Inside the mind of a crazy (rich) inventor

Scott Jones thinks up more ideas in a month than most folks do in a lifetime. Find out how he makes them pay.

By Julie Sloane, FSB contributor

(FSB Magazine) Indianapolis -- You probably don't know the name Scott Jones, but chances are his life has touched yours. Checked your voicemail lately? You've got Jones to thank. Pop a CD in your computer, and iTunes brings up the track names. That feature comes from another of Jones's companies, Gracenote. When Indiana last year adopted daylight savings time, it was Jones who pushed hardest for the change. The roller coaster at the Indianapolis Zoo? Jones. Dinosaur skeletons at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis? Made possible in part by the Scott A. Jones Foundation.

Most folks in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel (pronounced like the candy) know their wealthy, energetic neighbor as "the guy who invented voicemail." In the early '90s Jones made about $50 million on his company, which created the predominate form of voicemail, and he "retired" at age 31. But he found he wasn't the kind of entrepreneur who could just fly off into the sunset in his helicopter. Over the past two decades this driven inventor has been generating ideas for new products and companies - some were successful, others hit the scrap heap - at a pace that would make Thomas Edison's head spin.

Brainstorm: Jones (at his Indiana estate) works out new ideas, including one for the web.

Jones's latest company, ChaCha (, is developing a potential rival to Google - a search engine assisted by human experts who will help you find your answer. And here's what Jones claims to have on deck: self-propelled robotic lawn mowers, a method to sequence your entire DNA in one minute, a way to make humans fly.

From anyone else these might seem the ravings of a madman. But Jones backs up his ideas with a fortune he estimates to be worth $150 million, a brain that lets him keep pace with the geekiest of scientists, and a knack for managing startups. His ambition is to change the way people live, and he figures that any one of his half a dozen or so new startups could do just that.

We were intrigued by his latest ideas, but even more so by how he conjures them, culls them, and inspires a team to nurture them. Just what, we wondered, goes on inside the head of this quintessential American inventor?  Top of page

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