One of the first podcasts I ever started listening to was the Tim Ferriss show and one of the first episodes I chose to give a try was an episode with the founder of CDBaby, Derek Sivers.
I was familiar with CDbaby because my band used that website to sell our CD’s independently for over 5 years.
I didn’t know anything about the founder though until I heard that interview and I was enthralled from start to finish. Perhaps because of hearing about Derek’s background as a Circus Clown and Professional Musician but also his approach to business and entrepreneurship.
Derek is now best known for selling CDbaby for 22 Million, becoming a TED speaker and author of several books that challenge the status quo of online business including two of my favorites “Hell Yeah or No” and “Anything You Want.”
All to say, it’s an honor and a half to be able to welcome him onto the podcast for episode 245!
I’ve always appreciated Derek’s counter intuitive approach to business and his example of minimalism and focus in a world of clutter and distractions. We have a wide ranging conversation about positioning, the power of brevity, niching, musician entrepreneurship and one of my favorite thoughts discussed on the podcast to date, the concept of simple vs easy.
P.S. If you’re interested in picking up any of his books, “Hell Yeah or No” and “Anything You Want” are super fast reads that I highly, highly recommend. Be sure to purchase them from his webstore at sivers.com and tell him you heard him on The Web Design Business Podcast!
In this episode:
00:00 – Introduction
04:28 – Greeting to Derek
06:28 – Musicians in business
11:02 – Power in the niche
18:54 – NIN technique
28:01 – Staying niche focused
34:49 – Testing other waters
40:42 – Keeping score
45:03 – Know what excites you
47:29 – Love of simplicity
52:29 – Be considerate
54:26 – Simplicity matters
1:01:32 – A bold move
1:04:01 – Intentional communication
1:08:59 – Training
1:10:46 – Ask questions
1:16:32 – Everyone’s websites
1:19:48 – Final thoughts
Connect with Derek:
- Derek’s Website
- Derek’s Ted Talks
- Derek Sivers on Developing Confidence, Finding Happiness, and Saying No to Millions (#125 Tim Ferriss’ Podcast)
Featured links mentioned:
Episode #245 Full Transcription
[00:00:00] Josh: Hey friends, before we dive into this episode, I am excited to spill some beans and share with you. That the next evolution of what is currently my web design club has been rebranded, reimagined, and I’ll be relaunching it at the end of this month, February, 2023, as that was a drum roll. By the way, web designer pro web designer pro is courses coaching and community.
[00:00:26] Josh: All in one. You heard that right? All of my web design courses are now included in Web Designer Pro, this community, and this membership is built to help you build your business as quickly as possible to give you all the support you need. And I’m really excited to come alongside you in your journey. Go to Josh hall.co/pro to jump on the wait list, uh, to get early access to Web Designer Pro.
[00:00:48] Josh: This will not lock you into anything. It just tells me that you’re interested and I’m gonna be giving some exclusive perks and some special deals to everyone who joins in the first wave. So go to Josh hall.co/pro to jump on the wait list, and I can’t wait to see you in there soon.
[00:01:05] Josh: Hey friends, we’re gonna start this episode a little bit different. I would like to invite you to join me on a trip down memory lane back to. I think this was circa 2014, maybe 2015 when I first started listening to podcasts, and one of the first shows I got into was like a lot of people I know, the Tim Ferris podcast, and one of the first interviews I heard was with the founder of CD Baby Derek Sivers.
[00:01:31] Josh: I’ll have that link in the show notes for this episode. I highly recommend listening to that after this. But when I heard this interview with Derek, I was enthralled and fascinated from start to finish, and I was already familiar with CD Baby. My band had used CD Baby to sell our records independently online.
[00:01:47] Josh: But I was enthralled with this interview because of Derek’s approach to business, and I think also because of his background, he was a circus clown and a professional musician before creating CD baby, and then diving into the online business world and the world of entrepreneurship. Now, Derek is best known for selling CD Baby for 22 million, giving most of that money to charity and becoming a Ted speaker with some incredible talks.
[00:02:15] Josh: And he is also now an author of some incredible books, two of my favorite books of all time that I recommend you get right now or after listening to this. My two favorite books of his are Hell Yeah or No, and anything you. 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur is anything you want. And hell yeah. Our no is one of my favorite books for deciding what to do in your business and giving you the confidence and empowerment to say no to things that are not gonna get you where you want to go.
[00:02:43] Josh: So all that to say, it is an honor and a half to have him onto the podcast for this episode. I was so excited to chat with Derek. There’s so many things I wanted to get into, but I decided just to have a, uh, a well-rounded conversation that is not topical. So we really cover a lot of things in this conversation, uh, including while we, we actually dive into why musicians end up making really good entrepreneurs often.
[00:03:07] Josh: But we also get into the world of minimalism and brevity and how important that is in your copy and how you come across with clients. Derek actually has some really interesting thoughts on positioning and nicheing, and then he dishes out one of my absolute favorite. topics I’ve ever heard in the podcast to date.
[00:03:26] Josh: And that is the idea of simple versus easy. And I hope that’s teaser enough to, to make it interesting for you to make sure you listen all the way through to make sure you hear what Derek says about simple not being necessarily easy. Uh, for anyone who has a client who says, can I just have a simple website?
[00:03:43] Josh: Uh, that’ll shed some light on that. So what an honor to have Derek Sivers on the podcast. Before I bring him on, I recommend checking out his books again. My favorites are Hell yeah or no, or anything you want. I would recommend going to his firstname.lastname@example.org. That is his bookstore to buy these books from him.
[00:03:59] Josh: You’ll actually get a personal, um, direct line to him when you buy his book, so I highly recommend that you can also find him at S I V e.rs. That’s his main website with a lot of his blog and writing. Just a fascinating, awesome guy. Thanks to Derek for coming on. Without further ado, here is the legend, Derek Sivers on all sorts of topics gonna help you in your web design journey.
[00:04:21] Josh: Enjoy,
[00:04:28] Josh: Derek, welcome officially to the show. Man, it’s an absolute honor and a pleasure to have you on. Thanks for taking some time to chat today.
[00:04:35] Josh: Thanks, Josh.
[00:04:36] Josh: I want to start this off by first off, giving you and, and saying an honest, genuine thank you for your work through all the different, I guess, phases and seasons of your life, because I was thinking about.
[00:04:51] Josh: The past decade or so, and even before that, I went as a musician, became an entrepreneur, business owner. You have literally been in my life every stage of my professional career because my band You cd, CD baby back in 2000, back in 2006, we were on CD baby for a few years. Uh, okay. And then. I was exposed to you, like a lot of people were on the Tim Ferris podcast and then got into your writings and since then have, you know, occasionally seen your stuff and have always been like, I go back to silvers.
[00:05:23] Josh: So what an honor to have you on the show, man. Thank you for your work. Thank you. I didn’t
[00:05:26] Derek: know about your musician background.
[00:05:28] Josh: Um, did I not mention that when I sent the request and I thought I did, but maybe I didn’t.
[00:05:33] Derek: Maybe I forgot. Sorry. . .
[00:05:35] Josh: No, that’s alright. Well, the, I kinda wanted to start with that because I do feel a kinship with you being a past musician and kind of losing the identity of a, of you mu of a musician. and going into the world of online entrepreneurship and business. And I don’t know about you, Derek, but I’ve, I’ve since, and I’ve seen as a, as a web designer and a web design coach now, that a lot of people in online entrepreneurship that are creatives, like graphic designers, web designers, a high percentage are musicians or former musicians.
[00:06:07] Josh: Do you feel like musicians make good creative entrepreneurs? And if you do, why?
[00:06:13] Derek: I think there’s a personality type that is required to sit down and practice your scales and our PEs to sit down and tweak your recording, uh, to get it just right, but especially that like the real musician, that that spends a ton of time practicing.
[00:06:33] Derek: It’s a certain personality type that can sit down and focus, and I think it’s the same personality type that can sit down and focus on learning a programming language or learning a new technology. So that’s probably the thread.
[00:06:46] Josh: Mm. Yeah, that’s, I would agree with that. The, the idea of focus and like the, the idea of like a, uh, a mono interest or, yeah.
[00:06:55] Josh: Yeah. Any, like, if you’re gonna get really good at something, you have to do it for, for a, a long time and get the bat out of the way. I learned that as a drummer. I don’t know if you see my sticks up at the top left. Like I, I was a drummer for years and that taught me in so many ways some life principles and business.
[00:07:11] Josh: Uh, yeah. Particularly I think what I found with musicians and why I personally think they make really good, uh, creative designers, entrepreneurs is because we tend to just figure stuff out and we tinker and I don’t know if you’ve experienced that or have you seen that with musicians who become entrepreneurs, but there’s something about just tinkering and figuring things out that’s extremely powerful, other than just looking in a book where you’re looking to find an answer.
