Derek Sivers

Interviews → Inspire Me Today

Talk with Gail Lynne Goodwin about my book “Anything You Want”

Download: audio (mp3)

Link: http://inspiremetoday.com/interviews/inspired-interview-derek-sivers/


Gail:

I read your book and I get sent books all the time. Your book ended up sitting on my desk for about two weeks, and then I took it with me on an airplane, and I was literally like jumping up and down and got, “Oh my God. You got to read this book. You got to read this book,” to everyone on the plane. I read it in -- I don’t know -- 20 minutes. I mean It’s a short book, but what a powerful 20 minutes that was. Since then, I’ve bought half a dozen copies and given them to friends and family. It’s funny, when I handed them the book they said, “Well, like I really want to read this.” It’s kind of a whatever. Then they came back to me half an hour later going, “Did you read this? This book is amazing.” And they did the same thing. I just have to say this book is one of those books that, as far as I’m concerned personally, is not an option for anyone in business today, it’s a necessity. You have to read this book. Tell us a little book about the book, how it came to be? Let’s start there.

Derek:

Sure. Well, let’s see. I think … I started this company back in 1997…

Gail:

This company.

Derek:

… called CD Baby. It was a hobby. I started it by accident. If you don’t mind I’ll do that super short version.

Gail:

Please, give it to us.

Derek:

It’s just that I was selling my own CD as a musician. I was just a professional musician living in New York City. I was selling my own CD. Built a little website just to sell my CD, and then my friends said, “Hey, could you sell mine too?” It was really an afterthought, just kind of as a favor to friends. I said, “Sure, OK, no problem,” so on my bands website, I hooked up some of my friends. The-n friends of friends started calling and I accidentally started the business. I really never meant too.

Gail:

I love how you created a successful, amazing multi-million dollar business and became one of the most successful entrepreneurs as a byproduct of doing something that you love.

Derek:

Yeah. Though sometimes it can be a nice measure when you …when something grows even when you’re not pushing it, you know you’re onto something good, right.

Gail:

Exactly.

Derek:

So it’s a little bit like sometimes times I think of, you know, the person who’s backing pies in their kitchen and everybody loves their pies, and pretty soon friends of friends are calling asking if you can bake them pies. Eventually, you think, “People seem to like my pies, maybe am on to something here.”

It really just went like that and it grew and grew for 10 years. Actually, it grew much more than I ever wanted it to. At its peak, I had 85 employees and -- I don’t know -- a hundred million in sales or something like that. It was honestly bigger than I ever wanted it to be. I just wasn’t comfortable with that kind of size.

In 2008, I had a bunch of offers to buy the company and I said, “Yes.” So in 2008, I sold the company. But you asked where the book comes from. Is that afterwards, I felt that there were a lot of lessons I still needed to learn, and there were a lot of lessons I had learned that I still needed to share.

I started telling my tale, not for any need for attention but it was actually done more in this feeling of like, “The death bed regret feeling.” Like if I were to die right now, I would feel regret that I hadn’t shared what I had learned through this experience.

Gail:

I love it.

Derek:

Like the … through doing this, I had learned some use thing or things that would be very useful to other people for their own projects, ventures, or whatever. So I have to share what I’ve learned. I started veraciously writing after I sold the company and most of it was actually on my blog. I made sure that everything I wrote was the kind of thing that people could sit and read in two or three minutes.

Kind of I have this concept that one point per article. If you’ve got more than one point to make separate it into a separate article. I started posting these little articles on my blog, on sivers.org and people liked the blog. Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors…

Gail:

Mine too.

Derek:

…called me up and said, “How would you like to turn those into a book?” I said, “OK.” That was it.

Gail:

How cool is that. I have to say, I’m very grateful that you are a minimalist, at least in your writing style because it made it so easy. You know one of the things that we do … I don’t know if you’ve had a chance yet to check out our site InspireMeToday.

Derek:

Yeah.

Gail:

But we ask … Each and every day there’s a different person that we would ask, “Derek, if today were your last day on the planet and you have 500 words to share with humanity, what would you say?” And that’s when you’re featured, when this interview is live, your words would be up on the homepage. It’s really interesting. I’ve had people that are really well-known in the spiritual realms say to me, “Hey, buy the book. It’s 600 pages and there it is and that’s my advice.” My comment back to this specific person who made this comment to me – to me who’s one of the top known guru types out there -- is you know the house wife in Iowa, or the business man in California, or whatever, is not going to have time every morning to sit down and read your 600-page-book. But they will have time to sit down and read one or two minutes of “Wow” and then take that with them into the day.

