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. If I were a developer I would be looking at the Fountain Square and Fletcher Place neighborhoods instead of Broad Ripple. I would avoid the dysfunctional BRVA with all of their headaches. It's like deciding between a Blackberry or an iPhone 5s smartphone. BR is greatly in need of updates. It has become stale and outdated. Whereas Fountain Square, Fletcher Place and Mass Ave have become the "new" Broad Ripples. Every time I see people on the strip in BR on the weekend I want to ask them, "How is it you are not familiar with Fountain Square or Mass Ave? You have choices and you choose BR?" Long vacant storefronts like the old Scholar's Inn Bake House and ZA, both on prominent corners, hurt the village's image. Many business on the strip could use updated facades. Cigarette butt covered sidewalks and graffiti covered walls don't help either. The whole strip just looks like it needs to be power washed. I know there is more to the BRV than the 700-1100 blocks of Broad Ripple Ave, but that is what people see when they think of BR. It will always be a nice place live, but is quickly becoming a not-so-nice place to visit.

  2. I sure hope so and would gladly join a law suit against them. They flat out rob people and their little punk scam artist telephone losers actually enjoy it. I would love to run into one of them some day!!

  3. Biggest scam ever!! Took 307 out of my bank ac count. Never received a single call! They prey on new small business and flat out rob them! Do not sign up with these thieves. I filed a complaint with the ftc. I suggest doing the same ic they robbed you too.

  4. Woohoo! We're #200!!! Absolutely disgusting. Bring on the congestion. Indianapolis NEEDS it.

  5. So Westfield invested about $30M in developing Grand Park and attendance to date is good enough that local hotel can't meet the demand. Carmel invested $180M in the Palladium - which generates zero hotel demand for its casino acts. Which Mayor made the better decision?