[00:07:36] Derek: Yeah. If you set out to be a musician, You know, it’s all up to you that nobody’s going to give you a secure job, that you’re not gonna have a salary insurance, things like that. So maybe that has something to do with it too, like the, the kind of self-identity and how you see yourself in the world. Like, okay, it’s all up to me.
[00:08:01] Derek: If you decide that early on as a musician, then you can keep that approach to other things you pursue. But like, yeah, being an independent creative freelancer in any field, is the same way, I guess,
[00:08:12] Josh: isn’t it? That is it’s a good point. And yeah, cuz I remember early on when I got started personally, just to kind of share with you where I’m at and where I came from.
[00:08:21] Josh: I felt what is now dubbed imposter syndrome. We didn’t call it that back in 2009. In 2010 when I entered the business world. But I felt like such an imposter because I did not have an academic background. Terrible in school. I got a D in typing, like I was just not that person. So when I became into the world of business, I was like, who am I?
[00:08:42] Josh: I’m a musician. This isn’t gonna translate. But as I kind of got further and further into online entrepreneurship and web design in particular, I discovered that a large amount of people were also coming from the musician world and felt the exact same things that I did. Now I can safely say that I’ve never met anybody.
[00:09:00] Josh: in my 12 year career as a web designer, web design coach that has gone through like higher ed education, that is running a web design business now. So, wow. I think there’s a, I really, I really have not. That’s interesting. I know some people who are like, have roles and agencies and, and my, my general belief of is that it’s really good to get you a job more often than not.
[00:09:23] Josh: Um, but in the wild west of freelance and online entrepreneurship, you have to be able to tinker and to play and figure stuff out and like you said, kind of embrace the musician roots that, you know, we don’t need anything else to get us there. It’s up to us. So I love that you mentioned that and made that point.
[00:09:41] Josh: And I
[00:09:41] Derek: kind of curious. Auto didactic, is that the word? Ooh, auto didactic that we, we teach ourselves. Yeah.
[00:09:47] Josh: I was hoping you weren’t gonna say too many big words with me today, Derek. No, no.
[00:09:51] Derek: Actually that was kinda of a question. I’m not sure I’m saying that right. It’s, it’s one of those ones that I’ve seen in print a few times, but I’ve, I don’t know if I’ve ever said it out loud before.
[00:09:58] Derek: Okay.
[00:09:59] Josh: Oh, okay. Cool. Got it. Um, one thing I was curious about too, from your perspective, because I feel like when we get into business, particularly folks who are early on in the journey, it nowadays, it is so, so easy to be completely flooded and overwhelmed with all the options, all the opportunities, all the social media, every platform we could be on.
[00:10:21] Josh: One thing that I learned as a drumm, That helped me is I had a certain amount of Toms. I had one, I had two snares at one point, but then I went down to one and I had a few, like a handful of symbols. But what that taught me was constraints and limitations. I was like, I can’t do anything more than what I have right here.
[00:10:40] Josh: And I dabbled around in guitar for a little while and I was completely overwhelmed because I just couldn’t stop myself from tinkering with effects and I would never do anything. So that was a life lesson for me to have some constraints and limitations. Have you, I don’t know if you can speak on that exactly, but do you have any thoughts on giving yourself some constraints and limitations when it comes to blocking out the outside world,
[00:11:02] Derek: you can’t master everything. And people are really, people really only care about what you’re great at. Nobody cares about what you’re bad at and neither should you. So, It was actually a synthesizer player long ago. I think it was Brian Eno that said, it’s better to pick one synth and to master it than have a collection of 25 synths.
[00:11:36] Derek: So he said, um, I just chose the Yamaha DX seven and I decided to master this one synthesizer. Um, you know, uh, saxophone players don’t have this problem, right? Uh, guitar players don’t have this problem. We just kind of, we have our one instrument and that’s it. But for electronic synthesizer players in particular, there’s this tendency to want more and more and more like, I need this synth.
[00:12:20] Derek: It’s better to be known as the best Yamaha DX seven guy, instead of being a guy with a ton of synths. Um, and same thing goes stylistically in music. Uh, I wasn’t a very good generalist on guitar, but I was really damn good at funk guitar. That kind of James Brown style funk guitar and being really good at funk guitar got me some great gigs, including my best sideman gig everywhere.
[00:12:49] Derek: I was playing guitar for, uh, the Japanese pop star Rii Sakamoto. At the age of 22. I got to tour around Japan playing the audiences of 10,000 people because I was really good at funk guitar. That’s how I got the gig. And so, no, I don’t know how to play bluegrass and I don’t know how to. Play, uh, you know, acoustic finger style or heavy metal or any other kind of styles very well.
[00:13:15] Derek: But, um, yeah, you see when you meet a lot of generalists that are just kind of barely scraping by, uh, it teaches you through observation of the hard way that it’s better to be a specialist in one thing. And I think this applies to web design too, probably. What
[00:13:35] Josh: do you think? Does it I totally agree. Yeah.
[00:13:37] Josh: Especially, I mean, the cool thing about web design is you can do quite a few different things under the umbrella of web design. But one thing I teach my students is if you are not known for anything and you’re just, you’ll, you’ll do Facebook, Instagram, whatever websites, seo, digital marketing, print design, graphic design.
[00:13:56] Josh: It’s like, I don’t know how to refer you. And it’s, it’s really hard for customers to. , they’re a good fit for me. So yeah, the more I think the more you specialize and the more, at least you, you show some interest in, in a nature, something like that. Yeah, it definitely helps. It just, it’s a way to get a few steps further faster.
[00:14:12] Derek: I highly recommend anybody listening to this go find the classic marketing book called Positioning. It’s just one more title, positioning. The author’s names are Reese, r i e s, and Trout. It is a masterpiece of picking your niche, niche and the argument in favor of doing so. I read it in the eighties when I was still at Berkeley College of Music are one of the music professors said, you must read this book.
[00:14:44] Derek: It was the first time in my life I ever read a non-music book with the goal of applying it to my music career. I had to learn to read metaphorically cuz they’re giving examples. In the business world of NyQuil, for example. And I’m thinking, how is this gonna apply to my music? But then I had to think metaphorically on how to apply it to my musician life.
[00:15:06] Derek: So I’ll tell you the NyQuil story cuz it’s fascinating. Um, anybody listening, if you don’t know the medicine called NyQuil, it’s a, an American, uh, cough, cold, flu medicine that specifically has like a sedative that helps you sleep more. So before NyQuil came on the market, you would go to the supermarket aisle or the pharmacy aisle and there would be 20 different cold medicines.
[00:15:35] Derek: All of them just kind of generic. If you have a cold or a call for a flu, take this. And the NyQuil came along and said, we are the nighttime benison. All those other guys, those are for the daytime. But when it comes to nighttime, you need NyQuil. And that’s so brilliantly. Um, Segmented the market so that now if you can imagine like the pie chart of, um, a bunch of different cold medicines.
[00:16:03] Derek: It used to be split, you know, 20 ways equally. Now NyQuil comes along and suddenly all those other medicines are sharing only half of the pie, which is the daytime half. And NyQuil had the entire nighttime market to themselves by loudly declaring that they just have this one niche, right? So I thought about this with music at the time that I, I was moving to New York City just at the time.
[00:16:31] Derek: I read that and I was thinking, okay, if I’m gonna set up a recording studio in New York City, I’d be better off being known as the one specialist in one thing. Like go to any other studio in town if you want to record anything. But when it comes to drums, Go to Derek because like I record drums better than anybody.
[00:16:52] Derek: So do anything else, any, anywhere else. But I just do this one thing and I’m gonna do that really well. And that’s a better, uh, you have a more competitive veg if you’re just known as being the best at one thing. Um, cuz then everybody else has to split the rest of the pie, which is the, the everything else pie.
[00:17:11] Derek: So
[00:17:11] Josh: the, the, uh, the fear with that, that I struggle with myself and that I’ve seen a lot of my students struggle with when it comes to nicheing down or specializing in one thing is what if I limit myself in like this small pool? And what, what do you think about that? Do you think there are limitations or sort situations where maybe you do specialize but you do a few other things around there? Or do you just go all in? Have you found that to work best?
[00:17:37] Derek: This might be where you have to follow your interests because if you’re actually more interested in one thing than the rest, then. Yeah, you could really get to be known as a master craftsman in that one thing. You know, uh, somebody who is a master tailor making high-end suits on SAVI Row in London just does that one thing.
