Steve Case Says Next Five Years Will Be About ‘Internet Meets Real World’

When MarketWatch began providing online-only financial news and data in 1997, approximately half of US households with Internet access were connected through America Online. AOL was led by Steve Case, who steered 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 rocked Wall Street and marked the culmination of the Internet bubble. The transaction ultimately fell through, and Case left the company and founded Revolution, a venture capital firm particularly focused on stimulating innovation in areas of the United States outside of California, New York and Massachusetts. He’s 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’ll be talking about in the next five years. Here are his slightly edited comments:

What do you think you will read on MarketWatch in five years?

Case: I hope and think that in five years we will read about what is happening across the country with entrepreneurship. We have this effort called Rise of The Rest, also a new book about Rise of the Rest. We’re trying to level the playing field so that people everywhere have a chance to build societies and a chance to achieve the American dream. I think five years from now it’s going to go from something on the sidelines, that not many people are aware of what’s happening, to a much larger phenomenon, where companies, big companies, very successful companies, are starting in cities all over the country, not just in the usual places, like San Francisco, New York, Boston. So I hope the rest goes up. And I think five years from now, people will be surprised by how many iconic multibillion-dollar companies are in astonishing locations across the country.

As MarketWatch turns 25, we ask the best investment and entrepreneurial minds what they predict for the future.

You helped bring Americans online. What’s in store for the Internet in the next five years?

Case: I think the next five years will be about the internet meeting the real world. The first phase of the internet was where everyone was connected. The second phase involved apps and software on the Internet. Stage three is really about things like health care, food and agriculture, financial services, and many other industries. So I think that’s going to be the big trend. I think politics will become much more important there because these tend to be regulated industries. 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, things like that, will be profound. And because these are some of the biggest industries in the world, there will also be an opportunity to build gigantic and successful companies.

What do you fear reading on MarketWatch in five years?

Case: I’m more optimistic, but if there’s anything to worry about it’s that we can’t level the playing field. Right now, the innovation economy is really dominated by a few kinds of people in a few kinds of places. 75% 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 the venture capital. Black Americans are 13% of the population, receive less than 1% of venture capital. And we are trying to change that. We’re trying to level that playing field. This is the whole reason we launched the Rise of the Rest effort and the whole reason I wrote the book about Rise of the Rest. I hope and expect that we will make progress over the next five years. But if we don’t, we will have many people in many places who continue to feel left out and left behind. And that’s going to exacerbate some of the dynamics that we have in this country, the gap that we have in this country. We need to bridge this divide by creating more opportunities for more people in more places.

What opportunities do you see in technology today that may be clearer five years from now?

Case: In five years, the technology will be seen as nearly invisible. There won’t even be a tech sector. Technology will really be incorporated into everything. We already see a lot of it. Most companies are tech-enabled. We will see even more of them in the next five years. And I’ve always thought, even from the early days of AOL and the Internet, that it’s really going to come 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 on. You need to see more progress towards that goal over the next five years.

What is your biggest fear of technology in the next five years?

Case: My biggest fear in technology over the next five years is that it shuts people out. How do you use technology to create opportunities for people and level the playing field?