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The Horn | Nov 18, 2011

Michael Dell, a former University of Texas student and founder of Dell, Inc., appeared on campus for a conversation with UT professor Dr. Bob Metcalfe about startup businesses on Thursday evening, which was hosted by UT’s Technology Entrepreneurship Society.

Filmed by the Longhorn Network, the event had three components: a comprehensive interview in which Dell described how he got to where he is now, a question and answer session that allowed students to get advice from the wildly successful entrepreneur and time for networking and connecting with current and future entrepreneurs.

Responding to questions from Dr. Melcalfe, Dell started the evening by delving into his past, talking about growing up as the son of an orthodontist father and a financial consultant mother, a combination that led to much conversation about money and science in his household. In 1983, Dell enrolled in UT as a pre-med major, following familial expectations that he would become a doctor. Dell had different plans, however.

“You don’t want to try to have a perfect plan.
You learn when you are failing, not when you
are succeeding. You want to make a lot of
mistakes and correct them.”
 — Michael Dell

Thrilled by the new information processing technology that had just begin to take off, Dell started a business from within his Dobie dorm room by creating hard disk drive and memory upgrade packages for the limited computers available at the time. Dell’s upgrades became popular, his business boomed, and by the end of his freshman year he had realized it was time to drop out of college, buy an office, and follow his dreams. By 1986, just three years after he had begun creating upgrade packages in Dobie, he had earned between $60 and $70 million in revenue, creating what would become some of the most powerful and popular computer systems in the world.

Dell talked a lot about the importance of startup companies like his, but he also warned that it is not something that can happen for everyone. He explained that it requires a unique crossroad of ideas, timing and the market that he happened to hit the jackpot for. Still, he was optimistic and encouraging about the future of startup businesses, especially in a community like UT.

“We have this real belief that entrepreneurs and startups are essential to the American economy,” Dell said. “Promoting entrepreneurship is incredibly important.”

In the question and answer portion of the presentation, students prodded Dell for advice about everything from dealing with parents who don’t understand a dream to deciding which dreams are worth pursuing to figuring out what exactly the right formula is for starting a successful business.

“You don’t want to try to have a perfect plan,” Dell answered one question. “You learn when you are failing, not when you are succeeding. You want to make a lot of mistakes and correct them.

Students in attendance of the event came away with a great understanding of what it takes to be an entrepreneur and to have success in the startup market.

“Entrepreneurs need to go out and try,” electrical engineering major Kyle Xial said. “There are a thousand ways to fail but only one way to succeed. You have to find that one way.”