Last Tuesday, Mike Dudas, Button’s Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer spoke at The Phocuswright Conference in Florida. In between content sessions and networking, Mike sat down with Kevin May, a Senior Editor from Phocuswright, to discuss mobile travel bookings. Below, you can view a video of the interview or check out a transcription of the conversation!


Kevin May: We’re here with Mike Dudas, who’s the Co-Founder and the Chief Revenue Officer at Button.

I think it’s fair to say that some people might not know what Button is. So let’s give the one minute overview of what Button is first of all.

Mike Dudas: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Button is the mobile partnerships platform that many, many industries need, the travel industry being one of them. And by mobile partnerships [00:00:30] what we mean is, if a publisher, say somebody like Trip Advisor, a metasearch engine, a big company that sees a lot of folks who are developing intent to purchase something, wants to actually help their customers buy something or book something.

On mobile, purchases are very, very difficult today. There’s multiple platforms, iOs, Android, mobile web and all have terrible booking experiences.

That being said, there are many mobile apps. Hotels.com, Expedia, [00:01:00] Booking.com that are exceptional. It’s just that those connections between the publishers and the booking agent or the merchant haven’t been built. Button builds the piping, the tools and the partnerships to help these massive companies connect, streamline their user journeys, and increase their conversions and revenue.

Kevin May: What do you mean by streamline their journeys?

Mike Dudas: Absolutely. I think all of us have probably spent time clicking an ad or clicking a link on a mobile device and we [00:01:30] end up in the App Store or we end up on some non-mobile optimized page or truly a place that we didn’t intend to be.

Most of us, we don’t even know how we got there so how do we get back? How do we find that starting point? And we give up in frustration.

Button has an intelligent linking system, an SDK that routes people properly to the place that we’ve learned over years of A/B testing where they want to end up and where they convert best.

Kevin May: Okay. [00:02:00] You’re here at the Phocuswright conference this week, you’re doing one of their workshops and it goes by the title, because it’s worth noting, Optimizing Meta Search on Mobile, Follow the Customer Journey.

So, just give us an overview of what you’re gonna be talking about. And why it’s important that you’re talking about it this week.

Mike Dudas: Unquestionably. The problem statement I just described is one that we are solving in specific cases. So today I’m going to highlight a number of those cases.

[00:02:30] One example would be, Skyscanner, one of the largest and best metasearch engines in the world. Button has been working with Skyscanner and Hotels.com, a long time partner of Button, to ensure that if a Hotels.com user has the app installed, and they tap a link in Skyscanner on a hotel search, that they are sent directly into the app.

As of a year ago, they wouldn’t have been sent into the app. They would have been sent to a mobile [00:03:00] website, none of their payment information would have been stored. They would have had to type 150 characters in to get to that page they want to get to to purchase. And all that information already exists.

So we’re solving the problem of making that connection right.

Kevin May: So you’re going to be talking a little bit about that. Presumably that’s a case study that you’re going to be talking about today.

Mike Dudas: Exactly.

Kevin May: What are some of the other elements you can bring us?

Mike Dudas: I don’t think most product managers and PNL owners at these companies are aware, in fact I know they’re not, [00:03:30] of the tools, particularly on the publisher and the meta search side, to help with routing and linking.

Many people just accept that the routing they do today and the links they’re getting from traditional affiliate networks aren’t intelligent. They also accept that the static links they’re getting from merchants, like hotel chains and airlines, are what they have to live with because they haven’t seen something better.

We’re here to educate and really show that there’s a better solution and that it has up to 30% [00:04:00] revenue uplift potential that these folks weren’t even aware of.

Kevin May: So when you’re talking of revenue uplift potentials, even if you get to double figures people see it as pick up a little bit and say “Okay, that’s quite good.”

But you’re talking 25% plus.

Mike Dudas: In a market where we’re talking pennies at insane volume, drives massive revenue uplift.

