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November 17, 2022 31 mins

After a brief stint as a Blackjack dealer, Mike Meldman thought he’d try his hand as a real estate developer. Cut to the present: Mike and his team at Discovery Land Company have created over thirty luxury communities worldwide. But Mike is not just providing four walls and a roof: he’s providing community. Bob sits down to find out how Mike has achieved that— and where Casamigos, the award-winning tequila brand Mike co-founded, fits in.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
You're listening to Math and Magic, a production of I
Heart Radio. With everything I do, the product is always
the best it can be and if it's not, I
won't do it or put my name on it. And
no matter where we are, whether Whai, Bahamas Barbuddha, Portugal

(00:23):
or Nashville, we've strived to be the best community in
that area. Hi. I'm Bob Pittman, and welcome to Math
and Magic Stories from the Frontiers and Marketing. On this episode,
we have someone who practices magic. He creates whole communities
and populates them with exactly the right people for each location.

(00:45):
He's also used that magic to create one of the
most successful tequila's ever. He's Mike Melban, the chairman, founder
of Discovery Land Company and co founder of Casa Amigos Tequila.
Mike was born in Milwaukee, moved to Arizona in the
seventh aid, and set the world on fire as a kid.
Straight a student who was active and successful in the

(01:06):
top extra curriculars. He went on to Stanford and after college,
started as a blackjack dealer in Lake Tahoe and then
began a forty year career in real estate and development.
He has created over thirty Discovery Land communities, and they
have all been creative breakthroughs and set a new gold standard.
His tequila, which he launched the George Clooney and Randy Gerber,

(01:28):
was an instant success and continues its meteoric growth. He's
made a few movie and TV cameos and even has
a dish named after him at the Weymous Craig's in
l A. But most important, he's a good guy who
everyone loves and respects. Mike. Welcome, Thanks, Bob. I appreciate that, Mike.
We've got lots to dig into today, but I want

(01:48):
to start with a warm up. You in sixty seconds already.
Do you prefer golf or football? Playing golf and watching football,
comedy or drama? Comedy on the rocks or straight up
on the rocks? Early riser or night owl? Both introvert
or extrovert. A lot of people think introvert, but mostly extrovert.

(02:10):
Arizona or California, California, Crypto or dollars dollars Tequila or
Mescal tequila. Casa Amigoes or Casa Dragon. I love them both,
but I have to say Casa Honey, truffle or barbecue
honey truffle with real truffle text or call Okay, it's
gonna get a little harder here. Childhood hero, my grandfather.

(02:33):
Smartest person you know, Bill Campbell. Favorite Discovery Land Community,
El Dorado. First job courtesy clerk at Lucky Stores. Secret talent,
it's a secret. That's good enough. Favorite movie, pulp fiction.
If you could have just one superpower, what would it be? Teleporting?

(02:57):
Let's get started. You found the Discovery Land Company in
n and your website defines the company as a US
based real estate developer and operator of private residential communities
and resorts with a world renowned portfolio of domestic and
international properties. Your communities include Baker's Bay and the Bahamas,

(03:17):
The Summit in Las Vegas, Iron Horse and Yellowstone Club
in Montana, Eldorado and Las Cabos, Mexico, North Shore Preserve
in Hawaii, and obviously lots of others. These are all
characterized by the A crowd residents and those are creatives,
business types, tech, remarkable, blend the people in a sort
of remarkably casual yet well designed surroundings. And you have

(03:42):
service that puts most upscale hotels and resorts to shame.
How do you describe that vision that brought you here
and how did you develop that idea? The vision came
and I bought my first project in Arizona, and I
wasn't a golfer. I never played golf, and I was

(04:03):
never a member of a country club. So my first
project I did was Astonsia in Scottsdale, and the whole
project time, it just came about a little more organically
because I did it on the way I wanted to live,
and at the time I was really young, maybe thirty
four thirty five years old. The communities are very casual

