LEADING QUESTIONS: Inside the mind of Scott Jones

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Leading Questions

Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses and civic leaders to talk shop about their latest projects and the decisions that lead to success.

Scott Jones, 50, has achieved a legendary status among Indiana entrepreneurs, thanks to several game-changing technological advances that one can legitimately claim have changed the way people work and play.

At 25, he co-founded the firm Boston Technology Inc., where he invented a version of voice mail now said to be in use by some 2 billion people worldwide. In 1996, he co-founded Escient LLC, which sought to merge the Internet, digital data and devices to ease access to entertainment and information. That led to Gracenote, one of the first companies to develop music recognition software now at the heart of digital music products. Currently, he’s CEO of ChaCha Search Inc., an online-and-mobile search service that allows users to call in or text questions to live attendants (or a well-stocked database of related queries) in order to get a direct answer.

A graduate of North Central High School, Jones focused on math and physics at Indiana University in Bloomington and graduated in 1984 with a bachelor’s of science degree and a major in computer science.  He was faced with a crucial decision: whether to take a lucrative gig as a programmer or accept a pittance working at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the video at top, Jones discusses his decision and how that led to his breakthrough with voice mail. He also reveals a formative experience at his first high school in Louisville, Ky., where at a towering 6-foot-5 he overcame his essential nerdiness and played center on the basketball team.

As a youngster, Jones was a poster child for precociousness. As one frequently told family story goes, he completely disassembled his mother’s IBM Selectric typewriter to figure out how it worked, and then reassembled it with such care that it still operated properly. He also had a keen interest in entrepreneurial pursuits, staging haunted houses in his basement and constructing miniature golf courses in his backyard.

He also would mount lemonade stands on a whim, which he now realizes taught him early lessons in investment, production and marketing. Through his foundation Think Forward, Jones in 2010 spearheaded the Indianapolis debut of Lemonade Day, a nationwide event that encourages children to set up their own stands and consider issues such as planning, budgeting and customer service. In the video below, Jones details the results from the local event, which inspired more than 7,400 one-day beverage businesses.

Jones maintains a file cabinet of thousands of ideas at his home in Carmel, but the biggest of them all came early in his career as he struggled to create a version of then-fledgling voice mail technology that could be expanded to a city- or region-wide scale. In the video below, Jones details the outside-the-box solution he dreamed up, as well as the fortuitous discovery of a key piece of technology in another entrepreneur’s garage.


  • Chacha Explained
    I think Chacha is an interesting business but they do a lot more than just Q&A these days, and its not obvious to many why what they're doing is so potentially profitable. I would love to see someone breakdown their business and explain the product vision as well as the business economics. It could be very educational and informative for a local tech scene that doesn't see a lot of examples of the business model Chacha is pursuing.
  • The video is there on my end.
    Michael: There are three videos on this page. If you aren't seeing them then you may need to install flash or another video player ...
  • Where's the video?
    Video seems to be missing from this page.

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  1. With Pence running the ship good luck with a new government building on the site. He does everything on the cheap except unnecessary roads line a new beltway( like we need that). Things like state of the art office buildings and light rail will never be seen as an asset to these types. They don't get that these are the things that help a city prosper.

  2. Does the $100,000,000,000 include salaries for members of Congress?

  3. "But that doesn't change how the piece plays to most of the people who will see it." If it stands out so little during the day as you seem to suggest maybe most of the people who actually see it will be those present when it is dark enough to experience its full effects.

  4. That's the mentality of most retail marketers. In this case Leo was asked to build the brand. HHG then had a bad sales quarter and rather than stay the course, now want to go back to the schlock that Zimmerman provides (at a considerable cut in price.) And while HHG salesmen are, by far, the pushiest salesmen I have ever experienced, I believe they are NOT paid on commission. But that doesn't mean they aren't trained to be aggressive.

  5. The reason HHG's sales team hits you from the moment you walk through the door is the same reason car salesmen do the same thing: Commission. HHG's folks are paid by commission they and need to hit sales targets or get cut, while BB does not. The sales figures are aggressive, so turnover rate is high. Electronics are the largest commission earners along with non-needed warranties, service plans etc, known in the industry as 'cheese'. The wholesale base price is listed on the cryptic price tag in the string of numbers near the bar code. Know how to decipher it and you get things at cost, with little to no commission to the sales persons. Whether or not this is fair, is more of a moral question than a financial one.