Self Help

Anything You Want 40 Lessons for a New Ki - Derek Sivers

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Matheus Puppe

· 12 min read
  • In 1997, the author was a musician selling his CD at concerts. He wanted to sell it online but major distributors were the only options and they were difficult to work with.

  • He built his own online store to sell his CD. It was difficult and time-consuming but he eventually built a “Buy Now” button on his website.

  • When he told musician friends about it, they asked if he could sell their CDs too. He said yes as a favor. More and more musicians asked him to sell their CDs.

  • Though it was meant to only be a favor, it started becoming a real business. However, the author didn’t want it to grow too much and distract from his music.

  • He came up with a “utopian dream-come-true distribution deal” from a musician’s perspective with 4 main points: 1. Pay every week 2. Share customer info 3. Never kick out for low sales 4. No paid placement

  • He built the business, CD Baby, around these 4 points. The key is that he wasn’t trying to build a big business, just helping musicians.

  • The main takeaway is that when you build a business, you can create your perfect world. Think about how one little thing would work in a perfect world.

The summary outlines the key events in the start of CD Baby, the author’s motivation and mindset, the 4 utopian points that guided it, and the main lesson from the story. Please let me know if you would like me to clarify or expand on any part of the summary.


  • If it doesn’t feel like a “Hell yeah!”, say no. Only pursue things that excite you.

  • If something isn’t working or isn’t a “hit”, pivot and try something new. Don’t waste time on uphill battles.

  • Your business plan should be simple. Don’t overcomplicate things. Start with a few basic numbers and build from there based on customer feedback.

  • Focus on serving your customers. Make decisions based on what helps them the most. Ask them open-ended questions to determine how to best help them.

  • Don’t raise funding just for the sake of it. It can distract you and cause you to waste money. Only raise funding if you have a clear plan for using it to serve customers.

  • You can start a business with no funding. Start small by solving a problem for just 1% of your target customers. Build from there. Don’t wait for funding or a perfect plan. Take action now.

  • Your business plan will constantly change based on customer feedback. Be flexible and willing to adapt.

  • Success comes from persistence in improving and inventing, not just persistence in what isn’t working. Continually test new ideas and make changes based on feedback.

  • Revolution is a term used only after you’ve become successful. When you’re in the process of building something great, it just feels like “uncommon sense”. Don’t worry about making loud provocations. Just focus on serving people better.

Does this summary cover the main points? Let me know if you would like me to clarify or expand on any part of the summary.

  • Start small and solve real problems for real people. This lets you change quickly based on customer feedback and avoids big infrastructure costs. For example, CD Baby started as a basic list of CDs people could buy, and grew from there based on customer feedback.

  • Ideas are worth little without execution. Even a brilliant idea is only worth $20 without execution. But brilliant execution of even a weak idea can be worth $10 million. Focus on executing, not protecting ideas.

  • Avoid unnecessary legal formalities and costs. Things like terms and conditions, privacy policies, and corporate policies often just create fear and cost money, without providing real value. Only adopt them if you really need them.

  • Rely on many small customers, not a few big ones. This lets you stay independent, minimizes risk, helps you understand real customer needs, and avoids having to constantly customize for big clients.

  • Proudly exclude people and say what you’re not. You can’t please everyone, so focus on the customers you do want. Excluding other people will make your target customers love you more.

  • Don’t advertise just to make money. Only do advertising if it really helps your customers or fits with your values. For CD Baby, advertising would have gone against their goal of helping independent musicians.

  • Remember there are many options, not just one “right” way. Try many different approaches, even if they seem strange. You’ll discover new possibilities and clarity. An open mindset leads to more creativity and better solutions.

In summary, start small, focus on execution, avoid unnecessary costs and complexity, rely on many loyal customers instead of a few big ones, proudly focus on a niche, don’t do things just for money, and explore many options with an open mind. Those principles can help build a successful business that stays true to its values.

Here are the main points in summary:

•Come up with many radically different plans and options, not just one. No business goes as planned.

•You don’t need a master plan or vision. Just focus on helping people today.

•Don’t get obsessed with metrics and maximizing profit. Care about creating something useful for others and making enough money to be happy.

•How you grade yourself and determine success is a personal choice. Think about what’s really important to you.

•Care about your customers more than yourself. Be willing to adapt or even shut down if it truly helps your customers.

•Act like you don’t desperately need the money. People will be more willing to pay and support those who seem generous and trusting.

•Don’t punish all your customers with strict policies just because of one bad experience or one troublesome person. Take a step back and keep the big picture in mind.

•Remember that behind each customer interaction, there is a real person, a lot like you, who you want to serve well. Don’t take things too personally.

•Be willing to adapt to changes, even big ones. Don’t stubbornly stick to the way things have always been done.

•Help others in a way that doesn’t require a massive overhaul of human nature or force people to change dramatically. Most people want an easy, gradual path forward.

•When someone complains, don’t just dismiss them. Actually listen for any kernel of useful truth in there that you can learn from. But don’t take complaints too personally either.

•Don’t be overly ambitious or aim to revolutionize an industry, especially when first starting out. Just focus on helping some people today in a meaningful, sustainable way. You can build from there.

Here’s a summary:

• Sara, a business consultant, received a scathing 10-page email from an unhappy client threatening to sue her. Devastated, Sara spent days wondering if she should quit. She ended up refunding the client and providing helpful advice. The client then said she wasn’t actually that upset and was just in a bad mood.

• Valerie was casually using an online dating service but dismissing sincere messages from interested men as “losers.” The example illustrates how people can be dehumanizing or thoughtless when communicating electronically.

