A Boardroom Cover Story conversation about Web3, Twitter, and why VeeFriends will be his ultimate legacy
Gary Vaynerchuk has lived many lives as an entrepreneur, marketer, and social media dynamo — physical lives, that is.
Meanwhile, in the reality of the virtual, it may be that the 45-year-old is just beginning to hit his futurist stride as the world of Web3 grows in both relevance and resonance.
In addition to being the CEO of award-winning ad firm VaynerMedia and holding company VaynerX, “Gary Vee” recently started the production company Eva Nosidam Productions, and one year ago launched NFT community VeeFriends. He envisions VeeFriends one day becoming not just a Marvel or Disney-like collection of dynamic IP, but the crux of his legacy as an innovator of the evolving ways in which we connect with one another.
In a wide-ranging conversation with Boardroom and 35V co-founder Rich Kleiman, Vaynerchuk goes deep on how he’s managed to be years ahead on technological trends, the popularity and promise of the Bored Ape Yacht Club and World of Women NFT platforms, how Twitter will innovate under Elon Musk, and his broader vision for the future.
Welcome to Boardroom Cover Story.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
FROM THERE TO HERE
RICH KLEIMAN: Why do you think so much has changed for you in the last two years?
GARY VAYNERCHUK: The NFT thing, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was at the right place in my career with all those micro-wins underneath. I understood and understand where it is right now in a way that comes very natural to me because of my background. It was just a lot of bricks and then the right macro trend, because what I’m doing with NFTs I did with e-commerce in 1996, with email in 1997, Google AdWords in 2000, YouTube in 2006, and Twitter in 2007. That’s how it all built.
The NFT thing is so hard to wrap your head around. It’s more like Internet 1996 than social media 2005 in that it was just the right place at the right time, and I executed it while everybody was still debating, “is this even a thing?”
I went out and put VeeFriends friends at the forefront, was an investor in the right projects. And if you really look under the hood, while this all happened in [these last] 24 months, VaynerX and VaynerMedia really took the next step. So 99.9% of people see me on social, but the .1% that really pay attention, there’s a level of “wait a minute, that’s a billion-dollar company, too.” There’s 2,000 employees. They have 300 people in Asia, and I’m the operator. I just think people have their moment when things shift a little bit, and I definitely sense it.
AHEAD OF THE GAME
RK: How are you able to foreshadow future trends so well?
GV: The thing you’re referring to is something I talked about in 2011, which was really based on FarmVille. What I do very well is understand human behavior and what things are consistently true. And when I saw people buying sheep on Facebook for the FarmVille flex in their newsfeed in 2010, 2011, that is when I decided, oh my god, people are going to do things in digital the way we do in real life.
The reason the Rolex, the Lambo, the Birkin bag, and the rare Nikes mean so much is each is a form of communication. You’re just talking. When you’re sitting courtside at an NBA game, people are dressed to communicate; communication is what I’m good at.
It’s not that I knew that NFTs were going to be the thing. The blockchain hadn’t really been hit when I started realizing, but it is why I understood social better than most people on Earth. I knew that blue checkmark was going to matter. I knew how many followers you had were going to matter because that’s how humans are wired.
During the Christmas holiday season, I really looked up when I saw CryptoPunks. I went on Twitter and I went to some Discords and read a couple of blog posts. I’m a very good kind of culture/human being/pop culture A&R, and I could just sense it was going to happen. I already knew – which is why Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnite made a lot of sense to me. That Fortnite skin, that’s a flex. That’s a form of communication. Of course, people are going to spend $50 for that.
One of the easiest ways to communicate NFTs to people that don’t get it – people that have six- to 12-year-olds – ask them if they’ve ever paid for anything inside of a video game, and they say, “of course.” I’m like, well, the blockchain is the world’s video game and it’s going to really matter.”
RK: Why do you think people are having a harder time understanding NFTs than they did Web1 and Web2?
GV: Because most people on Earth in 1995, 1996, 1997 weren’t in the business of thinking about everybody doing something. They were either a kid in college who was just happy that the Internet let them not go to the library, or a grownup that didn’t get it and didn’t want to put their credit card numbers out there.
Right now, everyone’s like, “Gary, this isn’t going to work, they’re scams.” I show them the Wall Street Journal from back then saying the Internet won’t succeed because of credit card scams. History just repeats itself. I would say social media – Web2 – was less insane than 1 and 3, other than people didn’t understand that people wanted to talk to each other all the time about anything and everything.
