Anything You Want

date Aug 1, 2011
authors Derek Sivers
reading time 8 mins

What’s your compass? Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own. They spend decades in pursuit of something that someone convinced them they should want, without realizing that it won’t make them happy. Don’t be on your deathbed someday, having squandered your one chance at life, full of regret because you pursued little distractions instead of big dreams.

Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what’s not working.

Starting with no money is an advantage. You don’t need money to start helping people.

When you make a business, you get to make a little universe where you control all the laws. This is your utopia. When you make it a dream come true for yourself, it’ll be a dream come true for someone else, too.

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.

But “revolution” is a term that people use only when you’re successful. Before that, you’re just a quirky person who does things differently. People think revolution needs to involve loud provocations, fists in the air, and bloodshed. But if you think true love looks like Romeo and Juliet, you’ll overlook a great relationship that grows slowly…When you’re on to something great, it won’t feel like revolution. It’ll feel like uncommon sense.

A songwriter can write a hundred songs; then suddenly one of them really resonates with people and becomes a hit. Who knows why? It’s not that it’s necessarily better. But through some random circumstance or magic combination of ingredients, people love it.

Every event you get invited to. Every request to start a new project. If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about it, say “no.”

Any time you think you know what your new business will be doing, remember this quote from Steve Blank: No (business) plan survives first contact with customers.

Then they would talk about LOI, ROI, NDAs, IPOs, and all kinds of things that also had nothing to do with actually helping people. I’m so glad I didn’t have investors. I didn’t have to please anybody but my customers and myself. No effort spent on anything but my customers.

Since I couldn’t afford a programmer, I went to the bookstore and got a $25 book on PHP and MySQL programming. Then I sat down and learned it, with no programming experience. Necessity is a great teacher.

Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision—even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone—according to what’s best for your customers.

Watch out when anyone (including you) says he wants to do something big, but can’t until he raises money. It usually means the person is more in love with the idea of being big big big than with actually doing something useful. For an idea to get big big big, it has to be useful. And being useful doesn’t need funding…Starting small puts 100 percent of your energy on actually solving real problems for real people. It gives you a stronger foundation to grow from. It eliminates the friction of big infrastructure and gets right to the point. And it will let you change your plan in an instant, as you’re working closely with those first customers telling you what they really need.

It’s so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas (especially people who want me to sign an NDA before they tell me about the simplest ideas). To me, ideas are worth nothing unless they are executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.

You don’t need to change what you do to please one client; you need to please only the majority (or yourself). If one client needs to leave, it’s OK; you can sincerely wish her well. Because no one client can demand that you do what he says, you are your own boss (as long as you keep your clients happy in general). You hear hundreds of people’s opinions and stay in touch with what the majority of people want.

Proudly exclude people You know you can’t please everyone, right?… It’s a big world. You can loudly leave out 99 percent of it. Have the confidence to know that when your target 1 percent hears you excluding the other 99 percent, the people in that 1 percent will come to you because you’ve shown how much you value them.

Sometimes MBA types would ask me, “What’s your growth rate? What’s your retained earnings rate as a percentage of gross? What are your projections?” I’d just say, “I have no idea. I don’t even know what some of that means. I started this as a hobby to help my friends, and that’s the only reason it exists. There’s money in the bank and I’m doing fine, so no worries.”

But even well-meaning companies accidentally get trapped in survival mode. A business is started to solve a problem. But if the problem was truly solved, that business would no longer be needed! So the business accidentally or unconsciously keeps the problem around so that they can keep solving it for a fee.

When someone’s doing something for love, being generous instead of stingy, trusting instead of fearful, it triggers this law: We want to give to those who give.

It’s another Tao of business: Set up your business like you don’t need the money, and it’ll likely come your way.

Every time someone upsets him, he punishes all his future customers forever… One employee can’t focus and spends his time surfing the Web. Instead of just firing or reassigning that person to more challenging work, the company installs an expensive content-approving firewall so that nobody can go to unapproved sites ever again…When one customer wrongs you, remember the hundred thousand who did not. You’re lucky to own your own business. Life is good. You can’t prevent bad things from happening. Learn to shrug. Resist the urge to punish everyone for one person’s mistake.

It’s too overwhelming to remember that at the end of every computer is a real person, a lot like you, whose birthday was last week, who has three best friends but nobody to spoon at night, and who is personally affected by what you say.

But no matter what business you’re in, it’s good to prepare for what would happen if business doubled… Notice that “more of the same” is never the answer. **You’d have to do things in a new way to handle twice as much business. **Processes would have to be streamlined.

When you want to learn how to do something yourself, most people won’t understand. They’ll assume the only reason we do anything is to get it done, and doing it yourself is not the most efficient way. But that’s forgetting about the joy of learning and doing.

Huge growth means lots of meetings, investors, bankers, media, and answering to others. It’s quite far from the real core of the business. Happiness is the real reason you’re doing anything, right? Even if you say it’s for the money, the money is just a means to happiness, right? But what if it’s proven that after a certain point, money doesn’t create any happiness at all, but only headaches? You may be much happier as a $1 million business than a $1 billion business.

I learned a hard lesson in hindsight: Trust, but verify …Remember it when delegating. You have to do both…Lesson learned too late: Delegate, but don’t abdicate.

Surprised by this, I asked Seth Godin’s advice. All he said was, “If you care, sell.” (I think his point was that my lack of enthusiastic vision was doing a disservice to my clients. It’d be better for everyone if I put the company in more motivated hands that could help them all grow.)

Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller were at a party at a billionaire’s extravagant estate. Kurt said, “Wow! Look at this place! This guy has everything!” Joseph said, “Yes, but I have something he’ll never have…. Enough.”

Business is as creative as the fine arts. You can be as unconventional, unique, and quirky as you want. **A business is a reflection of the creator. ** Some people want to be billionaires with thousands of employees. Some people want to work alone. Some want as much profit as possible. Some want as little profit as possible. Some want to be in Silicon Valley with Fortune 500 customers. Some want to be anonymous.