GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving (Photo Credit: GoDaddy)
Blake Irving has very clear plans for the future of GoDaddy, the $7.3 billion technology company that he runs as chief executive.
I interviewed the former Microsoft and Yahoo! executive about GoDaddy, the future of work, the state of small business, why his door is always open, his best business advice, why he wears t-shirts and shorts to the office, and what’s on his Spotify playlist.
Zack Friedman: You came out of semi-retirement to become chief executive of GoDaddy. Why?
Blake Irving: Before I joined GoDaddy almost five years ago, I was a long-time customer.
I knew GoDaddy was in a unique position in capturing ideas at their earliest point. I had personally registered domain names at GoDadd y for over 40 business ideas.
I believed that if GoDaddy made it incredibly easy for folks with ideas to take the next steps in turning those ideas into reality, we would be lowering the barriers to business formation and in some sense democratizing entrepreneurialism.
When I saw the unit economics of the business, the scale, as well as the incredible brand recognition and customer retention, I realized GoDaddy had the horsepower to grow that capability worldwide.
I asked myself, “What would this company look like if we flattened and globalized the platform, and made the software easier to use?” I imagined who I’d bring with me to take on this charge and got incredibly excited.
I hired just about everyone I envisioned, and we’ve localized in 56 markets and are now in 125 countries with an incredibly scalable platform that’s more than doubled our revenue.
It’s been totally worth coming out of semi-retirement.
Zack Friedman: Most people think of GoDaddy as a domains business. Why are they wrong?
Blake Irving: That’s easy to assume, since we’re bigger than our next 10 domain competitors combined.
However, we’re also the world’s largest paid WordPress host, we have an incredibly popular site builder with a publishing rate that blows away the “premium” competition, and our fastest category of growth is in cloud services like email marketing and web security.
Pretty much anywhere in the world, if a person wants to turn an idea into something real, GoDaddy has become the best place to start, run and grow that initiative.
Zack Friedman: You often wear t-shirts and shorts to work. You keep a drum set in your office and have an open door policy. Tell us more about your management style and leadership philosophy.
Blake Irving: I think the best organizations are super flat, without big hierarchies between the most entry-level jobs and se nior leadership. Everyone should be able to talk to anyone, regardless of their post about how to make things better or discuss what’s broken.
My philosophy for leading is get out in front, set the pace and live the culture you want everyone else to live.
I often say lead from the front — but do it in the mosh pit, not on the stage.
I also believe in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, at least once — assume good intentions on the part of your colleagues, and bring as many people into the fold as you can.
You can’t over-communicate. And above all, I think a good leader needs to be totally consistent, day in and day out.
Even if everything else is chaos, folks should know exactly what to expect in a measured way. If not, people are left guessing, and that’s never good for getting everyone aligned.
Zack Friedman: You have a clear view into the state of small businesses and entrepreneurship. With the increase in automation, what is the future of work?
Blake Irving: I think independent work will be the future of work itself.
Enterprises will keep getting bigger, but with fewer and fewer people.
The impulse toward efficiency and earnings growth is a drive that we’re simply not going to shake; and with an increasing ability to automate work, the writing is on the wall for countless millions of jobs.
We will either have a future where there is mass unemployment, or one of mass self-employment. I don’t see a third option.
The good news is that being your own boss tends to be hugely rewarding. Scary, but rewarding.
The other good news is that people don’t have to scale their businesses into multi-million dollar enterprises. We know — because they’ve told us — that they just want to make enough to pay the mortgage, buy a new car every few years, send their kids to college, and have a small nest egg to retire on.
The fu ture of business will be much more humble, more community-based and much more individualized.
Zack Friedman: How is Applied Artificial Intelligence (AAI) at the heart of GoDaddy, and how are you using AAI to drive your business?
Blake Irving: GoDaddy now has more than 17 million paying customers across 125 countries, with thousands of people doing the same kind of thing (think dentists, financial planners or remodel contractors).
Imagine all the insights they could learn from one another if we could anonymize their personal data, analyze it and return it to similar customers as insights.
That’s actually exactly the “data exhaust” platform we’re currently building.
This year, we’re introducing something we call the “Go Experience” as a dashboard and a companion to products like GoCentral.
Go gives you insights into your venture, ranging from who’s paying attention to your site to recommendations on how to be more successful in key areas lik e online marketing.
Zack Friedman: What are your three best pieces of business advice?
Blake Irving: I’m all about finding meaning — in work, in life and in relationships.
I’m not much for handing out advice, but if I did, I’d tell people to:
Find work that adds purpose and meaning to their life
Find people who are great to work with, and be fun and inspiring to work with in return
Stick with people – the best relationships pay off over many, many years.
Zack Friedman: What’s your best advice to a current or aspiring small business owner?
Blake Irving: I tell small business owners, “don’t let not making a decision be your decision.”
Small business owners have to wear many hats — in the course of a single day they are CEO, CMO, CTO, CFO, head of security, catering and housekeeping.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know what to do next. You ask yourself things like, “Should I hire an employee or shoul d I advertise more? I can’t afford to do both.”
Small businesses should know that there is a lot of help out here, including GoDaddy, as well as others.
We’re building a community of small business and other independent ventures, and we’re seeing that the more people connect, the easier things get.
Zack Friedman: You come from a musical family and grew up playing in bands and jazz quartets. Who is on your playlist right now?
Blake Irving: I’ve been listening to a pretty eclectic list over the past month.
Right now and if you followed me on Spotify, you’d find Eliane Elias, Fourplay, Eric Marienthal, Dave Weckyl, the Yellow Jackets and some folks I saw at Coachella this year like SNBRN and the Interrupters.
Of course you’d also find Rage Against The Machine and bunch of old school rap.
I guess I’m pretty hard to pin down.