Derek Sivers

Interviews → Ronnie Overgoor at Emerce Eday

Must see. Watch the video. Maybe my funniest interview. We have a great irreverent banter.

Download: video (mp4) or audio (mp3)


Ronnie:

And again welcome back, live here from Emerce eDay in Rotterdam. And again you online viewers you are lucky bastards because again we've got a keynote, that didn't even perform...

Derek:

Again.

Ronnie:

Again, they start screaming in the big audience thing over there, but they have to wait until we're finished. So neglect all the rumour around us and concentrate on this conversation. My next guest is weird... or just different. Ladies and gentlemen: business man, clown, musician and, so I just heard, a homeless guy. Ladies and gentlemen, Derek Sivers. Derek, welcome at my table.

Derek:

Thank you!

Ronnie:

You're homeless, right?

Derek:

I'm homeless.

Ronnie:

Damn! What I read was you had CD Baby, you know, that was a company you sold successfully, so you made a couple of millions, maybe a lot of millions. How much? Millions?

Derek:

Yeah, something like that.

Ronnie:

One or two figures?

Derek:

In euros or pounds?

Ronnie:

Dollars.

Derek:

A couple, yeah.

Ronnie:

And now you're homeless?

Derek:

Yeah.

Ronnie:

How come?

Derek:

I think a lot of people get stuck somewhere. And then they forget they could be somewhere else. So my wife and I just hit this point where we're both working on our laptop, sitting in New York City, but everything we're doing is on our laptop. So we said it's a big world out there, let's go. So, got rid of our only home...

Ronnie:

Sold your children.

Derek:

Yes, sold the children, they were not profitable, and we spent a month each in Amsterdam, Stockholm, Singapore and we're going to China for a couple months and moving to Singapore at the end of the year. So, new home.

Ronnie:

Perfect, perfect, perfect. I told you this is the interview I prepared less. Because what I did, I read about you and I did my perfect research of course, and then I came to your ugly website, full of content, and there it's stated "Derek in 10 seconds" And there were about one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine,... nine or ten bullets...

Derek:

Thirty seconds each.

Ronnie:

Yeah. And if we don't make it then we stop when the ten minutes are over or somebody starts screaming or waving and then we stop... or we don't stop or whatever.

"I'm an entrepreneur. I treat work as play." My question is then: can anybody do that?

Derek:

Not these people.

Ronnie:

Because you just told... you do that? But can anybody do that?

Derek:

Well it's just... it's the mindset that you go about things. Like I can tell you've got a playful attitude towards life just from the way we're talking here. A lot of people get so serious about what they do, it's so adult, and it's very business

Ronnie:

Business is war.

Derek:

Yeah! Business is war! And the funny thing is I kind of think of it as the tao of business that sometimes you can do better by trying less. Sometimes the people that try so fucking hard, you know, they... you don't want to do business with them, they're no fun. It's like, yes you might see an increase in numbers, but not in your life. So some people have more of a relaxed attitude towards business, which I think kind of makes it more fun to do business with them as a customer or as a client. And that's kind of my approach to things.

Ronnie:

It's like when you want to fall in love you don't, but if you don't wanna fall in love you fall in love.

Derek:

Yeah those people, you know, when they're dating they're trying so hard to find a spouse, it's creepy. Some people in business are like that. Especially this guy, look at that.

Ronnie:

Yeah that one... he's already after me for a whole day! Shhh be quiet.

Second one: "I'm usually learning how to help people." Why?

Derek:

Ok so...

Ronnie:

Fuck them!

Derek:

Y... You know I think, that's what it all comes down to, right, is... again so, like some people in business they look at how they can help their own bank account, and that seems to be the main reason they're doing anything.

Ronnie:

That's why we're having an economic crisis and everything goes broke.

Derek:

You can even see it in the way they design their business, where they make rules and policies that benefit them and screw the customer. But if you just flip it all around, if you keep your main focus on how to help other people, finding ways to be helpful, I think... then again it benefits you in the end, but it keeps your focus in the right place.

Ronnie:

And can... is that idealism or is it something else?

Derek:

No it's, it's practical. I mean, I think that is why... I think it's always creepy when people talk about why they've been successful, but I think that from what people...

Ronnie:

Why have you been successful?

Derek:

Well, from what people have told me that part of the reason they dealt with my company instead of the others they could've gone with, is that everything we did stayed very focussed on them. That we had rules and policies that were not about us at all, it was just whatever is best for them... “don't worry about me, we'll be ok.”

