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Sept. 23, 2022, 12:51 p.m. EDT

Steve Case of AOL sees parallels to dot-com era in today’s challenging tech climate

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By Jon Swartz

Steve Case has endured the dot-com bomb in the early 2000s and the media deals of that era. He sees some parallels two decades later.

“There is a little bit of media and internet business still trying to converge again … and trying to figure out how to scale such deals” amid macroeconomic headwinds and a correctional phase in the tech market, Case said at the Best New Ideas in Money conference in New York on Wednesday.

The cofounder of AOL and author of the forthcoming “The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places Are Building the New American Dream” knows a thing or two about treacherous megamedia mergers. He was at the helm of AOL when it traversed a troubled corporate coupling with Time-Warner Inc. in 2000.

Now, he casts a dubious if sympathetic eye toward Warner Bros. Discover Inc. /zigman2/quotes/200511275/composite WBD -4.80% , the star-crossed union of AT&T Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T -1.57% spinoff of WarnerMedia with Discovery Inc. in April.

With a possible Senate vote on key tech legislation this week, Case is in favor of regulation but with a Three Bears approach — not too severe, but not too lenient. It’s a balancing act, he acknowledged, but necessary as tech titans Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -2.63% , Alphabet Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/202490156/lastsale GOOGL -1.45% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -1.38% Google, Amazon.com Inc. /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +0.58% , and Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite META -2.36% accumulate vast riches in revenue and dominant market share coursing through the U.S. economy.

For now, his focus remains on bringing tech startups and jobs to cities and towns between the coasts — the major theme of his book. It’s been an onerous chore with a staggering 75% of tech venture capital still going to California, New York, Massachusetts and the other major tech hubs.

“The idea is of a more level playing field,” Case said. He said the pandemic and the tectonic shift of employees to working from home has accelerated the decampment of tech workers and resources from Silicon Valley and elsewhere to the Midwest and South.

“Detroit a hundred years ago was essentially Silicon Valley,” Case said. “Silicon Valley was growing fruit [then]. But Detroit lost its way and eventually went bankrupt. Now, it is coming back with a few tech companies. It shows what is possible in starting a company” outside the San Francisco Bay Area and New York.

Get insights on investing and managing your finances. Speakers include investors Josh Brown and Vivek Ramaswamy; plus, topics such as ESG investing, EVs, space and fintech. The Best New Ideas in Money Festival continues Thursday. Register to attend in person or virtually.

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