KIRKLAND, Wash. — GoDaddy might not get as much attention as the Facebooks and Googles of the world, but the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based web domain, hosting and online services giant has quietly built a major presence in the Seattle region, and it’s not done growing yet.
Established in 2013, the company’s engineering center in Kirkland, Wash., has grown to about 220 people. GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving predicts that the office could approach 300 people by the end of the year. The company has expanded to a second building at the Carillon Point complex on the shores of Lake Washington, and it’s in the process of taking over an additional floor in that building, as well.
“The Kirkland office, and Seattle in particular, has been an amazing place for us to hire great talent,” Irving said.
Examples of engineering projects taking place in the office include e-commerce platform work and mobile development. About a third of the company’s most senior leaders are based in the Kirkland office, managing teams across the country and the world.
GoDaddy’s overall growth has been significant since Irving, a former Microsoft and Yahoo executive, took the reins as CEO four years ago. The company has gone public, doubled its revenues, and expanded into 56 countries, 29 new languages and 43 different currencies. GoDaddy is also expanding with its pending $1.8 billion acquisition of Host Europe Group.
GeekWire toured the Kirkland offices with Irving this week, discussing the company’s growth and future plans under his leadership. Irving also touched on GoDaddy’s launch of its new GoCentral site builder application, the company’s upcoming return to Super Bowl advertising, and Irving’s uncanny — but purely coincidental — resemblance to the guy in GoDaddy’s logo.
Watch a video above, and continue reading for edited excerpts from our conversation.
Q: Seattle is not an easy market to hire engineers in. It might be easier than Silicon Valley, but it’s competitive. How are you growing?
Blake Irving: We have a pretty unique situation. We’re a very well-capitalized company. We’ll do roughly $400 million in free cash this year so we’re actually capitalized like a pretty big company but we’re pretty small. If you look at the overall company’s dev/tech/product organization, it’s about 1,200 people. For a company that’s doing about $2 billion a year in revenue and well over that in bookings, to have that small of a team distributed over four or five offices, you kinda get to know everybody. We’re very big into virtual conferencing, and so it makes it really important.
The other thing that really matters to our employees is we’re on a quest that means something to people. We’re trying to help small entrepreneurs or people that have an idea turn it into their job, turn it into their livelihood. If you can take somebody’s passion and help turn that into something that can feed their family, help their community out, that’s doing something really good for the planet. Every engineer that I’ve met over the years, they’re not like, “Let’s make sure we create shareholder wealth.” They’re like, “Am I solving a problem that’s going to mean something? Am I going to leave a legacy behind? Is my code really going to benefit somebody in a way that is fundamentally world changing?” We think we’re on a quest like that.
Q: Tell us about GoDaddy’s culture as it’s reflected in this office and in your other offices. What do we see here that is emblematic of how things work around here?
Blake Irving: You’ll see a lot glass. You’ll see a lot of open areas. We have a very transparent culture. We make sure our employees bring themselves to work, their whole selves. You don’t have a business persona and a home persona. You are who you are. We expect you to bring that to work and bring things into work that are about you. It makes you vastly more interesting.
One of our values is, “live passionately.” Work takes over your life pretty often, and people tend to let work enter their personal lives — taking phone calls at dinner or getting on email after dinner or whatever — and they very rarely allow their real life to invade the office. We encourage it and think that’s really important to build teamwork, to build trust, because people actually get to see the real you. That’s a really important part of our culture.
Q: When we talked at the beginning, when you were just starting with GoDaddy, a lot of the challenges were basic — redoing the website, making it responsive. I remember it was pretty basic stuff. What, now, are the biggest technical challenges, because I imagine they’re a lot more sophisticated than they were at that point.
Blake Irving: Well, they are. We’ve redone our infrastructure and gone completely OpenStack. Now, we’re actually taking a lot of legacy stuff we had and moving it over. We just transitioned out of a data center that we had for a decade and moved that into two different data centers where we now have Cassandra managing live failover on both of those sites.
We’ve got 56 different countries that we’re in right now, so we’re managing code that’s going all of those places, managing our marketing message, making sure that each one of those countries has marketing that is appropriate for their marketplace, so you’ve got a really good ability to have something that’s specific for customers because, in those markets, cultures are different.
I think from a coding perspective, we’re doing a lot more. We were a domains company when I joined that did some other things. We just introduced the GoCentral website-builder product, which is this incredibly mobile-first, super-powerful tool to build a website in less than an hour on a mobile device, on a PC, whatever. That’s code that we didn’t have before and that’s all fresh code base over the last couple of years.
We’re doing email marketing. We’ve got another couple of products, one of which will be introduced later in the year which is a telephony product that allows small businesses to communicate with their customers. The product depth and breadth has grown tremendously and we’ve done that around the globe. The complexity of delivering product into 56 countries is vastly different than delivering into English-only markets with primarily a domains go-to-market in one single on-ramp.
