Derek Sivers: The Zen Master of Entrepreneurship

Derek Sivers The Zen Master of Entrepreneurship at The James Altucher Show

Episode 159

The most powerful currency in the world is not what you think.

Not anymore.

We’re turning to a new economy with two new, powerful currencies.

And you have an opportunity, right now, to build a more fulfilling and rewarding life.

I’m going to tell you what these two currencies are and how to leverage them successfully. 

But before I do, I want to introduce you to Derek Sivers. He’s an influential thinker, speaker, entrepreneur and the zen master of entrepreneurship writing.

If you’re starting a business, you have to read his book, Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur. It’s in my top three.

Derek built his business, CD Baby, around doing people favors. It became the largest seller of independent music online, with $100 million in sales for 150,000 musicians.

Derek later sold CD Baby for $22 million and gave the proceeds to charity.

“If you focus entirely on others the world seems to reward you the most,” he says.

That’s one of the two most powerful currencies today: favors.

But there are limits.

“You have to serve others within the limits of what you’re able to sustainably do. You can’t do something that makes you absolutely miserable,” he says.

That’s choosing yourself.

I got a lot of ideas from interviewing Derek, which is the other currency: ideas. But you already knew that.

Derek moved to New Zealand. He takes 3-day hikes, spends 30 hours a week with his family, and answers thousands of personal emails asking for his advice.

He wrote a list of his priorities and said “I don’t want to do anything else right now. (No more interviews or speaking at conferences until further notice.)” This is his last interview for awhile.

I’m grateful he chose me. Chose us.

And chose himself.

I encourage you to write him.

And listen to this interview. Share what you learned.  I wrote a list — 7 ways to a “make a killing” and master the new economy.

Derek quoted Kevin Kelly, futurist and founder of Wired. He said, “We should focus on making a living, not on making something huge.”

Derek changed it to “It’s about making a living, not making a killing.”

To me, that’s success in the new economy.

7 ways to a “make a killing” and master the new economy:

A) Leave in the cracks

Derek was listening to Sheryl Crow. But he didn’t know it was her. Her voice cracked. And she got his attention. “That little fault is what made me like her,” Derek said.

B) Admit your faults

I know I’m bad at a lot of things. Derek gave an example. When I interviewed Ramit Sethi, I admitted I forgot to read something. And I wasn’t totally prepared.

“To me it kind of seems like a brilliant way of asking the world to love you,” Derek said.

And maybe it is.

Everyone wants love. How sad is it that we, as humans, contemplate hiding ourselves?

We have two choices: be yourself or fear being yourself.

C) You can always disappear from your problems

But do you want to? Did Kurt Cobain kill himself because he was too famous? Or because he got everything he wanted? And didn’t know what to do with it.

We always want things. Happiness, love, appreciation.

But then do we ask for the right things? Raises, promotions, more responsibility, less freedom?

You can choose f-ck you money and f-ck you problems. Or you can focus on happiness. That’s what Derek did.

He had a company, CD Baby. It’s basically the original iTunes. People said he’d get a lot of money with an IPO. But he didn’t do it.

“What’s the point of making money?” Derek said, “ It’s to be happy.”

“And if it would make me unhappy to have so much responsibility then I’d rather not make more money. I’d rather just focus on the happiness.”

D) Do more favors

Anyone can do this.

Derek started by selling old CD’s online.

He made money right away. So people asked for favors. Can you sell my old CDs?

He said yes. And it spread. Friends of friends asked. Then strangers and soon he had a profitable business.

But do it for yourself first. Learn the skill. Then, do it as a favor for someone else. See if more people ask. And then you have a business that cost you no money to create.

E) Answer asks

Derek didn’t offer to sell his friend’s CDs. They asked him.

“By doing favors for people it implies that people are asking you to do those favors and to me the key is the asking,” he says. “Bluntly put, you shouldn’t start a business unless people are asking you to.”

F) Passion is poison

Only search for passion if searching for passion is your passion.

We’re brainwashed to believe we’re not alive. That we need a purpose. But you’re alive.

Passion or no passion, you are alive.

Derek says, “Instead, just follow the little things that interest you. Just notice on a day-to-day basis what you’re drawn towards.”

G) Only have good goals

That’s how Derek became “a writer, speaker, thinker kind of guy.”

The idea came to him. And suddenly he was inspired. “I put so much work into this and then within nine months I was speaking at TED in front of Bill Gates, Larry Page and all these intimidating people.”

He says, “A good goal is one that actually changes your actions in the moment. Goals are not about the future,” he says. “Goals are about changing the present moment, changing your present actions.”

Listen now to my podcast with Derek Sivers. And let us know what you think.


Resources and Links:

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  • Derek looks like he is just about to perform a haka :-) love NZ
    I am so tiered and I need to go to bed but I want to keep on listening. Good night story…

  • Joe Leonard

    Good read. I am going to listen soon. I like how the author called it “7 Ways…” but then listed them alphabetically rather than numerically. I think that made his whole point about breaking the rules.

  • I read Derek’s book right after it was published, and I love it. – I do read his blog posts on a regularly basis, and I love his blog. – I watched his talks at TED and others, brilliant stuff. – Derek is a REAL inspiration. – You interviewed him? – Count me in listening!

  • Jay Kim

    James, this was a great one and thought provoking as always. I literally purchased Derek’s book “Anything You Want” mid listen haha. His voice is very silky smoooth

  • Paul M

    Derek is an interesting person and we could learn a fair bit from his experience. He did not give the proceeds from CD Baby to charity, just part of them. He receives over $1,000,000 per year (pre-tax) from a charitable remainder trust funded by the proceeds of the company sale and will each year for the rest of his life. Whatever is left at his death will go to charity.

  • OMG, I don’t know who’s more brilliant here, Derek or James. Two of my favorite thought leaders and inspirations, TOGETHER… well, I’m exploding with inspiration. Thank you thank you thank you Derek and James!

  • Liberty White

    Fantastic read! The cracks or being ‘authentic’ is a conversation that a number of my friends and associates have had over the past few months. Now on to the interview.

  • Jenya

    Great interview, James. This was actually a first time I got introduced to Derek, and I would love to learn more about his work/life/business perspectives. Thank you!

  • Sina Fak

    Awesome interview. I first heard about Derek on the Tim Ferris podcast. So much great insight. I’ve been slowly chipping away at his book list.

  • Fantastic interview. And I KNEW I wasn’t the only one frustrated with the sheer amount of ads at the start of Tim Ferriss’s podcast! Always great to hear Derek talk, loved this. Great work James.

  • Been reading Derek’s blog for years. Really interesting guy.

  • Melissa Rebronja

    Thanks for the mention Derek! ;-)

  • Thanks james for introducing this wonderful guy to us. The message to be authentic in business resonates strongly. Will download the book and learn some more, then create….

  • Corey Hinde

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I have manlove for Derek Sivers!!

  • Philanthropreneur

    Time for a truly Sustainable Epreneuring model for 21st century
    1960-99 Entrepreneuring model time for a major Disruption moving from
    B2C OR B2B upwards to enhanced B4B Business FOR Business skills and

  • Kellie

    Derek is the BEST of the best in simplifying complex issues for businesses. “Radical honesty is like nudity.” “Radical fault finding.” Its so true about admitting mistakes and flaws creating a community of followers. Great interview guys.