Steve Case Delivers Commencement Address at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business

By Revolution Team on May 20, 2014
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This weekend, Revolution chairman and CEO Steve Case provided inspiration to new graduates at the commencement ceremony for Georgetown's McDonough School of Business.  He urged graduates to consider the importance of "three Ps": people, passion and perseverance, as they begin the next chapter of their lives, and shared some thoughts on key themes he believes are central to a thriving business community:

  • On the "Rise of the Rest":

We are entering a new era, where cities like Washington DC, Detroit, Nashville, Denver, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati are all becoming incubators for innovative startups...  these regions build vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that help facilitate the creation of a wide range of startups – startups that can improve how we live our lives, and create jobs and hope and opportunity in regions all across our nation. 

  • On the critical role of entrepreneurship:

But the story of America isn’t just about the patriots who built the democracy; it’s also about the entrepreneurs who built the economy... they created the most vibrant, innovative, and entrepreneurial culture anywhere on the planet.

  • On immigration:

You want smart, dedicated people who are driven and won’t take no for an answer? Then hire an immigrant... It’s not a coincidence that 40% of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or children of immigrants.

The video of Steve's address is available below, with the full text of his speech following. 

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Georgetown University Commencement

Undergraduate Business Students

Delivered by Steve Case

May 17, 2014

Thank you, President DeGioia. It’s great to be with all of you, on this great day.

And, just out of curiosity, is Jack the Bulldog here?   I was hoping to meet him … I’ve been impressed by how prolific he is on Twitter!

It’s such an honor to be with you all today. This is a very special place – and not just because of its history, or its professors, or its tradition of excellence – but because of all of you.

You are some of the brightest minds of your generation – and the potential I see in you is what drives my optimism about our future.  

So I want to, first, congratulate you on this exciting day. 

And second, to congratulate your parents… for making you … for supporting you … and for putting up with you for all these years.

I suspect that today may be bittersweet for many of you. You’re delighted to have completed the requirements to graduate, proud to receive your degrees, relieved that you don’t have to take another final, and excited about the next chapter in your lives.

But at the same time, you may be a little nervous. Perhaps even a little scared. You have your diploma, but it’s hard to know exactly what your future holds. A half century ago, most graduates committed to a job and a career path, and stayed on that track their whole lives.

But things are different today. Most of you will not only have multiple jobs … you might have multiple careers.

But don’t think of it as scary; think of it as liberating. It means the choices you make now won’t necessarily dictate your path for the next 50 years.

It means you can be bold, take risks, even fail. The key is to let your life unfold as a series of chapters.    

So keep learning. Be curious. Be open. Be flexible.

And as you think about your journey, I hope you’ll keep in mind three lessons I learned from my journey… what I like to call the 3 Ps. 

They are: People, Passion, and Perseverance.

The first of the P’s is people. 

No matter what you do in life, your ability to succeed will largely be dependent on your ability to work well with people.

This may sound obvious; but I can promise you, it isn’t easy. Most businesses rise or fall not because of the product, but because of the people.

At the end of the day, the team you build is the company you build.

And this is about more than business - it’s also about life. You’re going to need mentors to guide you… friends to lift you… people who can sweeten your successes and soften your failures with their wisdom and encouragement.

Here at Georgetown, you learned – and lived - the Jesuit tradition. You trained your mind, but hopefully also found your heart, and fed your soul. And I am sure you made great friends – some of whom will be friends for life.

There’s an old African proverb that I love. It says, if you want to go quickly, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.

There’s no greater truth in business, or life, than that. It may seem easier to just do it yourself, but your ultimate success or failure will largely be determined by how you galvanize others to work with you and stand by you.

Business, and life – just like Hoya basketball – are team sports.

The second P is passion.

There are a lot of things each of us is interested in, but few things that we are really passionate about.

On this front, I got lucky. I became passionate about the Internet more than 30 years ago, when I was a senior in college. I read a book by a futurist, Alvin Toffler, called the third wave, that talked about this concept of people networked to each other all over the world.

And I was mesmerized by it.

But at the time, nobody was online; the personal computer hadn’t been popularized yet, and the World Wide Web was a decade away from being created. So, when I graduated from college, there really weren’t any Internet companies I could go work for.

So I started building skills. First I went to Proctor & Gamble, where I learned a lot about marketing, and management.

Then I switched gears and went to Pizza Hut, where I learned about franchisees, and entrepreneurship.

Both P&G and Pizza Hut may seem like odd choices, but they served me well. I learned important skills – and also learned that sometimes you have to be flexible, and take a circuitous path to your goal.

Which brings me to my third P, perseverance.

In 1983, I moved to the DC area to get my first taste of the digital revolution. I joined a small startup company about to release a product called Gameline.

Gameline was a game cartridge that included a modem, and when you plugged it in, you could download games and other services.

When it was announced, everyone thought it would be a huge success. It wasn’t. It failed.

I remember, shortly after I arrived, one of the board members looked at the terrible sales figures and said: Geez, you would have thought they would have shoplifted more than that!

As Gameline struggled, most people – including my parents – suggested I put aside my entrepreneurial impulses and passion and get back onto a more normal career path.

But I stuck with it, as I believed that someday, somehow, the Internet would change the world.

I decided to start the company that became AOL when I was 26 years old. At the time, only three percent of people were online, and they were only online an hour a week.

AOL had a lot of ups and downs in those early years. It took us a decade to attract one million subscribers. But then interest in the Internet finally exploded, and in the second decade we added 25 million subscribers, and became one of the most valuable businesses in the world.

What seemed to many like an overnight sensation was in fact more than a decade in the making.