[00:18:04] Derek: Well, they won’t also make a wedding dress or won’t also make, you know, t-shirts. They just do that and they just have to trust that there’s enough of a market for this, and this is their fascination, their passion, their expertise. And yes, you may have to accept that you’re not going to be a mega multimillionaire doing this one thing, but damn, you’re gonna be happier.
[00:18:29] Derek: And in fact, you might have a higher quality of client. If people who care enough about the one thing that you specialize in come to you, you get a higher quality of conversations with your clients because you nerd out on this one thing so much that you wanted to become an expert in it, and they apparently nerd out on it enough that they came to you as the expert in this one thing.
[00:18:54] Derek: Um, you just have to decide if that’s the life you want. Maybe it’s not. Um, and if not, there is another technique we could do, which we will call the Nine Inch Nails Technique. Um, Trent Resner was a musician in Ohio that played alone by himself in a studio most of the time, and liked to play in many different styles.
[00:19:22] Derek: So he had like a, he used to record a bunch of hard rock songs and some new wave songs and some industrial songs and to market himself. He, uh, called these different genres, different names. So when. All of his heavy metal songs, he put them together and shopped it around the music industry with a heavy metal band name saying This is a heavy metal band.
[00:19:46] Derek: And all of his new wave songs, he bonded them under a different band name and marketed it around the music industry as a new wave band. And then one of his five projects doing this kind of industrial techno thing, he called that one Nine Inch Nails and it was just one of five niches. Ah, I didn’t know that, that, that he had categorized.
[00:20:06] Derek: And then Nine Inch Nails is the one that got the record deal. So he let go of the other four and he said, okay, I’m nine Inch Nails Now. Um, we could all apply the nine Inch Nails technique if you really want to, like, if you’re feeling like niche is the way to go, but you don’t know what your niche is yet, or you’re not confident enough, or the world hasn’t started rewarding you yet with any particular one you could do the Nine Inch Nails technique and.
[00:20:35] Derek: Market yourself. In fact, go, go ahead and get like five different business names or public personas, uh, as, uh, you know, make, make up five different names and call yourself. I am the React JSS specialist. No, I am the backend database specialist. No, I am the, uh, the visual design c s s specialist, whatever it may be.
[00:20:56] Derek: Um, you could do that simultaneously if you’re super inspired and driven and have lots of time on your hands.
[00:21:03] Josh: I love that approach. I had no idea about the, the backstory of nine inch nails and how that came to be. It does make sense and there’s a lot of stories and examples of that. Like I what, before I did web design, I was a graphic designer and I was working for this company that had a cleaning solution for bathrooms.
[00:21:19] Josh: Um, it was a glamorous job. And I remember I was, I was doing design work for this solution and then I asked them like, what’s the difference between the floor cleaner and the bathroom cleaner and the mirror cleaner? And they were, they pulled me aside and they were like, it’s actually all the same cleaner.
[00:21:36] Josh: We just labeled them differently. Awesome. So it’s a rilliant, but like that so perfectly translate to the business world. So I love that approach. I love that idea. You know, it’s funny, it’s the
[00:21:45] Derek: placebo effect too. Like I think that is totally ethical what they did. Um, if it’s just the same cleaner, but people want to feel that, no, I want a special glass cleaner I want a special tile cleaner. No, I want a special bathtub cleaner. And if you know. and have proven that the same cleaning agent chemical works equally well in all three of those. Then it’s kind of, uh, you have your placebo duty to go ahead and brand it as such to
[00:22:14] Josh: make everybody feel better. But I think to the core of that, you just mentioned a little bit ago a really important point, which is to just be honest with yourself about what you’re interested, what you would want a special in.
[00:22:24] Josh: So a lot of my students will do the same web design service with a few different industries, but my recommendation recently has been to pick industries that you’re interested in. Yeah. And that you, you feel like you know pretty well and could get some results for. So I think to maybe to put a cap on this idea, everything we’ve talked about so far, unless you wanna keep going, which I’m happy to really like thi this really sums up how to do this practically.
[00:22:47] Josh: Like how to go niche and how to specialize without boxing yourself in completely, but also not, you know, being a generalist to anything and everybody and mowing lawns and doing websites like I used to do in the painting. So .
[00:23:00] Derek: So, hey, uh, I just gasped because I realized you and I could talk about something that I almost never talk about, which is Host Baby.
[00:23:10] Derek: A lot of people know me from my CD Baby days, or we should say, a lot of people know me as the guy that made CD Baby because CD Baby had a 200,000 something musicians and 2 million customers and was making a net profit of about 2 million a year at the end. By the time I sold it, um, had 85 employees.
[00:23:37] Derek: Okay. So at the same time I had a quiet little business called Host Baby that was just web hosting for musicians. And at first it was just my. One U Linux server. Then eventually I gave it like a separate, dedicated, uh, server that was just hosting my musician friends, and I turned it in its own business and it grew and grew.
[00:24:01] Derek: This is back in, starting in 1999 through 2008. So for nine years I had a web hosting company called Host Baby that was only for musicians. And if you came to me wanting to host a regular business website, I’d say no. Sorry. You know, here, let me give you some, uh, other competitors I recommend we only do web hosting only for musicians, right?
[00:24:26] Derek: So you would assume that that was a small niche. But the reason I just gave those profit numbers is that Host baby only had four employees and it only had. Sorry, I don’t remember the number of customers, but the point is it also made about 2 million a year in net profit. It was equally as profitable as CD baby, but with only four people in one room.
[00:24:52] Derek: And it was such a great little business. The clients loved it cuz we were specialists in hosting for musicians. So everybody that worked there was a musician. So you could call Host Baby with some odd technical problem about a, whether it was like a, I don’t know, whatever, some CGI bin script in your directory that wasn’t working, or some PhD b thing or some sq l thing or, or even just, you know, a, a mistake in your c s s you could call up and it would be a musician that knew web design.
[00:25:24] Derek: So they could both say, oh, here I see the problem in your css. I see what’s wrong. I see why you’re, you know, why you can’t see your login box. Um, But also, damn dude, is that a Les Paul? Is that a real like, hold on, let me listen to your music. And musicians loved this, that it was like a specialist company for only for musician web hosting, and they felt valued.
[00:25:46] Derek: Whereas if they went to, you know, ABC 1 23 discount web hosting, they didn’t feel valued. Or even if they went to, uh, you know, Rackspace, they felt like a little, uh, tiny peon that wasn’t worth their time. But here we are, a specialist in musician web hosting. It was such a great business. I honestly didn’t wanna sell that company, but because it was called Host Baby and it had the same clients as CD Baby, um, when I went to go sell CD Baby, I told them, Hey, I, I’m not interested in selling Host Baby.
[00:26:15] Derek: And they said, well, we’re not interested unless you do. Well. I was like, gotcha. Okay. So I sold Host Baby, but damn, I miss it. I wish that I, I would still be running very happily, be running a musician web hosting company right now. Otherwise, um, I loved that business, but the reason I tell this long tail. Is, don’t underestimate how many people out there fit into a tiny niche.
[00:26:42] Josh: Hmm. That’s powerful. That’s good. I’m sorry, I was just visualizing like everything I’m doing right now and how that has impacted me and that I keep on reminding myself on that. Like you can go very niche and you will attract the right people. Yeah. There’ll be outliers. , you can 100% attract the right type of people for you.
[00:27:05] Josh: In this case, it’s yeah, based off of a background like being a musician. Um, but the same thing is true with client work. Like you don’t, I’ve even found you don’t need to necessarily say I only work with musicians. For example, if you put up some websites for musicians, you will attract websites for musicians in the future.
[00:27:23] Josh: So I love these principles cuz it’s so easy. I think now more than ever, way more, it’s harder now to stay focused and do something with some constraints and limitations compared to when I got started back in 2009 and 2010. Um, so I think this is a good, like, basic fundamental principle to go back to.
[00:27:42] Josh: Because the reality is, oh sorry, go
[00:27:43] Derek: ahead. Sorry to interrupt. You say it’s harder to stay focused, but I think that’s just in your psyche. I think the world is maybe more distracting, but I think I’d argue the opposite, that it’s easier to stay focused because. The world is so cluttered and noisy right now.
[00:28:01] Derek: I think you will be rewarded more for being focused now, and the number of potential clients is bigger now. When I was doing web hosting in 1999, there were less people online than there are now in 2023. So I’d argue that it’s actually an easier time than ever to pick a tiny niche and have the confidence to know that there are enough people out there in the world, especially if you spread worldwide, not just in your country.