(04:26):
because when I started them, I didn't grow up with
a golf background in a country club background, so I
didn't understand the formalities of it, like how to dress
and how to act, and so I would bring my
kids their thirty four and thirty two now, but when
they were five and seven, I wanted them to learn
how to golf, so they would golf as an adult

(04:48):
because I didn't know how to golf. And I remember
taking them to Astancia and said, hey, you guys got
to put on a colored shirt, and they said, I
don't want to put on a colored shirt. And I
said we'll put it on, and they said no, and
so my attitude does well, I'm here to have fun
with them, not to fight with them. So I said, okay,
don't wear one. What do I care? And so we

(05:09):
went out in shorts and a T shirt. So that's
kind of how the casualness of our places came about.
And then it turned to kind of be disruptive to
the to the golf industry because I also would blast
rock and roll on the driving range, because again i'd
be on the drive range. I don't really like golf
that I like rock and roll, so I'd listened to that.

(05:33):
We have comfort stations on the golf course, which are
little many restaurants and bars. So when you go into those,
you get a margarita and ice cream, pizza, burgers, basically
whatever you want. And those started when my kids were young. Again,
they didn't want to golf, and I was trying to

(05:54):
make them golf and learn how to golf. And so
it virtually started by me pretty a cooler on a
tea box of cokes and candy bars, and my kids
would just run to the tea box, drink a coke,
eat a candy bar, try to hit a ball and
run down the fairway to the next tea box to

(06:15):
get another coke and candy bar. Now trying not the
best paranting idea, but it was a good golf idea.
And those coolers have turned into those comfort stations, and
so the whole relaxed atmosphere on the golf course I
think has been revolutionary for golf. And I think it

(06:36):
actually is important to help grow the game of golf,
because golf courses can be intimidating if you don't know
the rules. So I tried to take that out of it.
And then I think our service level is so much
better than most places. Everybody knows each other, the level

(06:58):
of service becomes more intimate, so I think the members
and the community feel more vested in it. People are
very happy to be there, appreciative to be there, and
respectful not only one another but the staff. So when
you first started this, did you get pushed back from
people though of going to that limit or did everybody

(07:18):
sort of embrace it and get it? Intuitively? I think
everyone got it. But as the company grew and we grew,
kind of the legend of the conversation grew, and so
every new project and everyone who works for me and
is on the project. They want to make the next
one better, better and better, and so fortunately I've been

(07:41):
doing this along that we keep improving on the product.
So it's almost become competitive amongst the general managers of
different projects to make sure they have the best food,
the best ideas, and they push it to the best
and so's it's rather competitive and things get better for

(08:01):
the members. Let's talk about food for a minute, because
we're talking about comfort food, and yet at every one
of your communities you've also got some spectacular, high end food.
How do you think about food and what world it plays?
And then also talk a little bit about design, because
you also have a remarkably cohesive design for communities where

(08:21):
people build their own homes. One of the reasons why
I've been so successful is that the whole community is
integrated together with every aspect of it. We're very active,
obviously on the design side, because one of our main
killers is to embrace the local culture and environment. Everything

(08:42):
we do, we're trying to be authentic to the place
we're at, and so sometimes it might be my version
of authenticity for the place, like at Tokio in Hawaii,
I wanted romantic Hawaii. So I remember the architects bringing
me all this stuff. Well, this is romantic and it
was all like temptation style type of housing because that's

(09:04):
what the king lived in and you know, so that
was their interpretation of luxury and romance. And I said, well,
my romantic vision of Hawaii is kinda village, because kind
of village was like huts with that roots. It came
out beautifully authentic and where one of one. There are
a lot of let's say, hotel companies where you can

(09:26):
build a hotel in Maui and it's basically the same
hotel they build in Cleveland, and that seems just too easy.
So we literally customized every building, every project, you know,
for the environment and culture that it's in. On the
food front, food has become a huge part of our communities.
We have gardens and farms and even zoos at all