Ronnie:

That was the reason you started it in the first place.

Derek:

Yeah. Exactly.

Ronnie:

I live by "whatever scares you, go do it."

Derek:

Hahaa...

Ronnie:

Again, why?

Derek:

Ok, so what...

Ronnie:

Whatever scares you, run away from it!

Derek:

No, I have this model that whenever something scares you, it's usually because it's a little out of your league. You know, whether you say above your head, over your head, out of your league...

Ronnie:

Out of your comfort zone.

Derek:

The person that is too good looking for you to talk to, that seems that she's too good looking for you, that's the one you should be speaking with. The careers that seem like that they're a little too ambitious are the things you should be doing. I had this kind of life philosophy that you should stay in over your head a bit, because it's more exciting than sticking with what's comfortable. So I think starting when I was about 19, I heard that philosophy from somebody, just saying "whatever scares you, go do it." And I went "damn that's good" so ever since I was 19 I started just living by that, you know, based on... again like, really like the girls who I would talk to, the things I would choose to do. And sometimes it's even... you know, living in New York City there's a social situation where there is an extremely famous person or a successful business person at the next table over from you and what scares you is to get up and talk to them, than that's exactly what you should be doing. Like whatever scares you, go do it.

Ronnie:

And what scares you most until now? What scared you most?

Derek:

Oh until now? Uhm... god... everything. Right now what scares me is moving to China, which is why we're moving to China for two months. But right now China scares me so I'm going to China.

Ronnie:

"I have a very short time between thinking and doing." That sounds like a child.

Derek:

Does it?

Ronnie:

Yeah. They always do, they... thinking and doing is the same thing.

Derek:

Yeah, you're right.

Ronnie:

It's childish.

Derek:

I think it's kind of similar to the last one that if you have an idea, and you're thinking I should do it...

Ronnie:

Because adults say you must first think before you do.

Derek:

Right, carefully consider things... No, I think that again, kind of this impulsive idea of whatever is on your mind, before you can get too worked up about it, just do it, you know? So whether it's life things or just little moment by moment, who-you-speak-to kind of things.

Ronnie:

Just do it.

Derek:

Yeah...

Ronnie:

We're gonna finish them all, do you mind?

Derek:

Let's go.

Ronnie:

Nobody's waiting, right?

Derek:

We got time, yeah nobody cares.

Ronnie:

"I'm very comfortable being the leader and being on stage." Ok then we're gonna have to make the bridge... so what you're gonna do on stage today?

Derek:

What am I gonna do?

Ronnie:

Yeah.

Derek:

I'm gonna talk about some really boring stuff. I'm gonna talk about profit. Which is funny cause it's very... see? You're laughing cause it's so boring. You know all these other people are speaking about big ambiguous social media "hey man what's social media? It's a cat, and I'm a bird" you know? So I thought it would be more interesting to talk about something specific and useful.

Ronnie:

And that's profit?

Derek:

Yeah. The creativity... the art of profitability. The creative side of profitability.

Ronnie:

What is the creative side of profitability?

Derek:

Whel that there's so many different ways to be profitable. So many companies kind of, they're very profitable...

Ronnie:

Do you mean it's not only to... it's not only money you're talking about then? Or do we...?

Derek:

The creative ways to get money. Some people are creative in the design of their business but then they think that profit is just... advertising. And so that's not a creative way of looking at profit. So I kind of encourage people to carry their creativity into the very profit model itself. And I give some examples.

Ronnie:

How much time you have?

Derek:

Thirty minutes.

Ronnie:

Ok. "This is my favorite fable." We're not gonna... do the whole fable, what's...

Derek:

...the punchline of the fable?

Ronnie:

Exactly.

Derek:

The fable in 30 seconds...

Ronnie:

They can find em on your website, so Google the guy and then...

Derek:

Ok, it's just that... the big idea is that people kind of say that something is terrible, or something is wonderful, you know, like say you get fired from your job and they go "god that's terrible, I'm so sorry." Or that you get a job and they say "oh that's... congratulations, that's amazing!" So my favorite fable just... no mather what happens, you just say "we'll see", it means that you never know what's bad or good. Actually nothing is necessarily bad or good, cause it all depends what happens after.

Ronnie:

We're becoming philosophal now, it's we're like... "I’m a minimalist. The less I own, the happier I am." Well you're homeless already.

