Learning from Steve Case

May 1, 2007

I had the pleasure to listen to Steve Case speak at a General Catalyst event in Boston. It was interesting to hear about his early struggles and the importance of perseverance. The first startup he joined was selling modems and online downloads for the Atari game console in 1983. It sold so few pieces during the Christmas shopping season the Kleiner guy on the board reviewing the numbers in January said: “I expected that more than these would be shoplifted!” While that startup failed it allowed Steve to meet a lot of the people that would become instrumental in making AOL a huge success.

It’s also interesting to note that AOL took a long time to mature. At first modems were sold as peripherals to a very small subset of PC users. It was not until 1989 that IBM started shipping internal modems and 1992 before it became legal for AOL to interconnect to the Internet – which was previously reserved to academia and the government. In other words, it took a good 8-10 years for AOL to really hit its stride. As a result he suggested many entrepreneurs and VCs should try to stick it out instead of building companies for a quick flip because by exiting too early they are passing on the opportunity to build a $100 billion company. He suggested more of us should swing for the fences and have the tenacity, grit, courage and passion to see it through!

He also described what he’s doing with Revolution Health. As we all know and as Steve experienced with his brother’s Dan brain cancer and his various encounters with the health care system, health care is broken in this country. Consumers are not the decision makers, there is no consumer brand in health care and getting information and services is extremely inconvenient. He intends to change that.

His multi-prompt approach includes launching RevolutionHealth.com, a consumer facing health portal launched 12 days ago, and through an investment in health care facilities providing health care in Walmart, Walgreens and others 7 days a week for extended hours (10-11 pm at night at most places).

It’s a step in the right direction and I hope he will navigate the healthcare minefield that has had so many casualties (remember the hype around Healtheon?).

Fingers crossed!

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