GE 218: How Mike Dudas Grew His Mobile Monetization Biz Button to Tens of Millions in Revenue in 3 Years (podcast) With Mike Dudas

Mike Dudas - Button

Hey everyone, today I share the mic with Mike Dudas, co-founder and CRO of Button, a company that helps retailers realize the power of mobile by allowing seamless interconnected services to complement relevant products.

Tune in to hear how Mike has leaned on a unique combination of sound business and dumb luck to create a habitual winner, what the team did to grow Button 10X in 1 year and drive tens of millions in revenue within 3 years, how a fortunate change in Uber’s business model allowed Button to succeed early on, and the process they go through to find, court and hire the right people.

Download podcast transcript [PDF] here: How Mike Dudas Grew His Mobile Monetization Biz Button to $10M in Revenue in 3 Years TRANSCRIPT

Time-Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:34 – Review and subscribe to the Growth Everywhere Podcast
  • 00:54 – Eric welcomes Mike Dudas
  • 01:00 – Button helps retailers realize the power of mobile by allowing seamlessly interconnected services to complement relevant products
  • 01:22 – Mike has been working in the technology industry for 10 years now
    • 01:33 – Started with Medianet Technologies, a startup based in New York City. He spent another 3 and a half years at Google and worked at Braintree/Venmo for a couple of years before starting Button in 2014
  • 01:53 – Shifted his focus from media and ad technology to commerce and payments
  • 02:05 – Got a chance to work on Google Wallet which helped him make the transition to commerce and payments
  • 02:38 – Button has a fantastic team consisting of ex-Google and ex-Facebook employees
  • 03:23 – Works with retailers and merchants to acquire new mobile app users from a number of publisher sources
  • 03:40 – Hard to find cost-effective options to acquire new users outside of Google and Facebook. Button is attempting to address this market gap
  • 04:10 – Mike shares the important numbers around Button
    • 04:15 – Button has more than 50 people
    • 04:21 – Have raised $34 million on the back of a strong revenue story
    • 04:30 – Revenues have increased 10x in the past one year
  • 05:03 – Looked at pain points for consumers and builders for mobile commerce businesses, and discovered that the affiliate channel on desktop was totally nonexistent. Button is attempting to bridge this gap between advertising and commerce
  • 06:52 – “Button” permits product integration on the publisher page and is incredibly effective in driving traffic to another merchant website
  • 09:21 – Merchant pays for the lead driven by the publisher. It can be a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction
  • 10:03 – Large scale shopping and loyalty apps are using “Buttons” in a big way. Metasearch sites like Skyscanner are also using “Buttons” to streamline the payment process and increase conversion rates
  • 11:30 – What is the one thing that is working really well for you in terms of customer acquisition? – Referrals and an experienced sales team
  • 13:11 – You will have to answer 3 questions when you are selling: Why should I do this, why should I do this with you, and why should I do this now?
  • 13:44 – Difficult to convince clients to invest in “Buttons” since most companies are resource constrained on the mobile side
    • 14:25 – Secure money and secure advisory roles from people who believe in your business
    • 15:14 – Really challenging to find the right people — Using your referrals and partner recommendations is a great way to facilitate this
  • 17:12 – Take a casual approach to courting talent and investors
  • 18:14 – A great internal recruiting team does intensive outreach and negates the need for using outside recruiting agencies
  • 19:53 – What’s the one big struggle you faced while growing Button? – Initially Button tried to sell the concept of coalition loyalty. But they found that retention via loyalty was not a top priority for companies in hyper-growth mode. They faced a difficult time till 2014 Q3.
  • 21:40 – Uber opened up their API which enabled adding an Uber button to other websites. Eventually other companies opened up their API’s and the need arose to have a company like Button handle this business function in a dedicated manner
  • 23:10 – What’s one new tool that you’ve added in the last year that’s added a lot of value to you? – Slack: Enables Mike to be in constant contact with teammates, peers and customers
  • 24:54 – What’s one must-read book you recommend to everyone?
    • 24:57 – The PayPal Wars: Battles with eBay, the Media, the Mafia, and the Rest of Planet Earth – “Reading about how incredible people in technology like Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Keith Rabois, Reid Hoffman and so many others were working together and battling this behemoth eBay and creating a trust based new payment economy”
    • 25:47 – Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley – “About growing your business in Silicon Valley over the five years”
    • 25:58 – Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike – “My favorite recent business book and a must read for everyone”
  • 26:24 – Connect with Mike on Twitter
  • 27:44 – Check out Growth Everywhere for a ton of additional resources
  • 27:50 – Subscribe to our podcast and get access to value packed content

