Derek Sivers is my favorite kind of entrepreneur. And, I think you won’t be able to help but like him too…
Well, it’s not because we seem to agree on most things…(yes, that’s a large part), but it’s because of his confidence and conviction to be exactly the type of entrepreneur he wants to be.
Not, what or who others expect him to be.
This is a complex of my own. I’m technically an “entrepreneur” (I hate that word and I’ve said it 3 times already in this post), but I don’t feel completely aligned with the culture around entrepreneurship and small business.
Money and profits drive the motivations of many of these folks. Or, not so much money, but what they think it will give them; status, power, a feeling of “I’m ok.”
We could talk at length about ROI, about aligning incentives, and the funding your startup hopes to receive…or we could talk about what business and the creative spirit of entrepreneurship really is about, helping other people.
And it’s these things that I like most about Derek, and reading Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur affirmed that.
This isn’t an ordinary business book. Derek doesn’t talk ROI nor does he encourage you to “hustle, hustle, hustle.” In this book, Derek encourages you to abide by a few simple principles, principles that many entrepreneurs over look, and it all begins with making your journey through entrepreneurship…exactly what you want.
Through the beginnings of CD Baby to being dissed by Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs in a keynote, Derek’s stories help demonstrate the lessons he’s trying to share clearly.
A post like this is a digest for me of my notes, takeaways and in some cases necessary summary of what I read. So, I recommend reading the book first, before digging into these posts. You can find Derek’s book on Amazon, here.
This book of Derek’s is a quick read! You can finish it in one Sunday, like I did. 🙂
Brief Background on Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers is an entrepreneur and musician. He founded the online business CD Baby, a platform for independent musicians to sell their music, and sold the company for $22 million dollars. This book, Anything You Want…is all about his journey of starting, growing and ultimately selling CD Baby, and all the lessons he learned as a product of that.
If you want to hear more from Derek, I highly recommend checking out some of his presentations, Ted Talks, and various keynotes here. Also, where I first encountered Derek, a great interview with Tim Ferriss, here.
Who might this book be good for?
- The “non-traditional” entrepreneur – Does something feel “off” to you in traditional business culture? Do useless widgets and startup “buzz” irk you in some sort of insatiable way?
- The aspiring (or early stage) entrepreneur – This very short book has moved to the top of the list of books I would recommend to anyone interested in getting “into” entrepreneurship or who has an idea they’d like to turn into a business. Wonderful, and most importantly, SIMPLE advice towards getting started right away.
- The ambitious, non-entrepreneur – After finishing this book I recommended it to my sweet sweet girlfriend. She wouldn’t consider herself “business oriented” in the slightest. But, she has an appetite for creating useful things and helping people. I feel Derek has the ability to cross between many different demographics of folks (maybe that’s because of his eclectic background? Professional musician? Circus performer?).
What questions may it have you ask, or help to answer?
I think a book is only as good as the questions it inspires you to ask of yourself, or the answers it seemingly helps to provide for questions you already have.
Anyways, some of my favorite questions asked implicitly or explicitly from Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur:
- What’s your personal philosophy? What to you believe, what makes you happy, and what do you value?
- What’s the simplest (and perhaps smallest) way I can get started working on my “big vision” today?
- “How can I best help you [my customer] now?”
- Why am I doing what I’m doing? “Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t [or is] that enough?”
- “How do you grade yourself?” What are your personal measures of success?
- What’s a simple and clear problem you could solve for a group or community you are apart of, or deeply care about and understand?
- What would you do, what systems would you have to improve or discard, if your business doubled tomorrow?
Oof! Plenty of good questions to spark some creative, deep thought.
But, without further ado, here are my takeaways, lessons and great fundamentals to entrepreneurship Derek shares from his business experience. As stated before, I do recommend you read it first!
Anything You Want by Derek Sivers: 5 Key Takeaways & Lessons
1. Deeply Understand, Contemplate & Evaluate Your WHY
Derek opens his book in saying, “Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing.” And, he quickly urges…
“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.”
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from Derek’s book was this: identify what you value and what fulfills you and do that. Ensure your expectations, ambitions and desires are your own through and through. Not someone else’s.
The only thing that I would exchange, is Derek’s use of the word “happy.” I would imagine but cannot be certain, that he would say the happiness he is referring to is relatively synonymous with “fulfillment.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with stress or struggle. Everything has it’s shit. It’s a “choose” your shit sort of thing.
2. Business is about GIVING and Making Something Useful, Not Money
“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. When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world. Never do anything just for the money. Don’t pursue business just for your own gain. Only answer the calls for help.”
Ahh, this was something so refreshing to read, especially when you feel as if all signals and signs are pointing to the contrary…a shot from my Facebook feed…
He is literally holding a stack of money in his hand…and wait…
What in the hell is that equation?!?!?!?
