Derek Sivers

Interviews → ReLaunch

what’s important for you, a life you love, staying positive, with Joel Boggess

Download: audio (mp3)

Link: http://relaunchshow.com/derek-sivers/


Joel:

Right now joining us on the show, now how I was able to get this guy on the show still amazes me, because he is a self-confessed introvert. And let me tell you what I mean by that: he actually shares on his websites his Myers-Briggs classification. Just in case people are wondering where is this guy? So he is a man of mystery, he wears many many hats and he's actually published 32 books, including his Amazon bestseller Anything You Want. Of course I'm talking about Derek Sivers. Derek, how the heck are you?

Derek:

Good, thanks Joel! I love how you say that that's why you're qualified to do the show, because as you are describing that I'm thinking "yeah, I'm completely unqualified to do this."

Joel:

Marginally. I didn't say qualified, I said marginally and I stretch that the word. 32 books, did I get that right?

Derek:

Something like that, yeah.

Joel:

Well good for you, good for you. This show, Derek, is highly practical because it is all about how you did it and I generally ask our guests to zero in on the relaunch that has been the most significant for them, or that has been the most transformational. And then we just unfold the story from there. And we'll do that here with you in just a few minutes, but I like to start to show off with a quick piece of take-away gold and let me just ask you this: based on your experience Derek, what would you say is the number one fear or hesitation people have when you start talking about or start getting into anything you want, the concept? What do you think?

Derek:

It's hard to do something if you haven't had a role model. So I think the fear is going out and do something that you haven't seen somebody else do. It's one thing to have like a Richard Branson sized role model or you've read some autobiography, but at that billionaire level it's kind of hard to relate that to your day-to-day actions, right?

I think that's one of the most useful things is when you have somebody that's close to you, that you can observe firsthand, that you've seen how they deal with things in a way that you can relate to. They can start to change your actions and change your mindset on the more day-to-day level. So I think one of the biggest fears is just leaping out into the unknown doing something that you've never seen anybody else too.

Joel:

Okay, very good. One of the things that Pei and I talk about, and she's not with us on today's show, usually we do all these shows together which adds a very fun and playful dynamic to the show, one of the things that we talk about is that one of the ingredients to having any relaunch be successful if you got to have your relaunch relationships. And I think that's really what you're talking about, is having better role model, mentor, advisor, coach whatever you want to call them, that you can learn from and they will also kind of link arms with you and allow you to stand on their shoulders so you can see a little bit further. Am I getting that right?

Derek:

It's usually not so formal. Actually I get a bunch of requests from people saying like "will you mentor me?", and I just say no to everybody, but I say I'm happy to answer any questions you have. Any questions at all, I answer all of my emails, so if you ask me something I answer it. But I mean an official mentor situation, I think is kind of over glorified. I like the quote, I think it was James Altucher said: "outsource 90% of your mentorship to books."

I've never had a mentor. I was mostly just influenced by all these books I read. But let me give you a specific example of somebody that kind of offhand made a huge change in my life, and that was my very first girlfriend. Her parents were real hippies. So she grew up on like a commune in Vermont without any electricity. I was with her for six years and I was very close to her family, and this was like at the age of 19, 20, 21. And I saw that they never had a full-time job, that her parents just did random little odd jobs, a little photography here and there, some crafts, sometimes they'll get a job for a couple months to help somebody out with something and then quit. And yet, they were able to put their daughter through college. And I got really inspired by that, because I was following the usual track, like straight out of college I moved to New York City, and I got a job, and I felt that I had to be super ambitious workaholic, make a lot of money, but then slowly observing them I just realized that they kept the cost of living so low that it gave them the freedom to just do whatever they wanted. And I was really inspired by that.

So in 1992 I quit my last job. The last time I had the job was in 1992. And just found a way to keep my cost of living down so that I had the freedom to just do the occasional gig. Sorry, to be clear I was a full-time musician living in New York City after that, so I kept my cost-of-living down for like a thousand bucks a month. So as long I was able to make just a thousand buck a month doing some gigs, and that was like about three or four gigs, then the other 26 days a month I had free to do anything I wanted.