3 Key Points:

  1. Secure money and secure advisory roles from people who believe in your business.
  2. It is really challenging to find the right people — Using your referrals and partner recommendations is a great way to facilitate this.
  3. You will have to answer 3 questions when you are selling: Why should I do this, why should I do this with you, and why should I do this now?

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Disclaimer: As with any digital marketing campaign, your individual results may vary.

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Full Transcript of The Episode

Show transcript
Mike Dudas: We became one of Uber's 15 first partners, did a lot of press around it. It helped us raise our Series A round, and then we were off and running.

Announcer: Do you want to impact the world and still turn a profit? Then you're in the right place. Welcome to Growth Everywhere. This is the show where you'll find real conversations with real entrepreneurs. They'll share everything from their biggest struggle to the exact strategies they use on a daily basis. If you're ready for a value-packed interview, listen on. Here's your host, Eric Siu.

Eric Siu: Before we jump into today's interview, if you guys could leave a review and a rating and also subscribe as well, that would be a huge help to the podcast. If you actually enjoy the content and you'd like to hear more of it, please support us by leaving us a review, and subscribe to the podcast as well. Thanks so much.

Okay, everybody, today we have Mike Dudas, who is the co-founder and CRO of Button, which is a company that helps retailers realize the power of mobile by allowing seamless interconnected services to complementary and relevant products. I'm going to let him explain what that means in just a second. Mike, how's it going?

Mike Dudas: Going really well. Thanks for having me on today, Eric.

Eric Siu: Yeah, thanks for joining us. First and foremost, why don't you tell us a little bit about your story and how you got to where you are.

Mike Dudas: I've been working in the technology industry for about 10 years now. Feels like shorter. It just goes so fast, as you know. Any technology career goes very, very fast. I started in media and ad technology at a startup based in New York City where I live today, and all the technology jobs I've had have been based in New York City. I spent two years at a startup, three and a half years at Google, and then worked at Venmo-Braintree for a couple years before we started Button in 2014. Along that 10-year journey, I shifted actually from a focus on media and ad technology to a focus on commerce and payments. It's been really exciting, and that transition happened at Google. Google's an amazing company, which allows folks to dabble in areas and build new careers in areas where they're not experts. I worked on the launch of Google Wallet, which led to my opportunity at Venmo-Braintree.

Each of the roles I've had have been partner development, business development, and sales, and I absolutely love sales. I thought I'd be an engineer in college and quickly realized that selling was what I love to do. We started Button about three and a half years ago, and we have a fantastic team, folks from Google, Venmo, RocketOn, Facebook, with a mix of commerce, payments, advertising, and pure e-commerce experience. What we do at Button is we found, and I think you've probably found, anybody who's listening has found, it's really hard to buy stuff on mobile. You have to tap 150 times to enter a new credit card information on a mobile website and all your personal information. The best place [inaudible 00:03:07] action is inside of mobile apps. The retailers and merchants themselves from Uber, to OpenTable, to Booking.com, to Amazon, and Walmart all find that customers who use their apps are far more able than those who use the mobile websites only. We work with those retailers and those merchants to acquire new mobile app users from a number of different publisher sources, and the big problem that many of these merchants have found today is that there is this duopoly that you've heard a lot about, Facebook and Google, they're really scaled but they're also really expensive. It's hard to find cost effective, efficient, and scaled channels outside of Google and Facebook on mobile to acquire new users and to drive transactions. So we work with these retailers, and with a great, great group of publishers in the performance marketing channel to drive transactions on mobile.

Eric Siu: Got it. Okay, great. And what numbers can you share around the business today?

