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Nontrepeneur: Derek Sivers

This essay is part of a series on nontrepeneurship.

Derek Sivers already wrote the nontrepeneur's Bible. All its chapters are available online, but I highly recommend purchasing a physical copy.

In the book, he describes his journey from clown to musician to nerd to CEO to philanthropist to whatever's he's doing now.

Lesson: Growth vs. Tinkering

It’s not that distributors were evil. It was just an awful system, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

So when the big online record stores told me they couldn’t sell my CD directly, I thought, “Ah, screw it. I’ll just set up my own online store. How hard could it be?”

-- Derek Sivers

The Programmers’ Credo: we do these things not because they are easy, but because we thought they were going to be easy

-- unknown

I love pitching awful startup ideas to unsuspecting folks. It's hilarious listening to strangers manufacture supportive things to say about a "bluetooth-toilet-speaker slash IoT-bowel-movement-tracker slash party-light".

With the intrusion of Shark Tank into the public consciousness, the crappy startup pitch is now maintstream.

I've identified three flavors of crappy business ideas:

Unfortunately, I earnestly pursue all three kinds of crappy ideas on a daily basis. My poor wife wastes countless hours tethering me to the dirt.

For the first time in my life, I had made something that people really wanted.

Before that, I had spent twelve years trying to promote my various projects. Trying every marketing approach. Networking, pitching, pushing. It always felt like an uphill battle, trying to open locked or slamming doors. I made progress, but only with massive effort.

Once you’ve got a hit, suddenly all the locked doors open wide. People love the hit so much that it seems to promote itself. Instead of trying to create demand, you’re managing the huge demand.

-- Derek Sivers

I should probably admit to myself that I'm allergic to the transfer of money and that I have no idea what people like or want. With that in mind, are some things that have worked for me lately:

These practical principles prevent me from sinking decades into 5-wheeled trains.

Lesson: Power vs. Resonsibility

Then I realized that there’s such a thing as over-delegation. I had empowered my employees so much that I gave them all the power. After a complete communication breakdown, it was 85 people (my employees) against one (me). I became the scapegoat for all of their dissatisfactions.

-- Derek Sivers

You’ll notice that as my company got bigger, my stories about it were less happy. That was my lesson learned. I’m happier with 5 employees than with 85, and happiest working alone.

-- Derek Sivers

A key trait of nontrepeneurs is the pursuit of freedom over power.

With power comes responsibility, and exerting responsibility is no fun.

I love working with people, but I don't want the pressure to pay their bills. If you feel the same, don't be afraid to become a one-person company.

Lesson: Hoards Profits vs. Shares Bounty

The only business I’ve ever done is the co-op / sharing model. It goes like this:

  1. You have something that people want. It might be something you own, something you’ve learned how to do, or access to resources, space, or people.
  2. Find a way to share it with everyone who needs it. Not necessarily for profit, but just because it’s what you’d do for friends, and it’s the right thing to do.
  3. If it takes some effort for you to share it, charge a little something for your effort, to ensure that this giving can continue.

-- Derek Sivers

A few months before the sale, I transferred the ownership of CD Baby and HostBaby, all the intellectual property like trademarks and software, into the trust.

It was irreversibly and irrevocably gone. It was no longer mine. It all belonged to the charitable trust.

Then, when Disc Makers bought it, they bought it not from me but from the trust, turning it into $22 million cash to benefit music education.

-- Derek Sivers

My business is set up so that not a single dollar ever comes to me. (It’s a C-corp owned by a foundation, so nothing flows through and I take no salary.) Whatever isn’t necessary for running the business (like paying for printing the next book) is given to whatever charity is saving the most lives.

-- Derek Sivers

When money is not your master, you can choose to share it and spend it however you like.

Your excess materializes when you decide enough is enough.

Lesson: Money vs. Time

What would you do then, if you didn’t need the money and didn’t need the attention?

-- Derek Sivers

Money can purchase time (with diminishing returns).

Nontrepeneurs prioritize play when they've accrued the means to stop working. It's unclear why anybody would do otherwise.