From Worthwhile magazine
By now, most everyone knows what
Even those who didn't actually see the
controversial Super Bowl ad -- a buxom
marketing woman testifying before regulators
as her top comes undone -- heard
about it at work the next day. It was The
Buzz, exactly what GoDaddy, the world
leader in domain name registrations, was
For Bob Parsons, the man behind
GoDaddy.com -- GoDaddy's daddy, if you
will -- it is the latest step in a career of
remarkable risk-taking and hyperbole. "I
manage on hunch," he says of the ad.
"I had a lot of cash and it seemed like the
right thing to do. How could it not help
us? Now it's the most famous commercial
in the history of television."
Like many things in Parsons' life, the
commercial was a jolt -- this time to some
conservative Christians, who had thought
Parsons was one of them. After all,
Parsons' first company, Parsons
Technology, created the wildly popular
Bible software QuickVerse. After the
Super Bowl, their vitriol was tinged with
betrayal. "Shame on him. He may have
received high name recognition, but there
are untold numbers of Americans who
will not forget what he did," says Bill
Johnson, head of the American Decency
Association. "It was wicked, evil."
Parsons doesn't take such blasts kindly.
"That's absolute nonsense," retorts the
former Marine, calling himself a moderate
Christian. "There's nothing wicked or evil
about it. All we did was a little parody of
censorship....There's nothing in the ad
inconsistent with being a Christian."
A Life-Threatening Beginning
Though some folks on the religious right
are trying to demonize Parsons for the
Super Bowl ads, he could pass for a poster
boy for The Clean Plate Club: principle
over profit. He's the good guy who refuses
to cut corners, works hard, is honest -- and
gets more than his share of lucky breaks in shooting bottle rockets out of a jack
handle during a slow period, when two
gunmen held up the store. The gunmen
stood him up to be executed, twice, but
ultimately chickened out. Although he
wasn't the only employee on duty at the
time, he was the only one to testify
against the gunmen -- because, again, it
was the right thing to do.)
What's more, Johnson and his peers
would be horrified to know Parsons actually
thinks the Lord is on his side. Purpose,
passion -- and providence. And, looking at the
story of his life, it's hard to argue with the
preponderance of evidence to that effect.
"I've definitely been blessed," says
Parsons, the 55-year-old earring-clad
father of three grown children.
Parsons, who now calls Scottsdale,
Ariz., home, grew up "as dirt poor as a
church rat" in inner-city Baltimore. His
father was a furniture salesman for
Montgomery Ward who had a hard time
providing for Parsons and his two siblings
but had no shortage of simple wisdom.
(It's impossible to go through a conversation
with Parsons without him quoting
his father: "The first time you get bit, it's
the dog's fault.")
After barely graduating high school,
he joined the Marines and found himself
in the dangerous rice paddies of Vietnam's
Quang Nam province. "When I joined
my rifle squad, it had just gone through
an ambush and four of the guys had been
killed. They were down to four or five
people. I had an anxiety attack. It
occurred to me, 'I'm going to die here.'
My goal then became each and every day
just to make it to mail call."
Put It in Writing
The experience shaped the businessman
he is today.
"I learned back then not just to expect
the worst, but to quantify the worst,"
Parsons says. "When I start feeling afraid
about what's going on with GoDaddy, I
take out a piece of paper and say, 'What's
the most terrible thing that could
happen?' When you see it in writing, you
realize it's nothing to get paralyzed over."
The Marine in him also demands discipline
of himself and his company. He
wakes at 7 a.m. sharp each day, reads
email and works on his blog. Then he
does 100 pushups, legs elevated, and 45
minutes on his elliptical trainer. After
return. (At 16, he was working at a gas
station in Baltimore on the Fourth of July, more work from his home office, he gets
into GoDaddy around 1 p.m. and works
until 6. After dinner with his wife, he works
in his home office again until about 1 a.m.
Not surprisingly, GoDaddy is a "tight
ship." Company execs receive not only a
daily profit-and-loss statement, but occasional
hourly measurements of every
business unit. The reports show how each
unit is doing compared to the same hour
in the prior four weeks.
After Vietnam, Parsons graduated the
University of Baltimore in 1975, and
bounced around a few business management
jobs, then created an accounting
program for his personal use. Then he
figured: "If it's good enough for me -- and
my standards are pretty high -- then why not
sell it?" The result was Parsons Technology.
