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"Getting the Rest of the Stuff Right": Steve Case on "The Third Wave"

Third-Wave-200Whether or not you were online in the 90s, or ever had an AOL address (I still have mine), it's a pretty safe bet that if it weren't for Steve Case and his America Online co-founders, you might not be reading this on your screen today. Case, along with partners Jim Kimsey and Marc Seriff, were the brains – and, for sure, the nerve – behind AOL, a first-wave Internet company that pioneered the concept of social media, with a focus on things we now take for granted: instant messaging, community, and the like. In 2001, AOL merged with Time Warner and Case became Chairman of what was one of the largest media companies in the world. Today, Case is a philanthropist and entrepreneur, having established his venture capital firm, Revolution, in 2005; The Third Wave – the title is borrowed from futurist Alvin Toffler's 1980 book of the same name – is his first book, a blend of memoir and manifesto, with a decided emphasis on the latter. "I'm only interested in the past in how it informs the future," Case tells the Amazon Book Review.

The Third Wave is a selection for Amazon's Best Books of the Month in Business & Leadership.

Amazon Book Review: You have had the opportunity to write about your life before, and you haven't done so. Why did you decide to write The Third Wave now?

Steve Case: The reason I decided to write a book is because I realized that the third wave is going to be quite different from the second wave of the Internet, but quite similar to the first. It's less about my story than it is using my story as a precursor, a framework for the future. I'm calling to people to recognize that things are changing. I hope the book is kind of a roadmap for entrepreneurs who want to be innovative in this third wave and for corporate executives who want to fend for themselves in what seems to be a chaotic, fast changing world.

ABR: Can you define and differentiate the first, second and third waves?

SC: The first wave was building the Internet – the infrastructure - building the on-ramps to the Internet and educating and evangelizing for why the Internet could be important for society and for your life. The second wave was building on top of the Internet: taking for granted all that core infrastructure, we were focusing on apps like Twitter or services like Google or Facebook. There are some bridge cases, of course. Amazon started at the end of the first wave and came of age in the second wave. Uber started in the second wave but has policy issues in the third wave. The first wave redefined computing, the second wave revolutionized communications and many aspects of commerce (including Amazon) and entertainment. The third wave will impact all other aspects of life: how we are and how we stay healthy and other pretty basic stuff. For example, how the Internet is going to interact with the health care industry is part of the third wave. That industry is one-sixth of the economy - and it hasn't changed much in the first and second wave, but in the third it's going to be a big opportunity.

The second wave was about the app, it was about small team, what some people call lean startups. It was about creating interesting products, like Snapchat for photos, and then trying to get viral adoption, and then figure out a way to morph the product into a broader platform. Those aspects - people, product and platform - will continue to be important in the third wave. But I think there are three other "p"s that will rise in importance. They are: Partnerships, you can't go it alone; Policy, you can't ignore the government. And Perseverance. You're less likely to be overnight successes. You're going to be more like AOL, which was, a ten-year- in-the-making overnight success. And I'd say there are two other things [in The Third Wave]: Place and Purpose. Place deals with the whole "rise of the rest," regional entrepreneurship phenomenon, which is a big deal. Business will continue to be centered in places like New York and San Francisco and Boston, but you'll also see the rise of other cities, like Indianapolis and Baltimore (with Underarmor) and Chicago (with Groupon). Almost every city has these companies that are emerging and creating a flourishing start up scene. Take agriculture, for example. There are lot of egg tech startups, and some of them in New York or SF will be successful. But I bet the most successful ones will be in Louisville or St. Louis, which have deep cultures around farming.

ABR: You talk in the book about how Disruption is a big part of the second wave, but that it will be a little different in the third....

SC: In the second wave, because it was about the app, it was relatively easy to get started. You could go it alone, you just had to be able to code and have some consumer traction. You just had to get lucky. They didn't need partnerships to get started, or government policy regulation. In the third wave you do... you can't go it alone. The stakes are higher and the industries themselves have some dynamics that don't allow you to just ignore what's there. "Coopetition" will become a buzzword. Take health, for example. In the second wave, there were apps that helped you track your steps. That was great, a device that was helpful. But if you're going to go beyond that and do electronic medical records, you're going to have to partner with a hospital, with doctors. If you're going to try to get doctors to embrace that technology, to walk around with tablets taking down medical information digitally, you're going to have to get them to buy into why that makes sense. Same with education – if you really want to change learning, you're going to have to talk to the students and the teachers. You're going to have to have constructive engagement with partners and with government. The winners will be the ones who do that well.

ABR: What skills does someone starting out in the third wave need to succeed?

SC: You'll need a more diverse set of skills and perspectives. Communication is important. You need to be able to analyze information, synthesize that information, and clearly communicate that information. They're what some might consider the softer [skill sets], people [with] almost liberal arts skills which will become even more important in the third wave than they were in the second wave.

I would say there's an entrepreneurial mindset, which doesn't mean you have to be the entrepreneur. You can be joining a company that's a startup or a speedup, and still bring that perspective. An entrepreneurial mindset also can be helpful in a larger company. One important skill is flexible thinking, being open to new possibilities, having a sense that a world may change in a lot of different ways. Another is pattern recognition: being able to see a bunch of different things and say, "Something's happening here," and pay more attention.... Most predictions of the future are not that futuristic. They're basically identifying things that are already happening.

In the third wave, we need to challenge the status quo in a way that engages vs. distances allies we need, whether it's within the company or around the company. The recognition that even if you are a great company with a lot of really smart people, most of the smart people in the world do not work for your company: How do you create a network around that idea? I also believe - and I'm hopeful - that we'll level the playing field. It's not just the white guys who went to Harvard and Stanford, who live in San Francisco or New York, who will get the venture capital. Why not the women, why not the African Americans, why not the people in Detroit or Des Moines? The second wave was more about coding and engineering, which will still be important. But now that's the ante to get into the game. The third wave will be about getting the rest of the stuff right.


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