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THE WAY I WORK

The Way I Work: Bob Parsons, Go Daddy

Bob Parsons, founder of Go Daddy, the world's largest domain name registrar, has the flexibility to do what he fancies.
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Being outrageous seems to work just fine for Bob Parsons. He's the founder of Go Daddy, the world's largest domain-name registrar, which manages more than 32 million domain names for some six million customers worldwide. He launched the company in 1997, three years after selling his first business, a software company, to Intuit for $64 million. Go Daddy, which has annual revenue of about $350 million, now employs more than 2,000, most of whom work near the company's headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. As the sole owner, Parsons, a 58-year-old former Marine who won a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, has the flexibility to do what he fancies. He typically spends his days traipsing around in motorcycle gear, shopping for rifles online, and brazenly stirring up controversy.

I'm usually up by 4:30 or 5 in the morning. I'm happiest at sunrise, when it's just me and the birds. I have a cup of coffee and then take my Ducati Multistrada for a ride. I got my license two years ago, and now I have 18 bikes and I own two dealerships. I use this time in the morning to clear my head. I try not to think about business, though I do occasionally come up with an idea. I try to be in the moment.

After my ride, I go back home and have a light breakfast -- an omelet stuffed with vegetables, sometimes a side of bacon -- and then try to work out before checking on the business. I used to be a runner -- I ran a couple of marathons before I blew out my knee. Now, I lift weights, and I take four doses of glucosamine a day. As you get older, your cartilage gets tougher, and glucosamine keeps it pliable. If you run and don't take it, you're a knucklehead.

After I work out, I spend time in my home office. I read e-mail and check my blog for comments and post replies. Then, depending on my mood, my day varies. Sometimes, I'll work from home until lunch; other days, I'll just ride my motorcycle to the office, maybe stopping by my dealerships in Scottsdale to check on things. A lot of times, I'll just work in my motorcycle gear, and since I've been hit twice, that means kneepads, a steel-plated leather jacket, and boots.

At my office, I'm almost never behind my desk. I have this cafeteria-style conference table, which I bought for $90 years ago, and a dozen or so chairs. That's where I am most of the day, meeting with my staff. A few folks complained that the chairs were cheap and ugly, and they're right. But they convey the right attitude: functional and cheap. You don't spend your money on office furniture -- you spend it where it's going to impact your customers.

I manage everything from the 57-inch monitor that hangs from the ceiling in my office, which I can access with a wireless keyboard and mouse. I have it set to Go Daddy's home page, and there's a program we created that tracks our current market share and how many domain names we register each day. We register about one every second. The names show up on that screen in real time, like a ticker tape. It's always on, so I can refer to it throughout the day. I can tell at a glance what's going right or wrong.

People are in and out of my office all day. Some have scheduled appointments, and others just pop in. From time to time, I will call an executive staff meeting, but those are rarely scheduled. I expect my staff to be nimble and adaptable.

People often say to me, "You must be a really busy guy!" Actually, I'm not. I can make time anytime I want, and there's a reason for that: I accomplish everything through other people. That gives me a tremendous bandwidth. And then, when I want to get away -- which I do often -- everybody who works with and for me knows how to handle things, so it doesn't matter if I'm here or not. It shows trust. I'm here to counsel, not preempt. But I'm not soft: If somebody's not doing the job, they're gone. Now, that said, the most junior person on my executive staff has been with me six years.

When I am in the office, I never go out for lunch. It just seems like a waste of time. I think it's been more than a year since I've been to lunch with anybody. I eat in my office every day. My assistant usually orders sashimi: Sea urchin is my favorite. I also have an energy drink, Java Monster or sometimes Redline, which I keep stocked in the mini fridge next to my desk.

I spend a good chunk of my day thinking about advertising -- that's where I see the biggest impact on our bottom line. We currently run about 500 ads a week on cable and network TV. I track these ads every day with software we developed, which looks at site traffic and customer conversions. We can determine how effective an ad was within minutes after it runs. We yank the ads that don't work and increase those that do.

We started making commercials in 2005. Back then, we had about 16 percent market share, and I couldn't understand why. We had better rates than our competitors and top-notch customer service. I hired a marketing research firm, which talked with our competitors' customers. Turns out, no one knew we existed. I decided to advertise nationally, and the Super Bowl was coming up. I thought, That would be a hell of a debut, but how do I get a bunch of drunk people's attention? If we explained what we do, we'd be dead in the water. So then I thought, Be outrageous. It doesn't take Harvard Business School to figure that one out.

