Derek is the founder of CD Baby, which had a $20 million exit, and he is the author of “Anything You Want,” one of the best books on entrepreneurship ever published.
→ How does he knows if people are responding
→ How does he doing something lead to knowledge of what does he doing
→ How does that process kind of unfold
→ How does he feel the learning of growing one business rolled into the next
→ His best advice to any startup that’s trying to grow right now
→ His best book “Anything You Want” on entrepreneurship ever published
→ And a whole lot more
→ CD Baby
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Derek Simmers with us. Derek, thanks for coming on the program.
Derek: Thanks, Bronson.
Bronson: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to this talk. Well, first, let me tell people a little bit about you. You the founder of CD Baby, a company they probably heard of. And it was one of the first online music stores for independent musicians. And after selling that company for over $20 million, you wrote an incredible book that I had the chance to read a couple of years ago called Anything You Want. And in that book, you share some of your entrepreneurial philosophies. And I’ll be honest, it is one of the best books on entrepreneurship I’ve ever read. I recommend it to people. I share the YouTube videos based off of it and some of the things we’re going to talk about today. We’re talking about them because they’re so etched in my mind that they’ve actually driven the the direction of my business and the way I think. So I’m really excited to have you on. So thanks again, Derek. Cool.
Derek: Thanks. It’s a really great intro.
Bronson: Thank you. Yeah, you’re welcome. Well, one of the most powerful lessons that I learned about growing a business from the book was something you said, which is success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what’s not working. Now, I’m going to read that one more times. I want people to hear it. Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently promoting what’s not working. What do you mean by that?
Derek: I think that’s just from many years of working with both musicians and entrepreneurs. I am, what, 44 now? So I guess I’ve been doing this for about 25, 26 years. And it feels that when I think back, all of the successes that I’ve known, that the few people that went on to big success, it wasn’t because they were taking some idea and like persistently hammering it and pounding the pavement and all those metaphors we hear. It’s the success came from when they tried something completely new. Right. So musicians, for example, there are some musicians there, a lot of musicians who say take one of their first songs they ever wrote that still has this kind of magic of just like, Oh, but this is the song that means everything to me. And I wrote this for my wife and and I’m sure that this will become a hit. So I’ve been trying for years to get people in Nashville to record it or something like that. Those things will never be a hit. Right. The the ones that are a hit, say, in the songwriting world, for example, are the people that just keep writing songs and. Give each one their best. But then they try something new and they write a new song. And then suddenly song number 115 that they’ve ever written is suddenly a hit, right? Yeah. And same thing with businesses. I knew people that maybe had an idea that they were pushing and pushing and people just didn’t seem that into it. But they were pushing and pushing, pushing. But their big success came when they gave up on that idea completely, did something completely new. And that’s the thing that took off and that kind of feel. Then, even from my own personal firsthand kind of experience, that feels that you can usually tell at the beginning of an idea whether people are into it or not. Right. So all those years I spent making my living as a musician where that was like my big dream to be a successful musician, it was just so much kind of like pounding my head against locked doors. You know what I mean? And it just it was like a struggle to try to get people to pay attention to what I was doing. And, you know, please come check this out or please try my new site or service or whatever it may be. And it was always a yeah, always felt like a struggle. And then I started CD Baby, and instantly as soon as I started it, you could just feel this difference where people went, Oh my God, it does what I can sell my music like, oh my God, that’s amazing. And told all their friends. And it was just this instant reward, instant enthusiasm that none of the other projects had. And then that was my biggest success. Yeah. So now I feel after many years of doing this, I can look back at this common thread and and say like, all right, if people, if I’m starting some new thing and people just don’t seem that into it, instead of persistently pushing at it for years, just let it go. Do something new.
Bronson: Yeah, it seems like the question is, how do you know if people are responding? Well, how do you know when you’re on that idea that’s really working? But the way you’re depicting it, it sounds like it’s obvious. It sounds like if you have to ask the question, it’s not working.
Derek: Yeah, yeah. I think you’ll know. I think you’ll know when when people are really, really enthusiastic about idea and idea and ideally, you know, actually opening up their wallets and doing something about it, not just saying, hey, cool, man, that’s great. Right on. Wish you the best with that. Good luck. You know, not that kind of enthusiasm, but like, oh my God, where can I sign up? Can I be a beta tester? I need this. Yeah, that’s. That’s what you want.
