Book Club #8: Anything you Want, by Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers sold his company, CD Baby, for $22M. For years he’d made tens of millions of dollars for independent musicians by giving them a platform by which they could sell to their fans.

Some time after, he wrote a very short book about the experience, Anything You Want, which is packed with lessons and maxims. We can’t share all of them in this article, so we’ve picked a few for you to consider.

Not another boring order confirmation email

Derek took a lot of pride in serving both artists and their fans. He always wanted the experience to be something that would keep people coming back. He says in the book  “…it’s often the tiny details that really thrill people enough to make them tell all their friends about you.”

cdsThe order confirmation email he and his team composed became viral:

Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow. A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our world-renowned packing specialist lit a local artisan candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day.

We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as “Customer of the Year.” We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


We miss you already. We’ll be right here at patiently awaiting your return.

Was the product you received defective or damaged? Check out our Return Policy.

Don’t focus on growth

Sivers notes in the book that he never worried about growth. He wanted to focus on delighting customers and figured that the growth would come naturally. Here’s how he put it:

“None of your customers will ask you to turn your attention to expanding. They want you to keep your attention focused on them. It’s counterintuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.”

It’s either “Hell Yes” or “No.”

Some time after the sale of his company Derek was being asked to speak in many different places. He often said “Yes,” because he saw all of them as opportunities. At one point he was scheduled to speak at three different conferences, one of them in Australia.

But he realized he wasn’t really interested or excited about any of them. However, he did have a project he was passionate about and wanted to get working on, something that was a “Hell Yes,” when he thought about it.  

To reconcile this dissonance, he created a new rule, which has been written about in hundreds of articles since, the “Hell Yes or No” rule. Sivers dedicates an entire chapter to this topic in the book, though you can find a short version of it on his personal site.  It’s quite simple: if you’re considering a project or commitment that is only a “Yes,” then it’s a “No.”  Give yourself time and bandwidth to take on the “Hell Yes” projects when they come along.

The book isn’t even 90 pages long, so it’s a quick and easy read. You’ll enjoy learning the history of CD Baby alongside the lessons that Derek learned from building it.

Book Club #7: ZAG, by Marty Neumeier

zig zagMarty Neumeier’s short slide-presentation book, ZAG, at 192 pages, is one of the shortest books we’ve covered in our Book Club series. Don’t let the smaller size fool you, however.

Neumeier covers a plethora of information about being the best brand possible. We’ve picked a few key ideas from ZAG to share in this article.

What do you mean, ZAG?

When everyone is zigging, zag,” Neumeier repeats over and over in the book.

If you aren’t #1 or #2 in your category, you need to find a way to stand out…to zag. You can discover your zag by taking the time for a brand audit.

17-Point Brand Audit

Marty goes through a comprehensive brand audit, which every business should engage in, across 17 categories. We encourage you to read the book and go through the audit for your company, but this article highlights five categories in particular.

#2 Purpose – State your company’s purpose in 12 words or fewer. People are used to sprawling mission statements and visions, but 12 words really helps you to focus.

#4 What wave are you riding? – Your company is sitting on some trend – is it a growing trend, one at its peak, or one at the end? What do you need to do in order to switch waves or lengthen your ride on the wave you are on?

#6 The only ____ that _____.  This is one of the most important points in the book and ties directly into Blue Ocean Strategy. An example Neumeier gives is for Harley Davidson: The only motorcycle manufacturer that makes big, loud motorcycles, for macho guys (and wannabees), mostly in the United States, who want to join a gang of cowboys, in an era of decreasing personal freedom.

What’s powerful about that example is that Neumeier has managed to hit the how, who, where, why, and when within the “only ____ that ____” construct. If you take the time to do that for your company, you will gain powerful insights as well.

#8 Find brand loyalists. Who are your evangelists? Who are your biggest fans? Find out how you can serve them and involve them in what you do.

#14 Map the Customer Experience. Start from complete unawareness and end with the experience after they’ve used your product or service. Use this map to find out areas of weakness and strength all along your processes.

Why Your Brand Matters

Whether you’re looking to sell your company or buy a company, ultimately it’s the brand that matters. Why? Because it’s not dependent upon any one person or employee. Brand transcends individuals and is built to last…and that’s priceless.

Book Club #6: The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries

The Lean StartupDisruption seems to be a constant in the “you economy” of today.  Taxis and even public transport are being disrupted by Uber and Lyft. Hotels and motels are being disrupted by Airbnb.

