It's happening— can't help it. Gary Vaynerchuk is getting me all worked up. In his spartan office in lower Manhattan, I'm getting the Crush It! religion. "Can I tell you why it's huge?" he asks. "Because it's real. Seriously, I mean, like, I'm getting goose bumps." He holds out his arm, and for a moment I'm actually surveying his flesh for evidence of just how exciting this all is!
But wait—what were we talking about? Oh, right: Per the breathless subtitle of Crush It!, Vaynerchuk's new book, "now is the time to cash in on your passion." The argument of the compact man seated before me—who, with his close-cropped hair and wild-eyed intensity, looks more soccer hooligan than entrepreneurial evangelist—is that, thanks to free social-networking tools like Twitter and Facebook, any schlub can build a huge "personal brand" for himself, with riches, happiness, etc., to follow. Stripped to its essence, the pitch can sound more than a bit late-night-infomercial-ish, except that Vaynerchuk happens to have a little experience in this area. A former teenage stock boy, he transformed the family business, the thoroughly unsexy Shopper's Discount Liquors of Springfield, New Jersey, a strictly local $4-million-a-year purveyor of the hard stuff, into the upscale, $60-million-a-year mail-order enterprise known as the Wine Library. He did it with a little help from Wine Library TV, a low-budget wine-tasting video podcast he launched in February 2006, in which he might rave about an "amaaaaaaazing" Châteauneuf-du-Pape after tossing off color commentary on the New York Jets. In the years since, he's been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, appeared on Conan, and collected Twitter followers by the thousands (he's at 850,000 and counting).
Crush It! was an instant hit (though the publisher spent virtually nothing on marketing, the book debuted on the New York Times Hardcover Advice Best Sellers list at No. 2 thanks to Vaynerchuk's devoted fans), but Merlot drinkers and self-help-book buyers aren't the only ones listening to this guy. Vaynerchuk has parlayed his regular-Joe-turned-wine-mogul shtick into lucrative management-consulting gigs at Fortune 500 companies. In record time, he's joined a growing crew of "new economy" gurus who might, at this very moment, be telling the corporate overlords at your workplace how to do their jobs. Gurus like Timothy Ferriss, whose best-selling treatise on delegation, The 4-Hour Workweek, started as a cult sensation among stressed-out Silicon Valley managers. Or Seth Godin, author of a dozen popular books—from Unleashing the Ideavirus to Tribes—whom you can typically find at an airport on the way to one of his many speaking gigs. Or Laura Day, who wrote the blockbuster Practical Intuition and its various sequels and reportedly collects $10,000-a-month advisory retainer fees from companies like computer-storage conglomerate Seagate and talent agency William Morris Endeavor.
They are the rock stars of the business world, huge draws on book tours and at conferences like South by Southwest. Harvard and Princeton roll out the red carpet for them. Google, Starbucks, Disney, and Nike execs buddy up to them. And their influence among America's Dilbertariat has only grown since the global economy started to wobble, and for good reason: They're experts at telling suits that they're doing everything wrong—a message easy to dismiss in the boom years but deeply resonant circa 2010. They're definitely not your father's guru—think Dale "How to Win Friends & Influence People" Carnegie—but they're selling the same things: hope, passion, self-empowerment, and the idea that maybe, just maybe, you don't have to put up with your stupid job and your stupid boss at the stupid company you work for.