cdbaby and Cross-Country Flights

I recently picked up the book, Anything You Want for a cross country flight. Note, if you are buying this to last four plus hours please realize I finished this in about fifty minutes. Published in 2015, these are business and life lessons from Derek Sivers, who started a business that I have to go back and time to imagine. How would you sell music before the age of Spotify and iTunes? Well, that’s what he did. And yes, cdbaby is still around.

The web proved to be a different place in the early 2000s, a world of possibilities and undefined business models. That still exists to a degree but we now have cloud services, mobile computing, and the ability to build a website in a few clicks-depending on how much time you want to spend. I suppose Sivers’ age of discovery has moved to other solution endeavors like block-chain, artificial intelligence, bitcoin mining, or pick the latest technology trend of choice. Cutting edge technology never vanishes, it just shifts at times.

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Despite shifts in the landscape, this book is lasting. I’ve read this and reviewed my notes a few times now. Short reads have their place. I rarely pick up Atlas Shrugged for light reading. Here, you can go back and re-learn. There are lessons in these pages on how to solve a problem, find a market, and then later know when to sell said company, cdbaby in this case. Here are my latest highlights, courtesy of Amazon’s email kindle feature, I took down for a second look:

  • You need to know your personal philosophy of what makes you happy and what’s worth doing. Yes, knowing thyself is important. For me, and everyone I suppose, this is hard. 
  • Never do anything just for the money. Don’t pursue business just for your own gain. Only answer the calls for help. Depending on your place in life, I think this answer varies. Still, worth a free highlight.
  • A business plan should never take more than a few hours of work—hopefully no more than a few minutes. The best plans start simple. A quick glance and common sense should tell you if the numbers will work. The rest are details. Occam’s Razor, the simplest solutions are sometimes the best.
  • Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently doing what’s not working. We all have lots of ideas, creations, and projects. When you present one to the world and it’s not a hit, don’t keep pushing it as is. Instead, get back to improving and inventing. Iteration matters. I’ve written a few books through the years, maybe a sequel or a rehash? To this day, I don’t know how to sell a book about high school kids playing baseball. Hoping an audience finds this book one day (yes, I know this isn’t a strategy).
  • “No business plan survives first contact with customers.” I think about this often with pricing and packaging. How you position matters; yet, sometimes, changing said position can be harder than you think. Still, understand what the initial strategy was for said change, measure, and then go back and see what’s working and what’s not.
  • Just pay close attention to what excites you and what drains you. Pay close attention to when you’re being the real you and when you’re trying to impress an invisible jury.
  • You start believing everyone is awful and the whole world is against you. This is a horrible time to make a new policy. I think of this when reviewing HR policies, code of conduct, and eating at restaurants where there are rules upon rules (refusing to serve for xyz reasons). Some cultures are better at this than others. On a recent trip to Europe, the airport security team smiled at me as I started to take my shoes off going through the metal detector. Because of a single incident, thousands of folks in the US do this for short flights each day. One has to wonder how effective scanning shoes is, but are you willing to take a chance?

Other Notes:

  • For more details on what Derek Sivers is up to these days, he keeps the world updated on his site, which he codes by hand using Ruby. Also, I like his page that shows what he is working on, a good practice. A means to step back and think. I should get around to doing one of these someday.
  • Picture taken while on said cross-country flight.