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Steve Case's Reddit AMA Reveals Striking Apology From Former Teen Hacker

America Online co-founder Steve Case answers questions about startups, impact investing, and all those free AOL CDs.
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Reddit’s Ask-Me-Anything with AOL co-founder Steve Case got off to an interesting start, when a questioner said that, at age 15, he had become the target of a federal investigation after he hacked into Steve Case’s online accounts in an attempt to impersonate him. The questioner then took the opportunity to apologize to Case.

"Yikes!" replied Case. "Well, I'm glad you got this off your chest! :)" Case went on to say that when he first met Mark Zuckerberg, Zuckerberg told him he had learned how to program by hacking AOL's instant messenger service, AIM. "Thankfully," said Case, "rather than focusing on bring[ing] AOL down, he shifted to build Facebook up!"

The rest of the AMA was wide-ranging, with Case giving relentlessly positive answers to a variety of questions and quite possibly blowing through his entire monthly quota of exclamation points. A number of entrepreneurs asked how to get the attention of Case as an investor, but Case seemed to prefer questions related to his mission with UP Global, a non-profit that aims to empower startup community leaders and entrepreneurs. Here are some of the highlights:

Advice for entrepreneurs looking to build "100 year" companies: Case compared companies "built to last" with companies "built to flip," saying, "I hope over time more entrepreneurs will … focus on revolutionizing learning or health care or energy or transportation. These are big challenges--and frankly harder challenges--that will require more patience and more partnerships and often more engagements with governments--but ultimately have the potential to have a broader impact on society … So swing for the fences!"

On the Internet’s role in politics: "We need to use the Internet to rebuild a sensible center in politics. About 30 percent of people say they are Democrats and another 30 percent say they are Republicans. The other 40 percent are independent and want less noise and more compromise. But their voices don’t get heard. We need this "silent majority" to rise up, and the Internet can play a role."

Advice for recent graduates: "It is going to be more common to jump sectors--maybe starting in business, then going to a nonprofit, or vice versa. So the key is to remain curious, always be learning, and meeting new people. By exposing yourself to people and ideas you maximize the likelihood of bumping into an idea or an opportunity that can change your life--and perhaps also change the world!"

On the minimum wage: "I lean toward supporting an increase in the minimum wage but I think it is even more important that we take steps to rebuild the idea of the American dream which includes giving people the tools to create better lives."

On B Corps and investing for social impact: "I'm a fan of B Corps. I think a growing generation of entrepreneurs and investors want to think out of the box and rather than just be focused on profit [or purpose] they'll want to pursue hybrid models. … We believe impact investing is at a tipping point…. Just as we saw startups and venture capital develop over the past fifty years, we think we'll see social enterprises and impact investing develop over the next fifty years."

"Those discs AOL would send in the mail were so damn annoying:" "Yeah, I know, they were annoying to some, maybe for many. But we also provided a lot of people with a lot of free discs to use for other purposes! And we did help get America online, which was the idea."

Click for the entire text of the Ask-Me-Anything with Steve Case.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Apr 23, 2014

KIMBERLY WEISUL | Staff Writer | Inc.com Editor-at-Large

Kimberly Weisul is editor-at-large at Inc. and co-founder of One Thing New, the digital media startup that is rebooting women's content. She was previously a senior editor at BusinessWeek.




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