Royal Entrepreneurship – The Case of Royal Bank Zimbabwe Ltd Formation

The deregulation of the financial services in the late 1990s resulted in an explosion of entrepreneurial activity leading to the formation of banking institutions. This chapter presents a case study of Royal Bank Zimbabwe, tracing its origins, establishment, and the challenges that the founders faced on the journey. The Bank was established in 2002 but compulsorily amalgamated into another financial institution at the behest of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in January 2005.

Entrepreneurial Origins

Any entrepreneurial venture originates in the mind of the entrepreneur. As Stephen Covey states in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, all things are created twice. Royal Bank was created first in the mind of Jeffrey Mzwimbi, the founder, and was thus shaped by his experiences and philosophy.

Jeff Mzwimbi grew up in the high density suburb of Highfield, Harare. On completion of his Advanced Level he secured a place at the University of Botswana. However he decided against the academic route at that time since his family faced financial challenges in terms of his tuition. He therefore opted to join the work force. In 1977 he was offered a job in Barclays Bank as one of the first blacks to penetrate that industry. At that time the banking industry, which had been the preserve of whites, was opening up to blacks. Barclays had a new General Manager, John Mudd, who had been involved in the Africanisation of Barclays Bank Nigeria. On his secondment to Zimbabwe he embarked on the inclusion of blacks into the bank. Mzwimbi’s first placement with Barclays was in the small farming town of Chegutu.

In 1981, a year after Independence, Jeff moved to Syfrets Merchant Bank. Mzwimbi, together with Simba Durajadi and Rindai Jaravaza, were the first black bankers to break into merchant banking department. He rose through the ranks until he was transferred to the head office of Zimbank – the principal shareholder of Syfrets – where he headed the international division until 1989.

The United Nations co-opted him as an advisor to the Reserve Bank in Burundi and thereafter, having been pleased by his performance, appointed him a consultant in 1990. In this capacity he advised on the launch of the PTA Bank travellers’ cheques. After the consultancy project the bank appointed him to head the implementation of the programme. He once again excelled and rose to become the Director of Trade Finance with a mandate of advising the bank on ways to improve trade among member states. The member states were considering issues of a common currency and common market in line with the European model. Because the IFC and World Bank had unsuccessfully sunk gigantic sums of funds into development in the region, they were advocating a move from development finance to trade finance. Consequently PTA Bank, though predominantly a development bank, created a trade finance department. To craft a strategy for trade finance at a regional level, Mzwimbi and his team visited Panama where the Central Americans had created a trade finance institution. They studied its models and used it as a basis to craft the PTA’s own strategy.

Mzwimbi returned to Zimbabwe at the conclusion of his contract. He weighed his options. He could rejoin Barclays Bank, but recent developments presented another option. At that time Nick Vingirai had just returned home after successfully launching a discount house in Ghana. Vingirai, inspired by his Ghanaian experience, established Intermarket Discount House as the first indigenous financial institution. A few years later NMB was set up with William Nyemba, Francis Zimuto and James Mushore being on the ground while one of the major forces behind the bank, Julias Makoni, was still outside the country. Makoni had just moved from IFC to Bankers’ Trust, to facilitate his ownership of a financial institution. Inspired by fellow bankers, a dream took shape in Mzwimbi’s mind. Why become an employee when he could become a bank owner? After all by this time he had valuable international experience.

The above experience shows how the entrepreneurial dream can originate from viewing the successes of others like you. The valuable experiences acquired by Mzwimbi would be critical on the entrepreneurial journey. An entrepreneurial idea builds on the experiences of the entrepreneur.

First Attempts

In 1990 Jeff Mzwimbi was approached by Nick Vingirai, who was then Chairman of the newly resuscitated CBZ, for the CEO position. Mzwimbi turned down the offer since he still had some contractual obligations. The post was later offered to Gideon Gono, the current RBZ governor.

Around 1994, Julias Makoni (then with IFC), who was a close friend of Roger Boka, encouraged Boka to start a merchant bank. At this time Makoni was working at setting up his own NMB. It is possible that, by encouraging Boka to start, he was trying to test the waters. Then Mzwimbi was seeing out the last of his contract at PTA. Boka approached him at the recommendation of Julias Makoni and asked him to help set up United Merchant Bank (UMB). On careful consideration, the banker in Mzwimbi accepted the offer. He reasoned that it would be an interesting option and at the same time he did not want to turn down another opportunity. He worked on the project with a view to its licensing but quit three months down the line. Some of the methods used by the promoter of UMB were deemed less than ethical for the banking executive, which led to disagreement. He left and accepted an offer from Econet to help restructure its debt portfolio.

