The Most Successful E-mail I Ever Wrote


2008 blast from the past: me, Mike Wallin, and Derek Sivers, the subject of this post. (Photo: A3maven)

[Total read time: 3-5 minutes.]

Derek Sivers is one of my favorite people. He is a programmer who lost his stage fright by doing more than 1,000 gigs as a circus ring leader (!!!).

He’s also a musician who founded CD Baby in 1998. As of December 2009, CD Baby had the following stats as the world’s largest online distributor of independent music:

– 300,000 artists
– 5,339,025 CDs sold online to customers
– $200,000,000+ paid directly to the artists

Derek sold the company in 2008, and he did so in a most unusual fashion (bolding mine):

Sivers sold CD Baby to Disc Makers in 2008 for what Sivers has reported to be $22 million, bequeathing, upon Sivers’ death, the principal to a charitable trust for music education.; while alive, according to Sivers, it “pays out 5% of its value per year to me.”

I know this to be true.

Stranger still, at its largest, Derek spent roughly four hours on CD Baby every six months! He had systematized everything to run without him. Derek is both more successful and more fulfilled because he never hesitates to challenge the status quo, to test assumptions. The below guest post from him illustrates this beautifully.

Without further ado, the most successful e-mail he ever wrote…

Enter Derek Sivers

When you make a business, you’re making a little world where you control the laws. It doesn’t matter how things are done everywhere else. In your little world, you can make it like it should be.

When I first built CD Baby, every order had an automated e-mail that let the customer know when the CD was actually shipped. At first it was just the normal, “Your order has shipped today. Please let us know if it doesn’t arrive. Thank you for your business.”

After a few months, that felt really incongruent with my mission to make people smile. I knew could do better. So I took 20 minutes and wrote this goofy little thing:

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 packing specialist from Japan lit a 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, Friday, June 6th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as “Customer of the Year”. We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

That one silly e-mail, sent out with every order, has been so loved that if you search Google for “private CD Baby jet” you’ll get over 20,000 results. Each one is somebody who got the e-mail and loved it enough to post on their website and tell all their friends.

That one goofy e-mail created thousands of new customers.

When you’re thinking of how to make your business bigger, it’s tempting to try to think all the big thoughts, the world-changing massive-action plans.

But please know that it’s often the tiny details that really thrill someone enough to make them tell all their friends about you.


TIM: Do not miss Derek’s blog, which is full of these gems. It’s one of the few blogs I take the time to read. If you want to see how Derek and I compare approaches, here is a starting point.

Posted on: May 31, 2012.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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101 comments on “The Most Successful E-mail I Ever Wrote

  1. This is truly an inspiring post. First heard of this visionary man in Seth Godin’s Purple Cow.

    This shows me that anything is possible if you work for it.

    Thank you for the blast from the past Tim.


  2. Derek is a great guy. I read his book and have had the pleasure of communicating with him through email. He’s a true model of excellence when it comes to business. He’s also a great example of creating an extraordinary business and going above and beyond with customer service.


  3. Derek Sivers is amazing… few years back, I didn’t know who he was and had signed up for his ebook, unknowingly that he was the founder of CD Baby. He followed up with me personally, asking me what I thought about the book and what I was doing musically. We exchanged a few emails and then I later found out who he was. He truly cares about Indie musicians like myself and because of that, after about two weeks of trying to figure out the best distribution company for my needs, I chose CD Baby yesterday, fully aware that Sivers didn’t own it anymore, but because his DNA was in the company and for that I trust them. Tim and Derek… couple of my most favorite guys… learned a lot from both of you! Thank you sincerely!


  4. It’s the small things that make up the big win. Derek never got stuck “in” his business— he was always on it. As I’ve read before, he is one of the guys who never considered himself a business person. Instead, he needed to do something (sell cds online), did it, and his friends wanted him to do it for them… then their fiends.. then their friends.

    It wasn’t rocket science. It was taking action and continuing to improve how the service worked. This email speaks to who Derek is and how his company reflects his beliefs. He looked at how things were done and asked (continuously) himself how he would like it done… then he did it.

    Awesome. Pick up his book “Anything You Want”
    (free for prime members)


  5. Derek,

    Totally didn’t expect to see you here. I like the sense of humor in the email that lead to thousands of new customers.


    Looking forward to your new book in a few months.



  6. Hello good people,

    I definitely agree with Justin above, Derek’s book “Anything You Want” is gold!! I read it right when it came out. Actually a lot of this post is right out of the book. The book is pretty short and offers great insight, I definitiely recommend it to anyone interested in how to think different about creating a company and making it “your own little universe”.

    As far as Derek goes and as a fellow musician, I really appreciate his artistic taste and creativity. Seems like a great guy!



  7. Unspoken here is the power of continuous testing of approach. I bet an A/B test between the old thank you email and the new one would show higher lifetime value for the customers that received the fun, humorous email. Not to mention the additional value of all of the new customers from the online conversations about the email. I’m sure there are a lot of attempts at being humorous that crash and burn (especially if your customers don’t get your sense of humor), which is why it’s always important to structure a test around those bold ideas. All in all, great stuff!


  8. “Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd…” That’s awesome.

    Tim, what’s up with the 4HWW forums? It looks like they are locked. Have a desperate need to ask for advice and share what I’ve learned with others!


  9. Derek Sivers is easily the friendliest person on this planet. He is very approachable and down to earth and I love his blog. His tips are super actionable and relatable. Thanks for being awesome Derek (and thanks for posting this Tim!)!