Put People First: The Secret To Startup Growth For This Founder

10/03/2016 01:34 pm ET Updated Oct 04, 2017

Sometimes your greatest influences are history's antiheroes. Such is the case for Greg Mercer, Founder of Amazon product research tool, Jungle Scout.

Recently Mercer has taken a keen interest in Frederick Winslow Taylor, author of the seminal The Principles of Scientific Management. In actuality, Mercer and Taylor have the same end goal in mind: increase productivity and efficiency from their team. However, the similarities end there.

Frederick Taylor's work of the early 1900's focused on creating workplace efficiencies by removing autonomy and reducing workers to unthinking worker-bees. Instead of embracing the skilled craftsmen that was popular at the time, driven by creativity and autonomy, Taylor aimed to simplify tasks so that any unskilled worker could fulfill the needs of any job.

Mercer is creating his own modern-day workplace revolution at Jungle Scout. His philosophy is simple: "Focus on making people happy, and the rest will take care of itself." The two groups of people that he focuses on are his customers and his employees.

Jungle Scout is at the forefront of companies that focus on people, culture, and customer success. I spoke with Mercer about what differentiates his approach to fostering happy and successful people.

Create Happy Customers

Prior to starting Jungle Scout, Mercer launched and grew multiple successful ecommerce and Amazon businesses. He experienced failures, setbacks, and frustrations of every variety along the way.

It is therefore much easier for him to empathize with the challenges of Amazon sellers and ecommerce entrepreneurs. That is exactly why you will see him prioritize his days around giving back to the Amazon seller community of which he is a key member.

He notes, "Starting a business on Amazon is not like starting a traditional business. The ground rules are different. The process is confusing. The competition is intimidating. But it doesn't have to be, which is why I want to share as much instructive content as possible."

The content that Mercer offers, including courses, blog posts, videos, webinars, and his frequent tour of podcasts are meaty educational resources that others might charge thousands of dollars for. Short term sales aren't what he's after. The long term goal is empowering people to start their own business.

Much of the content he provides is beyond the scope his products. He has little financial return to gain from offering the content that he does. However, as he fondly remembers, he was once in the shoes of the "noob" learning from the experiences of others.

Sharing helpful insights and strategies to push others to succeed is a pillar of Mercer's drive to help others, and ultimately create happy and fulfilled customers. And his approach has worked so far. Not only does he have thousands of happy customers, but word of mouth referrals are a huge driver of brand awareness and website traffic, and his growth has been nearly exponential.

Create Happy Employees

To some business leaders, it can be impossible to build a team culture when the team is spread across the globe. To others, like Mercer, a distributed workforce is an opportunity. Instead of limiting his talent pool to the proximity of a brick-and-mortar office, he has a truly global team that spans four continents. They thrive on autonomy, independence, and ownership, working when and how they are most productive. Which is not to say that they don't have fun together once in awhile.

Another job title Mercer has given himself is Chief Counselor at Jungle Camp, his team's semi-annual retreat. With previous jaunts to Bali, Rio de Janeiro, Vancouver, and Vietnam, he finds that the trips are an unparalleled way to build camaraderie and share his vision for empowering Amazon sellers and ecommerce entrepreneurs.

The Jungle Scout team gets gets his vision, and the results show: in less than two years, he has grown the company from a one-man-shop to 20 full time employees, millions in annual revenue, thousands of passionate customers.....and 100% employee retention.

A recent study by economists at the University of Warwick indicate that Mercer may be onto something. They found that employee happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers proved 10% less productive. At the rate that Jungle Scout is growing, and continuing to release product and educational content, you can safely believe that his employees are happy.

What Would Taylor and Scientific Management Say?

The metrics of success that Frederick Taylor and Greg Mercer measure are similar but starkly different. As Taylor stripped workers of independent thought and ownership in pursuit of manufacturing excellence, he simply measured the rate and volume of widget output.

In contrast, Mercer focuses solely on the well-being of his employees, whom he prefers to call "teammates". The output will take care of itself, he believes. Whether you look at their growth, the fact they have created the most helpful Amazon software in the space, the happiness of the (growing) customer base, or the fun his team is having, it seems evident that Mercer's approach is a winning formula in today's global economy.