Bronson: Now, you know, I remember when I first heard this advice, I started doing it. And it’s true. I mean, it is absolutely true because I’ve done my fair share of pushing things that nobody wants. And then there’s some things that just, you know, you’re on the wave, you’re riding it, and everything just flows and it just feels not effortless. But it’s a different kind of persistence.
Derek: Yeah, I love the way you put that riding the wave. Yeah, that is how success feels. Yeah.
Bronson: Yeah, well, that’s the way I think about entrepreneurship, is that, you know, it’s a lot like surfing in that you control some things, you can train, you can get up and get in the water at the time when the waves are probably going to be there. But there’s a lot that’s left to time and chance and luck in the market and a lot of the variables you don’t control. And if you view it that way, when you find yourself on a wave right it. If you find yourself without a wave, just paddle back in and try again. And that’s kind of your thing persistently doing something different, don’t it, right away. That doesn’t exist.
Derek: I like that. Yeah.
Bronson: Yeah. Now, let me ask you this. What is it that keeps people from taking this advice? And my guess, is there some kind of hang up there? Same some kind of thing there? Let’s talk about business people. You know, you talk about musicians. It’s their first song, you know, that kind of thing. They wrote about their their their love. Is there something in business people that keeps them from just saying this business is broken, let’s just own up to the fact and try something different?
Derek: Hmm. I mean, for one, that’s just a human nature to try to make something work that you’ve made, right? Whether it’s some kind of home improvement project or, you know, some girl that’s just not into you in high school. And you just keep thinking that if if she just gets to know you better than she’ll. I’m sure she’ll love me if I just keep trying. If I just keep calling at 2 a.m. So but I think, I think what it really is, though, more than anything is that there’s a reason that you did this original idea, whatever this thing is, that you started, like you believe in it, and it’s hard to accept that others don’t love it. You think maybe they just don’t get what I’m doing because I love this idea. This is something that I think is a great idea. So let me just I don’t know why people aren’t responding to it. Let me just keep trying. Obviously, they just somehow they just they’re just not getting it. I’ll just keep trying. But I think what’s hard to understand is that, yeah, maybe people do get it, but it just doesn’t excite like it does.
Bronson: You know, it makes total sense. And it seems like this way of thinking it changes your relationship to failure, because if you persistently try new things, that’s owning up to the fact that you’re failing a lot. You’re trying something, the market is not responding and you do something different and the market doesn’t respond and you do something different, and then you kind of catch that wave that we’re talking about. But that means you have to become comfortable with failure, right, to be able to do this.
Derek: I guess I don’t think of it as failure. I mean, it’s not really. It’s not failure. Sorry to use the songwriting metaphor again.
Bronson: That’s fine. It’s good. It’s funny, baby. This is what you do.
Derek: Yeah. If. You know, if you write a song and people don’t love that song, was that song a failure? No, of course not. It was just it was an idea that people weren’t as into. So you keep trying other ones? Yeah. I guess the big idea maybe is to not get so, so invested in something that. That you have to look at it as a failure if it doesn’t catch on. Right. That. Yeah. I don’t think of any of the things I did that didn’t work as failures. I just think of them as, you know, ideas that I enjoyed doing. I did it. I tried it. I put it out there. People weren’t as into it as I thought they would be. Oh, well, I like that next idea. But, yeah, it’s failure is a heavy word. It’s. Yeah, you need to think of it like that, even though I know it’s it’s kind of the Silicon Valley lean startup thing to say, fail fast and all that. But I know I think it’d be more useful to just kind of erase that word and not think.
Bronson: And, you know, every time I failed, I’ve learned something really important about business, about life, about, you know, just kind of everything. And so it’s never a total failure if you learn something, if there’s an insight. And that’s why every time I put out something, a new product, a new business plan, you know, a new kind of whatever. I got closer to it being the thing, even when they weren’t, because I kept rolling what I was learning into the next thing. And you when you do that? Yeah. None of them are failures, even if they have no money coming in. Yeah.
Derek: Yeah. Just learn more and more about human nature and what people want and. And even learn about yourself. I mean, let’s you know, it’s something that we don’t talk about enough. But that to me, it’s it’s like business and personal or just it’s the same, you know, there’s so tied together, I can’t really separate them. It’s when you do a business, it’s learning how you work best and what excites you the most and what you’re most naturally thriving in doing and stuff like that. If you learn these things about yourself as you go along to.