While still at Econet, he teamed up with the late minister Dr Swithun Mombeshora and others with the intent of setting up a commercial bank. The only commercial banks in the country at that point were Standard Chartered, Barclays Bank, Zimbank, Stanbic and an ailing CBZ. The project was audited by KPMG and had gained the interest of institutional investors like Zimnat and Mining Industry Pension Fund. However, the Registrar of Banks in the Ministry of Finance, made impossible demands. The timing of their application for a licence was unfortunate because it coincided with a saga at Prime Bank in which some politicians had been involved, leading to accusations of influence peddling. Mombeshora, after unsuccessfully trying to influence the Registrar, asked that they slow down on the project as he felt that he might be construed as putting unnecessary political pressure on her. Mzwimbi argues that the impossible stance of the Registrar was the reason for backing off that project.

However other sources indicate that when the project was about to be licensed, the late minister

demanded that his shareholding be increased to a point where he would be the majority shareholder. It is alleged that he contended this was due to his ability to leverage his political muscle for the issuance of the licence.

Entrepreneurs do not give up at the first sign of resistance but they view obstacles in starting up as learning experiences. Entrepreneurs develop a “don’t quit” mind-set. These experiences increase their self -efficacy. Perseverance is critical, as failure can occur at any time.

Econet Wireless

The aspiring banker was approached, in 1994 by a budding telecommunication entrepreneur, Strive Masiyiwa of Econet Wireless, to advise on financial matters and help restructure the company’s debt. At that time Mzwimbi thought that he would be with Econet probably for only four months and then return to his banking passion. While at Econet it became apparent that, once licensed, the major drawback for the telecommunication company’s growth would be the cost of cell phone handsets. This presented an opportunity for the banker, as he saw a strategic option of setting up a leasing finance division within Econet that would lease out handsets to subscribers. The anticipated four months to licensing of Econet dragged into four years, which encompassed a bruising legal struggle that finally enabled the licensing against the State’s will. Mzwimbi’s experience with merchant banking proved useful for his role in Econet’s formation. With the explosive growth of Econet after an IPO, Mzwimbi assisted in the launch of the Botswana operations in 1999. After that, Econet pursued the Morocco licence. At this stage, the dream of owning a bank proved stronger than the appeal of telecoms. The banker faced some tough decisions, as financially he was well covered in Econet with an assured executive position that would expand with the expansion of the network. However the dream prevailed and he resigned from Econet and headed back home from RSA, where he was then domiciled.

His Econet days bestowed on him a substantial shareholding in the company, expanded his worldview and taught him vital lessons in creating an entrepreneurial venture. The persistence of Masiyiwa against severe government resistance taught Mzwimbi critical lessons in pursuing his dream in spite of obstacles. No doubt he learnt a lot from the enterprising founder of Econet.

Debut Royal Bank

On his return in March 2000, Mzwimbi regrouped with some of his friends, Chakanyuka Karase and Simba Durajadi, with whom he had worked on the last attempt at launching a bank. In 1998 the Banking Act was updated and a new statutory instrument called the Banking Regulations had been enacted in the light of the UMB and Prime Bank failures.

These required that one should have the shareholders, the premises and equipment all in place before licensing. Previously one needed only to set up an office and hire a secretary to acquire a banking license. The licence would be the basis for approaching potential investors. In other words it was now required that one should incur the risk of setting up and purchasing the IT infrastructure, hire personnel and lease premises without any assurance that one would acquire the licence. Consequently it was virtually impossible to invite outside investors into the project at this stage.

Without recourse to outside shareholders injecting funds, and with minimal financial capacity on the part of his partners, Mzwimbi fortuitously benefited from his substantial Econet shares. He used them as collateral to access funds from Intermarket Discount House to finance the start up – acquired equipment like ATMs, hired staff, and leased premises. Mzwimbi recalls pleading with the Central Bank and the Registrar of Banks about the oddity of having to apply for a licence only when he had spent significant amounts on capital expenditure – but the Registrar was adamant.

