Anything You Want by Derek Sivers [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book Anything You Want by Derek Sivers. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Printable: Download the actionable worksheet of this summary.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

How Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, now the largest online distributor of independent music in the world, started the company. How it became so big – though he didn’t want it to grow. How he later sold it for $22 million, and what are the lessons learned.

The Core Idea:

Instead of trying to build this huge business that will devour other companies alike, try to make it small. Don’t do it for the money. Help other people fulfill their dreams and make sure that what you’re doing makes you happy. Eventually, money will come.


  • When you help others achieve their dreams, you’ll achieve yours too.
  • If something is not making you say “HELL YEAH!” than say, “NO.”
  • Business rarely goes as planned. Make sure you have at least a couple of radically different plans on the side.

5 Key Lessons from Anything You Want:

Lesson #1: Instead of Trying To Build This Massive Business, Keep Things Small

“Instead of trying to make it big, I was going to make it small. It was the opposite of ambition, so I had to think in a way that was the opposite of ambitious.” Derek Sivers

It sounds bizarre and quite different from what everyone else is advising about building a business. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are restlessly fighting for market share, funding, more customers, and desperately trying to achieve their biggest dream – becoming the next Apple. However, getting bigger is not always the best approach and don’t go crying to your mom when nobody wants to invest in your company.

While being big and earning millions of dollars sounds Kanye West kind of cool, there’s something intimate about being small.

It gives you a sense of freedom. The opportunity to focus on the most important thing about running a business – your customers.

Big means big offices, nice cars, company-sponsored events, probably even a private jet, yes. But it also means long hours. Lack of full control over your company because of the board members and all. And most importantly, losing touch with your customers.

If you don’t solely aim to expand, you’ll have enough time to focus on your customers. And when this happens, your product will naturally get better and eventually new customers will come. Or as the author writes in the book, “Being useful doesn’t need funding.”

Lesson #2: If What You’re Doing Doesn’t Make You Scream “HELL YEAH!” Don’t Do It

Society and the people around us are constantly imposing on us things we should do in order to feel happy or fulfilled: Own a big house; Get new clothes; Buy three cars; Tweet; Share stuff on Facebook; Grow your business… etc.

Still, we often don’t want most of these things. Actually, we often do things only because we want to blend in and feel a sense of belonging.

But life is kind of short, you know. If what you’re doing doesn’t make you scream, “HELL YEAH!” you don’t have to feel obligated to do it.

What does this mean?

Well, a thing categorized as “HELL YEAH!” feels amazing. It gives you a sense of purpose and helps you wake up in the morning.

What about the other things?

Anything that doesn’t feel superb, you can simply dismiss, or delegate.

When you say “no” to most things, you’ll finally have enough time and resources to do what you please. Hence, do more of the things that make you happy.

Lesson #3: Ask Difficult Questions Because No Business Goes as Planned

You’ve just conducted a well-written business plan and it took you just a month?

Throw it out.

No business goes as planned.

If you really want to be prepared, you need to craft a couple of extra plots for your potential world-taking business strategy.

These are some of the questions mentioned in the book which you need to ask yourself to be at least a bit more prepared:

  • Make a plan that requires only $1000 investment. Go!
  • Make a plant that can handle ten times as many customers as you first described. Go!
  • Make a plan that will keep you afloat with only a handful of customers. Go!
  • Make a plan for when you’re married and you have kids. Go!
  • Make a plan that requires the attention of only one person. Go!
  • Make a plan that will list the things you must do when your competitors are lowering their prices. Go!
  • Make a plan for the times when you don’t feel like doing the things you must do in order for your business to operate. Go!

Or in essence, consider for a while that everything you initially planned will go wrong and have it work anyway.


Lesson #4: Your Business is Your Little World

Ever wanted to be the ruler of a kingdom? Well, you now can. Just make sure the laws and the “taxes” you set are OK with your citizens.