Bronson: Yeah, you know, this is something that we didn’t plan on talking about. But one of the things I see maybe that you did was you didn’t listen to the MBAs. You know, the Indians would come in and they would tell you, you know, do you know these numbers? Do you know these metrics? How do you optimize for this? And in a sense, you ignored a lot of their input because it wasn’t your style and they could have ran the business that way and it might have worked. But it wasn’t the way you wanted to run it at that moment in time. And so it wasn’t going to work for you no matter what, you know, they wanted. Is that right?
Derek: Yeah. And I think this is weird to me, that kind of business and art mix or to me they’re kind of the same thing if I’m trying a business idea. To me it’s not that different than writing a song or making a painting or building something or other. Actually, no, it is different than building a building because even then it’s like just a strictly useful thing. But it’s like you say writing a book or something like that. It’s something that you want to do, you want to put out into the world. It’s an idea you have. You think other words will like it. You put this creation out there, it’s very much a personal thing, even, you know. So sticking with the music example, when I put out my first record, I was 26 years old and I played all the instruments myself on the record except drums because I wanted to like I wanted to get good enough at the bass to play the bass part and get good enough the keyboards to play the keyboard part. And I wanted to do all the vocals myself because it was about self-improvement, self-discovery, you know, pushing personal limits and all that kind of stuff. And then after I did it, I played my album for some people in the music industry. The couple of people said, You know, you’re just not a singer. You should just go get a real you need to find a real singer that can sing this stuff because you’re just not a natural singer. And believe it or not, it actually didn’t bother me one bit because I just felt kind of like the MBA’s like, okay, well, you don’t you don’t get what I’m doing. Like, because this to me isn’t about doing whatever it takes to make this thing a success for some reward, you know, Grammy Awards or money or something like that. I’m doing this for personal expression or personal achievement or whatever. That’s the reason I’m doing it. A songwriter doesn’t just hire another songwriter to write his songs for him so that he can have better songs. And somebody aspiring to be a singer doesn’t just hire another singer to have a better singer. Yeah, the whole point is like seeing what you can do. So same thing with a business like I’m doing this business because this is something I want to try to do. I want to get better at doing this. I like even with CD Baby, I just, I just enjoy the process and having an MBA come along and say, Well, it could be a more successful business if you do this. I’d say, That’s okay. I don’t mind. Like, this is what I’m I’m not it’s not just I’m not doing it just for the goal. The process is the point.
Bronson: Yeah. You know.
Derek: That’s that’s catchy. I like at.
Bronson: The. Yeah, that’s right. That’s good.
Bronson: In there, too. That’s right. He’s got you know, it seems like when you when you really think about business and art being more similar than we usually do. To me, when I think about art, I never criticize someone’s art because it doesn’t look like someone else’s art. It’s art. So it’s like in art, you’re given the freedom to do something that’s unique and different and doesn’t fit the mold and business. You’re just supposed to fit the mold. And so what’s interesting is that now if you think about businesses, aren’t you going to make a business that reflects you, that reflects your partner, that reflects your customers, that reflects your own quirks and ideologies? It gets to reflect something unique, and I think about that a lot is that in business there’s only a couple real rules and I think value as a rule, I have to give you some value and you give me something I value and then it has to be legal. I need to do it within the confines of the country I live in and it needs to be ethical because we need to you know, we have to live in our own skin and do what we believe in. Outside of that, there’s no rules. Your business can look however you want it to look as long as you’re exchanging values, obeying the laws, and being ethical. And that means there’s a lot more freedom. That’s it’s a lot more like art than I think we assume.
Derek: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s. And realizing it’s measured by more than just income or profit or revenue. Right. That it’s it’s got to be something that makes you happy. Mm hmm. In all of that, I know it’s still feel free to talk about that stuff. But I think especially I mean, you know, it’s it’s it’s weird to say this. It’s still weird for me to say these words out loud that like, I mean, I’m a multimillionaire. I still don’t really relate to that. But. But you do find that. At least I hope you find that after you get a certain amount of money, it’s there is this feeling of like, that’s enough. Like, I don’t need to do things for money anymore. At a certain point, it’s just silly. It just becomes like a one of those hoarder people that just gets more and more stuff that, you know, at a certain point it’s, what are you going to do? You’re not going to spend it in your lifetime. You kind of have to be a fool to spend it. So instead, you’re kind of like playing this game of trying to figure out the ways of the world and trying to be useful and make things that people will like. But but money isn’t the only measure anymore. And and sometimes it makes me even a little sad when I run across people that you can tell that just money is their only measure of success.
