Steve Case: Mind the 3 P’s

June 1

The founder of AOL, now chairman and chief executive of the investment firm Revolution, recently addressed graduates at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Here is an excerpt:

As you think about your journey, I hope you’ll keep in mind three lessons I learned from my journey ... what I like to call the 3 P’s.

They are: People, Passion and Perseverance.

The first of the P’s is people.

No matter what you do in life, your ability to succeed will largely be dependent on your ability to work well with people.

This may sound obvious; but I can promise you, it isn’t easy. Most businesses rise or fall not because of the product, but because of the people.

At the end of the day, the team you build is the company you build ...

The second P is passion ...

On this front, I got lucky. I became passionate about the Internet more than 30 years ago, when I was a senior in college. I read a book by a futurist, Alvin Toffler, called “The Third Wave,” that talked about this concept of people networked to each other all over the world.

And I was mesmerized by it ...

But at the time, nobody was online; the personal computer hadn’t been popularized yet, and the World Wide Web was a decade away from being created. So, when I graduated from college, there really weren’t any Internet companies I could go work for.

So I started building skills. First I went to Procter & Gamble, where I learned a lot about marketing and management.

Then I switched gears and went to Pizza Hut, where I learned about franchisees and entrepreneurship.

Both P&G and Pizza Hut may seem like odd choices, but they served me well. I learned important skills — and also learned that sometimes you have to be flexible and take a circuitous path to your goal.

Which brings me to my third P, perseverance.

In 1983, I moved to the D.C. area to get my first taste of the digital revolution. I joined a small start-up company about to release a product called Gameline.

Gameline was a game cartridge that included a modem, and when you plugged it in, you could download games and other services.

When it was announced, everyone thought it would be a huge success. It wasn’t. It failed.

As Gameline struggled, most people — including my parents — suggested I put aside my entrepreneurial impulses and passion and get back onto a more normal career path.

But I stuck with it, as I believed that someday, somehow, the Internet would change the world.

I decided to start the company that became AOL when I was 26 years old. At the time, only 3 percent of people were online, and they were only online an hour a week.

AOL had a lot of ups and downs in those early years. It took us a decade to attract 1 million subscribers. But then interest in the Internet finally exploded, and in the second decade we added 25 million subscribers, and became one of the most valuable businesses in the world ...

Since leaving AOL more than a decade ago, I’ve had the opportunity to invest in and help build more than a dozen new companies through my firm, Revolution, which I started with Georgetown alumnus (and board member) Ted Leonsis.

The 3 P’s helped guide our efforts with a diverse mix of start-ups. And I hope they’ll help you, as you seek to change the world — and help usher in the next phase of the Internet revolution.

In the last 30 years, we witnessed two waves of the Internet — and the third wave is about to break.

The first 15 years was about building the Internet. That’s where AOL and companies like Cisco came in.

The second wave was building on top of the Internet. That’s Facebook and Twitter — and more recently, Spotify and Snapchat.

Now we’re entering a third wave, where we’re integrating the Internet into everyday life, whether it be the Internet of Things, or really reimagining and reinventing education and health care and transportation and energy.

Part of the reason I raise that with you is that the third wave will require more than just the three P’s. It’ll also require two additional P’s — Policy and Partnership.

Policy will be important, because you’ll need to understand the evolving laws and regulations that make up the landscape you’ll be operating in.

And it’s worth noting that in a lot of these areas, such as health care, government isn’t just a regulator, but often the primary customer. You may want to ignore it, but you can’t. You have to engage.

And partnership will be a defining aspect of this third wave. You will have to be great at establishing alliances. You won’t be able to go it alone, you will have to go together ...

This third wave won’t be easy. It won’t just be about building an app, dropping it in the App Store, and hoping to strike gold.

This third wave will be harder, and take more patience. But it can also be far more rewarding.

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