About the last episode of Recode Decode, Case Foundation CEO Jean Case spoke with Recode & # 39; s Kara Swisher about her new book, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life or Throughthroughs and Purpose. In this she draws advice from the stories of several successful people, including Jeff Bezos, Michael Jordan and Thomas Edison; she also reflects on her own time as an early marketing and communications executive at America Online.
"The opportunities in my life were made available by people who came back and helped me", said Case. "When I got home to my working class neighborhood, I saw people who were just as smart and just as talented and passionate about things, but what they often missed was a possibility or a doorway for them, I knew that if I had that benefit, I I wanted to spend my time trying to give that advantage to others. "
To & # 39; transformational change & # 39; in the world, she explained, people do not start as geniuses. Instead, Case said that ordinary people do extraordinary things when they get the right opportunities – and the encouragement to take risks.
"Through all these experiences in life, I could see that people everywhere had ideas about how to make the world better, about new companies, products, whatever, movements they wanted to build, but they get stuck in this idea that & # 39; It can not be I. I do not have what it takes, & # 39; "she said. "They buy an idea that it is a special human quality of genius or connections or whatever."
You can listen Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast.
Below we have shared a slightly edited full transcript of Kara's conversation with Jean.
Kara Swisher: Hello. I am Kara Swisher, editor-at-large from Recode. You might know me as someone who understands the meaning of the word & # 39; fear & # 39; do not know. Maybe I should have paid more attention at school. But in my spare time I talk about technology and listen to Recode Decode from the Vox Media Podcast Network.
Today in the red chair is a very old friend of mine, Jean Case, whom I have known, I mean, forever, right?
Jean Case: Forever.
Friends for ever.
I was not sure what you meant when your & # 39; very old friend & # 39; said.
Well, two of us are very old now. We were young when we met. She was a marketing and communications manager in the early days of AOL, but today she is the CEO of the non-profit Case Foundation. She is also the author of a new book, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life or Throughthroughs and Purpose. Jean, welcome to decode Decode. I'm so glad you're here.
Thanks, Kara. Thanks.
Instead of your annoying husband, Steve Case. No, I'm kidding. He came here on his last book.
He did. Yes, The third wave.
Yes, The third wave, which is very progressive, as it turns out, for what is now going on with regulations.
That's right. I think we'll talk about that, yes.
Yes definitely. Let's start talking about … I want to talk about the book, but I want to talk about your background, because I think you've made a really exciting journey through tech to what you've done today, and it's all knits together very well. I would like people to get an idea of how you moved from what you were doing – which was a very traditional job – to the internet – where you were one of the very first people, you were one of the very first women.
I mean, there were not many. Still not enough, not enough at all. Just give people your background because I think it's very interesting … It's about the idea of & # 39; Be without fear & # 39 ;. You have changed your career.
I did. I've done it more than once, actually, yes.
My background was that I was the youngest of four children raised by a single mother, and I really had the opportunity in that experience to see some kind of unequal access to opportunities that people had. I had a full scholarship at a private school and I came home to work …
And this was true?
This was in South Florida. I grew up, actually, in a small town in Illinois, Normal, Illinois, with the cornfield in my backyard.
You are not normal. You seem normal.
I try to become normal again, let's just say that.
All right. Okay. Whatever. All right.
Anyway, but when my parents divorced when I was quite young, and my mother moved us to South Florida, and the public school system there was not like it was in Illinois. She received my registration for this private school, where I received a full scholarship.
I thought I would become a lawyer, so the school arranged for me to do an internship with a local mayor who later became a congressman. When he became a congressman, I went to work for him and went to university at night. That led to the opportunity to take me to DC. So here I think I'm going to be a lawyer in the public sector, and I …
So did you go to law school or did you apply for the law degree?
Wait. Wait for it!
All right. Okay. All right. Okay.
Okay, so I'm coming to DC here … I have not graduated yet and I get this appointment in the Reagan administration, which was incredible that a young person could get that chance. Well, I was really going to go back and finish my degree, but I never went back and finished my bachelor's degree.
Oh. Wow. You are a premature school leaver.
I am a total premature school leaver.
You and Mark Zuckerberg.
Total school dropout.
You have an honorary doctorate, I suspect.
You have one or two, right?
But what is funny is that it is a story of many so-called drop-outs. Nobody was necessarily planning not to graduate. My career started and I always thought I would go back and finish, but I did not.
Okay, so here's what happened. I had a great job in the Reagan administration and for me it was as if a dream came true given my background, right? But one day they walk in and they say, "The funding for your role, we have a gap of a month or two, you have to go chilling." I'm like, "Are you going to chill? payment and a rent payment, really not. "So I found …
What was this job? This was doing …?
It was at the office of Personnel Management and Public Affairs. It was during the Reagan administration, so at that time the federal government was shrinking, and so it was a big part of where the action was.
Okay, so I jump over to this temporary job for the first pure play online services of the country called The Source. Many people no longer remember it. And boy, when I got there, I realized, "Wow, talk about an opportunity to empower and create equal opportunities."
I want you to take that apart. Why did you think that? I thought you thought that, not many people did that. The Source was essentially a social network.
It was really an early, awkward online text service that was delivered at 300 baud. I write about this in the book. The book is not a biography, as you know, but I put vignettes on it. What is funny about that is with 300 baud, it would take forty hours to download a song. We asked super.
All right. Anyway, GE decided they wanted to start an online service, so they recruited me to do that, and I was with GE for about three years and when I …
How did they find you? What was the … and why did they decide to do this?
Well, it was a tiny bit of industry at the time, Kara. Perhaps 100 of us in the United States were working on this stuff. They called and they were on their way. All these were outside where we are now, Washington, DC, and the burbs.
Because there is a hub here.
Because the network and the presence of the army and Arpanet and all that …
And MAY-EAST is here.
Yes, I do. So it appears that much of the early technology has been spun from this area. Anyway, so I was with GE and I thought, "Oh man, talk about a brand and budget, this is really going to GE mainstream." Well, it turns out the company was pretty risk averse. They really had a good performance. They were the most valuable company in the world and I think they were really not interested in taking a lot of risks.
So good about the time that this becomes clear to me …
This is the Jack Welch era.
