April 6, 2019

Book Reflection: The Third Wave by Steve Case

It's been a few years since this book by Steve Case was published but the book still holds a lot of value. I have to admit, I rarely thought about AOL as a successful company. Part of it was because I grew up in Asia and was far away from where AOL found lots of success as a pioneer in making it easier for everyone to connect to the internet.

The Third Wave by Steve Case
The Third Wave by Steve Case
It's exactly because the internet was so young at the time that the success of AOL was less celebrated globally as some of the more recent tech companies.

As I read through the book, there were a few things that I found interesting which I share below.

Failed AOL merger

The AOL that I knew was from it's failed merger with Time Warner. While the book doesn't go into too much depth on this subject, it did give some insight as to why the merger failed. 

I thought it was interesting to see Mr. Case's perspective and his reflections in hindsight as to why the merger was not successful when everything looked perfect on paper. In his perspective, it came down to internal mistrust and a clash of cultures. A lot to be learned here and likely he could write a whole book just on this subject.

While he made it clear in his book that he was no longer running the merged company at the time, he did take some form of accountability which I thought was brave. 

Working together with Government

Mr. Case was quite adamant about a new wave of companies rising in what he dubbed "The Third Wave". In this Third Wave, companies will no longer be able to go at it alone as the industries it seeks to disrupt and improve will be highly regulated.

He talks quite a bit about his experience working with government in creating policies and feels really strongly about the need for any successful company in the future to work hand in hand with government. He thinks that many companies in Silicon Valley today look at government and it's slow moving bureaucratic processes as a barrier to be overcome instead of a partner to work with.

I don't have a lot of experience here but I thought it was an interesting perspective. I lived most of my life in a developing country where government is not only slow moving but also in most cases corrupt and driving an agenda that benefits the few elite at the expense of the majority. 

However, there are real cases studies for countries that have created policies that spur growth and make it inviting for Third Wave companies to set up shop and thrive. So this is no longer a dream but already reality in some places. We should learn from them.

Building partnerships and taking risks

It was also interesting that in a world that is growing more competitive with seemingly less new ideas out there, Mr. Case still advocates for companies to partner and work together. He even gives industries (healthcare, education) and ideas how to disrupt these industries in his book. He doesn't stop anyone from trying to take these ideas to develop. 

At the end of the book, he even encourages readers to take their own ideas and develop them. He's also personally invested in many startups to help the new generation bring their ideas to fruition.

Not every startup will be successful, but he believes that the future growth of his country is dependent on these new companies having the opportunity to develop and grow. I'm in 100% agreement here and it's important for all sides in a community to nurture and grow young entrepreneurs.


Failure is an option. There is no shame here so long as you take that failure and learn from it to become better.

AOL was a success until it wasn't. Steve Case learned from it. He is generous enough to share what he has learned in this book as well as give his take on what he think it will take for Third Wave companies to succeed.

I think this book is an excellent read for entrepreneurs, business professionals and those in government. 

Have you read this book? I'm happy to hear what you think of it.