Chatting with Musician Derek Sivers

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Click here for his introduction. An interview below with musician Derek Silvers.

HK; I’ve heard that you started your career as an entrepreneur in the field of music by accident. Could you tell me a bit about the story?

Derek Sivers (DS); CD Baby was an accident. I was making my full time living as a musician. Last time I had a job was 1992. I quit my job in 1992 and I haven’t had one since.

I just did this little thing as a hobby. I just started a website. Then a few people said, “Hey can you sell my CD?” And I said, “Yeah, sure, I guess.” Then a few of their friends called me up and started saying things like, “Hey man, my friend Dave said you could sell my CD.” I was like, “Yeah, sure, no problem.”

The only reason I created this business is because there was a huge demand for it. The idea is to grow reluctantly – to not try to grow. But almost to try not to grow and only grow when there’s such a demand that the world is saying, “We really want you to do this thing! Please do this! We will pay you money to do this thing.” Then you finally say, “Okay, alright, I’ll do it.”

I contrast to that with a lot of businesses I meet that are starting something that nobody wants. Six months after they start, it’s not huge and they come crying about how nobody is signing up for their business, and I can’t help but think “Well, if nobody wants it why did you start it? I mean, wait until there’s a demand.”

HK; What is the key element to be successful as an entrepreneur?

DS: Always keep your focus on being valuable to others – on what would make their lives better.

Most entrepreneurs look at business as something they’re doing to earn money. The successful few are entirely focused on others. Constantly finding ways to improve their customer’s lives. Even little things like answering the phone on the first ring, or a friendly manner, are what can make one business succeed where others fail.

Never forget that money is just a neutral measure of how much value you’re adding to people’s lives. It’s easy to forget that among all the over-thinking.

HK: Is the 20th century-entrepreneur different from the 21st century-entrepreneur?

DS: Maybe in the way that it’s so much easier to come up with an idea, type out some things into an invisible machine, and have it be valuable to people, and earn money. Not even envelopes need to be mailed. That’s pretty unique that a business can now be entirely “virtual”.

HK; Why do we always need leadership? And what is required to be the leader?

DS; We don’t always need leadership. Alcoholics Anonymous, Wikipedia, and others have proved that you can build a system that people can manage by themselves, without needing a leader to provide direction. Maybe it’s more of an architect: someone who creates the game and the rules, then everyone can play inside of that. The members can enforce the rules themselves.

That said, if we think of most companies as playing a game that is constantly changing and improving its rules, then the leader is the person who is best suited to make those rules, and teach them to others.

HK; Many people think music industry is almost ripe and there will no more dramatic progress. What is your opinion?

DS; I’ve never cared one bit about the music industry. Fuck ’em all. I only care about musicians.

Musicians will keep making music. Less will become millionaire superstars. More will be heard worldwide. All will benefit from the ease of sharing with other musicians and music fans around the world. It makes it easier to learn, improve, and get feedback. I’ve found that means more to most musicians than the money.

HK; Your entrepreneur spirit focuses on people – in case of music, on musicians – rather than money. Have you ever identified giving them money with ‘helping’ them? What is your opinion on the best way to help others’ promotion?

DS; I don’t think giving money is the best for me or them. I think good advice is more useful than money, because for most people it’s their mind that’s stopping them, not their bank account. But also: I personally have more advice than money. :-) There are people out there who are just banks. They know nothing about music, but have millions from working at banks or whatever. Those people are better off giving money than advice.

HK; Can you tell me your perspective on the future of internet industry? Will it have the power to enable all human beings to achieve success?

DS; Success is in the mind, as you obviously know. There are some people who you could give a million dollars, and they’d lose it all – but others who you could give nothing but an internet connection and they’d find a way to turn it into a million dollars.

So, yes, the internet has the power to enable all people to achieve success – but so did the telephone, and the printing press, and the wheel. Most people don’t have the success mindset.

HK; What is your definition of success?

DS; I think of it as learning and applying the ways of the world.

You will be successful in business if you learn what people find valueable, how to harness your own ability to offer it to them, and how to work well with other people.

You will be a successful parent if you understand what humans need, how to feel and communicate your love and appreciation, how to teach well, how to manage your own needs so that they don’t interfere with your child’s needs.

You will be a successful marathon runner if you learn the discipline of serious training, learn to endure pain, how to sculpt your physique, etc.

I call these things “the ways of the world”, because they feel like facts, insights, truth, and wisdom. Those who are committed to learning them then living by them will be successful.

To some, that learning comes very naturally, perhaps even effortless. For most of us, it’s hard.

HK; What would be your advice to be successful in general life?

DS; Learn and apply the ways of personal happiness, and empathy with others. It seems if you focus on those two things, plus actually doing something of value to others, then everything else falls into place.

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