… I get another call and this comes from the company that would become AOL, so in the end I went to AOL. My friends thought I was crazy, really crazy. They were shrewd. "What are you doing?" Because I had a good performance at GE. I was on the management track. I had done the management training that was world famous.
What were you doing at GE?
I was a marketing manager for creating this new online service. I moved to AOL as an officer of the company, part of the executive staff and never looked back at this. As you know, at its peak, it carried more than 50 percent of the nation's Internet traffic.
Yes, I did it.
I would like to say that we ended up with our first million customers in 1995 and in 1996 we had 5 million. So it was one of these 10-year uphill climbs, but once it started, it really started.
Right. Now I asked you this the other night when I did that short interview with you, but what was the thing that convinced you to move? Because GE is a big name. You stopped studying, so you did not have the diploma to continue.
Yes. Okay, okay. Well, I'll tell you I really wanted to help people. That made me very young at a very young age.
Because I knew my life, the opportunities in my life were made available by people who reached back and helped me. When I arrived home in my working class neighborhood, I saw people who were just as smart and just as talented and passionate about things, but what they often missed was a possibility or a doorway for them. I knew that if I had that benefit, I would spend my time trying to give that benefit to others.
But you asked a question about what I saw, because you and I both saw the same potential in this company. My mother is a single mother. I had made monthly payments for two years to buy a series of paper encyclopaedias for me. When I first went to The Source, which was the first online service, an electronic encyclopedia was included with the membership.
So it's like, "Wow, because of the vast amounts of knowledge of the world, we could settle access to that, that's powerful." Really, I'd say both at The Source and at GE, but really where it came to life was at AOL. We were on a mission to democratize access to ideas, information and communication, and that is exactly what we did.
Right, and that's how you get there and your job was to sell it, right? To get people to use it.
Yes, I was head of marketing.
Right, and you have done some new methods. One of the things I remember told me a story about where there were two other services that were happening at that time, CompuServe and Prodigy.
Prodigy was Sears and IBM.
IBM and CBS, believe it or not.
And CBS. I always said that Prodigy was everything Sears knew about technology and IBM knew about retail. It was horrible. And CompuServe, that was another big …
That's right, and they started around the same time as the first online service I worked for. The difference was that they were a timesharing company. They had sold access to their computers to companies, and they were just looking for something to use, they hummed the computers at night and got some money from the bad working hours.
So people who use them, right?
Yes, exactly, exactly.
The service itself is not so thought, but one of the things you did was that you had bought ads on it, right? Is that correct?
We did it at Prodigy.
This is the deal. AOL is a startup. We had already invested 10 million in us.
And it had been through iterations before.
Many repetitions. There had been two previous ones … both in terms of the type of products, but also a company spun from an old company.
Right. It was around Atari. It was all kinds of things.
Exactly. Commodore Computers.
Most listeners will not even know what we are talking about.
You only came when it was America Online, right?
No, it was not America Online when I got there.
Oh, what was it?
We did not have the service yet. That's what I came to help.
Was it Quantum?
It was called Quantum Computer Services.
That's right, that's right.
We then built a service that we thought would keep us in business with Apple, called AppleLink.
Right. That's right.
And with IBM, called PCLink.
It is a great failure story. But before I jump into the failure story, let me tell you: we're talking about the book.
The real reason I wrote the book is through all these experiences in life, I could see that people everywhere had ideas about how to make the world better, about new companies, products, whatever, movements they wanted to build, but they get stuck in this idea that "I can not be, I do not have what it takes."
They buy in an idea that it is a special human quality of genius or connections or whatever.
Right, and most people are average.
Right. The Case Foundation I run, we did some research six years ago to look at: "What is behind successful change-makers, innovators, entrepreneurs?" And we found five simple principles that were everywhere where transformational change takes place. That is really the starting point of the book to bring these principles to the fore, but how I do it is telling stories.
Mostly stories of different people who have found great success, but most people have never heard of.
True, but I want to end with yours. You have bought ads. So why are you …
We bought ads. Yes, here's what I was … Our competitor, Prodigy, had invested one billion dollars when we invested 10 million. So we approached them.
That's a big …
I talk about this in my book, and I say: "You can sometimes use competition for your own growth."
Right. Exactly. Many people have done that.
Right. So I went to them and said, "Can we buy ads on your online service?"
Yes, Google, Yahoo.
And they said, "Yes."
I remember you said you were gone.
I remember the day I came back from New York and said, "You will not believe this, we have a huge deal with Prodigy." Well, that almost immediately became our leading source of new subscribers. For me it is only a memory that never underestimates who can help you grow, and I am talking about building unlikely partnerships. If you remember that, Kara, we did this with Microsoft.
Okay, you did.
Where Microsoft threatened us as Windows … I do not mean that they …
That is a friendly way to say it.
Well, I'm saying they're the … What happened in the market was a threat.
I remember that you were very angry.
Right. So they had the market of operational services in their hands and they built their own online service. If they had excluded us from accessing the operation, this could have closed our company. It could have been existential.
We went to them and we worked out a deal where we sold their new browser, which was Explorer, because they were part of the hard drives, wherever they operate.
The great betrayal of Netscape.
Hi Hi. But it was existential for our company. Then we saw with Google, of course, that they had a better search engine than we did, so we went to them and said, "Can we work together?" And we have invested and received 5% of the company, and they have become our search engine.
They are great examples, and again, I often talk about this, the importance of building unlikely partnerships in the book.
Right. One of the things that was interesting, except the part of Netscape, is that you continued to shift and shifted your business.
Iterate and turn. Yes. I know it's too many words used, but they're very important.
You really did, yes.
These are really important words, because what I was working on at the AppleLink story is that we have really built the whole thing for Apple at this company. One day they call and say: "We have decided that no one else can wear our brand, we are basically separated from you."
We thought the world was over.
Right, right, right.
Because we had no other means to help the company move forward. We came together, I will never forget, in a conference room that afternoon, and it was very dark and it was not a good time in the company's history, but looking back was the best thing that ever happened to us because we decided we would would just do it, and we went back to Apple and asked for a kind of divorce settlement, and they gave us a few million dollars, which today would be nothing, but then our company could stay alive enough that we have America Online built.
Right. Exactly, exactly.
That is how AOL was born.
Again, I remember that you were all terrified of Microsoft.