Derek:

Yeah.

Gail:

That’s to me what your book did as well, which is why I got so excited that, “I’ve got to talk to this guy.” I absolutely love it. I have to ask you Derek. Most of your childhood, your youth, you know, your young ages in the 20s, did you see yourself as an entrepreneur at any point or was this really an accident?

Derek:

Both. I think to be a musician is to be an entrepreneur. Imagine this, at 14-years old, I very seriously decided that I wanted to be a professional musician – it wasn’t just rock star dreams. Like I really wanted to be a professional musician, like make my living, buy a house with the money, and make doing music.

I was serious about this and I knew it would be incredibly hard work. I know that most that have this dream are unable to do it. I knew that I was setting out to do something really difficult, which is great because it gave me this work ethic. Like I have to practice the hardest, work the hardest, be very disciplined, and if I work hard I will be successful at this.

But there were some side-effect things that just were given. That means that ever since I was 14 or so, I knew I would never have a job. I would never have a salary. I would never have insurance. I would never have pension and health care. I would never have stability.

I knew that, by setting out to be a professional musician that everything I would earn would be because of my own two hands and very hard work. Like there would never be a time where just people just give you money for showing up – that’s the mindset I was all ready in.

What’s funny is that afterwards people ask me things like, “How did you get the courage to quit your day job and start CD Baby? Wasn’t that scary?”

Gail:

Things like no one loves music.

Derek:

Yeah. Exactly. I look at them like, “Scary. Oh, no. You don’t understand.” I never thought I’d have security. I guess it’s a different mindset. What’s funny is, looking back, the musician mindset is very similar to the entrepreneur mindset in that way.

Gail:

You are right.

Derek:

I was all ready in that mindset. But all that said, yes, of course, CD Baby was a total accident and I never meant to start a business. In fact, when CD Baby was starting, I was actually upset that this thing was getting in the way of me and my music.

Gail:

I probably misspoken the way I phrased that question. Rather than entrepreneurial or not, music – at least it seems to me – as such a right-brain creative outlet and yet running a company that’s a $100 million company that’s very left-brain linear. That part for you, I’m assuming, must have been a bit of a challenge.

Derek:

You’re the first person to point this out. I’m going to try a new idea here that planning a company, business plans, and all that, maybe be very left-brain analytical, but I didn’t actually plan any of it. I was just helping some friends and then that thing grew, grew, and grew. As it grew I felt like my biggest challenge was managing that growth. But the biggest challenge in managing that growth was all very human. It wasn’t numbers and spreadsheets. It was somebody being upset, somebody being bored at their job, and somebody not getting enough attention. It was all very human. Actually, I felt the dealing with the growth of the company was more of a human soft right-brain challenge. It’s all very humanistic. Growing the business was not an analytical challenge.

Gail:

To you.

Derek:

Maybe I was just lucky that it grew anyway.

Gail:

No. You’re not. You’re on to something here and that’s where I was going with this. Do you know who you remind me of? Richard Branson.

Derek:

My hero.

Gail:

Mine too. I had the opportunity to spend a day with him in his hometown on Necker Island, about a year ago. Richard had the same philosophy, as far as spreadsheets and numbers, serious. He commented, you know over lunch that he had had somebody actually show him what the word net meant between gross and net. He just didn’t get it. For him it wasn’t about the numbers either, it’s about doing what you love and that’s what you were doing. You were solving a problem in your music career and you solved it in a really phenomenal way that not only helped you but helped … I mean you literally changed the face of music of the way it’s done today.

Derek:

Maybe it’s because I was so kind of tapped into that musician mindset.

Gail:

Exactly. That’s my whole point of where I was going. I guess that you didn’t sit down and create this … I almost want to say … you know separate entity kind of thing of, alright the accountancy we have to do it this way and this way, the bankers want this, and all of that. Instead, it was you followed your heart, you followed your passion and from that all good things came to you.

Derek:

Yeah.

Gail:

That to me is the ultimate in inspiration – to see someone successful because they followed their passion, rather than … and I guess the reason that this is so near and dear to me is there’re so many people that reach out to us in InspireMeToday and say, “I really have this burning desire in the stream and I really want to follow it but I’m scared.” What would you say to them?

