"I don't spend a lot of time reflecting on the woulda-shoulda-coulda stuff," he said. "My view is that AOL was a wonderful journey and we built a significant company and strategically it was logical to merge with Time Warner. And it hasn't worked out, you know, the way any of us would have hoped.
Steve Case's New Act: You've Got Revolution!
Without a trace of self-consciousness, Stephen M. Case calls his new company Revolution. "It struck me that Revolution might be a good name," he said, "because it does sort of summarize the approach we're trying to bring to bear, which is not an incremental, tweaking kind of thing, but really to take some risks and swing for the fences and to have a transformative impact on society, as well as to build significant businesses in the process."
Mr. Case, 46, started Revolution, a private holding company, in April, two years after quitting as chairman of AOL Time Warner (now simply Time Warner). With at least $500 million of his own money committed to this venture, he is determined to shake up a lucrative sliver of the health care industry by buying and building companies that help people take care of themselves.
Outlining Revolution's business model, Mr. Case uses the rhetoric of what was once called the new economy, circa 1999: Revolution will have "transformative impacts," "transformative disruptive impacts" and "accelerating impacts." It will also "accelerate tipping points."
Once you translate all that into plain English, one thing becomes clear: Mr. Case wants to create another AOL. Revolution's Web site puts it this way: "We don't just aim for a return—we seek to make history."
The idea for Revolution came to him slowly, Mr. Case said in an interview. During his first few months of unemployment in 2003, he considered devoting himself to philanthropy. But that was not really his calling, he realized, though he was happy to make charitable contributions through the Case Foundation.
"To me," he said, "the biggest take-away of the AOL experience is that if, instead of founding AOL 20 years ago with Jim Kimsey and Marc Seriff, I had instead set up a foundation or a kind of society-for-a-more-interactive world, and was kind of a think tank on the notion of interactivity, we'd still be having annual fund-raising dinners and probably wouldn't have much of an impact."
That's how Mr. Case talks, in streams of long-winded, complex sentences. He rushed ahead: "Instead, I put a team together that actually built a business that happened to be a significant, valuable business that at one point was worth over $100 billion, but also happened to have as much of an impact as any company in really ushering in a more, you know, electronic frontier."
Finally, he got to the point: "So, I said, maybe, you know, I should keep doing that. Instead of taking some other path, maybe I should go back in the garage, if you will, and focus my time and attention on the thing I think I do well and that I love, which is building businesses. But not just building any business: if it's not a business that really touches consumers and really improves their lives, and if it's not a business that has the potential for significant potential—meaning multibillion-dollar potential—I don't want to do it."
So far, in its brief history, Revolution has bought majority stakes in three companies that touch or are intended to touch consumers: Wisdom Media, whose cable and radio networks are devoted to, in the words of the company's Web site, "personal growth, spirituality and purposeful living, health and wellness and sustainability of the earth"; Miraval, a spa and resort north of Tucson that Mr. Case believes could one day be the "Nike of wellness" (the brand, not the goddess of victory); and Exclusive Resorts, a sort of time-share business that calls itself a "luxury residence club."
Any day now, Revolution will announce six health care deals. Mr. Case won't reveal the specifics, but here are some of the areas he is interested in:
• Online reviews and rankings of doctors and hospitals.
• Information and breaking news about medical ailments and treatments.
• Software and tools that let people manage their medical records online.
• Health "concierges" or "coaches" who help patients navigate the medical system.
• Walk-in medical clinics where, say, in 15 minutes and for $39, you can discover whether your child has an ear infection.
At first glance, health care may not have a lot in common with the Internet. From Mr. Case's point of view, however, health care in 2005 reminds him of the early years of the Internet: chaotic and disorganized and, most of all, intimidating to the average consumer.
"I realized when I was reflecting both on what I had done and what I was doing that there were more similarities than differences," he said, drawing a parallel between AOL and Revolution. "I like building businesses that empower consumers by giving them more choice and control and convenience and have the power to have a transformative, disruptive impact on large, traditional, often-slow-moving industries."
In other words, as he proved at AOL, Mr. Case is good at simplifying and demystifying things that improve people's lives. It's hard to remember now, but America Online was once a great company. Inspired by "The Third Wave," Alvin Toffler's futuristic book from 1980, and fueled by the belief that he was building something that would absolutely change the world, Mr. Case buried the competition—powerful opponents like CompuServe, Prodigy, GEnie and The Source—by promoting America Online as a simple online service for the masses.
By 1999, AOL, which Mr. Case had built in just 15 years, was worth twice as much as Berkshire Hathaway, and more than McDonald's, Philip Morris and PepsiCo combined. Mr. Case himself, then 40 and worth $1.5 billion, was an American icon.
Of course, that was before the disastrous AOL Time Warner deal of 2001, the one in which $200 billion of shareholder value evaporated. Angry employees and shareholders blamed Mr. Case personally for the mess at AOL Time Warner. But, so what?
Undeterred by his setback, he stood up, brushed the dust off his pleated khakis and eventually started again with Revolution. "I don't spend a lot of time reflecting on the woulda-shoulda-coulda stuff," he said. "My view is that AOL was a wonderful journey and we built a significant company and strategically it was logical to merge with Time Warner. And it hasn't worked out, you know, the way any of us would have hoped. But my time and attention and energy is, I think, best focused on the future and on building new businesses that can have the kind of impact in these new markets, like health care, that AOL had in the media and communications sector."
In the revised history of Steve Case, chairman and C.E.O. of Revolution, the AOL Time Warner deal was a blip. Now, using the first 10 years of AOL as his backdrop, Mr. Case presents himself as a frontiersman and a missionary committed to improving the lot of consumers. "I've always been, because of the nature of AOL in its early days, an insurgent at the gates trying to have disruptive impact," he said, carefully distancing himself from the bureaucrats at Time Warner.
So, was the AOL Time Warner deal a mistake? There was a long pause. "I'm not going to comment on that," Mr. Case said.
I took another tack: If Time Warner made a decision to sell AOL, would he consider buying it?
"I have no comment on anything related to Time Warner," he said firmly. "I'm focused on the future, not the past. Now, I'm going to have to run here, because I've got someone waiting."