Joel:

Okay so I want to get into the relaunch story, and will zero in on one specific one, but I've got to ask you: you were actually a circus clown at one point, when did that happen and how did that come to be? That honestly doesn't surprise me, in the best way possible, but yeah, how did that come to be? I don't have those conversations everyday.

Derek:

It was funny, I was doing it for 10 years. So from the age of 18 to 28, that was pretty much my full-time job, I was the ringleader MC of a circus.

Joel:

Now how does one become a clown first of all? And then how do you last in that business? Because that was your career.

Derek:

Yeah, I was just 18 years old, I got a call from an agent. Actually my very first paying gig ever, again I was a musician, not a clown, so at the age of 18 I got this call like "hey, we're looking for a guitarist to play at this pig show in Vermont, it pays 75 bucks." And I was living in Boston at the times. I was like "oh hell yeah! My first paying gig, count me in! So even though it was like a $60 round-trip bus ticket to get up there, I didn't care, it was my very first paying gig ever.

So I went and played some guitar at some pig show, it was very random and weird, but I get back and the booking agent called me and said "hey, you did a great job at that show, so look we've got this circus and the previous musician just quit so we're looking for a new musician. I'd like you to come try out."

So yeah, at the age of 18 I tried out for the circus, I got the gig. First I got it just as a musician and then they said "hey, so the previous musician used to open and close the show with a song", and then eventually they said "well, the previous musician used to come out in between every act and thank the last act and introduce the next act, could you do that?" So pretty soon, at the age of 18, I was like running the show. If you would've gone to see that show, you would've thought that it was my circus. So it was a great performing experience, I probably did about a thousand shows over 10 years and learned how to entertain a crowd, it was pretty cool.

It's funny that everybody I knew of course, like my social circle and everybody I knew was related to the circus or full-time musicians. And I forget that that's an unusual thing, you know? Later in life when I mentioned something about being in the circus people spit out their drinks and say "what? You were in what?", I say "oh right, yeah… I was in a circus for 10 years."

Joel:

It's like a matter of fact kind of thing for you.

Derek:

Yeah, I don't know, it seemed pretty normal at the time.

Joel:

At the time?

Derek:

Yeah.

Joel:

I gotcha. All right so, where you went after the musician? Do we need to talk about the buildup CD Baby? We can talk about that.

Derek:

Maybe a tiny context, it's no big story. But really I was just, ever since I quit my last job in 1992, I was a full-time musician. And the way that you make a living as a full-time musician is you just do everything, and you say yes to everything, no matter what pays. Anybody that's got a few hundred bucks and they're looking for a jazz piano player, or a heavy metal guitarist, you just find a way to say yes to everything and do it. So I made a living for years producing people's records, playing on people's records, going on tour, being a guitarist or bassist or a piano player, whenever people needed, I made my living playing music.

Then in 1997 I put out my music on CD. But in 1997, I don't know if you remember this, this is before PayPal and Amazon was just a bookstore, the Internet was still quite new, not very commercial. So as an independent musician there was literally nowhere that I could sell my music online. I went looking and asking everywhere. The only big online music store at the time was called CDNow.com, and they were just a front ends to the major-label distribution system. So yeah, there was literally nobody that would sell my CD.

So I just built my own shopping cart on my website, which in 1997 was pretty hard. And I got a credit card merchant account so I could process credit cards. And I did this all for myself, but then some of my musician friends said "hey man, could you sell my CD through that thing?" So yeah that started CD Baby in 1998. And within a few years it grew out of control, it just boomed because from the years 1998 to, I don't know, 2000 something, if you were an independent musician that wanted to sell your music somewhere, the only person that can do it for you was a guy named Derek in New York, and that was me. So the business totally took off, and it became the largest seller of independent music on the web, with 200,000 musicians selling their music through me.

