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Michael Dell's Rules for Winning Startups

All great entrepreneurs share these three attributes. What about you?

People ask me all the time, "How can I become a successful entrepreneur?" And I have to be honest: It's one of my least favorite questions, because if you’re waiting for someone else's advice to become an entrepreneur, chances are you're not one.

If I’d listened to everyone who told me what I could and couldn't do and why, I'd be writing this column on an IBM PC. For the record, IBM doesn't make PCs any more. I'm using a Dell XPS 15.

But there are a few things that distinguish real entrepreneurs, and if you have them, you're starting in the right place.

Real entrepreneurs have what I call the three Ps (and, trust me, none of them stands for permission). Real entrepreneurs have a passion for what they're doing, a problem that needs to be solved, and a purpose that drives them forward. Find your passion, your problem and your purpose, and you won't need to ask anyone’s advice before pursuing your dream.

Step 1: Find a passion

No one works harder than an entrepreneur starting a business, but if you ask one about work/life balance, you won’t hear the usual gripes about long, grinding days. Why? Because real entrepreneurs have a passion for what they’re doing, so work doesn’t feel like work. It’s energizing and fun. It might seem like crazy hours to someone else, but there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing.

Certainly that's been true for me. I’ve been fascinated with technology since I was a boy banging around on my father’s adding machine. Back then I’d type in an equation, the device made some cool noises, and out came my answer. I was hooked. Today’s technology is way cooler and more powerful than my dad’s old adding machine, and I’m passionate about delivering the technology solutions our customers need and energized by all the great things that enables in the world. I always have been.

Step 2: Find a problem and fix it

Every breakthrough business idea begins with solving a common problem. The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity. I discovered a big one when I took apart an IBM PC. I made two interesting discoveries: The components were all manufactured by other companies, and the system that retailed for $3,000 cost about $600 in parts. I knew there had to be a better way.

My idea eventually became the Dell Direct Business Model, which forever changed our industry and solved a big problem for the world: PCs (and later servers), previously accessible to relatively few, were now available to the masses.

We’re still at it, even as personal and business computing needs have radically changed. (Your industry will change, too, trust me.) Today we’re using our same approach to create modern data centers and commercial software, services and solutions. We’re addressing our customers’ most relevant needs by helping them analyze, secure and manage their valuable information with technologies that are open, affordable and accessible.

New and interesting business opportunities are all around us, and they almost always start with a problem. Find a problem you think you can fix and you're well on your way.

Step 3: Find a purpose

While a passion and a problem might be enough to start a business, it’s purpose that brings fulfillment.

To be honest, at Dell, I’m not entirely sure we found our purpose; I think it might’ve found us. But it became clear pretty early on. Our purpose is to enable human potential by accelerating the adoption of technology on a global scale, and in turn opening the door to growth, productivity and opportunity for people everywhere.

This month marks Dell’s 30th birthday. I consider the first 29-and-a-half years as Act One of our story. Act Two began when we successfully took Dell private last year. By revenue, ours was the largest company to go private in history, and for me, it was kind of like a rebirth of the company, a return to our entrepreneurial roots-;but with a lot more capital, an expert global team, enormous scale, and what I firmly believe is the best portfolio of solutions in the industry.

When I decided to start Dell, I could never have imagined the journey it would take me on, nor the changes we would see and experience along the way. But three things are the same as ever: the passion, the problem and the purpose that inspired me in the first place. Today they inspire me to make the next 30 years even better.

IMAGE: Redux
Last updated: May 5, 2014

MICHAEL DELL | Columnist

Michael Dell is the chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Dell, the company he founded with $1000 in 1984 at the age of 19. Notably quoted as saying,"Technology is about enabling human potential," Michael has led Dell beyond its PC roots to become a leading provider of end-to-end IT solutions that create value and drive better results for customers around the world.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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