James Orsini | Scaling an Agency With the Right Hand Man to Gary Vaynerchuk

We had a meeting and then hold on right there. What was your impression?

was tough to make an impression? Because the meeting was only 15 minutes?

John Corcoran  4:13  

No, no, I mean, just social media. You like this guy’s all over social media. He’s written books.

James Orsini  4:18  

You know, a lot of what I googled was, you know, a lot of magazine covers and, you know, Entrepreneur Magazine and ink magazine and Forbes magazine. So it was clear that, that he was something something special. Yes.

And then he invited me to a dinner.

John Corcoran  4:40  

And you meet him face to face with Gary, like when you first meet him face to face?

James Orsini  4:43  

Yeah, he’s, he’s gracious and kind and

unpretentious. You know, you never really know. He’s successful as he is. You know, he doesn’t, doesn’t wear it on his sleeve in any way, shape, or form. It’s a little harder now, because there’s throngs of crowds, following him, you know, five years ago, when, when we had that, that dinner. It was just he and I, and, you know, we got to know each other personally. And he said, Listen, want to step out on a cloud and do this with me, you know, don’t don’t take one of those big jobs. You’ve had that already. You know, I want to he was pretty specific. He said he wants to, he wanted to build a $500 million independent, integrated international communications company. And he wanted to know if I could help him. And I said, I said, Yeah, I could, and he’s, like, great. Come to work for me. And he said, at the time, I’m going to give you a title that’s amorphous enough to have you play wherever I need you to play. So I was

John Corcoran  5:48  

gonna ask about that. Yeah.

James Orsini  5:50  

What is your title? Chief integration officer? What is that? Hey, you know, it’s good to be so you know, one day it was putting together issues for interns. And next day, it was negotiating real estate transactions for Hudson Yards. And, you know, the next day, it was in with a fortune 50 client, procurement department. So it is whatever he needed me to do, and be at that time.

John Corcoran  6:20  

Got it, and you didn’t stay there for long eventually, you become coo.

James Orsini  6:24  

I did only because AJ, his brother had that title. So first of all, I mean, Gary is an operating CEO. So which is very unusual, and and not like other CEOs that I had worked with, you know, he enjoys the operations, he gets into, you know, you hear him talk about clouds and dirt, he enjoys being both in the clouds and in the dirt. Yeah. So AJ was the chief operating officer. And about 15 months into it, AJ came and very publicly announced that he had Crohn’s disease, and that he was going to be stepping down. And you know, it’s stress induced, and this was a big company, and he didn’t really want to manage a big company anymore. And that he was going to take some time off and then figure it out. And that led to vein or sports, which AJ and Gary are involved in separately. So yeah, so I became the the Chief Operating Officer for what was at the start of 42 million, probably 400 person company that ended last year at, you know, run 150 million and will more than 800 people and wrap approaching 900 this year.

John Corcoran  7:37  

Wow. What is that growth? Like? What, you know, how do you how do you even? How do you even manage all of that?

James Orsini  7:43  

Yeah, so I tell you, you have to be careful, because there’s a difference between the swelling and growing, both get your big ones healthy and one’s not. So, you know, we worked really hard to have healthy growth over that period. And, you know, in the early the early days of vendor media, it was a narrow growth, you know, much more of the same, just more clients over the last three years or so, it’s been wide growth. So social media, advertising in the creative sense and strategy sense then gives birth to a media planning and buying division, which then gives birth to a full service production company, which then, you know, leads to the acquisition of a digital publishing division, which leads to the birth of a SAS product called tracer under the umbrella. And now the most recent offering is the Sasha group, which I want to

John Corcoran  8:54  

I want to ask about that. But we’ll put put a pause on that for now. I did want to ask, ask about you said, Gary is an operating CEO? What’s really interesting to me, you know, considering how prolific he is on social media, how does he manage to do both to be as prolific as he is on social media as president out there, and also be in the weeds up into helping to run the business? And I’ll have a follow up after that?

