborhood lemonade stand and, as a teenager, he made thousands of dollars in a weekend peddling baseball cards.
In college, Vaynerchuk put his family wine business online and increased sales from $3 million to $60 million in five years. In the process, he taught himself about wine, became an expert, and launched a online show that became so popular, he appeared on NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," teaching the host about wine.
By age 35, he had become a self-made millionaire.
Vaynerchuk is now a mentor for others, and he has observed that those who care deeply about what people think of them are hobbled by anxieties.
"There are just so many people sitting here broken inside because they care what their older brother thinks about their behavior or what their husband thinks about their behavior or what their mom said to them growing up," says Vaynerchuk.
That insecurity not only holds people back, it can pollute office culture, Vaynerchuk says.
There are employees at his media company who are talented but so worried and anxious, regardless, that he may have to fire them. "That breaks my heart," he says. "Insecurity is a killer. It leads to all the bad s--- and so it's the difference between confidence and security."
In addition to running his marketing business, Vaynerchuk publishes a daily vlog, #DailyVee, and hosts the #AskGaryVee Show.
Living so publicly online means that Vaynerchuk hears what a lot of people's opinions about him. But his confidence isn't swayed by the comments of strangers online.
"Look, being self promotional and putting yourself out there. There are so many people that have opinions about me. As long as the people that actually know me have the opinions they have, versus the people who have never met me but have heard me say 'F---' on stage, as long as I am good with the people that actually can look under the hood, then I will always win," Vaynerchuk says.
"So if you feel good about who you actually are, you need to get loud. And if you don't, fix your s---."
As Vaynerchuk talks, his energy level is so high that it looks like his eyes might pop out of their sockets. He is passionate in everything he does, including getting others to be as pumped up as he is.
"I am trying to become the injection of audacity into the people that watch me that gives them the courage to jump into the pool that they are scared to swim in," he says.