Finally, Royal Bank was licensed in March 2002 and, after the prerequisite pre-opening inspections by the Central Bank, opened its doors to the public four months later.

Entrepreneurial Challenges

The challenges of financing the new venture and the earlier disappointments did not deter Mzwimbi. The risk of using his own resources, whereas in other places one would fund a significant venture using institutional shareholders’ capital, has already been discussed. This section discusses other challenges that the entrepreneurial banker had to overcome.

Regulatory Challenges and Capital Structure

The new banking regulations placed shareholding restrictions on banks as follows:

*Individuals could hold a maximum of 25% of a financial institution’s equity

*Non-financial institutions could hold a maximum of 10% only

*A financial institution however could hold up to a maximum of 100%.

This posed a problem for the Royal Bank sponsors because they had envisaged Royal Financial Holdings (a non-financial corporate) as the major shareholder for the bank. Under the new regulations this could hold only 10% maximum. The sponsors argued with the Registrar of Banks about these regulations to no avail. If they needed to hold the shares as corporate bodies it meant that they needed at least ten companies, each holding 10% each. The argument for having financial institutions holding up to 100% was shocking as it meant that an asset manager with a required capitalisation of $1 million would be allowed by the new law to hold 100% shareholding in a bank which had a $100 million capitalisation yet a non-banking institution, which may have had a higher capitalisation, could not control more than 10%. Mzwimbi and team were advised by the Registrar of Banks to invest in their personal capacities. At this point the Reserve Bank (RBZ) was simply involved in the registration process on an advisory basis with the main responsibility resting with the Registrar of Banks. Although the RBZ agreed with Mzwimbi’s team on the need to have corporations as major shareholders due to the long term existence of a corporation as compared to individuals, the Registrar insisted on her terms. Finally, Royal Bank promoters chose the path of satisficing- and hence opted to invest as individuals, resulting in the following shareholding structure:

*Jeff Mzwimbi – 25%

*Victor Chando – 25%

*Simba Durajadi- 20%

*Hardwork Pemhiwa- 20%

*Intermarket Unit Trust – 2% (the only institutional investor)

*Other individuals – less than 2% each.

The challenge to acquire institutional investors was due to the restrictions cited above and the requirement to pump money into the project before the licence was issued. They negotiated with TA Holdings, which was prepared to take equity holding in Royal Bank.

So tentatively the sponsors had allocated 25% equity for Zimnat, a subsidiary to TA Holdings. Close to the registration date, the Zimnat negotiators were changed. The incoming negotiators changed the terms and conditions for their investment as follows:

*They wanted at least a 35% stake

*The Board chairmanship and chairmanship of key committees – in perpetuity.

The promoters read this to mean their project was being usurped and so turned TA Holdings down. However, in retrospect Mzwimbi feels that the decision to release the TA investment was emotional and believes that they should have compromised and found a way to accommodate them as institutional investors. This could have strengthened the capital base of Royal Bank.

Credibility Challenges

The main sponsors and senior managers of the bank were well known players in the industry. This reduced the credibility gap. However some corporate customers were concerned about the shareholding of the bank being entirely in the hands of individuals. They preferred the bank risk to be reduced by having institutional investors. The new licensing process adversely affected access to institutional investors. Consequently the bank had institutional shareholders in mind for the long term. They claim that even the then head of supervision and licensing at RBZ, agreed with the promoters’ concern about the need for institutional investors but the Registrar of Banks overruled her.

Challenges of Explosive Growth

The strategic plan of Royal Bank was to open ten branch offices within five years. They planned to open three branches in Harare in the first year, followed by branches in Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare and Gweru within the next year. This would have been followed by an increase in the number of Harare branches.

From their analysis they believed that there was room for at least four more commercial banks in Zimbabwe. A competitor analysis of the industry indicated that the government controlled Zimbank was the major competitor, CBZ was struggling and Stanbic was not likely to grow rapidly. The bigger banks, Barclays and Standard Chartered, were likely to scale down operations. The promoters of the bank project had observed in their extensive international experie nce that whenever the economy was indigenised in Africa, these multinational banks would dispose of their rural branches. They were therefore positioning themselves to exploit this scenario once it presented itself.

