When Steve Case quotes a proverb, we sit up and take notice – because we know the wisdom he shares for startups is invaluable. And, at the 2020 Unvalley Conference, he offered some great insight in his keynote.

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Steve is the former chief executive officer and chairman of AOL and the leader of Revolution’s Rise of the Rest platform that invests capital in promising companies between the coasts. 

As part of our Unvalley virtual conference in December, I got the chance to ask him some questions about what it takes to build a successful startup and to support the Rise of the Rest movement:

Big takeaways:

  • Understand that you’re part of a larger tech region in your area. Ask yourself, “What can my company do to support the community?” 
  • Contributing to the larger ecosystem directly benefits your company, too. If your city is rising, it will help you attract more talent and more capital.
  • Collaboration is critical. Steve quoted, “There’s an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.’”
  • One of the best things you can do to support your rising Unvalley city is be successful. If your company is a breakout success, it creates a sense of possibility for others – which creates ongoing fuel for growth.

Get even more of Steve’s insight by checking out the Unvalley Archives here.

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Transcript:

Steve Case

We saw this with AOL when we got started, it was a couple dozen employees, and we grew to a couple 100 employees. And then 1000s of employees at our peak was about 10,000 employees. But in the community broadly, suddenly, because we had so many people clustered in the area happened to be around Dulles Airport, guess what, suddenly homes were getting constructed in the area, restaurants were opening in the area, and a lot of other services were being put in place to support that broad, broader community. And the data basically says for every startup job, there’s five other jobs that are created in the community. So if you’re not focusing on these, these these startups, by the way, not necessarily tech startups, obviously a lot of tech start, but we’re seeing innovation across the whole economy and food and clothing and many other sectors. If you’re not focusing on that you’re not creating the jobs of the new companies, you’re not creating the jobs of the of the kind of industries of the future. And you’re also not going to be creating the related jobs in your community that will really lift up the community and give people more of a sense of hope and possibility. That is part of the problem we have right now in a country where there is such a divide. And and some people feel great about the future optimistic about the future. But a lot of people actually the data suggests most people are anxious about the future, that disruption we talked about in places like Silicon Valley, is bad for their family, it’s bad for their community, it feels like job loss, not job gain. And we can only offset that if we’re creating jobs in each city, in some of these new companies, some of these new industries and also benefiting from the broader spin off impact. So it’s hugely important. It’s not just about any one startup city, it’s about how do you create a broader focus around new companies, startups all across the country. And if we don’t do that, the divide we now have in our country is only going to get worse.

 

Matt Hunckler

You talked about so many of these big shifts, and these industries in your book, The third wave, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot this year of just now that book looks even more prescient than it did when you originally published it. So I would encourage people to go and reread the third wave book because I feel like it holds up really well for this year. Obviously, we’ve seen healthcare really transformed this year. Obviously, communications has been very much disrupted this year. What are some of the other things that you’re seeing just in even in your portfolio and the kind of deals that you’re looking at, that you’re optimistic for in 2021?

 

Steve Case

Well, I start by saying obviously, the pandemic has had terrible impacts on our country on the world. 300000 people have died, you know, they get the last number I was 16 million people were infected. millions of jobs lost. Lots of businesses have closed. It’s been it’s been a tragedy on multiple levels. I don’t want to you know, make light of that. Obviously, it’s been been terrible. But like anything sometimes when you have a crisis there underneath that, if you’re paying attention, there’s some glimmers of hope, some, some some silver linings, if you will. And we’re seeing that in some of them are the broader themes, we talked about the beginning in terms of this migration of talent, which I think will accelerate the rise of the rest kind of phenomenon. And that will be very positive for a lot of cities and over time, also more broadly for our country. And you’re also seeing some acceleration of some of the dynamics in particular sectors. And some of the obvious ones you mentioned communications, of course, zoom, and many other companies have seen a real acceleration in growth as we adopt the, you know, think about this sheltering, working from home not just being a temporary thing, but maybe a more permanent thing, or perhaps a hybrid workforce where you’re some people are remote. Some people are in the office, some people, you know, kind of switch back and forth. How does that change? There are a lot of companies that are benefiting from that. We’ve obviously seen an acceleration in e commerce and food delivery and a lot of other things. One of our companies, big commerce, we’ve seen that firsthand. Their commerce platform has seen rapid growth over the past year, we’ve also seen an acceleration of some trends in sectors like telehealth, which has been bubbling for really more than a decade, but really took off this year, not surprisingly, because doctors offices were closed. And these many doctors offices were closed. And suddenly, if you needed to see a doctor, you had to do it. Virtually digitally, he had to embrace telehealth, and we thought I would want to work companies talkspace, which is in the digital mental health space. And I’ve seen significant growth over over the past year. We’ve also seen companies pivot one of our companies clear is most best known for an airport security kind of as fast path to get your plane faster, they decided also to expand into health pass and work with us and sports leagues to create these safe bubbles for players on there. And their families are now offering that to a variety of different organizations. So there’s just a lot of things that we’re showing some signs of momentum and really have accelerated because of the some of this may go back to some sense of normalcy, if you will. But a lot of these trends are I think, are going to be more permanent.