Bronson: And this is one of the reasons I wanted to have you on, is because we have a lot of guests on the show and they’re helping educate people about how to grow their business. So it’s a lot about money, it’s a lot about growth, it’s a lot about numbers and metrics, and that’s healthy. When you’re trying to grow the business, you need to try to try some things to get it out there. But to have this other side of the coin be brought to the table I think is just so valuable because this is your life. Like you’re living it right now. It’s just, you know, if you make the money one day, like you said, the process is the point. And I like that you’re going to bring some balance, I think, to a lot of topics we talked about on the show.
Derek: Cool. I mean, you know, all that said, the MBA stuff, it’s not like, you know, there’s this old saying that you have to know the rules to break them. I still don’t know how to read a profit and loss statement or a balance sheet. And I still I’m actually in awe of the people for whom their approach to marketing is about A B, testing everything in the sales funnels and numbers and all that stuff is just so over my head that I’m in all the people who know that stuff and I actually do aspire to learn that stuff more still. Like after I sold CD Baby, I signed up for a college class in entrepreneurship so I can start to learn some more these basics that I never put any time into learning. And I think it’s a blast.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, that’s what I like is I’ve had some people in the show and they actually grow successful businesses through AB testing and funnels and all that stuff. Other people, they come on, they’ve grown successful businesses through authenticity, genuineness and just doing what they love. Like there’s more than one route to the same kind of results sometimes. And I think it’s helpful for people to hear that, that and then you can combine the two, which is kind of what you’re aspiring to do. You have the authenticity. Why not learn the other stuff and then, you know, double trouble authenticity check. Yeah, well, it’s true, though. It comes across I mean, there’s just no way around it. I mean, that’s what my wife said last night. We’re watching, you know, you on YouTube. She’s like, you know, he’s authentic. He’s a good guy. So so there is something there. The next thing I want to talk about is something you say about business plans. And it kind of leads naturally from the first thing you know, first we talked about you have to be persistent and trying new things. Business plans are a little too rigid for that. A business plan is you make it now, let’s execute on it. There’s not a lot of room for that was not a failure, but it wasn’t what we needed it to be. Let’s do something different. And you say that your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people want until you start doing it. How does doing something lead to knowledge of what you should be doing? How does that process kind of unfold?
Derek: Well, I guess I have to give one clarification that when I said that, I guess I think I probably said this in my book or maybe video that when I said that a business plan is mote, I mean, more like when you see those people with the five year projections of like well, by, you know, year four, we should have this many profits and this many customers. And I think when you have no idea what’s in store in the year for like just focus on the what it takes to turn this idea from theory into practice. To me, that’s the the difference is that when you have a business idea that something you think will work in the real world and even maybe you’re doing it kind of business school style where you’re sitting here and making calculations and doing market research and interviewing lots of people to to ask people if they would spend money on this thing and they will give you their answers. That’s still kind of in theory, right? People are still telling you in theory, that sounds like something I’d spend money on. And in theory, as I think I would do that. But it’s still just a theory. So the big idea is to just put it into the real world as soon as possible to turn the idea from from being in theory to being in practice. And that’s even perhaps like a scientist doing an actual experiment with the beakers and something in the lab instead of just on paper. Then you can see what actually happens. Now you’re testing your. Very. Mm hmm. And you’re seeing what reality has. So. So I know this must be a common theme on all of your interviews, but you do this as soon as possible so that you can start to get real world feedback. Now, all of your ideas are not just in theory anymore, and now you’re getting people actually loving this aspect of your idea and hating that aspect of it, or having no interest in this aspect of it or whatever. The only way to find that out is to just go out into the real world and and especially test by the measure of people actually opening their wallets to spend money on things, not just giving you nice compliments and praises because they like you.
Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. You know, there’s a video you have and you talk about, you know, we have these plans of, like, world domination. You know, I’m going to have this thing. It’s going to be in every country. And here’s the way it’s going to be structured. And I think the point of the video is actually about not needing funding just starting now, you know? Yeah. The idea of start something, it can be small. You’re going to learn and grow and change and adapt and morph, but at least you’re in the real world doing it. It’s not on paper and you can become big, but you have to start small to get big. You can’t just go from zero to everything.
