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AOL is cool again: Steve Case

·Nicole Goodkind

Steve Case helped usher in the age of Internet when he founded AOL in 1985. Thirty-one years later, he’s predicting a new kind of revolution: the Internet of everything.

In his book, “The Third Wave,” Case, who now heads up venture-capital firm Revolution Growth, outlines what he believes the three phases of the Internet have been thus far. Between 1985 and 1999, the foundations of the Internet were laid, he says, by companies like AOL, Apple, IBM, and Cisco. From 2000 to 2015 we saw the app economy and mobile revolution with things like search, social media and e-commerce from companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Case believes we’re in the midst of a third online revolution with universal connectivity that is transforming all major sectors of our economy. “This will revolutionize healthcare, education, financial services, food, energy, and transportation,” he tells Yahoo Finance.

But first, an economic downturn

Case was a victim of the economic downturn that many entrepreneurs felt when the first tech bubble popped in 2000, and he believes it’s possible that we’ll see another crash before plunging deeper into the third wave. “Valuations have gotten a little bit frothy,” he says. “There are some companies whose valuations have gotten ahead of themselves. I think you’re seeing that manifest itself in a slower IPO market, because some of the companies looking to go public don’t want to go public right now because it might be a down round.” While Case doesn’t think we’ll see the same kind of crash we saw 15 years ago, he does think we’ll see a correction in valuations.

AOL is cool again

Part of the reason he wrote his book, he says, was to aid other Internet companies so that they learn from AOL’s mistakes and continue to push the envelope and innovate. Case still has an America Online email address and compares using AOL to listening to records, “It became uncool but but it’s becoming cool again. I talk to a lot of people who are still actively using their AOL email addresses.” But Case also recognizes that AOL’s time as a cutting-edge Internet company is over.  

The future of work

The economy is not the same as it was 20 years ago, and careers should be thought of in multiple steps, explains Case. “When I was growing up my dad worked for the same law firm for 60 years; it was his only job. When I graduated I had three jobs in three years so my parents thought I wasn’t going too far. Now some people have three jobs in the same day because of the whole gig economy.” The nature of work has changed, he says, and it’s important to continue investing in your education to keep up. It’s also important to recognize that you’ll have more than one job and probably more than one career. “You have to think about where things are going and position yourself to benefit from some of those third-wave trends.”

Lessons from Pizza Hut

Of course Case has also had an interesting career. Before Case widened the scope of the Internet with AOL, he got his start working at some firms more grounded in real life. He began his career at Proctor & Gamble. That’s where he got the ideas for those ubiquitous AOL free-trial discs (you’ll remember those if you’re over 25). “P&G was responsible for pioneering the concept of giving away free samples to encourage trial use,” he writes. The concept was so successful that he borrowed it for AOL. Today, free trial periods for online membership services are par for course. Case also spent a year at Pizza Hut, where he had what’s likely the best job title of all time: director of new pizza development. “I basically flew around the country and ate pizza,” he says. But it wasn’t all pizza eating. While there, Case help develop another revolutionary idea—pizza delivery.