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Bob Parsons of GoDaddy.Com: Smiling for the future

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-01-27

Bob Parsons is a burly, square-built man and one doesn't need to deduce from his closely cropped hair that he's an ex-marine. He speaks with the clipped, straight-forward, "just-the-facts-sir" style that immediately informs you of his induction at Parris Island. His single-mindedness about the job at hand also gives away the Marine Corps oath the 54-year-old Baltimore native took in his youth, "Semper Fidelis," or "Always Faithful."

That single-mindedness has resulted in the creation of the world's biggest registrar of domain names, GoDaddy.Com. Last year, the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company registered 3.2 million new Web sites, for sales of $102 million and before-tax profit of $12.4 million. In fact, since 1999 -- when it registered its first client on the Internet -- the company has very nearly doubled its sales each year. This year, Mr. Parson expects that sales will exceed $200 million.

Not bad for a man who confesses to two "monumental business failures" in an earlier life, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The key to his success, Mr. Parsons said over lunch yesterday, is "discipline -- that and a refusal to accept failure, and an intense willingness to learn from my mistakes."

It takes more than that, of course, to build a healthy business in a relatively short time.

It takes money, for one. That came from the $65 million Mr. Parson got when he sold an earlier technology company to Intuit. GoDaddy.Com is privately held by him, although he's thinking about going public some day.

It takes a dedicated staff. Mr. Parsons has 700 people working for him in Scottsdale and Cedar Rapids, including 31 developments of between 2 and 6 members each who come up with special programs for Web sites, search engine technology and better online security through encryption certificates. The company has 32 patents pending on technologies that its specialists generated.

It takes fierce competitiveness. That's why GoDaddy.Com offers to register new Web sites for $7.95 a pop, compared to $34 charged by its two main competitors, Network Solutions and Register.Com. It also offers the most comprehensive range of services -- including site hosting -- of the 300 companies around the world who register Web sites.

It takes a special attentiveness to customers. "We serve with a smile, we are always prompt about returning phone calls, and we view no customer problem as too insignificant," Mr. Parsons said.

What's so special about that? "Try calling our competitors," he replied. His average customer takes out a domain name for a period of 1.4 years; some clients capture Web site names for as long as 10 years.

It also takes paying special attention to the quality of content on the Web, a topic that Mr. Parsons seems quite passionate about. For example, GoDaddy.Com shut down some 1,500 sites that it hosted because they were found to contain what Mr. Parsons said was offensive content, including child pornography. Indeed, GoDaddy.Com works closely with federal and local law enforcement authorities to combat pornography on the Internet. The company employs a fulltime lobbyist in Washington to interact with lawmakers on various issues, including widening legislation concerning child pornography.

Mr. Parsons isn't naive about the fact that Web sites deliver the content that their customers want. But at a time when there are more than 35 million registered sites worldwide -- a new Web site is registered every 7 seconds -- he feels that GoDaddy.Com has an opportunity to highlight company values such as promoting a clean Internet.

Some of those values will be broadcast during Super Bowl XXXIX on February 6 in two commercials that GoDaddy.Com has purchased. Each 30-second spot will cost $2.4 million. And the company is paying an additional $1 million to produce each of the two commercials.

Why such expenditures?

"Because we want to show that GoDaddy.Com is the market leader," Mr. Parsons said. "After the dotcom bubble burst in 1999-2000, there was a general downbeat attitude about the prospects of technology companies -- and even about the Internet. We want to show that the industry is back. The Internet is back. And GoDaddy.Com is right where it wants to be."

That's some brio, but that's also vintage Bob Parsons. A conversation with him elicits not only statements packed with self-confidence but also aphorisms.

""Unless we get better as a company, we will get worse," he says, in a display of down-home shrewdness clothed in simple language."My late father once told me, after I'd failed in a business, 'If it doesn't work out, don't worry. They won't eat you."

"They Won't Eat You" is now going to be the title of a book that Mr. Parsons, the father of three grown-up children -- ages 33 to 28 -- is writing. It will contain the lessons that he's learned. It will contain his "16 Rules" for success, the last of which he articulated yesterday:

"There's always a reason to smile -- and you've got to find it."

At GoDaddy.Com, Mr. Parsons is smiling a lot these happy days of good business and a promising future.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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