(09:51):
our projects in order to get fresh vegetables and organic
produce because like Bahamas, you know, you buy your food
Francisco or one of the food purveyors and we we go, okay,
let's get organic lettuce. Well, by the time it shows
up at Baker's Bay, it's soggy, and bron So we

(10:12):
had to grow all our own food in order to
provide the quality that we want and that the members want.
So all that stuff evolves as we go. Today's foods
a big deal, organics a big deal. People want to
live a healthier lifestyle, so it's really become a focus

(10:32):
for all discovery. You don't sell land and build infrastructure,
You curate and build communities. What is the key to
building a community? That's not an easy task? How do
you make that happen? I always tell my sales guys
and all our people, you gotta get the first buyer.
So it's really important to establish that first person with

(10:54):
our vision of how we see the community building out
and becoming, and and as people come in, it obviously
changes a little bit of personality because in these communities
they come from all lots of life. And so when
you're at Yellowstone or McKenna or Baker's Bay, wherever you are,

(11:15):
there's always interesting conversations. It's always easy to make and
new friends. If you buy in one of our communities,
you make new friends. So your communities basically allow people
to disconnect from the world. How do you think about
online offline and the role of your community plays and
people disconnecting, and also how does it relate to the

(11:36):
electronic world. I think you know since COVID and with COVID,
it gave people a comfort level being out of the
city that they live. They want to be in a
secure community where they know their neighbors. And you could
really work from anywhere now, and the technology is amazing,

(11:56):
Like Zoom has been an amazing feature for me because
I'm in these great resource communities all the time around
the world. But as long as you have that, I
could have real time conversations and do productive business with
people all over the world. So I think the change
with COVID of not necessarily being in an office but

(12:18):
still being able to be productive and communicating has been
beneficial to all our places because once people started moving
around the COVID, almost every available house we had in
any community sold. So you make it sound so logical
and so simple, yet you really do stand alone. Why

(12:40):
haven't others been able to replicate what you do? What
are they missing? It's just hard. It takes a lot
of money to do these deals. We have the rolodecks
and membership roster, so if we start a deal, we
could have twenty two thirty people in it before we
even start, and that really de risks a project. So

(13:00):
if you don't have the rolodex and you don't have
to know how in the brand to have people have
confidence in you to buy before there's anything there, it's impossible,
you know. I looked back at how I started and like,
Tokio to Kio is my number one project because it
helped make me become the person I am professionally, and

(13:24):
we have some of the toughest buyers ever. And you know,
these guys would come and basically interviewed me, and I
explained the vision and they go, okay, great, And I
look back, I go, okay great. I obviously believe that
I was going to do it and accomplish it, but
for them too, was a pretty big leap of faith.
And now fortunately all those people who did all these

(13:47):
projects are happy because they've all exceeded everyone's expectations on
what they thought it was going to be, and prices
have gone up so much that everyone is obviously so happy,
not only for um, the money side of it, but
also the social side of it. So it's really helped
people's lights and people who have everything kind of the

(14:10):
only thing that can't really give to themselves is the
community we provide. And so I get a lot of
thank you Mr Melville's for helping me and helping my family,
bringing us together and giving us a place where we're
comfortable and relax and can hang out. And so you know,
that's been a really fun and rewarding part of the

(14:31):
business moral Math and Magic. Right after this quick break,
welcome back to Math and Magic. Let's hear more from
my conversation with Mike Meldman. Let's go back in time.
You were born in the late fifties, grew up in

(14:52):
the sixties and seventies in Milwaukee and Arizona. Can you
paint the picture of your family those places and that
line what shaped you? Growing up Milwaukee. I had close
friends who are still literally my friends today. I had
a great family life, and my dad was basically there

