TED

Derek Sivers: Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg

Editor’s Note: After making a living as a professional musician, Derek Sivers went looking for ways to sell his own CD online and ended up creating CD Baby, once the largest seller of independent music on the web with over $100M in sales for over 150,000 musician clients. In 2008, Derek sold CD Baby for $22M, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education. Since 2008, Derek has traveled the world and stayed busy creating and nurturing creative endeavors, like Muckwork, where teams of efficient assistants help musicians do their “uncreative dirty work.” He is a frequent speaker at the TED Conference, with over 6 million views of his talks.

Sivers is also the author of ‘Anything You Want, which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories. His new company, Wood Egg, is publishing annual startup guides to 16 countries in Asia.

Derek writes regularly on creativity, entrepreneurship, and music on his blog: Sivers.org

To learn more about him, please read his amazing book ‘Anything you want, visit his official blog, read his Wikipedia Bio, watch his amazing TED Talks Weird, or just different?, How to start a movement, and Keep your goals to yourself.

You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Derek Sivers recently to gain insights about Entrepreneurship, CD Baby and Wood Egg which is given below.

Niaz: Dear Derek, thank you so much for joining us in the midst of your busy schedule. We are very thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Derek: Thank you Niaz.

Niaz: You are a musician, programmer, writer and entrepreneur. You have founded CD Baby and MuckWork. You are also the author of an amazing book ‘Anything You Want’ which shot to #1 on all of its Amazon categories. In 2011, you have moved to Singapore and started your new company Wood Egg. At the beginning of our interview, can you please tell us about Wood Egg?

Derek: Starting five years ago, I got deeply curious about the differences between countries and cultures, fascinated with understanding the different perspectives. Two years ago, I moved to Singapore, and started visiting all the countries in Asia, asking dumb questions, making good friends.  But my learning felt too unstructured. So while walking around Yogyakarta, Indonesia, remembering “the best way to learn something is to teach it”, I came up with an ambitious plan. I decided to produce and publish 16 books per year on 16 countries in Asia: Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Knowing they wouldn’t be great at first, I committed to improving them every year for many years. After a few years of doing this, they should be pretty awesome.

Niaz: Can you please tell us why have you moved to Singapore? 

Derek: Really it’s just understanding a different point of view.  And not just visiting, but really living somewhere long enough so that it really feels like home.  We’re so surrounded by people who think like us that it’s impossible to see that what we think are universal truths are just our local culture.  We can’t see it until we get outside of it.

Niaz: What have you learned about the entrepreneurial environment of Asia? How is it different from other cultures?

Derek: I was born in California and grew up with what I felt was a normal upbringing with normal values.  I was speaking to a business school class here in Singapore. I asked, “How many people would like to start their own company some day?” In a room of 50 people, only one hand (reluctantly) went up. If I would have asked this question to a room of 50 business school students in California, 51 hands would have gone up!  Thinking maybe they were just shy, I asked, “Really!? Why not?” – and asked individuals. Their answers:  1. “Why take the risk? I just want security.” 2. “I spent all this money on school, and need to make it back.” 3. “If I fail, it would be a huge embarrassment to my family.”  Then I realized my local American culture. The land of entrepreneurs and over-confidence. I had heard this before, but I hadn’t really felt it until I could see it from a distance.

Niaz: What are the cultural challenges to build, operate and sustain next big organization like Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook or Twitter from Asia?

Derek: The sense of possibility.  When you live in New York City or Los Angeles, you see famous people around you all the time.  If you want to be famous, seeing those people next to you gives you the feeling that you’re very close to your dreams – you’re in the place where it can happen.  But if you’re living in Urugay or Estonia, you feel that you’re a world away from that kind of fame.  So once a few super-ambitious people have a big international success with a company out of Indonesia, for example, it will give huge encouragement to other people from Indonesia – to give them the feeling that they are so close – that they can do it.

Niaz: What are the necessary steps should be taken to overcome those challenges for making a welcoming, sustainable and supportive environment for entrepreneurs?