The anticipated opportunity presented itself earlier than expected. On an international flight with the Standard Chartered Bank CEO, Mzwimbi, confirmed his interest in a stake of the bank’s disinvestments which was making rounds on the rumour mill. Although surprised, the multinational banker agreed to give the two month old entrepreneurial bank the right of first refusal on the fifteen branches that were being disposed of.

The deal was negotiated on a lock, stock and barrel basis. When the announcement of the deal was made internally, some employees resisted and politicised the issue. The Standard Chartered CEO then offered to proceed on a phased basis with the first seven banks going through, followed by the others later. Due to Mzwimbi’s savvy negotiating skills and the determination by Standard Chartered to dispose of the branches, the deal was successfully concluded, resulting in Royal Bank growing from one branch to seven outlets within the first year of operation. It had exceeded their projected growth plan.

Due to what Mzwimbi calls divine favour, the deal included the real estate belonging to the bank. Interestingly, Standard Chartered had failed to get bank buildings on lease and so in all small towns they had built their own buildings. These were thus transferred within the deal to Royal Bank. Inherent in the deal was an inbuilt equity from the properties since the purchase price of $400 million was heavily discounted.

Shortly after that, Alex Jongwe, the CEO of Barclays Bank, approached Royal Bank to offer a similar deal to the Standard Chartered acquisition of rural branches. Barclays offered eight branches, of which Royal initially accepted six. Chegutu and Chipinge were excluded, since Royal already had a presence there.

However after failing to dispose of those two branches, Barclays came back and asked Royal “to take them for a song”. Mzwimbi accepted these for two strategic reasons, namely the acquisitions gave him physical assets (the buildings) that he could lease out to anyone who decided to expand into those areas and secondly, that created a monopoly in those towns. With time, the fortuitous inclusion of real estate into the deal increased the wealth of Royal Bank as the prices of properties skyrocketed with hyperinflation.

One of the major key drivers of the Zimbabwean economy is agriculture. After the failed Land Donors Conference in 1998 and the subsequent land reform programme, it was evident to the established banks that commercial farming would be significantly affected.

They sought to quit the small towns since their major clients were commercial farmers. Strategically to acquire these branches when the major source of their revenue was under threat would have required that Royal Bank should have put in place an alternative source of revenue from farming. It is not clear whether this had been considered during these acquisitions.

The acquisition increased Royal’s branch network to 20 and the staff complement by 50. Incidentally, the growth created problems of managing the system as well as cultural issues. The highly unionised Standard Chartered employees were antagonistic to management as compared to the trusting Royal culture. This acquisition resulted in potential culture challenges. Management controlled this by introducing Norton and Kaplan’s Balanced Scorecard system in an effort to manage the cultural clashes of the three systems.

The Challenge of Financing Acquisition

A major challenge in acquisitions is the financing structure. During licensing the Registrar of Banks refused to accept the nearly $200 million that had been spent by the promoters of Royal Bank as capital. She insisted that this be recognised as pre-operating expenses and therefore wanted to see fresh capital amounting to $100 million. The change of rules posed a challenge for Mzwimbi’s team. However, being an astute deal maker he strategically conceptualised an arrangement whereby the $170 million worth of equipment purchased be accounted for as belonging to Royal Financial Holdings and made available to Royal Bank on a lease basis. This would then be sold to the bank as it grew. The RBZ was appraised of this decision and accepted it, and even noted in the inspection report the amount of expenditure spent pre-operatively by the promoters. The remainder of the pre-operative expenses were converted into nonvoting non-convertible preference shares of Royal Bank.

In January 2003 commercial bank capitalisation was increased to $500 million by the regulator and hence there was a need for recapitalisation. This coincided with the branch acquisition deals. At this stage the Royal Bank team decided to partially fund the acquisition through a conversion of the preference shares into ordinary shares and partially from fresh capital injected by the shareholders. Since the bank was now performing well, it purchased the capital equipment, owned by Royal Financial Holdings, which it had been leasing. This deal included the redistribution and balancing of shareholdings in Royal Bank to conform to the statutory requirements. Retrospectively it may be viewed as a strategic blunder to have moved the equipment into the bank ownership. Considering the “sale” of Royal Bank assets to ZABG, if these and the real estate had been warehoused into RFH the take-over may have been difficult. This highlights the failure sometimes by entrepreneurs to appreciate the importance of asset protection mechanisms while still small.