In 1984, with $15,000 in savings, he
holed up in his basement and wrote the
code for his first product, money management
software called Money Count. He
priced it at $99 -- and then watched in
agony as it gathered cobwebs on store
shelves. The next year, using his tax
refund and other money, he took $25,000
and lost it all trying to produce Money
Counts for $69. The third year, he
dropped the price to $12 and began direct
marketing the product.
Success Begins, Not Without Drama
Parsons overworked himself so much he
had to be hospitalized twice for exhaustion. But sales began to soar. "My dad
always told me, 'When you love something,
it tells you all its secrets.' It took
me three years to figure out how to sell
Money Counts. I just stuck with it and
eventually I won."
Win he did: Ten years after starting
Parsons Technology, the company was
generating just shy of $100 million
annual sales. In 1996, he sold Parsons
Technology to Intuit for $64 million.
When Intuit bought Parsons
Technology, it required Parsons to stay
out of the industry for a year. He chafed at
the idleness. Hence, 12 months later,
GoDaddy was born. "My only goal was I
wanted to be at risk again," Parsons says.
"I needed a purpose."
What exactly was that purpose,
though? All early GoDaddy endeavors
tanked. In 1999, during the height of the
dot-com bubble, Parsons figured he
needed a way to stand out from all the
hubbub. "Looking around, I realized the
domain market was overpriced, the
systems were schlocky and the service was
poor. There's an opportunity!"
It took a year to write the code -- a year
of amazing cash outlays. "I was losing my
shirt investing in dot-coms and we were
burning $200,000-$400,000 a month of
my money developing the product. I got
to the point where I said, 'OK, I'll keep
doing this until I have $20 million left.'
Then we'd reach that point and I'd say,
'OK, $16 million' then $15 million, then
$12 million, then $10 million. When I
got to $8 million, I made the decision to
close the company."
But a vacation at that point changed
his mind. "I took a trip to Hawaii to clear
my head and figure out how I was going
to tell my employees they were all unemployed.
One day, I saw a valet parking cars
and he was real happy. I said, 'You know
what? If I lose all my money, I can just
park cars and be happy.' I came back and
said, 'If the company goes broke, I go
broke with it.'"
It didn't. Nine months later, GoDaddy
started a climb that hasn't stopped.
"I really didn't do anything different.
It was just my time to succeed. It was
providence," Parsons says. "I had done
everything right. Everything was in place.
I just didn't realize I was about to succeed.
When you're failing in business, the trick
is to be able to stand there and take it in
the teeth and be humble long enough
until things do turn around. My uncle
used to say, 'Robert, you show me a successful
businessperson and I'll show you
someone who's been on his ass a couple
GoDaddy is now No. 8 on Inc.'s list of
fastest growing companies, with an
unworldly growth rate of 1,881.8 percent.
Things may even accelerate from here.
The Super Bowl ads have become a watershed
for GoDaddy. After the NFL pulled
the second of the two ads, websites
showing the ads collapsed from the site
visitors piling on. On GoDaddy's site
alone, the streaming videos of the ads
were viewed 2.6 million times. Overall
visits to GoDaddy's website jumped by
367 percent after the Super Bowl. More
importantly, sales increased 70 percent in
the weeks after the game.
Providence? Passion? Principle? Some
of each, probably.
For instance, Parsons won't sell any
product developed outside the company.
Consequently, customer fixes are simple
and GoDaddy can price products at
sensible levels. "The whole idea is to make
a little money from a lot of people. This
differs from many companies, which have
just the opposite philosophy."
The key to continued growth will be
infusing that do-the-right-thing passion
in his workforce, Parsons says. "People
tend to imitate leadership. If they see me
taking the high road, they will, too. For
example, in all our marketing, there are
never any tricks. The deal's the deal with
us. Our employees know we're the best
deal across the board in the industry --
they know we're helping people -- so they
believe in GoDaddy."
And, if the wheels fall off the dragster
-- well, it's been a hell of a ride. Real men
don't pout. After all, it's only money.
"People tell me, 'You're the biggest
risk taker I've ever known. If I made that
much money from the sale of my first
company, I would never risk it all again.'
But GoDaddy isn't an exit strategy for me.
It's a lifestyle. It's me."
-- Mr. Draper is a free-lance writer in Puyallup, Wash.
Email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
--December 07, 2005