[00:28:29] Josh: Okay. Um, I love this challenge because I, I agree, but kind of disagree just because I think Okay. I think it’s, I think it is easier to get results. I think there’s more opportunity, but I actually still think in a way it’s harder just, and maybe you’re right Derek, it’s probably 100% psyche, but I do think it’s harder to decide.
[00:28:50] Josh: and maybe that’s why this little book, if anyone’s watching on YouTube, hell yeah. Or no, this is why I’m such a big fan of your book, because that is like the roadmap in my mind to help anyone decide what to focus on, what to make a priority. So I do agree. I think there’s way more opportunity to do it. I think the biggest challenge is to block out the noise.
[00:29:11] Josh: At least that’s my perspective. That’s what, that’s what I’ve experienced. Because there’s so, there’s like so many oppor the opportunity trap now. Like that’s the problem. There’s so many opportunities. There’s not like one little niche in web design that right. Is like, ooh, you’re, you know, no one’s doing this.
[00:29:25] Josh: You could do this. A lot of people are doing it, but doesn’t mean you can’t thrive and you can’t be the one that stands out. Um, yeah, that’s my take on it. At least. It’s like deciding, it’s the, the deciding and, and uh, putting it into action I think is one of the hardest things.
[00:29:41] Derek: Yeah. Yeah. It comes from a bit of confidence and leap of faith trust. Um, But, you know, I lived in Singapore for two and a half years, and while I was there, I got sucked into the entrepreneur scene of a few of those, uh, shark Tank type competitions where people would come in or more like 20 or 30 people would come in, give their pitch for their startup. And I was one of the five judges that had to decide who was worth winning the prize.
[00:30:13] Derek: And I hate that stuff i I didn’t stay in that world long. I didn’t wanna be in, in the first place. But they, they asked me and I was curious, so I said yes. So, um, point is in all those two years of doing it, um, I heard probably over a hundred different startup pitches, but only one. Still sticks with me because it was so damn specific and it was this, okay, imagine this.
[00:30:38] Derek: Imagine like so many starter people are coming in saying, Hey, I’ve got this app that’s gonna show you where your friends are eating. And another one comes in and says, Hey, we’re gonna do an app that shows you how much money you can afford to spend this month. And somebody else comes along and says, we’re gonna do a, a website that helps connect people and like all these very generic ideas.
[00:30:59] Derek: And then this guy came in and said, I’m going to make software to aid the production process of small aircraft production. I went, wait, what? Small aircraft production? You mean like little Cessna planes? He said, yes, but not Cessna. But there are other small airplane makers out there that need specific software to manage the construction process, the production process of building small aircraft.
[00:31:31] Derek: I said, and that’s a market. And he’s like, yeah. And my dad is in it. He said, my dad builds small production or is produces small aircraft and the software in that world sucks so I’m going to make better software for that market. I was like, what’s the, like what’s the market here? He’s like, well they’re about 10 makers of uh, small aircraft and they’re all on board and they’re all super interested cuz they all acknowledge that they’re software sucks so I just really need to please these 10 clients.
[00:32:03] Derek: And I was like, oh hell yeah this is amazing. So he won the competition that year, uh, because he knew the specific niche and was able to so specifically target his software for exactly. Small aircraft manufacturers needed. And then later I was at a conference called the, uh, business of Software Conference a couple years later.
[00:32:28] Derek: And similar story, met guy that just made software for people that install countertops in kitchens. They use a special software just for countertops and kitchens. And again, I was like, that’s a market. He’s like, yeah, dude. We’re making about a million and a half a year just doing software for countertop installation because again, they, they niched it to that field.
[00:32:53] Derek: And so this is what I mean about like, don’t underestimate like the tiniest niche you can imagine might be what you should doing and be doing. And how much nicer then to be the only one making specific software in this case for such a specific niche. It’s just better conversations, happier customers. Um,
[00:33:17] Josh: Yeah.
[00:33:18] Josh: Anyway. Yeah, no, I love that. I think it’s such a timely message in a world where in web design there’s so much opportunity, there’s so many web designers, you, you gotta differentiate yourself somehow. And this is, yeah. What we’ve talked about to this point is really the, the roadmap or a, a great path to take to do that.
[00:33:34] Josh: I, one thing you said there, Derek, is interesting, you said that you didn’t want to be a part of that world too long. I actually wanted to ask you this because knowing a little bit about your story when you sold CD Baby, I’ve heard you talk in a couple podcasts about that transition period because you had a I guess some would say an opportunity or at least a, a life choice, I would imagine, where you could have gone to the Silicon Valley route, you could have done startup world, you could have done all that.
[00:33:59] Josh: But I’m kind of curious what made you. , what made you not embrace that lifestyle and do what you want to do? And I, before I, I have you answer. That is inspirational to me because when I came up as a web designer, I was really tempted to go like the agency route and have staff and have overhead and get an office downtown.
[00:34:18] Josh: I’m in Columbus, Ohio, so not too far away from where nine inch Nails, uh, came about but that I, I, I had that draw, or at least I had that pressure. But deep down I was like, I just don’t want to do that. I like working from home one day. I want to have a family. It would be awesome to have littles and be able to do work in my office and not have to commute.
[00:34:38] Josh: So like that, I don’t know your story inspired me in, in a way to just do things the way I wanna do it without being pressured. Can you speak to that transition time period for you as well?
[00:34:49] Derek: Yeah. Um, I tried it. So back up. Back up and give a little more context in. 19 95, 96, the internet was just getting started and it was so exciting, this brand new thing. Um, I was so interested in it, fascinated kind of the way that people were about cryptocurrency a few years ago, or maybe G p t uh, three right now. Yeah. Um, like something comes along and you’re just like, whoa, this is interesting.
[00:35:20] Derek: So luckily in 19 94, 95, I had the time on my hands. It was just kind of early enough that I dove into this new, fascinating thing. And at the heart of that, right there at the beginning was a magazine called Wired Magazine. And I used to I had a subscription. I would get so excited. I remember.
[00:35:39] Josh: Yeah, I remember why. Yeah,
[00:35:40] Derek: it’s still around. But I’d get so excited when every month the issue of Wired magazine would show up in my mailbox.
[00:35:47] Derek: I was like, you know, I would kind of stop what I was doing that night and just pour over every page. And all of it was based in San Francisco, right? Like that was just the epicenter of all the cool stuff going on. So I had this yearning to be in the middle of things and in 1998 I almost moved to, uh, San Francisco, but then CD Baby Star, and it was growing.
[00:36:13] Derek: And there was a warehouse in Portland, Oregon that, um, okay. Long story, but it just kind of made sense to move to Portland, Oregon instead of San Francisco for what was really like a big warehouse pick, pack and ship business. San Francisco was not the right place for that, but I still had this yearning, like, someday I wanna move to San Francisco and be in the middle of things.
[00:36:34] Derek: So, In 2008 when I, uh, sold CD Baby, you can guess what I did. I went straight to San Francisco and, um, I hated it. I hated the fact that all of my previous conversations before moving to San Francisco were with musicians talking about music and other people in the music industry that were also helping musicians.
[00:37:00] Derek: And we were all had this, this mission to help musicians. And then I went to San Francisco and it felt like every conversation was about their Q2 results and their series A financing and their angel investors. And I was just like, oh, it’s all about money free people. You’re all trying to get rich. I cannot relate to this at all.
[00:37:20] Derek: I never had investors with CD baby. It was just, I started it with, uh, I think $500 and I, and it was profitable ever since the second month in business. So I always shunned investors, but um, I just hated that world of investors and pleasing investors and looking at your quarterly results and focusing on the bottom line.
[00:37:42] Derek: I was never doing anything for the money in all those years. I ran CD baby and so I just, I, I hated being in that world. So I thought that I wanted it in theory, but in fact, once I was there, I just, eh, so I left after
[00:37:55] Josh: six months. I was just gonna ask how long? Yeah. I didn’t realize that you had dipped your toe into it. My, my impression, or at least from what I thought was, was the case, was that you looked at it and then decided not to go that route. But that is interesting that No, you didn’t go full into it, but Yeah.
[00:38:10] Derek: But what’s funny is like to me, uh, That’s how I know Tim Ferris is. He and I were there in San Francisco at the same time, and that’s how we got to be friends. We, we were breaking up with girlfriends at the same time and like bonded on that and spent some, uh, some time, you know, with wine and walks in the park and stuff like that. Um, normal
[00:38:34] Josh: dude stuff, but
[00:38:35] Derek: dude stuff, and, um, but then he, he was into that. Yeah, he just took it as a, as a fascinating challenge. So what’s funny is I get to watch his path as like the path that I could have taken and I think he made whatever, hundreds of millions as being an early investor in Uber and a bunch of other companies that I probably would’ve been right there in that angel investor world had I stayed in it.
