Anything you want is a personal account of lessons Derek Sivers learnt from running CD Baby, which he started as a hobby in 1998, but sold as a big business with 85 employees for $22 million in 2008. This is not a biography, Derek does not try to sell a successful way to do business in the book. He simply writes about some of his experiences. In his own words, “I’m not really suggesting that anyone should be like me. I’m pretty unusual, so what works for me might not work for others.” This is a very short (can be read in an hour), interesting and at the same time inspiring book. In my own opinion it’s a mini-business book written with a lot of humility.
The book has for 40 lessons for what Derek describes as, ‘a new kind of entrepreneur.’ Many of these lesson run counter to prevailing business thinking, but work great. While I can’t review all forty lessons, here is an overview of the wisdom contained in those lessons.
- When starting a business don’t focus on money, but on genuinely helping people. Choose a group of people to serve, work hard giving them a greast service and make sure you enjoy doing it.
- Solve your problem first and it might lead you to solving problems for others. In 1998 Derek wanted to sell his music CD as an independent musician. The big online music stores would not sell it, so he went and created his own online store. This was before the days of PayPal. Derek had to learn programming from scratch to build his online store. When others saw what he was doing they asked him to sell their own CDs and that’s how it grew into a business.
- Keep it simple. Derek kept the sale process simple with just two numbers. A $35 setup fee per album and a $4 dollar cut per album sold. According to Derek six years later with $10 million in revenue those two numbers represented how the company made revenue
- If you are working on a project and its not working switch or improve. We have lots of ideas and if the one you are working on isn’t going anywhere then ditch it. While persistence is important, persistence in something that is clearly not working isn’t right.
- Not having external funding is not a bad thing. It can be an advantage. Not only will it make you more cost conscious, it will cause to be more creative in coming up with solutions because you have no money to waste. Don’t wait around for funding, if you have an idea just start with what you have. Derek started CD baby with $500. In the first month he earned back $300 and made $700 in the second month and from then on was profitable.
- Don’t talk about your ideas unless you are willing to execute them. Ideas are worth nothing unless they are executed.
- Your business does need to please everybody. Be clear about the audience you want to serve and exclude everyone else. When CD baby became popular record labels wanted to sell their CDs on their site. Derek refused making it clear that CD baby was for independent artists.
- To start you don’t need a grand business plan or vision. Spend a few minutes writing your plan, start and stay focused on serving people.
- Focus on your customers. Care more about them than the money you stand to earn and your interests. Be mindful of small things that lead to great customer service and treat people like people, not a number or source of income.
- Do what you want to do, not what people say you should do. Derek wanted to be a singer, even though he wasn’t a natural singer, he took voice lessons, practiced and released albums. He learnt to sing. He wanted to produce his own album himself. People said it was ridiculous, so he took a few years to learn about recording, studio engineering and production. Derek produced his own album. Derek wanted to build cdbaby.com, he didn’t know anything about web development. He learnt it and built the site. If you want to do something, go learn and do it, don’t listen to people’s discouragement.
- Don’t be afraid to do unusual things. Derek sent unusual emails to customers, had an unusual hiring process and managed the company in an unusual way. Do what works, not what is common.
- Plan for success. Derek planned ahead for the doubling of the business and was ready when it happened.
- Read your contracts and understand what you sign. Not paying attention to that cost Derek $3.3 million
- Delegate, but do it properly. Be clear about the difference between abdicating and delegating responsibility. Derek didnt delegate properly, he abdicated and it’s something he later regretted in his business.
- When its time to leave the business because you are no more enjoying it, leave. Don’t get sentimental, just leave.
- Create a legacy with your money, use it to do things that will help others. Derek has set up a trust fund to use his money to fund music education.
I have read this book three times. You may wonder why? It’s short, enjoyable, straight to the point and honest. It also proves that there are different ways to do business. It is a good one to read and if you do, it will be 60 minutes well spent.
My start something small lessons
The lessons in this book are short and there are forty of them, but here are six things to be mindful of if you want to start something small.
Don’t let what you don’t having prevent you from starting with what you have: When Derek started CD baby there are many reasons why it shouldn’t have worked.
- He had never built a website before
- He wasn’t a programmer
- He didn’t have a lot of money to start
But Derek didn’t dwell on those things. He didn’t even think about how hard it would be. He simply went and did it.
You don’t need all the usual formality to start: By usual formality I mean large business plans, market research and the lot. If you have an idea start small and see how it goes by testing customer reactions. If it isn’t working shut it down and start something else.
Use your own money: Start with what you can afford and keep working at it. Derek started CD Baby with $500, money he could afford. Don’t invest in unnecessary items. Keep costs low. Do as much as possible yourself.
Focus on your customers: Serve your customers with maniacal focus. Make them the centre of your business. Build a relationship of trust, transparency and honesty with them.
Don’t ignore the details: There are many aspects of business that we can overlook because they are boring, especially the legal stuff. Ignore them at your own peril. Derek learnt the hard way with $3.3 million. Read everything you sign properly.
And finally, when you stop enjoying something, be honest with yourself and quit.