Takeaways from Derek Sivers’s “Anything You Want”

Derek Sivers, in his book titled “Anything You Want“, shares tales and lessons he’s learned when he started, built, and sold CD Baby, a global music distribution platform, for $22M (which will return to musicians after he dies). He’s an entrepreneur, but a divergent kind of entrepreneur from the ones I’m accustomed to, and I’ve grown fond of his philosophies in both business and in life. Perhaps it’s because of Seth Godin‘s influence, perhaps it’s because he’s a very slow thinker, perhaps it’s because the things he says just sounds about right.

Some favorite lines from the book:

  • 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. They spend decades in pursuit of something that someone convinced them they should want, without realizing that it won’t make them happy. Don’t be on your deathbed someday, having squandered your one chance at life, full of regret because you pursued little distractions instead of big dreams. You need to know your personal philosophy of what makes you happy and what’s worth doing.
  • 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. When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws. This is your utopia. When you make it a dream come true for yourself, it’ll be a dream come true for someone else, too.
  • Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working. We all have lots of ideas, creations, and projects. When you present one to the world and it’s not a hit, don’t keep pushing it as is. Instead, get back to improving and inventing. Present each new idea or improvement to the world. If multiple people are saying, “Wow! Yes! I need this! I’d be happy to pay you to do this!” then you should probably do it. But if the response is anything less, don’t pursue it.
  • If you’re not saying “Hell yeah!” about something, say no. When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” then say no. 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!” We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.
  • Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision – even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone – according to what’s best for your customers. If you’re ever unsure what to prioritize, just ask your customers the open-ended question, “How can I best help you now?” Then focus on  satisfying those requests. None of your customers will ask you to turn your attention to expanding. They want you to keep your attention focused on them. It’s counter-intuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.
  • Watch out when anyone (including you) says he wants to do something big, but can’t until he raises money. It usually means the person is more in love with the idea of being big-big-big than with actually doing something useful. For an idea to get big-big-big, it has to be useful. And being useful doesn’t need funding. If you want to be useful, you can always start now, with only 1 percent of what you have in your grand vision. It’ll be a humble prototype version of your grand vision, but you’ll be in the game. You’ll be ahead of the rest, because you actually started, while others are waiting for the finish line to magically appear at the starting line.
  • Never forget why you’re really doing what you’re doing. Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?
  • We all grade ourselves by different measures:
    • For some people, it’s as simple as how much money they make. When their net worth is going up, they know they’re doing well.
    • For others, it’s how much money they give.
    • For some, it’s how many people’s lives they can influence for the better.
    • For others, it’s how deeply they can influence just a few people’s lives.
    • For me, it’s how many useful things I create, whether songs, companies, articles, websites, or anything else. If I create something that is not useful to others, it doesn’t count. But I’m also not interested in doing something useful unless it needs my creative input.
  • When you want to learn how to do something yourself, most people won’t understand. They’ll 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. Yes, it may take longer. Yes, it may be inefficient. Yes, it may even cost you millions of dollars in lost opportunities because your business is growing slower because you’re insisting on doing something yourself. But the whole point of doing anything is because it makes you happy! That’s it! You might get bigger faster and make millions if you outsource everything to the experts. But what’s the point of getting bigger and making millions? To be happy, right? In the end, it’s about what you want to be, not what you want to have. To have something (a finished recording, a business, or millions of dollars) is the means, not the end. To be something (a good singer, a skilled entrepreneur, or just plain happy) is the real point. When you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t want a taxi to take you to the finish line.
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