Quotes: Anything You Want (Derek Sivers)

A couple of years ago, Derek Sivers, founder of CDBaby, wrote a short book called Anything You Want. I’ve always been impressed by his blog posts and interviews. He is an enlightened character and his communication style is remarkably clear and honest. His book is no different.

This book can be read in 1 or 2 hours. It’s very short, but it’s full of high-quality and hard-won advice from experience.

Favorite Quotes

Here are my favorite passages from the book. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

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.

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

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

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

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

You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people.

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

Make yourself unnecessary to the running of your business.

The real point of doing anything is to be happy, so do only what makes you happy.

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

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.

If you think revolution needs to feel like war, you’ll overlook the importance of simply serving people better.

When you’re on to something great, it won’t feel like revolution. It’ll feel like uncommon sense.

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.

Any time you think you know what your new business will be doing, remember this quote from Steve Blank: No plan survives first contact with customers.

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.

It’s counterintuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.

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.

Start by teaching somebody something this week. Find someone who will pay to learn something, meet him anywhere, and begin. It will be nothing but you, a student, and a notebook, but you’ll be in business, and you can grow it from there.

Starting small puts 100 percent of your energy on actually solving real problems for real people. It gives you a stronger foundation to grow from.

To me, ideas are worth nothing unless they are executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.

Because no one client can demand that you do what he says, you are your own boss (as long as you keep your clients happy in general).

When you build your business on serving thousands of customers, not dozens, you don’t have to worry about any one customer leaving or making special demands. If most of your customers love what you do, but one doesn’t, you can just say goodbye and wish him the best, with no hard feelings.

I got a call from an advertising salesman, saying he’d like to run banner ads at the top and bottom of cdbaby.com. I said, “No way. Out of the question. That would be like putting a coke machine in a monastery. I’m not doing this to make money.” He asked, “But you’re a business. What do you mean you’re not trying to make money?” I said, “I’m just trying to help musicians. CD Baby has to charge money to sustain itself, but the money’s not the point. I don’t do anything for the money.” This goes back to the utopian perfect-world ideal of why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place.

In a perfect world, would your website be covered with advertising?

Do you have a big visionary master plan for how the world will work in twenty years? Do you have massive ambitions to revolutionize your industry?

Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?

It’s kind of like the grand tales, in which the hero needs to be prepared to die to save the day. Your company should be willing to die for your customers. That’s the Tao of business: Care about your customers more than about yourself, and you’ll do well.

When someone’s doing something for the money, people can sense it, like a desperate lover. It’s a turnoff. When someone’s doing something for love, being generous instead of stingy, trusting instead of fearful, it triggers this law: We want to give to those who give. It’s another Tao of business: Set up your business like you don’t need the money, and it’ll likely come your way.

When you make a business, you’re making a little world where you control the laws. It doesn’t matter how things are done everywhere else. In your little world, you can make it like it should be.

That one silly email, sent out with every order, has been so loved that if you search Google for “private CD Baby jet,” you’ll get almost twenty thousand results. Each one is somebody who got the email and loved it enough to post it on his website and tell all his friends.

If you find even the smallest way to make people smile, they’ll remember you more for that smile than for all your other fancy business-model stuff.

Every outgoing email has a “From:” name, right? Why not use that to make people smile, too? With one line of code, I made it so that every outgoing email customized the “From:” field to be “CD Baby loves {firstname}.” So if the customer’s name was Susan, every email she got from us would say it was from “CD Baby loves Susan.” Customers LOVED this!

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.

Ten minutes later, new question. Same process:   Gather everybody around. Answer the question and explain the philosophy. Make sure everyone understands the thought process. Ask one person to write it in the manual. Let everybody know they can decide this without me next time. After two months of this, there were no more questions.

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

But what if you don’t like doing that? What if what you love the most is the solitude of the craft? Or talking to customers? Never forget that you can make your role anything you want it to be. Anything you hate to do, someone else loves. So find that person and let him do it.

For me, I loved sitting alone and programming, writing, planning, and inventing. Thinking of ideas and making them happen. This makes me happy, not business deals or management. So I found someone who liked doing business deals and put him in charge of all that.

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

I learned an important word: abdicate. To abdicate means to surrender or relinquish power or responsibility; this word is usually used when a king abdicates the throne or crown. Lesson learned too late: Delegate, but don’t abdicate.

As with any breakup, graduation, or move, you emotionally disconnect, and it all feels as if it were in the distant past. I felt like I was already on the highway with a little box of stuff, moving cross-country, with my old home long gone, never to be seen again.

I live simply. I don’t own a house, a car, or even a TV. The less I own, the happier I am. The lack of stuff gives me the priceless freedom to live anywhere anytime.

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.

No matter which goal you choose, there will be lots of people telling you you’re wrong. 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 an invisible jury.

You’ll notice that as my company got bigger, my stories about it were less happy. That was my lesson learned. I’m happier with five employees than with eighty-five, and happiest working alone. Whatever you make, it’s your creation, so make it your personal dream come true.

If you like the book, I highly recommend grabbing a copy for yourself. It’s inspirational and won’t take long to read.