by Peter High, published on Forbes
When one thinks about the companies that laid the foundation of the commercial internet, one thinks of companies like Cisco, AOL, IBM, and Sun Microsystems, among others. Sun was co-founded by Scott McNealy, who did not have a technical background, and yet ran one of the most successful tech-centric companies of ‘80s and ‘90s. The company created Java , Solaris Unix, and the Network File System to name three of many products designed by the company. Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems in 2010 for $7.4 billion, and since then, McNealy has invested in and advised a number of technology companies from his home-base in Silicon Valley.
In 2010, he co-founded Wayin, a social intelligence company that integrates social content into new experiences for consumers and delivers greater value and control for brands. The company recently merged with EngageSciences, a British social media firm that McNealy suggests will give Wayin a dominant position in his space.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this interview, please visit this link. This is the 16th article in the IT Influencers series. To read past interviews with Meg Whitman, Walt Mossberg, Jim Goodnight, Sir James Dyson, and former Mexican President Vicente Fox, among others, please visit this link.)
Peter High: Steve Case recently wrote a book called The Third Wave in which he describes the three waves of the internet: the first wave from 1985 to 1999 of building the internet, laying the foundation, and organizations like AOL, Sun Microsystems, Cisco would typify that; the second wave from, 2000 to maybe 2015, which was exemplified by the app economy, the mobile revolution, certain social and e-commerce startups. Leaders of the second wave include Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Now, he defines this third wave as involving the Internet of Everything—this ubiquitous connectivity that allows entrepreneurs to transform major, real world sectors.
I would love your thoughts as someone who has been a leader across each of these “waves.” Case posits that this third wave is going to look a lot more like the first one than the second one. He highlights that the second required people, products and platforms, but the first added to that the need for greater partnership and an understanding of the nuances of policy and working with the government. I am curious about your own perspectives on that analysis, as well as your own thoughts about the evolution of the internet as you see it.
Scott McNealy: We talked about all this stuff back in the ‘80s and the ‘90s—the Internet of Things. I was on the cover of Fortune with a Java ring on, and it might have been back in the ‘80s, early ‘90s, and I always used to talk about how price lists would go away and everything will be a bid ask, and I said eventually people will bid out their time by the hour and that will be the last frontier unless government can regulate us back into the dark ages again. The second our company saw the browser and the web and threw Java on it, we started talking about the Internet of Things. I used to say everything with a digital, electrical or biological heartbeat would get connected to the Internet, and people looked at me like “what are you talking about?” We said the network was the computer in the ‘80s; now we call it the cloud. That is smarter: it is only one word instead of a few. But all of these concepts were out there. And no price list or bid ask system. But the biggest challenge we have is the meddling of government bureaucrats getting paid off by big companies to prevent the new stuff from happening. Have you ever met anybody who got in an Uber and thought it needed to be regulated? I am talking about a basic consumer, not somebody with a vested interest in a cab company or city revenues. And even cabs now are getting better because Uber came along and just destroyed them, so why do we need to regulate that stuff? So my biggest concern for the future of the internet and the written and spoken language of computing is government intervention. There is so much, massive, government scope creep that they are getting involved in everything now, whether it be net neutrality, whether somebody is an employee or not, healthcare, we have ignorant voters because they are being trained by the government. The government is a monopoly. We know monopolies are inefficient, not innovative, and corrupt. We know that. That is why we have anti-trust laws. Well, the government is a monopoly. Why do we let them do healthcare and education, or even get near banking? It is stunning to me.
High: In 2010 you founded Wayin, a real-time digital marketing software company. Can you describe the original inspiration for the idea? Since it was founded relatively soon after Sun’s acquisition by Oracle, was this something that had been in your head for a while, or was it something you began to think about in earnest upon breaking away from the company?