AJ Vaynerchuk is the CEO and co-founder of athlete representation firm VaynerSports. He previously co-founded and served as COO of VaynerMedia, a social-first digital agency, alongside his brother Gary. AJ is also a board member of the New York chapter of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to finding cures for Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
We caught up with AJ for this week’s Friday Five…
1) Who is your biggest mentor?
I would have to say my brother Gary. He’s my brother, my best friend, my business partner and my mentor.
I grew up in an entrepreneurial home, my father is an entrepreneur and my brother is an entrepreneur. And my brother and I had a deeper shared interest graph, so to speak. And so as I got older and I was getting ready to embark in business, we always wanted to do something together. He’s always been involved in my professional journey and has always been a big mentor personally as well.
2) When you launched VaynerSports in 2016, what made you want to get into sports representation?
It’s a business derived by passion. I grew up a diehard Jets fan and football was my favorite sport to watch. Football was the business I was most interested in.
Prior to starting the sports agency, my brother and I had started VaynerMedia, which was in the client services industry working with brands. I thought that with my background working in client services and my background in venture capital, things were lining up nicely with where I think athletes were having an interest and a focus moving forward.
I saw an opportunity and it was an industry I was passionate about.
3) How have new rules surrounding Name, Image, and Likeness in the NCAA changed the game for your agency?
It’s been great for us. We’re called VaynerSports, so obviously a lot of how people perceive us is going to be tied to my brother and I, our careers, and our background. I think we have a very strong marketing background and strong relationships with brands. So our ability to work with some of the top talent in college sports and to help them monetize their name, brand image and likeness while they’re in college has been a big win.
For us, we have some great, great clients such as Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder. We actually got into basketball through NIL with Jalen Duren, the Memphis star, so it’s been a very good thing for us. It’s right in our strengths.
4) What advice would you give your younger self?
Enjoy it. Relax and enjoy the process. I think when I was in college I was eager to get out of college. And I look back and those are some of my fondest memories. So I think just living in the moment and knowing that, yes I’m ambition, and yes I have a work ethic. But, there’s more to live than just being successful from a professional perspective. That is probably the biggest thing I would tell the high school version of me.
5) If you could invite any three people in history to dinner, who would they be and why?
I’m going to go a little emotional and sentimental. None of my grandparents are with us anymore. And I actually only met my father’s mother. So I would invite my mom’s mom and dad and my dad’s dad because I’ve never met those three.
It would maybe be a little bit tricky because my family speaks Russian, and I speak some Russian but I’m nowhere near fluent. Those three only knew Russia, so it would probably be a long dinner because it might take a while to get much accomplished in the conversation.