Derek:

Yeah! Strike one.

Ronnie:

Is it difficult in such a material world we're living in?

Derek:

It's rebellious, isn't it? You know, to...

Ronnie:

It's like the old hippies, a little bit. It's like "peace!"

Derek:

The part that you didn't say earlier when you said that I'm homeless is everything I own right now fits in one suitcase.

Ronnie:

Really?

Derek:

Everything. I love that.

Ronnie:

And the rest is on the bank.

Derek:

Yeah exactly! I mean which... it doesn't take up any space. But I got rid of my car, my place, my furniture... And I just... everything we own fits into one suitcase.

Ronnie:

How does that feel?

Derek:

Love it! It's freedom, isn't it? So many people are kind of tied down by what they own. They can't move because it would be so hard to move, but when you don't own anything you feel very free. It's wonderful.

Ronnie:

Is it different when... do you have children?

Derek:

No, we don't yet.

Ronnie:

Do you want to have children?

Derek:

Yeah, next year. Then it'll be a little different.

Ronnie:

Yeah... it will be a little different.

Derek:

Unless we teach them to be minimalist to. "Everything you own must fit into this little lunchbox."

Ronnie:

"...and I'm your teacher." Well people do it! One of my friends was for more than a year in Spain and he taught his children... he was school, himself, for one year. So he quit school and went to Spain, was there for a year and he taught things to the children. Is't possible if you want it, everything is possible. "I never expect anyone to help me." That's contradictory with... so you stay... you are helping people, all the time? But you never expect anyone to help me.

Derek:

Yeah.

Ronnie:

Why do you help them then, if they don't help you.

Derek:

Because other people expect others to help them. I don't, but I think that's also a philosophy. I don't know if it's an American thing, I was actually really surprised later when I found out that other countries have grants, and they actually give money to people. But I kind of grew up in a country where the government never gives you anything, ever. Especially in the music business. I was kind of surprised when I went to Canada, and the musicians in Canada were talking about getting a grant to make their next album. I was like why would the government give you the money to make an album? Like, do they give you money to write poetry? It's like why would... you know, so I think it's just a mindset, a lot of people, their approach to their career is: they're gonna do something and hope that a fairy godmother comes along with her wand and...

Ronnie:

It's like taking your own responsibility, you make your own life. That's what you, in fact...

Derek:

Yeah exactly. To me that encourages me. Like if somebody says, nobody is going to help you, you have to do everything yourself. It's kind of encouraging it's like "yeah... fuck yeah, here we go!" Whereas to me it's a kind of defeating mindset to do something but expect that, you know, only if American Idol, you know, win an award will you be successful. I don't like that mindset.

Ronnie:

The last: "I like not knowing the future and challenging myself." That's not a surprise anymore for me but do try to know the future for once. So can you describe "I like not knowing the future and challenging myself." But do... if you look at the future, try to describe it anyway.

Derek:

No! I refuse! Ok, and a lot of con... here I'll tell you why though: and a lot of conferences like this, they get... they get a bunch of people up in a panel. And they say, you know, if somebody is in the business of selling MP3, they'll say "what do you think is the future?" and they'll say "the future's MP3, it's selling MP3 is the future, and in the future everybody will buy MP3s." And then if you say to somebody who's in the business of say Internet radio, say "what's the future?" they say "the future is Internet radio, in the future every..." you know. And I think everybody is full of shit. They kind of... they describe a future almost as if saying it enough will make it happen.

Ronnie:

A self-fulfilling prophecy?

Derek:

Yeah. A future that... well I mean they hope it will. They describe a future that would benefit them. So when I come to conferences like this, I kinda think everybody is full of shit and not to be trusted. So I don't trust anybody who says what the future is. I don't know why everybody's so scared to just say "I don't know." And admit that they don't know. So I don't know, I have no idea, no idea.

Ronnie:

This was not a normal interview, but I knew it was gonna be a nice interview.

Derek:

You're not a normal interviewer! I love this.

Ronnie:

Ooh thank you! If you guys wanna know anything about Derek Sivers in the way of like companies and shit like that, then you just Google Derek Sivers.

Derek:

And otherwise: I don't know.

Ronnie:

Thank you very much for being my guest today. We'll keep in touch one way or another. Thank you.

Derek:

Thanks Ronnie.

Ronnie:

And thanks for watching! Bye.