Chat with GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving: his startup way of running a corporation
Billy Yuen, Startup IO’s and EntrepreneurHK founder, engage in a conversation with CEO Blake Irving on the pivoting moments and distinctive edge of his company, GoDaddy.
Bill: How did you journey start at GoDaddy?
Blake: GoDaddy was primarily a US-based company. I wasn’t the original founder of the company; Bob Parson started it 20 years ago and I was offered the role almost 5 years ago. When I took the role, I flattened the platform and build common user experience. I globalized and market the company internationally. I would make the advertising square up with who we are, what we do, and who our customers are. For the last five years, we’ve been executing that plan. We’re now on 56 countries, localized in 56 countries; 50 different currencies, 29 languages. We’re doing business at a 125 countries today. More than half of our new customers come from the international markets now. We found a very important niche and we’ve been able to double revenues in the last 4 years. We’ll double our revenues again in the next 4 years through organic win acquisition; and most of that growth will come from international markets, South America, Europe and Asia.
Bill: You are basically transforming this GoDaddy into a tech company. That’s kind of like a startup founder building a new venture. What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve faced so far after you took over the job?
Blake: When I took the role, GoDaddy wasn’t perceived as a technological company. It was perceived primarily as a marketing company. My goal coming in was actually build a technical platform that small businesses could use globally and I think the challenge came from executing that plan. I had to pivot the company in the direction and hire employees that were good engineers. To do that, I had to open offices in various cities in the US and we also opened “customer cares”. Customer care organizations are very important part of our business and our go-to market and so we opened organizations in Europe, Asia, and even South Africa. It took a lot of effort to pivot the company into a technological one but we were able to do that, thanks to our engineers who have a lot of horsepower and are building the right products.
Bill: Under this new “tech startup” GoDaddy, the web builder is like your first big product. Tell me more about it.
Blake: The web-builder product actually is doing really well for us. You get a domain, you build a website, you go get e-mail—you look like you’re all up professional business. And with the website builder product, it allows us to let somebody go try out the tool, build the website and go, “Hey, that was pretty cool. Now, I’m gonna name it. Now, I’ll go get a domain.” So, we just changed the on-ramp to do something that’s a little different than that. We had another on-ramp that we just created in North America that is called Smartline. Smartline is a second phone line for your cellphone. The context is like this: you’re building a website and you gotta put a phone number on it so people could call you but you don’t put your personal phone number on a website because it’s not safe—people could steal your identity. So, Smartline is like having a second phone line on that website that customers can use to call you. That way, you can now discern whether the call is a personal matter or for business. It’s a cool feature and costs only US$4 a month and was soft-launched in the US.
Bill: Many tech startups are doing the freemium subscription model and it seems like you guys are going that direction as well.
Blake: Clearly, the market’s going in that direction and even our competitors are going with the website first and then the domain. It actually makes sense because there’s a cohort that wants to try the tool first before they buy it. Now, we put a 30-day free trial in place so customers can try the tool, build a site, and goof around with it. What’s even cooler about it is that it can even be built entirely using a mobile phone and has a full fidelity website in your PC.
Bill: Well, your situation is a little bit different because it feels like you’re actually building a tech startup from scratch, even though GoDaddy has been around 20 years and you have resources. But the thing is, due to some organization change, your team is now headed towards a new direction. Now, you’re starting to launch a new tech startup. Is there anything that you actually do differently in hindsight?
Blake: When I first came into the company, what would usually happen is the marketing team would get the engineers to build something or some new features to sell so that they can advertise it. We don’t do
that anymore. What we do now is we build a product that has a solid product strategy. We plan it, we launch it, we line up marketing behind it, and then we iterate like crazy on that product using agile technology capability. And from there, we just continuously shift. The web-builder product has a new feature every week on at least 1,500 verticals and we’re just starting to get deeper and expanded. In a different perspective, I think we already had a great care organization and a brilliant marketing organization but the tech organization was mostly underdeveloped. By putting in place a strategy that allowed us to invest in developing technology, we’ve built up the product’s capability—making it scalable, high-performance, very reliable, and had the right features. Spending time doing that for 3 to 4 years and then building marketing on top of it has been a strategy pivot but we’ve executed it well. We are now focusing on getting the absolute best product outcome for our customers.
Bill: Those terms: agile, pivot, shipping weekly iterations; you really sound like a startup founder. Let’s shift to the big picture, what are the three technological trends that you’re paying attention to right now?
Blake: I think public cloud is becoming a huge thing. We’re actually using some of the technology from AWS or Google cloud or Azure and using it to our advantage. So if we’re gonna go deploy in India, we can get as close to the customers as possible through deploying somebody else’s cloud infrastructure. Technically, that’s important in building products using React on mobile phones. React is the language used in Facebook and it’s powerful. That’s why we’ve pivoted our developers to use it majorly for our UX and our mobile devices. It makes it easier to go negative. We’re already starting to do a lot of engagement now on mobile phones and tablets using React and this is the first design point for now. It’s no longer about getting something from the PC and pour it over to a mobile device; when my teams are coming in and having a demo with a new product, it should be on their mobile phones.
Bill: People often talk about startups disrupting industries and uprooting incumbent but we also see how startup innovations benefit corporations. What’s the impact of startup innovation on GoDaddy?
Blake: We’ve acquired some startups like WP, and Scurry. It was a security company for WordPress and other websites. We have partnered with companies as well such as Microsoft, who’s a big partner of ours and who we’ve delivered millions of seats to with their Office 365. We wrote their installation process and making much simpler for Solopreneur. We both partner and acquire startups.
Bill: Hiring is a big challenge for startups. Everybody is competing for talents and you are in tech company going up against the likes of Google, Facebook, etc. How do you persuade people to choose GoDaddy?
Blake: We’re actually hiring from companies that you think we wouldn’t be able to compete with for employment. We actually have people who are leaving those companies and coming to us because we’re smaller and, therefore, faster. We’re not bureaucratic and we get stuff done quickly. Our engineering team is under a thousand people in total so that gives you more ability to affect the company and the software than it does if you’re working on your dangling dialogue box on a product that exists for a hundred thousand developers in a company.
Bill: How do you guys pitch to these developers when you’re trying to hire them?
Blake: Actually, when we lose a recruit to either Google or Microsoft and even Facebook sometimes, we’re also winning recruits that have offers from the same companies. The reason why these people
come to us instead of going to one of those bigger companies is what I’ve described earlier. It’s a small company so your codes going to matter to everybody in the company, even the CEO. I actually show up to every new employee orientation, do an hour long pitch to meet everybody, have dinner with them that night, and just, get to know everybody. That isn’t the experience that you’re gonna have at Google, Facebook or Microsoft. They’re just too big; they can’t scale to that size. That’s the benefit of us being small and being able to grow the way we’ve been growing and engineers love it.
Bill: I want learn a little bit more about your culture. Since you’ve pivoted into a tech startup, do you run hackathons within the company?
Blake: Yes, we do hackathons, even multiple big hackathons with prices that I’ve judged. We also do stand-ups from the agile process on Fridays. We don’t usually do it at every sprint but like, in every other sprint, we have teams come in and show off their stuff. Everybody runs on two-week sprints now and they’re not all coordinated to end at the same time. But when we get together, we view virtual hackathons and then real hackathons. In virtual hackathons, we assume that everybody does work and they present it to the entire company. It’s actually pretty fun.
Each week, Billy Yuen talks with top entrepreneurs, investors and executives about startups. Follow him on http://blog.startupio.com. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.