The Changing Face of Entrepreneurship

In this post I would like to discuss some of the key lessons and guidelines for a young entrepreneur. By no means do I have the skills to teach or guide a budding entrepreneur. I believe the best way to learn for a young entrepreneur is from an existing entrepreneur, someone who has already proved their mettle in the field. It is always good to learn in school from professors in management and business classes but the professors can only teach theory since they generally lack any practical experience in starting up a new business, which I believe is essential to success. Great ideas and poor execution are no good. In fact, Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, has always been dismissive of business schools. In his words, ‘It is not necessary to study an MBA. Most MBA graduates are not useful…Unless they come back from their MBA studies and forget what they’ve learned at school, then they will be useful. Because schools teach knowledge, while starting businesses requires wisdom. Wisdom is acquired through experience. Knowledge can be acquired through hard work.’

Which brings me to Steve Case’s book, The Third Wave. Steve Case is the founder of America Online (AOL), Revolution LLC and the Case Foundation. Back in the day, AOL was the granddaddy of the Internet offering services that combined  Facebook, Twitter, MSN messenger and Google. The company was valued at over $150 billion at its peak and AOL was the top performing stock of the 1990s. As of 2016, Steve Case is worth US $1.4 Billion. I am boasting Steve’s credentials here in hope that these stats would be convincing enough for a young entrepreneur to take his advice seriously.

So what is the third wave? 

Steve case describes the first wave of the Internet, which lasted from 1985 to 1999, as the birth of the Internet. During the first wave we developed the computer and the Internet. During the second wave, from 2000 to present, we saw a rapid development in mobile technology and the app revolution.  During the second wave we witnessed the birth of search, social, and e-commerce start ups and their domination of the Internet. Steve case suggest that the third wave i.e. the future, will be the Internet of everything. Entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to make use of the foundations laid in the first and second wave to transform real world sectors. In fact, we are already witnessing the third wave, take Uber and Airbnb, for example.

Key Takeaways from Steve Case

In the third wave we will not just interact with the Internet, rather, the Internet will interact with everything around us. An Internet connection will be as essential as electricity in enabling our daily lives. Entrepreneurs will be driven by a purpose, a need to make the world a better place and of course profits that come as a side benefit.

Steve Case suggests that three P’s – perseverance, partnership, and policy will be the key to an entrepreneur’s success in the third wave. The major areas where we will see a growth in technology will most likely be healthcare, education and food. These three industries are heavily regulated by the government and hence the entrepreneurs looking to innovate in these industries will have to work very closely with the government. Innovation in the third wave will rely heavily on partnerships, especially with the government. And where there are partnerships, there is a need for policy. Steve also warns not to think of the government as an impediment to progress. The government has its challenges and shortcomings but its vital role in enabling innovation, entrepreneurship and progress can’t be ignored. Without the government releasing the Internet for public use, there would be no AOL, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, or the Silicon Valley for that matter.

Steve Case goes on to say that the third wave will definitely cause disruption to existing corporations and infrastructure. In order to survive, existing companies will have to adapt, quickly. Steve Case also believes in the ‘Rise of the Rest’. He believes that in the third wave new startups will emerge in varied geographies rather than being clustered in one hot spot, such as the Silicon Valley. He strongly believes that geographic diversity is vital to the success of the third wave and he has very good reasons to believe so. Steve explains ‘during the second wave, the industry of focus was technology, and so second wave entrepreneurs understandably flocked to the place in the country where tech companies and investors had clustered. But during the third wave, though products will be tech-enabled, they won’t be tech-centric. They’ll use apps, but the product won’t be an app. And so the benefit derived from being surrounded by the tech world won’t be as high. Instead, being surrounded by experts in the industry you’re trying to disrupt may reap the biggest dividends.’

In this book, Steve also talks about his life, the birth of AOL, its demise, and other challenges he faced as an entrepreneur. My summary above doesn’t do justice to his book, so I highly recommend reading his book to all the budding entrepreneurs around the globe, entrepreneurs who want to use innovation as a tool to address societal needs, entrepreneurs who are driven by purpose and betterment of humanity and all inhabitants of this planet as a whole, not just profit.

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