What is your stamp of authenticity?

On episode #237 of the YouTube call-in show AskGaryVee, web designer Jayson asks entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk for advice on attracting clients. You can watch the full clip below, but in short Jayson is from New Jersey and has been freelancing for 15 years with aspirations to teach younger generations how to code. Gary Vaynerchuk in response offers some actionable advice and Jayson leaves the call elated and thankful.

Great interaction. Right?

I was captured by Jayson’s story, and did a little investigating. The first sign something was amiss was the Instagram handle: @billionaireby2025. Okay no big deal. Nothing wrong with a little bravado. Then I read the profile description:

Aspiring Serial Entreprenuer, Author, Motivational Speaker, Forbes 400 member, Fortune 500 CEO, INC 500 CEO and future pledger of www.givingpledge.org

(the Instagram account has since been removed, but I couldn’t make this up…)

To add to this ridiculous description, the accompanying website consists of a barely functioning SquareSpace template containing placeholder information. Not quite the body of work one would expect from a freelance web designer of 15 years.

Alright so what? The internet is no stranger to embellishment. While I can’t blame a guy just trying to get by, it did get me thinking about authenticity online. When there is potential fakery behind every byte, how does one communicate and identify true authenticity?

Let’s start by finding it in some familiar faces…

Seth Godin

Entrepreneur magazine introduces Seth Godin as having ‘one of the most-loved marketing blogs on the internet, having penned more than a dozen bestselling books and launching a social site that attracts more than 50 million viewers.’

A casual observer might consider this Seth Godin’s stamp of authenticity. But it’s not.

Seth Godin’s authenticity comes from his commitment to publish a blog post everyday for the last 10+ years. His dedication to the craft of writing in the face of 900+ rejection letters.

Sofia Boutella

Sofia Boutella has recently enjoyed the Hollywood spotlight for her latest role in The Mummy co-starring Tom Cruise. She has previously played killer villain in The Kingsman and was handpicked by Michael Jackson to go on to star as lead dancer for the Hollywood Tonight music video. These are all incredible achievements. But don’t get them confused with Boutella’s stamp of authenticity.

Her authenticity lies in a persistent cultivation of a rare and valuable skill: dancing and acrobatics. Boutella started classical dance education at age 5, and was competing in the national Olympics by 18. It’s this skill that enabled her to go from sports commercials to feature films, and the reason why co-stars like Simon Pegg call her the ‘real deal’.

Salman Kahn

In 2010, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation invested $1.5 million into Kahn Academy, an educational YouTube channel run by Sal Kahn with over 1 billion combined views. A fantastic accolade. Yet, as you might have guessed, this is not Sal Kahn’s stamp of authenticity.

After all, why did Bill and Melinda Gates invest in Kahn Academy in the first place? Bill Gates first experienced Kahn Academy with his own kids, and witnessed first hand how it provided a free, world‑class education for anyone, anywhere. This, coupled with the scope of Kahn’s videos (currently numbering 1600+), convinced the philanthropists Kahn Academy was an authentic and worthwhile venture.

So what can we learn from these personal stories of success? What are the ingredients of authenticity?

Authenticity is investment of time with no expectation of return…

A strong stamp of authenticity has one fixed constant: time. Selfless investment of time into a business idea, skill or subject area reflects personal interest and dedication beyond self-interested opportunism. 1 million views over 100 videos holds more authenticity than 1 million views on a single video.

…using both qualitative and quantitative measures…

If Sal Kahn spent all of his time crafting the perfect video, Bill Gates would have had little confidence in his ability to scale. Conversely, if Sal Kahn pumped out videos without considering educational value, he would not be speaking at TED and having casual chats with Elon Musk today. It’s the combination of quality and scale that communicates authenticity.

…that are a direct result of deliberate work.

Views, subscribers and salaries are just indicators. An Instagram account with millions of followers loses all credibility when each post gets zero comments. A well-paid manager can still lack the respect of those around her. Impressive vanity metrics don’t equate to authenticity.

In contrast, a double backflip is a double backflip, whether it’s performed on stage or in a garage. The first 100 videos of a YouTube channel may not gather much attention, but they serve as kindling to fuel later success. Authenticity stands apart from ego, and speaks for itself.

Everyone is born branded with a stamp of authenticity. Only you control how brightly it shines.