When MarketWatch first started delivering financial news and data exclusively online in 1997, about half of U.S. households that had internet access were connected through America Online. AOL was led by Steve Case, who navigated the company from dial-up services to instant messaging and general internet access.
Case eventually merged AOL with Time Warner in a $164-billion deal that shocked Wall Street and marked a high-point of the internet bubble. The transaction ultimately failed and Case left the company and founded Revolution, a venture capital firm that is particularly focussed on spurring innovation in areas of the U.S. outside of California, New York and Massachusetts. He also just published a book, The Rise of the Rest, about this effort.
As MarketWatch turns 25, we wanted to talk to Case about what he thinks we will be reporting on in the next five years. Here are his lightly edited comments:
What do you think you’ll be reading in MarketWatch in five years?
Case: I hope and I think in five years we’ll be reading about what’s happening all across the country with entrepreneurship. We have this effort called Rise of The Rest, even a new book on Rise of the Rest. We’re trying to level the playing field so everywhere people have a shot at building companies and a shot at the American Dream. I think five years from now it will go from something on the side, that not many people are aware of what’s happening, to a much broader phenomenon, where companies, big companies, very successful companies, are starting in cities all across the country, not just in the usual places, like San Francisco, New York, Boston. So I hope the rest will rise. And I think five years from now, people will be surprised by how many iconic multi-billion dollar companies are in surprising places all around the country.
As MarketWatch turns 25, we ask the top investing and entrepreneurial minds what they predict for the future.
You helped bring Americans online. What is in store for the internet in the next five years?
Case: I think the next five years is going to be about the internet meeting the real world. The first phase of the internet was where you’ve got everybody connected. The second phase was apps and software on top of the Internet. The third phase is really about things like healthcare, and food and agriculture, and financial services, and a lot of other sectors. So I think that’s going to be the big trend. I think policy is going to become much more important there because these tend to be regulated sectors. But the potential to impact people’s lives in very fundamental ways, how we stay healthy, how we learn, what we eat, how we move around, things like that, are going to be profound. And because these are some of the largest industries in the world, the opportunity to build gigantic, successful companies is going to be there as well.
What do you fear you will be reading in MarketWatch in five years?
Case: I’m more optimistic, but if there is something to worry about it’s that we are unsuccessful in leveling the playing field. Right now, the innovation economy really is dominated by a few kinds of people in a few kinds of places. Seventy-five percent of venture capital goes to just three states. You know, even though women are 50% of the population, female founders get less than 10% of venture capital. Black Americans are 13% of the population, get less than 1% of venture capital. And we’re trying to change that. We’re trying to level that playing field. That’s the whole reason we launched the Rise of the Rest effort and the whole reason I wrote the book on Rise of the Rest. I hope and expect that we’ll make progress in the next five years. But if we don’t, we’re going to get a lot of people in a lot of places who continue to feel left out and left behind. And that’s going to exacerbate some of the dynamics we have in this country, the divide we have in this country. We need to close that divide by creating more opportunity for more people in more places.
What opportunities do you see today in technology that might be more clear five years from now?
Case: In five years, technology will just be viewed as almost invisible. There won’t even be a tech sector. Technology will be embedded really in everything. We see a lot of that already. Most companies are tech enabled. We’ll see even more of that in the next five years. And I’ve always thought even from the early days of AOL and the internet, that it really will arrive when it’s no longer hyphenated. It’s not e-commerce, it’s commerce, it’s not e-mail, it’s mail. It just becomes the fabric of life, like electricity and so forth. You got to see more progress towards that goal in the next five years.
What is your biggest fear about technology in the next five years?
Case: My biggest fear in technology in the next five years is that it leaves people out. How do you use technology to create opportunities for people and level the playing field?