[00:39:00] Derek: Um, and I don’t care. It’s actually also a really nice feeling to. Look at his path as a kind of ab test. You know, like if I had stayed in that, I think I would’ve been on that exact same path. But to say like, yeah, actually every now and then I turn to my journal and I say like, how would my life be different right now if I had a hundred million dollars?
[00:39:21] Derek: And dude, I’ve tried so many times to answer that question and I’ve spent so many hours in my journal over like 10 or 15 years trying to answer that question and I’ve never had a good answer. It’s like, no, like really? That wouldn’t, maybe I would buy a thing or maybe a bigger house, which would mean more to clean or like, I don’t know. Like I, yeah, it just, there’s no good answer to that. So I, I don’t regret it at all. I don’t miss it.
[00:39:49] Josh: I don’t want it, uh, this, this may not be, I love that, by the way. Uh, this may not be a fair question cuz Tim isn’t here, but do you think Tim maybe feels like, I wish I was Derek sometimes. Just for less
[00:40:02] Josh: Again, I don’t know if it’s fair cuz he is, he’s not talking with us. But I wonder if somebody who went, you know, goes that route and looks and think, man, like how many, this is so common with celebrities and, and famous musicians sometimes where they’re like, I wish I would’ve just stayed a local band and done it for fun instead of selling my soul to this label or whatever.
[00:40:19] Derek: Let’s not talk, uh, Tim in particular, I don’t know, he’s um, he’s self-disciplined enough that if he wants to make a change, he makes it. Um, and I
[00:40:28] Josh: should say too, but yeah, I’m not saying he’d sold his soul at, you know, the success of, of what he’s done by any means. Cuz he’s incredible. But yeah, I just wonder like if some, sometimes people who get really successful, I wonder what the desire is to be not known and just be Yeah.
[00:40:41] Josh: You
[00:40:42] Derek: know, rock stars, when I first moved to New York City, I got a job inside, uh, Warner Brothers in the publishing arm called Warner Chapel Music Publishing. And there I was in Rockefeller Center in the heart of the music industry. And so I met a lot of rock stars that were pretty miserable and um, a lot of them did long for the days of doing gigs as somewhat of a nobody and being excited to make $500, um, but being their own boss.
[00:41:16] Derek: Um, so yeah, it’s, I think we all have a set point where we’re happy and you can only really find it, um, through a bit of trial and error through experience. So there are some people, um, actually I do think that Tim is like this, that are actually happy and challenged and excited trying to make more and more money.
[00:41:41] Derek: Like it just becomes like the score in a game, like a video game, right? You, like, you don’t take it too seriously and you say, okay, maybe I’ve got 120 million now, but I think I could do better. And you just wanna see how high you can get that score. And it’s not coming from greed or evil, but just a sense of fun.
[00:41:58] Derek: Like they really do find it to be a fun challenge to see if they can keep giving more value to the world and, and using money as a neutral, uh, measure of the value that the world is agreeing that they have given. Um, but there’s some people like me that I would not be happy if I was completely broke right now.
[00:42:20] Derek: I mean, actually I’d be still the same personality. This is kinda like my, my d n a and I see that in my son, but that’s a different subject. Like happiness is 50% just in our d n a apparently. Um, but I’m really happy in that kind of middle level where it’s like, I was happy with the struggle when I had like $2,000 in the bank and I would like try to get a gig playing with my band playing at this university.
[00:42:49] Derek: And, and they say yes, and they say, okay, we can pay you $800. I’m like, oh yes. Damn, that’s good. Like, oh, I love this. I used to get so excited about that challenge, but then there was another level of happiness when CD Baby took off and not only were musicians loving it, but, but they were thanking me every day.
[00:43:09] Derek: And as a side effect, the balance in my bank account went up to a hundred thousand and then 300,000 and then a million. And it was just a side effect. But damn, that gives you a nice sense of security to know that this is really nice. Like even if I were to get some kind of brain cancer right now, I’d be okay.
[00:43:32] Derek: You know, that’s, that’s a really nice feeling. But to me, anything. after that is just like hoarding. Like I have, like I just said about writing in my journal. I have no interest in making anything more than I’ve got now. Um, or anything more than say a million dollars I think is just, to me, it’s just wasted on me.
[00:43:51] Derek: I might as well just give to charity and so I do, you know. Yeah, like the, you held up my book. Um, the sale of all of my books, um, goes directly to charity. I not a penny of that ever touches my hands and I set it up that way. On purpose, I set up a C corporation instead of an LLC or an S-corp, which would flow through to me.
[00:44:11] Derek: I set up a C-Corp so that all the profits stay in the entity and then are gifted right back out from the entities of charity. And none of it ever flows through to me cuz I already have.
[00:44:23] Josh: What a thought, Derek. Man, I just, I, again, I just love your approach because it, I feel like a lot of these topics and a lot of the, the things we’ve gone into are challenging, challenging in a sense that it’s not what the typical like business and entrepreneur hustle, cultural world does.
[00:44:39] Josh: I think it is really important just to sit back and think about like, definitely what you need. That’s, that’s my approach. Like what do I need to be able to provide for my family and do what we want to do that middle road. I agree. Like there is something nice about not being completely broke, but I still have the struggles, but I’m able to provide for family and, right.
[00:44:57] Josh: Yeah. It’s like, yeah. The, the real
[00:44:59] Derek: lesson here was not to adopt what I say, but it’s the, the reflective time, the, the introspective time that you give yourself to ask yourself what you really want. Because like, that’s why I started with the example of, uh, people that really enjoy making more and more and more, and you just have to.
[00:45:20] Derek: Know this about yourself. Know what excites you, know what drives you, know what makes you feel alive. And then have the confidence to admit it to yourself. Not caring what other people do or think, but just say, you know what, this is what I like. For some people it’s the fame. They like being famous. And if that’s what you like, you shouldn’t apologize for it.
[00:45:42] Derek: You should just admit it to yourself and say, I like this, this is what I want. And for other people, it may be, um, dedicating their life to just two or three individuals like their family or, uh, some single cause. But for some people, they might like spreading out their generosity widely over the world.
[00:46:05] Derek: And you know, it’s just, you gotta just know this about yourself. Like notice what excites you and what drains you and organize your life. So you’re doing the stuff that excites you the most.
[00:46:17] Josh: Derek. Good thought, man. Uh, I have to say one thing I like are small books and I’m holding up hell yeah or no again, because all of your books, I got ’em all right here in preparation for this.
[00:46:27] Josh: Anyone watching on YouTube? These are all of Derek’s books right now. Four books. They’re small though. They are concise. They are thrift, they are, um, quick wins as far as a read, whereas sometime I have, I showed you a picture before, uh, we chatted today. I have three littles, so time reading time is tough to come by for me right now, but I’ve been able to read your books because they’re small and quick wins at least.
[00:46:51] Josh: Which brings me to something I wanted to ask you about, which is like brevity. You, I’ve heard you talk about when you write a book, it may be a thousand pages, but you narrow it down to like a hundred or 130. Yeah. In the business world, at least in the web design side of things, I, I help a lot of my students with basically just removing a bunch of fluff from their sales pages and their marketing.
[00:47:12] Josh: just to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible, what’s your approach on that and could you speak to maybe how that translates with just getting to the good stuff quick? Losing the fluff? Okay. Um,
[00:47:26] Derek: this is really a personal quirk of mine that, um, let’s imagine if you’re an architect and you make extremely minimalist, brutalist rectangle buildings, but then a different architect can specialize in doing very ornate Paris style, fluer, loopy, paisley ish, um, kind of architecture.
[00:47:56] Derek: Either one is going to have its, uh, fans that would come to you because. You have this, I inherent pull towards a certain kind of design that you prefer or a certain aesthetic, let’s say. So for me, this minimalist aesthetic goes all the way through my life. I only own one pair of pants . Um, I am such a minimalist in every aspect of life.
[00:48:28] Derek: So of course it applies to my writing and my code. So, by the way, anybody listening to this, if you go to my website, s I v e.rs, and uh, you do view source, you’ll see. Every line of that html I typed by hand. I don’t use any code generators. I type the open bracket, the tag, the closed bracket, which the content like, yeah, I don’t use any.
[00:48:56] Josh: Um, it has to be fun for you, Derek, talking with a, uh, an audience of, of web designers and web design business owners cuz we can, we know how to view source, uh, your code. Yes. Your code is 218 lines long on my end, which Yeah. Yeah. I’m gonna try to, perfect example of that. Reduce that. Yeah. You gotta get, it’s under, under 200
[00:49:15] Josh: So
[00:49:16] Derek: because I’m typing this by hand and I do that on purpose, there’s not a single line in that code that doesn’t need to be there and I do the same thing with my books. And to me it’s about pollution. I don’t want to put digital pollution into the world. To me, digital pollution is pollution. It’s.