We can imagine a business like a small village. A town even. And your customers are the ones living inside. And do you know what can make this little place even better? That’s right, the people living inside.

Act like a mayor. Make sure that your customers are well served and taken care of. All of your actions should be directed towards serving your “citizens.” And when you’re not really sure how to act, ask yourself, and the people living in your small kingdom, “How can we make this place even better?” Then do the necessary.

And while the above things should be your main goals, occasionally people will want something that’s not aligned with the rules of the town. Then, don’t be afraid to wish them farewell and show them the way out.

Or in other words, don’t be afraid to part with some of your customers.

You can’t please everyone in the world. Don’t try to.

“You need to confidently exclude people, and proudly say what you’re not. By doing so, you will win the hearts of the people you want.” Derek Sivers

Lesson #5: Make Your Business Anything You Want It To Be

Right from the start, before you open doors, think about your dream place. About what will make you really happy.

Often people start companies only to find out that what they’re doing is crushing them. But it shouldn’t be like that.

Your business should be something you like, right? So, you need to make sure that the tasks you execute daily inspire you while still being profitable. To do this, you need to execute on the following things:

  • Automate: Automate the majority of the tasks you’re doing and always keep in mind that things might scale. Meaning, you should be prepared to handle the extra load.
  • Delegate: If, and when your business grows, you’ll come to a point where you’ll need to hire people. This means training them and answering their questions. But sitting and answering questions is surely something you don’t really want. So, you need to delegate tasks and catalog most of the processes involved in order for your business to operate. This will free you and give you enough time to run and improve the business you’ve started.
  • Supervise: If your employees are well trained and if all of the procedures are well explained, you still need to show up every now and then. Even the best employees need supervision. So, if you don’t want to start a riot in your company, make sure to inspect the people working for you.

Eventually, tasks you kind of hate will catch up on you and demand for your attention. Sill, there is a way out. As Derek Sivers writes, “Anything you hate to do, someone else loves. So find that person and let him do it.”

Actionable Notes:

  • Find what’s best for you: Some people want to be millionaires and manage thousands of employees. Others, want to work alone. Regardless of what you choose to do, there will always be people telling you that what you’re doing is wrong. But instead of listening to them, concentrate on the things that excite you.
  • Find out what’s working: A lot of aspiring entrepreneurs quit after their first failure. But if you really want to make it happen, you need to understand that sometimes it takes years to create something people will want to buy. So, if what you’re presenting to the world is not receiving a lot of feedback, move on. Improve upon what you’ve created until you have yourself a hit.
  • Be flexible: As Steve Blank says: “No plan survives first contact with customers.” Your plan will surely change when your customers start interacting with what you’re selling. That’s why you need to be flexible and adjust yourself to the demand of your customers.
  • You don’t need funding to start: If you’ve always dreamed of starting a business, you can just do it. You don’t need investors and probably you don’t even need financing from your bank. Actually, it’s quite easy to start a business when you have $100,000 cash, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll succeed. Consider starting with only $1,000. What will you do?
  • Don’t change your product based on one client: A lot of people will want you to change stuff. To tailor your product specifically for them. But if only one guy is asking for this new feature or a particular fix, you don’t really have to do it. At the end of the day, you’ll want to stay true to yourself and do the majority of your customers.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

Unlike other business books, that are really long and complex, Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur reads in under an hour. And believe me, that’s the beauty of this book. You’ll be thinking about the lessons inside this brief book for much longer than the time it takes to read them.

The main thing I’ve taken away from this book and from Derek Siver’s ideas is that you don’t necessarily have to strive to get bigger. Actually, do the opposite. Aim to remain small. Small organizations might earn less, but when you’re small you can move quickly and make the right decisions. Therefore, take good care of your customers.

Notable Quotes:

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.” Derek Sivers

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.” Derek Sivers

You can’t pretend there’s only one way to do it. Your first idea is just one of many options. No business goes as planned, so make ten radically different plans.” Derek Sivers

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