Startup explorations #4 / Brief thoughts on "Anything You Want" by Derek Sivers

January 9, 2021

I became increasingly interested in the notion of "doing my own thing" a few months ago as I was trying to figure out how to proceed with my career in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the first figures I found who provided a lot of inspiration was Derek Sivers. Sivers started out as a musician (like me) before "accidentally" founding CD Baby in the late '90s—at first, only as a way to publish his CDs on the internet, which then grew to become one of the largest and most well-known online distributors of independent music. This story, as well as that of eventually moving on from his own company, is the impetus behind Sivers's short book Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneurship.

Sivers takes a very lean, individual, and unapologetically casual approach to things, which I admire. The book is meant to be a distillation, short enough to read in one sitting, of ten years worth of business experience. If I were to distill it even further into one unifying message, from my point of view, it's that a company can be an extension of one's personality, a vision of one's perfect world, "whatever you want." A creator through and through, Sivers considers business no less a creative act than music or fine art. His approach emphasizes a more human side to an industry that can otherwise be impersonal, transactional, and overly formal.

Therefore, central to all of this is the need to help people above all; everything else, including money, growth, and all the usual trappings of running a company, is secondary. Sivers deemphasizes any grand plans or visions in favor of just "helping people today." He advocates starting as small as possible—as he did with CD Baby—with what can be done now, regardless of funding: what problem can you help solve for a single person at this moment?

As I've said before, I believe any project that hopes to solve the most challenging problems facing artists and creative types cannot afford to neglect the human side of things; not only because we are dealing with a kind of people who are especially attuned to the "things of the soul," but also because our world today is filled with so much noise, digital and otherwise, with no signs of slowing down. In such a state of affairs, it becomes increasingly difficult year after year to find genuine connection and community; I suspect that more and more people are becoming aware of this, and are seeking better options than those currently on offer.

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