Derek:

Well, I think the … I’ve read all of Richard Branson’s books, the autobiographies and the biographies. It seems that he’s got a very good sense for like kind of an instinctual gut-level feeling of, “Will people pay for this? Could we make money doing this?” It’s because, you know, ever since he was a teenager he was really kind of hustling the sale starting with his newspaper or whatever. They kind of hustle ad sales and what not.

I think he just got this instinct for like, “Yeah, this will work out business wise. This is something that people will pay for and we can keep our cost low enough to be able to do this in a profitable way.” That stuff just became instinct for him and so everything else is the people, human passion kind of that we’re talking about.

You do still need that sense. Not in a deep business school, business plan kind of way but just a quick back of a napkin, kind of running the numbers like, “OK. This cost us $37 to make this thing. I think we can sell it for 50. In fact, I think psychologically, if we try pricing it at 100 to a certain market, they might even find that even more appealing than 50.” Just some stuff like that.

I think that’s actually tied together with the fear, when people say, “I’ve got this passion but I’m scared.” If they were to see both the right and left-brain side of it, if they were to say, “I’ve got this passion,” and they were to do the back of the napkin and say, “I can do this thing and I could sell it for three times more than it costs for me to make it.” That actually takes away fear. I think it does require both parts of the brain, as you’ve said.

Gail:

Logic definitely plays a big part in what’s the worst that could happen. Honestly I think the worst that could happen is living a live that’s not following your passion.

Derek:

Exactly.

Gail:

Because then you’re going to be miserable no matter if you make money or not in what you’re doing. I would rather jump off that ledge knowing that I do have those wings, than hanging out in a life that’s mediocre. That’s what made me really want to do this interview with you because, as my friend Jean Huston says, “You don’t bore God.” Do you know what I mean?

Derek:

Yeah.

Gail:

You’re doing fun stuff in the world and that’s really awesome. Talk to me a little bit about adversity. Some may say, “Come on, my life is a lot different. This guy is a rock star. He started this company, sold it for millions of dollars. He’s set for life. I’m trying to hold down the fort here at home – pay the bills, feed the kids, pay the mortgage, whatever.” Talk to us about adversity because I’m guessing that you also got smacked in the face with adversity, just like everybody else did?

Derek:

Yeah. Of course, it’s why you need to enjoy the process not just the goal. There’re a lot of people that I meet, that say that they want to start a business because they want to get rich. I have to just laugh like, “No. you’ve missed the whole point.” That can’t be your because; that has to be a side effect.”

It’s like saying, I want to get a car because I want the odometer to say 200,000 miles. No. Look, the odometer is just a side-effect. The point is you have to like where it takes you. You have to enjoy the journey. You want to drive around. You want to look at the world – that’s why you get a car. Yes. While you’re doing that the odometer will go up.

With anything you set out to do, you have to enjoy the process. Let’s use one more example. A lot of people say, “I want to speak Italian – that’s a beautiful language. I wish I knew Italian. I’m going to get a little Rosetta Stone Italian lesson.” Then they put an hour into it and then they go, “Eh, eh.” The problem is that they only liked the goal of speaking Italian. The imagined themselves as fluent in Italian, and going through Italy and speaking beautiful sounds with beautiful people.

But they didn’t like the 1,000 hours of memorization, conjugating verbs, study, hard work of learning grammar, and all that. I think you know you’re on to something, you’re on the right path when you absolutely love the process as well.

For example, somebody at a party once told me something about the Chinese language that I thought sounded interesting. And I started learning some Chinese and I loved the process. Sometimes I wake up early in the morning, just so I can sit there and study for two hours because I so love learning to write new characters, learning to memorize some new words, and practicing the sounds. I love doing it. I love the process.

The goal, whatever. Yes. Someday I’ll probably be fluent, if I keep up like this but I’m enjoying the process.

Gail:

That’s awesome.

Derek:

Same thing with doing a company or setting out to do a business, you have to just love the process even if it wasn’t making any money – you have to just love it. find the thing that you would do even if nobody was paying you.

The better measure I like is, find the thing that you find yourself staying up late at night doing anyway, losing all track of time. That’s the thing that, if you’re doing it you won’t even care that there were hardships. Say, yes, you’re doing it, you hit some kind of tough point, whatever, you don’t mind because you’re just enjoying the process.

Gail:

That is just such great advice. Derek, I have to ask, have you always been like this? Have you always had this mindset from the time that you were young? Is this something that you learn through the school of hard knocks or had a mentor that helped you?

