Steve Case is one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs and executives, he is most famously known for being the co-founder of America Online and CEO of Revolution LLC. His career began in 1985, when he co-founded America Online, and under his leadership AOL drove the adoption of a medium that has transformed business and society globally. At it’s peak, AOL handled almost half of all internet traffic, it was the first ever Internet IPO, and was the top performing company of the 1990s. In 2000, Steve Case negotiated the largest merger in business history, bringing AOL and Time Warner together, which ultimately led to Steve standing down as CEO when that deal closed. Now, as CEO of Revolution, a Washington DC based investment first, Steve Case now partners with visionary entrepreneurs to build great businesses. Such is Steve’s passion for helping entrepreneurs, that he was the founding chair of the Startup America Partnership – an effort launched at the White House to accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout America. Continuing his work with the White House, Steve Case was also a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship and a member of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness where he chaired the subcommittee on entrepreneurship.
As well as his business endeavours, Steve is also the Chairman of the Case Foundation, which he established with his wife Jean in 1997. The foundation has invested in hundreds of organisations, initiatives and partnerships with a focus on leveraging the internet and entrepreneurial approaches to strengthen the social sector. Steve Case and his wife have also joined The Giving Pledge and publicly reaffirmed their commitment to give away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. This year, Steve Case has released his new book; The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, which has received extremely positive reviews, and has become a New York Times bestseller. Speaking with one of the world’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs was a real honour. Please enjoy my interview with Steve Case…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I invest in ideas and entrepreneurs that can change the world. At Revolution, my investment firm, we believe that great companies can start and scale anywhere, and we invest the majority of our capital in companies outside the tech coastal corridors of San Francisco, New York and Boston. Future breakout innovations will come from places all across the country and will tackle problems that affect our everyday lives in industries like healthcare, food, transportation, energy etc.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am currently reading Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant.
Can you remember your first demonstration of entrepreneurial ability?
My older brother and I worked together on a few small businesses when we were kids – things like selling greeting cards door to door. We called it Case Enterprises. I had the ideas and my brother helped with the funding and the execution. None of the businesses amounted to much, but we learned a lot.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far? How did it impact it?
The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler is the book that has had the most influence in my career and life. I read it when I was a senior in college and was mesmerized by the idea of the electronic cottage and connecting people over a digital medium. It was the reason I continued on the path towards co-founding AOL. I even borrowed the title for my own book – The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring entrepreneur?
First, swing for the fences. I encourage everyone who wants to start a company and be an entrepreneur to do it. But I hope you will pick a big problem to solve like healthcare and education. Pick a mountain worth climbing, and a battle worth fighting. And don’t bunt; aspire to change the world!
Second, it takes a long time. The overnight success is rare. If you’re going to solve a big problem, it will take time and dedication. When we started AOL, only three percent of people were online an hour a week. It took us a decade to really get traction. Patience and perseverance are key.
Do you think reading is important?
Absolutely. Reading is where ideas come from. When I was in college I read newspapers, magazines, any material I could get my hands on. That helped fuel my passion for the idea of the Internet. Reading gives a full breath of perspective and can help you understand situations from different points of view. Entrepreneurs tend to be great at seeing new possibilities, and connecting the dots. Its a form of pattern recognition, and more reading, on more topics, from more points of view, often leads to breakthrough, disruptive thinking.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. He tells a remarkable story and provides a window into the lives of many people in the middle of the country that feel left behind by technology and globalization. I read the book last summer and then met with J.D. last Fall when he was visiting DC. That led to a series of conversations, culminating in J.D. joining Revolution to help expand our Rise Of The Rest initiative.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
I prefer reading fiction on a Kindle, as it can be a more immersive experience. But for non-fiction I prefer a real book, in part so I can underline passages that resonate, and make notes as ideas emerge.
What’s the worst advice you hear given to young people looking to start their own business?
You don’t need partners to be successful. You can build your business alone. In order to disrupt big industries like education, healthcare and financial services, you need to forge partnerships. You need to talk to teachers and universities to tackle the problems in our education system. You need to work with hospitals, doctors, nurses, and insurance companies to build a company focused on healthcare. I’m a strong believer in the African proverb: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
The original working title for my book was Pardon The Disruption. It includes some autobiographical chapters, but it’s mostly a book about the future, so we ultimately decided to go with The Third Wave. I guess if I ever wrote a pure autobiography it might make sense to call it You’ve Got Mail. This phrase, which welcomed people to America Online, helped make the internet more familiar and comfortable for millions of Americans—connecting people to something that today we can’t imagine living without. Starting and supporting businesses that transform industries and lives is what has driven me throughout my life.