This is the best time in history to be an Internet entrepreneur, and there's no better place to be one than in Chattanooga.
So said self-described "storytelling entrepreneur" Gary Vaynerchuk on Monday as he kicked off Startup Week Chattanooga, the city's second-annual, multiday "celebration of Chattanooga's entrepreneurial community." Roars of applause came from an almost capacity crowd at the 505-seat Roland Hayes Auditorium at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as Vaynerchuk sang the Scenic City's praises.
"I'm absolutely convinced that there will be an incredible $100 million business that starts here," he said.
That's one reason why Vaynerchuk, 39, said he chose downtown Chattanooga as the fourth location for VaynerMedia, his social media-focused marketing business that also has offices in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
"This stuff can happen anywhere," Vaynerchuk said. "This is the greatest time ever to build a business, and that's because of the Internet. It's become the tool that's given every single person an 'at bat.'"
Yet, Vaynerchuk discouraged would-be Internet entrepreneurs from trying to create the next big thing.
"Everybody's chasing these unicorns," he said.
For every Instragram — a photo-sharing program that has some 40 million photos uploaded daily — there are thousands of failed Instragram wannabes, he said.
Instead, Vaynerchuk said people should look for online applications that fix their "pain points," or problems in life.
For example, if you have three kids that drive you crazy, "I don't know, create an Uber for babysitters," Vaynerchuk said, referring to the business and smartphone app of that name that competes with taxicabs. "I'm looking for practicality. Practical business building has never been easier."
Vaynerchuk was invited to kick off the event, said Startup Week Project Manager Stephanie Hays, because "he's a well-known figure in the startup world, and having opened an office here, we wanted to give people a chance to hear him."
Vaynerchuk's best-known foray into social media were the wine reviews he started on YouTube one year after the online video-sharing service's 2005 debut that helped amp up his father's New Jersey liquor store business from $3 million a year to $70 million a year.
He said 20- and 30-somethings are at a unique point in history and have it better than people their age did in previous decades. The commercial Internet is only 20 years old, he said, and there's still lots of room on it for new businesses.
"This is the second industrial revolution," Vaynerchuk said. "We didn't get as lucky as you did. This is the generation. This is the sweet spot."
He also encouraged audience members to build on their strengths.
"Give a lot of thought to what you're good at and what you're not good at," said Vaynerchuk, who said he's bad at 99 percent of everything. Find your strengths, Vaynerchuk said, and "quadruple down" on what you're good at.
Vaynerchuk was an early investor in Facebook and Twitter. During a question-and-answer session, he said that when he makes investment and business decisions, "I go by what I feel."
Once he settles on an investment — or place, such as Chattanooga — he sticks by it with "utter blind conviction."
"When I'm in, I'm in," Vaynerchuk said. "Everybody could leave town, and I'd still be here."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or twitter.com/meetfor business or 423-757-6651.