3 – 5 clients, multiplied by $ = $$$$$$
I can’t….I just can’t…
What the hell was I talking about?
Oh, that’s right…thanks Derek. It’s nice to be reminded that our creative ambitions and appetites are best used as a means to serve and solve meaningful problems for others.
As mentioned in the questions I listed above, Derek instructs to “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?”
A worthwhile group of questions to check in on regularly.
3. Keep Things Simple!
A prominent theme, or mantra of Derek’s, “keeping things simple” seemed to cover many different aspects of what Derek was trying to teach about life and business.
- Business Plans & Strategy – “A business plan should never take more than a few hours of work–hopefully no more than a few minutes. The best plans start simple.” Don’t hurt yourself back making a new venture more complicated than it needs to be. What’s the simplest thing you can do now? Get started there, worry about the future in the future.
- Big Aspirational Visions – Too large of a vision or aspiration can be paralyzing. Derek encourages you “start small.” “Starting small puts 100 percent of your energy into actually solving real problems for real people. It gives you a stronger foundation to grow from.” “So please don’t think you need a huge vision. Just stay focused on helping people today.”
4. Your “North Star” in Business is Who You Serve (Customers)
Everything begins and ends with who you are serving. Without any customers, you’d have no business, right?
Derek asserts, “Care about your customers more than about yourself, and you’ll do well.”
There are layers to using your customers as a guiding light for your business which Derek touches on in a few different ways:
- You can’t be a “band-aid” – This is something I really like and have thought about a bit. Businesses should strive to be a permanent solution, not a temporary one. And sometimes, this means that they’d run themselves out of business. But, Derek urges, “Your company should be willing to die for your customers.”
You are in business to help others. Keep what’s in their best interest in mind at all times. So much so, that you look to completely solve the problem they have, not just provide a short-term fix.
While I struggle with the belief that the world doesn’t need another “SEO Company,” this has been my philosophy starting and running Open Book SEO, I educate my clients and customers to a point to where they don’t need me. If they ultimately don’t, I’ve done my job.
- Business “Strategy” Comes from Your Customers – There’s an obsession with scaling, growth, and in the startup culture, getting “funded.” As Derek argued, every decision you make for your business and where it should head, who you are serving should come first. Does it improve their experience? Would expanded be better/worse for your customers? How could you expand and make it better?
If at any point there’s a sacrifice for the folks you are serving on the other end, you have a good idea of what your decision should be.
Re-calibrate with asking yourself, how could I best help my customers now? That should drive your business efforts.
- Idea Testing? – There’s no way to know how good of an idea you have is, until it’s shared with the world. Derek says to “present each new idea or improvement to the world,” and if their response is anything less than, “Hell yes!” go back and improve and start the cycle all over again. But the key thing to note, your “good idea” is nothing without the feedback.
5. Don’t Act Out of Scarcity & Exclude Where Appropriate
Many entrepreneurs and business owners are running their businesses off of scarcity. I’ve been doing this for the last 12+ months or so.
I’ve felt anxiety about making money, deciding exactly what vision I had for what I was doing, and doing things the “right” way.
I’m sure in many interactions people could smell the desperation on me. Being reminded here from Derek about what’s important, I focused on the inverse, abundance.
A great quote from Derek,
“If you set up your business like you don’t need the money, people are happier to pay you…set up your business like you don’t need the money, and it’ll likely come your way.”
A business built out of desperation won’t last. Or, maybe it will, but it will be damn painful running it.
Don’t forget that there’s always enough to go around. And, if you are helpful, focusing on giving vs. taking the money will follow.
And that comes to the second point here, of choice exclusion. Derek reminds us that we can’t serve everybody, but we should stay loyal to the 1% of people who we do serve. We should “imagine that you have designed your business to have no big clients, just lots of little ones.” And that “You don’t need to change what you do to please one client; you need to please only the majority (or yourself).”
Sometimes that’s difficult to forget. In my experience of running a digital marketing agency, I found often times our team would bend to the will of absurd clients. We didn’t know where we stood, and we let a few clients run our business vs. us tell them what we could do for them.
And this is the power and empowerment that comes with being confident about not serving everyone, remember that the are more than enough of the people who align with your values (who are willing to pay you), you just have to draw the right line in the sand, the one that truly does align with your philosophy and let them know.
Conclusion: Want More Derek Sivers?
A great book at a perfect time for me. I’d say Derek’s healthy approach to entrepreneurship is perfect for the ambitious twenty-something who can be victim to an existential crisis or two.
A few of Derek’s guiding principles can take you a long way, and that’s what I feel they did, and will do, for me.
Have you read Derek’s book, Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur?
If so, let me know in the comments and post one of your favorite quotes. If you haven’t, go ahead and pick up the Kindle copy on Amazon, here.