James Orsini  9:24  

Yes. So I think people find it hard to believe that he really does, you know, run the business that that he does, you know, he’s got a great finger on the on the pulse of the business. But he hires people to scale him in all different aspects of it, right. So he has people who scale him on the human resource side, he has people at scale on the strategy side, on the production side, on the creative side, on the finance side, on the media side, you know, these are all leaders that are now around around the table. You know, early on, there wasn’t many ways, let’s sort of, you know, sort of me, him and his brother, kinda, you know, and, you know, General Counsel was there. And as an finance, finance director was there, you know, since most of those are new positions, many are mature positions. So as the company grows, so to the positions grow, but, you know, he’s a pretty unique, there’s not many I’ve met who, who can do both, you know, but people ask me, does he sleep? And the answer is, yes, he sleeps, he just does more when he’s awake than any human I’ve ever met. Right? Right. Yeah, truly.

John Corcoran  10:46  

And, you know, so Sasha group, how does that come about? There’s so many different divisions, so many different types of companies. How does Sasha group come about?

James Orsini  10:56  

Yes, so, um, you know, Gary, we always, we have a fail fast fix fast learn fast environment where we’re constantly testing and optimizing. So, you know, Gary, observes where attention is, and, you know, what has a great finger on the pulse for what the industry needs and what society needs. So we were testing a few things in our hallways, we had an educational offering, called the four days, which Gary started two years ago, you know, think of it like a Zappos or a day in the life where, you know, you come in and really get a full understanding for how we see the social platforms. And then about a year ago, he said to me, Listen, I want to have a consulting product. You know, and I have a track record of explosive successful business growth. You have, you know, years of operational experience, and we have many resources in our hallways, let’s, let’s, you know, birth a consulting product. So we did that under the banner mentors, umbrella, we did we surface nine clients last year will probably do 12 this year. And then we had, you know, some small operation called vein or beta in New York, which which was doing some small business work. We had an operation in Chattanooga, what about two dozen folks on the ground? So Gary said, Look, I’m we build a company service, fortune 500, I have 6 million plus followers. I’m on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine. And I don’t have a product for these people who want to be the next Wine Library, right? How do I how do I go from 4 million to 16 million. So he said, I think we need to bring together an offering for them. I want to name it after my father in honor of what he did as a, you know, Russian immigrant who came to this country and you know, one of the boning of business and then growing that business with Gary’s help as well. So we birth formerly the Sasha group on January of this year, and we pulled together just about 50 employees from the 850, at that time, vein or employees, those that were interested in servicing small businesses who either had some entrepreneurial DNA, but it was infused with fortune 500 experience, because that’s what banner X was really all about. So we’re very uniquely positioned in the marketplace. And we, we we think we hit a hit a nerve of interest, you know, we got a great new business pipe. And we have folks like yourself who are interested in allow us to tell the story.

John Corcoran  14:06  

Yeah. And so were you looking to, you know, take a step back or a little a little pause? Is that why you decided to go for this? Or is it just because Gary asked you to?

James Orsini  14:18  

Well, look, every good CEO, eventually puts himself out of business. Right? So that’s, that’s what a good CEO does. I mean, I was, I was not replaced as Chief Operating Officer at Saatchi and Saatchi. I was not replaced as Chief Operating Officer at Interbrand. So, you know, we put 12 leaders around the table. So I don’t want to say that I was added a job because I did so much. You know, but Gary has a unique way of finding incremental value in the assets that he has. And, you know, when you’re in a service sector company, your assets go down the elevator at night. So, you know, there isn’t any manufacturing machinery or anything like that. It’s the people that that you employ. So, you know, and Gary has a culture of loyal people. So when he said you, are you ready to try something new? You know, not every 56 year old in the advertising industry gets that question. I was like, a new opportunity for you exciting new opportunity. I was really, I don’t know of any publicly traded CEO in his hallway other than me. So I did have the experience of running a company prior. So right.