Derek: Just do what Singapore and Hong Kong are doing.  They’re doing everything right.  Mix in a little of India’s “jugaad” rule-breaking culture, for a real winning combination.

Niaz: We love to say about breaking the rules though it happens in reality very rarely. You are one of those few remarkable people who have broken so many rules for making things happen, specifically while working with CD Baby. You had a moment you describe in the book when all the MBAs and VCs were asking you “What’s your plan, what’s your growth rate, what are your projections?” And you basically said, “My focus is on helping the customers, and as long as we’re doing that, I don’t care about the projections.” Business Students invest Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Top Business School to learn planning, strategy, growth, leadership and setting goals. And you have build CD Baby and sold it for $22 Million where you have not literally cared about planning, forecasting, strategy, and even growth. Can you please tell us about the evolution and success story of CD Baby?

Derek: Ah, it would take about 88 pages to properly tell that story, but that’s why I wrote “Anything You Want”.

Niaz: Can you please briefly tell us about ‘Anything You Want’?

Derek: It’s only 88 pages, a $4 purchase on Amazon, can be read in under an hour, and really tells the tale from beginning to end of starting CD Baby, growing it beyond my wildest dreams, the mistakes I made along the way, then selling it for $22 million, as you said.  It’s distilled down to “40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur”, as the publisher put it.  I’m not just telling my story, but looking back, found some important and usable lessons that you can apply to your own business.

Niaz: Now StartUp means finding an idea, taking seed funding, inviting angel investors and ending up taking fund from Venture Capital. It’s really a very complex cycle. I know it has two sides like a coin. In one side it’s tough to get funding. In other side, it’s tough to get right funding and advisers. Vinod Khosla, one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems who later went on to create Khosla Ventures, cited in Techcrunch Disrupt SF 2013, ‘95 percent of VCs add zero value. 70-80 percent add negative value to a startup in their advising’. As it’s the scenario, you have had a great and different story. You have done great job with CD Baby and made it a multi million dollars company without taking help from VC. How can an entrepreneur build multi million Dollars Company without taking help of VCs? Is it possible now? Can you please explain it for us?

Derek: I know less-than-nothing about investors, VCs, or any of that.  Never dealt with them.  Asking me how to make a company without them is like asking an Argentinian farmer how he grows his crops without the Empire State Building.  It’s just not a part of my world, so I don’t even know how to compare my approach to another.

Niaz: What are your secrets of taking initiatives and how do you stay confident on taking those risky and challenging initiatives?

Derek: I’ve never done anything that felt risky or even challenging.  When you’re on to something good, and you’re the right person to do it, it just feels like common sense, and quite obvious.  If it feels too risky, too challenging, maybe it’s an unwise venture or maybe you’re the wrong person to do it.

Niaz: Many people now believe that we have already solved all of our interesting problems. New StartUps and companies are also working on almost similar basis. By any chance, if someone is coming with a great idea, rest of the others are getting into it and ending up creating mess. Can you please tell us about how to find really big and interesting problems, working on it in the long run to solve those problems and ending up building next big organization?

Derek: You don’t need big problems or big organizations like you don’t need big passion.  A few times, I’ve been asked a question like, “But what if I haven’t found my true passion?” It’s dangerous to think in terms of “passion” and “purpose” because they sound like such huge overwhelming things.  If you think love needs to look like “Romeo and Juliet”, you’ll overlook a great relationship that grows slowly.  If you think you haven’t found your passion yet, you’re probably expecting it to be overwhelming.  Instead, just notice what excites you on a small moment-to-moment level.  If you find yourself diving into a book about Photoshop and playing around with the program for hours, go for it! Dive in deeper. Maybe that’s your new calling.  For me, CD Baby was just a curiosity: that little hobby that kept me up until 2am every night, programming and experimenting. It just grew from there.

Niaz: Based on your exciting entrepreneurial career and the lessons you have learned over the years, can you please list 10 advices for Startup Company to survive, to grow and to go global?