And I had not seen it yet, and then I got a copy of it and showed it to you, and we all thought it was fake. Do not you remember?
I do I do!
And you and I were like, "It can not be this, this is terrible!"
Correct. I think we were pretty happy, but I will say that the other thing we need to talk about is iteration is so important. Everyone in technology knows this, but we have fun on a certain level, sad about someone else, looking at people like Facebook – because Mark AOL has essentially hacked. That's a bit of how he learned to do what he did, right?
Yes. I had said that in my column.
You know, the Twitter guys will tell you they just made AOL member pages and made it better, or instant messaging. So we could discuss a few new technologies, and what they did, and again, it's something I write about extensively, Thomas Edison was brilliant at this too. They looked at what others did not understand where they had made a few things and starts, but it was not very good, and they just picked it up and made it better.
Thomas Edison said, "I should be rightly called a big sponge," because there were 18 patents for Edison, for most of a century. What he did went to school and said, "Okay, if I get it from here, I think I can bring it to the finish."
That is clear what he did.
Right. I want to end with your background. You worked at AOL and then you left.
You were integral. You and Jan Brandt and Ted and many of you.
Yes, I left in 1997, yes. We had a fantastic team at AOL and we founded the Case Foundation.
Exactly, what did you do, and what is it doing since then?
We invest in people and ideas that can change the world. Steve and I set it up together and it really has been a living lab where we really try to find the best people and ideas that can really make a social impact in a very big way. So it's really nice. It is a bit unusual for many foundations to focus more on causes.
Exactly like the Gates Foundation.
Such as: "We're about cancer", or "We're about education." We are not. We are agnostic on the cause. We just ask ourselves: "Where can we make a really big difference?" And we turn our focus areas and investments every few years.
Yes. At the moment, for example, we are very involved in this new field of impact investing. I do not know how you …
Explain that, what that is.
Yeah right. There is a new generation of entrepreneurs and a new generation of investors. Some of the new generation investors are not so new generation, but a new class of investors is probably a better way to say it, who want more than just a financial return for their capital. They realize that invested capital is a powerful tool.
If you can invest to get more than just a financial return, it is really a big win. Many of these young companies are chasing social impact and a financial return for the shareholders, and they give equal value. Warby Parker is a great example of a real … a brand that is now a technology brand in the eyewear industry and totally disrupted the glasses. Fast Company has named it the most innovative company in America.
But you know, when they sell glasses, something good happens somewhere else, and that is a person who otherwise would not be able to afford a couple getting one. So far they have made more than 4 million pairs of glasses available, but it is based on buying a really cool, hip brand in a more convenient and competitive price that something good is happening.
It is not just giving away money.
It does not give away money. It is baked in the business model that when the company is doing well, there are a number of effective social consequences.
Right, and that's how you all think at the Case Foundation and what you do.
We do it, but it is also the business … We saw AOL, really, in some ways as an impact company that we would increase access to the internet with every new member we would receive, but I have traveled around the world, and in places like Africa, there are really exciting young companies like M-Kopa, which offer solar energy access to small villages that never on the grid, or certainly not fast. They pay for it via a mobile payment, it is called M-Pesa, and literally they pay by the day, so you can load 25 cents in M-Pesa and get as much power as 25 cents.
This sharing economy for the poor is a very powerful idea. I thought the sharing economy was great when it became something, but it was really more convenience and control for people who already had enough …
Yes, I told you. You know my big joke. San Francisco lives for millennials.
Right. What I am excited about is that I see some sharing economy-things reach where they are most needed. Another example is a company called Hello Tractor in Africa for small farmers who can not afford tractors, but they need them, so they now have a network where you can order a tractor on Saturday that lasts four hours and only pays for four hours . We are beginning to see that such innovative startups are being formed globally in places where they are most needed.
You and I made a lot of jokes about … Look, I think Silicon Valley is great, and it has brought us so much to celebrate, but the elites on the coast will never think about a little farmer and how he has but a few hours a day a tractor. Or maybe like my mother, a single mother who probably did not have to buy a lawnmower. Why did not we have one that we could call if we needed it?
Right, right, right.
Because if it would break, we would never be able to afford it.
Those kind of things.
Exactly, absolutely. That is actually an interesting topic. Very briefly – and the next thing I want to say about the book itself – has led you to write this book because … of this kind of ideas.
It is really a playbook. It is a clarion call, as I said. I think people everywhere have ideas and we have seen them. I have traveled the world as I have traveled. You know, Kara, my other role is as chairman of the National Geographic Society.
Even in that space, it blows me away from what we see as new startups and technologies that enable more science and research.
And there is also a very nice new class of companies being built.
Now you're on the side of the non-profit sector, right? Correct?
The parent company is National Geographic Society, and we have a subsidiary company of which I am also a member.
That is in collaboration with 21st Century Fox.
Now, that's Disney now, right?
It is now Disney, yes. In fact, I'm going to Disney this week to meet the team there. But what's really cool is when we made that deal, it created a $ 1.2 billion donation for National Geographic, and about $ 100 million a year comes across the mirror of our companies. And we have the largest social media footprint of every brand in the world. We come to 100 million Instagram followers. It is crazy exciting and it is fun.
Right. This is the Society, not just the Channel, and that kind of thing.
Right, correct. Yes.
Okay, okay. Absolutely. I want to ask you something Valley of the Tree later, because you have evicted that. That is still under the umbrella?
Yes, so the National Geographic company is the parent and the company with Fox is under the National Geographic Society.
Okay, okay. They are made. They were many people we knew.
We're here with Jean Case. Her new book is called Be fearless. Jean, you have five principles. Why do not you talk about … You decided to write this book because?
Because I think people everywhere have ideas …
And you found them about the …
And they need a Playbook to get started.
Right. All right.
Totally. Our research has validated this. So let me run through with you quickly. The first is a big gamble and we like to say a big gamble and make history. The idea is not focused on step-by-step change. Now you go step by step to your big bet, but everyone who has broken through has started a much bigger idea.
The second is taking risks, be brave. Look, if you try something new, you take risks. There is simply no way to try something new without taking risks. But I try to go into detail in the book, especially in that part about understanding your own risk tolerance, understanding the risk tolerance of people who have brought forward other successful things. And I encourage people to think about taking more risks as R & D, like trial and error, which then leads to the third principle.