John Corcoran  15:35  

Now I have all the different things you mentioned, there’s a number of different products you mentioned, which seemed a lot more scalable than consulting. The classic problem with consulting is that it’s difficult to scale, because you’re selling time. So how do you deal with that conundrum?

James Orsini  15:51  

We privatized it. Okay, we product, I don’t, we don’t sell scope of works. We sell, we sell products, okay? You want? You know, you you want a media recon, it’s $20,000, you know, you want to see it in the 40s educational, it’s, you know, $12,000, you want a three and a half hour whiteboard session. It’s $20,000. We don’t sell hours times rate on an industry, this particular consultancy, because it’s a combination education, consulting, and advertising under the same umbrella.

John Corcoran  16:26  

And I imagine you are Is it like an incubator to? Or are you investing these companies? Are you taking a piece of these companies,

James Orsini  16:33  

at this point, we don’t invest in them, the mentors product is is meant really for mature businesses, you know, probably between three and 50 million, that have reached a plateau and are simply stuck and can’t break through. So in that particular offering, we do take a piece of the upside over the next three years, if we help them break through the, you know, their explosive growth, and it’s and it’s really about explosive growth. This is not about growing 10% or 15% is about growing sales, you know, 300% Gary’s model, right?

John Corcoran  17:11  

So you’re bringing in your area, your expertise, your team, and they’re taking a team that is has been stagnant in their growth and just throwing in rocket fuel, mixing things up a little bit.

James Orsini  17:23  

Exactly. We, you know, it’s it’s an hour and a half. It’s a four hour onboarding session, Gary’s intro one hour. It’s a site visit where we do stakeholder interviews, the combination of those two meetings then give us four to six growth pillars that we believe will unlock the explosive growth of the business, we deploy them, you know, usually on, you know, Skype or conference call one per week over the next six weeks, it culminates after that with a two hour wrap up session, Gary’s in for a half hour. And the reason why I say Gary, you know, that’s a small business that now got an hour and a half of Gary’s time, right, you know, it’s 150,000 an hour to speak. So you could imagine what that would that’s worth to a small business, where, you know, he has such on point experience for them. Right. And then the people we bring, you know, from the Sasha group, our experienced folks in, you know, in culture and brand building, I’m the operational thread pretty much through everyone along with Gary. So, you know, they pass for access to our Rolodex. So just like the early days of AJ, the, you know, somebody who does this have to handle this, right. So we give him the same type of advice and counsel. And, you know, in fact, our website actually features many testimonies, because unlike banner media, his website where you would have heard of the Fortune 500 clients, here, all their companies, be sure the printers behind the brands that we’re helping So, you know, let them speak to what it is that we’re doing for them.

John Corcoran  19:07  

Yeah. How do you determine how do you? How are you evaluating these companies, because I’m sure you’ve got a waiting list of these companies that want to work with you. And and I’m looking, I’m looking your website, son butters, one of them bag bombs, so some physical products, businesses, another one called fit body? I’m not sure if that’s a physical product, or if it’s a training services business. How so how how, you know, what’s your criteria? Well, you know,

James Orsini  19:35  

we always say that great marketing can’t sell a bad product, right? So we look first for good product, and we look for products that are going to be around right, so So Gary always uses the example of the $15 jello shot will not be consumed when the economy tanks. So do look for businesses in the case of bag bomb, that’s 120 year old brand in Vermont, and you know what I mean, that’s been around, and that really needed a new way to tell an old story. And to bring it to the new platforms. Right. So Gary always talks about marketing the year that you live, right, so so that one wasn’t about TV or radio, you know, there were they’re doing Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. And, you know, and we’re moving the needle for them with their with their sales. The sun butter is a great healthy alternative product to peanut butter using sunflower seed oil. So, you know, that actually became a Facebook case study. Based on the way we handle the way we handle that business. And, and they’re they’re broad and eclectic businesses, you know, the $10 million furniture real retailer and Panama City, Florida. $25,000. Corporate snacks company in Parsippany, New Jersey, I mean, really broad and wild. So we’re, we’re having a great time working with some of these clients. And you’re right. I mean, you know, for us, the pipe is fortunately full at this time. So we can be a little more selective and who we take on.