Derek: I can’t, because it’s different for everyone.  When someone shows me their business plan and asks what they should do, I say, “Well – who are you? What kind of life do you want? Easy? Challenging? Why are you doing this? Money? Impact? Love? To prove something to the high school bully?”  Businesses are not the same.  Business paths are not the same.  Motivations are not the same.  No list of 10 advices apply to everyone.  And I can’t separate business and people.  What you should be doing with your business depends on who you are as a person, not on the business itself.

Niaz: What excites me mostly about you is your Humanistic Perspective of Entrepreneurship. Can you please tell us about the humanistic perspective of entrepreneurship?

Derek: I don’t understand how the two are different or separated in any way.  It’s like asking about the humanistic perspective on marriage.  It’s 100% completely and thoroughly human.  What’s good for business?  What’s good for people!  What’s good for each customer?  What’s good for each person working there?  What’s good for the owner?  These are inseparable questions.

Niaz: Do you think humanistic perspective of entrepreneurship is seriously big thing that will help entrepreneurs to be more human to solve real big problems of this mother earth to make it a better place to live in?

Derek: No.  I don’t think that big.  But I’m glad you do.

Niaz: What’s the one last thing you want to tell us?

Derek: Don’t make your business like someone else’s business.  Don’t make your life like someone else’s life.  Ignore people who tell you what you should be doing because someone else did.  Your life, joys, and motivations are different than theirs.

Derek: Thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas, knowledge and experience. We are wishing you very good luck for all of your upcoming endeavors.

Derek: Thanks Niaz.  I really appreciate it.  Sorry I don’t have very many answers.

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Five Inspiring Quotes By Derek Sivers:

#1

You grow (and thrive!) by doing what excites you and what scares you everyday, not by trying to find your passion.”

#2

Success comes from persistently improving and inventing, not from persistently pushing what’s not working”

#3

You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people”

#4

Anything you hate to do, someone else loves. So find that person and let him do it”

#5

If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in”

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Further Reading:

1. Jeff Haden on Pursuing Excellence

2. Daniel Pink on To Sell is Human

3. Barry Schwartz on Wisdom and Happiness

4. Hugh Mac­Leod on Creativity and Art

5. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

Juliana Rotich: Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

Editor’s Note: Juliana Rotich is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Ushahidi Inc, a non-profit tech company. She has worked in the telecommunications and data warehousing industry for over ten years. She is a Technologist, African Futurist and TED Senior Fellow. She was named one of the Top 100 women by the Guardian newspaper and top 2 women in Technology 2011, andSocial Entrepreneur of the year 2011 by The World Economic Forum. Currently she has selected as a Director’s Fellow at MIT Media Lab. You can read her full bio from here, hereand here.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Juliana Rotich recently to gain her ideas and insights on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation which is given below.

Niaz: Juliana, we are thrilled and honored to have you at eTalks.

Juliana: Thanks for having me Niaz.

Niaz: You are a Social Entrepreneurial Innovator. Can you please tell us about ‘Social Entrepreneurial Innovation? How can social entrepreneurial innovation change the world?

Juliana: Social Entrepreneurial Innovation refers to entrepreneurs that create and establish resourceful and inspired ways of dealing with social problems. The core of this kind of entrepreneurship is skillfully and systematically acting, doing things in new ways to solve increasingly persistent modern challenges like poverty, health or education to have the greatest social impact. “Innovation is itself invariably a cumulative collaborative activity in which ideas are shared, tested refined, developed and applied.”  Bill gates called this creative capitalism – our ability to stretch market forces and make them work better for the poor and reduce the great inequalities that exist in modern society. For the world, it is practically the emergence of a social conscious geared both at turning profits but improving lives, incomes and turning all people in to productive beings where their inert behavior includes building their community to be a better place.

Niaz: You are the co-founder and executive director of ‘Ushahidi’. Those who don’t know about this amazing social revolution, can you briefly tell about ‘Ushahidi’?

