Anything You Want

40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
Derek Sivers

This book in three sentences

  1. Do what you love, not what others think you should.
  2. When you build a business, you can create a mini utopia where you control all the laws.
  3. When it's all said and done, what matters most in business is keeping your customers happy.

Book Notes

A memoir about Sivers' experience building CD Baby, an online music store that he later sold for $22m.

Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own.

Don’t be on your deathbed someday full of regret because you pursued little distractions instead of big dreams.

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.

Starting with no money is an advantage. You don’t need money to start helping people.

Make yourself unnecessary to the running of your business.

When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws. This is your utopia.

Six years and $10 million later, those same two numbers were the sole source of income for the company: a $35 setup fee per album and a $4 cut per CD sold.

If you think your life’s purpose needs to hit you like a lightning bolt, you’ll overlook the little day-to-day things that fascinate you.

For the first time in my life, I had made something that people really wanted. Before that, I made progress, but only with massive effort. But now it was like I had written a hit song. Instead of trying to create demand, you’re managing the huge demand.

Note: Sounds like a good description of product-market fit.

Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working.

When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say, “Hell yeah!”

“No business plan survives first contact with customers.” - Steve Blank

None of your customers will ask you to turn your attention to expanding. They want you to keep your attention focused on them.

Watch out when anyone (including you) says he wants to do something big, but can’t until he raises money.

Ideas are just a multiplier of execution ... That’s why I don’t want to hear people’s ideas. I’m not interested until I see their execution.

As your business grows, don’t let the leeches sucker you into all that stuff they pretend you need.

You have to custom-tailor your product to please a very few specific people.

The problem with selling to a few big clients:

  • Those people might change their minds or leave the company.
  • Are you self-employed or is this client your boss?
  • By trying so hard to please the big client, you will lose touch with what the rest of the world wants.

Do you have a big visionary master plan for how the world will work in twenty years? Don’t feel bad if you don’t. I never did.

We all grade ourselves by different measures: ... For me, it’s how many useful things I create.

It’s important to know in advance, to make sure you’re staying focused on what’s honestly important to you, not what others think you should.

If you set up your business like you don’t need the money, people are happier to pay you.

E-mail blasts are the best training for being clear.

But please know that 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.

With one line of code, I made it so that every outgoing e-mail customized the “From:” field to be “CD Baby loves [first name].” So if the customer’s name was Susan, every e-mail she got from us would say it was from “CD Baby loves Susan.” Customers loved this!

Even if you want to be big someday, remember that you never need to act like a big boring company.

In the last few years, I still insisted on doing all the programming myself. My employees said we were losing millions of dollars in business because we didn’t have certain features. But I loved the process. I was happy.

In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have. To have something is the means, not the end. To be something (a good singer, a skilled entrepreneur, or just plain happy) is the real point.

Being self-employed feels like freedom until you realize that if you take time off, your business crumbles.

To be a true business owner, make it so that you could leave for a year, and when you came back, your business would be doing better than when you left.

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

Delegate, but don’t abdicate. There’s such a thing as over-delegation. I had empowered my employees so much that I gave them all the power.

Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller were at a party at a billionaire’s extravagant estate. Kurt said, “Wow! Look at this place! This guy has everything!” Joseph said, “Yes, but I have something he’ll never have. . . . Enough.”

I created a charitable trust called the Independent Musicians Charitable Remainder Unitrust. When I die, all of its assets will go to music education. But while I’m alive, it pays out 5 percent of its value per year to me.

Business is as creative as the fine arts. You can be as unconventional, unique, and quirky as you want. A business is a reflection of the creator.

Pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you. To when you’re being the real you and when you’re trying to impress an invisible jury.

I’m happier with five employees than with eighty-five, and happiest working alone.

© 2023 Mike Fiorillo
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