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How the women of Dell are humanizing the tech giant

Rob Enderle | Dec. 17, 2012
At this week's Dell World, the company proved to be unique among tech companies in several ways. CEO Michael Dell shared the stage with his smart, sharp wife, while entrepreneur-in-residence Ingrid Vanderveldt shared some valuable lessons for startups. (Oh, and Bill Clinton was there.)

Ingrid Vanderveldt: Helping Dell Plant Seeds of Innovation

One of the most powerful efforts at Dell, from a strategic standpoint, is also one we seem to talk the least about. This is their effort to assist small companies, often led by women. One success story is Current Motor, led by the equally impressive Lauren Flanagan.

Vanderveldt helps these small companies get funding, set strategy and leverage Dell resources to better assure their success. (Current Motor, a startup I follow closely, makes electric scooters. I've tested two of their products and reviewed them favorably. They are a ball to drive.)

Vanderveldt's roundtable brought together several entrepreneurs who shared insight into how to get both crowdsourced and traditional funding, what problems to avoid (though I took exception to one piece of advice) and how to identify the common problems that cause startups to fail.

The exception I took: One panelist said you should only ask for the money you need, because if you ask for more you'll likely mismanage it. This advice focuses on a common symptom of the real problem, poor financial management skills, and missed another common problem, which is being underfunded. Either can cause a promising startup to fail. You have to address financial management early on, or else you'll fail anyway.

Another piece of advice, however, was right on the money. If you think all your problems will be solved with more money, then you have likely not figured out what your problems are, and you'll waste the money if you get it. Thinking money is theproblem is a huge warning sign that something is seriously broken in your business model. Find that problem and fix it, and the money problem will likely fix itself.

What makes Vanderveldt's efforts very strategic is that helping a company get started makes that company one of your most loyal and outspoken customers as it grows up. Creating a strong base of loyal customers, and refreshing that base with new, young customers, can go a long way to assuring you'll be around next century.

Dell's Angels Ready for Their Next Mission

While there are an impressive number of women in key positions to help Dell assure success, it's Susan Dell and Vanderveldt who stand out in positions that are, unfortunately, unique. Every CEO with a competent spouse, man or woman, should be engaging that skill, both to improve performance and to strengthen their marriage and their company. There are few you can confide in as deeply as a spouse, and few partnerships have the ability to last as long. Too many leaders simply don't get this. It warmed my heart to see Michael Dell get this one right and set an excellent example.


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