Michael Dell’s Startup Advice

By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Bob Metcalfe, Professor of Innovation at UT, takes a selfie with Michael Dell, founder of Dell at the Longhorn Startup Demo Day.

Bob Metcalfe, Professor of Innovation at UT, takes a selfie with Michael Dell, founder of Dell at the Longhorn Startup Demo Day.

A startup has to have a meaningful purpose, solve an important problem and have passion, said Billionaire Entrepreneur Michael Dell.

Bob Metcalfe, professor of Innovation at the University of Texas at Austin, interviewed Dell during an hour-long chat attended by a standing room only crowd of about 1,000 people at the Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium Thursday night.

The event kicked off the Longhorn Startup Lab’s Demo Day, in which 13 student run startups pitched their companies. But first, Dell shared some of his wisdom gleaned from running the company that bears his name for the past 31 years.

Dell is legendary on the UT campus as the 19-year-old freshman that launched his PC startup from his dorm room and grew it into a $50 billion business with more than 100,000 employees and operations in 180 countries. Dell has 18,000 employees in Central Texas.

Bob Metcalfe, UT Professor of Innovation, inventor of Ethernet takes a selfie with Michael Dell. Photo published courtesy of Bob Metcalfe.

Bob Metcalfe, UT Professor of Innovation, inventor of Ethernet takes a selfie with Michael Dell. Photo published courtesy of Bob Metcalfe.

Dell spent 25 years as a public company and in 2013, it went private in a $25 billion deal. The largest company, in terms of revenue, to ever do that, Dell said.

More than a year after taking his company private, Dell seems to be enjoying his role as the CEO of what he’s termed “the world’s largest startup.”

“When we went private, we talk a lot about, in the company, unleashing innovation, risk taking and investing in our business,” Dell said.

Dell has hundreds of businesses inside it original business of PC sales, Dell said.

“They are all, in some form or another, startups,” Dell said.

Dell is always starting new businesses, or investing in new business, he said.

“The idea here is that you want to embrace risk,” Dell said. “You want to embrace risk and not be afraid. Big companies, as they grow, they tend to not want to take on risk.”

Since going private, Dell has invested more in research and development, built out new products and services and added sales capacity. And since Dell is the majority shareholder the decision-making is a lot faster.

“The public markets didn’t necessarily have the long term focus that I had as the founder of the company,” Dell said. “Being private has given us the freedom and the flexibility to continue to evolve our business and to focus on longer term outcomes.”

And Dell’s businesses are growing. Dell’s PC business has grown its share in the market the last nine quarters in a row, Dell said. The server and software businesses grew double digits last year. Dell also has some “incredible businesses” in the cyber security and healthcare industries and it’s focused on growing its services business, he said.

Metcalfe quizzed Dell about Dell’s role with startups.

“Startups are important to us,” Dell said.

The company supports and invests in startups, Dell said. It has an Entrepreneur in Residence program. Dell Ventures has several hundred million dollars to invest in new businesses. Dell also has a Founders 50 Club to nurture startup companies. Dell runs the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network, a global entrepreneur network focused on helping women business owners succeed. And Dell is the first Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship at the United Nations.

In addition to startups, Metcalfe and Dell discussed the Internet of Things, Internet standards, Cyber security, Cloud computing and even Ethernet, which Metcalfe co-founded.

Dell advised students interested in becoming entrepreneurs to try things, don’t worry about getting everything correct, and learn from the experience, Dell said.

Being in the U.S. gives entrepreneurs a competitive advantage, Dell said.

“As I travel around the world, we are really blessed to have a culture in this country that embraces risk and innovation and culturally allows people to try things, recognizing that they don’t all work but that’s a learning experience,” Dell said. “It’s how fast you learn that is the differentiator, as opposed to if you made every decision correctly.”

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