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GoDaddy: Lessons of a Rookie CEO
GoDaddy’s Blake Irving discusses life as the top boss, and prospects for a public offering.
If businesses and individuals flock to the new domains—which haven’t been revealed yet but proposed ones include .shop and .fun—they could significantly boost GoDaddy Group Inc., the leading company that registers new Web addresses for annual subscription fees. Chief Executive Blake Irving will try to sell those new customers on higher-margin services such as Web design and hosting, which comprise about half of the Scottsdale, Ariz., company’s revenue.
The closely held concern, founded in 1997, scuttled plans for a public offering in 2006. And in 2011, private-equity firms KKRKKR -0.39% & Co., Silver Lake Partners and Technology Crossover Ventures purchased GoDaddy. Now, Mr. Irving, a former product chief at Yahoo Inc. YHOO +1.01% who joined GoDaddy in January, says plans for an IPO may be back on the table.
The 53-year-old chief executive recently spoke with The Wall Street Journal about the changing domain-name landscape and why the company has toned down its racy marketing. Edited excerpts:
WSJ: Top-level domains, such as .biz and .info, never became popular. What makes you think the upcoming batch of domains will be a hit?
Mr. Irving: The new domains are going to be viewed as an opportunity to have a better presence on the Web. We’ll see a resurgence—not a gold rush, because that implies scarcity—but businesses will want to get names that matter to them, specific names.
So we’ll see big interest from customers in domains like .plumber and .newyork. Those are more descriptive than whatever you can get on the other side of .com today.
WSJ: Most of your customers—about 75%—are in the U.S. How will you expand your foreign customer base?
Mr. Irving: We want to be in every country where the Internet has reached critical mass and where small businesses are coming online.
We’re localizing, globalizing and marketizing our code base which means we’re building software for specific languages and markets.
Take Spanish, for example. It’s spoken differently in places like Chile, Mexico and Peru, so we’ll make investments in currency, payment types, unique graphics and vernacular for each market we go into.
WSJ: GoDaddy has been known for racy commercials—one of which was pulled off the air during the 2005 Super Bowl—but your marketing has recently become more tame. Why?
Mr. Irving: Nobody knew what GoDaddy was. Most folks would remember the commercial but they didn’t tie it to the company’s value proposition. Our advertising is now more focused on what we do as a company and who we do it for. One of our newest ads shows a series of individuals from all over the world sitting on their couch with a spouse and having a conversation about an idea [for an online business]. It was all about taking that idea and building something that’s massive out of it.
WSJ: How does GoDaddy protect itself and its customers from hackers?
Mr. Irving: We haven’t had a breach on our network. We had an outage in September of last year that wasn’t caused by a hacker from outside; we had a [staffer] who put in bad code. It pointed out a process deficiency that we fixed and it will never happen again.
WSJ: This is your first CEO job. How have you put your stamp on GoDaddy so far?
Mr. Irving: We’ve added domestic-partner benefits to the company’s health plan. We’re changing the layout of our offices substantially, eliminating ceilings so you see the rafters, adding more color, movable desks and basketball and volleyball courts. We’ve opened campuses in Sunnyvale, Calif., and Kirkland, Wash.
WSJ: GoDaddy canceled plans to go public in 2006. Is an IPO in the company’s future?
Mr. Irving: It’s not off the table. We’re growing at double digits [in terms of percentage] on the customer side, on revenue, on earnings, so the opportunity for us to have an IPO is quite good. The board is quite supportive of taking that direction, if that’s what we want to do.
WSJ: GoDaddy is based in Arizona but you live in San Luis Obispo, Calif. What’s your commute like?
Mr. Irving: It’s an hour and 15 minutes by plane. I do it once a week. I have an apartment in Scottsdale. I have been doing this for 13 years. I commuted to Microsoft, which was two flights. When I was at Yahoo, I actually drove to the Bay area because that was just 200 miles.
WSJ: What’s your strategy for finding talent?
Mr. Irving: Your job as a leader is to be a magnet. You’re supposed to be creating a vision and be somebody who’s frankly just fun to work with, and who gets stuff done. I try to hire those people as well, people who tend to attract others who want to go get that vision. We also have the tools nowadays to communicate across not just states but countries. So you’re going to where individuals are versus saying, why don’t you move over to our headquarters?
Thank you TiA.