Derek: Yeah, I meet so many people that are that the aspiring entrepreneurs that are so obsessed with being big and huge and they talk about millions of customers, they say, well, the potential market size, this is $17 billion because every third person on Earth is going to need this. Think, all right, well, can you show me one person that needs it? Yeah, let’s start with that. Yeah.
Bronson: No, that’s a great insight. You know, you also have you know, I think about starting these ideas. It’s like, okay, we have to start something today. That’s that’s where we need to begin this whole process without making it more complicated than these to. But one of the things is we think that our own ideas are just obvious. Sometimes we think about our own insights and we’re like, you know, my ideas are boring, my ideas are plain, my ideas are just taking these two things and put them together. But anybody could have taken those two things and put them together or whatever. We look at other people’s ideas and we think, that’s genius. Like that’s that’s inspire. That person, you know, has a muse. And I don’t have one of those. But one of the things you talk about is just how that that’s not really the case, that our own ideas are a little more inspired than we than we think they are, right?
Derek: Yeah. This is only a recent revelation. I was already 40 years old when I was at a little event that Seth Godin was doing. And even though Seth Godin is is a friend of mine, when I went to his event, he was doing a little event in New York City where I think it was like only 100 people in a little theater. He gets up on stage and first he does a talk for about 30, 40 minutes or so, and then he says, okay, the rest of the day because it’s like an all day long event, right? It’s like 9 to 5. And he said the rest of the day, all I’m going to do is answer your questions all day long. I’ve got a projector here set up to my laptop. Anybody in the audience? Raise your hand. Tell me what’s up. Give me the name. Your website will pull up your site and ask me anything about your business. I’m here to help for the rest of the day, but we’re going to do it in this audience setting so that everybody else in the room can listen to your question and my answer, so that it blew my mind how it was like watching John Coltrane play jazz the way that he was just like up there improving and like everything he said was brilliant. And somebody would just raise their hand and say, I’m really stuck at this point of my business and here’s my site. I don’t know what to do. Nothing is responding. And Seth would take one look at it and like 2 seconds to go. Right? Okay, here’s what you need to do. Bom, bom, bom, bom. And it was brilliant and was like, how did he come up with that? Oh, my God. That was like the most brilliant insight. And he didn’t have to sit and think about that for a day or ponder it. He just had the answer on the tip of his tongue. How did he do that? And when I asked him about it later, he just said, Well, this is pretty obvious to me. And so to me that was just genius. And I felt like I’ll never be that smart. Right. And then the other hand on my blog, I have just little thoughts and observations about life. And I write an article and then somebody else will say, Oh my God, that’s brilliant how you think about that. I mean, I don’t know. It just seemed pretty obvious to me. And then it finally at the age of 40 years, so like it clicked. I was like, Oh yeah, I get it. Like, Seth’s ideas seem amazing to me because I’m not seeing all of the internal dialog in his history that brought him to that point of believing X, Y, Z and same thing when I put a little blog post into the world or make it into a three minute video or something, it’s like the final culmination. Of a lifetime of thoughts around something. And I just put out this little bit into the world. So I realized that it’s kind of a human nature thing, and I think that we all do. Ever since we’re kids is we compare our insides to someone else’s outsides. Right. So whatever whatever somebody is showing you in the world, when somebody is showing you their public self, their face, you see somebody walking down the street like they’re only showing you kind of the surface. And that is kind of the polished surface showing you their best side. Whereas we see all of our internal dialog and our insecurities and our fears and our questions and our flip flopping on certain issues and whatever, and the thoughts that came to something. So we see our insides and compare it to someone else’s outsides and we think that, Oh wow, those people are so much they have so much more together than I do. But then the catch is that they’re thinking the same thing about you. Yeah.
Bronson: Is one of the tricks is to kind of not self-regulate so much, to be the kind of person that’s not afraid just to put things out there and let people tell you that’s awesome. Or let people say, I’m not interested. If you can just kind of get to that place where you’re producing more and being self-conscious, less, it seems like you’re going to have more insights and more moments of genius according to other people. Is that fair?
