The University of Texas at Austin

Preparing to Talk Startups with Michael Dell

Michael Dell will be the honored guest of UT Austin's Technology Entrepreneurship Society (TES) Thursday, Nov. 17, in the Student Activities Center (SAC) on campus. Michael's appearance will be open to the public at 6 p.m., with doors opening at 5:15 p.m. If you'd like to join us, please register online at

Students interested in entrepreneurship are the target audience, especially TES members and undergraduates with startups in 1 Semester Startup.

Since I know Michael from early days in the PC industry, TES asked me to open the evening with an interview, then moderate student questions from the audience.

The focus of the evening will be ... STARTUPS. We will ask Michael (1) to tell us stories about his founding of Dell Inc. in the 1980s and (2) to explain the role of startups in Dell Inc.'s innovation system today.

Extracting from Michael's Wikipedia pages, using my Dell desktop computer:

  • Michael S. Dell (born 1965) is founder, chairman and CEO of Dell Inc.
  • Michael's first computer was an Apple II, which he promptly disassembled to see how it worked.
  • While a pre-med student at The University of Texas at Austin, Michael started an informal business upgrading computers in room 2713 of the Dobie Center. In January 1984, he banked on his conviction that the potential cost savings of a manufacturer selling PCs directly had enormous advantages over the conventional indirect retail channel.
  • In January 1984, Dell registered his company as "PC's Limited."
  • In May 1984, Dell incorporated the company as "Dell Computer Corporation" and relocated to North Austin, and later to Round Rock (aka "North Austin"). Then, Dell employed a few order takers, a few more people to fulfill them, and a manufacturing staff "consisting of three guys with screwdrivers sitting at six-foot tables." The venture's capitalization was $1,000.

Skipping 27 years, Dell's sales in 2011 exceeded $61 billion with more than 100,000 employees worldwide.

So, let's begin with some startup founder stories:

  • Tell us about your parents?
  • What was your first job?
  • What was your first company?
  • Who were your idols and mentors?
  • What was your first computer?
  • How did you decide to start PC's Limited?
  • You were pre-med?
  • Why did you call it PC's Limited?
  • Did you have a business plan?
  • Had you taken any e'ship courses or entered any business plan competitions?
  • Who were Dell's early team members, and how did you meet and recruit them?
  • Where did you get cash, after your parents? VCs? Angels? Banks? Customers?
  • Are you offended by the term "adult supervision," and where did you get yours?
  • How did you end up with the name Dell Computer Corp., later Dell Inc.?
  • Speaking of college drop-outs:
    • When did you first meet Bill Gates?
    • Have any stories about Steve Jobs?
    • Have you met Mark Zuckerberg?

3Com went public the year Dell was founded: When did you first see that Ethernet was the way to go?

What do you think about progress on the Dell Computer Science Hall next door?

And now let's ask Dell's CEO about the role of startups in company innovation:

  • Dell is innovating furiously, for example moving from PCs and devices to solutions and services. Perhaps startups are playing a role in that. Does Dell spin out, buy from, partner with and/or acquire startups?
  • Dell just donated $5 million to UT to support the Dell Social Innovation Challenge. More than 400 employees serve as mentors, which is huge. That sounds like it involves startups. Yes?

So, now let's turn to question from the students here in the audience...