Billboards are being disrupted by the one device most people are likely to be looking at when they aren’t driving a car (and even if they are): their mobile phones.

Eric Ries and the movement he kicked off when he authored The Lean Startup is disrupting a very old idea: that you need a business plan to build a successful business.

Why the traditional business plan helped

If you talk to most business owners and asked to see their business plan, they might go to some corner of their office or filing cabinet, dust it off, and hand it to you. It hasn’t seen their eyes or hands since it was first written ages ago. Others will tell you they never had one.

We know that business plans aren’t necessary for success, but it was the process of building a business plan that could help crystallize ideas about what kind of business you were building and how you would do it. More importantly, for bank financing, the buyer will be required to furnish their  business plan.

Why a business plan is often irrelevant today

In one word?  The internet.

In a world in which you can start a business in 60 seconds…through a crowdfunding project…or by turning your car or spare room into a revenue stream…or by using instant broadcast capabilities that can be monetized through something like YouTube…a business plan is, at best, a starting point, and one that’s going to use significant time and energy to, at best, guess at the market.


Ries advocates for the MVP: the minimum viable product.  What can I get out there as quickly as possible to find out if the market even remotely cares about my product and/or service?  Once you’ve validated your business idea via customers willing to give you money for what you’re offering, you can poll them to find out what features they liked/disliked in order to “pivot” and make your offering better.

This makes business much less like opening a restaurant and much more like making one dish well over and over until you can start to build a series of dishes, which may in time lead to opening a restaurant. Or not. What matters is a relentless laser-like focus on viability and profitability from the jump, which makes starting a business a lot less intimidating and a lot more craft-oriented.

A hybrid approach

At Apex we advocate a hybrid approach. Obviously if you’re bootstrapping and starting a new business from scratch, Ries’s approach is both affordable and logical.  But as any business grows into maturity, you will need to create a business plan built on all your pivots and iterations. This should be done not just as a way to track your progress, but also to have a document for traditional funding should you ever want it to grow your business, or to give to a potential buyer to make their path to financing easier.

The thesis of the book is not a simplistic assertion. It’s backed up by case studies, examples, and evidence.  You can find a copy of it here.

Book Club #5: How to Win at the Sport of Business, by Mark Cuban

Mark CubanMark Cuban is a man who needs no introduction.  He’s best known today as one of the sharks in the ABC Emmy-award-winning series, Shark Tank, but most people don’t know that in 2011 he managed to pen a thin book called How to Win at the Sport of Business: If I Can do It, You Can do It.

At 73 pages, it’s not a hefty read and is worth your time.  But we’ll give you a couple nuggets of wisdom he shares in order to nudge you towards picking up a copy.

Getting Paid to Learn

In every job, I would justify it in my mind, whether I loved it or hated it, that I was getting paid to learn and every experience would be of value when I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.”

This is an attitude that everyone in our society could really use more of.  Instead of disdaining jobs and possibilities as “beneath them,” people could enjoy the journey more, realizing that they were being paid to learn.

What is he always asking himself?

Always ask yourself how someone could preempt your products or service.  How can they put you out of business?  Is it price?  Is it service?  Is it ease of use?

While it’s astonishing to see someone who wears t-shirts with 3 commas on them (to signify he’s a billionaire) be so dogged about continuing to grow, these points are all valid.  They belie a fundamental paranoia that Cuban tries to preach often on Shark Tank: imagine someone is coming for everything you have.

Why he might not invest in you…

The reality is that most businesses, they don’t need more cash, they need more brains.”

Mark always talks about how much he loves “grinders.”  This is because he believes that it’s okay to grow slowly.  He feels that cash can “make you stupid” at times and it’s the thinking you do when you’re the leanest that can often be the most creative.

There are plenty of great stories and other memorable lessons in the book.  You can find a copy of it here.

Apex is actively looking for Advisors to join our team. If you or someone you know would like to learn more, contact Doug Hubler at or 913-433-2303.

Book Club #4: Small Giants, by Bo Burlingham

We review books you should read in preparation to buy or sell a business, as well as how to build a company to sell one day. You can see other books we’ve reviewed in our archive.  

Small GiantsWhat’s the premise?

Bo Burlingham, who is one of the editors-at-large for Inc. Magazine, wrote a book in 2006 about 14 different companies that chose to be “great instead of big.”  He called such companies “Small Giants.”

