Back in 1988, AOL co-founder Steve Case thought he had struck gold with his new partnership.

The then-CEO of a company known as Quantum Computer Services, Case spent six months securing a licensing deal with Apple to launch an online service called AppleLink. During that time, Case told Inc. editor James Ledbetter at the GrowCo Conference in New Orleans on Tuesday, he had to move from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco and visit Apple headquarters every day until they said yes.

But, as Case recalls, his optimism turned to panic a year later, when Apple said that they wanted out.

"They said, 'You know, we actually don't really like the fact that you have our brand name,' and we kind of freaked out," Case said.

According to Case, Apple paid him a few million dollars to "go away." Fortuitously, he was able to use that money to develop the massively successful America Online service, in 1991.

"That crisis, that near-death experience actually propelled us to our next level of growth," Case said.

Today, Case is focused on selling the rest of the world on another big idea, what he calls "The Third Wave" of the internet, which is the subject of his 2016 book. The first wave of this technological revolution centered around creating services (like AOL) to get people online, he said, while the second wave involved building software and services like Facebook and Twitter on top of the internet. The third wave will be about finding ways to integrate the internet seamlessly into people's everyday lives, in sectors like health care, agriculture, and education.

In order to succeed in the third wave, Case said, entrepreneurs need to focus on three P's. The first is perseverance--understanding that "If they want to change the world, it's not going to happen overnight." Second is policy--working with the government to create and alter regulations that fit these third wave companies. The third is partnerships, like AOL built in its early days.

"There's an African proverb I cite in my book," Case said. "'If you want to go quickly you can go alone; if you want to go far, you must go together.'"

Published on: May 9, 2017