Joel:

About $100 million in sales, and then in 2008 you ended up selling CD Baby at a nice 22 million. And then you did something very Derek-ish with the proceeds from that. We like to talk about that a little bit? And why you chose to make the decision that you did.

Derek:

The reason I made CD Baby was not for the money to begin with, so when I decided to sell it it was really more for personal reasons. I felt done with it, you know? And the company had already been profitable for quite a few years, so I had enough money saved up. I didn't need the money, but yet this company was willing to buy it from me for $22 million, which to me honestly, it felt like too much. Like how does anybody spend $22 million without being a raging fool. I just don't want to be one of those people, I don't want a Ferrari.

So I mentioned this to my lawyer, who had a tax law background and he turned me onto something really interesting. I share the tale here because it might be useful to some of your listeners who might be selling their company someday. It's a really cool thing that the US tax law has. I mentioned to him I said "look, I'm just going to give all the money away anyway, I just don't need $22 million, I'm just going to give it all to charity." And he said "well, are you serious about that? Are you really serious?" And I said "yeah, I'm just going to give it all away." And he said "okay well look, if you sell the company yourself for 22 million you'll be taxed on that and you'll get about 15 million after taxes and then you'll get $15 million to charity, right? But if you're really serious about this you can give the company away in advance before you sell it. You can give it away right now to charity so that when the company is sold, that $22 million all goes directly to charity and never touches your hands." I said "yeah, that's what I want to do." So that's what I did.

So I got 22 million to go into charity instead of 15. And yeah, I just had to kind of come to that personal introspective look inside, realizing I didn't even want the money. So there you go.

Joel:

And it actually went to charity to support music education, correct? The lion's share.

Derek:

To be clear, it's something called a charitable remainder unitrust, which is kind of more like a will: it's going to keep compounding and growing while I am alive and then when I die it all goes out to the charity. I'm just a trustee… Actually I'm not even the trustee, there is another trustee. But it's just kind of being managed inside the charitable trust while I'm alive and then gets paid out when I die.

Joel:

Okay I gotcha, I gotcha, very good. I appreciate you sharing that and wow, what a giving heart that you have...

Derek:

Well not really. I'm sorry to interrupt. I don't want to sound like I'm so altruistic. I think it's more like, I don't know, if you could imagine that you have 22 plates in your kitchen and somebody comes by with 50 more and says "here, I got 50 plates for you", you kinda go "eh, I don't know, I don't really need 75 plates in my kitchen, I already have enough." So I think I just had to look at my life and realize I had enough, I'm not going to use anything more you give me at this point. I'm not being altruistic or sacrificial or whatever, I just kind of realized that I had enough, that's all.

Joel:

Okay, you had enough. Fair enough. I appreciate you kind of set me straight.

Derek:

You know, I mean I was reluctant to tell this story in the first place but then I just decided, yeah, it might just be useful for people that are selling their company someday.

Joel:

Indeed. I appreciate you sharing. Okay you talked a little bit about your relaunch and some of the observations in the learning points that you made up yourself growing up and as a teenager. So can you talk a little bit about that, and you mentioned Tony Robbins in there as well?

Derek:

Yeah, just thinking about the subject of your show and the relaunch and it kind of tends to imply hitting rock bottom or going through some really hard times, this subject of like you went through some really hard times and how did you get out of it, right?

So I feel like it's kind of trick question. I was speaking at a conference once and somebody asked a question from the audience. He said "what are some of the hardest times you've gone through in growing your business?" And I thought about it for a minute or so, there was like this awkward silence as I said there thinking. I said "honestly I can't think of any. No, everything has been quite easy. There haven't been any hard times, it's just being kind of out-of-control growth, it's been really good."

