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Steve Case Quotes
I was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. I didn't fully appreciate it. Growing up on an island is a little different than most people's childhood experiences, but I really enjoyed it.
I think relatively early on I probably was on a path to be more of an entrepreneur, and I think everybody in my family kind of sensed that. My father and his brothers were all lawyers, so I think that the expectation was probably for me to grow up to be an attorney, but it never really fascinated me that much. I was more interested in building things.
It just struck me as obvious that some day consumers would want to decide what they wanted to see and how they wanted to get it, and not just be passive recipients. They wanted to somehow interact and do research on things, or talk to other people or what have you.
I remember even when I was in college and writing, sending resumes out to different companies, my cover letter really talked about, ‘We're about to usher in a new visual age, and with two-way televisions and more of an electronic frontier’. Most people 25 years ago, I think, thought I was a little bit loony, but I just believed. And so I just kept pursuing that.
We focused – once people turn on that PC and wanted to use the service – on providing something that people would like and want to pay a monthly fee for.
I think, the fact that we saw how hard it was to build a consumer product and make it successful led us to this, I think, very pragmatic strategy of focusing on PCs, and partnering with the companies that already had brand recognition and already had distribution, and could help attract customers much more efficiently.
I do like building business. I'm not likely to go off and start something myself, because I did that and had a good run at it, but partnering with entrepreneurs if they're doing interesting things in consumer markets where there is some kind of big breakout disruptive potential and the opportunity to build significant companies that really have a profound impact on people's lives – that is of interest.
I think a lot of people, friends included, were saying, ‘I know you're a believer in this and all, but you know, sometimes no matter how hard you believe it just doesn't happen. Maybe you should kind of give up the ghost and try something else
I just believed, and so I kept doing it…we're going to make this happen. We were going to stick with it.
I think because there were some challenges I just redoubled my own commitments. We wanted to stay in the game.
I believed so fervently that it was the next big thing, I thought it would happen quickly. 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.
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. 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.
The team that we built at AOL shared the passion about this new medium and that we really were pioneers in building something. 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.
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. 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.
The idea of an entrepreneur is really thinking out of the box and taking risks and stepping up to major challenges. You can be entrepreneurial even if you don't want to be in business.
Trying to instill that sense of entrepreneurship in areas other than business is one of the areas I want to focus on in the years ahead.
The Girl Scouts have that with their cookies program, where every year they unleash hundreds of thousands of girls to go door-to-door and sell cookies, but that's the exception and not the rule. We're trying to figure out how to build programs like that into philanthropic organizations so they have a steady source of income.
The key area I'm focused on is how to move the concept of entrepreneurship into the mainstream in the not-for-profit world, and, trying to identify the leaders that are emerging and help figure out a way to help them build their teams and get access to capital, so they can cross over that chasm and hit the big time.
What if I had said 25 years ago that what I want to do is help level the playing field? To give people access to technology tools so you don't have to be a big company to get your ideas published and you don't have to own a printing press.
I think the more you have a generalist perspective, I think sometimes the more you can kind of see through the forest and the trees. And when it gets a little bit cloudy, you know, have some sense of, ‘Well, maybe this might happen or maybe that might happen.’
In one sense, there’s nothing specific that I learned that was applicable. In another sense everything I learned was a useful foundation.
I really am a big believer in liberal arts education. I think it's better – particularly in these kind of uncertain times – to know a little bit about a lot of things as opposed to being expert in one thing… I think that gives you a perspective that I found to be very valuable.
It has really been a dramatic acceleration of the different ways to communicate. But if you look back in history, those core innovations don’t happen overnight. It takes awhile…you just have to break through and it takes awhile.
That gave me some perspective and patience that enabled me to persevere in pursuing this particular vision, because I knew it takes a while for things to develop.
They're not the conventional ways to deal with things. All of these things are kind of disruptive new out-of-the box ways to think about your life and think about the world.
