At 36, the man best known for founding online superstore Buy.com Inc. has started four companies, made three fortunes, lost two and emerged as one of the pivotal players in the Southland's technology industry.
Despite a resume that features enough failure and controversy to curb a more timid person's appetite for risk, Scott Blum keeps upping the ante--and persuading some of the industry's most respected names to gamble on him.
Blum's current project is his most grandiose yet: creating a national chain of incubators-cum-training-centers for tech entrepreneurs, with the first campus slated to open in November in south Orange County.
Now called Enfrastructure, he hopes the venture could give Idealab in Pasadena a run for its money and boost Orange County's efforts to become a tech hub--if it ever gets off the drawing board.
"I have more faith in Enfrastructure than I did in Buy.com," Blum said. "There's not a big venture-capital community in Orange County. [Irvine-based computer chip developer] Broadcom is by far the biggest success, but we need 20 of them because the Bay Area has 50."
So far, after more than six months of whispers and maneuvering, Enfrastructure still exists mostly in theory. But the buzz about it speaks volumes about Blum's growing industry profile--and skill at self-promotion.
"It's sort of like Donald Trump," said Scott Russell, a general partner at Softbank Corp., the giant Japanese investment company that owns a chunk of Buy.com. "One minute he's brilliant, the other he's aggravating. He always wants to build the biggest building."
Trump has his tower.
Blum is piecing together a low-slung, suburban empire in Aliso Viejo's hills. The epicenter is at ThinkTank.com, the venture-capital company he plunked down next door to Buy.com last year after relinquishing day-to-day control of the nation's fifth-largest electronic retailer.
Buy.com's public offering in February briefly made Blum one of Orange County's billionaires, but he's had little time for ticker-watching as the market soured on Internet businesses, reducing his paper fortune from almost $1.9 billion to about $314 million.
Prowling his office, Blum is palpably impatient.
As you talk, he breaks in with staccato yah, yah, yahs, already knowing where you're headed, already knowing what his response will be. His business attention span is similar, as compressed as a Zip disk, as fleet as the BMW motorcycle displayed in ThinkTank's reception area.
A big, white board hangs on one wall, covered with the names of embryonic "dot-coms": EJets.com. Buymedical.com. Fax.com. Just a few of the hundreds of business concepts that swirl through Blum's mind like guitar riffs.
"He's an idea machine," said Greg Hawkins, Blum's replacement at the helm of Buy.com. "It's like trying to take a drink out of a fire hydrant."
Enfrastructure, formerly called EDevelopments Inc., is special, though, Blum says.
With partner James Watson, a former executive at Newport Beach real estate developer Koll Co., Blum has envisioned a college-like setting for businesses. Tech start-ups would move into ready-made wired environments surrounded by restaurants, shops and on-site services to help with everything from accounting to tax law.
"[Enfrastructure] is, by far, my loftiest goal," Blum said. "I'm an entrepreneur, and I want to help other entrepreneurs succeed."
The venture has stumbled somewhat out of the gate. Executives initially said they would unveil the business in February, but it still hasn't happened. After setting its sights on 42 acres of expensive real estate in Irvine, the company scaled back its plan and leased a smaller Aliso Viejo space.
"It's either going to be the biggest flop in America or the biggest success," he said cheerily.
Out of the Pool, Into Hot Water
Blum's first lessons about winning and losing came in the swimming pool, where he began racing seriously at 5 and became a national champion at 8. His family moved from San Jose, where his father had worked as an engineer and marketing executive for Hewlett-Packard Co., to Orange County partly so that Scott could join the elite Mission Viejo Nadadores swim club.
But Blum quit swimming when he was 16 and, after that, his life spun a bit out of control.
He was kicked out of Mission Viejo High in his junior year for driving the principal's golf cart into the school pool. His parents sent him to live with family friends outside Denver, where he buckled down and earned his diploma.
When he returned to Southern California, he sold shoes at Nordstrom's, parked cars at the Ritz-Carlton resort and attended Saddleback College, pecking away at a never-completed associate's degree without a goal in sight.
But a professor's challenge to upgrade antiquated Apple computers led Blum to find a way to replicate expensive gear at one-eighth the price. Using that idea and $17,000 borrowed from his father, he founded MicroBanks to sell memory modules for Apple computers.