• The founder of CD Baby, Derek Sivers, learned to be very clear in his communications to avoid confusion and extra work. Unclear writing on websites often just leads to silence from users rather than feedback.

• Sivers created a playful email to send with every CD order, describing an elaborate fantasy about how the CD was packaged and shipped. Customers loved the email, and it generated new business.

• Little details that thrill customers, even small acts of kindness, can make a big difference. Examples from CD Baby include displaying the hours until the next shipment, answering phones quickly, customizing email signatures, accepting “pizza” as payment for special favors, passing on customer messages to artists, and occasionally granting odd special requests.

• The overall theme is that personal, humane touches in business—especially in electronic communications—can have a disproportionately positive impact. Though technology allows distance and scale, person-to-person kindness should not be forgotten. Small acts of clarity, care, and whimsy help to forge human connections that ultimately benefit both businesses and their customers.

  1. It’s OK to be casual. Don’t worry about impressing others or following standard business practices. Do what feels right for your company and goals.

  2. Be naive and willing to learn. Question the norms and find your own way of doing things. Don’t assume you need to do things a certain way just because that’s how others do them.

  3. Prepare to double. Design your systems and processes so you can handle significant growth. If you can handle twice your current demand, you’ll be in a good position as your business expands.

  4. Focus on being, not having. Do things because you find meaning and fulfillment in them, not just to achieve an end result or goal. Pursue work and activities that enrich you and help you develop skills and purpose.

5.Stay true to your vision. Don’t be swayed by what others think you should do or pressures to grow and change in a certain way. Stick to the path that feels right for you and your business. Do things because they align with your purpose and values.

The key message is to build a business in a way that is authentic to you. Focus on learning, developing your skills, and finding meaning and purpose rather than just rapid growth or profits. Design a company and systems that align with your values and can sustain significant expansion. Don’t worry about meeting other’s expectations or standards of how you should operate. Do what feels right for your unique situation and goals.

  • In 2003, Derek Sivers attended a meeting where Steve Jobs tried to convince independent music distributors to provide their catalogs to iTunes. Derek volunteered to handle the process for $40 per album.

  • Derek invested $200,000 to upgrade his systems and hire more staff to handle the workload.

  • A month later, Steve Jobs announced that iTunes would only accept music from record labels, not independent distributors. Derek had to refund the $200,000 to musicians.

  • The next day, iTunes contacted Derek to start uploading music. Derek learned not to promise anything beyond his control.

  • Derek started CD Baby as an alias of his recording studio’s bank account to save time, not realizing his father’s company actually owned 90% of CD Baby.

  • Eight years later, Derek had to pay $3.3 million to buy back control of his company.

  • In 2001, Derek was working 7am to 10pm, seven days a week, doing everything himself at CD Baby. His eight employees constantly asked him questions, interrupting him every five minutes.

  • Derek’s friend told him he needed to delegate or he would die. Derek analyzed which tasks to delegate and started training employees to handle more responsibility.

  • Within a year, Derek was only working 30 hours a week, with 15 employees running the company. Revenues and profits were up. Derek learned that letting go of control leads to growth.

  • A customer placed two orders and wants them shipped together to save on shipping costs. He wants a refund for the shipping cost savings.

  • Derek was spending all his time answering employee questions and felt it was inefficient. He decided to delegate more and make himself unnecessary to the daily operations.

  • Derek started explaining his thought process and philosophy behind decisions to employees. He had them document the answers in a manual. Eventually, they were able to handle most questions themselves without needing Derek.

  • Derek moved away from the office to emphasize that employees were in charge of day-to-day operations. The company grew substantially while he was away.

  • Derek realized you can make your role in the company whatever you want. He preferred being alone, programming and inventing. He found someone else to handle the business deals.

  • Derek didn’t actually want the company to grow as much as it did. He just wanted to keep customers happy. He realized huge growth means lots of headaches and less happiness.

  • Derek hired someone to handle digital deliveries to music stores, a crucial role. Despite emphasizing the importance, the employee failed to send music to many stores for months. Derek had to fire him and take over the role himself to fix the damage.

  • Derek learned to trust but verify when delegating. You have to do both.

  • Derek was trying to delegate more but took it too far. He told employees to choose whatever they wanted for office layout, health plans and profit sharing. Six months later he learned they had set up a profit sharing plan giving most profits to employees.

  • The author had a profit-sharing program that made him very unpopular when he canceled it. His employees turned against him and he felt unable to repair the relationships.

  • He considered firing everyone and hiring new employees or shutting down the company. Instead, he retreated and focused on programming new software features. He never interacted with his employees again.

  • He learned that delegating authority is good but delegating too much power or “abdicating” is problematic. Leaders should maintain some control and not give employees total control.

  • Although he never thought he would sell the company, in 2007 he realized he lacked enthusiasm for future plans. He started to see the benefits of selling and letting go of responsibility. After introspection and talking to mentors, he decided selling was the right choice. The paperwork took 7 months but he felt at peace with the decision.

  • He didn’t sell the company for money but gave it to charity. He lives simply and believes having less makes him happier. He transferred the company to a charitable trust and the new owners bought it from the trust, generating $22 million for music education.

  • He says business should be a reflection of the creator. People have different goals like making lots of money, staying small, being anonymous or unconventional. The most important thing is following your passion and dreams, not what others say is best.

  • Although his stories were less happy as the company grew bigger, he learned he is happiest with a small team or working alone. He advises others to make their business a personal dream come true.

  • He offers to be contacted by anyone who finds his story inspiring or has questions about their own work.

  • He thanks many people who reviewed drafts of the book and provided feedback to improve it.

Here is a summary of the people you listed:

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About Matheus Puppe