July 7, 2020

Business and entrepreneurship lessons from Anything You Want by Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers is the inspiration for my recently published book Essential Habits. One day, he e-mailed his subscribers telling us all that he had extensive book notes on many of the books that he has read (and can be found on his site) and that he was going to create a book about ‘directives‘ about how to live. Each directive is essentially a summary or takeaway from the many books that he has read that describe how to live. In my book Essential Habits, I did the same thing, getting takeaways, action steps and pragmatic advice from books, successful entrepreneurs, online courses and more and summarized these into specific ‘directives’ for people to follow.

His book Anything you want is written in a similar manner, with lessons learned from starting and selling his business CD Baby.

Here is what I learned from Derek:

Business is not about money. It’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself

Never forget that a business is as Zig Ziglar says: “You can get everything you want in life if you help enough people get what they want in life”. It’s not about making money. At its simple core, it is about solving problems for others.

  • Question: How is your business helping people?

Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself

I love the fact that as Derek was starting and running CD Baby, he was taking the opportunity to do things himself. He was learning programming out of necessity, rather than hiring programmers and outsourcing the work, because in his words, outsourcing the programming for a business run out of a website is like outsourcing music to another band. It’s a philosophy that I will incorporate when I start my own business – I will see it as an opportunity to be paid to learn and improve myself.

  • Question: Is your business or company investing in people to train and help them improve? How can you structure your business so that you can learn as much as you can?

When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world

I have been thinking a lot about how businesses that I have been helping or have been a part of, and how they can be improved. I personally don’t like the layers and layers of administrative staff, HR, lawyers and other things that are part of big corporations, even though they are likely necessary at that level. Derek is right, you can design your world and do the things you want to do if you make a company. You don’t have that level of control when you work for someone else unfortunately.

  • Question: What kind of things are you unhappy with at your company? How would you improve them?

Don’t pursue business just for your own gain. Only answer the calls for help.

Derek started his CD Baby business when he created a solution for himself to sell his music online. Other artists started hearing about his site, and then asking for his help in setting up their music on his site to be sold. He never intended to start a business, but when lots of artists started asking for his help, he realized that he had something. His only aim was to help other people, and not to make money or to become a celebrity or anything.

  • Question: Who are you helping? How are you helping them? How can you help them more?

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

Sometimes when ideas are not working, the solution becomes “let’s figure out how to market it better or advertise it better”. At least that’s my experience from the businesses I have been a part of. It’s never “hey let’s try to figure out how to improve this idea or solution” or “let’s get feedback and iterate”. When Derek started out putting music up so that it could be sold online, he never thought about becoming a store for other independent artists. When people started asking him though, he pivoted and started to meet the demand.

  • Question: If you aren’t getting the success you want, how can you iterate and improve? Is the idea the best it can be?

Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.

How many success stories have you heard where businesses have pivoted? Twitter, Instagram, many of the most successful companies today started out as something different.

  • Question: How are you taking action and getting it out to people for feedback? If you haven’t yet, why not?

Make yourself unnecessary to the running of your business

As CD Baby grew, Derek started to remove himself from his business, in part, to focus on the aspects of running the business that he did enjoy (programming). In the process, he managed to set up processes and systems that made his company easy to sell to someone else. If you are looking to sell your company, how crucial are you to the company? If the business cannot run without you, it will likely be difficult to sell it someone else.

  • Question: What is something you can do to automate or delegate a task that you think absolutely needs you? For example, can you set up a macro? Can you have an auto responder that provides a FAQ?

What do you think about the lessons that Derek provided in his book Anything you want? How will you apply them to your situation / business / company?


By the way, before you leave, are you interested in detailed book notes from the numerous non-fiction books I read every month from authors like Seth Godin, Harvey Mackay, Ernie Zelinski, Zig Ziglar and others? Sign up for my book newsletter every month. No spam. No advertisements. Just detailed book notes that help you get more out of non-fiction books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *