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Entrepreneurship and Michael Dell's: Content, Commerce, & Community

Feb 25, 2008
If you want to be an entrepreneur, who better to study than Michael Dell? He is an inspiration to entrepreneurs everywhere. Starting in his college dorm room building computers, his understanding of business has made him an icon of success in the arena of technology businesses.

In two keynote addresses given almost a decade ago, Michael Dell defined three principles or concepts for successful internet businesses. Much of what he suggested is now standard practice and in some cases has been taken further than he probably imagined.

Theses principles are sometimes referred to as the 3 C's. They are content, commerce and community. Careful study of these three principles can help entrepreneurs, those with home based businesses, and network marketers.

The first of the 3 C's is content.

How did Michael Dell define content? Listen to the words he uses to define it for the Detroit Economic Club on November 1, 1999, "The first stage of content means providing compelling information. This is how we started our online operations in 1993, when we put our technical databases online for customers to access. It was a relatively simple start, but it showed us the tremendous interest from our customers."

At the keynote address at the Southwest Government Technology Conference in 2000, he made similar suggestions to the ones he made earlier in that Detroit meeting.

He suggested this: "By content, we mean bringing information online. Anytime you have a form, a manual, or a document, put it online. This is the foundation of any Internet strategy. Once we brought information online, it became clear to us where the opportunities were in the transaction world: simple things like order status and commerce, and we have added more complex things over time. The key, again, is that it is experiential and you learn by doing."

If you want to be an entrepreneur, what is the content you already have, what content do you need to develop?
Look at your present or future business from the content perspective? Define your content. Learn from those who have created that kind of content. Do what they did to create it.

You need products or services to provide to customers. Make a list of the content they will need to explain, troubleshoot, access, or know about your goods and services. A viable business start-up needs content tied to real-world products or services.

The second of the 3 C's is commerce.

Read how Mr. Dell defined it in Detroit, "The next stage is commerce, which should be thought of as all transactions, not just buying things over the web. In fact, our first activity in this area had nothing to do with purchasing. It was simply order status."

A few months later at the conference in the Southwest he reiterated, "The second stage is commerce. You should think of this as any kind of transactions. Our first experiment with transactions really had nothing to do with "commerce." It was an online order status tool. We knew we were on to something when, in the first week, five thousand customers used this tool -- and we didn't even advertise that it was out there. This formed the foundation of our online sales effort."

He continued, "Our ultimate goal is to deepen relationships with customers by providing added convenience, efficiency, and cost savings, and a wider array of services. The Internet creates an opportunity to move these key transactions online and drive transaction cost to almost zero."

Does your commerce process resonate with Michael Dell's suggestion? Think about the last quote. "The ultimate goal is to deepen relationships." Commerce aspects may reduce costs and increase efficiency, but with a purpose. The ultimate goal is C # 3 which is community.

How important is community, the third C?

According to Mr. Dell, "The final stage is developing an online community. We are building two-way relationships over the web with both our customers and our suppliers." - Detroit Economic Club.

He went on to express the goal of "establishing communities of suppliers and end users that share common interests".

At the later conference in the Southwest he ended by observing, "In summary, the Internet is changing the face of the entire economic and social structure of not only this country but the entire world, and governments have a great opportunity to embrace it. We are seeing a transition from a brick-and-mortar government to an online government. The advantages will include things like velocity, efficiency, and a better customer experience."

The internet has matured since Michael Dell first talked about the 3 C's, but as a model they still make sense. If anything, community has become even more important. They are not a grocery list to pick one to keep and one to leave.

Today community is so important that it has ushered in a rebirth of web marketing, often called Web 2.0. It depends on social marketing, blogs, myspace and other elements to build that community. Content and commerce both serve the final C of community. It is in community where loyalities, relationships, and trust are built.

Where there is community there are repeat customers. Community-building is a vital skill to have if you want to be an entrepreneur.
About the Author
Rick Hubbard - B.A. in Communication and Organizational Leadership and an M.A. in Educational Technology He is a media specialist at a university and does consulting in communication and e-learning.He enjoys helping people successfully market their home-based businesses. What is the 4th C?
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