However the RBZ accused the shareholders of using depositors’ funds for the recapitalisation of the bank. Partly this is due to a misunderstanding that RFH is the holding company of Royal Bank and so sometimes accounts flowing from Royal Financial Holdings were accounted by RBZ investigators as Royal Bank funds. These allegations formed part of the allegations of fraud against Mzwimbi and Durajadi when they were arrested in September 2004. Subsequently the courts cleared them of any fraudulent activities in January 2007.

Managerial Challenges

Retrospectively, Mzwimbi views his managerial team as being excellent apart from some “weaknesses in the finance department”. He assembled a solid team from various banking backgrounds. The most significant ones became founding shareholders like Durajadi Simba at treasury, the late Sibanda in charge of the lending department. Faith Ngwabi-Bhebhe, then with Kingdom, helped lay a solid foundation of human resource systems for the bank.

However, they had a challenge finding a financial director. The new statutory instrument required that CVs of all corporate officers be made available for vetting when the licence was applied for. Without a licence one could not promise someone in current employment a job and submit his CV as this would reflect badly on the promoters. Eventually they hired a chartered accountant without banking experience. Initially they thought this was a stop-gap measure.

With the unanticipated growth, they forgot to revisit this department to strengthen it. Because of these weaknesses the bank continued to face challenges in the treasury department, despite the gallant efforts of the financial director. Strangely, when other executive directors were arrested the FD was left untouched and yet all the issues at stake arose from treasury activities. It would appear in retrospect that the FD was intimidated into providing incriminating evidence for the others. She too was threatened with arrest.

Successful entrepreneurial ventures in a growth phase need both strong leaders and strong managers. It’s not enough to have strong leadership skills. As Ed Cole said, “It’s easier to obtain than to maintain.” The role of strong managers is to create the capacity to maintain what strong entrepreneurial leaders acquire. Interestingly a new field of research, Strategic Entrepreneurship now recognises the need for both entrepreneurial and strategic management competences for successful ventures.

Strategic Growth Plans

Royal Bank’s strategic intent was to create a full house of financial services. The plan included a commercial bank, a discount house, an insurance company, a building society and an asset management service. However the vision was later refined and the plans for a discount house were dropped, since a strong commercial bank with a powerful dealing room would serve the same purpose. A strong asset manager would also relieve the need for a discount house.

With the significant branch network, the commercial bank was solid but needed a presence in a few major centres e.g. Masvingo and Gweru. In Gweru they could not locate suitable premises.

In Masvingo, after a struggle they were offered premises which had previously been earmarked for Trust Bank. With Trust Bank facing challenges, it abandoned Masvingo. However, Royal was placed under a curator when it was about to move in.

Royal Bank courted Finsreal Asset Managers for a potential acquisition since there were synergies and shared beliefs. It had a solid corporate customer base and very good growth prospects since an astute entrepreneur led it. Unfortunately the deal was aborted at the last minute when the owner opted out. After the Finsreal flop, Mzwimbi and his team pursued the asset manager through organic growth. They developed their own company -Regal Asset Managers – during the last quarter of 2003. At this stage the capital requirements and licensing process of asset managers was fairly easy. Asset managers were quite profitable, with minimal regulatory controls. Regal Asset Managers completed two good deals, namely: a management buyout of Screen Litho, a printing concern, and a big deal for First Mutual at its demutualisation.

The Screen Litho deal had been offered to venture capitalists but their demands were excessive. That is when Regal Asset Managers was set up and concluded a funding deal through Royal Financial Holdings (RFH), resulting in RFH holding 99% of Screen Litho which was to be off- loaded once management was in a solid financial position. Screen Litho is performing very well and hence this investment has proven successful. The entrepreneurial Mzwimbi thus diversified his financial portfolio through this deal.

