Here at Button, our team of unique and remarkable humans are at the core of our accomplishments. Being at Button, an ongoing blog series, celebrates the happy warriors who are building a better way to do business in mobile and make us a great place to work. In each installment, we’ll shine a spotlight on one of our Buttonians and give you an inside look of who we are.May 19 marks six exciting years as a Button team and we’re sitting down with Stephen Milbank, Co-Founder and Head of Global Strategic Partnerships, to reflect on the founding of Button, lessons he’s learned along the way, and what it means to be a great team player at a startup.
What is your backstory?
I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and went to school at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Right out of school, I worked for Goldman Sachs in its real estate investment Group for a couple of years and continued to work within the real estate investment industry until I went back to grad school at London Business School. It was in London where I started to get more involved and interested in the technology industry, working for a venture capital firm and a few startups.
What interested you in founding a company and specifically founding Button?
I wanted the experience of building a business up from nothing. I considered some real estate-related opportunities but ultimately wanted to pursue a more mobile and consumer driven opportunity where there was a clear opportunity for exponential international growth.
Mike Jaconi and I had been long-time friends and we started discussing ideas for what our idea company would look like. If I was going to start a business with anyone, I knew Mike would be a great partner. We both had a will to succeed no matter what. As Mike and I started considering opportunities, there were clear gaps in mobile commerce, which Mike knew well from his time at Rakuten, that presented massive business opportunities we could address..
As a founder, you’ve worn many hats over the past six years and I’m sure you’ve learned a lot. What do you enjoy most about your role now?
I like creating something from nothing; that excites me the most. “This is what we want to achieve, how do we make it happen” is a phrase that I receive frequently and is a challenge that I welcome. Most recently, I’ve enjoyed expanding our business into new markets, such as Latin America and Australia, and pursuing new strategic partnerships.
What advice would you give to others who might be interested in founding a company?
“Your perceived downside is not as severe as you think it is.”
There are a lot of considerations and tensions that one must address when founding a company. We were fortunate to not require the financial support of friends and family to get our business off the ground. We were able to raise funds from venture capital and angel investors at the earliest stage, which carries a less acute pressure than taking investment from those close to you. This created a safer feeling and emotionally de-risked outcome. For me, the worst case scenario was going back to work at another company and I would still have had a rich and rewarding experience by starting a business.
What did you want to be “when you grew up”?
My journey to figure out my career spanned politics, sports management, and real estate investment. It included adventures like looking to redevelop Mediterranean hotels, ghostwriting for Sen. John Kerry, and advising an NBA lottery pick on his draft night fashion statement. It took awhile for technology to show up on my radar...my earliest memory was wanting to be a garbage man, probably because they had the biggest trucks...but my wife is convinced that it’s because I’m a hoarder :)
What is one piece of advice you’d give to candidates who might be interested in joining the Button team?
Please try our product before interviewing...and read this. Go to Ibotta and book an Uber. It’s a delightful experience - it doesn’t take much effort and you get a dollar back for every ride you take.
What is your favorite Button memory?
There are so many! Most of which culminate with a surprise Mariachi performance :) When we won first place in Crain’s Best Place to Work in 2015 was a huge thrill. I’d led the whole process - application, interviews, cover photo shoot...picked up on none of the clues that we were the winner and when our name was finally announced it was a complete surprise. Our launch week with Ibotta in 2016, seeing the numbers spike beyond what we could have possibly imagined during those first days is definitely up there. I remember being on vacation at the time and looking at the numbers - each day was substantially bigger than the next. I was certain our reporting was wrong. But it wasn’t. It was the first time it was clear that we had something that could be big...and then getting quoted in this article -- my appreciation for sartorial splendor finally be recognized.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My wife - Oriel, my parents, my sister, and my friend Mike Sorrell, who has been a mentor to me since college. When I first met Mike, he was leading the Dallas 2012 Olympic Committee and I was working as an intern for him. Professionally, he was the first person and coach who made me realize what my potential could be, and I’m grateful to him for that. He helped me make a connection to realizing when you are operating at your best.
Do you have a favorite life mantra or quote?
I don’t have a specific mantra or quote, but I often think about those who I am most influenced by or inspired by. For example, Malcolm X and his continuous reinvention of self in pursuit of an ideal is something I admire him for and try to apply to my life.
What excites you about the future of Button?
What excites me the most is that we’re still building and growing! Mobile is still growing, more people feel comfortable purchasing on their phones, and Button’s technology makes that experience better for them.
Additionally, over the past six years, we have created a really great place for people to grow as professionals. I’m excited to continue creating an environment where people can find purpose, fulfilment, and growth as professionals. This is a commitment I made at the outset of founding Button and I think it’s been realized. When I think about my past mentors, like Mike Sorrell, I want to continue to help others better understand their potential and help them find that fulfillment in their professional journey.
What does being a great team member mean to you?
I think the people at Button tend to be very thoughtful and considerate of our partners, customers, and each other. We help each other grow into being the better versions of ourselves, and in doing so, we also help our customers and partners succeed. Continual growth or ‘kaizen’ is embedded into our values and has been embedded into the founding team since the very beginning.
Button is always looking for extraordinary humans to join our team. Check out Button's careers page to explore our open roles.