Derek: Yeah. Well, maybe to me, with this kind of obvious topic that we were just talking about, brought up to me is it takes a certain amount of was it confidence or is it humility? I’m not sure there’s something in there to to put something out into the world, even though you might think it’s obvious, you know, to. There was one time I can’t even remember the specific anymore, but somebody asked me a question once by email. I get all these questions by email, which, by the way, I might as well say now, if you’re listening, watching this, like, feel free to email me anything. I kind of get a dozen questions a day from strangers by email, and I actually really enjoy it. They’re just kind of random questions. So my email address is in a big font on my website at the bottom of the page, so feel free to email me. So somebody sent some stranger kind of sent me an email one day and said, Hey, Derek, I’ve got this situation with my business and I’ve done this. I’ve done that. Nothing’s responding. I don’t know what else to do. And when I was when I was looking at I kind of looked at this for a long time. It was one of those that for like 20 minutes, I kind of started going, huh. Well, I mean, he’s obviously he obviously must have done this thing because that’s just a given. That’s just so obvious that I don’t even need to mention that. So what else could it be? And I spent a long time thinking what else could it could be? And then I thought, Well, I might as well just ask him this one obvious thing, even though I’m sure it’s like almost insulting. Of course, he’s thought of that. And I emailed them back. I said, Well, have you tried this? And he responded like, Oh my God, it worked. Thank you so much. It went, Wow, it was it it was it almost took a kind of humility or whatever you call it, to take to put to say that thing that seemed so obvious to me. It was almost like somebody in a in a hen house saying, there’s all these chickens here. I don’t I can’t find any eggs. And and you almost feel it insulting to say, well, have you looked under the chickens? Oh, my God, there’s the eggs. Okay, I’m glad I could help it. Sometimes it feels like that when you put in your ideas out into the world, it seems really obvious to you. So yeah, like you just said, the lesson learned from this to me was just like, well, put it out there. Even if it seems obvious, don’t hide it from the world because it seems too obvious to you. Put it out there.
Bronson: No, it’s great. So you grew city, baby. You sold it for, you know, a ton of money. Like you said, you still feel awkward saying it, but multi-million and and now you’re working with the company Wood Egg, and you’re doing entrepreneurial guides to Asia, which look extremely thorough. I look at the room on Amazon on your website, kind of compare and contrast for me the seed baby growth experience and what’s happening now. It would egg. Were there things you learned at CD, Baby, that you say, Oh, I could just totally apply this to wood egg. And that’s going to get us to first base right there because I’ve already got that covered and I know how to do that. And I did this other thing at CD, Baby, and that’ll get us to second base. Or is it just a new endeavor, a whole new set of rules. And it didn’t really, you know, have carryover. I’m just wondering how much you feel like the learnings of growing one business rolled into the next.
Derek: I wish for the sake of conversation and making a good interview that I could tell you that the stuff I learned at City Baby is applying to this. But actually, no, it feels like a very different thing. It’s coming from a different place that when I did when I started CD Baby, it was really just responding to a need, like almost responding to a request. It was. It really felt more like a favor that I was doing to my friends, for my friends, because they were asking me to like I started this little thing to sell my music, and then all my friends asked if they could use it to sell their CD. And so as a favor to first friends and then friends of friends and then the world. I did this thing that everybody seemed to need know, so that was silly baby with wood egg. It’s more of my personal curiosity. It’s kind of a personal passion project where I’m living in Singapore. I know nothing about Malaysia or Indonesia or Vietnam or Cambodia or Myanmar. All these countries that are you can literally see outside my window in this apartment in Singapore where I could see Indonesia out of that window, in Malaysia, out of that window because because of where Singapore is, it’s like this little dot on the map. So I could see Indonesia, I could see Malaysia and I would go visit these countries. And I still didn’t understand them. I wanted to I wanted to get them more like understand what makes them tick and understand the culture more. So Wood was just my personal project I did or am doing because, you know, they say that the best way to learn something is to teach it. So to me, this was like my way of formalizing my learning about these countries, but definitely not responding to a need. There weren’t dozens of people saying, Please tell us more about Cambodia. It was more just my personal thing. So because of that, know the whole shape of the business, kind of like we talked about it a little while ago about the kind of comparisons between art and business. This feels like a very different art project, right? That. Different need, different goal, different different reason for doing it. So because of that, all of the decisions along the way are shaped very differently. If I was doing it just to satisfy a need of the world, I probably would just shut it down now because there hasn’t been a big need. I have some people that are really interested and curious in it, and so I’m going to keep doing it, but it’s still more for my own sake than for there is a different kind of thing.
Bronson: You know, what it makes me think of is, you know, here you are as a single individual and your first company doesn’t necessarily have lessons for your second that you can just obviously apply. And yet we try to take advice from other people in other businesses and apply it to our business and us. And maybe those years and personalities and markets that are so different, it’s hard to even connect the dots loosely. Right?