Perseverance isn’t easy. It means pushing against currents that can be relentless – and sometimes exhausting. And it means constantly having to parry away the advice of people who think you should just throw in the towel.

So I’d really encourage you to keep at it. Because some of the best ideas and the most successful companies exist today only because someone refused to give up – they refused to take no for an answer.

As I look back on AOL’s rise, I attribute so much of its success to the 3 P’s: People, Passion, and Perseverance.

Since leaving AOL more than a decade ago, I’ve had the opportunity to invest in and help build more than a dozen new companies through my firm, Revolution, which I started with Georgetown alum (and board member) Ted Leonsis.

The same 3 P’s have helped guide our efforts with a diverse mix of startups. And I hope they’ll help you, as you seek to change the world – and help usher in the next phase of the Internet revolution.

In the last 30 years we witnessed two waves of the Internet - and the third wave is about to break.

The first 15 years was about building the Internet. That’s where AOL and companies like Cisco came in.

The second wave was building on top of the Internet.   That’s Facebook and Twitter - and more recently, Spotify and Snapchat.

Now we’re entering a third wave, where we’re integrating the Internet into everyday life, whether it be the Internet of things, or really reimagining and reinventing education - and health care - and transportation - and energy.

Part of the reason I raise that with you is that the third wave will require more than just the three P’s. It’ll also require two additional P’s – Policy and Partnership.

Policy will be important, because you’ll need to understand the evolving laws and regulations that make up the landscape you’ll be operating in.

And it’s worth noting that in a lot of these areas, such as health care, government isn’t just a regulator, but often the primary customer.  You may want to ignore it, but you can’t. You have to engage.

And partnership will be a defining aspect of this third wave. You will have to be great at establishing alliances.  You won’t be able to go it alone – you will have to go together.

But I have some good news for you: you’re all uniquely positioned for this third wave. Most of you chose Georgetown because you understood that governments and policy matters, and that the social sector also matters. And you likely chose to focus your studies here on business because you believe business can be a force for good. So you’ve got a nice head start.

But let me be clear: this third wave won’t be easy. It won’t just be about building an app, dropping it in the App Store, and hoping to strike gold. 

This third wave will be harder, and take more patience.  But it can also be far more rewarding.

The point is, take what you’ve learned not just on this campus, but in this city, and carry it with you as you go forward. Think boldly about what it means to have the opportunity to give back to your country, and consider how best to align it with your passions.

And while we’re on the subject, let me just say a few words about how I think our country can do a better job of serving you in the great adventure you’re about to undertake.

The United States is envied around the world as the most powerful nation on earth.

This didn’t happen by accident. It was the work of pioneers who took great risks in the face of great adversity.

But the story of America isn’t just about the patriots who built the democracy; it’s also about the entrepreneurs who built the economy. Through grit, hard work, and unbridled imaginations, entrepreneurs built not just companies, but entire industries. And in doing so, they created the most vibrant, innovative, and entrepreneurial culture anywhere on the planet.

And America’s momentum continues. In the last three decades alone, new startup companies created 40 million jobs – nearly all the net jobs created during that period.

But entrepreneurship matters not just because it’s a source of job creation and economic growth.

Entrepreneurship matters because it has the potential to close the opportunity gap, and to genuinely improve the quality of life of everyone, everywhere.

The good news is America still has a lead. But we can’t rest on our laurels. Other countries have figured out that entrepreneurship is the secret sauce powering our economy, and they are trying to replicate what we’ve done. In the past half century we’ve watched the globalization of manufacturing, and then the globalization of capital. Now, we’re seeing the globalization of entrepreneurship.

America can’t get complacent. We need to stay on offense. We need to stay on the attack. We need to double down on innovation, and be sure we lead this third wave.

That means all of us – and all of you – but it also means the policymakers that can help set the direction of our future. It means making it easier for entrepreneurs to succeed, and more attractive for them to want to build something meaningful here. 

And it means focusing not just on creating wealth, but also creating jobs – and in particular, doing what we can to create good middle class jobs, and ensuring the American dream is alive and well for all Americans.

It means making sure that the best and brightest from all over the world continue to come study at places like Georgetown - and then get to stay here, feel welcomed here, put down roots here, and build companies and create jobs here.

Earlier I talked about the importance of people. You want smart, dedicated people who are driven and won’t take no for an answer? Then hire an immigrant.

Hire the person who had to work twice as hard to get here, and who wants nothing more than to stay here and achieve great things here.

It’s not a coincidence that 40% of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or children of immigrants.

From U.S. Steel to Google to Chobani, the success of immigrant innovators in America shows that fixing our immigration system is not just a problem to solve, but an opportunity to seize.

It’s how we can unleash the next great wave of American entrepreneurship. And I don’t mean just in Silicon Valley.

We are entering a new era, where cities like Washington DC, Detroit, Nashville, Denver, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati are all becoming incubators for innovative startups. We’re seeing the rise of the rest, as these regions build vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that help facilitate the creation of a wide range of startups – startups that can improve how we live our lives, and create jobs and hope and opportunity in regions all across our nation.

And on that point, I think it’s worth taking a step back, and remembering that America, itself, was a startup.

250 years ago, America was just an idea. That idea – powered by people, passion, and perseverance … and by good policy and strong partnerships … led us to forge a strong and stable democracy, and enabled us to build the largest and most innovative economy in the world.

Our journey as a nation is not over. And your journey is just beginning. The baton is being passed to you.

We’re all counting on you – the Class of 2014 – to help us move forward, and help write the next chapter in the story of our startup nation.

So congratulations – good luck – and let’s go Hoyas!

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