379 Derek Sivers – Anything You Want

What you will hear in our discussion with Derek Sivers:

  • Know what’s important for you
  • Leading a Life You Love
  • How to Stay Positive in the Ebb and Flow of Life
  • Know What You Want and Live the Life You Love

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More about our featured guest Derek Sivers

Originally a professional musician and circus clown, Derek Sivers created CD Baby in 1998. It became the largest seller of independent music online, with $100M in sales for 150,000 musicians. In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby for $22M, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education. He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with over 5 million views of his talks. Since 2011 he has published 34 books, including “Anything You Want” which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories. 


Books Derek mentioned on our show

Full Transcript

[00:00] Joel: Hi, it's me, Joel. Welcome to Relaunch, your go-to resource for inspiring stories, fresh ideas, and practical solutions. And if you are a frequent listener, thank you for subscribing to the show. And if you are new here, just know that you are among friends and let me introduce myself. My name is Joel, I have a background in counseling psychology and one-on-one personal growth work. Today's show is brought to you by Audible and more information a little bit later on in the show about Audible's 30-day, no-strings-attached trial, a little bit later. But 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 website his Myers-Briggs classification. Just in case people are wondering, “Gosh, where is this guy?” So he is a man of mystery, he wears many, many hats and he's actually published 32 books, I think I got that right, including his Amazon bestseller, ‘Anything You Want'. Of course I'm talking about Derek Sivers. Derek, how the heck are you?

[01:17] Joel: [chuckle] Good. Thanks, Joel. I love how you say that, that's why you're qualified to do this show 'cause as you're describing that I'm thinking that, “Yeah, I'm completely unqualified to do this.” [chuckle]

[01:27] Joel: Marginally. No, I didn't say qualified, I said ‘marginally' and I stretch that word out a little bit. But 32 books, did I get that right?

[01:37] Derek Sivers: Something like that, yeah.

[01:38] Joel: Well, good for you. Good for you. Now this show, Derek, it's highly practical because it is all about the relaunch and specifically 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, then we just unfold the story from there. But I will do that with you here in just a few minutes, but I would like to start the show off with a quick piece of take away gold. And let me just ask you this, based on your experience, Derek, what what would you say is the number one fear or hesitation people have when you start talking about or you start getting into “Anything You Want”, the concept? What do you think?

[02:28] Derek Sivers: It's hard to do something if you haven't had any role model, so I think the fear is going out and doing something that you haven't seen somebody else do. It's one thing to have like a Richard Branson-size role model where 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 one of the most useful things is when you have somebody that's close to you, that you can observe first-hand, that you've seen how they deal with things in 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 do.

[03:18] Joel: Okay. Very good. One of the things that Pei and I talk about, and she dealt with this on today's, show but she's… Usually we do all these shows together, which adds a very fun and a playful dynamic to the show, but one of things we talk about is that one of the ingredients to having any relaunch be successful is you've got to have your relaunch relationships. And I think that that's really what you're talking about is having that role model, mentor, advisor, coach, whatever you want to call him or her, that you can learn from and they'll also kind of link arms with you and allow you to stand on their shoulders so you can see little bit further. Am I getting that right?

[04:05] Derek Sivers: Yeah, it's usually not so formal. I actually get a bunch of requests from people saying like, “Will you mentor me?” And I just say no to everybody, but I say, “Look, I'm happy to answer any questions you have, any questions at all.” I mean, I answer all of my emails so if you ask me something, I answer it, but an official mentor situation, I think, is over-glorified. I like the quote that I, I think it's James Seltzer that said, “Outsource 90% of your mentorship to books,” and I really think that. I've never had a mentor, I was mostly just influenced by all these books I've read, but let me give you a specific example of somebody that could have off-hand made a huge change in my life. That was my very first girlfriend, her parents were real hippies so she grew up on a commune in Vermont without any electricity. And I was with her for six years and I was very close to her family, and this is 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, little photography here and there, some crafts, sometimes they'd get a job for a couple months to help somebody out with something and then quit.

[05:27] Derek Sivers: 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. Straight out of college, I moved to New York City and I got a job and I felt that I had to be like 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, that was the last time I had a job was 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.

[06:11] Joel: Now…

[06:12] Derek Sivers: I was so… Sorry, to be clear, I was a musician, a full-time musician living in New York City after that. So I kept my cost of living down to like a 1000 bucks a month. So as long as I was able to make just a 1000 bucks 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.

[06:27] Joel: Okay, so I wanna get into the relaunch story and we'll zero in on one specific one, but I've got to ask you, you were actually a circus clown at one point. So now did that… When did that happen and how did that come to be because that… Honestly doesn't surprise me… [chuckle] In the best way possible, but yeah, how did that come to be because that's… You don't… I don't have those conversations every day.


[06:58] Derek Sivers: It was funny. I did 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.

[07:07] Joel: Now, how does one become a clown first of all? And then how do you last in that business 'cause you… That was your career?

