Michael Jones | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Michael Jones

Background:  

Pepperjam is a performance marketing company that spun off from eBay Enterprise Marketing Solutions more than a year ago. It’s headquartered in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., with offices in London, New York, Philadelphia, Santa Cruz, Sydney, Tempe and Toronto.

The Mistake:

Listening to people about what’s possible and what’s not especially when it comes to where your company should be located. We are headquartered in a place called Wilkes-Barre, Pa., which is not a traditional location for a high-tech digital marketing company. Most of our competition sits in Manhattan and Silicon Valley. Almost everyone told me that we needed to build the majority of our talent outside of Wilkes-Barre, or we’d never be able to successfully build a leading tech or digital firm. Because of that, I always kept a presence here, but I never really took advantage of what has ultimately become one of our most important assets as a business, which is having such a significant part of our population here in Wilkes-Barre.

Because I listened to the people who said it was impossible to build the talent pool here, we ended up building a number of different geographies and had to deal with a lot of remote employee situations. Listening to those naysayers was a big mistake because building out a talent pool here turned out to be both possible and critical to our success.

You can build a successful company anywhere these days, as long as that location has certain ingredients. 

The Lesson:

You can build a successful company anywhere these days, as long as that location has certain ingredients. Wilkes-Barre is certainly has those ingredients; it has a number of colleges and universities within driving distance, so you can utilize things like a robust internship program to build talent. If you look at the 120 people at our Wilkes-Barre headquarters today, about 50 percent of those people went through our internship program, and 60 percent of those individuals graduated from local universities in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Being headquartered in Wilkes-Barre has really given us some competitive advantages over our competition in Silicon Valley and Manhattan because of multiple things. For one, the cost of business is lower in a place like this because the cost of living, in general, is significantly lower. So you’re able to both develop talent that’s on par with those other areas, but at a lower cost.

And because there aren’t 100 different technology firms constantly looking to poach our employees from us after two years, we’ve been able to have a very, very impressive engagement rate of all of our employees. The average tenure of our employees here quickly became a five-, six-year-plus situation after we hunkered down. That’s a great benefit because it allows you to create continuity in the dynamic business space. You’ll also spend much less than the competition on recruiting, retraining, and constantly having employee turnover, which disrupts the stability of the organization.

Without all of that competition, we can bring in interns or new hires that are valedictorians or in the upper five percent of these college universities go-getter-types of people that the competition would be scooping up. There’s not so much of that in Wilkes-Barre, so we are able to get the best and the brightest, keep them for a long period of time, and ultimately develop a team that’s more experienced than any of the competition.

Follow Pepperjam on Twitter at @pepperjam.

Photo courtesy of Pepperjam.

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