Derek: That’s so true. That’s such a good point. Yeah.
Bronson: Should be. Should we just, like, have kind of a sober attitude about reading blogs and how other people did things and. Yeah, you know, I mean.
Derek: You know, I think it all okay with any advice in general, right? I read a lot of books and I listen to a lot of people’s advice. And even as a for years, I go to lots of conferences and I’d always be the guy in the first row with my notebook writing down what every person on the panel was saying and listening to everybody’s advice and furloughing my brow and taking everything very seriously. But. I think. Yes, take it all in. But you’ll know when certain things resonate with you. You know.
Bronson: So don’t stop listening to advice. Just filter. Yea.
Derek: Yea. Yea. Certain things will stick. Think Jason Freed from 37 signals, which I think is now just called base camp. Just had a he wrote an article once saying that that their internal processes at the company were not. They don’t track feature requests or something like that that any type of composing.
Bronson: They’ll get emailed enough. Yes, me too.
Derek: We have no. Oh, cool. You remember that? Yeah. It’s also that if it’s important enough, like, it’ll. It’ll stick. Or sometimes even one of the best changes I ever made at CD Baby was from one person in Europe. Asked for this one little feature. The details are not even worth going into. But it was. It wasn’t like lots of people were asking for this thing. It was like one person asked for it. And as soon as he said it, I was kind of like, Oh, that’s a great idea. Like, that would be really cool. I want to do that right away. Like that really resonated with me, right? It’s the same thing with the books we read, the podcast, we listen to the videos we watch, the blogs we read every now and you take it all in and every now and then something will be like, Yeah, that, that hits me. Like, That’s something I want to do. You don’t have to just blindly follow like, well, this guy said that I should never have investors or this guy said I should raise financing as soon as possible. This person said I should always do a B testing with everything I do. It’s like, well, and that’s what he said.
Bronson: Yes, I know. It’s you’re right. You know, some things just kind of hit you is an obvious insight that’s meaningful to you. Another thing that I’ve done is I’ve noticed recently because I read a lot of books, I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and the last three or so audio books I’ve listened to, they each have a similar thread of advice, and they’re different books about similar topics, but not completely similar topics. And I think there’s something to this because three people that are very different are talking about this thing in a similar way, and it says it’s sticking with me on pattern matching, that there’s successful people that are all coming at this from different angles and hitting on the same little bit of truth. I should really think about this before I disregard it. So sometimes it is hits you, sometimes you pattern match for it, but I think do it right. In no way is it. This is what successful company A, B or C did. So I’ll do likewise. So I believe in taking in a lot of educational content, or I wouldn’t be in the business of educating people through content. But there has to be some common sense and there’s got to be some ways to filter it that makes sense. So I like what you say a lot. It makes sense.
Derek: If you don’t mind if you have a minute, could you tell me, since it sounds like you know what those three are?
Bronson: Yeah, well, no, I’ll tell you exactly who they are. So right now I’m listening to the a book by the guy that does the Dilbert cartoons.
Bronson: He’s got this guy, Adams. And the thing he’s talking about is the process of success. That success. It’s a process and that people get confused when they make it a goal and they don’t realize all the things about here’s this idea of there’s a system that great entrepreneurs have in place and they work the system and the system has a good chance of success. You know, in the general population, for a lot of people, it’s not like playing the lottery. It’s not like having a goal of I’m going to, you know, get a job making 100 K a year because if you have a goal, you reach it and you’re done. But if you have a process, there’s no end goal where you can say, I’m done with this now. And so this whole thing is about process versus goals and it even says goals are for losers. I listen to a book, The Pumpkin Patch or the Pumpkin something thing about how to like grow your business based on pumpkin farmer insights, kind of random, whether it’s this guy that did a toilet paper entrepreneur and he has the same thread that entrepreneurship success is a process that you apply to your lifestyle and you end up successful. It wasn’t a goal that you tried to reach through some arbitrary method. And another book, The Millionaire Fast Lane. Same exact thing that, you know, in his, you know, his parlance, becoming a millionaire is a process and people just look at the end result of, oh, he had a buyout from Microsoft. He’s a millionaire now. It’s like actually he had a ten year process and he knew he was working it, but you didn’t. And so it look like an event is what he calls instead of a goal. It looked like an event, but it was really a process. So these three people, they’re all saying it’s a process, it’s a system, it’s an algorithm, it’s a protocol, it’s not a goal, an endpoint, a one moment in time sort of thing. You hear from three people and three or four books and they’re like, All right, they’re rising to this. You know, I like that insight.