John Corcoran  21:23  

For you personally, it’s got to be quite a shift going from fortune 50 to these very much, much smaller companies in the challenges.

James Orsini  21:33  

Well, you know, what was interesting when Gary hired me, he said, You’ve made 25 years of mistakes I don’t want to make so help me avoid the potholes and move faster. That’s what he said, a dinner. I’m helping to use that experience from public relations, branding, advertising. Remember, I worked for KPMG. I worked for Goldman Sachs. I’ve seen service sector companies. I’ve seen consultancies, I seen agencies. And we’re sprinkling Gary’s secret sauce on all of those and, and really

saying, Hey, this is the right approach.

If we were going to build this from scratch, let’s do it this way. So you know, at this moment, we don’t do our fees we don’t do as creative spec work like you would do in a typical agency. You know, we we have a little Moxie.

John Corcoran  22:26  

Yeah. You know, for someone who works for a company that’s known for social media, talents and an expertise. You don’t you personally don’t have a huge social media footprint. Do you feel like that? You know, is there any pressure to to be active on social media? or none whatsoever?

James Orsini  22:45  

net? Well, I am active. You know, I’m on. You’ve got to me on LinkedIn.

John Corcoran  22:50  

Right. So that’s true. You did respond. That’s true. It’s Case in point. So I do. I do apply all didn’t go into the black hole, that’s for sure.

James Orsini  22:58  

Yeah, absolutely. Not. I mean, and that’s been part of Gary’s successes, he doesn’t ask the client to do what he wouldn’t do himself. Right. So this is by for us. Sometimes, it’s like, what they say, shooting ducks in a bathtub, because we know it works. He’s already used it on himself and his businesses. So prior to meeting, Gary, you know, was I on Twitter, Snapchat?

You know, the answer is no. But, you know,

John Corcoran  23:30  

you must have grown an appreciation for these platforms from Sure.

James Orsini  23:33  

Sure. You know, and When, when, when combined, you know, every few thousand followers, so I’m happy with that. But more importantly, I’m engaged with those. You know, I’m commenting, I’m sharing, you know, Gary doesn’t expect everybody to be Gary. Right. And, and that’s what’s so great. He’s not looking for 900 many nice, right? He’s, he’s mentioned in a meeting that we were in yesterday, Daddy’s a multiple dictator. Right. I, you know, he, he likes the occasional push back. He doesn’t surround himself with a bunch of Yes, men. You know, so that’s rare and the leader? Absolutely, absolutely. You know, and I’ve worked with some great leaders. So, you know, a great companies. You know, so learning how to how to work with Gary and how to bring him, you know, the advice and counsel, you know, haven’t been a CEO before, I think helps. Because I do understand, you know, oftentimes how how lonely that position is, and how difficult some of the decisions are, because what gets to your desk is the stuff that nobody else could figure out. Right,

John Corcoran  24:47  

right. You mentioned LinkedIn, which is how we connected and Gary’s been very gung ho on LinkedIn. I don’t know for how long but certainly recently, you want to talk a little bit about that.

James Orsini  24:59  

Yeah. So Gary, is a big supporter of underpriced attention. And at this moment, he feels that LinkedIn is where Facebook was maybe five years ago. He leans into it heavily if you’re a b2b business, he thinks it’s really important.

You know, he loves the ability to share

long form content on it. You know, and

you know, he sees it really moving, moving the needle. So I think that’s what’s interesting about Gary, is he he’s, he’s not precious about anything. He’s precious about attention. And where is the attention? And where is the most importantly, where’s the attention underpriced so he could take advantage of it right, which is why you’ll hear him talk about the Super Bowl being underpriced attention, everybody talks about how expensive the Super Bowl commercials are. But he’s like, not enough. You look at the attention, the week leading up to the Super Bowl, the day of the Super Bowl, and the week after the Super Bowl. It’s actually underpriced based on what you get. And you know, we’re going to do a commercial during the Oscars, you may have probably overpaid for that. So that’s what he’s feeling about LinkedIn at this moment.