[00:50:13] Derek: Um, so yeah, I, um, I’m hardcore about that and luckily, A lot of people have raved to me about how much they appreciate, uh, the simplicity on my site, including in my store. Actually, the, the main way I sell my books, uh, is just exclusively on my own website. If you go to silvers.com, I coded that whole store by hand too.
[00:50:39] Derek: I just wrote it from scratch. I pulled up an empty post kresky database. I went, all right, create table invoices, create table line items, coded up the s sql L by hand, um, and made my own email@example.com. And it is so small and efficient and focused on doing just that one thing. I’m just selling my books and people who buy their book, buy my books through my site, always send me this like, wow. Afterwards, like, oh my God, that was the craziest, simplest store
[00:51:09] Josh: I’ve ever used. That was amazing. How
[00:51:11] Derek: did you build that? You know, or, or What software are you using? And I go, oh, I built my own, so I gotta open source this stuff. Um, but yeah, so sorry, I nerd out on minimalism and simplicity. That’s just my personal, uh, aesthetic pull, but luckily it’s been rewarded and appreciated by the
[00:51:32] Josh: world.
[00:51:33] Josh: It definitely has. I, I think, again, kind of like my point earlier with the opportunities and the amount of things you can and can’t do it, it’s the same thing if it’s, I imagine writing a book or offering a service or creating an online store, like you can make things so easily make things overly complicated.
[00:51:48] Josh: I daily have to reel myself in and just do the things that I like, I like doing that I think are gonna make the biggest impact and just focus on that and cut out the fluff. That’s probably one of the, my biggest personal challenges, particularly with having a podcast, is to try to cut out the fluff and keep things concise.
[00:52:05] Josh: Yes. Which is hard, harder conversation.
[00:52:52] Derek: Um, and if there’s something you really need to know, you’ll know it because it will come up again and again and again and after maybe you try to ignore it 10 times. And by the 11th time something comes at me think, okay, maybe I need to pay attention to this. Okay, what is this G P T? You know, like, yeah, there might be something that’s worth paying attention to occasionally, but the rest was not.
[00:53:13] Derek: And there’s, I mean, there’s so many wonderful examples. This where somebody says, pick up a newspaper from five years ago and tell me how much of that matters now.
[00:53:22] Josh: Good point. Yeah, good point. And one thing I’ve heard you talk about too is that on this point, it’s like a really good thought may be 300 pages into a book that like, what a shame that it took this long to get to this point, especially if it’s like a, a theme, um, which I’ve heard you talk about.
[00:53:41] Josh: One reason that your books are so short is to get those good thoughts quickly to the point which I, again, I really appreciate. I I appreciate that more now than ever because as a family man, life is so chaotic with three littles, the things that are most simplistic, most to the point I’ve appreciated, like I’ve never have before.
[00:53:59] Josh: And I do think that’s what separates you and a lot of others in this space who may do things on a very simple to the point level. It stands out now, which is really interesting. And I hope that’s empowering for everyone listening and watching too. Like the, the more I’ve found, the more simple you can make things, the more clear yeah.
[00:54:16] Josh: You can make things, the more to the point you can be really it. Well, it can help grow a business. It can help make you happy. It’s less to worry about it. There’s so many good things with it. Yeah.
[00:54:26] Derek: Um, hey, um, so anybody listening, go to YouTube and search for these four words. Simplicity matters. Rich, r i c h Hickey, h i c k e y.
[00:54:42] Derek: Uh, rich Hickey is the inventor of the programming language called closure. And he was invited to the Ruby On Rails conference in 2010, I think that talk was published. So you will find a video of Rich Hickey giving a keynote speech at the Rails conference called Simplicity Matters. And this one video of his changed my life in so many ways.
[00:55:06] Derek: I really need to write more about this because he makes a beautiful distinction between simple and easy. He said we, we tend to. Mix up these two concepts of simple and easy, but they’re in fact completely different. He said simple is the opposite of complex. He said complex is a word that means, uh, it comes from the word complex, which means to braid things together.
[00:55:33] Derek: So he said, when something is complex, it means it’s braided together with other things. And he said, simple comes from simplex, which is, uh, means just one un braided, uh, unconnected. Uh, and he said, now easy just means something that’s near at hand, uh, versus hard, which might take a lot of extra work. And he said, the thing is it can be hard to make something simple and it can be easy to make something complex, he said.
[00:56:30] Derek: N p m install this, um, WordPress, you just go, oh, just install WordPress. Well, damn, dude, do you know what you’ve just done? you’ve just added hundreds of thousands of lines of code and just thousands and thousands of files just by clicking install WordPress. You’ve made something incredibly complex that is very braided together, that’s very fragile, that’s very, um, complicated, but it was easy.
[00:56:58] Derek: And on the other hand, you can spend some extra time. It’ll be a little harder, but you can make something very simple. That has no dependencies, that’s easy to maintain, um, and more robust for years to come. But it’ll be a little harder than just clicking install WordPress or NPM install this thing. So go find that talk.
[00:57:22] Derek: Simplicity matters by Rich Hickey. I hope it changes your
[00:57:26] Josh: life too. I’m sure it will. And I’ll make sure we have all the links and resources you’re mentioning Derek at the show notes for this episode. So that will definitely be linked. I just checked that out. I’ll put that on the playlist for this afternoon for myself.
[00:57:37] Josh: Um, on that note, Butch, by the way, I hope we can still be friends after this, Derek, cuz I do use WordPress. Um, everybody does. It’s all right. I’ve used it since 2013. What can I say? One thing you mentioned a little bit ago, or what we talked about was the initial writing and like the brain dump of ideas. I would imagine, would I be correct in saying.
[00:57:58] Josh: It was easier to write a thousand pages and way harder to get it down to a hundred or 130 or whatever the average. Yeah,
[00:58:05] Derek: your average is, but it’s considerate, it’s, I didn’t want to ask everybody on my mailing list to read the thousand page version that would’ve been inconsiderate of me. Just like it’s inconsiderate to fill your website with too much copy and email it to everybody you know, and expect everybody clicking on your site to like read 35 paragraphs of junk when it’s like, it really would’ve been more considerate of you to narrow that down to one paragraph and four bullet points.
[00:58:36] Derek: That’s. Harder but more considerate for your readers.
[00:58:41] Josh: Yeah. And it also brings, okay, I told you before we went live, we weren’t gonna talk about conversions, but here we are, uh, with website conversions. One thing I’ve taught my students is that people scan websites unless it’s a blog post. So you do need to be as thrift as possible.
[00:58:56] Josh: Yeah. I’m actually kinda curious, uh, from your experience, Derek, you got into the internet in the mid nineties. I’m sure it looked different back then. Do you feel like the behavior of reading and scanning has changed? Like, or how has it changed? Or do you think it’s the same? Same,
[00:59:12] Derek: um, I mean, I guess the, maybe the main change now is phone, phones trained.
[00:59:20] Derek: This, uh, thumb behavior is swiping the, the swipe the scroll. Whereas before on computers it would, it was all about being above the fold, right? You used to like look at a screen and it mattered a lot. What you put above the fold on a typical, uh, 10 24 by 7 68. Wide computer monitor, that’s changed. Um, but I think the, uh, the fundamentals are still true.
[00:59:44] Derek: Like you just said, people scan not read. That’s been true. I remember jacobNielsen@useit.com, used to write these articles in the nineties about they did actual tests, like very academic, bringing in dozens of strangers and setting up those eye scan things where you can see what their eye is looking at and over and over and over again.
[01:00:06] Derek: Yeah. Found that online people are not reading, like, sitting down on the couch to read a book at all. You know, they really are just quickly scanning. Um, which is why the, the first word in your sentence matters a lot. Uh, using the, the action verb. Uh, instead of the puffy beforehand saying, you know, please take a minute to click here.
[01:00:29] Derek: No, no, no. You wanna say click here, or whatever the, the verb you want people to do, um, the verb matters. Most to be at the beginning of sentence because, uh, he’s washed through eyes scanning. Like that’s how people’s eyes go. They, they scan the top and then they go down the left hand side. Uh, and they’re gonna quickly scan the words that are at the left hand word of each sentence on in bullet points ideally.
[01:00:53] Derek: So yeah, stuff like that has stayed the same since the nineties.
[01:00:56] Josh: You just gave me a flashback to before, probably before 2013 when mobile really took over. Every client said, I don’t want to have to scroll. I don’t want to have to scroll. Huh. And then immediately it changed overnight. Or at least we as what designers sold our clients.
