How Harsh Beginnings Make For Future Successes

Photo: iHeartMedia

The 300-acre site in Portola Valley, California had enough environmental challenges to make seasoned developers uneasy, but its potential was too great to be ignored.

That’s how rookie commercial developer Mike Meldman felt when he walked onto the property he had purchased with the help of friends. It was during a time where the standard development method was to clearcut and mass grade everything. However as Meldman told iHeartRadio Chairman and CEO Bob Pitman on an episode of his podcast Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing with Bob Pittman, that was not an option here.

“So, every environmental constraint you could think of this property had,” he told the host. “The San Andreas fault ran right through it. They had kind of a big hillside that had all of these landslides. There was a wildlife corridor. There were biological issues.”

Meldman’s only choice was to work with the natural California landscape in order to successfully build his homes. The process was long and difficult, but it taught the now CEO of Discovery Land Company how to properly develop land.

“What this experience taught me was that well, you build the roads along the natural curves of the land, you keep as much vegetation as you can, you don’t clearcut,” said Meldman. “You put houses on, you know, the geological solid part of it.”

Learning to build through the environment made sense to the new developer. He was saving money by working with the land instead of against. Meldman said the biggest cost in a development is mass grading, or changing the land’s geography, combined with re-landscaping the properties.

“If you don’t cut down trees, you save so much money,” he said. “It made intellectual sense to me that this was the right way to develop anyway.”

The subdivision, now known as Blue Oaks, was met with resistance at first from local government officials. However, after several negotiations Meldman was able to begin development in 1998. According to, the most recent home sold in the subdivision went for $6.5 million.

Check out “Mike Meldman: ‘If the product is bad, no matter who is behind it, it won’t work.’” to hear how the entrepreneur became known as real estate’s party boy. Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing with Bob Pittman releases new episodes every Thursday, find it on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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