AOL co-founder Steve Case: Most VCs are lazy, and we think way too much about Silicon Valley

AOL co-founder Steve Case: Most VCs are lazy, and we think way too much about Silicon Valley

by John Cook on November 18, 2016 at 3:48 pmNovember 18, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Kristin Groos Richmond, Founder and CEO of Revolution Foods and Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution and Chairman of Case Foundation. (John Cook / GeekWire Photo)Kristin Groos Richmond, Founder and CEO of Revolution Foods and Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution and Chairman of Case Foundation. (John Cook / GeekWire Photo)

PALM DESERT, Calif.— Silicon Valley may get all of the buzz, and most of the country’s venture capital dollars. But AOL co-founder Steve Case thinks we need to get out of the Silicon Valley bubble, and talk more about entrepreneurship and what it means in different pockets of the country.

“We also think too much about Silicon Valley to be honest with you. I am proud of Silicon Valley. There are great things happening in Silicon Valley. Great things will continue to happen in Silicon Valley,” said Case, who was speaking at the EY Strategic Growth Forum on Friday afternoon. “But there are also great things happening in Detroit and Des Moines and Madison and Atlanta and New Orleans and Buffalo and Chicago, and all over the country. And we need to tell more of those stories, and we need to get more capital. Right now, most venture capitalists are lazy. They want to get in the car and drive to the entrepreneur.”

case-4img_1049-2As far as Case is concerned, there are great entrepreneurial stories happening all over the country, but it tends to get overshadowed by Silicon Valley. And while companies such as WhatsApp may sell for $22 billion, the messaging service only employed about 55 people.

Case said that’s a great outcome, but a company that sold for $22 billion years ago would have employed 50,000 people or more. And there are amazing stories of entrepreneurship — and job creation — in other cities far from Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road.

In other words, there’s more to entrepreneurship in his view than just the whopping exit.

Case also pleaded with the entrepreneurs in the room to not only focus on building companies, but also investing in their communities.

“How do you create a stronger startup community?” asked Case, adding that it is imperative for those entrepreneurs who’ve met with success to lift up others in the community.

The arrogance that some have in Silicon Valley that naiveté is a competitive advantage, if you know nothing about the sector you can look at it in a new way. There is some truth to that. But I actually think if you want to change health care, having some sense of what doctors and hospitals think, that makes sense.

The comments by Case, chairman of venture capital firm Revolution and a member of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, echo the theme of more regional entrepreneurship that he’s been touting under the mantra of “rise of the rest.

In fact, Case has been conducting “rise of the rest” bus tours where he’s visited places like Pittsburgh, the once industrial powerhouse that’s now turning into an epicenter for autonomous vehicle research. Uber and others are investing heavily in Pittsburgh, but Case said those stories don’t get heard over the din of Silicon Valley.

“The arrogance that some have in Silicon Valley that naiveté is a competitive advantage, if you know nothing about the sector you can look at it in a new way. There is some truth to that,” said Case. “But I actually think if you want to change health care, having some sense of what doctors and hospitals think, that makes sense. If you want to change education, having some sense of teachers and universities think, makes sense. If you want to change agriculture, having some sense of how farmers think about things and some of their challenges, makes sense. You need to do that all across the country, not just on the coasts.”

John Cook is GeekWire's co-founder and editor, a veteran reporter and the longest-serving journalist on the Pacific Northwest tech startup beat. Follow him @johnhcook and email john@geekwire.com.

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