So if TripAdvisor, Skyscanner, and Kayak can see even a fraction of a penny more per tap they’re driving downstream, [00:04:30] that means the bids will be higher from the OTAs, from the hotels, from the airlines etc. And at the high volume of engagement that they’re seeing, this is meaningful revenue, moving the needle significantly.

Kevin May: What’s quite interesting is this — your business and your product and your solution didn’t need to exist just four or five years ago. Did it?

Mike Dudas: Exactly. In a desktop world where people were booking, where 70% of people weren’t starting their journey and their discovery on mobile, which is happening today, it was a very easy problem. You clicked a url [00:05:00] on a desktop site, you knew where that was going. The open web was much, much easier to navigate, not just for the travel industry but for every industry, for shopping, you name it, than mobile, where you have these closed ecosystems, these proprietary linking structures.

We know about the problems and the cost they’ve introduced for the travel companies in terms of paying for Google Search, paying for Facebook advertising. But I think a forgotten aspect is just the ability to acquire and link and route customers [00:05:30] to the right places.

Not only in paid channels, but also for TripAdvisor or Skyscanner if Hotels.com sends an email to their customer, and they click the link on that email on mobile, you don’t know where it’s going. So we’re solving those problems for them.

Kevin May: The most obvious thing to ask you about is instant booking.

Mike Dudas: Yup, absolutely.

Kevin May: So what is your broad view on instant booking, as a concept because that kind of goes against what you do, right?

Mike Dudas: Unquestionably and I will address that [00:06:00] in my presentation so I’m glad you brought that up. And I believe that I’m uniquely positioned to discuss this because in my last company, I worked at Braintree, which is on the forefront here. I was head of Mobile Business Development for Braintree and worked on Braintree’s implementation with Skyscanner of direct booking. Which is a best in class execution.

What I believe is that…. what I know is that every single merchant, every single airline, every single hotel chain, every single OTA [00:06:30] has different payment processors, has multiple payment processors in different countries. It is exceptionally complex for a publisher, a metasearch engine, to set up direct booking with just one merchant that they deal with.

So to do that and repeat that across hundreds, is exceptionally challenging. Direct booking is certainly a best-in-class experience for the user and for the publisher where it works. But it is simply absolutely not going to [00:07:00] work for every single path or search that a user does in a metasearch engine because there are many, many airlines, many, many hotels chains and many, many OTAs who are not going to accept it — who will not allow a customer of theirs to book in a metasearch site.

Kevin May: And I suppose so many airlines and hotels in particular, they want, they would still own the customer but they want to get involved in upselling and cross-

Mike Dudas: Upsell, any marketing.

Kevin May: If they’re doing, that’s on the meta [00:07:30] search site that’s arguably more difficult, isn’t it?

Mike Dudas: It unquestionably is. And then you get into the next question. So there’s the payment issue we were talking about and then there’s the data sharing, right?

So these agreements are really, really complex. There’s no question, I would agree, I always push direct booking where it works and where it’s feasible. The other thing is to get consistency of direct booking, right? So if you implement it as a metasearch engine, or Trip Advisor, or any other company that wants to do direct booking (Facebook is doing this). What you find is because of [00:08:00] the payment complexities and the different user flows, each direct booking experience is different and the customer gets confused.

So if I’m on Facebook, whose now doing direct booking, or Yelp, and I book with OpenTable, or I book with Seamless, it’s different than if I book with Uber or another merchant. And it just gets really confusing.

Kevin May: Obviously, you are going to say they should work with us. But the question is what should brands generally do to meet this challenge as well [00:08:30] as working with you?

Mike Dudas: I’ll skip the work with us part because that will be covered in the workshop.

I know that the first thing that brands should do is recognize, on the publisher side, that they need to create better customer journeys. The revenue per tap on mobile is significantly, significantly lower for the larger metasearch engines and other discovery points for travel.

The reason is because the linking is inconsistent, [00:09:00] people aren’t ending up in the right places, and it’s not optimized. We’re one tool that they can use, there certainly are others.