Well, let me just understand that. People are not trained to be risk takers in this country.
They are not. Indeed, our brains, if something is wired to give us really great caution, outweigh the risks. And that's important, right, because when we started life here on the planet, whenever, our brains began to flee or fight us.
Right. Well, we were low on the totem pole.
Until we searched out with our brains.
Yes, great old things came after us. But today, unfortunately, much of that kind of protection against risk is still very much in our DNA. And one of the things I recommend is to really think about what the risk is of not taking a risk, because our brains always go first to all the risk-taking issues. We sometimes do not think enough: "If I do not take a risk, what happens?" And for some people that answer is a reason to take the risk. Right?
Jeff Bezos – I put this in it Be fearless, in the book – said Jeff Bezos when he thought about leaving his job at Wall Street …
At the. Shaw?
Yes, and with Amazon starting he said: "The only thing I knew was that I would not think about my quarterly bonus when I was 80, but I would think that if I had passed the greatest opportunity and revolution of my life and I would never be able to forgive myself. "And that gave him the extra courage to start Amazon.
All right. Principle.
So that is taking risks, being bold. So the following is "make failure matter." It is clear that if you take risks there, it is a matter of trial and error. It's R & D. The error part is often forgotten, but you know that most of the success stories have a failure story along the way. And I have a chapter there called "Failed in the footsteps of giants." And I talk about how Oprah was fired from a news program and said she just was not good for TV. Steven Spielberg, not accepted for film academy. Michael Jordan, cut off from his basketball team in high school, went home and cried in his closet. So story after story and that chapter are more familiar stories, but sometimes we cleanse the failures along the way. They are so important to share with people, because in the end you can not do innovative new things unless you are willing to take risks, and I do not know anyone who hits 1,000 bats about taking risks. . I just do not do it.
Okay, okay. Well, that is something that is being told … I was told that I could not write in English by a teacher.
You were … Oh my god.
I said she was an idiot, even though I still had an A.
I hope you send her stuff routinely.
No. She is dead. She is dead now. But …
I had the opposite of my teachers and I am grateful for it. I write about some of them in the book because they are lifelong friends to this day. So that can really make a difference.
I also had great teachers. But I will never forget this.
Yes correct. That's just not cool.
Okay, that makes the disturbance. And I just want to say before I leave there, that Einstein said: "failure is success in progress," but that is not really how we think about it. And if we could encourage young people or others, we know we need to think about it that way. En als ik sta – ik geef veel MBA-lessen – en wanneer ik voor studenten sta, probeer ik mijn mislukte CV te lezen om erop te wijzen dat het feitelijk alle dieptepunten waren die me uiteindelijk beter, sterker of te diep hadden gemaakt nieuwe kansen op de weg.
Dat is waarschijnlijk waar. Ja.
Dat is hoe je ideeën perfectioneert.
Hoewel Silicon Valley het tot een belachelijk extreem neemt.
Het doet. We moeten falen niet vieren, op geen enkele manier.
Ja. Ze houden ervan om te vieren … Ik heb zoiets van, "Je hebt er gewoon geld verloren dus …"
Correct. En ik ben het er helemaal mee eens, en er is een verschil tussen gewoon een soort van verpesten en falen dat bedoeld is om les te geven. Maar maak de mislukking uit: begrijp de lessen van falen en pas ze in de toekomst toe.
Dus het volgende is 'verder reiken dan je bubbel'. En dat is gebaseerd op waarschijnlijke partnerschappen waar we het over hadden, maar waar we niet genoeg tijd aan besteedden om te praten is, het echte idee is tijd doorbrengen met mensen die anders denken dan jij, verschillende achtergronden hebben, je perspectief verbreden en ze kunnen de jouwe verbreiden. Ze kunnen je blinde vlekken bedekken. Ze kunnen dingen zien die je niet kunt zien. Daar hebben we vandaag nog veel meer van nodig.
Nou, vertel me waarom gebeurt dat niet?
Jongen, hebben we het nodig in tech, man. Ik bedoel, jij en ik hebben dit uitgebreid besproken.
En waarom gebeurt het niet? Wat is de …
Weet je, ik denk dat het de menselijke natuur is dat we allemaal vooroordelen en die vooroordelen hebben …
Ja. Maar dat is een excuus. Kom op.
No. Ik denk het niet, Kara. Ik denk dat het heel echt is. Ik denk dat we allemaal blinde vlekken hebben en we hebben allemaal vooroordelen, en ik geloof niet dat ze opzettelijk zijn. Maar wat ik wel denk, is wanneer je weet dat je ze hebt – en vandaag, als je niet weet dat je ze hebt, luister je niet – moet je opzettelijk iets doen om te zorgen dat je dat verandert. Om de beste te zijn die je kunt zijn. Dus weet je, ik denk dat de gegevens overweldigend zijn. Ik stop het erin Wees onverschrokken. It’s throughout the book that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams. McKinsey, Deloitte.
They’re all these days. That’s why I’m fascinated that you can’t even appeal to people’s greed and still kind of like, “But you’ll be richer!” And I find it … There was just a story today, I forget what thing it … Someone tweeted, it was a man at Davos, this group was like, “We’re really sensitive now to meet you, so we don’t really want to help women again.” And I’m like, “Oh, are you …”
Yeah, I heard that too.
”Are you insanely sensitive people?”
Yeah. That’s crazy stuff. But you know, it’s important to recognize that Silicon Valley is not the center of the earth.
No. I got that.
That a lot of great things can happen. And you know, the Fortune 500 companies, the majority of them, were born starting between the coasts, not on the coast. But I just got the data this morning that the new data says 79 percent of venture capital last year went to California, New York, and Massachusetts. We know that …
This is something Steve has zeroed in.
Yeah. But let’s talk about it further. So like with women, just a little over 2 percent of all the venture capital went to firms with a female founder. Yet what I see is I see remarkable female founders. I’ve been mentoring one for a long time, actually. She’s a Hoya like you, Kara.