Derek:

A lot of reading, honestly. I probably have a naturally sunny disposition. And because I set out to be a musician when I was 14 and I knew how hard it was going to be, I always hard a really strong ethic. Whereas others may be comfortable to hung out and watch TV, I was that fierce diligent one like, “No. I’m going to practice, am going to exercise, and like this,” because I was so wanting to be a successful musician.

I was in this work ethic, but honestly, it was the books that, I read along the way. It was starting with “The Success System That Never Fails”, by W. Clement Stone. I read that when I was 16/17. It’s one of those depression era, pull yourselves up by your boot’s straps, kids kind of books. It just turned me upside down. I just loved its work ethics, honestly.

Then somebody I really care for gave me Tony Robins’ book, “Awaken the Giant Within”. I was like, “Wow! Again, it just blew my mind. This concept that you can decide your reaction to anything, that when people say, “Oh, I can’t help the way I feel.” It’s like, yes, you can. Like you choose the way you feel. That’s not something that you can’t do anything about. That’s something that you chose. Like you could chose…

Gail:

Or a concept.

Derek:

Yes. Yes, it was huge. Like you could chose to be, to feel any way you want about anything that happens. So for example, there is this little point in the book that he keeps making. He said, “Any time something bad happens you just force yourself to say, “What’s great about this.” And it sounds so cheesy, at first, and so simplistic. I think the first, say five or ten times something bad happened to me, after I read that book, I would grumble and force myself to say that. Usually kind of after the fact, you know a day or two later in my dairy.

Gail:

Yeah, exactly.

Derek:

But then you know you keep doing it and then it just becomes habit, and like, now…

Gail:

And then it becomes sincere.

Derek:

Yeah, exactly. So now I’m the kind of guy where you know, if something goes horrible wrong, I just burst into laughter. Because I’m like, “Alright, so what’s great about this?” So just take that and multiply it by a hundred little habits and good mindsets that I picked up from the books I read. I fully credit the books all from that.

Gail:

It’s kind of funny that you say that because InspireMeToday exists because of the exact same reason.

Derek:

No way.

Gail:

No, it does. I was going to the gym in the mornings and on days that I lifted weights I do books on tape, and on the day that I did aerobic things, you know, whether it’s running at the thread or whatever I would do fast tempo music. And I found that on days that I lifted weights those days just rocked, and then thought, “Well, there must be something about lifting weights.” And it was like “Da, you know I am blond.” But it took me about two and two together and figure out, maybe it has something to do with what I’m putting in my brain. While I love music, don’t get me wrong. There’s something stimulating, when feed your brain and you feed your soul, that just makes the entire day feel like it’s on fire.

Derek:

Yeah.

Gail:

So from there, I started buying all these books on tape and all these different CDs and DVD programs and started devouring them. And notice the change it had in my life and then started lending it to friends and family and watched their lives change. And that’s when I went, “OK, wait a minute. I’m this type A personality. I want something new and fresh every single day and I’m sure where to get it.” Maybe I could help the world have that access to it and that’s what this is all about.

Derek:

I love it, yeah.

Gail:

So do I and I’m just so grateful that you’re here today sharing all this, because you’re definitely singing to the choir here. I’m a fun – what else can I say. Derek, I got to ask you though. Do you have specific things that you do each and every day that kind of keep you on track, practices?

Derek:

No.

Gail:

You know whether it’s going to the gym, or eating right, or meditation, or whatever.

Derek:

No. You know it’s funny. I heard a true story. A friend of mine met Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love”, in New York and asked her that same question. And with a very straight face, she said, “Oh, yeah, of course.” She said, “Every day, I wake up at 4AM and I meditate for an hour and a half. And then at 5:30, I do yoga for an hour. And at 6:30, I write for a couple of hours. And at 8:30, I something, something. And I eat only organic sprouts and food.” And after saying this for about a minute, she burst out laughing. She said, “What? Are you kidding me? Oh, come-on.” Like, “Yes, I wrote a book but now I’m just sleeping it like everybody else. Like, no, I have terrible days or whatever.”

Actually, I think that something I would like to change in my life is actually miss having routine. I look back at…some of my favorite times in my life are the times when I did have a steady routine that I was in. I made huge progress in my life by doing things every single day, no matter what.

Say for years, I would stop what I was doing at 10PM and practice piano for two hours every night, no matter what happened with my life. And I’ve made huge progress and these days life kind of tumbles me around in ways that I don’t expect, almost every day. And I kind of. I’m trying to get back to that routine. My answer is, no, I don’t but I wish I did.

Gail:

How [xx], something tells me it won’t be long until you do again, if that’s something you’re putting out that you wish for.