And so afterwards somebody came up to me that knew me better and said "dude, why did you say you haven't been to any hard times?" I said "well, I don't think I have." And he said "yeah well, what about the time that Steve Jobs dissed you from the stage and made you give back two hundred thousand dollars to your customers and change his mind?" And I said "oh yeah, that was kind of hard."

And he said "well what about the time that you lost everything because you signed this bad contract with your dad long ago and you had to go from scratch again?" I was like "oh yeah, I forgot about that…"

And he said "how did you forget that?" And I said "well, I don't know, in hindsight none of those things seem that hard, that's just part of the path you go through." And he said "oh okay, I think that's kind of interesting that you don't even think of bad times as bad."

And then I figured out why. And then it's because when I was 17, on my grandmother's bookshelf I saw the book Think And Grow Rich by Dale Carnegie.

Joel:

That's Napoleon Hill.

Derek:

Oops sorry sorry, yeah. That's right, Dale Carnegie is How to Win Friends and Influence People. Thank you. Yeah, Napoleon Hill. Think and Grow Rich. And it's all about the mindset, and having the right mindset that's looking for opportunities and not focusing on the hurdles.

And then when I was 19 actually it was my boss at the circus who really cared about me and said "I think you're really going to like this book Awaken the Giant within by Tony Robbins." And oh Joel, I loved that book! I read it again and again and again. I read it every year or two until it really became the way I think, kind of second nature.

For one little example, it's kind of a classic Tony Robbins line: "whenever something goes wrong ask yourself what's great about this." I think the first time I heard that, it's one of those things that sounded nice in theory, but not very practical. Because when things go wrong you're in a bad mindset, right? But then over the years, as I read and reread that book, I started slowly putting it into practice. Usually I kind of think of it a few days after something went wrong, I think "oh maybe I could ask myself what is good about this", but eventually I just kept doing this and then it just became like an instant reaction. The very second something goes wrong, just out of habit, I ask myself "well okay, what's great about this?" And at first your answer is usually "well, nothing!" And then you think about it some more and you think "well, on one hand I'm really glad this happened because, say, nobody's ever sued me before, so now I know how this works and I can learn how this process goes in case it happens again." So you find the upside to anything that happens and then he might head those don't really stick in my mind as bad things. They're just kind of neutral things that happened and I made the best of them. You know what I mean?

Joel:

Absolutely. Well one other thing that Pei and I talk about when we're having people get in touch with who they really are so that they can relaunch for more fun, fulfillment and freedom is to engage in their routines, or the rituals that are going to set you up for success. And as you read and reread the material from Tony Robbins and other people, Napoleon Hill included, that's the routine that you set in motion. And if you want to find success, find a handful of routines that are going to build into your success and that's pretty much what you laid out right there. You have that personal growth and development routine, or it was at least suggested to you and it became routine, and then you were able to grow from that. And as you repeated that routine over and over and over again, it became like your knee behaves when the doctor hits it with a hammer, it became just a reflex or the way you automatically respond in to bumps in the road.

Derek:

Exactly. I think of the metaphor of people like airplane pilots that sit with those simulators for long times and they come through all kinds of scenarios. And then suddenly this simulator has an engine die on them and they're over the ocean, and they have to practice what to do if they suddenly had to land the plane with the dead engine over the ocean. They practice those situations again and again and again, so that when it happens in real life, when that worse case scenario happens they're just completely trained for it instinctively, they just know how to handle that. And that's what I love about stoicism. I always thought of stoicism as one of those ancients Greek philosophies that probably would not apply to my life at all, because, you know, what do the ancient Greeks know about me?

Joel:

I don't even think they had CD players.

Derek:

Right! Was that like before Internet?