She has a startup in New York called Real World Playbook, and she says it’s the Warby Parker for adulthood. She realizes, she’s a privileged person. She went to Princeton. She got a JD/MBA from Georgetown, and when she got out of school, she didn’t really know what to do about her taxes. She didn’t know how to pick a health care plan. No one had ever really taught her that. So she’s got this really great platform that now universities all over the United States are embracing and putting their kids through to teach them how to go into adulthood. I mean, who would think we would have to disrupt that industry? But it’s greatly needed. She’s a young female entrepreneur that’s just killing it out there.
You just interviewed Susan Tynan at Framebridge. That was a great interview. Another one. And then I just spent the weekend with my dear friend Sarah Blakely who’s the founder and CEO of Spanx. And another friend I just spent time with is the new head, Ellen Stofan, of Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. She was chief scientist at NASA. So as I look around, women really are killing it. The women who have before us, their stories often don’t get told. And so I try to tell many of them in my book. But I think we all really have to double down and get all the players on the field. You and I talked about this.
Yeah. But why doesn’t it happen? I get that. I think most people who are intelligent think that’s the case, but it doesn’t occur.
Yeah. Well, it feels really slow and it’s been a really long time, but I’m telling you there’s been dramatic progress even though we continue to feel like there’s so much that we have to do. And we do. I mean, we’re seeing roles filled by women today that traditionally we never did. Look at our Supreme Court. Look at who’s been Secretary of State. In fact, I have a friend, it’s very cute, that when a white man became Secretary of State again her kid said, “Oh I didn’t think that could happen.” Because we’d had two females and an African American male serve as Secretary of State. So there really is progress on a lot of fronts. It’s just not coming fast enough.
And that’s just fact.
Yeah. So here’s what I think can hopefully, potentially drive it a little bit forward, and that is these will be new innovations, as we’ve discussed. I mean, what do entrepreneurs do at the end of the day? They solve problems. And it’s usually tied to a problem they’ve had some experience with. So at some point, if we just keep pushing those Ivy League kids out in Silicon Valley, we’re like, it’s enough already. That’s not where all the new exciting next wave of innovation will come from. It will come from different places and different people. I think that will be a draw to many people.
But we’re passionate about this, so we lead or help lead something called the Entrepreneur’s Funding Network that is very much focused on putting capital and mentorship to inclusive entrepreneurs. And you know, I’m pretty happy with what I’m seeing there in terms of the ecosystem filling out around the United States.
There’s an accelerator in Atlanta called Digital Undivided. It is specifically for women of color that are entrepreneurs, and they’re killing it. I helped invest in a platform called Alice that’s an online platform. And why is that important for entrepreneurs when they’re growing? Because a lot of women don’t have daycare or don’t have kids … You know, like if they’re working a job and they want to do this. They’re doing it at night on their computer or whatever. So we’re trying to tap all the different areas that can bring forward lots of new talent and get all the players on the field that quite frankly have been left too much on the sidelines as we’ve been building companies here.
But again, why is that? Because you have to identify the problem. What happens in the system as it is? Because I don’t see a lot of changes. I see you and I see a couple more, but they’re peripheral. They’re still peripheral today.
Yeah. I see a lot of changes, but I want to be super clear that by no means are we anywhere close to mission accomplished. But we sort of felt this way, Kara, it’s kind of like what I said about AOL’s growth, it took us 10 years to get to the first million and then a year later we had four million more. I do think at some point a flywheel will take place.
I have a friend in New York who has worked with the Canadian Prime Minister and some other women and we’ve worked together to do this initiative called Just Add One. And the idea is, if things start to really change when you put a female on the board, that sounds crazy but it’s very true, you know, she widens the perspective, she widens the network of likely candidates. Things change when a woman goes into the C suite. Things change when a woman becomes a partner in a law firm. So I think that there are some who want to see a regulated percentage and I can see a strong argument for that, but there’s others who are saying, “Well I’ll just add one this year.” Could we eventually get a flywheel effect going so there are enough women helping to bring other women in?
Well, the only reason those regulatory things come in is because it just doesn’t move.
Yeah. I agree.
It just doesn’t. So let’s just make them.
Yes, exactly. Because self-regulation often doesn’t work.
Always with these people. I’m sorry, I just don’t … I don’t see … Look at … Microsoft would have kept their vicious ways, until they were stopped.
Yeah, sure. And I absolutely believe there’s a place for regulation. A lot of the stuff you’re talking about in Silicon Valley as well. I think we can believe in the philosophy maybe of like free market, self-regulation, but at some point you have to say “enough” and find a better way forward.
Because these numbers don’t move. So that was number four. You have one more. Right?
Oh yeah. Thanks.
It’s my favorite one, the last one.
No problem. All right, okay.
Let urgency conquer fear.
Okay. Talk about that.
Actually, this is a pretty powerful principle.
I believe in urgency, Jean.
I’m an urgent person.
You act with urgency.
You talk with urgency.
I do, Jean. So get moving! I’ve got things to do today.
You want me to go a little faster now, Kara? Is that what you’re saying?
Yeah, yeah, right now. Mm-hmm.
So let urgency conquer fear, it really is this awareness that basically when your back is against the wall, maybe when you’re mad as heck, maybe when you’re gripped with fear, whatever. The moment is calling to you. Sometimes that will get you out of your comfort zone. And what I write in the book is, “Nothing great comes from the comfort zone.” We all love being there. That’s a comfortable place. But that’s not where great stuff comes from. So sometimes urgency is that extra piece.
We’re here in Washington, DC, our dear friend Chef José Andrés, a great entrepreneur who has restaurants all over the world, saw that hurricane was hitting in Puerto Rico and went down there and set up a food station on an emergency basis, ends up feeding 3.7 million people. Has just recently, as you know, in the last 35 days while the governments been shut down, been feeding federal workers. Look, he doesn’t have a nonprofit background. He doesn’t have an organizational business. He’s an entrepreneur who knows how to cook. And he is a world-celebrated chef, but the urgency that he felt in the moment pushed him past his fears of giving it a try. And look at the impact that he’s had. He’s been at wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes. He’s been all over the world now.
And that’s because he …
He really, he’s driven by the urgency that he feels. The Washington Post called him the new face of disaster relief. When disasters are about to strike, what he’s realized is that we don’t really have a system in place often in relief that takes care of basic food security. And so that what he’s gone to do.
Which it’s supposed to. FEMA is supposed to do that.