Mike Dudas: So we are growing really fast. I mean just like any growth-stage startup, we're more than 50 people and that's up from 35 people just six months ago. We've raised 34 million dollars behind a really strong revenue story. Our revenue is up on a monthly basis. This month it's 10X what it was this time last year, and we're driving in the tens of millions of dollars in revenue. It's really exciting, and we expect to double that again in the next four to five months. We're really exciting position where we really do control our own fate. And if we keep doing things really well in delivering value for merchants and publishers we really feel the sky's the limit.

Eric Siu: Got it. And just to back up a second, where was ... where did the impetus for this idea come from? What's the story behind that?

Mike Dudas: We looked at where the pain points were both for consumers and for builders of mobile commerce businesses, and looked at our skill sets and said, "Hey, where we can help out." So the founding team in 2014 felt that pure sort-of payments was solved. I worked at Braintree, and there were great payment solutions from Apple Pay, Android Pay, to Braintree, to Stripe. Not a real big problem there for mobile commerce businesses. For on the advertising front we felt like in the pure advertising market a lot of great solutions in terms of Google and Facebook. But, we looked at this massive channel that exists on desktop and it's the affiliate channel, right, and it drives for many merchants something like 15-20% of all transactions, and that channel was absolutely non-existent on mobile for a host of reasons.

Primarily the challenge was tracking transactions into the app, and it just wasn't a priority. Most of the legacy affiliate companies are 15 years old, not really technology companies, so we said, hey there's a huge problem here, it's a channel that works on desktop, it's more complex on mobile, and we have a great skill set, [inaudible 00:06:21] sexy [inaudible 00:06:23] but its a really exciting healthy one where you get to work with some of the best companies in the world who are delivering services that users and consumers love. We are really [inaudible 00:06:33] about it, and I think each said you know hey this is where we want to be. We want to be in marketing technology, and to bridge the gap between advertising and commerce.

Eric Siu: What's an example case study of how this might work in real life? Because I've seen a couple examples on your site, but it might be helpful for people to visualize how this thing might work for them. Mike Dudas: Absolutely. So you ... in the past you would go for example to a publisher, mobile website or app, such as Four Square let's say. Another example might be Conde Nast Traveler, where you're looking at reviews of hotels. Let's just stick with Four Square right now. Three years ago when you went to Four Square, and you landed on a restaurant page for your favorite restaurant you would get information, you would get links to their website, perhaps their phone number, and you'd get ratings and reviews. So a great information site, monetized through ads that weren't always perfectly relevant to what you were looking for. So Four Square said hey we'd love to make these pages more valuable, more actionable. And if somebody's looking at a restaurant page for example, they likely want to make a reservation at this restaurant, or get food delivery, or get a ride there. So we put what we call buttons, you know the name of the company, onto these pages in the app and what we found is incredible engagement with those buttons. We're seeing tons of folks make reservations directly from Four Square pages.

You know I'm at Upland, a great restaurant in New York, I'm researching it. I tap the open table button, and it deep-links me straight through to Open Table's Upland reservation page where I can choose my time, and I'm off and running, my reservation is booked. It helps to turn Four Square into a place where I can not only get information, but I can take action. You know, it's not an ad it's an actual product integration into that publisher page that provides value for everyone. And because of that, the user loves it, the publisher loves it, and the merchant you know Open Table in this case loves it. And because of that we've getting referrals, our customers are selling on behalf of us, and it's a really great place to be.

Eric Siu: Got it. So, if I'm understanding this correctly, let's go back to the Four Square example. Basically, the way it was before is you use Four Square and then you have to open up another app if you want to book, let's say, a reservation or something, right? But the way you guys have it now, where it's basically seamless and then they can connect ... let's say the restaurant and Four Square it's integrated together and then basically they might, Four Square might get a commission if the reservation actually goes through. Is that some ... is that similar? Or am I on the right track?

Mike Dudas: Yeah, the business model here, you nailed it. So if it's Uber, if it's Open Table, if it's Grub Hub seamless, effectively those merchants will pay for the lead driven by the publisher.

Eric Siu: Got it.