John Corcoran  26:16  

Yeah, yeah. What else? Are you excited about? What in terms of social media? What as a company? What is the company getting behind?

James Orsini  26:24  

We’re excited about his newly launched little v cartoon series. Saturday. And, you know, again, we we talked before, we’re on air about, you know, how genuine he is. And he’s the same guy and all that he does. And, you know, if you watch the cartoon, the 14 minutes of it, I encourage you to do so. Because he is teaching the secret sauce of successful social media marketing on Instagram through that cartoon. Fact, again, in the meeting that I was in with him yesterday for one of our mentors, clients, I actually, you know, quoted something added a cartoon to share as an example, with, you know, with this client that was from Arizona, I’m so sorry. Love that. Yeah, he did. You know, he, he knows, he knows who’s watching his stuff and leaning in on this stuff. And, you know, it’s it’s not blind following per se, but it is finding the value, you know, in in what it is that he’s that he’s doing? Yeah, the proof is in the pudding. Right? And, and now he’s leaning in heavily on branding, which I’m a big supporter of, I got a much better appreciation for the power brand when I was at Interbrand. Okay. And the past few years now, he’s found his way there.

John Corcoran  27:53  

So what does that mean? What do you mean by your, you’re leaning into branding?

James Orsini  27:58  

So, so wreck igniting that the power of the brand and the personal brand, okay, allows you to play in areas that you may not have had creds in before, right? Yeah. So Gary, Gary wasn’t an advertising guy was a retailer. Okay. But his personal brand is so strong. Now it allows them to sell wine on label. Or they can even taste it who buys wine without tasting it, right? But it’s so powerful. You’re going to like this wine, you should buy it. And by the way, the only way you can buy it is You got it, you got to buy three cases of it and taste it. Say white and the red blend. Okay. And And not only do you have to buy three cases on taste, but you got to buy it six months in advance. And trust me that it’s coming.

John Corcoran  28:52  

That’s right. It’s rare in the wine business to to have that money up front.

James Orsini  28:56  

Absolutely. Yeah, maybe maybe I’ll design and sell sneakers to an athlete. I’m a five foot eight on a great day kind of guy. Yeah.

John Corcoran  29:05  

But what are your thoughts on this? Because I this is an interesting distinction. I talked to people about this all the time, people look at someone like a Gary van der Chuck or Tim Ferriss, and they look at them, and they see them talking about a variety of topics. And when they’re trying to establish their thought leadership. I think oftentimes people make a mistake by mimicking someone who’s at that level of achievement of a Gary van or check or Tim Ferriss. And rather than niche down and you know, Gary didn’t start talking about everything. He started talking about wine before he expanded into other areas. What are your thoughts on that?

James Orsini  29:39  

My thoughts are what Gary is preaching to many of our clients right now. Meaning you got to own a lane first. Yeah, really pick a lane and own the lane. You cannot be everything to everybody. Right. So we’ve been trying to help some of our clients really narrow arrow in because they want to be broad to Right. Right. So he was, you know, he mastered social media advertising before he became a holding company, you know, and he

John Corcoran  30:13  

started the sports division 15 years ago.

James Orsini  30:16  

Yeah. I mean, seriously, you got it. Yeah. So it went from social media advertising to a digital agency, which social at its core to the vein or x Holding Company, which now owns the multiple pieces. So, you know, Gary is real big on owning a narrow lane first to establish credibility and then broadening on the success of the narrowing,

John Corcoran  30:41  

right? When does he sell it all and by the Jets?