FEMA’s supposed to, but we’ve had a failure, as you know, in many cases of disaster response when it comes to food support. So another great story on that is the story that I open the book with. The first chapter of the book is called “Start Right Where You Are.” I really am making the point that it’s ordinary people that do extraordinary things, Kara. And so the first story is a woman here in Washington, DC, a mental health counselor, sole practitioner, who saw that there was a tremendous need for military and their families to get mental health support during the Afghan and Iraq wars. And so she was giving one hour a week free. And then she came up with this idea, what if I asked a whole national network of doctors to do this?
She did it. Thousands and thousands of doctors joined her. It’s called Give An Hour. They’ve given away $25 million in health care services. She didn’t even have an assistant. She didn’t have an MBA. She was like one person who was … She used her answering phone to man … But look at what she built. And Time called her among the 100 most influential people in the world for what she was able to do.
I use that story on purpose, because anyone looking at her would say she didn’t really have any of those sort of special qualities that we think … She was one person feeling the urgency and making a really big bet.
When you say everyone’s an average person, why is there this mythology that grows up around tech leaders, for example, or any leaders that they are special and geniuses and everything like that? How do you resist that? Because I think part of fearfulness is, “I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough.”
That’s right. That’s right. Well, you know, as any position I have of leadership, I try to make sure and let people know that it wasn’t all rosy and that there certainly … No one would have looked at my early life and said I’d have the opportunities that I eventually had. I do think sometimes, we used to have a term at AOL, “They’re drinking the bath water.” And it means they’re just getting caught up in that whole …
Yeah. Drinking the Kool Aid or whatever.
Yeah. I’m here now. I’m different. I’m special. And they don’t want to talk about maybe things that didn’t go so right in their life or whatever. And I do think there’s a glorification of Silicon Valley today that’s super unhelpful.
Well no longer, by the way. It’s done. I mean, come on.
I don’t know.
That bloom is off the rose over there.
So when I tell people that startups are at a 30-year low in the United States …
Right. Talk about this.
They are shocked. They are shocked. Why? Because all they see are these glorious stories coming out of Silicon Valley and they think that’s happening all over the country. And they don’t understand that in some cases those really big companies that are those great success stories are crowding out new competition that would normally enter to unseat them in different ways.
We saw this with AOL, as you talked about, with Facebook and Twitter and Google, and that is how our economy is built, is new players coming in, iterating off of what they see. Or taking advantage as big companies get too confident and don’t continue to put consumers front and center. And I write about that in the book.
I just think it’s a dangerous time in some ways for Silicon Valley because at one level these companies are getting really big and feel in many cases removed from a need to answer to others. Or even to respect governments, to be honest with you. At another level, they’re crowding out companies that could come along and do a better job.
So why are we at a 30-year low? And then in the next section we’re going to talk about where we’re going to go with these and try to recover for your listeners.
You know, I really can’t speak to that. I can tell you that the tech industry that I came into in the early 1980s was geographically diverse, was diverse gender-wise, and was diverse in other ways. We all needed each other and we brought with us some humility that made space for a lot of people different than us. That’s not the ethos of the tech world today, and the tech world is driving so much of … I mean, every company is a tech company any more.
So what do you think the ethos is?
I think even the tech industry itself has gotten caught up in this idea that it has to be the right school, that it has to be right test score, that it has to be, you name it, that it has to look a certain way, maybe in a hoodie or whatever. And that’s really unhealthy for our economy. We have an innovation and economic imperative to get all the players on the field with their ideas and their companies and all the great things they can do for America. And we’ve got to make an environment that is accessible now more than ever before, because more companies are dying every day than being started in America.
I have noticed that the ideas are sort of not there right now. And sometimes these tech companies in general go through cycles, right? There is the cycle of innovation followed by a fallowness. But it feels real fallow now.
Does it to you?
So maybe the difference between us …
Can you name a company … like the last ones were the Airbnb, Lyft, Groupon.
Oh sure, well, we just talked about two that have come out since the financial crisis.
Right, I’m talking about big companies that capture imagination, but go ahead.
Well, actually how you get big companies is, you start with small ones, right?
That’s right, yeah.
And I think where I’m spending more of my time …
Is on the new entrepreneurs who have new firms that they’re bringing forward, new ideas. And there, I really don’t think there’s ever been a more exciting time for new innovation. Think about it, Kara, you talk about this a lot in your interviews that you do. There are still so many segments that haven’t really been disrupted by technology or in some cases touched much, right?
Edtech, fintech, I mean we could … agriculture, food.
There’s so much innovation to come, but it’s not good news for Silicon Valley because Silicon Valley isn’t worried about the unbanked of this world — like the founder of Tallo, which is a very successful new … Or some of the leading plant scientists in the world. There are more plant scientists between, like, Illinois and Missouri and Kansas than there are in the rest of the country. Food innovation.
Food innovation, yeah.
Is going to come from there, you know? So I just think some of these …
Jean, they’re doing intermittent fasting in Silicon Valley. That’s their big idea. Are you doing that?
Although I do like the Impossible Burger, I gotta tell you.
That’s not intermittent fasting.
I hadn’t heard of the intermittent …
Do you not follow Jack Dorsey on Twitter? He talks about his fasting.
Yeah, that’s what I’m sayin’. That’s where we are right now. That’s what it feels like.
Yeah, but I mean like, you know, we’re sitting here. It’s a world of 3-D printing, right? And I have really uncomfortable shoes while I’m talking to you.
And I was with Sarah Blakely, young founder of Spanx, this weekend, and we’re like, “Heck, why are shoes still uncomfortable?” Why hasn’t the shoe industry been more disrupted? We have lots of new shoes, but women still are …
I was at Union Market this weekend. There’s a shoe company there, a pop-up, I’m blanking on…
Are they? I mean, on one level I’m joking. At another level I’m not at all.
Every day I go, like, “Should I just start a company to make shoes comfortable?” Like, what do we have to do?
Are you still fearless, entrepreneurially? Obviously, you’ve made a fortune.
You have a very comfortable life.
How do you remain that? Because one of the things I see in Silicon Valley is they’re too friggin’ rich.
They’re just comfortable. They get on the plane.
The plane to this and this, and it’s hard even to talk to them. And when you say something fairly critical, that’s fair, it’s like, “How dare you call me …” Like, “You’re mean.” I’m like, “Really? What? Like, what happened to you?” type of thing.
