Business

GoDaddy’s new CEO wants to change the world, one domain name at a time

GoDaddy is growing up. With new leadership, new branding, and a new vision, the company stands poised to transform the way small businesses operate online and bring greater opportunities to millions of people around the world.

But it won’t be easy. Change, they say, must come from within.

GoDaddy is the world’s largest domain-name registrar and web-hosting provider. GoDaddy rakes in $1.3 billion in annual revenue and is growing fast. More than 55 million domain names are under GoDaddy’s management. My dad has one, and yours probably does too. The company claims to register, renew, or transfer more than one domain name every second of every day, and it is larger than the next eight closest registrar competitors combined. Eleven million customers around the world use some of GoDaddy’s 40 product offerings to set up websites and online businesses.

Despite those astonishing numbers, most of us know GoDaddy not for its business metrics but for its provocative advertising campaigns, mostly featuring beautiful women in tight T-shirts.

But all that is about to change.

Overlooked and underrated

“GoDaddy is a pretty unknown quantity in the tech community,” said its new chief executive, Blake Irving, in an interview with VentureBeat. “Very few people actually know what it is, or they think it is only domains. They certainly don’t see the potential.

“But I  see a very clear path of how to make GoDaddy the most valued, largest platform for small businesses in the world. It is quite clear that no one is doing it right yet.”

Irving assumed leadership of GoDaddy earlier this year and quickly made ripples by hiring executives away from big-name companies like Microsoft, eBay, Google, and Yahoo.

Irving’s previous role was as Yahoo’s chief product officer; he left shortly after the arrival of new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. Before that, he served as a professor at Pepperdine University and as corporate vice president of the Windows Live platform at Microsoft for eight years. A self-described “product guy,” Irving arrived at GoDaddy ready to transform the company into a major, established, and understood force.

“What I like to do is make a significant change in the world for good,” he said. “I want to take something that doesn’t exist and help change people’s lives by helping people turn their ideas into businesses. From my perspective, GoDaddy is not yet a world-class platform, but that’s what we are building.”

Clearly, Irving is setting a very different tone than GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, who wore a gigantic diamond earring, boasted about his elephant-hunting exploits, and clearly relished the part of his job that involved selecting the models for GoDaddy’s ads.

Irving is not changing the company’s branding overnight. But it’s clear he’d rather talk about business than the company’s advertising.

Irving’s goal is to make it as frictionless as possible for anyone to set up a business online. For a small monthly fee, people with no technical expertise can get a website up and running using GoDaddy’s suite of products and services. It offers simple drag-and-drop design tools, hundreds of themes and templates, integrations with popular business applications that support social media and customer engagement, and tools for making sites mobile-friendly. However, the tools are not as user-friendly or well-designed as they could be, and Irving has a massive undertaking ahead of him, both in terms of product development and marketing.

How is web hosting like kissing supermodels?

GoDaddy may have major name recognition due to attention-grabbing (and gag reflex-inducing) Super Bowl ads, but that recognition does not necessarily translate into brand awareness. There are plenty of people out there familiar with the ads who have no idea what GoDaddy does, not to mention that many find the ads tasteless, vulgar, and even offensive.

During the interview, Irving said this type of advertising is simultaneously effective and harmful. While model Bar Refaeli’s infamous kissing session with Jesse Heiman had everyone buzzing about GoDaddy, the conversation had nothing to do with its products. Interestingly, Irving pointed out that GoDaddy ran a second ad during the Super Bowl that involved less cleavage and was more on-brand. But no one remembers it.

On the one hand, this strategy garnered a ton of mainstream attention for a service as “unsexy” as Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 5.22.21 PMweb hosting. Simple name recognition does actually have value for a company targeting nontechnical consumers. A person in a small Midwestern town who wants to start a pretzel business may vaguely remember that the company with the funny Super Bowl ad can help. On the other hand, a lot of the attention was negative and made GoDaddy seem juvenile and even sexist.

Irving acknowledged that GoDaddy’s negative reputation was on obstacle to recruiting, until he shared his new vision with the people he wanted behind him.

“There are not a whole lot of companies where you can do something fundamentally world-changing,” he said. “When I look around at what tech companies have done something this big, who are willing to take on things that are that important, it is the big guys like Google and Microsoft. But you can be a cog in a company that has already made its mark in a significant way, or you can come to a company that is poised to do that, and be the reason that happened. That’s why people are coming to GoDaddy.”

When I questioned him on marketing, Irving said the new strategy will be focused on conveying GoDaddy’s value proposition in a way that is on-brand but still edgy and fun. The priority is no longer shameless attention-grabbing because with over 50 percent of the market share in the U.S., “its not about market share anymore.”

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