On October 9, 2018, Steve Case spoke at Gildenhorn Recital Hall at the Clarice Performing Arts Center as featured speaker at the Dingman Center’s Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series. The speaker series was created as part of a generous three-year gift from alumnus Robert Hisaoka ’79 to bring business leaders and startup founders to UMD that will inspire students to explore entrepreneurship by providing real-world context for business and venture creation. The following is one student’s account of the experience.
by: Mandar Kashikar, MBA ’19
As the founding CEO of AOL, the first internet company to go public, Steve Case is an icon of the first wave of the internet. At its peak, AOL (America Online) was used by half of the total online population in the US! I can’t even fathom the power it held. Needless to say, it was my pleasure listening to Steve’s advice for us students.
Referring to his time in high school, Steve was quick to advise us that building a network and building relationships is the real key to success. His point that he went to high school with Barack Obama is an example of how it can benefit you to treat others well irrespective of where you are. “You never know,” he says. Decades later, Steve was named the head of Obama’s entrepreneurship initiative, the Startup America Partnership.
When Steve was in college, he got interested in the digital revolution. He developed a theory of how the internet might change the world and how we look at things. Following that theory eventually led him down the path of founding AOL and pioneering making the internet a part of everyday life. Steve remarked that even as a college student, it’s important to believe in something. He urged us to develop our own theory about an industry or technology, and think about what the world might look like in the next ten or 20 years. More importantly, he advises us to think of what role we might play in that future.
After college Steve worked for Procter & Gamble for a couple of years until he landed his dream job—Director of New Pizza Development at Pizza Hut. He traveled around the US, looking for exotic ideas to create new pizza ideas. “If someone offers you that job, you take it,” he joked. However, he was sure that some kind of digital revolution was about to sweep through the country, which meant there had to be more to the future than searching for pizza innovations.
To that end, he joined a tech startup in 1985. Although the startup failed, the connections he made allowed him to co-found AOL and become its CEO in 1991. AOL pioneered the concept of social media, as its focus from day one was on communication features such as chat rooms, instant messaging and forums. However, only 3% of America was online at the time, and they spent a maximum of 1 hour per week on the internet. There was nothing to do on the internet. “Imagine an internet with no friends. It was lonely out there,” said Steve. However, he persevered in spite of the odds against him:
“For a decade, no one really cared about the idea of the internet, but if you’re on an entrepreneurial path, you have to have some conviction to what you’re doing. Chances are, it’s going to be hard. Revolutions happen in evolutionary ways. Our team stuck with it and when it did take off, it was worth it.”
When talking about his book The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, Steve emphasizes the role of policy making and regulations in shaping the future of the tech industry in the Third Wave. As driverless cars and drones make their way into the market, innovators that understand policy and regulation will succeed.
Before parting ways, Steve said encouragingly that though most startups fail, it’s important not to fear failure. “Babe Ruth was the home run king, but he was also the strikeout king. Going for a home run means that you will strike out as many times or more.” He went on to explain the fundamental ingredients you need for starting a business: “It’s not so much about the idea or the strategy, rather it’s about the execution and the people. Entrepreneurs are not just willing to deal with risk but also with ambiguity. They good at picking up on patterns. That means paying attention to a lot of different things, not just the areas you are best skilled at.”
Mandar Kashikar is a second-year MBA student at the Robert H. Smith School of Business pursuing a career in Marketing and Data Analytics. His entrepreneurial journey started when he joined a startup back in 2016. Ever since, he has been drawn towards the lively and dynamic culture that startups cultivate.