On the merchant side, there’s just far too many people who aren’t allowing the customer to deep link. So on the web, you went to straight to the property page for any OTA or any hotel site. On mobile, you often will link directly to homepage but you have to do the search again within the OTA that just did on the metasearch.

These are really rudimentary and what I would say is the product managers need to get [00:09:30] educated on the tools that are out there. I’ve worked with a number of folks who are very well educated, and a number of folks who aren’t, and just don’t know what’s out there — they need to be curious, they need to do the research.

Kevin May: One trend that’s kind of nascent at the moment, but I think it’s really important, it is the next wave really. We used typewriters and then we used computers, and then we use a mouse, and then we used a finger, and the next thing [00:10:00] is search — it’s voice search.

So what does that do to what you’re doing? Does it make it more complex or what?

Mike Dudas: It truly depends on how the voice ecosystem evolves. So the one person I would recommend anyone to to follow on this, is a man named Brian Roemmele, voice commerce is his thing. And it’s a really big thing that every single brand we talk to is working with. But it’s [00:10:30] very, very early and it’s hard to understand.

You know Amazon’s ecosystem is going to be closed within certain retail areas to develop an Alexa skill, which Button actually did on behalf of Uber, in a test environment. It’s a lot of work for us, with very little usage today.

Kevin May: I was gonna say, how did that work out?

Mike Dudas: They then did it themselves, and it’s just not seeing anywhere near the type of usage as the mobile app. I think folks are a little too early, they’re investing [00:11:00] too much in something that is probably 12 months off. I’m the classic case of doing things too early. I was the merchant partnerships lead at Google Wallet in 2011, which we’re only starting to see Android pay and Apple pay really take off now.

Voice commerce, it’s a little too early to be focusing on that when the basics of mobile experiences haven’t shaped up and aren’t working properly. And when we don’t know which ecosystems are going to win.

We [00:11:30] know Google will be a player in voice commerce, we know Amazon will be with Alexa. Microsoft — I think it’s TBD. And Facebook, they’re going to come into this at some point but they haven’t yet, in a meaningful way.

Kevin May: Finally, how do you think this all kind of shakes out over the next few years? Your business and your solution is a real time and a place type thing, it’s solving a problem that is happening, that brands are experiencing right now.

But if we’re talking two to three years time, what [00:12:00] do think you need to evolve to as a business? What’s going to happen?

Mike Dudas: We need to certainly take into account we’re only valuable if we can help these brands touch the consumer through every interaction method, voice commerce being one. AR, VR being another.

But the big thing that I think we’re going to see and we’re already seeing, is consolidation. There’s this massive consolidation as you know happening on the publisher side. There’s only a few massive scale travel companies and it’s continuing to happen. There’s Google, [00:12:30] there’s Expedia, Priceline, you know Ctrip and you’re going to continue to see that consolidation, so for us to succeed we need to be working with those companies.

Same thing is happening on the fulfillment side. There’s major airlines, major hotels, the OTAs are massive. And so you need to be working with those folks and we just have to hope that they do maintain open APIs, are friendly, and work within the ecosystem. But there’s a lot of risk there, in that concentration.

Kevin May: It is.

Mike Dudas: Uber they’re doing more commerce [00:13:00] by far, like 5X more than literally any other mobile company, in terms of transactions. There’s a bigger parallel — you see the stats about Facebook having a 30% share of time spent on mobile. If you look at the different commerce categories, Amazon is 10X the nearest US competitor. They had something around a 48% share of e-commerce — it’s insane.

Walmart I think was next with around 4% or 3%. You look across any category on mobile and it’s insane. [00:13:30] It’s just the share that the leaders have, so that presents risk to solution providers like us and you have to be working with the big guys to succeed.

Kevin May: Okay, that’s great. Thank you very much for spending some time telling us all about Button and good luck!

Mike Dudas: All right!

Interested in learning more about optimizing the mobile travel journey? Button is here to help!