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Anything You Want

Derek Sivers, unwitting creator of CD Baby, shows us how to turn an idea into a successful business.

By Chris Lee Ramsden

Make no bones about it: Derek Sivers is a great storyteller. Anything You Want is full of charming anecdotes, many of them about the business, CD Baby, which he started, almost by accident, in 1997. From an initial outlay of just USD 500, CD Baby grew into a mini-phenomenon and, in 2008, sold for USD 22 million.

But Anything You Want doesn’t just chart CD Baby’s journey from start up to success. It is full of reflections on making money, running a business and creating your own utopia. And Sivers never insists that what worked for him will work for everyone.

All good stories pit a protagonist against an antagonist. And the best of the bunch make a strong, memorable point.

Sivers is often the unwitting protagonist of his own stories, starting CD Baby as a favor to help his friends sell their CDs online before the days of PayPal. He only realized he had a legitimate online store after a guy from the Netherlands emailed him to ask about new releases. How’s that for a business plan?

His antagonists emerge from a field of MBA number crunchers and hungry investors. With no investors to keep happy, Sivers could focus on pleasing his customers. And when asked if he wanted to invest in expansion, he’d say, “No. I want my business to be smaller, not bigger.”

All Sivers’ stories make a strong point. For example, in this short cartoon based on one of the stories in Anything You Want, a Las Vegas taxi driver complains that he ‘misses the mob.’ Why? Business isn’t about being as big as you can; it’s about fulfilling ambitions and having fun:

http://vimeo.com/25492897

Not only is Anything You Want entertaining; it’s also short. At 88 pages of generously spaced type, you can probably read the whole book in less than an hour. And that makes it easy to dip back in and find those nuggets that inspired, surprised or simply made you laugh out loud. Here’s one of my favorites:

“If you think true love looks like Romeo and Juliet, you’ll overlook a great relationship that grows slowly.”

However, what I most valued about Sivers’ book was his warm, people-centric attitude to business. His stories abound with attitudes that run counter to accepted business philosophy. Take his approach to hiring people. When a new position came up, he would ask his staff if they had any friends who needed a job or a new challenge. Disarmingly trusting? Certainly. Naïve? Perhaps. Did it work? You bet. Imagine working for someone who invests so much trust in you without a second thought.

He points out  the difference between venting your frustration on your coffee machine and punching out an angry email on your PC: the coffee machine won’t pass on your indiscriminate rage to a real person with real feelings. And he is adamant that a successful entrepreneur doesn’t have to focus on growth:

“Never forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?”

Sivers’ mantra is this: your business should be driven by your passion and your desire to help people, not the desire to be ‘big.’ That alone is probably enough to make your enterprise stand out from the crowd.



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