[01:01:12] Josh: Don’t worry about it. Everyone’s scrolling. We’re all used to it. Uh, yeah. But a lot of power on that actually. I love how your site is laid out. As of right now. If anyone goes to, uh, to your website, which will have linked, it’s just so clear. Me in 10 seconds, me in 10 minutes. And then it’s like you almost give people permission to take the next step if they want more. Am I right in? Yeah. Identifying that approach you know, it
[01:01:32] Derek: was a bold move. I, it’s been a few years now, was to remove the menu bar. I realized that I don’t, nobody’s going to jump from one subsection of my site to a different subsection of my site. It’s more likely they’ll just go back to the homepage.
[01:01:48] Derek: So instead, any page of my site just has my name at the top, uh, linked back to the homepage, and then the homepage has the links to the other thing. I might experiment with taking that away, but yeah, I, I mean, sorry with changing that, but it was about, um, I think eight years ago that I removed the menu bar and it felt like a, a bold experiment that’s worked out so far.
[01:02:10] Josh: That is bold. It’s just something that makes you a little bit different and stand out from everybody else. I also so appreciate how just plain html simple your site is. I don’t know of, but it doesn’t look bad. Like it’s a, it’s a, like, typically when I think of like a plain HTML site, it was built to 1998 and has never been updated and it just looks right, like it’s from 98, but somehow yours is in 2023, but it’s still plain H T M L.
[01:02:37] Josh: So it’s a very interesting case study, I feel like. Um, thanks. Yeah. I don’t know if you, me, happy, consider your, I don’t know if you consider yourself a designer, but, uh, no. , there’s good, there’s good design principles in here. Um, I’m curious, Derek, to, I I don’t wanna take too much of your time, although I wasn’t gonna say, I know you’re busy cuz I don’t know if that’s always the case.
[01:02:56] Josh: Don’t, like, people always say, I know you’re really busy, Josh, but I’m not always like, I’m not sometimes, but I’m not that busy like all the time. Um, yeah. But I do, I do wanna just hone on something that I really, really have appreciated about you that I think will translate to, to having an online business, standing out, all those things, and that is speaking and pauses all the things that just make us a better communicator.
[01:03:23] Josh: Now you’ve, you’ve, you’ve got a great, a couple great talks, uh, TED talks that we’ll link to. Where did this come about for you? Because I do, when I think about somebody who is a good speaker and is very articulate and is really good at getting thoughts out in a story framework, but also very concise, I really look to you for a lot of those things.
[01:03:43] Josh: Where do you think this is, did, was this intentional? Did you come to this Hmm. By like any, uh, any certain training or do you feel like you’ve just learned to, to communicate better both in like interviews and talks and things like that? How did they, uh, how did that come about?
[01:04:01] Derek: I learned the hard way that the more noise y you have in any of your communication, whether it’s written or spoken, the less people will hear what you want them to get out of it. Um, but that’s more for writing to me. Like if you and I in this conversation started really like nerding out about something that I love, like S sql L functions, I would be a lot more verbose.
[01:04:35] Derek: I’d be like, dude, oh my god, little, uh, you’d get a, uh, a big blast of mess out of my mouth cuz I’d be bursting with, uh, excitement. But again, I think it’s more considerate for your audience if I can like, use a little self-control when you ask me a question to stop and think about it for a second. and then choose my words to, to give you the, the answer, uh, that’s the most, uh, effective to, you know, deliver it more powerfully.
[01:05:09] Derek: Um, an inspiration for that was the movie, I think it was called Before Midnight, um, the Woody Allen movie where, um, Owen, what’s his name? Oh, Luke Owen. No. Um, One of, one of the Owen brothers with the, the big broken nose, uh, . What’s his name? Is that it? Owen Wilson. Uh, is that it? Owen Wilson. That’s it. Thank you.
[01:05:36] Derek: Yes, Owen Wilson, uh, goes back in time. He’s in Paris in present day and gets into a taxi and suddenly through magic. He’s in the 1920s and he’s talking to um, Ernest Hemingway. And Ernest Hemingway always had a famously succinct writing style, and when he meets Ernest Hemingway in person, he’s speaking that succinctly too.
[01:05:59] Derek: And I remember when I watched that movie, I was like, yeah, that’s badass. I would love to speak, like I write more, not exactly, but more than I do now. So I do it a little bit on purpose. Choosing my words more carefully now I’m being way self-conscious talking about this, but choosing my words,
[01:06:22] Josh: uh, on your, listen to your interviews after this, they’re gonna be all very long winded and fluffy
[01:06:27] Josh: Sorry about that.
[01:06:27] Derek: Some are, um, okay. But the other thing that really shaped it is transcriptions. Reading transcripts of my interviews and editing them and putting them on my site. Looking at a transcript of yourself speaking is embarrassing. Oh, that’s so
[01:06:46] Josh: often. I literally, two days ago, I literally recorded a Loom video from my me, my web design membership. And then I was like, I’m just gonna use a transcription instead of typing what out. I just said, and then I was like, wow, that’s a lot of fluff. And it was a great challenge. It’s a great reminder of how much fluff we often add and how, how much noise as you said that we add in there. Yeah. Great. We stop sentences
[01:07:11] Derek: halfway.
[01:07:11] Derek: We, we rewind, we pause, we take another branch. It’s a lot of fluff. Um, lastly on my phone, whether Android or Apple, I’ve done this for both. I use the voice dictation a lot to send texts because I don’t feel like using my big manly fingers on those tiny little keys on a glass screen. So I click the microphone button and I let it do voice dictation.
[01:07:45] Derek: Uh, not leaving a voicemail, but like turning my voice into text. Doing that trains you very well to pause to think of the next word you want to say so that you’re writing with your voice. Uh, that I think that’s changed the way that I speak in public a bit. Ah,
[01:08:06] Josh: that’s great. What you said earlier reminded me too of some of the earliest, uh, meetings that I had when I was getting into web design, particularly when I started using WordPress.
[01:08:15] Josh: If a client asked, what, like, should we use WordPress or Squarespace or Wicks or whatever, to your point, because I’m passionate about one thing or this is really the case with a lot of web designers and sales calls, you do have to be careful not to dive into a subject too deep when it’s not the right time for it.
[01:08:31] Josh: You know, like that really, I think what you, what you laid out there, Derek, is perfect because you could be brief in concise. If there is a time to dive into why we use WordPress and they’re interested, then maybe you could get a little more detailed, or you’re talking with a developer friend and you want to get into my sequel and stuff.
[01:08:47] Josh: Sure. Go, go wild for it. But, uh, yeah, like if you’re talking to a client who’s a hairdresser, you’re probably not gonna be wanting to. Database speak . Uh, so that’s a great life lesson.
[01:08:59] Derek: So, hey, another good way to train yourself on this is to listen to different podcasts and notice how you feel as a listener when the guest goes on a long, 20 minute long monologue of an answer versus when the interview is more back and forth in a three sentence question, six sentence answer, one sentence question, two sentence answer.
[01:09:22] Derek: When it’s back and forth like that, it’s much more captivating. And then you realize, if that’s true in a podcast, then clearly it’s even more true in a real conversation you’re having with somebody. You never want to be the monologue. You always want to keep. The back and forth dialogue going.
[01:09:41] Josh: I’ll say too, for anyone doing interviews, one thing that’s really helped me is in the early days I would look at the file size of my audio versus the guest audio and if they were equal or if mine was, God forbid, over theirs, that’s a problem because I should let the guest have the time to speak, which is actually one reason I started doing solo episodes.
[01:10:00] Josh: So I don’t have to go through all that’s in my head when I wanna let you Derek speak. I can do a solo episode if I wanna follow up with some of these thoughts. So yeah, a couple great, like practical things we can do to, to help us be concise, be thrift cuz I do, I firm believe that’s what separates a lot of people now on the online world where there’s so much noise, so much fluff, just, I don’t know, get to the message quick.
[01:10:23] Josh: That would be my challenge for everybody, particularly when, uh, everyone’s building their own websites, uh,
[01:10:28] Derek: and in that conversation that you might be having with a new potential client. It’s biting your tongue and not saying everything you could say or want to say, but instead keeping it in and asking them more questions.
[01:10:46] Derek: Uh, if you go back and read the book from the 1930s called How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, it starts out with this amazing story of, uh, a man that went to a cocktail party with his wife and he didn’t really want to attend, um, but his wife did. So we went to his wife to this party and, uh, met this woman that just, uh, he would just ask questions of, she said, uh, who are you?