What are characteristics of these companies?

Well, the book itself is not long at just over 200 pages, but the characteristics of these firms all revolve around intentionality.  For example, Small Giants tend to have leaders who have a burning passion for their industry and/or business in general.  They also have close, personal ties to suppliers and customers.

Small Giants tend to be deeply rooted in the community in which they do business and have cultures that look at the totality of employees’ lives.  One of the companies featured in the book was Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, based in New York City.

One of the ways Meyer has recently innovated in the employee space was by pioneering “Hospitality Included” pricing (i.e. no tipping at his restaurants).  Because the laws governing tipping mandated what he could pay the back-of-the-house staff, Meyer simply changed the rules.  By changing the way his restaurants operated, not only did the back-of-the-house staff see a significant increase in pay, but the front-of-the-house staff didn’t feel obliged to take the weekend shifts anymore, as their pay was now salaried rather than tip-based.  Some parents went to a softball game of their children for the first time ever.

Why should you care?

A lot of people have called this book the Good to Great of the small business world, and that makes a lot of sense.  Sometimes small business owners are busy putting one foot in front of the other and don’t really identify with the stories told in Fast Company and Forbes.  A book like this tells the stories of smaller firms that are carving out their own identity and can provide inspiration and a template to be great instead of big.

You can find a copy of Small Giants here and Bo Burlingham on Twitter here.

If you want to hear more about Danny Meyer and “H.I.” pricing, take a listen here.

Apex is actively looking for Advisors to join our team. If you or someone you know would like to learn more, contact Doug Hubler at or 913-433-2303.

Book Club #3: The Automatic Customer, by John Warrillow

We review books you should read in preparation to buy or sell a business, as well as how to build a company to sell one day.  

About the Author

John Warrillow is perhaps best known for his book Built to Sell and his creation of the Value Builder System, which is a proprietary scoring system that rates a business’s fitness for sale. But today we’re looking at his book The Automatic Customer, that is identifying a megatrend in businesses these days: recurring revenue and subscriptions.

Automatic CustomerBut my business doesn’t work with the subscription model…

This is probably the main argument John battles in this book. He makes the case for recurring revenue not just as something important for your business if you want to keep it, but of added attractiveness should you wish to sell it.

He also points out that all it takes is a little time and thought to identify how you can add recurring revenue to your existing business, even if you don’t see, at first glance, how to do that.

How will my business be more valuable with subscriptions added, exactly?

Great question. John has several answers, but here are two:

Recurring Revenue

Instead of simply looking at one class of revenue which may focus on sale cycles that are longer than a month or a year, you can count on revenue that just automatically hits the bank, whether it’s on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.

Hedge against Recession

One of the things that all business owners know is that during a recession large purchases can be scary and sometimes orders that were “for sure” become “holds” or “cancels.” But if your customers are on a lower-priced subscription model they might be less likely to cancel, especially since the automation of their payment takes away the impetus to have to “decide” on an upcoming purchase.

How will my business be more effective with subscriptions added?

Again, John has several answers here as well, but to focus on two:

It smoothes out demand

Instead of bigger cycles of launch and ship, if you’re in a service business, or manufacture, stock, and ship, if you’re in a product business, you have a steady drip-drip-drip of work, which can add efficiencies to your back office and give you the time and ability to integrate the work for your peak times into your off-peak times, avoiding the “slammed vs. dead” paradigm.

Customers are likely to buy more

Because you already have your customers’ trust and subscription, they’re likely to come back to you for more purchases. The biggest example of this was Amazon’s introduction of Prime. Not only did they manage to introduce a new annual recurring fee for many users of Amazon, but they found that these users ended up buying more as a result of the benefits which came with Prime, not least of which was free 2-day shipping.

Why should I buy and read this book?

Because it’s not a long book – John knows that business owners are busy – but also because it has the documentation, case studies, and examples to prove that you can add subscription revenue even to very old, traditional, established business concepts.  This isn’t just for the millennial, pure-play, tech companies.  You’ll also be given a fresh injection of inspiration about how to make your business even more valuable!

You can find a copy of The Automatic Customer here. John Warrillow is also on Twitter.

Building a business is a lot of sweat and hard work. But a fair bit of it is learning as well.  If you need book recommendations on building, buying, or selling, we have plenty to give you.  Just ask!

Apex is actively looking for Advisors to join our team. If you or someone you know would like to learn more, contact Doug Hubler at  or 913-433-2303.