In 2006, 2007, I’m like, Twitter’s pied piper. Nine out of 10 people would say to me “who would care if you’re having a pizza? Who gives a shit if you’re walking the dog?” And every time I would answer, “everyone.” Why do you think we have traffic, and on the other side of the road when there’s an accident everyone’s got to look? Rubbernecking. We have to look. Why? It’s what we do.
The reason everyone is struggling with Web3 right now is [that] everyone’s bringing their Internet brain to the blockchain. On the Internet, you can’t own anything digital. People just became accustomed to that. When YouTube hit, people were freaked out because of intellectual property. YouTube was taking down videos of The Simpsons. But then it became that everybody had access to everyone’s intellectual property.
Web3 takes it all the way back. Now, somebody really does own it. It is so much easier to have fake things in the real world and on the Internet than it is on the blockchain. The blockchain is a ledger of affirmation. And once everyone understands that, it’s all going there.
THE BORED APE TAKEOVER
RK: When was the first time you were made aware of the Bored Ape Yacht Club? What has its impact been? What do you believe the future of it might be?
GV: Bored Apes is a really fun story for me. I was launching VeeFriends a year ago today, May 5, because that’s my number. And what happened was right around May 1, four days earlier, we weren’t ready and I wasn’t sure the tech was right. We had to push it back. Somewhere in late April or early May, Bored Ape came out. I remember Jimmy [McNelis] from NFT42, the company that helped me build my tech and infrastructure, went in deep and liked it. And I remember looking at it and the first thing I thought was like, “those look cool.”
I remember it vividly, but I was working 18 hours a day to get VF1 off the ground. In my Discord, some people were like, “VeeFriends is delayed. I think I’m going to buy one of these Bored Apes.” And I remember jumping in being like, that’s awesome. This is bigger than VeeFriends.
To watch what they’ve done in one year is profound. Bored Ape is obviously the singular most important IP brand right now in the NFT space. I think in Pokemon-Disney-Nickelodeon-Sesame Street terms, Bored Ape has captured the Supreme-Palace-Kith energy. Like, it’s cool. Obviously, along the way, Guy Oseary got involved. That’s a lot of energy and a lot of talent that’s been brought to the table. They’ve done an unbelievable job in not only making Bored Ape the bomb, but Mutant, Kennel Club, and now they just did their [virtual] land, which has profound economics behind it.
Where they find themselves right now is they’re the AOL and Yahoo of this moment; the Facebook and MySpace of this moment. What they want to do now is execute for the next five years to be Facebook, not Friendster. Yahoo fended off Ask Jeeves, fended off Dogpile, all these other search engines five, six years before Google. They have found themselves at the top. I remember everybody made fun of me when I invested in Facebook at $1 billion. They’re like, “that’s the stupidest thing you ever did.” I’m like, we’ll see. That’s where Yuga Labs is right now.
They have a huge valuation. They’re the ones everybody knows. They went out and bought the CryptoPunks IP. They’ve done so many things right, which is why they’ve earned where they sit in the lexicon. I’m sure they’re sitting around and saying, “Now the work begins. We’ve got this huge valuation. We’ve got all eyes on us. It’s ours to lose.” That’s a fun, high-pressure place to be. I’m just very happy for them.
THE CRYPTOPUNKS IP
RK: Yuga Labs bought CryptoPunks and are now allowing the owners to create their own IP around them. Is that something that’s part of the future of the way NFT owners will build revenue outside of utility, empowering everyone else to build their own value?
GV: think it’s a profound strategy of giving the creative commons to the user. It’s a great thesis. I’m excited to see how it plays out.
Brands for the last 100 years have focused on controlling everything. You really look at the LVMH model, right? The way you become a brand is everything’s tight. By nature, somebody tomorrow could be working on a Bored Ape rum that comes in a plastic bottle and is shitty. What if that has a little bit of commercial success? Does that hurt the brand positioning if somebody else is trying to do high-end jewelry? The thing that’s going to be cool to see, which I don’t have the answer for, is if you give the individual Creative Commons an IP ownership to the individual NFT owner of an overall project, you’re going to have a lot of different things going on and it’ll be fascinating to see what happens.
