I don’t know why I keep reading books about entrepreneurship. I like the idea of building a business, having passion for something, and most importantly, living life on your own terms. I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. But see if that will stop me from devouring Hacker News, startup podcasts and books like Derek Sivers’ Anything You Want.
Derek was a musician who started selling his own CDs online in the days before Paypal. He agreed to help a friend by selling his friend’s CDs as well, and eventually CD Baby was born. He built it into a successful business and sold it for $22 million. This book is a set of stories of how that happened. An excellent bullet point summary of the book is available. This short book was filled with interesting advice and stories, but here’s my main takeaways.
Focus on helping people
It would seem like the way to build a successful business would be to focus on things like profits, or markets, or costs, but Derek says to ignore all that and focus on helping people. He started by helping out a fellow musician, and he made sure that every decision he made was in the name of helping independent musicians. If big labels asked to be added to CD Baby, he said no. If people recommended placing ads on his site, he said no. If a business offered some kind of big money partnership which required him to change the way he ran his business, he said no. Find someone you can help and provide enough value to that person to make them happy to pay you for the help and you will have a successful business.
Make something perfect, not big
So, I thought that by taking an unrealistically utopian approach, I could keep the business from growing too much. Instead of trying to make it big, I was going to make it small. It was the opposite of ambition, so I had to think in a way that was the opposite of ambitious.
The key point is that I wasn’t trying to make a big business. I was just daydreaming about how one little thing would look in a perfect world.
Derek actively tried to keep his business from growing. At some point, he was making enough money that he felt the growth of the business would only create more headaches for him. Instead of trying to get more business, he would try to make his current business perfect. Focus on ways to make the business run the way you want the world to work. Build your utopia. If you are always focused on growing the business, you eventually have to make compromises between what your current customers want and what “potential” customers want. But, if your current customers are the ones who you’re passionate about serving, then making their experience even better will paradoxically bring growth, while also making your life as a business owner more fulfilling.
This book is not about business
It’s important to know in advance, to make sure you’re staying focused on what’s honestly important to you, instead of doing what others think you should.
It’s really a book about life. Focus on helping people and good things will happen to you. Figure out what makes you tick, what makes you happy, and what drains you. Adjust your life to give you more time to do what makes you happy and stop doing the things that drain you. Derek’s rule about this is “HELL, YEAH!” or “no”. If someone offers you an opportunity and you don’t say “HELL, YEAH!”, then say “no”. Don’t go halfway. Do things that you love. (His actual rule is a little more ‘explicit’, as he describes in this podcast)
A few other quotes that I loved
Getting things done isn’t the only goal
[Other people] assume the only reason we do anything is to get it done, and doing it yourself is not the most efficient way. But that’s forgetting about the joy of learning and doing.
Just pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you. Pay close attention to when you’re being the real you and when you’re trying to impress the invisible jury.
So I considered firing everyone and hiring a whole new crew. … I never saw or spoke to my employees again. Never saw the office again.
Wasn’t expecting to read that. Thought that he would find a way to patch things up, but stuff like this happens in the real world.
How to do customer service
This wasn’t from the book, but was in a great Mixergy interview that I heard after finishing the book. He describes his customer service philosophy as the Mick Jagger philosophy. Pretend that every customer service request you get is from Mick Jagger. (Assuming your company is in the music business). If someone emails you a request about how they can’t access a PDF file on your site, that might seem like an annoying complaint. But if you pretend that it’s coming from Mick Jagger, you’d respond “Wow, thanks for emailing me. Here, let me just get that PDF for you and attach it to this email. Again, please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you!” And if that is heartfelt, customers will love you.
I enjoyed this book. It’s a quick read, it’s cheap (I read the Kindle version on my Android tablet for $7.99) and it’s inspirational. I recommend it.