There is this brilliant book called A Guide to the Good Life that I highly recommend. In fact, I love to point your listeners towards my book list, because for the last seven years I've been taking detailed notes on every book I read, and I post all of my notes for free. So if you go to sivers.org/book you'll see my list of books with my top recommendations at the top. And you'll see right there at the very top is A Guide to the Good Life, which is kind of a modern introduction to the philosophy of stoicism. Which is really just about preparing for the unknowable future, it's kind of like this flight simulator thing we just said. It's admitting that your future life might be hard. It might be good, but it might be hard. And so you don't need to prepare for good times because good times tend to take care of themselves. So you need to prepare for the bad times in advance. Meaning like don't get too acclimated to comfort, because it might not be there for you in the future. And don't take for granted the things that you have them up because they might be gone in the future. Yeah, one of them is be prepared for bad times. Work on this technique of asking yourself what's great about this, no matter what happens.

Joel:

That's a great tip, I appreciate you sharing that. We got a few minutes left in today's show, thank you for joining us. Now talking about Anything You Want. That is your Amazon bestseller, a lot of books titles that have your name on them, but let's talk about this one. I originally was introduced to you with that specific book. It was given to me by one of my friends Dan Miller, a guy that I look up to, has an amazing podcast out. A lot of our listeners are going to be familiar with his name and his podcast: 48 days to the work you love. He sent me that book, he was either trying to tell me something or he really respected you as an author and as a content creator, or probably both. Yeah, there you go, there is a little chuckle. I was hoping I'd get that. So talk about the re-release of Anything You Want, because that is coming up. Talk a little bit about the book as we kind of come in for a landing on this. A safe landing.

Derek:

Anything You Want is a book I never planned on writing, but then Seth Godin a few years ago started a new publishing company. And he called me up and said "I'm starting a publishing company and I want you to be one of my first two authors." And I said "wow! Yes."

Joel:

And since nobody says no ever to Seth Godin.

Derek:

Exactly! When Seth Godin asks, you just say yes. So what we did is, he actually is the one who picked the title, he just asked me to make it like an autobiography of CD Baby. It's a tiny tiny book, it's only 88 pages. Seth was trying out a new idea where he wasn't even calling them books, he was calling them manifestoes. So I want this to be like a 15,000 word manifesto.

Joel:

Did you even know how to spell manifesto? Because I still struggle with that.

Derek:

Many-festoes? So he just asked me to give a very succinct kind of compressed version of the most important lessons I learned from 10 years of starting, growing and selling my company. And compressed into 88 pages that you can read in under an hour. He calls it 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur. So it's just a fun quick read, but it's the culmination of everything I learned in 10 years of building and selling this big company.

Joel:

Fantastic, I really appreciate that. Of course we're going to have all of the links and all the social media hotspots, places to go included in the blog article that accompanies this episode. Some people call those show notes. I really appreciate your time today with us, Derek. We're really excited about this new release, relaunch if you will, of the Anything You Want book. And you my friend, are welcome back here on the show any time. I appreciate you remembering me, because I actually reached out to you as soon as I got the book, give or take a month or so. And you were working on some things, some personal growth work and some other projects that were important to you. But you actually remembered that I emailed you once or twice and when you were ready to be on the show you turned around and emails back. And I really appreciate you remembering us.

Derek:

Told you I would. You know, your kind of listeners are my kind of people. So I mentioned earlier that I put aside a little time every day to answer all of my email and I really enjoy it, you know, the kind of random questions I get from the world. So anybody listening to this, please feel free to send me a little hello. You could just go to my website sivers.org and my email address is on there too. So yeah, feel free to ask me anything, I replied to it all. And yeah Joel, I told you I'd get back to you and I meant it. So thanks for having me.

Joel:

Absolutely! Derek Sivers is our guest today and thank you for being here. Have a wonderful wonderful rest of your day everyone, thanks for listening. Oh, and by the way, go to Audible because you can actually get Derek's book: relaunchshow.com/audibe and they actually have a 30 day no strings attached trial membership where you can actually download Derek's book for free. And regardless of what you decide to do, if you decide to stay a member or not, you can keep your free audiobook as their gift to you. That is on Audible. Derek, have a wonderful day, talk to you later!

Derek:

Thanks Joel! You too, bye-bye.