I think it can be a profound power, because now you have tons of people working on it on behalf of the IP. I don’t know if we’ve seen the ramifications of when somebody does something that’s detrimental – and I don’t mean egregious like a racist act or a sexist act – like commercial success on a product that’s lowbrow. If everyone had control and somebody came out with a commercially successful Nike for $4 a pair, that would hurt the overall Nike business. I don’t think we’ve figured that out yet, but I love it. The big curiosity is watching 5,000 separate entrepreneurs monetize the IP and what that means for the consumer.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF WOMEN
RK: One NFT you got me excited about that I bought was World of Women. To me, it feels like there’s something a bit more unique and potentially a bit longer-lasting about that collection. Do you feel the same way?
GV: I do, actually. That one’s different because the artist, Yam [Karkai], she’s just legit. She’s a legit artist. It was the first ultra-premium female project. It feels like it has a real soul. Just like everything in the world, there’s an enormous amount of society— men included, not just women— that are going to associate more with that. On Twitter, I saw this new project called World of Women. I looked at it, went on the website, looked at it for two seconds and it felt right.
It goes back to the A&R thing. I said I’m going to get a fire one and give it to my mom. I put my mom on such a pedestal, she’s my hero. This connected for me. Obviously, for all the women in crypto, they’re being represented. So there’s that, and a ton of guys resonate with the art and the project. It just had all the ingredients – another project that later on, after Bored Ape, Guy Oseary gets involved. So now, all of the sudden you have a lot of good marketing and business development infrastructure there.
They’ve stayed the course. They’ve built a real community. I think Yam is a real artist forever. She’s young. And most importantly, again, not much different than CryptoPunks, when the history books are written of this era, [there’s] going to be this pioneer female project, and this is it.
The art is objectively fire, too. I’m very aware of why people think my Squiggles and my Doodles are not, but the look of World of Women resonates with a lot of human beings.
TWITTER’S ELON ERA
RK: If Elon Musk follows through with the Twitter deal, what do you expect for its future?
GV: That Twitter is finally going to innovate.
Watch this. Amazon is a very different company than what we saw it start as. Meta is a very different company than what we saw it start as. Netflix is a very different company than what we saw it start as. Do you know that the Twitter of 2007 that I signed up for is basically the same exact thing?
Obviously, people are going to be [debating] freedom of speech and what’s going to happen politically. That, I understand, is going to capture everyone’s conversation. It’s just not where my brain goes. My brain goes to, if I told you – you’re a smart-ass dude – that in six years, Twitter is Netflix’s biggest competitor in streaming? You would say, “yeah, I see how that could have happened.”
Twitter is the conversation water cooler of society. They added those capabilities. Netflix was delivering DVDs in the mail. Twitter has so much of the world on it. There’s so many more things we could be doing. Even Twitter Spaces, by taking a feature that was going on in Clubhouse, has been a nice addition, but they have been very small little things.
Everyone’s attention is on “will Trump be unbanned?” I get that, and that’s a societal conversation. That’s more about civility and where we are in the political system – I don’t think about Elon and Twitter on that. That’s way bigger than Elon and Twitter. I bet you subscriptions come.
If I’m Elon, the first thing I do is create a micro-subscription just to get people’s credit cards. Even if it’s 99 cents a year. Every client I have would pay some sort of vig if they had to. I think he’s going to innovate.
RK: Where do you think the collectibles market is headed?
GV: I’ve been surprised, in a great way, at what’s going on with comics, sports cards, sneakers, NFTs, and even emerging things like VHS tapes. People are spending real paper on VHS tapes that are graded – and video games.
If you go look at TikTok accounts of 15, 16, 17-year-olds— this is crazy— you have 16-year-olds that have in their bio, “investor.” And not just dudes. Like, “NHHS 2024, cheerleader, investor.” This is profound. I couldn’t find a dude to talk to me about business in high school. Now you’ve got everybody.
It’s the rise of people saying, “I’m an investor, too.” All that energy now with the Robinhood crowd and the Reddit stuff that happened during COVID, you’ve got an entire generation of 15- to 35-year-olds that think they should invest. Even 22- and 25-year-old me and you who thought about being businessmen, I have a funny feeling we weren’t thinking that much about investing. I was just thinking about making paper.