Derek:

Yeah.

Gail:

Yeah, absolutely. I got to ask, you know, going back to the days when CD Baby was just, when you kind of put aside the music at least temporarily or for a portion of your time and started working pretty heavily on developing CD Baby and creating it into the monolithic it grew into. Did you have friends and family, at that time, that were questioning what you were doing. You know like, “Are you crazy. I thought you are a musician. What are you doing this for?” You know that kind of thing or was it completely supportive?

Derek:

No. Absolutely, questioning. You know I think any time you’re making a change in your life, you have people on your left side kind of pulling you back. Kind of saying, “What are you doing? Come back over here.” And you have people on your right side saying. “Hey, over here. Come join the club.” Yeah. It feels like any time you want to change, you kind of stepping from one room to another and there’re people in both room who want you on their side. At the time as I heard people saying, “What are you doing, man? You’re a musician, don’t be wasting your time with this website.

Gail:

Exactly.

Derek:

At the same time, there were musicians going, “Oh, my God. Thank you so much for helping me out. Now can you make a way that I can see where in the world my customers are coming from.” And I’d say, “That’s a challenging problem.” Then I would do that and then somebody would say, “Hey, can you have it so that I can chose to have my order sent by FedEx instead of regular mail,” and I’d say, “That’s an interesting problem. So they were so much pulling me on that side. So many people that wanted CD Baby to exist, that wanted me to add just one more thing to it. It was plenty pulling me in that direction too.

Gail:

I love the fact that, you know, you did have people telling you that it was a little bit crazy. And my reason for asking that is, again, going back to Richard Branson. When I was speaking to him, I asked him the same question and he was the one that came back and said, ‘“Oh, heck, yes. If I throw out an idea and say, ‘Hey, what if we go do this,” and everyone says, ‘Great idea. You know bloody brilliant idea, Richard.’ I won’t do it because obviously it’s boring, so let’s go find something that makes people scratch their heads and say, ‘What the heck are you doing?”’ So I thought I have started interviewing what I affectionately refer to as crazy people. And they’re the ones that when you wake up at 2:00 in the morning with this idea and you tell your wife or your best friend, and they say, “You’re crazy. That will never work.” It’s people that have followed that idea and have built that idea – the crazy ones. And that’s why I wondered whether or not, if what you did was so accidental or if there was a part of it that was a little bit crazy.

Derek:

I was just thinking that I have some rules of thumb. Of course, we all do.

Gail:

Oh, do share.

Derek:

Well, one is just; whatever scares you, go do it. There’s actually two sides of this coin. There’s whatever scares go do it is a huge one. I’ve been using that ever since I was a teenager, even in little tiny ways. It’s like if there’s this gorgeous girl in the room that I was scared to talk to. I’m like, “Oh, I’m scared, therefore I must do it.” And so I would just … any time you noticed that little fear in your gut, that means you should just do it.

Gail:

You realize people listening to this are going to be going out and singing karaoke tonight and that’s all your fault.

Derek:

Some of them can also jump off balconies. I don’t know how to, you know, make that line between the things that scare you because they will harm you.

Gail:

Of course,

Derek:

But we’ll have to just kind of use our best judgment with that. But I’ve used that both in micro and macro levels day. Like right now, for example, China scares me. The idea of Chinese culture and people is so foreign to me. I don’t understand it. It’s intimidating. And so I’m like, “OK. That’s what I need to be doing then.” I need to kind of … so I’ve been learning Chinese and I can’t wait to go leave in China for at least six months because I want to face that fear head-on and find out why I’m scared of it. The point being is that anything that scares you, once you do it no longer scares you.

Gail:

Of course, and you grow through it.

Derek:

And that’s your to-do list in life. Another one I have, it’s kind of the flip side of the same coin – it’s that whatever you’re thinking, go do it. Like if there’s an idea that you just can’t get out your head or just anything that fascinates you that’s what you should be doing. Don’t say no to that to go say yes to the hum drum routine that you’re not excited about.

Like whatever is capturing your attention you must go to that. So you kind of asked about like, was CD Baby really an accident. It’s like I really was just pursuing my music and throwing myself into my music, but then all of a sudden this idea of making a website became that new novel change in my life and I was like, “Hm, wow, I have never made a website before.” I had this and it just captured me and I found that I was up until, you know, 2:00 AM every night and my girlfriend was like, “When are you coming to bed? Are you still awake?” She said, “Come on, come to bed, baby.”