Derek: Almost like like I better make this resonate with me. Like, you know, how we were just saying, like, certain things stick with you. It’s like, do you hear something a few times? Maybe you can almost convince yourself, like, hey, even if this maybe didn’t catch me the first time I heard it, maybe I should.
Bronson: You know? And that’s exactly what happened. The first book, it was a rare book for me to read. It was recommended because it had Millionaire in the title and I feel sleazy reading books like that. But yeah, I listen to it. And I thought, okay, I agree with that principle, I think. But then these other books, you know, Scott Adams, he’s not at all talking about becoming a millionaire. His book is totally a different slant, but the same kind of insight comes about. So I heard it from enough people. I could get overly biased I had about sources. Nice. So anyway, that was one of the links. But, you know, this has been an awesome interview. I mean, we went to so many helpful things. This last question is something I ask all our interviewers. It could be a short answer. Long answer. It could be a vague answer. You can take it anywhere you want. But what’s the best advice you have for any startup that’s trying to grow right now?
Derek: Some. I think my single biggest bit of advice is to stop thinking of people in terms of crowds. I feel like most ambitious entrepreneurs I talk to talk about, oh, users, we’re going to try to get, you know, 1 million users are after our first 1000 users are, oh, we need to get as a crowd for this and they talk about everybody in terms of big plurals in groups and I, I kind of feel like there’s no such thing as a crowd. I’ve never met one. There’s just there’s only people, you know, they’re individual people. Even if you have a bunch of people in one place, those are individuals. And you can’t ever, ever forget that if you you should slap yourself a week. If you find yourself thinking of people as a group because they’re individuals. And so many times, in fact, even I think the thing I was referring to 15 minutes ago with, you know, have you looked under the chickens for the eggs? The thing that was so obvious, I think it’s coming back to me now. I think it was somebody that hadn’t ever spoken to one of his users as well. Have you called them and asked if he was. Oh, my God. It’s like they’re people with lives and loves and you know, that just finished a meal and are in love with somebody and have a favorite song and are worried about something right now. And if they’re using you, you are actually a little part of their life right now and it’s a real person. Talk to him or her. Uh, I won’t even say them. Talk to him or. Yeah, talk to him or her. And don’t be afraid of the phone, you know, like talk to people. Even if they’re not in your same town, you can pick up the phone and talk to people and and and when you’re talking with him or her, don’t be selling. Don’t be pushing. Don’t be trying to make money during that conversation. Just be a real person and listen as a real person, as two people on Earth that have something in common, which is this thing that you’re doing. Be a real person and listen. And then. After the conversation, you can take these new insights you’ve gained and perhaps use what you’ve learned to go be ambitious again. But it hurts me when, even around this subject of talking to your users, people think like, That’s a really good idea. I’m going to send out a survey to my users. I’m like, No, no, no, no, no. Not a survey. A conversation. Talk with them. Talk with him or her. You know, that’s my single biggest bit of advice. I feel that my competitive advantage and even if I’m being blunt and of oversimplifying things, part of the reason that I got really successful when my competitors didn’t is that I knew musicians better than they did. I started club because I was a musician that knew the kind of the heartbreak and pain of trying to put my music out into the world and getting it rejected constantly. So I made it a founding idea of CD Baby, that that nothing would be rejected, that everything would be treated equally. And I knew the pain of of watching some people with deep pockets or deep connections get featured on the front page of a magazine, whereas a guy without money and connections didn’t. And so I made it like a founding motto of CD Baby that that there’s no paid placement, no highlighted promotions, that everybody is treated equally. These kinds of things really resonated with musicians, even like all those two things I just mentioned are things that an NBA person would have said, Well, no, clearly we can make an extra profit if we have a premium plan where people who, you know, can pay for brainier placement or whatever, but they’re missing the whole psychology. They don’t know musicians the way that I know musicians and and that kind of and really getting to know you or your customers or whatever that deeply will give you these insights. That somebody’s coming at it like a real business wouldn’t have. So, yeah, talk to people and don’t be don’t be business C when talking to them, don’t survey them for your goals or your ends or whatever. Yeah. Yeah.
Bronson: That is awesome advice to end on. So thank you. One more time for coming on. Growth Accuracy.
Derek: We go. Thanks, Bronson.
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