Five years ago, Greg Mercer traveled the world and earned himself by buying white brands from China and selling them on Amazon.
"I realized that some of my products went better than others," he told me. “I developed spreadsheets to estimate how good Amazon products were. It was labor intensive. I thought it would be cool if I could put this into a Chrome extension. So I built that extension. I started it as a fun side project. "
That side project is now Jungle Scout, with about 250,000 customers worldwide and 150 employees.
I recently spoke with Mercer about the company Amazon and managing a remote team. The following is our entire audio call and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Greg, tell us about it Jungle Scout and you.
Greg Mercer: I founded Jungle Scout five years ago. At that time, I was selling physical products on Amazon. I imported goods from China, white labeled them and sold them on Amazon. I realized that some of my products fared better than others. It came in demand.
It seems pretty basic today. But then it was hard to know which products were selling well on Amazon. I developed spreadsheets to estimate how good Amazon products were. It was labor intensive.
I thought it would be cool if I could put this into a Chrome extension. So then I built that extension. Users can run it on the Amazon page and get an understanding of what sells well and what didn't.
Jungle Scout would never be a software company. I started it as a fun project. I knew very little about software. I was just hoping to make money from subscription fees to get back what it cost me to build. Fast forward to 2020, and we have a quarter of a million customers and 150 employees – 40 in Austin, Texas, and resting worldwide.
Bandholz: What are some of the statistics that Jungle Scout provides?
Mercer: It has evolved over the years. Jungle Scout is now a tool that helps you find new products as well as manage and optimize your business. It is deep and robust. We are best known for accurately estimating sales on Amazon. Through it you can research products or predict or monitor your competitors – such. We are also known for keyword volume measurements on Amazon – how often keywords are searched and similar keywords.
We crawl the site for some of the information; other parts come via Amazon's APIs. Our secret sauce happens when our team of computer scientists analyze the huge amount of data to make predictions. The data team then tests their predictions against known performance. Through this we can estimate demand and search volume for all products.
Bandholz: Can Amazon block your crawlers?
Mercer: I used to lose sleep over this. But the Amazon staff has told us that we help Amazon and sellers. We help people launch products on Amazon, fill gaps in their catalogs, estimate margins and so on.
Bandholz: Are there still opportunities on Amazon?
Bandholz: Are you worried about consumers moving away from Amazon?
Mercer: No. I don't foresee it. My best guess is that Amazon will continue to grow for at least another decade. I think Amazon will continue to have an open platform and allow all sellers to register, more or less.
Bandholz: Amazon is stuck on fake reviews. Is it making it harder to get honest reviews?
Mercer: Amazon has done a pretty darn good job on this. It is no longer the problem that it was. A year ago, it had gone out of control, especially when sellers could pay people to submit reviews. A seller can say: "I give you this product for free in exchange for a review." It was extremely abused, even by me, but it was allowed.
But now Amazon is good at detecting abuse. It came out during Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to Congress on user privacy. Amazon purchased Facebook's information about seller's friends and decided whether those friends submitted reviews. Things like that. Probably 1,000 people on Amazon work in the assessment area.
Bandholz: Let's change directions. Can a Seller Succeed Without Using Fulfillment by Amazon?
Mercer: You have quite a lot to offer Prime, either through FBA or Seller Fulfilled Prime. But Seller Fulfilled Prime is not practical for most merchants because they have to pay for shipping costs, which is usually higher than using FBA. In addition, the goods must arrive within two days. So yeah, you pretty much have to use FBA.
Bandholz: You launched five years ago. You now have 150 employees worldwide. How do you handle such a remote team?
Mercer: Let's start with some background. When my wife and I founded Jungle Scout, we lived the digital nomad life. We had sold our house. Sold all our stuff. Everything we owned fit into a suitcase. We travel around the world. For three years we moved to 35 countries. In other words, the company was completely remote when we founded it. The team grew to about 30 or 40 people during the first years. We all worked remotely. We built the company on a remote basis.
We now have our headquarters here in Austin. Our entire executive team is here, except our Vice President of Technology. We have an office in Vancouver that is primarily developer and designer experiences for users. And we opened an office in Shenzhen, China, a year and a half ago. It is mainly for people who market and customer support for our Chinese customers.
Bandholz: How do you handle everything? I try to imagine Beardbrand 10 times the current size.
Mercer: I meet key people every week. On Monday we have a two-hour meeting with the entire workshop team and then smaller meetings throughout the week. This is the first major company I've had. I have learned that a person at the executive level expects and needs some degree of independence. The best way to do that is to set expectations and metrics and then manage them to those metrics.
But that's easier said than done. I'm still in the weeds. I read my own article and want to change it. In that example, I have to work on setting expectations on the real mark instead of requesting a change of some sentences.
Like most entrepreneurs, I'm more of an idea guy. I dream a lot. I do not jump down and grind through a lot of tedious work. So I try to have those weekly conversations with our team. I only have six direct reports.
Bandholz: Let's tackle Jungle Scout's growth. Has it been organic? Or maybe a lot of advertising?
Mercer: About 40 percent of our customer acquisition comes from organic search on Google. About 20 to 30 percent is done through performance marketing and then the rest via social media.
When it comes to organic search, customers mainly seek advice. How do I sell on Amazon? How do I set up a merchant account? How do I split my Amazon listings? So we've published a lot of content that addresses these issues. It's high quality. We are highly ranked for many keywords. It drives a lot of traffic.
Bandholz: What is your content strategy?
Mercer: There are three pillars. One is that keyword-targeted articles. We find keywords that get high search volume but we do not rank by. We are trying to create an article for that keyword. Then there is another type of content to attract returning visitors, who know that we produce valuable posts on sale on Amazon. We do not focus on keywords for this type of article.
The third pillar of content is more data driven. It's almost like a whitepaper. It is good for thought leadership, media exposure and backlinks. An example is Covid-19. We published a bunch of data on how the pandemic affects Amazon. What sells well, what doesn't sell and total performance. It was picked up by dozens of publications, including The New York Times and Wired.
Bandholz: How can our listeners reach you?
Mercer: I publish on Instagram at G_Mercer. Our site is JungleScout.com.