Street Culture: ‘OKRs’ and Omotenashi Lead the Culture at Button

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OKRs – that’s “Objectives and Key Results” – are one of the drivers of culture at deep-linking software company Button.

“OKRs are a major influencer to recruiting, internal interactions, how we onboard new employees, everything,” says Stephanie Mardell, Button’s head of people, in an interview with Street Fight. “It really pushes the support of diversity and inclusion, and it’s had measurable results.”

In Q2 of 2017, more than 80% of new hires were from underrepresented populations, Mardell says. In Q3, it was more than half.

“And that has a big impact on the business, quite frankly,” she says. “A more diverse and inclusive team will perform better. It’s incredibly important to us. And it’s also just having an added perspective. Organizational learning is about having a different perspectives, opinions, and ideas.”

One common thread that links the founders of Button is the concept of omotenashi — a fundamental value that defines the Japanese spirit of hospitality.

“That is kind of at the core of it,” Mardell says. “Anticipatory hospitality and generosity. That turns up in so many ways throughout the business. We try to anticipate the needs of our end users, anticipate the needs of each other, our managers, our partners, and even how we build our product. That has gone a long way in the accelerating the success of the business. We are constantly thinking about not ourselves, but the people using Button and the people who are working with us to build this company.”

As the company has grown since its creation in 2014, one of the coolest teams Mardell says she has seen emerge is the official integration team, which was initiated by a co-founding engineer.

“He took it upon himself to say, ‘Hey, this is something that the business could really use, it would make a measurable impact on how much we grow,’” Mardell says. “Over the past year, we’ve built out a formal integration team, which is an intersection of product engineers, account management, and sales.”

The distinction is helping Button implement its product faster, and the integration team will grow to include five or six people in total by the end of the year.

“When I think about growth in our company, I think about how you have to be adaptable and consider how different teams will transform,” Mardell says.

After two and a half years, she says that she’s seen her own team grow from just herself to now separate recruiting and people operations teams. Button uses two values in particular to help the company adapt to its own changes, Mardell says.

“Grow individually and organizationally,” she says. “Part of that is always thinking about how to make this or that better. When you pick something up, are you actually improving it? You need to leave it better than you found it, and part of that mindset is continuous growth and feedback, whether that’s for yourself or your partners or your whole team.”

Diversity and inclusion are also qualities that technology companies like to focus on, Mardell says, and it’s no different at Button.

“We started thinking about those really early on,” she says. “When I was hired, I was employee number 14. At that moment in time, our cofounders were already thinking about making sure we have the most inclusive and diverse culture that we can.”

Mardell and Natalie Gerke, Button’s head of corporate communications, fired off a long list of perks and benefits that Button employees enjoy, including the company’s policy of giving 18 weeks of paid parental leave for all new parents – six weeks longer than the federal standard.

“In New York specifically, Button has one of the most generous parental leave policies, especially for a small pre-IPO business,” Mardell says.

Employees also receive unlimited vacation days plus a $1,000 stipend to encourage employees to actually take their vacation time, new parents get a $1,000 “baby cash” bonus, and the company matches 3% of employee contributions to 401K plans.

One of Gerke’s favorite perks is the $100 “Know Your Market” budget that employees get every month to test new apps and services in exchange for their feedback about the experience.

“Our team was fully supportive of these benefits from the start, which really helped shape the culture Button has today,” Gerke says.

April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.