Mike Dudas: And they'll pay either a flat fee, or a percentage of the transaction depending on their business model. In addition, if the user doesn't have the app installed previously, so they're actually discovering this business for the first time or discovering it on mobile, the merchants will pay an installation fee so like a CPI. What's exciting is they're paying for an install in context, they know that that user is primed to purchase.

Eric Siu: Right.

Mike Dudas: So it really does drive high-value installs, and we do this not only in those what we Eric Siu: Right.

Mike Dudas: And then, partner recommendations. We've had a number of folks who we've hired from recommendations of our partners. And that's, it's just so important. When we've not done that, when we've gone out of band we haven't been as successful. So, when we've hired folks we didn't know directly.

Eric Siu: When you say you're courting people, like for example, it took a year for that one. I mean, what are you doing exactly? Are you just you know pinging them on LinkedIn? Or, like is it something more involved? What does that look like?

Mike Dudas: It's a more casual engagement is what I would say. So, you're always kind of putting out the opportunity like, "Hey, we'd love to work with you. We'd love you to work with us. Are you serious about it? Can you do this?" Often times people will say, "Look, this is really enticing, but now is not the right time." And so, that happens quite often. In those cases you just have to wait and be patient. I wouldn't say we would continually ask and request if folks demonstrate they're not interested. It's not like we're trying to change minds, it's a scenario of finding that right match with an open mind.

Eric Siu: I find in most scenarios that great people are never looking on job boards, right? So they have to be courted through LinkedIn, and then it has to become conversation, maybe even meet them in person a couple of times too, to just establish a relationship. It seems like that's what you guys are doing. And I mean with most of your people is it just, kind of, you guys are finding them on your own? It's referrals? Or are you guys using any recruiters at all?

Mike Dudas: So we're not using any external recruiters. We've been exceptionally fortunate in that we hired and had a wonderful, wonderful woman Stephanie Mardel join our company very early on. So she was one of the first 15 folks to join Button. We've had a really ... she joined us from Square, the best people person I've ever worked with, and so she's now in charge of our recruiting and all of our people operations. If she'll do a good amount of out-reach, and we've found many fantastic people that way. On a sales side, I think we've been a little more specific in terms of personal referral, but for other opportunities within the organization we have done outreach, and we do direct outreach. We do very little with recruiters, and it's frankly because we are fortunate enough to have a great internal recruiting and people team. And so, we do an insane amount of outreach.

Like, we're hiring for a head of marketing right now, and our personal networks are not as deep there. So, we are doing, you know, 50 emails a day, right? And then kind of seeing who is interested and responsive. And we do this with real diligence. We'll have our target list of companies that we believe are best in the world in the type of marketing that we do, and then we go after a highly specialized group of folks, but we have to do it at great volume. And it takes up a lot of time, and I know you hear this from a lot of entrepreneurs, but recruiting could be it's probably more than a day a week in total for me in terms of my focus and time spent.





Okay. And last question. I mean this has been great Mike, what's the best way for people to find you online?

Mike Dudas: Yeah, so I am a, as I mentioned earlier I believe a profuse ... I don't know a very, very active user of Twitter so you know, I use it very strategically in terms of trying to provide valuable information, things that are interesting to me, insight, often pretty strong opinion. What it's helped me to do over the past 10 years, I just hit my 10 year anniversary on Twitter, but particularly over the past three to four years as my number of followers has grown is I can communicate with hundreds or thousands of folks at a time about topics that I really care about and then engage, and then learn, because I am far from the smartest person on the face of this earth. So I often make assertions where the comments I get back teach me a tremendous amount about a specific issue, a specific market. So it's just a really high leverage way for me to communicate and learn. I'm extremely responsive there. It's the best way to reach me if you don't know me. So it's @mdudas is my Twitter handle. So I definitely recommend that folks follow, engage, and chat with me there.

Eric Siu: Got it, great.

Mike, thanks so much for doing this.

Mike Dudas: Eric thank you, really appreciate your time it was great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Growth Everywhere. If you loved what you heard be sure to head back to growtheverywhere.com for today's show notes, and a ton of additional resources. But before you go, hit the subscribe button to avoid missing out on next weeks value packed interview. Enjoy the rest of your week, and remember to take action and continue growing.