 

Matt Hunckler

Watching just the last several years of us, as you have been so vocal in the media, and going down to town talking about the big opportunity in tech and startups, we’ve definitely seen a benefit as a nation from that. What can we all be doing on an individual level? You know, we all didn’t co found AOL. So maybe we don’t have as big a media presence as you do. But the collective whole of all of us talking about what makes these cities great, or these startups great? Or what makes it great to work in tech outside of Silicon Valley in New York City? What are sort of the day to day things that you would suggest anyone here on Valley or anyone who watches this video later, could do to help support the rise of the rest movement?

 

Steve Case

Well, I think it starts with understanding that you’re part of a community and what can you do is you’re going to focus on whatever you’re doing, if it’s a startup, or whatever your whatever you’re working on, of course, that has to be kind of front and center. But recognizing you’re part of a broader community, what can you do to support that community? What can you accelerate the community, which is a way to help the community but frankly, also help yourself because if if your city is rising, and it’s able to attract more talent, able to attract more capital, you know, kind of all boats will lift. So in some ways, it’s self serving. But it starts with not being self serving, it’s recognizing that there’s a role you can play and really need to play. And in being part of your startup community, being a leader and trying to take it to the next level. The second goes back to what I said before is it’s recognizing collaboration is critical. There’s an African proverb, but I know you’ve heard me say a lot of times we’ve been on the road, if you want to go quickly, you can go along, if you want to go far You must go together. And so how do you build a collaborative effort so you can go together, including figuring out ways to connect with others in your community, including folks on the policy side, like your local mayor, or some of the bigger companies or they’re mentioned earlier university? So how do you kind of create this broader community that really allows you to together to do things you really couldn’t do on your own? A third is to be successful. One of the great things about you know that it really puts startup cities on the map is somehow a breakout success and say, Hmm, I didn’t know he could do that as well happen to be one of those companies here. And though in the Washington DC area, Dell was obviously that in Austin, Microsoft, and then later Amazon was that in in Seattle, more recently, exact target. Now, part of Salesforce, as you all know, is with that in Indianapolis, you’re seeing more Pluralsight just this week, it was acquired by VISTA in Utah. When you see those successes, it creates a kind of a more of a sense of possibility and momentum just as the first time it tells somebody climb Mount Everest, nobody thought it was possible. Once one person did it. People say well, obvious, it’s possible. I think I’ll go do it to the first guy, you know, gotta break the four minute mile than most people thought that wasn’t possible. He did it. Suddenly. It was Possible Suddenly, a lot of people are running stuff, you know, for a minute miles. And the same dynamic is true with with these, with these companies having a breakout success, really enlist the community, then some of the early employees, early investors, have some capitals start investing in seed rounds, Angel rounds for some of the companies in the area or take their expertise and start their own companies. And momentum begets momentum. And so that’s how you go from kind of a, you know, early stage kind of startup community to something that’s really thriving. So a lot of different factors. And as I said before, and Brad Feld talks about this in his latest startup community book, this is really including what he’s found with in Boulder when he was started working on this, I guess, more than a decade ago, almost two decades ago, it you needed to bring like a 20 year mindset to it. So there are going to be overnight successes in the startup community world, it’s going to take a lot of hard work a lot of collaboration over a long period of time. But you got to start somewhere.

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