Yeah, well, you know, there’s a line in Hamilton that says, “I’m just like my country. I’m young, scrappy, and hungry.”
That’s how we built America, never forgetting that, you know, we were the ones trying to work our way trying to get to the top. And you gotta worry today about whether, you know, people in Silicon Valley are feeling young, scrappy, and hungry, ‘cause that’s what builds great companies. And, yes, I still feel that. I mean, we have a Virginia winery, I’m trying to establish for Virginia.
The wine was delicious.
Thank you, and it’s been recognized by remarkable wine critics.
It’s called Early Rise?
Rise it’s called, yeah, but we’re trying to establish … It’s a big idea, it’s our big bet … Virginia’s world-renowned winery, and we’re making good progress towards it. So I always have my hands or my feet or whatever in some new enterprise, and I sit on startup boards, as well.
But how do you get that, because I do think when you get to a certain level of wealth and influence, you lose …
I think for both Steve and I, he’s talked about this, so I feel like I can represent him on this one, too. I think we both would say the most rewarding years of AOL was when we were just building it. Once it became the big success, that’s just, for real entrepreneurs, sort of not what you want. You always want to be building and striving and risking.
And trying and, you know, I think sometimes when you say, “Okay, it’s done now,” you’re not in the best possible position to do something great. It’s like that comfort zone thing we were talking about.
Right, right. How do you look at it now? Where is it? It’s now …
What are we talking about?
AOL. How do you …
I’m sad. I’m sad. Yeah, I mean I think it was, you know, the absolute right strategy to acquire Time Warner for $164 billion. It’s still the largest merger in US history, and we’re completely saddened that the great company that we built … What I say is, that’s a really great example of culture eats strategy for breakfast, okay, because what happened is those two — and I was gone from the company at this time — but those two cultures really had trouble merging.
And that meant a total failed execution. And, as I said, what happened is some fast followers came in like Facebook, like Twitter, like …
Oh, it’s all AOL. It’s so funny.
Yeah, it is. I mean it really is, and I don’t mean … they tell us that. That’s not my words.
Music services, Spotify.
We had pieces of that, but we just didn’t keep iterating and staying young and scrappy and hungry ourselves as a company. We got a big, fat company with teams that, you know, just couldn’t merge in the way that we had dreamed they would.
I will say, though, for AOL shareholders it worked out. It was the best-performing stock of the 1990s. When we took the company public, I think the valuation was like $70 million, and when we acquired Time Warner that deal was $164 billion, and that was like seven years later.
That was the top, Jean. That was the top.
That was the top, and then it started. Yes, I mean, but it should be a cautionary tale. I write, you know, about Blockbuster and Kodak. I mean, Kodak uitgevonden digital photography. Invented it. But they were making so much money off of their traditional film that they were unwilling to shift over, and what happened? Right? It completely took the company down.
So, why don’t we finish talking about the advice you give to people? Some people aren’t fearless, for example. Some people are not comfortable being certain ways. There’s a lot of books like Sheryl’s Lean In. It’s easy to say, “Be fearless.” It’s hard to do.
Yeah, but I’m really honest in the book with saying being fearless is not the absence of fear. It’s the ability to look it in the eye, stare it down, and push past it.
A lot of people still can’t do that.
I go out of my way to explain, not just me, but so many people I write about in the book had their moments of fear and failure and still do on their journey. But it is digging deep and, you know, I truly try to provide tips and techniques for how to push back that what can sometimes be paralyzing fear.
Now, the good news for all of us is, I do think today a lot of people are gripped with fear. It’s a divided nation. It’s a divided world in many sense. But it’s often in those dark — like what we were saying earlier about urgency conquering fear — it’s in those dark moments of frustration or fear that sometimes it can be just enough to push you out of your comfort zone and say, “Darn it. I’m gonna do it now.”
And, really, some of the best things have come from some of the darkest hours, and I’m hoping that’s the case now. I really feel if more people understood that fear and failure are common and, in some cases, necessary as part of the journey, but they can make you stronger in the end. Even though the book is titled Be Fearless, by no means do I claim to be fearless. I’m just good at pushing past fear.
Uh huh. And give a tip for that. How do people do that?
I tell a very personal story, which was — and again, it’s not a biography, I only have small vignettes to try to bring my own voice into the stories I tell. But I did this Outward Bound-like experience, and I had to climb a telephone pole 30 feet in the air — I’m belayed, so if I fall, I’m going to be caught — to climb it 30 feet in the air and walk across another telephone pole laid on its side. Then come back and come down. I froze at the top. I didn’t think I could do it, and I looked down. And I was a part of a team of five. And I was kind of teary, I was so mortified, and I said to the guide, “I don’t think I can do this. I want to. I don’t think I can do this.” And my throat was cracking, the whole thing. She looked at me. She said, “Okay, Jean, but you could try.”
Oh. Power down, people.
I’m telling you. I know it seems at one level such a simple thing, but then it really made me think, “Okay, if I do try and I fall, so what?” What I don’t want to be is a person that climbed the pole and then fearfully climbed down without getting it done.
I was successful in getting across, and when I came back, she said … We all came down, and you know how they do these almost kumbaya things in a circle. And she said, “So, is there a chance, Jean, that you’ve mostly been doing stuff you knew you’d be good at, that you’re comfortable with?” And I was like, huh. In recent years, I had. Things had gotten pretty comfortable. So I made a list of a number of things that I thought I could never do, and I really want to pause on this because for anyone who’s struggling with this, this is powerful for me. And I took them on, and I learned.
What did you do?
I wanted to become a black belt in TaeKwonDo, and I’d never taken a day of martial arts.
What? Why? Are you a black belt?
I’m a black belt in TaeKwonDo now, and by the way, I got my black belt when I was in my mid-40s.
Oh, good heavens. Good to know. Right.
If you had told me I would someday do flying kicks or … I would have said, that’s never gonna be me.
Are you a crouching dragon or …?
Yeah. But I would have looked at myself and said exactly what people say to themselves every day, “That can’t be me.” But it turns out, with small steps, do one thing every week, if you can, do one thing every day to get yourself a little closer. Work it like a muscle, and eventually, you’ll find you have small successes which can lead to bigger successes, which can eventually make you a little more fearless.