(15:13):
when I went to school, when I got back from school,
he coached me in Little league and football, if we
watched packer games together. My mom was always there. She
was a housewife and mother. And my sisters are all
about the year and a half from each other, so
we're all close and all our cousins were all the
same age and every Sunday would go to Grandma and

(15:36):
Grandpa's house. We're very middle class, happy, had a great
life and childhood. And I moved to Arizona when I
was in seventh grade. And when my dad said were moving,
I didn't really think twice about I go great warm
weather as a huge sports fan, so you know, sted
becoming a son's fan and a su fan. And I

(15:57):
had a lot of friends and had a great time
in Arizona. And part of what inspired me to do
the different things in our projects, like when my early
projects was in Whitefish, Montana called Iron Horse, and so
up in Whitefish there's a lake, so you could water
ski and wakeboard and go whitewater rafting, you know, fly fishing.

(16:20):
My kids, again, we're young, so I wanted them to
be able to do all these things because as a kid,
I never did any of those cool things. So they
were searching and paddle boarding and outward your canoeing and
free diving and scuba diving and snorkeling and doing all
this stuff. And so it inspired me to do things

(16:41):
that I didn't do as a kid, and I wanted
to provide it for my kids, and then it became
a big part of all these clubs, and so I
think that's another thing that we stand out. You know,
we really have activities and activations for the families. You
were a straight a student, a jock, you worked in
a supermar market, you ran the school's Key Club, and

(17:02):
we're elected governor the Key Club for a three state region.
You were selected to attend Boise State, which back in
those days was a really big deal, hugely prestigious educational
program of government instruction for high school students, and you
were elected governor there too, and then you even got
invited to Boys Nation Washington, d C. What does all

(17:22):
this tell us about you? Well, yeah, Boys State, they're
both very prestigious. But once I got elected Key Club
governor is a pretty big deal because Key Club is
a service organization. There was a good cause. We did
a lot of cool things, like they remember coaching special Olympics,
So you did cool stuff like that meant a lot

(17:43):
of people. So when I got to Boys State, and
Boys State is kind of meant to be the best
of the best. You create these mock governments and I
was one party in the other candidate who is running
for governor. Was my roommate and my best friend from
my high school. And usually you win by four or
five votes, but I won by like eighty votes. But

(18:07):
the good news is he was able as losing Canada
for governor. He went to Boys Nation with me. So
we had a blast. Is the bi centennial year, and
so instead of a week in Washington, d C. It
was three weeks and did a mock government. We turned
all through d C. Met our congressman, met the president

(18:28):
was President Ford at the time, met senators. It was
a pretty cool experience the lasted three weeks. What lessons
did you learn from your childhood that you still used
today and anything in this that you pass along to
your kids as these discovered truths. I had a very
loving family. My dad and my grandfather are probably the

(18:51):
biggest inspiration in my life, just how much time they
spent with us, how loving they were. I grew up
being nice to keepo because I was taught that integrity
and character was always instilled to me by my dad
and my grandfather. They're great examples because everyone liked them.
The kids that want to come hang at our house

(19:12):
because my parents were nice, and you know, my dad was,
like I said, our litterally coach, and every person on
our team, you know, loved and respected him because he
was just such a good guy and actually coached us
and like the kids who weren't very good, he would
prop them up and make him feel good. And it
taught me to protect someone who didn't have the strengths

(19:36):
you have. And so my kids, you know, they grew
up in a different environment with different resources that I
grew up, and they are literally the most unentitled, humble
people you know you'll ever meet. And I give obviously
credit to me and their mother, but I really give

(19:57):
the credit to my dad and my grandfather because they
really and still this genuine quality two people. And maybe
it's a Midwest thing, but it worked. I think it's
made me the man I am today. After college, you
think about law school, but you don't go. Instead, this
recent Stanford grad becomes a blackjack dealer. Then you get

