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Lesson #1: Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Case attained the level of success that he did because he believed in his dreams beyond all reason. When colleagues told him he was crazy, when industry analysts said he was impractical and when his family advised him to go into a more ‘secure’ career such as law, Case followed his heart. “I think because there were some challenges I just redoubled my own commitments,” he says. “We wanted to stay in the game.”
When he first got started in the late 1970s, and first began thinking about the potential of the online and interactive world, Case thought his vision would be realized immediately. “I believed so fervently that it was the next big thing, I thought it would happen quickly,” says Case. “What happened then has been 10 or 15 years just slogging away at this, and there were many times where it wasn't clear at all it was going to ever happen.” Despite the challenges he faced and the lengthy period of time it took for him to achieve success, Case never gave up.
“I was overestimating the pace at which it would happen early on, and then, mostly because I was a believer, was sort of underestimating exactly when it would happen,” says Case. “It almost never happens overnight, so then there's a period of reflection and disappointment. Sometimes even depression, where someone says, ‘Oh, it's never going to happen!’ and then suddenly the pieces start falling together, and then it takes off and really hits a tipping point where you see the real explosive growth.”
Case attributes his ability to withstand the shocks to his career not only to his own desire to succeed, but also to all the people he had working alongside him. “The team that we built at AOL shared the passion about this new medium and that we really were pioneers in building something,” he says. “And what was fun about it is nobody knew what to do and you kind of had to make it up as you go, and that means you're going to make mistakes, and you've got to keep picking yourself up off the floor and keep going.”
Despite having abundant opportunities around them, Case feels that many entrepreneurs lack the nerve to really take advantage of them. “It's actually a relatively small number of people that really are those risk takers, and a relatively small number of people that end up really having an impact on the world, and it doesn't take a lot of people,” he says. “We said, ‘Well, rather than just sit by and wait, or fold our tent and go do something else, let's keep at it. Maybe we can be the ones who can figure this out,’ and eventually we were.”
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