Have you become an assassin or something also? Is that one of your things?
No, but Steve seems to be a lot nicer to me ever since I became a black belt.
Oh my god. I had no idea. That’s one crazy fact I didn’t know about you.
But that’s only one thing. You know, I mean, it’s everything from I said I want to read 52 books in a year. But if I hadn’t been intentional about it and tried, and I did. So, I mean, hard things, small things. But what I was doing was …
What didn’t you do that you wanted to?
Oh, I failed. I failed at a number of things.
Snake charming? What?
Never with snakes. I know I’m chairman of National Geographic, but I’m still workin’ on the love of snakes.
You would like to be a snake charmer. That’s what I would do. You know, it’s interesting. You did a you can try, that type of thing. You didn’t want to be the person … I have a book in me, but you’re going to not like it because it’s a curse. If I was on the top of there and I didn’t want to do it, and someone’s like, “Give it a try,” I’d be like “fuck you” and I’d walk across …
See, I knew we wouldn’t get through the podcast without the f-bomb.
My book should be called “Fuck Them.” That’s my book’s name.
Well, there is a best-seller, unfortunately, with that word.
“Unfortunately,” oh Jean.
Yeah, yeah. You know I don’t like that stuff.
Jean, you’re such a proper girl in that regard.
Yeah, yeah. The children are listening.
Oh no they’re not. They’re not. There’s no children listening, and if they are, they’re smart children. They’re smart, and they’re here to learn about life as it really is.
That word’s going to teach them a lot!
Exactly. So, lastly, when you think about that idea of doing things first, are you positive about our country in that way? Because I’m not right now because I feel like we have lost. Like when you see China with all this innovation going on. You see France, India, and everything else, and this country is in such a tailspin of imagination and also polarization and everything else. It feels like the Russians did a great job with us, using our own faults and fears.
So, I think two things can be true. I’m saddened and hopeful.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say, “We got this!” but I do believe … I’m so inspired by the ideas people have everywhere and what they lack is a way to get in there and take those ideas forward. That’s why I wrote the book, Kara. If I wasn’t hopeful, I probably wouldn’t have written the book. And, again, this is not my advice. This is what, you know, a study of history and contemporary times teaches us about what it takes to break through and find more purpose to make a better world.
And do you feel like the people who have all the money and power have the commitment to it? You see all these very exciting politicians and others talking about more taxes, getting more involved because they don’t seem to do it themselves. They just don’t. It doesn’t seem to be trickling down.
Yeah. I just don’t really necessarily believe that all the best ideas come from government.
I don’t believe they do, either, but I just don’t see …
Well, you know, we did something. I’ll give you an example. It’s a story in the book. We did something with the Obama White House around contests and grand challenges and basically trying to tap the wisdom of citizens across the nation for really big challenges.
So the Ebola suit was one of them, believe it or not, because there were 22 places where the Ebola suit could be compromised and infect the care workers. So these competitions were set up around the nation, and at Johns Hopkins here in Baltimore, a wedding dress designer signed up for one of the teams. Now, she’s sitting there, right, with like rocket scientists and, like, mega-doctors and all this, and she’s a wedding dress designer.
Well, that was the winning design. Why? Because she had leefden the issue of how to get someone in and out of a suit. She knew how to listen and say, “Well, what works for you and what doesn’t?” as you do this and then find ways forward in a very practical manner. To me, that’s such a powerful story because it’s another example of start right where you are. She was a wedding dress designer, and she helped design the new Ebola suit. She was fearless enough to put herself in that situation of sitting at the table and speak up about her ideas. And look at what she was able to do.
So, lastly, one of the things you said the other night when we were talking was that it’s not a question of talent. It’s a question of opportunity.
That really does strike me because I do think there are, especially women, people of color, stuck in places that … who could have solutions to all kinds of problems we have. Like really brilliant people.
They never can get out of wherever they are.
Yeah, although I know that like a lot of times we talk about the downside of tech, but I actually believe what I believed the first day I went into the tech industry, that it is an incredibly empowering tool. I just have this rare opportunity, given the work I’ve done between National Geographic, the Case Foundation, and technology, to have traveled all over the world to the farthest reaches, okay, and small villages. People everywhere have brilliant ideas. We just need to empower them and give them tools and a way to think about taking those ideas forward. We say, “Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.” We’ve just got to make more opportunity.
All right. In that vein, if you had to change one thing right now, what would it be?
Um, who gets the opportunity. No question.
Well, that’s what I’m doing every day, Kara. I mean, I’m so passionate. If you look at what we’re doing at the Case Foundation between what we call our inclusive entrepreneurship work where we’re really trying to build the ecosystem and encourage people to mentor and give capital to. Impact investing, build companies that will change the world, really have major societal impact.
And not just say they do.
And not just say they do, but I mean you can measure it. I think that even just those two things alone could be remarkably powerful, certainly in the near term, but maybe for all time.
And with the kind of stuff that’s been going on this year in tech, where the neg … you know, they’ve done some things.
Yeah, they have.
How do they recover from that? You’re a marketing person.
Yeah, well, as you and I have talked, I think they’re trying to grab a tiger by the tail. This thing has grown really, really big, and they didn’t do the right work of defining the ethos and the ethics and then turning that into action.
So I think companies like Facebook have been saying a lot of the right things. I think most recently they’re trying to talk a little more about the actions they’re taking. But it’s probably going to be a combination of things — including, by the way, regulation.
I think privacy and democracy and freedom and even impacts on children of different things that we do, we have to look at this honestly and make sure … a lot of us got into this business because we believed it would benefit humanity. And I think, as Steve wrote in The Third Wave, in that second wave, which is kind of what we’re seeing right now, out in Silicon Valley, it was really more about drive to value and growth.
Growth, growth, growth. And not consumer empowerment-focused, and we’ve got to get back to that.
Well, that’s a very good thing to end on. Jean Case, thank you so much. Her book is called Be Fearless, and it’s available now. Is that correct?
It is. It came out January 8th, and it’s a national bestseller.
National bestseller, that’s great. It’s 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose. She knows what my new book is going to be called, but we’ll see how that works.
I’ll wait for it, Kara. Thanks so much for today. It’s so fun to be with you.
You wait for it. Thank you so much for being on.