(20:19):
into commercial real estate Fremont, California. You realize maybe you
found your calling and you decide to go be your
own developer. And your first project, I understand, was a
three acre site in Portola Valley, California. And I've seen
you quoted as talking about what you learned from that
first one. Can you give us some of those stories? Yeah,

(20:40):
I want to tell how up black Jack? And the
reason I think the law school is because I bombed
the l SAX might have got my name right, I
don't think I got any other question right. So I
went with a couple of buddies to Tahoe help black Jacket.
Harris got into real estate as a broker, did really well.
Decided to start buying land and entitling it on my

(21:03):
own because what I didn't like about being a broker
you didn't really have control over anything. So I went
out and me and a buddy, but the three under
acres in Patrol Valley. I didn't obviously have the money
to buy it, but I raised it through friends. It
was through undered acres, It was zoned for thirty two homes,

(21:25):
and so I go, okay, this is easy. Was just
submit a you know, a map and sell them and
make a bunch of money and I'll be rich. So
what happened is the land was located in Patrol Valley,
which is a basically suburb of Palo Alto right outside
of Stanford, and so every environmental constraint. You could think

(21:50):
of this property had Sandre's fault ran right through it.
They had kind of a big hillside which had all
these land slides. There is a wildlife quarter, there is
biological issues. And so I had to learn how to
develop through the environment, which today is the way to go.

(22:12):
But back then it was hard, it was difficult, It
was it was frustrating. It taught me how to develop
properly because most developers by land mass, grade and throw
up as many houses as they can. But this experience
taught me was that, okay, well you build the roads
along the natural contours of the land. You keep as

(22:35):
much vegetation as you can. You don't clear cut, you
don't cut down trees. You put houses, you know, on
the geologic solid part of it, where landslides aren't gonna
slide down and hit, because they could actually map the
landslides and how far they're going to move in things
like that. So I learned how to develop through the environment.

(22:57):
And intellectually it made sense to me too, because as
you develop, if you build the roads on the contour
and if you don't cut down trees, you say so
much money because in residential development, all the money is
really spent in mass grading and read vegging and buying landscaping.
So if you don't mass grade, you don't grade anything,

(23:19):
and you don't really cut down trees except for what
maybe in the roadways, and you move them, you save money.
So it made in leftial sense to me that this
is the right way to develop. Anyway, let's jump over
to one of your other huge successes, Casa Amigos tequila.
As a co founder of Cassa Dragons, I do have
a special appreciation of what you, George and Randy built.

(23:42):
It was an instant success. You had a meteoric growth
still continues, and certainly the billion dollar price tag proved
how successful it was or opened a lot of people's
eyes about tequila. Where did the idea come from and
what was the biggest surprise in building that company. So George,
rand and I are all obviously friends that have been

(24:02):
friends for a long time. We drank a lot of tequila.
We didn't necessarily like any tequila the best, so we
came up with the idea to do our own. We
probably did eight hundred samples. I think we got it
to where we all thought it was perfect. So initially
We did it just for ourselves. And I always said,

(24:23):
you know, between all my clubs and between Randy's bars
he had bars at the time, which you obviously had
the self for the tequila and everything George would drink,
we could become a successful company. And so we went
to Southern Mining Spirits. They tested it and they liked it,

(24:43):
and so I remember them telling us, well, do you
guys have a blanco? And I remember saying, no, we
don't have blanco. We drank reposado. May know we should
have a blanco. I know why, and they, well, eighty
five percent of the tequila marguts blanco. I know, well,
let's still blanco. And so we did a blanco. We
launched and they said, if you could sell ten thousand

(25:08):
cases your first year, it will be a huge success.
And so George, Randy and I we produced a ten
thousand cases. We went on a road show to Vegas, Miami,
and Dallas and we sold about ten thousand cases and
it just literally took off from there. We knew we
had something because we're serving it to all our friends.

