Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

A fantastic and brief read spanning business ethics, life principles and what it takes to create something life-changing and miraculous. Derek Sivers is a great storyteller, even greater proponent of entrepreneurialism. Anything You Want documents the rise of web company CD Baby, which helped thousands of independent musicians distribute their music around the world before eventually being sold for $22 million several years later. A thoroughly recommended read for any artists struggling to make a difference.

My Notes

Derek Sivers is the type of leader I respect and admire. There’s little pomposity or grandeur in his story. And he’s incredibly levelled and generous (you only have to read the writings on his personal site to see this for yourself).

Be a student always. Derek is very adamant he’s no guru.

Go into business for the right reasons. Forget money. Focus on what you can offer others and get in return that transcends the financial. It’s more meaningful and sustainable.

>”Business is not about money. It’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself. Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself.”

Embrace experimentation. Look to change as a friend. Strive to improve. Forget the business plan and iterate the product as you move along.

>”Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what’s not working. Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.”

The best thing you can ever do is to simply start helping people. You don’t need any resources other than time and intention to do so.

>”You don’t need money to start helping people.”

You, as the business leader, are its biggest asset. You are extremely resilient and adaptable. Nothing is beyond your reach. Focus on the smaller things and understand how they work. You can grow something with little to no money using your desire to learn and educate yourself. Derek Sivers learned programming. Before that he was a 27-year-old professional musician who’d never played with computer scripts.

>”Since I couldn’t afford a programmer, I went to the bookstore and got a $25 book on PHP and MySQL programming. Then I sat down and learned it, with no programming experience. Necessity is a great teacher.”

Biggest business lesson? Everything you do is for the customer. This is why CD Baby grew so wildly. Derek thought about the customer before anything else. And then tailored their experience appropriately.

>”Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision-even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone-according to what’s best for your customers.”

Best way to gain momentum is to commit to helping people. Find someone who will pay to learn something, meet them, begin. That’s how everything starts. You don’t need a huge vision.

Starting small is not a setback. It can work out for the best. You don’t need capital, investment or anything else. You and a team alone are enough.

>”Starting small puts 100 percent of your energy on actually solving real problems for real people. It gives you a stronger foundation to grow from.”

Execution is key. If you sit on your ideas and don’t act nothing will ever happen. Your first idea is also the window to further options.

Never forget your motivations. Always refer back to the underlying why. Scaling is unhealthy if it jars against you or your customers happiness.

>”Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?”

Measure yourself on artistic output. On your gifts to the world. Not what money buys or what other people bestow on you. Be careful to grade yourself by principles meaningful to you.

>”We all grade ourselves by different measures…For me, it’s how many useful things I create, whether songs, companies, articles, websites, or anything else. If I create something that’s not useful to others, it doesn’t count.”

In your heart you have to want the best for your customers. That means not being fearful of a better solution coming along for them other than your services. Honesty trumps everything.

>”That’s the Tao of business. Care about your customers more than about yourself, and you’ll do well.”

Desperation and greed kill everything. Have faith in life. Don’t act out of fear. Don’t build your business on the necessity that you absolutely have to make money from your customer and it doesn’t matter how it happens.

>”It’s another Tao of business: Set up your business like you don’t need the money, and it’ll likely come your way.”

Details are key. Everything you do and communicate you should aim to do effectively. Even confirmation emails (CD Baby’s famous one). They’ll help you grow.

>”It’s often the tiny details that really thrill people enough to make them tell all their friends about you. Little things make all the difference.”

Don’t worry about your freakishness, or your social awkwardness or your unconventionality. These can all be leveraged as assets. Derek trained his own job replacement at Warner/ChappellMusic because he assumed that was the normal thing to do.

>”There’s a benefit to being naive about the norms of the world – deciding from scratch what seems like the right thing to do, instead of just doing what others do.”

Always think about what happens next. Preparation is crucial. What happens if you unexpectedly grow overnight? Do you have the infrastructure to facilitate this and keep people happy?

>”No matter what business you’re in, it’s good to prepare for what would happen if business doubled.”

Love the process. Even at the expense of added revenue or frustrating your employees. As CD Baby grew Derek insisted on doing all programming himself. Never forget the joy of learning and doing. That’s what makes you happy and that’s the end goal.

>”In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have.”

Learn to delegate appropriately. Remember to check that employees understand the process. Trust them once you’re sure they understand.

>”Trust, but verify. Remember it when delegating. You have to do both.”

Make peace with enough. How is having anything more really going to effect your life and your happiness? How much of a difference will an extra million make? Derek put the revenue gained from CD Baby into a trust and lives off the minimum possible amount.

Be real.

>”Just pay attention to what excited you and what drains you. Pay close attention to when you’re being the real you and when you’re trying to impress an invisible jury.”