Juliana: “Ushahidi”, which means “testimony” in Swahili, began as website set up by a collaboration of Kenyan citizen journalists, bloggers and the tech community during the post-election crisis in Kenya at the beginning of 2008. The Site Mapped incidents of violence and peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted via the web and mobile phones. Its Success which gathered 45,000 users in Kenya – catalyzed the realization amongst its developers that the platform had potential beyond Kenya’s borders and have relevance and use for others around the world. Ushahidi is now a non-profit technology and data company. Ushahidi creates platforms which provide services, tools and strategies for Crowdsourcing and data flow management. We focus on bottom up systems with a vibrant global community of mappers and an ecosystem of open source experts. Ushahidi demonstrates how free and open source software enables organizations and communities to improve collection of data, contextualizing issues they care about and create effective information flow of stories and engagement into localized action and change. We catalyze initiatives and communities like The CrisisMappers group, the iHub in Kenya and support many others who are trying to change the world through technology.

Niaz: What is your vision at ‘Ushahidi’?

Juliana: At Ushahidi, we want people to truly be able to collaborate and change the status quo of where they are through collaborative problem solving.  With our tools we want, individuals, groups, & organizations to be fully able to participate in their democracy, and to have their voices heard. Empowering citizens to collect and contextualize information and change the way information flows in the world by making easy to use crowdsourcing tools that provide change agents globally. Ushahidi’s mission is to change the way information flows in the world.

Niaz: As a technologist you have been working to bring social revolution in the field of social work with the art of technology. Why do you think technology is a surprising tool to solve our social problems?

Juliana: I actually think technology is a natural tool to solve our social problems. In the book What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly, defines The Technium – “We all realize that we’re kind of surrounded with technology: there’s little device here recording us, there’s tables, chairs, spoons, light bulbs. Each of these things seem pretty mechanical, pretty inert in a certain sense, not very interactive, you know, a hammer, roads. But each one of these technologies actually requires many other technologies to make and produce. So your little thing in your pocket that you use for a phone might require thousands of other technologies to create it and support it and keep it going, and each of those technologies may require hundreds of thousands of subtechnologies below it. And that network of different technologies and the co-dependency that each of those technologies have on each other forms a virtual organism, a super organism.  We can keep stepping back and realize that all these technologies are in some ways co-dependent and related and connected to each other in some way and that largest of all the networks of all these technologies together I call the Technium.”  Social problems are often ecosystem problems, and appropriate, creative use of technology is just what may help to accelerate the problem solving that is much needed for the world’s problems. Technology helps to make systems more efficient, helps to close feedback loops and to inform. I think of technology as a catalyst for change and innovation representing immense untapped opportunities just waiting to be built and utilized. What brings it all together is an ecosystem of people and technology. In my generation I have seen how African people have interacted with mobile phones, computers and how increased connectivity to the Internet across the continent has helped spur Trickle Up Innovation to address social problems. Ushahidi is an example of this as is Mpesa, apps like iCow, Mfarm and Tusaidiane are emerging as part of the growth of tech entrepreneurial culture coming out in Africa and its collaborations globally.

Niaz: As you know, we have hundreds of thousands of social organizations those who have been working to bringing sustainable social changes. Most of these organizations have been lacking behind to accept the blessing of technology and innovation. What are the core challenges for them?

Juliana: The origin of not for profit organizations and their leadership at times represent the greatest challenges to technological innovations for social change and by that it takes much longer for them to develop the tools or procure the right personnel to develop the tools in house with a clear vision. We are lucky as Ushahidi that our founding and core is based on a group of developers, tech savvy change makers, bloggers, human rights activist, that bring their A game to the table in the different fields they have mastered. Our organization, leadership, commitment, culture, and mentorship in the cause has enable us to be particularly responsive.  With time and the greater adoption and exposure to technology nonprofits are picking up the pace in this area.

Niaz: How to recover those challenges to bring sustainable changes in the society with technology and innovation?

Juliana: It is not easy but can be achieved by attracting good talent. I would like to add this Harvard Business Review Article here.

Niaz: On the other hand, non profits are highly dependent on donors. Do you think technological innovation can provide them a platform to overcome this dependency and to empower them with financial independence to work to change the world to make it a better place to live in?