(25:30):
Everyone loved it. So when we sold the company to
di Agio, we're doing a hundred sixty seven thousand cases
a year. We are now doing over three hundred thousand
cases a month and we just finished our last Cisco
year and we're at two point seven million cases and

(25:51):
I think next year will be closer to four money.
So we still run it. We're a Holy owned subsidiative Gaga,
and I think we're the third largest spare brand in
the world right now. It is such an amazing success story,
and I think for you, especially, having this sort of
second entrepreneurial success must tell you something about yourself and

(26:14):
certainly put you in a category of very few. With
Discovery Land Company and Cossa Amigos, you have proven your
master with the high end consumer. Auto company, software, travel, telecommunications,
retail all want that customer, but few have succeeded like
you have. What are they missing? I think it's really

(26:35):
the brand, right, the power of the brand that I
created because people trust me. People made money in almost
every lot we ever sold. We execute were firstly integrated,
so we design everything, we operate everything, we build everything,
so we actually really know what's going on. And I

(26:56):
think with Cosmigos, the products was just good. Right If
the product was bad, no matter who is behind it,
it wouldn't work. And so I think with everything I do,
the product is always the best it can be, and
if it's not, I won't do it or put my
name on it. And no matter where we are, whether

(27:17):
we're why Bahamas, bar Buddha, Portugal, or Nashville, wherever we are,
we strive to be the best community in that area.
You have to have a good product. If you could
go back in time and give your twenty one year
old self some advice, what would that advice be. The
only advice I'd probably give myself is just be patient

(27:39):
because people always ask me like, hey, did you know
this is going to be so good? I'm like, yeah,
I mean somebody had to write. There's always someone driving
and striving to make these places great, and Discovery just
happens to be me because it was my brain child.
And so the nice thing is even forty thirty years later,

(28:00):
you know I still have that same drive. I've learned
a lot, so I think every project we get better,
better and better, and I still strive to create the
best product, to be the best at what we do.
And I've really never lost that. But I didn't know that,
so I always knew I would be successful, but I

(28:23):
just didn't know what scale, or what magnitude or what
impact it would make two people. And so in twenty one,
you know, I probably just tell myself be patient. We
end each episode of Math and Magic by saluting the
best of those folks who have that special skill in
business for the analytics and for those who have the

(28:43):
special skill for the innovation, creative, the promotional, the magic
of business. Who would you put on the pedestal best
in math and the best in magic in the business
or marketing world. I'd say math would be Steve Jobs
and magic would be Phil Knight. Been fortunate to meet

(29:05):
them both, and I think they both inspire many people
the whole country, in the world. Well, Mike, you have
inspired a lot of people. You build communities that bring
people together, and in the process those communities have really
defined you. You've really had a unique life, definitely one
of a kind. Thanks for sharing your insights and experiences today.

(29:27):
I appreciate, Bob, thanks for having me. Here are a
few things I've picked up in my conversation with Mike.
One changed the rules at Discovery Land. Mike has prioritized
inclusivity with laid back luxury and no fuss golf courses.
The ways he's broken tradition is the reason his properties

(29:48):
stand out. To work with your environment. While developing his
first Discovery Land property, Mike realized he needed to work with,
not around, the key features of the environment, which should
lie this lesson when making changes to the landscape of
our industries, it's important to preserve what works. Three offer
more than products and Discovery Land, Mike, it's not just

(30:11):
providing four walls and a roof. He's providing community. That's
something that can't be easily recreated by competitors. I'm Bob Pittman.
Thanks for listening. That's it for today's episode. Thanks so
much for listening to Math and Magic, a production of

(30:32):
I Heart Radio Show is hosted by Bob Pittman. Special
thanks to Susan Ward for booking and wrangling our wonderful talent,
which is no small feel. Our editors are Derek Clements
and Emily Marinot, our producer Morgan Levoy, our executive producer
Nicky Eator, and of course Gayle Raoul, Eric Angel Noel

(30:53):
and everyone who helped bring this show to your ears.
Until next time, One
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