I didn’t know it at the time, but I first encountered Derek ten years ago.
It was during a summer internship. Someone showed a TED talk on the importance of the first follower. Although the idea made an impression on me, I didn’t know who gave the talk. Frankly, I didn’t care.
Fast forward to present day. A friend shared a surprising article about cutting all of the unsurprising bits from a talk. The author of that article was Derek Sivers.
As I browsed through his site, I found myself nodding vigorously along with his general philosophies on life. It helped that each article loaded so quickly, which I learned was an intentional design choice.
Anything You Want is a collection of 40 lessons that Derek learned while running his hobby-turned-business, CD Baby, for ten years. In this review, I weave chapters and concepts into a loose narrative.
You make your perfect world
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.Howard Thurman
Sivers begins and ends with the same message: figure out what you want and go for it. Not what someone else has convinced you that you should want. What you want.
To do that, pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you.
Your business should be an extension of what you want. Don’t let other people tell you what your business has to be.
A business doesn’t have to…
Investopedia defines a business as “organized efforts and activities of individuals to produce and sell goods and services for profit”. That’s it. Everything else is a detail.
A business doesn’t have to employ convoluted hiring strategies. Derek would simply ask his employees if they had any friends who needed work. It’s okay to be casual.
A business doesn’t have to have a fancy business plan. CD Baby charged $35 for setup and $4 per CD sold. A one-line, eleven word business plan carried it through six years and $10 million in revenue.
A business doesn’t have to do anything you don’t want it to. It’s your personal utopia where you get to make all of the rules. You might as well set rules that make you happy and help your customers the most.
Start by helping people
You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.Zig Ziglar
A business doesn’t have to do anything other than help people. Thus, helping people is a logical place to start.
The beauty of helping people is that you don’t need much to do it. You don’t need venture capital term sheets, a brilliant idea, 100K followers on Instagram, or so on.
Many great businesses were started by helping people. Virgin Airlines started when Richard Branson helped some stranded travelers reach their destination. Amazon began by helping someone get a copy of Douglas Hofstadter’s Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies.
Derek started CD Baby by helping one person – himself. He was a musician that wanted to sell CDs, but couldn’t get a distribution deal. So he became his own distributor.
Then, a friend asked if Derek could help him with the same problem. The first follower. A few more friends joined. Not long after, two popular online music leaders spread the word to their fans. A movement was born.
Start by helping one person. If you want to build the world’s premier school for basket weaving, start with one student. If you want to write for thousands, start by writing for an audience of one. If it’s a hit, you’ll find yourself helping many more people in short order. And then you can exclude people who aren’t a good fit, which you should proudly do.
But start with one.
Remember, your business is your personal utopia. You don’t have to grow if you don’t want to. But if you do grow, you won’t be able to do everything yourself. You’ll need to hire employees.
Naturally, you’ll delegate work to them. Don’t stop there though. Delegate your thought processes to them. Delegate hiring to them. Delegate so much that you’re unnecessary to the day-to-day operations of the business. Now you’re free to do whatever you want. You’re a true business owner, rather than merely self-employed.
Trust your employees, but verify. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. Unless their compensation is heavily incentives-based, the average employee wants to do the least amount of work necessary to stay employed. And if their compensation is heavily incentives-based, those incentives may not be aligned with the business. Check on the mice occasionally.
Or maybe you won’t need any employees. Perhaps you’ll be able to scale up your business with the help of software alone. Wouldn’t that be great? Software costs a fraction of a fully-loaded employee, doesn’t call in sick, and certainly doesn’t set up a profit-sharing program that leaves you with none of the profits.
There may come a time when the business no longer fits what you want. Perhaps the business changed, or perhaps you did. Either way, if you delegated successfully, you can sell.
Sell when you’re no longer excited about the company. Sell when someone else could help your clients better than you can. Most importantly, sell when the company is holding back your personal growth.
You’ll know if it’s time.
There you go, Anything You Want by Derek Sivers.
I had to exclude a lot of gems. If I didn’t, I might as well have copied the entire book.
You can (and should) read the rest here.