Q: You mentioned your data centers. Are you doing any public cloud, using Amazon Web Services or Azure?
Blake Irving: We are not yet. We are thinking about it. We run our own data centers today, so we’ve done all of our workloads ourself. But as we go into other countries — and I’ll use India as an example — the amount of CAPEX spend coming out of Google, Amazon and Microsoft is crazy when it comes to data center build-out. As they start spending that money, they need workloads, and if I want to get the best speed, the best performance, the best resiliency and reliability [those options start to make more sense.] This is one of the reasons why we went to OpenStack, is that we can basically take that workload and put it into any one of those three cloud providers, regardless of who it is, if it’s using Kubernetes, it’s using Docker, it’s using all the standard stuff that’s OpenStack, we can then say, “We’re going to transfer our workload to India because our services will be way faster than trying to host it from Singapore.” Which is what we do today. Honestly, when people are spending that much CAPEX, why would you go build redundantly in a country where it’s going to cost you a lot more and you may not get the same scale economies? I think we and a whole lot of providers are thinking that way today, so we have conversations going, frankly, with all those folks.
Q: GoDaddy over the years has been known for its Super Bowl commercials. Will you have one coming up?
Blake Irving: We will. We will have a Super Bowl commercial. We sat out last year. We were distributing our marketing spend in the countries we had just entered. We were just entering Asia last year, which is an important market for us which is growing very nicely. This year, we have the GoCentral product, which is the new website building product I just talked about. We’re going to highlight that product, GoCentral, in a GoDaddy commercial at the Super Bowl, a 30-second spot. We’ve got some really fun stuff that’s happening now and then will start happening a little bit before the event and then after the event. If you can think of every meme that’s happened on the internet over the last decade, it’s in that commercial. And it’s pretty funny.
Q: Why was it important for you to get back? Obviously, you have a product to market, but given the heritage of GoDaddy, why was it important for you to get back in the big game?
Blake Irving: It wasn’t super important for us to get back. The thing that was most important for us is when you’re introducing a new product, you want to do that in a place where you’ve got the loudest voice and you can reach the widest audience. Without question, in the United States — when you’re trying to say, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. It’s new. You should check it out.” — the Super Bowl is a platform that reaches well over 100 million people and it reaches globally because people watch it around the world. It’s good from that perspective.
We’ve spent quite a bit of time working on a marketing campaign that will start at the Super Bowl and then continue throughout the year, which is different for us. What we used to do, we’d do a Super Bowl ad that would be very interesting, very provocative, and that was it. And then we’d move on. This, you’re going to see actually have some legs for quite a while.
Q: And perhaps less provocation?
Blake Irving: Well, it’s provocation with cause and it’s provocation very different than what we’ve done before. While it’s edgy, it’s funny, it’s memorable, it doesn’t do it at anybody’s expense. I think folks will enjoy it and they’ll see part of their internet lives in this thing somewhere, even in a 30 second spot. When you get to the longer spot — because we’ll do a 60, as well, that we’ll have on our website, that’s even funnier — I think folks will enjoy it.
Q: Another huge change is that GoDaddy is public now. How does that change your role as the CEO?
Blake Irving: Well, it’s changed what I can talk about. I could talk about business results with you anytime, and now I can’t because we’re in a quiet period. I have new constituents which are shareholders. Frankly, if we do a really good job with our employees and our customers, our shareholders are going to be happy. Honestly, we were running the company like it was a public company before with really good rhythm, with quarterly updates with our board. We just got much more deeply into the processes that you would expect a public company to have. Our reporting, earnings calls, those kind of things that we do on a quarterly basis.
Q: How do stay nimble, though, when you’re a public company? Because it feels like it’s a bigger ship to turn around, with more constraints.
Blake Irving: Your [general and administrative expenses] will go up a little bit because you’ve got to hire more folks to make sure you’re managing [Sarbanes-Oxley] compliance and those types of things. But generally, the product teams are just as agile as when we were private. They don’t know the difference, and frankly shouldn’t care. The customer didn’t change because we’re a public company. Our go-to market didn’t change because we’re a public company. Our quest that we’re on — to try to do really good for this tiny business person who’s trying to figure out how to take an idea and turn it into something bigger — that didn’t change.
We’re still nimble. We’re still agile. In fact, we have been introducing even more agile process design thinking throughout the company that we think is actually accelerating our agility across the company.
Q: I know that there’s a rumor that the GoDaddy logo or the character was modeled after you, but you actually arrived after the character. Have you thought about changing that guy?
Blake Irving: No, it’s funny. I think when I interviewed with Bob Parsons — our founder — I met him and he goes, “Man! It’s uncanny, ’cause you really look like that guy.” And I thought, “I’ve never thought about that, but yeah, I guess you’re right.” The brand recognition of that head is actually pretty good, even globally, so people see it and they go, “Yeah, it’s the GoDaddy guy.” So we’ll keep it.