Juliana: It is possible. At Ushahidi, we have an external projects team that is ostensibly in charge of completing projects that bring in additional money. With our cloud based Services Crowdmap and SwiftRiver, we are diversifying the revenue base and thus on a sustainability track. It also helps to have impact investors like Omidyar Network who are not just donors, but partners in realizing the greater social and economic impact through not-for-profit technology work.

Niaz: Do you think we can bring technology and innovation rigorously for bringing social change, for removing poverty? How?

Juliana: If you had asked me this question last year, I would not have had an answer for you. This year, I can certainly say it is possible. I met Martin Burt in Davos early this year. I was completely encouraged and inspired by his work in Paraguay, he is doing extensive poverty mapping with the goal of giving the government clear data on where the critical areas are for interventions that can help lift people out of poverty. That his organization is using Ushahidi software is only a small part, the important work of linking on-the-ground data with policy is nothing short of amazing.

Niaz: Congratulation on being selected as a TED Senior Fellow. How you’re involved with TED now. What are your plans with TED?

Juliana: In 2007, I was selected as part of the inaugural class of TED Fellows. There I met other technologists, particularly Erik Hersman, whom I had collaborated with online with the AfriGadget website. I also met Ory Okolloh, Dr. Sheila Ochugboju, Mulumba Lwatula and Segeni Ngethe just to name a few.  More on what I wrote then about TED. In 2009 I was named a TED Fellow again because of our work with Ushahidi and the Technology ecosystem in Kenya. This was great, as I was not only able to enjoy the conference (It is an amazing brain spa) but to meet other amazing individuals who would collaborate with Ushahidi and iHub over the years. The network and support from the TED team, from Chris Anderson, June Cohen and Tom Rielly made Ushahidi a household name spoken in tandem with the likes of Wikipedia and Twitter. Moreso the friendships forged as part of the TED community continue to this day and make up a very important part of my life. To meet other technologists who do not fit neatly into one box was completely refreshing. It is like meeting a long lost ‘soul sister’ or rather in this case ‘brain sister’. The community is extraordinary.

Niaz: You were named one of the Top 100 women by the Guardian newspaper and top 2 women in Technology 2011, and Social Entrepreneur of the year 2011 by The World Economic Forum.  What are the set of advice you want to give to young social entrepreneurs? 

Juliana: Find a way to serve people through your work. The rest is hard work and persistence. The core is service and community. Keep the core strong and be flexible enough to handle the flux.

Niaz: How do you inspire women to come forward and lead?

Juliana: Inspiration comes in many ways. For me, it came from my late grandmother and my late father. They lived their lives making things. They taught me to first and foremost be a maker, to fix whatever is broken with whatever resources available. When you are needed, to stand up and do what you can. I hope that women can look around and find inspiration that works for them.

Niaz: Recently you have become ‘MIT Media Lab Directors Fellow’. It’s the finest place of innovation. Now you are bringing social problems and ideas at MIT Media Lab. What are we going to see in recent future with your ideas  for social change and Medial Lab’s innovation?

Juliana: I am so honored and thankful for the MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellowship. It is indeed the finest place for innovation. I often tell people that there are two places I feel most at home. The first is the iHub in Nairobi, a great space started by the Ushahidi team, led and grown by Erik Hersman. The second place is the MIT Media Lab. It is indeed Nerdvana as I like to call it. I am most excited about learning from the different research groups at MIT and linking them back to creative and innovative centers in Africa. There are incredible artists and innovators in Africa who are affiliated with emerging spaces like iHub, BongoHive, CCHub and others who would greatly benefit with that interchange of ideas, solutions, and approaches.  I suggest to read more from here and here. I am yet to fully grasp what I will do with the Media Lab fellowship, but one thing is that it will be in service of the amazing entrepreneurs I have the privilege of interacting with at the iHub in Nairobi and other parts of Africa.

Niaz: Juliana, thank you so much for sharing us your invaluable ideas and for your time.

Juliana: You are welcome Niaz.

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Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

3. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

4. Ovick Alam on BridgeWee

5. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation