GoDaddy is launching a cloud platform Monday, designed to win 30 million developers worldwide serving very small businesses. But first, the company needs to get its tarnished brand to shine again.
The domain registrar and hosting service came under fire for sexy TV commercials featuring NASCAR driver Danica Patrick and other so-called "Super Bowl girls." Animal lovers hated GoDaddy after then-CEO Bob Parsons hunted and killed an elephant in Zimbabwe and posted a video of the event. And techies hated GoDaddy for being difficult to do business with -- bombarding users with advertisements for additional services, and making it hard to transfer domains elsewhere.
Indeed, I can't find anybody to defend GoDaddy. Attendees at the Open Networking Summit, a conference in Silicon Valley last week, laughed outright at the idea that GoDaddy might become respectable. A feminist woman in tech said she didn't want to talk about GoDaddy, preferring to give attention to other, more respectable domain registrars (which must hurt twice for GoDaddy -- once for the suggestion that they're beneath notice, and again for the description as just a domain registrar).
Not satisfied, I took an informal, unscientific poll on my Google+ profile. With 57 responses, only 16% had positive associations for GoDaddy: "Love them!" 4%; "They're OK," 12%. Other responses: "GoDaddy? Are they still around?," 35%; "Sexist elephant-killing sleazeballs," 26%; and "No Opinion," 23%.
I was intrigued when GoDaddy pitched me an article about augmenting their existing hosting business with a cloud service aimed at the VSB market -- very small businesses, sole proprietor or up to three employees. I felt compelled to visit their offices face-to-face. Maybe I'd get to meet Danica Patrick, or go on an elephant hunt.
GoDaddy is based in Scottsdale, Ariz. I visited its Silicon Valley offices, located in Sunnyvale. They're typical offices for the area. That surprised me. I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe stripper poles and animal-head trophies.
The offices are spacious and airy, with big windows letting in plenty of light, an open office plan, pedal-powered go-carts lined up on display in the lobby, and a centrally located, well-stocked coffee bar. The coffee bar also has a mini-fridge that serves hard liquor; but I did not see anyone tipple during our meeting hours. Coffee and soft drinks are free, but employees and visitors have to pay for the hard stuff.
I met with Jeff King, general manager of hosting and security for GoDaddy. We discussed concerns about the GoDaddy brand, and he acknowledged them as valid. He even raised one or two himself. For example, as of three years ago, the company had an international presence, but messaging was America-focused. Even its website for the subcontinent of India was in English, prominently featuring Danica Patrick holding a football.
However, King says, GoDaddy's negative image is a couple of years out of date.
GoDaddy and Patrick parted last year, the elephant-hunting CEO has been replaced (though he still serves on the board), and new CEO Blake Irving, formerly of Microsoft and Yahoo, is focused on building GoDaddy as a global hosting and cloud provider for VSBs.
GoDaddy is looking to rebuild its brand the only way it knows how -- build a reputation for delivering quality service by building a track record. That takes time, King says.
"You're only going to turn your reputation around by what you do every day," King says. "What we try to do is build world-class products."
Wall Street likes GoDaddy's odds. It went public a year ago, trading at $26.50 April 2; it peaked at $34.13 in December and its stock closed at $31.93 Friday. Revenue was $1.6 billion in fiscal 2015, up from $1.4 billion year-over-year. However, the company ran at a net loss of $120.4 million, down from $143.3 million in 2014.
In the fourth quarter, GoDaddy's hosting and presence revenue was $155.5 million, up 12.7% year-over-year, with 14 million customers and 62 million domains under management -- more than 20% of the world's total.
Its customers are bakers, plumbers, restaurateurs, writers, photographers, and more. "Our mission in life is to enable the small business economy," King says.
GoDaddy sees the economy as moving in its direction. "We think enterprises are going to hire fewer and fewer people over the next ten years," King says. The economy will shift to contractors and self-employment, and those workers will require websites to attract business.
Next page: Winning small business