[07:14] Derek Sivers: Yeah. When I was just 18 years old, I got a call from an agent. Actually it started out my very first paying gig ever. So 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 that time. I was like, “Oh hell yeah, my first paying gig, count me in.” So even though it's like a $60 round-trip bus ticket to get up there, I didn't care, it was like 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 got 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.” Yeah, at the age of 18, I just tried out for the circus, I got the gig and… 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?”

[08:18] Derek Sivers: So pretty soon, at the age of 18, I was like running the show. I was… If you would have gone to see that show, you would have thought it was my circus. So it was a great performing experience, I probably did about a 1000 shows over 10 years and learned how to entertain a crowd. It was pretty cool. But 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. Later in life, when I mentioned something about being in the circus, people spit out their drink and say, “What? You were in what?” I say, “Oh, right, yeah. I was in the circus for 10 years.”

[08:55] Joel: It's like a matter-of-fact kind of thing for you.

[09:00] Derek Sivers: Yeah, seemed pretty normal at the time.


[09:01] Joel: At the time?

[09:03] Derek Sivers: Yeah.

[09:04] Joel: I got you. All right, so do we need to talk about where you went after the musician? Do we need to talk about the buildup to CD Baby? We can talk about that.

[09:15] Derek Sivers: Maybe sticking with 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'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 peoples' records, playing on peoples' records, going on tour, being a guitarist or a bassist or a piano player. Whatever people needed, I made my living playing music. And in 1997, I put out my music on a CD, but 1997, I don't know if you remember, 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, and the only big online music store at that time was called CDNow.com and they were just a front end to the major label distribution system. So yeah, there was literally nobody that would sell my CD.

[10:30] Derek Sivers: 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 just… It grew out of control. It just boomed because… From the years 1998 through, I don't know 2000 something, if you were an independent musician that wanted to sell your music somewhere, the only person that could 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. And CD Baby…

[11:20] Joel: About a $100 million in sales. And then in 2008, you ended up selling CD Baby and a nice take of $22 million from the sale of CD Baby. And then you did something very, very Derek-ish with the proceeds from that. Would you like to talk about that a little bit? And why you chose to make the decision that you did?

[11:47] Derek Sivers: 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 just for personal reasons. I felt done with it, and the company had already been profitable for quite a few years so I had enough money saved up that I just… I didn't need the money, but yet this company was willing to buy it from me for $22 million, which to me honestly was just… 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, right? So I mentioned this to my lawyer, who had a tax law background, and he turned me onto something really interesting that I… I share the tale here because it might be useful to some of your listeners that might be selling their company someday.

[12:36] Joel: Sure.

[12:37] Derek Sivers: It's a really cool thing that the US tax law has is… 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 give $15 million to charity, right?” He said, “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 got $22 million to go to 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.

[13:39] Joel: And it actually went to a charity to support music education, correct? The line share did, anyhow.

[13:46] Derek Sivers: Yes. So to be clear, it's something called a charitable remainder unitrust. Which, it's kind of more like a will, it's like… It's gonna to keep compounding and growing while I'm alive and then when I die, it all goes out to the charity. But it's already… I'm just the trustee. Actually, I'm not even the trustee. [chuckle] There's another trustee. But yeah, it's just kind of being managed inside a charitable trust while I'm alive and then gets paid out when I die. So yeah.

[14:08] Joel: Okay. I got you. I got you, very good. I appreciate you sharing that and wow, what a giving heart that you have. And that's just very Derek-ish of you.

[14:17] Derek Sivers: Well, not really, I don't want… 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 can 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 kind of go, “Uh. I don't know. I don't really need 75 plates in my kitchen.”

[14:37] Joel: I got you.

[14:38] Derek Sivers: Right? You go, “I already have enough,” right? So I think I just had to look at my life and realize I had enough. Like, I'm not going to use anything more you give me at this point. So I'm not being altruistic or sacrificial or whatever, I just kind of realized that I had enough, that's all.

[14:55] Joel: Okay. You had enough. Fair enough.


[14:58] Joel: I appreciate you kind of setting me straight on that a little bit.


[15:03] Derek Sivers: I just… 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.

[15:10] Joel: Indeed. Appreciate you sharing. Okay, so you talked a little bit as we were taking a break about your relaunch and some of the observations and the learning points that you made of yourself, growing up and then earlier as a teenager. So can you talk a little bit about that and you mentioned Tony Robbins in there as well.

[15:35] Derek Sivers: Yeah, so 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, how did you get out of it, right? So I feel like it's kind of a trick question. Somebody asked me once… I was doing a… 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 sat there thinking. I said, “Honestly I can't think of any. No, it's just everything's been quite easy. There haven't been any hard times. It's just been kind of out of control growth. It's been really good.” And so afterwards somebody came up to me that knew me better and he said, “Dude, why did you say that you haven't been through 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 $200,000 to your customers and changed his mind?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, that was kind of hard.”

[16:45] Derek Sivers: 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.” He said, “Why didn't… How did you forget that?” And I said, “Well, I don't know. In hindsight, none of those things seem that hard. It's just… That's part of the path you go through.” And he said, “Oh, okay.” So he said, “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 it's because when I was 17, on my grandmother's bookshelf I saw the book ‘Think and Grow Rich' by Dale Carnegie.

