A couple of Derek Sivers stories:
My first CD Baby order was #17697, for 8 discs, in 2000. When I got the now-famous colorful shipment notice I thought I’d actually been the first brand new customer to order as many as 8 albums. I thought the email had been crafted for me, in particular. I felt special.
A little later, I placed an even bigger order, and it happened to be while CD Baby was moving across the country. It was delayed long enough that I eventually contacted support, and I promptly got a very nice and apologetic email from Derek Sivers himself (along with the discs, in short order). Again, I felt special.
Later on I learned that everyone got the crazy shipment notice, even for ordering a single disc, and that at the time Derek emailed me, he was one of just two people in the CD Baby “organization.”
And for a little while I felt less special. But eventually I realized that a key part of CD Baby’s value proposition for customers — artists and purchasers alike — was making everyone feel special.
Which, when you think about it, is no small trick.
Reading Sivers’ story of how and why he started, grew, and sold CD Baby, I was strongly reminded of interviews with Dischord’s Ian MacKaye. Partly because they say some of the same things, particularly about not having business growth as a goal. Both describe awkward conversations with “suits” who really can’t grasp this.
But both also display an element of self-contradiction. Sivers says the money didn’t matter — an easy thing to say when your life is not severely constrained by the lack of it — but he did, after all, build a music store, not a music give-away service. Perhaps more tellingly, some of his biggest regrets are about decisions with significant cost impacts. And although Sivers repeatedly says that growth wasn’t a goal, but not only did he consistently make decisions that furthered growth, one of his most provocative epigrammatic guidelines is explicitly about facilitating growth. (It’s to try to make your business practices support double your current volume, which sounds very smart. If you, you know, want to grow the business.)
These cavils aside, this is a pretty great book. Sivers is unusually candid about his mistakes as well as what he did right, and he’s lucid and entertaining. (He says he learned to prize clarity and brevity when crafting emails to CD Baby’s subscriber list, and demonstrates mastery of both here.) You’ll probably be thinking about the contents of this brief book for much longer than the time it takes to read it.
needs more demons? no.