Now, they don’t want to buy a one-bedroom in Brooklyn and make recurring revenue on rent. They don’t want to buy 1,000 shares of a good, solid stock. They want to buy a pair of Nikes that are going to go up 2x. They want to buy Ja Morant rookie cards, because investing is now more pop culture and fashion. They want to win on their investment, but also enjoy it. They want the NFT to put in their social media profile and they want it to go up. That’s very different than buying 75 shares of Turner.
Investing has become pop culture-ized, which is making all this money come in, which allows for all these new genres. Most of those 16-year-olds with “investor” in their profile, they don’t have that much money [right now] – but they will. And they’ll be 26 real quick and when they all hit, these Gen Z investor kids, that’s going to be the culture. That’s going to be what’s cool.
Alternative investment assets as pop culture, just like fashion became fashion because of it, is about to be a huge thing. The most scalable of all those things is the NFT, because it’s digital and it scales everywhere.
REALITY OF THE VIRTUAL
RK: Where do virtual reality and mixed reality sit for you in the future?
GV: I think the most interesting, complex conversation in business [and] in the Web3 space right now is how many people are investing in the metaverse. My belief is the metaverse is pretty far away. It’s not very far away, but when people are buying up land in a lot of places, I just caution them. Not that that’s not a good idea, and Sandbox and Decentraland are great operators, a lot of good stuff going on, but [it’s] timing.
Looking back at CryptoKitties in 2017 but then only jumping in during 2021, I need to see one million people, even 100,000 people, spending three hours a day in VR. Listen, Oculus has got users. I own no stock on Wall Street except companies that I was in before they IPO’d and still hold onto the shares. I don’t pay attention a lot there. However, Meta has me looking a little bit because I know that they’re so far ahead on Oculus and metaverse that they are in the power position to actually win VR and nobody’s paying attention to that.
It’s coming, but my point of view is betting the farm on it to get consumer money out of it right now, which a lot of people are doing, is going to be dangerous. Do I believe a Ready Player One type life is possible? I sure do. We’ve got a long way to go, but do I think in five, seven years from now, I’m playing Madden 31 and I’m actually Zach Wilson in the pocket making throws? Yes. And I think it’s going to be fresh as shit.
THE POWER OF VEEFRIENDS
RK: I’ve heard you say that VeeFriends will be your legacy. Explain that sentiment and give us the specifics on what VeeFriends is.
GV: VeeFriends is an intellectual property that I’m standing up around the virtues that I care most about. Patient Panda, Empathy Elephant, Competitive Clown. I’m really excited about it. I grew up really paying attention to cartoons, really paying attention to the WWF, which was really building intellectual property through human beings. I think I’m on the path of building a Transformers and a Pokémon, and I’m going to do it for the rest of my life.
Right now, I’m a little bit in that “two CEO” life: VaynerX and VeeFriends. But I’m positive that VeeFriends is something I will be working on for the rest of my life, and I want to build a Looney Tunes, a Hanna-Barbera, hopefully something as big as, like, Disney in 55 years. I really think this is what I’m going to do.
I’m excited because I’ve used Gary Vee – me, the human – as my vessel to say, “hey, you could be a fucking gangster, but you don’t have to compromise your civility. You could be a fucking beast, but you could be a nice dude.” An intellectual property with 275 characters — like a Marvel — allows me to say a lot of things to a lot of people in a lot of parts of the world in every age group. I’m going to pump it.
THE FUTURE & THE FUTURIST
RK: Last question: What’s the future path for Gary Vee?
GV: The path is doing the right thing, building the right relationships, squeezing the shit out of all of my talents, being thoughtful. I could have never told you two years ago that something called NFTs was going to become important and become a very substantial financial event for me. That’s exactly what’s happened.
I’m just going to continue to do the right things to put me in the right rooms, to put me in the right places to see things. And what I’ve done my whole life, starting from where I started to where I am now, it just keeps compounding. In five years, when I’m 51, which is young as shit, something new like social media and NFTs is going to happen and I’m going to see it, because I always see it – but I’m going to be a very different animal than I was when I was 18 or that I am even now. And that animal is going to eat more and do more.
And I want to bring people along with me. I want to bring my inner circle friends, but I also put out my shit to the world. I want people to win alongside me. That’s how I’m going to do it. I’m going to get there, I really believe it.
Boardroom Senior Staff Writer Shlomo Sprung contributed to the production of this piece.