It's sort of this chicken and egg thing. Because more people had cars, you started building roads which made the cars more useful.
It's not like you just sit back and eventually it's going to happen. It's going to happen when people make it happen, and you have to kind of have a strategy that is pragmatic at one level, so you can hang in for the long run, but proactive in another level, so you can actually try to accelerate the pace that it's going to take for something to take off.
If you believe that some day it's going to happen, some day it probably will happen. You just have to make sure you're there when it's happening, and ideally you're at the front of the parade, and the principle beneficiary of when it happens, but it's not a kind of thing where you just sort of sit back and wait. The actions you take really help influence the pace at which it gets adopted.
It took us a while, but if we hadn't done that I don't know where we'd be today. But I know we would not be the kind of interactive society we are today, because that was a major kind of breakthrough.
We took the lead in doing that. That’s true in any new, innovative area. Somebody needs to step up and take the lead, and ultimately they end up benefiting, and others end up benefiting as well.
When I think about AOL, I really think of it as being a 20-year journey. Even though the second 10 years were when the fame and fortune set in, it was the first 10 years, the pioneering phase that I enjoyed more and thought I was better at.
I continue to be hopeful that we'll be able to lead the pack, just as we did in the days when AOL emerged and led the pack in a new direction. I'm hopeful this company will be able to do that as well.
When I was trying to think of what the key management principles were to build into the culture, I started talking about the Ps. The P's were things like passion, perseverance, perspective and people. I think the people aspect is really the most important one.
If you really got the right people, and you've got them working together as a team, whether it's in business, whether it's in science, whether it's in politics, you can make a big difference. If you don't have the right people, no matter how smart you are, no matter how good your idea is, you're not going to get very far.
You can perhaps be a lead and you can perhaps be a catalyst, but it really is about the team. And I'd say one of the great lessons I've learned over the past couple of decades, from a management perspective, is that really when you come down to it, it really is all about people and all about leadership. That just one or two people can make a huge difference.
You have to get along with people, but you also have to recognize that the strength of a team is different people with different perspectives and different personalities. You have to force yourself out of a comfort zone and really try to figure out what are the key ingredients, the key skill sets, the key perspectives that are necessary, and then figure out a way to attract the very best people to fill those particular roles.
In some ways it's easier to communicate, but you're not going to have a diverse perspective that is critical in looking at things in a different context, and being able to focus on the future and not simply look in the rear view mirror and be looking backwards at the past.
It's stunning to me what kind of an impact even one person can have if they have the right passion, perspective and are able to align the interest of a great team.
It really was setting a direction and setting an expectation and getting the right people working together, and really focused on, ‘How do we get to the promise land?’
I focus less on looking back and more on looking forward. That was all interesting. It was a great journey for 20-plus years. Some ups, some downs but overall a great experience. The question now is ‘What’s the next journey? What's the next challenge?’
I think it's really about hope and optimism and possibility. Some day we were going to be living in a more interactive world…I think just that vision of that, that some day that was going to happen, I think, propelled us.
I'm an entrepreneur. I like building companies, but I also like building projects. The question for me is how do you get more change, more out of-the-box thinking, and more focused on scaling in the charitable sector.
You've got to be able to take a step back and not be so caught up in the day-to-day that you don't have a sense of the broader tectonic shifts, and maybe you have to make some adjustment, which is why the perspective part is important. Look at the world as sort of a mosaic and kind of see how the pieces come together.
You stick it out. You just got to.
We do believe we're on the path of building what may be the most valuable company and most respected company in the world someday, and we're going to continue to focus on making that happen,
Spending more of your time figuring out who you want to have on your team, and then pointing them in the direction that you want to go is really critical. You're only as strong as your team…No one person can really make it happen.
If you're doing something new you've got to have a vision. You've got to have some north star you're aiming for, and you just believe somehow you'll get there.
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Steve Case Quotes
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