Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Anything You Want” → Trust, but verify

In 2005, CD Baby’s main business was doing digital delivery of music to all the digital music retailers: iTunes, Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody, MSN, Yahoo!, and fifty more.

This role was life-or-death important to the company because it was the main reason most of our new clients signed up. And there were lots of competitors in this field, so it was crucial that we did everything well.

I built a system that did most of the work, but it still required someone to run the outputs, connect hard drives, and ship them to the retailers.

I hired a guy who seemed good. I sat side by side with him for a week, showing him the system, running it myself, and explaining how it all works. He got it.

The key point was that we had to get every album delivered to every company, every week, no matter what. The guy I hired signed a contract with me that said, in huge letters, “EVERY ALBUM, TO EVERY COMPANY, EVERY WEEK, NO MATTER WHAT.” We talked a lot about how absolutely crucial that was — that it was really his only job requirement because it was that important. He signed and agreed.

His first few weeks, I watched closely to make sure everything was going well. It was. So I turned my attention back to other things.

A few months later, I started hearing a lot of complaints from musicians, saying that their music hadn’t been sent to these companies.

I logged into the system to see what was wrong. It turns out that we hadn’t sent any music to Napster, Amazon, or some other companies in months. Months!

I called the guy in charge of it and asked what was going on. He said, “Yeah, I’ve been really backed up. It’s been really busy.”

I said, “What’s rule number one? The sole mission of your job?“

He said, “I know. Every album to every company every week no matter what. But I’ve been swamped. I just couldn’t.”

I flew up to Portland and let him go. I’ve never fired someone so fast, but this was extreme. Our company’s reputation was permanently hurt. This job was so crucial to the company’s survival that I decided to do it myself for a while. Not just do it, but build a system that wouldn’t let mistakes go unnoticed again. So for the next six months, I lived at the warehouse in Portland, and my sole job was digital deliveries. It took fifteen-hour days to catch up on months of backlog, but eventually we had a smooth system again.

I learned a hard lesson in hindsight:

Trust, but verify.

Remember it when delegating. You have to do both.

Anything You Want - book cover