As a creative on VaynerMedia, Gary Vaynerchuk’s media company, Brandon Hatcher’s job is to help other clients build massive brands. As a networker, experimenter, and branding expert, Hatcher has lessons upon lessons to share with the world.

I sat down with Brandon to learn about his story, his top tips for those making it in the branding and influencer space, and the lessons he’s learned throughout college and in business to make his mark.

  1. Formal education can make you a living, but self-education can make you a fortune: “For the first few years of college, I took it for what it was for me – a vacation. I played a ton of Call of Duty with my friends, and it showed in my grades. The only two A’s I ever made were in swimming and tennis class. The rest were mostly D’s and F’s. Sometime around my fourth year (still considered a sophomore), I realized that nothing I was “learning” in genetics class was actually mapping to what I wanted to do in the real world. I wanted to build something big, impact people in a positive way, and do what I love doing every day of my life as a career. So I began the process of reverse-engineering how I was going to get from where I was to where I wanted to be, and I used the next three years of college as cover to launch several experiments that ultimately led to me discovering exactly how to achieve my goals. Once I proved my hypothesis, I dropped out and took my newfound knowledge to the real world where I now get paid for doing what I truly love, and have had the privilege of impacting a few others along the way. Warren Buffet said he never let his schooling interfere with his education, and neither should you. It’s important to never stop learning, because a lot of people do once they get their degree. I had to memorize a lot of useless information in college in order to do well. In the real world, having practical intelligent and emotional skills, along with being able to provide value and solve problems are what will determine your ability to succeed. For example, I help people build their brands, and that involves content creation. Everything I learned about creating content was self-taught. How? It’s called YouTube. Also, while you may believe the word “fortune” refers to finance (it definitely can), it doesn’t have to be limited to that. Being happy and doing what you love certainly makes you very fortunate.”
  2. Focus on building a constructive network, because that helps you to move mountains: “College can be a great place to build a network, but in order to build a very constructive network that follows the law of 33%, you will most likely have to venture outside of your immediate environment. The law of 33% suggests that you spend 33% of your time with people who aren’t where you are yet so that you can reach back and help them, 33% of your time with people who are around the same point in their journey as you are so you can grow together, and the last 33% of your time with people who have already done what you want to do. I had to venture outside of my immediate environment to find the people who were in the first and especially last category, and I was able to do so during the semester that I was expelled. I would go to entrepreneurial conferences all over the country to meet people and exchange value; adding them to my network along the way. But you can find people like that in your own city by searching relevant tags on Instagram and typing in your location. It’s important to meet as many people as possible in order to find the right ones to build your constructive network.”
  3. There’s power in rapid experimentation: “Conducting several experiments at once is one of my favorite things to do. If you aren’t sure what you want to do for your career, it is a great way to test many different things to help figure out what you like. Even if you are crystal clear on what you want to do, continuing to test and try new things in your field is how you fail fast and gain more context about multiple subjects quicker. For example, in my last few years of college, I launched several experiments. I started a couple of stores on Shopify, I began helping local businesses with their marketing strategies, and I got very serious about building my personal brand on social media. Some of these experiments “worked out,” while others didn’t, but I would rather try seven different things at once and have three work out than only try one new thing and spend all my time and energy trying to make sure that one thing went well. Try launching more experiments this year.”
  4. There is a myriad of benefits to having a personal brand: “I first stumbled into building a personal brand for myself by accident. I enjoyed making dance videos with my friends in college, and that eventually evolved into me being more comfortable on camera to where I would record myself talking every day. I enjoyed discussing relevant topics I was interested in, and sharing things I had learned with my audience. I quickly learned that providing value is what earned attention and built a community online. People like Casey Neistat and Gary Vaynerchuk originally inspired me to document my journey while I was in college, and shortly after dropping out, I ended up moving to New York City where I currently work for Gary at VaynerMedia. I was definitely under-qualified for the job on paper, but having a strong personal brand allowed me to convey my value to the point where they reached out and asked me to come on board. Your personal brand is simply your reputation, and one of the best ways to build a solid one is by creating and distributing content in places where quality attention exists. I still don’t believe that many people have quantified the amazing opportunities that can be created from owning your story and telling your truth in the digital space.”
  5. Self-awareness leads to happiness: “If you suck at climbing trees, become the fastest swimmer. Self-awareness is having a clear perception of who you really are, from your strengths and weaknesses to your thoughts and emotions. I gained a lot of that clarity during my early college years when I realized I wasn’t there to learn what I wanted to do with my life, but rather, I was learning what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to study Biology, be a doctor, or do anything for myself that was based on what other people believed. I wanted to do what I was passionate about and what gave me a feeling of fulfillment. Having the self-awareness to drop out, and realize that college was not for me, is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it was the catalyst to me becoming truly happy with my life. If you can develop self-awareness, you will be better equipped to make important decisions in your life.”
  6. College isn’t for everyone: “If your ambition is to be a doctor or a lawyer, you should definitely be going to college. However, if you’re an entrepreneur and want to study business and marketing, for example, it may not be the best idea to go to college for that, even if it’s Harvard Business school. Why? Because out here, the landscape of marketing is changing daily, and sometimes even by the minute, and there is not a University on the planet that is equipped to adequately teach how to market in the minute we live in. By the time a marketing textbook could even get printed today, the information would be outdated. I learned this firsthand. In my last year of college, I actually switched my major to business, but I soon realized that I could learn more about marketing from growing my Instagram account than my professors could teach me from my five-hundred-dollar textbook. The best way I learned was to be a practitioner every single day, but you have to really evaluate your situation to determine whether or not it makes sense for you to go to college. Often times, the financial downside is not worth the piece of paper that you get.”
  7. You must deduce what is actually important: “When I was twenty-one years old, my father walked into the river that ran through the middle of our small town in Lumberton, North Carolina and put a bullet in his head. This singular event, more than any other, has shaped who I am today. It is the reason why I create the content I create and why I do the things that I do. It has had more of a positive impact on my life than anything else. Like most college students, I used to stress about college nonstop, but after my father committed suicide, I gained a new perspective on life and what’s really important,” Brandon said. “I realized it’s not so much about what degree you have, or how much you  study, or your GPA, it’s about the people closest to you— your friends, family, and loved ones.”

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Ishan Goel is a Gen Z creative brand marketer. He has consulted for 25+ startups and worked with business ranging from non-profits to Fortune 500 companies.