[01:11:18] Derek: And, um, he said, oh, my name’s Dale Carnegie. How about yourself? And she said, oh, my name is so-and-so when I do this. And he, he said, oh, but how did you get into that line of work? Oh, I, um, and. Uh, he said that’s, that’s fascinating. That must be very difficult to, to manage all those expectations. Oh, yes, it is.
[01:11:39] Derek: He said, she, uh, never asked me anything after that initial question of what was my name. She did all of the talking, and yet the next day my wife said, um, wow, you really make a big impression on. This woman at the party apparently can’t stop talking about you. And uh, he said, she said, you’re the most wonderful conversationalist she’s ever met.
[01:12:05] Derek: That’s great. So really, if you’re doing client calls, somebody said potential client, the best thing you could do is to let them talk the whole time. And if you do nothing but ask questions, they will find you to be the most wonderful conversationalist .
[01:12:22] Josh: Gosh, that’s so true. I’ve had some of those where they’re like, gosh, you’re such a great person to talk to I’m like, I didn’t, I didn’t say much. It’s the exact situation is that you get So look, if you get anyone talking about themselves and opening up and sharing their challenges, they’re gonna love you. That’s like the key to sales that I’ve found. They feel heard.
[01:12:38] Derek: Yeah. Yeah. That’s so important to feel heard. Like that thing I said earlier about, uh, host baby, my web hosting for musicians.
[01:12:44] Josh: Yeah.
[01:12:44] Derek: Great point. Let the musicians feel heard. We, we would say, here’s our 800 number. Call us. And we’d talk with them on the phone about their website. And, uh, they loved that it made this bond that even if that was the only phone call they made, they’d stay with us for 10 years of paying $20 a month or whatever for hosting for the next 10 years because of that one phone call that helped them feel heard.
[01:13:06] Josh: That’s like the best sales tip. By the way, in the early days, I was not a great designer and a great web developer for, for quite a while, but I sold a lot of websites because I unintentionally just listened more and, and honestly cared about my clients and the results. So it’s a, I hope that’s empowering for everybody.
[01:13:23] Josh: Like you don’t, you don’t need to sell and be the expert. You can just listen and let your client be heard. I, I, I love that message cuz I think it’s more timely than ever again, in a world where everyone’s shouting at us. Um, if you’re the one who’s listening and letting somebody speak, it’s gonna separate you.
[01:13:39] Josh: This is good. This is challenging for me too, because I’m in a position where sometimes I feel like I just try to dish out. Oh, that I’m learning and all my thoughts, but I’m reeling. Yeah. Personally. And my challenge is to like reel it in and like do more listening and Yeah. Yeah. Intentionally hear somebody’s challenges.
[01:13:54] Josh: We’re
[01:13:54] Derek: being so meta. I am so self-conscious right now.
[01:13:58] Josh: our conversation. Sorry. We’re talking about conversation.
[01:14:01] Derek: We’re talking about your spoken words. Like No, I’m
[01:14:06] Josh: watching everything coming outta my mouth. Do wanna ask you to, to wrap this up, Derek, um, I had sent you, uh, a Loom video to see if you’d be interested in coming outta this show.
[01:14:16] Josh: Now, I don’t know how often you say yes to requests. My guests would be. You get quite a few. I would love to know, personally, I was gonna ask you this when I stopped recording, but we’ll just keep on rolling. What made my request different and what made you, what made, I don’t know if you said hell yeah. But what made you say yeah to this interview?
[01:14:35] Derek: I love talking tech. I spend so much of my life. Programming in a terminal. I spend so much of my life writing code and nobody ever sees it but me. And I only talk usually about my general stuff, my philosophical, psychological, entrepreneurial writings. And when somebody wants to talk tech, I’m so happy, uh, to talk tech.
[01:15:06] Derek: So yes, your request is a hell yeah. Because like I would love to talk with another web designer about making web stuff.
[01:15:15] Josh: Well, I hope this wasn’t disappointing for you. I know we didn’t talk too much that so disappointing. It’s been terrible. Awful. But thanks for asking. We can how Yeah. I, I will introduce you some to developer friends and you guys can get right into the code.
[01:15:27] Josh: I promise you, Derek. Um, but no, I appreciate that because I, I have found that, and one reason I didn’t wanna cover all the same topics you always go into is because it does tend to. It gets a little stale, a little old if you have to say the same thing over and over again. I, I get that. There’s a lot of questions I get from people.
[01:15:44] Josh: I’m like, oh, have I had a course on this? I’ve got resources. Just, just go there. Just I’ve already said it. Um, but yeah, I know. I appreciate that. I was just kind of curious about, I’m trying to be different from everybody else in my own in way, you know, my, in own, my own way. Uh, so I was kinda, I was just kinda curious about that.
[01:16:02] Josh: But yeah man, Derek, a lot of great stuff in this. We really covered some, some interesting ground from specialization to, um, positioning going ne niche, going niche is such a hot topic right now. I’d love to to ask you one final questions here, but I do wanna to give you a chance to say maybe where you would like people to go, particularly if they’re interested in your books.
[01:16:23] Josh: I, I told you, shoot, I went on Amazon and purchased your books. That’s fine. Do you prefer people to go to your website? Where would you like people to go or to, to find out more about you?
[01:16:32] Derek: Yeah. Well, I mean, it goes like this. I believe in decentralization. I think that that was the great excitement of the internet to me in the early days, is that I wish things had just taken a slightly different historical fork in the road back in the mid nineties.
[01:16:51] Derek: I wish that every person on earth, instead of having a social media account, had their own little website. That would’ve been a beautiful, uh, path for the world to take, um, to just for everybody have their little decentralized personal websites. Uh, and if social media was like that where everybody would share their photos or their thoughts on their own website, and then some aggregator would find a way to share them with their other sites instead of centralizing them, what a nice world that would’ve been.
[01:17:22] Derek: Um, so in general, I think that we should try to decentralize whenever it’s, um, feasible. So, Yes, if you buy my books directly from me, the advantages are, for one, we get a direct communication. Then you can just email me and reply and say, Hey, got your book, thanks. Uh, whereas Amazon keeps it anonymous, I will never know that somebody bought my book until a few months later when I will get $2 from the sale of that book and then $2 for Gold charity.
[01:17:58] Derek: Whereas if you buy it directly from me, then the entire $15 goes to charity. Uh, so that’s the huge difference there. Um, yeah. Decentralization. So yes. Oh, uh, you can imagine where everyone should go. Go to S I V E Rs. That’s my, um, that’s my url. Speaking of minimalism, it used to be severs.org. And I looked at that one day a few years ago and I went, Hmm, I’m not an organization.
[01:18:27] Derek: Why do I have a.org? I’m like, That’s really not necessary, is it? And I saw that the siv V e.rs was available. I was like, that is the shortest r l that can spell my name. That’s the one I’m going for. So even though I had been promoting silvers.org and even published it in books and all that for over 10 years, I went, I’m doing it.
[01:18:47] Derek: I’m making the leap. So now silvers.org just redirects to SIV V
[01:18:51] Josh: you. You are not lying, Derek. Even your URL is minimalistic as it can get. Dude, it gets
[01:18:57] Derek: worse. I legally removed my middle name because I wasn’t using it. No
[01:19:01] Josh: kidding. I didn’t even know you could do that.
[01:19:03] Derek: Yeah, just it’s called a deed pull. If you’re not using your middle name, you can legally remove it.
[01:19:07] Derek: Luckily, I’m not removing my, uh, you know, pinky figures or, uh, pinky toe or, you know, I’m, I’m not gonna take it too far into, I don’t need modification. But, um, yeah, uh, although I guess, guess you could say, I, I wasn’t using my hair and that’s gone now. Um, you know, but yeah, the, the minimalism runs deep. Sorry
[01:19:25] Josh: about that.
[01:19:26] Josh: No, that’s great. Uh, it makes sense. Derek’s gonna have the shortest r l website of any guest for this podcast. I guarantee it. Last question for you, Derek. I just thought of, I was gonna ask you something different, but I want to end with something fun. If your website was an instrument, what instrument would it be?
[01:19:47] Derek: The Steinberger guitar. It was a limited run guitar in the nineties that. Was as tiny as could be. The body of the guitar was just a little white rectangle that was just big enough to hold the pickups and the bridge for the strings, and it had none of the usual curvy body around it. It was the bare minimum electric guitar.
[01:20:15] Derek: Um, I’d say my website is that you could still make all the beautiful music you ever wanted to. But with nothing unnecessary
[01:20:24] Josh: in its design. What a great way to end this conversation. To put a cap on it. Derek, thank you so much for your time, man. I’ve absolutely had a blast chatting with you.
[01:20:33] Derek: Thanks, you too.