For the building society, Royal eyed First National Building Society (FNBS) and almost signed a memorandum of agreement. Royal Bank was almost ready to transfer its staff mortgage facility to FNBS, when a close friend with a powerful position in the Society discouraged it from committing to the deal without divulging the reasons. A short while later FNBS was placed under a curator, with the RBZ citing cases of fraud by the top executives. The increasingly acquisitive Royal Bank entrepreneurs shifted and trained their guns at Beverly Building Society. Intermarket had already failed to consummate a deal with Beverley. Royal Bank was now competing with African Banking Corporation (ABC), which beat it to an agreement but was denied shareholder authority to complete the deal. Royal Bank then went back to wooing Shingai Mutasa of TA Holdings in an effort to increase its institutional shareholder base. He was keen on the deal.

Mutasa was acquainted with the two British owners of Beverley and one of his board members sat on the Beverley Building Society board. His support would have been crucial in the deal. However this process was overtaken by events, as the incoming RBZ governor superintended a monetary policy which led the financial sector into a tailspin.

Some young entrepreneurs approached Royal Bank seeking for support to establish an insurance company. Since this was in line with Royal’s strategic plan it consented and helped start Regal Insurance Company. Royal Bank originated the name Regal Insurance.

Once the licence was acquired there were some shareholder disputes and Royal Bank distanced itself from the deal. The young entrepreneurs who had been supported by Royal Bank lost the company to the other shareholders.

The final thrust in the strategic plan was establishing a stock broking firm. An idiosyncrasy with stock broking licences is that they are not issued to an institution but to a person. Intermarket had the highest number of stock broking licences. Mzwimbi approached the Intermarket stock broking CEO, who was a friend, about the prospects of acquiring one of the stockbrokers and he did not seem to have a problem with that. At the same time Victor Chando, a major shareholder in Royal Bank, brought to the table his interest in acquiring Barnfords Securities. He was encouraged to pursue the deal with the help of Royal Bank with the plan of bringing it in-house as soon as possible. All Royal Bank deals would now be channelled through Barnfords.

It appears that Royal bank developed a strong appetite for deals. One wonders what it would have been like if it had taken time to develop strong systems and capacity before attempting so many deals. What could have been avoided if the appetite for deals had been controlled? Entrepreneurs may need to exercise restrain in their expansion in order to create capacities to absorb and consolidate the growth.

Entrepreneurship Motivation

Wherever you go and whatever you do, nobody can deny that motivation always has a direct impact on a person’s overall productivity. Similarly like any other human being, entrepreneurs can succumb to the evil of procrastination and laziness even if they are so passionate in what they are doing. That is why it is highly important that entrepreneurship motivation is present within a business to keep the entrepreneurs motivated. This article provides information on how networking can be a great source of motivation as an entrepreneur.

One major reason why entrepreneurs should network amongst each other is because there is a need for business comparisons in terms of performance. You can never know how you are faring if you do not check on your competition every once in a while. That is why it is highly recommended that you start looking at how your competitors perform and compare their results with yours. You can start by making research studies such as public exposure, how well your target market knows your brand, what they have to say about your business and which brand they prefer when it comes to their needs.

Networking as an entrepreneur is a great way to keep up with each other through brainstorming and idea-sharing. These days, it is hard to find an entrepreneur that has the same mindset such as you and no entrepreneur would want to receive motivating words from someone who does not know what they do. If you start networking today, you are able to keep your entrepreneurial mind polished and at the same time, share ideas and thoughts with your fellow entrepreneurs. Networking is a good choice if you want to achieve your goals in the long run because of the entrepreneurship motivation it provides.

You can start networking with fellow entrepreneurs in many ways. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are great means to connect with entrepreneurs that share the same mindset as you do. Aside from being able to use these tools to connect with newly met entrepreneurs, there is also much functionality to keep your relationships going strong. Keep in mind though that you are trying to build relationships with these people. Hold off the sales pitches you have in mind for your products and services for now.

Emails and phone calls are a more personal level of approaching these people. That is because these mediums of communication are often used to discuss agendas with business people or setting appointments with them. Nonetheless, these are great choices in gaining a more personal relationship with entrepreneurs of the same mindset as you.

You can also start joining local events, conferences and seminars in order to meet entrepreneurs face-to-face. When it comes to networking with other entrepreneurs, meeting them in person is the best way that you can get. You can also start talking about future appointments if they like you in person. Start your entrepreneurship motivation goal now by networking with entrepreneurs that shame the same interests as you.

Entrepreneurship and Michael Dell’s Content, Commerce, & Community

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.