As Internet pioneers go, Steve Case, the co-founder of America Online, tends to keep a lower profile than most. "I'm willing to be out front, particularly if there are issues I'm passionate about," he told "Off The Cuff." "Issues that I think are important to the nation, I am happy to play a role as an evangelist maybe, an activist, trying to build some bridges—because none of these things can get done without bipartisan support."
Earlier this year, Case, who's now the chairman and CEO of Revolution, an investment company he founded, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration reform. "I think immigration is critical to the future of the country. There's too much focus on immigration as a problem that needs to be solved. I think it's an opportunity that needs to be seized—if we're going to remain the most entrepreneurial nation in the world, and remain an innovative nation that really attracts and retains the best and brightest people from all over the world. I'm particularly passionate about the parts related to high-skilled immigration—things like a 'start-up visa,' an 'entrepreneur visa'—because these really are the innovators that drive the creation of new companies, the creation of new industries, drive our economy, create lots of jobs. But, also, dealing with the broader issues of immigration is critically important."
Case said he sees a foray into politics in another Internet entrepreneur's future—Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and a former vice president of Google. "I think very highly of Sheryl," said Case. "I first met her when she was working in Washington in politics. Sheryl Sanford 1.0 is about D.C. and politics; Sheryl Sanford 2.0 is about Silicon Valley and technology. I think she will still stay at Facebook for a while. But I wouldn't be surprised if Sheryl Sanford 3. 0 didn't have something to do with politics or policy, because she is a passionate, talented person."
As the chairman of the Startup America Partnership, and a member of President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, Case has been an outspoken advocate for the importance of entrepreneurship to the U.S. economy. "There's a lot of innovative things happening all across the economy. The part I'm most interested in is what I call the 'second Internet revolution,' which is really just beginning," he said. "It's not just about creating more Internet companies, but using the Internet to improve the way we deliver things like education and healthcare."
He caught the entrepreneurship bug at six years old, in his native Hawaii, when he set up a lime juice stand with his older brother. "When I was growing up, I didn't know what an entrepreneur was," he said. "I didn't know what a startup was. Now kids growing up are mesmerized by the possibility of not just making money, but creating new products and services that can transform people's lives. The idea of an Apple, a Steve Jobs, it inspires another generation of people. We need to remain the most entrepreneurial nation in the world, and if we are going to do that we need to inspire a new generation of people to embrace innovation, embrace risk-taking."
After a brief detour as a singer in two new-wave bands in college, ("I wasn't particularly talented," he said), Case went on to create an online services company in 1985, which became AOL (yes, you should feel old, AOL is almost 30). Early on, the company ventured into social media. "That aspect of the Internet is the soul of the medium really—people interacting with each other," Case said. "I am not surprised that it continues to be the major way people are interacting with the Internet."
At AOL, case championed the creation of online interactive games, including "Neverwinter Nights," the first multiplayer role-playing game that made use of graphics.
"Many people are addicted to multiple player games," Case said. "I personally am not an active gamer but I do know there are people who spend a lot of time on it. I think like any of these things there's a little bit of balance to them, enjoying the benefits of the game, more broadly the benefits of the Internet, without it completely dominating your life."