James Orsini  30:45  

Uh, you know, the fact of the matter is, he’s having so much fun in the pursuit, he wants said to me, James today that I bought a Jets is going to be the saddest day of my life, because I will have achieved my goal. So I can see ya. So you know, Does he ever buy the Jets? I don’t know,

John Corcoran  31:04  

you know, or maybe just the, the dream that you chase.

James Orsini  31:07  

Yeah. And and, you know, this is not about, if you know, this story, it’s not about selling the vein or x company, in order to buy the Jets. It’s, it’s about building a company that allows him to buy orphaned or abandoned brands and run them through the machine of the company that he’s built to increase the value of the brands to then sell the brands to accumulate enough wealth to buy the Jets. So that’s the game plan.

John Corcoran  31:35  

Got it? Got it. I want to touch on one thing that we haven’t talked about, and then I know we’re running low on time, you have to go but one of the most difficult things about social media or or, you know, getting your message out there is the fact that it requires deeply ingrained habits and I’m sure at whether it’s a trainer media, whether it’s with saucer group, one of the challenges is is communicating the importance of being disciplined doing these things on a consistent basis, developing good habits, to what extent is that then a challenge for you at van or media or Sasha, with the companies that you work with?

James Orsini  32:17  

Well, that’s pretty much a challenge of each of the clients that we that we deal with, right? Who who may or may not have any type of social presence or an anemic social presence or a misunderstanding that the same piece of content can be you know, consumed across LinkedIn and Facebook and Instagram right that’s This is why we’re in business this is why we are successful as we are you know Gary’s all about just you got to start somewhere just start just push a button just share something he he’s he says that the internet is limitless. So back in the day, you know, when I was at Saatchi, you got 15 seconds to for that commercial you better you’ve been better get everything perfect and right. You know what I mean? There’s only 60 pages in that magazine. It better look like art. Okay, but the internet is limitless. Push out as much content as you possibly can double down on the stuff that’s working and toggle back from the stuff that’s not

John Corcoran  33:16  

Yeah, good advice. We’re running on time. I want to wrap things up with the question I always ask which is, let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars of the Emmy Emmys and you James are receiving an award for lifetime achievement for everything. You’ve done that up until this point, we always think our family of course, but beyond that, you know, who are the mentors who are their friends, we’ve Gary, obviously, he’s come up multiple times, AJ, who are the mentors, the friends, the peers, the business partners that you would acknowledge,

James Orsini  33:43  

alright, so beyond my family and God that I would start with good and maybe not matter water. So I’m in touch with every blessed that I’ve ever had, which I think is pretty interesting. So you know, there were there were guys at KPMG like Marty Frank and who who worked grateful to me. They were guys like Ron Hafner at Goldman Sachs who were tremendous to me and taught me things. There there were people like Mark Weiss from from Roland public relations when I was there. Check Brian Murphy from Interbrand when I was there you know, Kevin Roberts married bag lipo from from my Sachi days. guy by the name is Stuart Levine, who is a board member at the seat on mobile, former CEO of Dale Carnegie, in and Gary now so, you know, David Martin, another guy from Interbrand, who I learned a lot from he’ll tell you, he learned more from me, but I did learn from him as well. So, yeah, I’ve had I’ve had a great career and it’s not over yet.

John Corcoran  34:54  

It’s great. The Sasha group.com the Sasha group com is the website vape intermediate google it Gary vanish at Google it you can find all kinds of resources out there anywhere else do you want to point people to can learn more about you James and the work that you do now?

James Orsini  35:09  

Yeah, so the Sasha group is all the social handles as well. And I am James Orsini on LinkedIn and Instagram and add chiming the pencil on Twitter

John Corcoran  35:20  

had to eat the pencil on 200. I love it.

James Orsini  35:24  

The other day.

Unknown Speaker  35:25  

Good next interview. Great. Alright, thanks so much, James. Alright guys, thank you.

Dush Ramachandran  35:30  

Thank you for listening to the smart business revolution podcast with john Corcoran. Find out more at smart business revolution. com. And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the Revolution Revolution Revolution Revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the smart business revolution podcast.