On a windy Mother’s Day under “Carolina-blue skies,” former co-founder and CEO of AOL Steve Case stressed the importance of entrepreneurship to this year’s graduating class of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Case highlighted what he calls the three P’s: people, passion, and perseverance. The ability to succeed largely depends on the people you work with and for, he said. Passion is critical among those people, he explained, relaying his personal story of how, despite widespread doubt about the potential of the Internet at the beginning of the 90s, “there was something in the idea of a digital revolution that really captivated me.” So with that passion, Case co-founded American Online at a time when only three percent of people were online, and for just one hour per week. But with the third “P,” perseverance, AOL grew from less than 200,000 customers in 1992 to more than 20 million customers by 2000.
In Case’s eyes, that was part of the first Internet revolution. We are now about to witness a second, which he described below:
Before we were focused on the basics, evangelizing the benefits of the Internet and getting people connected. Now that we’re all connected almost all the time, our focus can shift. The second Internet revolution is going to be about using the Internet to improve the way we deliver education, provide healthcare, manage energy, transform transportation, improve government services, and reinvent manufacturing. This second Internet revolution will be even more important than the first as it will improve our lives and power our economy.
But there’s one thing I know for sure: the leaders in each of these sectors will be focused on protecting the status quo. I’ve learned over the years that the world is divided into attackers and defenders. The attackers are the people with bold, innovative ideas who are trying to disrupt the status quo and usher in a better way. The defenders are the incumbents who try to defend what they have and maintain the status quo. We need to bring an attacker mindset to whatever we choose to do. We need to think out of the box, be curious, and be willing to take risks.”
It will be hard, he warned, but graduates should use these “three P’s” to execute their ideas. He reminded graduates they have the power to make an impact that extends far beyond their individual careers through entrepreneurship.
“The story of America is not just about the patriots who built the economy; it’s also about the entrepreneurs who built our world. Through grit, hard work, and creativity, entrepreneurs built not just companies but entire new industries. The success of those industries—first in the agricultural revolution, then in the industrial revolution, and more recently in the information revolution—led to the development of new cities that started flourishing, and it led to the creation of the most vibrant, innovative, and entrepreneurial culture in the world.
And America’s momentum continues. In the last three decades alone new startup companies created nearly 40 million jobs—nearly all the net jobs created during that period.
Entrepreneurship is the secret sauce that has powered our economy and they are working hard to replicate it. We need to double down on entrepreneurship if we are going to maintain our lead. So whether you plan to be an entrepreneur or a teacher, a scientist, a doctor, a writer, an elected official, a non-profit leader, or anything else, it is important to remember that strong communities are sustained by strong economies, and strong economies require a constant influx of startup businesses.”
Touching on current events, Case discussed how immigration reform is necessary to “allow the United States to win the global battle for talent so we can remain the world’s most entrepreneurial nation.”
“From U.S. Steel to Google to Chobani, the successes of immigrant innovators in America shows that fixing our immigration system is not just a problem we need to solve, but an opportunity we need to seize. By doing so we can help unleash a new Golden Era of American entrepreneurship.
And it’s worth reminding ourselves that the United States was itself a startup just a couple hundred years ago. Back then, America was just an idea. That idea powered by people, passion, and perseverance, led us to forge a strong and stable democracy, and to build the largest and most innovative economy in the world.”
In closing, Case asked both graduates and members of the audience to stand up. After spending his career trying to get people to use the Internet, it was only fitting, he enthused, to share the occasion by tweeting a panoramic picture. “I am tweeting this out and I want all of you to retweet it #UNC2013. That way we can let all our friends down the street at Duke know that UNC is taking over the world.”
By Meredith Popolo, PCMag