Book Club #2: Rework, by Jason Fried

We review books you should read in preparation to buy or sell a business, as well as how to build a company to sell one day. 

About the Authors

Jason and David created a company which was originally called 37Signals and was later rebranded as BaseCamp. It’s a project management tool which was also the origin of the code language known as Ruby on Rails.

reworkWhy should you read this?

Because it’s not just another business book. We’ve all read plenty of those tired titles, and sometimes you need a book you’re going to flat out disagree with at times.

The authors are opinionated and that’s good because it allows you to take the best of what you agree with into your business. It’s more of a series of reflections than a game-changing formula revolving around a single concept.

Three Takeaways

Let’s say you’re going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour, and you invite ten people to attend. That’s actually a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You’re trading ten hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time.

When you examine meetings through this lens, it’s hard not to sit back in a bit of horror. While it may be difficult to implement the “no meetings” policy that they use at Basecamp, you would do well to take a serious look at the reasons and necessities for meetings in your business, and see if Slack, reports or a combination of the two or others couldn’t obliterate some meetings from your schedule and restore some productivity to your schedule.

How should you keep track of what customers want? Don’t. Listen, but then forget what people said. Seriously…The requests that really matter are the ones you’ll hear over and over.

Unlike the quote about meetings, which may take some business owners a minute or two to wrap their minds around, this one feels right at a gut level. Don’t run after each suggestion. Many of the throwaway comments from your customers are best characterized as exactly that: to be thrown away.

“Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again.”

The authors don’t want you fiddling about with throw away internal policies either. Just because something bad happened one time doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fire up a whole policy about it. It’s a big drain on your productivity and time. Obviously, if there’s legal exposure that you need to address, do so. But otherwise, resist the temptation to created a bloated book of policies that reads more like a series of “One time at a company Christmas party, X happened, and now we can’t have nice things anymore.”

You won’t agree with everything in Rework. But you don’t need to. You’ll really treasure the quotables and concepts that resonate with you.

You can find a copy of Rework here.  Jason Fried is also on Twitter.

Building a business is a lot of sweat and hard work. But a fair bit of it is learning as well. If you need book recommendations on building, buying, or selling, we have plenty to give you. Just ask!

Apex is actively looking for Advisors to join our team. If you or someone you know would like to learn more, contact Doug Hubler at or 913-433-2303.

Business Sale Book Club #1: Beyond the E-Myth, by Michael Gerber

Business Sale Book Club is a new series here at the APEX blog.  We review books you should read in preparation to buy or sell a business, as well as how to build a company to sell one day.  The first one in our series comes from the man who popularized the term, “Work on your business, not in your business.”

e-myth-revisitedAbout the Author

Michael Gerber is renowned for helping small and medium-sized businesses and their owners develop from an “owned job” to an “owned business.”  He’s been doing it for over 40 years and has worked with over 100,000 clients.

So, what’s the E-Myth?

Michael’s first book, The E-Myth Revisited, explained the roles of Technician, Manager, and Entrepreneur.  The technician is in charge of producing the main product or service of the business.  If you own a pie shop, this would be the person who bakes the pies.

Manager is self-explanatory.  The Entrepreneur is the visionary and the person who holds the business together and takes it to the next level.  The E-Myth, in part, is about creating a balance between these three roles.

What’s the new book about?

Michael saw that many of his clients hadn’t, despite his advice and admonitions, built a company as a product for sale.  Michael saw that many firms were still “Companies of One,” meaning if the owner left, the company would eventually fold.

Michael wants to shift people away from rebuilding or tweaking their current businesses to building it right starting from the beginning.  He doesn’t literally mean close the business and start over, but rather, begin at the beginning so that by the time you’ve done all the documentation and work, you’ll have a product for sale at a time of your choosing: your business.

Why should we read it?

Firstly, because it’s only 113 pages and it’s by a mastermind in the small business space.  Michael focuses on the business owner and subdivides him/her into Dreamer (dreams), Thinker (creates a vision), Storyteller (has a purpose), and Leader (has a mission).

Again, each owner is going to have a bit of each of these roles within him/herself.  But by shifting your attention to how you execute these roles you will transform your role in the business and hence transform your business.

Building a business is a lot of sweat and hard work.  But a fair bit of it is learning as well.  If you need book recommendations on building, buying, or selling, we have plenty to give you.  Just ask!