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How does someone go from $500 a week to growing a business worth $22 million? Derek Sivers did just that with CD Baby..

In his ebook Anything You Want: 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur Derek openly shares stories and philosophies based on his experience of building a 22 million dollar hobby called CD Baby.

I think Derek Sivers rocks. To explain why, I’ll tell a quick story about how I came to do this post.

A friend of mine mentioned the ebook to me. So I checked out Derek’s site, and although there were lots of links to various Amazon sites to buy it, I couldn’t find anywhere to buy an ePub version. I’ve got nothing against Kindle, I just love using Kobo on my phone and laptop. So I sent Derek an email asking about PDF or ePub versions. Within a few hours I had a nice email back from Derek telling me how I could get one. Cool eh when the author responds like that!

Like many people Derek became an entrepreneur by trying to solve his own problem. In ten years Derek went from starting something as a hobby to accidentally growing it into a big business. Later selling the business for $22 million and giving it away to the charity he founded for music education.

As a musician in 1997 he made a CD of his music that he sold at his gigs. He wanted to sell it online and was told by the big online records stores they couldn’t sell my CD direct without a major distributor. So he said screw it and set up his own online store.

This was 1997, so people like Derek who wanted to sell direct didn’t have Selz to make life simpler. So Derek had to spend $1000 to set up a merchant account with a bank and wait 3 months for paperwork. The bank even sent an inspector to his home! Derek then had to learn coding to build his own buy now button and a friend asked he could sell his CD too. The business grew from there as an online store, and then when iTunes launched as a digital distributor.

Derek’s story struck a chord as it’s exactly why we’ve built Selz. To help the Derek’s around the world sell their work online without having to learn SQL and Html themselves or integrate multiple tools.

His book Anything You Want is a collection of learnings from ten years compacted into a book you can read in an hour.

Here are a couple of the “wow” lessons that stuck with me.

Follow your own path

Do what makes you happy. Start now, start small. Starting something you’re passionate about doesn’t need heaps of money. CD Baby was started with $500.

Focus on your fans not on yourself

Business is not about making money. It’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself. Make everything decision on what to do next, on what’s best for your fans. Focusing 100 percent on solving real problems for real people, and on thrilling your existing customers and they’ll tell everyone for you.

Be persistent

Derek found that success breeds success and opens up all those doors that were previously nailed shut. The secret to success comes from persistently improving not from continually promoting something that’s doesn’t work. Keep presenting new ideas or improvements and if you get a wow I need this and I’d be happy to pay for it, do it, otherwise don’t push water uphill.

Be clear, don’t try to overcomplicate things

The best idea is to use plan simple language to explain yourself. One unclear sentence might cost you $5000? Well that’s what faced Derek regularly when he’d sit down to write his emails to the 2 million CD Baby customers. Thousands of confused email replies would be generated if the email wasn’t clear and this would take his team a week to respond to them. Ouch!

Proudly exclude people

You can’t please everyone all of the time. So don’t be afraid to focus on your niche, tell people who you are and what you’re about, and feel comfortable with telling people what you’re not. Regularly, when CD Baby was popular Derek would turn away record labels with new artists who approached him as he had built the site for the independent musician, not for major label acts.

Plan for today, not for tomorrow

When have you ever made plans that went 100 percent to plan. No me neither. No plans ever go as expected. Don’t worry if you don’t have a cunning master plan for lifelong happiness or world domination. The trick is to focus on what is important to you and on what you can do today. The most brilliant ideas are worth nothing unless they are executed. Often it can be tiny changes that make a difference.

Remember to find tiny ways to make people smile :)

A great example Derek uses is the goofy and funny your order he wrote about your CD being placed on a satin cushion before being shipped. This email was sent out with every order. It was so quirky and loved by people you can Google it for “private CD Baby jet” where people have posted it on the web.

Be yourself

You can be as unconventional, different, even quirky as you want. Just be authentic and do what excites you, if it makes you smile and you’re happy, then its ok.

Anything You Want is a great lunchtime read and it managed to make me smile despite it being a wet, cold and windy lunch break. I highly recommended it, especially if you’re following your passion as a part time project. Anything You Want shows you never know where things might lead you to.

Thanks Derek.

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About the author

Geoff Austin

I talk and write a lot. Some of it about ecommerce, selling online, startups, SEO, digital marketing.

Currently, head of analytics for an automotive business in Sydney, facilitating a culture of data-driven decisions. Delivering data-based insights and intelligence.

Chauffeur to twin daughters and a pizza chef master.

One comment

  1. Christian Peterson

    I love to read about individuals who take an Idea, no matter what it is and put such a mark on it.So much that it overshadows anything that you could buy in general retail. its a priceles item full of the passion and spark th at creates the same in many of those who grab inspiration from it.. thank you for being

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