Scott Jones, CEO, ChaCha
All or nothing—that's what Scott Jones used to believe. As a twentysomething, the former MIT research scientist kept a futon under his desk so commuting wouldn't deter him from developing the patents that would, in the 1980s, make computerized voice mail as essential to telecom as the dial tone. The hard work paid off: Boston Technology, the firm he cofounded, became a highflier, and Jones earned a whiz-kid reputation.
But sometime after retiring at age 31 with around $50 million, Jones grew unhappy just leisurely flying airplanes. "I realized that when I was just out of MIT, and sometimes didn't sleep and didn't care, that's what turned me on," he says.
Now Jones, 46, has rediscovered his old zone. After returning to his home state of Indiana and founding Gracenote (which supplies song-recognition software to most major online music services), he's so jazzed about ChaCha—his new Internet search engine—that he's working 20-hour days again. The problem with engines like Google, he thought, was that they rely on algorithms to interpret what people are looking for. What if you built human intelligence—with its ability to reason and contextualize—into the system? On ChaCha.com, human guides interact with users to bring back a handful of results that are, in theory, more relevant.
ChaCha may not be the next big thing, but it resembles Jones's first big score in one regard. While competing voice-mail inventors attempted the enormous task of perfecting voice-recognition technology, Jones stuck with basic voice recording. Similarly, while the brains at Google labor to make computers smarter, ChaCha relies on a machine that's pretty smart already: the human brain. And therein lies what you might say is another of Jones's mantras: Why work harder than you have to?
A version of this article appeared in the November 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.