[17:26] Joel: That's Napoleon Hill.

[17:28] Derek Sivers: Oops, sorry, sorry, yeah. Dale Carnegie is ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People'. Thank you again. 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 he said, “I think you're really gonna 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, read it every year or two until it just really became the way I think, kind of second nature. For one little example, it's kind of a classic Tony Robbins line, is that whenever something goes wrong, ask yourself, “What's great about this?” And 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. But then over the years as I read and reread that book, I started slowly putting it into practice. Usually I would kind of think of it a few days after something went wrong. I would think, “Oh, maybe I could ask myself what's good about this.”

[18:40] Derek Sivers: But eventually, I just kept doing it and then it just became an instant reaction. The very second something goes wrong, just out of habit I ask myself, “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, “Okay, well, on one hand, I'm really glad this happened because, say nobody's ever sued me before and so now I know how this works and I can learn how this process goes in case it happens again.” So you just find an upside to anything that happens, and then in my head, those don't even 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?

[19:22] Joel: Absolutely. Well, one of the things that Pei and I talk about when we're helping people kind of get in touch with who they really are so that they can relaunch for more fun, fulfillment, and freedom, is to engage in the routines or the rituals, relaunch routines that are going to set you up for success. And as you read and reread 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, well find a handful of routines that are going to build into your success. That's pretty much what you laid out right there is that you had that personal growth and development routine or it was at least suggested to you and it became a 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 the hammer. It became just a reflex or the way you automatically responded to bumps in the road.

[20:40] Derek Sivers: Exactly. I think of the metaphor of people like airplane pilots that sit with those simulators for a long time and they come through all kinds of scenarios and then suddenly the simulator has an engine die on them and they're over the ocean and they have to practice what to do if they suddenly have to land their plane with a dead engine over the ocean. They practice those situations again and again and again so that when it happens in real life, when that worst case scenario happens, they're just completely trained for it instinctually. They just know how to handle that, and that's what I love about stoicism. I always thought of stoicism as one of those ancient Greek philosophies that probably would not apply to my life at all because what do the ancient Greeks know about me?


[21:33] Joel: I don't even think they had CD players.


[21:37] Derek Sivers: Was that before internet? But there's this brilliant book called ‘A Guide to the Good Life' that I highly recommend. In fact, I would love to point your listeners towards my book list because for the last seven years, I have 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 will see my list of books with my top recommendations at the top. And you will 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 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 because they might be gone in the future. And 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.

[23:04] Joel: That's a great tip, I appreciate you sharing that. We've got a few minutes left in today's show, thank you for joining us. Now, talking about ‘Anything You Want', now that is your Amazon best seller, a lot of book titles that have your name on them, but let's talk about this. I originally was introduced to you with that specific book, and 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' and 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, actually. [chuckle] Yes, there you go. There's 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, and just talk a little bit about the book as we come in for a landing on this. A safe landing, taking your analogy.


[24:17] Derek Sivers: ‘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.” I said, “Wow, yes.”

[24:36] Joel: And since nobody says no ever to Seth Godin.

[24:38] Derek Sivers: Exactly. [chuckle] When Seth Godin asks, you just say yes. So what we did is… He actually is the one that picked the title. He just asked me to make it like an autobiography of CD Baby. So 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 manifestos. So he said, “I want this to be like a 15,000 word manifesto.” So it's…

[overlapping conversation]

[25:04] Joel: Did you even know how to spell manifesto 'cause I still struggle with that.


[25:07] Derek Sivers: Manifestos. So he just asked me to give a very succinct, 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. So he calls it 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur. So it's just a fun, quick read, but it really does… It's the culmination of everything I learned in 10 years of building and selling this big company.

[25:46] Joel: Fantastic, really appreciate that. Of course we're gonna 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. So I really appreciate your time today with us, Derek. We're real 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. Appreciate you remembering me 'cause I actually reached out to you, gosh, as soon as I got the book actually, 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 emailed back and I really appreciate you remembering us that way.

[26:48] Derek Sivers: Told you I would. I really enjoy actually… 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 the kind of random questions I get from the world. So anybody listening to this, please feel free to send me a little hello or ask me any question at all to Derek@sivers.org or you can just go to my website, Sivers.org and my email address is on there too. So yeah, feel free to ask my anything, I reply to it all. And yeah, Joel, I told you I'd get back to you and I meant it, so thanks for having me.

[27:25] 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/audible 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 audio book as their gift to you. That is on Audible. Derek, have a wonderful day, talk to you later.

[28:09] Derek Sivers: Thanks, Joel, you too. Bye bye.

Connect with Derek on Twitter, Facebook and his website, or email him!

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Joel Boggess

Keynote Speaker | Corporate Trainer | Award-winning podcaster I help teams ignite their courage, take bolder steps, and get greater results. Together, we create possibilities that bring empowerment, meaning, and financial impact.

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