“Anything You Want” Book Notes

Derek Sivers‘s book Anything You Want is packed full of entrepreneurial wisdom.
I read through it and wrote down some of the key points and ideas in this book summary.

You can get the book here and follow along:

Core Philosophies:

  1. Business is not about money. It’s about making dreams come true for others and for yourself.
  2. Making a company is a great way to improve the world while improving yourself.
  3. When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world.
  4. Never do anything just for the money.
  5. Don’t pursue business just for your own gain. Only answer the calls for help.
  6. Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what’s not working.
  7. Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.
  8. Starting with no money is an advantage. You don’t need money to start helping people.
  9. You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people.
  10. Make yourself unnecessary to the running of your business.
  11. The real point of doing anything is to be happy, so do only what makes you happy.

The rest of the book goes into great storytelling of how Derek learned each of these philosophies for himself. 

Derek faced friction when he wanted to distribute his music. That friction caused him to create a solution. He expanded that solution to friends as a favor who would use it and from there, more and more people took notice.

A business plan should be quick to make. Start simple. Use your common sense to check if the numbers will work. 

Don’t misinterpret persistence as stubbornness. Success happens when you are persistent in improving. If it’s not a hit, switch.

When deciding if something is worth your time, a good general rule of thumb is “If it’s not ‘hell yeah’ then it’s a ‘no’.”

Every no gets you closer and frees you up for the “hell yes” opportunities. 

Make every decision based on what’s best for your customers. The best service to a customer will let them push you to greater heights. To grow your business, focus on your existing customers. 

Every decision has to be approached with the mindset of “What’s the best outcome for your customers?”

If you can’t hire someone to do it, teach yourself how to do it and do it. You don’t need funding. Can’t waste money if you don’t have any to waste.

The Business Formula 

  • Idea x Execution
    • The best idea with the no execution is worth nothing. A weak idea executed brilliantly can be worth millions. 
    • Ideas don’t mean a thing until they’re put into practice. If you want to revolutionize education, start by teaching someone something and then find someone who will pay you to teach them and scale up from there. 

Don’t worry about formalities and fear-mongering that others will pitch you to get you to spend money. 

Don’t be dictated by your clients. This is something you risk if you’re working for bigger clients.

If you have many smaller clients, you become decentralized. 

In that case, you only need to please the majority or yourself and in effect, since no one client can demand you to do anything, you’re your own boss. 

Exclude with confidence. The money is not the point. The happiness of the customer is. Don’t add things like advertising to your site if your customers aren’t telling you “yes, please put in more ads on your site.”

You don’t have to have a plan or a vision. There’s many ways to approach things so your first idea is just one option. Have 10 radically different plans to secure yourself to make the most of things. Focus yourself on helping people today. 

Grade yourself based on how well you’d are about your customers. We all grade ourselves by different measures like net worth or how much money you can give. 

Your company has to be to willing to die for your customers. Businesses are made to solve problems. If the problem is solved, it would cease to exist. (some companies choose problems that are unsolvable, but approachable or change the problem in order to stick around)

Act like you don’t need the money. This will attract money.

  • It feels desperate when you posture yourself as needing it. Like a needy person looking for love–it’s a turnoff. Don’t do it for the money. People can tell.
  • People are happier to pay you when you set your business up like you don’t need the money.

Don’t make decisions when you’re angry. 

  • Being punitive on everyone due to one person’s mistake or action is the result of clouded thinking. 
  • When a customer wrongs you, think of the hundred thousands of others who have not. 
  • You can’t prevent bad things from happening, so don’t let it dictate your actions entirely. 

Be clear. If you are unclear, you’ll pay for it with time, money and team morale. 

You control the rules. A business is your world that customers join. Exert your influence over it and make it a pleasant place to be. The little things make all the difference.

You can be casual. Derek would “recruit” new employees just by asking his existing ones if they had friends who needed work. They’d show each other the tasks and get paid per hour. He hired lightly and fired lightly because he figured a few weeks on the job would be the best measure to see if someone is up to par. 

Prep for doubling. Ask yourself: what would it look like if I had twice the customers I do now? As you scale up, you need to streamline things to efficiently tackle new demand. 

It’s about being, not having. One of my favorite stories from Derek’s book is this one. He wanted to be a great singer. Recorded his first album at 25 after training for 11 years, taking voice lessons and practicing an hour a day. He performed as the lead singer of his band, and people kept telling him he wasn’t cut out to be a singer. His own mentor listened to his album and told him he just shouldn’t continue. At 28, he found himself thinking his voice was getting better. Derek couldn’t have continued to this point without having the persistence of belief in his identity.

It’s much harder to reject something once you’ve made it part of yourself. This is why identity is such a critical thing to have. James Clear notes this in habit formation in his book Atomic Habits as well. 

Don’t promise things to customers that are out of your control Derek experienced this first hand when CD Baby artists weren’t able to get instant access to Apple’s newly launched iTunes Store. 

People who work for you will ask you questions. Call a meeting, get everyone on the same page. Make the person who asked the question document the answer and teach it to someone else to consolidate it. Do this every time a question comes up and soon enough, no more questions will arise. 

Self-employment is fun and feels like freedom until you realize that your business will crumble if you stop working on it. To be a business owner, you should make it so that you could leave for a year and when you get back–business is doing better than when you left it. 

Delegate, delegate, delegate. You need to do everything to get it right at first. And so you do–you keep working harder and harder until you break. Put the time into quality training. Delegate. You will save yourself from crashing. 

Make it anything you want. Your role in your business can be what you choose it to be. Anything you hate to do, find someone else that loves to do it and let them do it.

Trust, but verify. When you delegate something follow up on it. Don’t just blindly leave it up to someone else. 

Delegate, don’t abdicate Empower your employees but don’t absolve yourself of all responsibility or you’ll end up leaving them disgruntled at your lack of control when you have to take it back. 

How do you know when it’s time to sell?

You’ll know. Derek no longer felt as motivated as he used to be to grow CDBaby. He knew that if he cared about the customers of his business, he’d have to let go. And so he did. 

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