The Go Daddy girl was my idea. I told the ad agency, "I want a really well-endowed, good-looking gal in a tight T-shirt, with our name right across her breasts." We did a nationwide casting, and then the agency called me and said, "Bob, we just found your next ex-wife." At that point I had been divorced once -- for the record, my second ex-wife was not a Go Daddy girl. We did a parody of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. We bought two slots, but there was such an uproar, the network yanked the second one. I was doing interviews for days. The media called the ad inappropriate, which got even more traffic to our site. Our market share shot up to 25 percent, and my mother's very proud that I've established a standard for indecency in broadcasting.

Since then, we've formed Go Daddy Productions, our own production and creative company. We can make ads for about a third of what it would cost to pay somebody else. So I'm always thinking about new ads and other ways of getting Go Daddy's name out there. When Danica Patrick was the first woman to lead during an Indy 500 race, I said to my marketing team, "That's our next Go Daddy girl." She has been great for us, and we've been great for her.

We don't have an advertising budget. Our advertising budget is opportunistic. So, for example, we had a deal two years ago where a big sponsor dropped out of the Indy 500. We're one of the few companies you can call at the last minute that will go ahead and do the spend if it makes sense, which we did in that case. Those things are multimillion-dollar deals, but we have a flexible budget, so if an opportunity like that opens, please do call us.

Once in a while, I'll show up at an event with some Go Daddy girls for publicity's sake, but I don't spend my days surrounded by women in tight T-shirts. A while back, I went to an event with a Go Daddy girl on each arm. These guys were screaming, "Bob, I want to be you!" And I was thinking, If they only knew. People think I have girls feeding me grapes and making my breakfast. In my dreams! It's all business. I live with my girlfriend.

I started a blog just before our first Super Bowl ad ran, which was good, because so many folks had opinions about the ad. I spend several hours a week working on my blog. I write everything myself. Sometimes, I'll be writing in the middle of the night at home, but most often in the middle of the afternoon at work. If my office door is shut, I am probably shopping for guns online -- I like hunting big game, and I love Holland & Holland guns -- or looking at motorcycles, or jotting down notes for my next blog.

I started doing video blogs instead of written ones because I'm lazy. I give my notes to the production team, which pulls together visuals and puts my script into a teleprompter. When everything is a go, I walk over to our recording room -- which is in our headquarters -- and wing it. Each recording takes 15 to 45 minutes and is based on whatever I feel like talking about. One recent blog was about my hunting trip to Zambia. I also talked about ways to get your domain name out in the world -- like embroidering it on baseball caps or putting a magnet on your car.

The best part of the blog is the feedback. It's a direct pulse on what our customers are thinking. If someone writes in a complaint, I forward it to the appropriate person on staff, who responds within 24 hours. Boom, we're done.

Every Wednesday at 2 p.m., I also do a one-hour radio show that we record in our studio. I guess you could call me a ham. Like everything else here -- from the software technology to the customer service -- we do all our stuff in-house. The show airs live on the Web. Sometimes, we'll take calls from listeners. And I usually play some AC/DC, one of my favorite bands.

I always buffer work with play. My brother always says, "We're not here for a long time; we're here for a good time." I live my life that way. I am always telling my staff members to lighten up and to get off their BlackBerrys. I have one, but I am not controlled by it like so many people are. It does allow me to take off whenever I want. I recently rode my motorcycle from here to Vancouver and back with a buddy. We put about 4,000 miles on our bikes. That's how I like to spend my time.

I never spend any time meeting with investors or raising money. I funded this company with my own money and believe the best partner is no partner. Nobody's going to do things like I do. A few consultants have come in over the years and told me to change this, this, and this. But I know if I did, our secret sauce would be ruined. For the most part, that's customer service. About 1,600 of our employees are locally based customer-service reps who go to Go Daddy University to get trained and then work with a senior person until they are ready to take calls on their own. Some of the reps are based in our other facility, outside of Scottsdale, and at least once a month, I'll hop on my motorcycle to go out there to meet with them.

I don't do industry events or join organizations or boards. I get requests, but I'm not interested. I'll write checks to charities, but my time is the most important thing to me, and I'm really jealous of how I use it.

I generally leave the office around 6 or 7 p.m. I'll go out for dinner with my girlfriend or some friends, or I'll spend a quiet night at home. The hardest time of day for me is at the end of the day, because I hate to see it end. I hate to shut down. And it's hard to shut down, too -- in part, because I am always thinking of ways to improve the business. If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. One of the things people say to me from time to time is, "You must feel very proud." Well, the answer is, No, I don't. That's the last thing I think about. They say, "Well, look at what you've accomplished." I say, "You know, the jury's still out. Talk to me up in heaven; I'll let you know how I did. If I make it there."

Last updated: Jan 1, 2009




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