The Third Wave by Steve Case – Review

When historians come to write about the birth of the internet and globalization, they will research what the entrepreneurs did and what they thought. Steve Case will be one of those sources, and his book, The Third Wave, An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future (Simon and Schuster, 2016) will an important read. Walter Isaacson, who provides the book’s forward, will be another source. Among his publications, Isaacson has written The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (Simon and Schuster, 2014). Both authors assess where we have come from and where we may be going.

Case’s title stems from Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave published in 1980, and described by its publisher’s blurb as:
Sweeping across history and the future, this stunning portrait of a new civilization springing up across the globe…. It reveals the hidden connections among today’s changes – in business, family life, technology, markets, politics and personal life.

Toffler’s Third Wave, a follow-up to his Future Shock published in 1970, describes events following the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Case, on the other hand, examines the third wave of the internet revolution…..or a third wave of what Toffler was describing as his third wave.

In 1980, Toffler could only imagine how economies and societies might develop. Thirty-six years later, Steve Case, provides an update and leads the reader into an idea of what the future of the internet might bring. It is written by someone who has played a major role in this ongoing revolution both as an entrepreneur, and as a person who has known other entrepreneurs and their companies. He is described as follows on the US Presidential “Jobs and Competitiveness” website”:

Steve Case is one of America’s best-known and most accomplished entrepreneurs and philanthropists, and a pioneer in making the Internet part of everyday life.    Steve co-founded America Online (AOL) in 1985, when the Internet was in its infancy.  Under Steve’s leadership as Chairman and CEO, AOL became the world’s largest and most valuable Internet company.  AOL helped drive the worldwide adoption of a medium that has transformed business and society.  AOL’s early focus on ease of use and social media set the stage for its rapid growth, and at its peak nearly half of Internet users in the United States used AOL. In 1992, AOL became the first Internet company to go public, and was the best performing stock of the 1990s, with a 11,616% return.   At the peak of the Internet boom, Steve negotiated what remains the largest merger in business history, bringing together AOL and Time Warner in a transaction that gave AOL shareholders a majority stake in the combined company.   To facilitate the merger, Steve agreed to step down as CEO when the merger closed in 2001.  He served as Chairman of the Board of the combined company (then known as AOL Time Warner) until 2003.

Steve Case provides a rich menu of observations on the internet revolution and globalization. My choices derive from my tastes. Other diners should read the book to find what satisfies their appetites. In the interests of brevity, I will summarize mine, in no particular order, as follows.

  1. The road to entrepreneurial success is never smooth. Many projects never make it, and the ones that do proceed often face dead-ends and are forced to take new routes. Nothing new in this, but Case provides chapter and verse of how it worked for him. Many entrepreneurs are reluctant to document setbacks.
  2. Entrepreneurial success is often a case of getting the right team together to deal with different aspects of the project, where the members feel free to criticize (assess) each other. This is similar to what happened with a successful comedy team like Monty Python, where success resulted from a team effort by individuals who had to suppress their prima donna genes.
  3. Individuals who succeed in internet related endeavours need not have much or any post secondary education. They will often read in a wide range of subjects, play mind games like chess or solve a Rubik’s Cube, experiment with machines in their garage or basement, and have a sports related interest like basketball, fitness, running, yoga, or tai chi.
  4. Once a firm is set up and receives venture capital, it may carry on for a time losing money and having to depend on angel investors. Maintaining good relations with those supplying the money in the early stages is crucial, or the project will often die on the vine.
  5. Steve Case provides a clearly written case of what worked and what didn’t in his own case. He illustrates how success often depends on having the right team of players providing various inputs. Often one person is celebrated as the successful entrepreneur, but it is because he (or occasionally she) has a support group that makes it possible.
  6. Unlike many in the private sector, Case explains the importance of the role of government in nurturing new ventures, which are going to upset the way existing industries are organized. As technology affects industries, so governments will have to make policy changes to ensure that the economic and social benefits filter down.

 

  • Familiar internet related names include, Geoff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Steve Case, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Pierre Omidyar, Larry Page, Steve Wozniak, Mark Zuckerberg, and companies like Amazon, AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft…try matching people with companies. These names are related largely to the first two waves of the internet. What Steve Case writes about is how these and other companies will affect individuals, industries and economic activities in the future.
  • For example, education and health care absorb a large share of resources in all countries. They are expensive to run and often have inefficiencies which can be reduced by the use of technology. Education is experimenting with online classes. At one time I thought they might replace many onsite classes, but what seems to be happening is that onsite lecturers are often providing online versions of their courses to accompany the lectures. Students have the option of attending the live lecture and an online version, or only the online version. If the live lecture is at 8.30am, it’s not difficult to imagine what the choice will often be. Another issue is to decide how to give a credential for taking an online course which is recognized by employers, a not unsolvable problem, especially if there is money to be made.
  • Healthcare is developing means to monitor and prescribe for patients at a distance which can revolutionize the way these services are delivered. The technology is involved with medicine in many other ways.
  • Airbnb in 2015 was valued at $25bn. It is the largest hospitality provider in the US and does not own a single hotel (Case 2158 on eBook edition)….a challenge to the hotel industry.
  • Uber has shaken up if not destroyed the traditional taxi industry. The company does not own a single car, but acts to provide the service. The next stage, driverless cars and more importantly driverless trucks will bring further radical change to the taxi and trucking industries. Watch out for protests by truck drivers.

Many more examples could be quoted about how traditional economic sectors will be affected, and there is much more to garner from this book. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in how entrepreneurship works, and how these evolving technologies will impact economies and societies. It is a must read for entrepreneurs, and for those of us with grandchildren who are going to live in this changed environment.

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