Blake Irving



San Diego State – B.A.

Pepperdine University – M.B.A.

Ask people what word they often associate with “GoDaddy” and chances are it’s not very female-friendly. CEO and Board Director Blake Irving is out to change that.

“I think that women will characterize GoDaddy’s last 10 years of advertising as misogynistic and not honoring women,” he says. “We’re going in a very different direction – not just in advertising but in what we’re doing inside the company. It’s about promoting diversity and being a great place to work for everybody – a place where everybody can get their best work done, not just the geek guy culture.”

So, with his team, Blake is on a mission to radically shift the economy toward small business through empowering people to easily, confidently and successfully run their own ventures online. And with more than 9.1 million women-owned small businesses in the United States responsible for generating more than $1.4 trillion in revenue, I Want Her Job Founder Brianne Burrowes had to sit down with Blake to find out exactly how the company plans to act on that vision. And she held no questions back – starting with the first one you’re about to read.

When people are having fun they tend to create better, and they tend to collaborate better.

Brianne: Why is GoDaddy just now focusing more on women as small business owners and less on the female body?

Blake: When I joined the company, I had a whole bunch of friends say, “What?” And I’d say that essentially, if you look at how these guys have portrayed themselves in advertising and then you went and actually talked to the people of the company, there was this weird dichotomy between what I consider to be a pretty diverse workforce and employees very proud of their customers, and then these ‘shock and awe’ advertisements that didn’t talk about what our customers do or what we do for them.

So, my clear communication with the board before I took the role was that I would align what the company does with our advertising messaging. By the way, 58 percent of people who have small businesses in the United States are women-run, so I want to make sure that when we’re portraying our company and portraying our customers we’re doing that in the right way. Our vision is shifting the global economy toward small business and empowering people regardless of gender, race, orientation ­– whatever to be successful. And that’s what we are trying to do. And so we need to make sure we communicate that when we’re in the public and when we’re advertising our capabilities or products. So consistent with that, that’s what we’ve been doing.

We shifted to our value proposition so that it’s about helping small business get their jobs done – which is hard – to try and demystify a lot of what the web is all about and how it can help them grow their business. And these people don’t want to be a webmaster, they just want to do what they love. They want it to be simple, and they don’t want to have to become a guru to do it.

I can attest to that.

Right. You’re a writer and you don’t want to have to worry about your DNS or worry about server issues or any of that other stuff. You just want it to be as small a part of your gig as it possibly can, and that’s what we are trying to do. So, when you see us and you see our commercials that are running now, we want you to finish watching the commercial and go, “Oh, I know what this company does. I know who their customers are. And boy they kinda seem like me, and the commercial is kinda funny.” That’s what we are trying to do.

When you shut down the ‘old’ GoDaddy brand, so to speak, you still kept Danica Patrick as a spokeswoman. What was your thinking behind that?

What we have done from an advertising perspective with Danica has changed pretty dramatically. Danica represents the best of what most of these small businesses have. She’s not a small business herself. She’s kind of a big business actually, but she’s a businesswoman. She’s an incredibly talented, hard-working, against-the-odds type of person, which is what every small business in this country – or any country –is. People are going to tell you that you can’t do it, or tell you that seven out of eight businesses fail or whatever they’re going to lay on you. Danica has a boatload of detractors and fans, but she perseveres and pushes through it. And she has the confidence to know that if she keeps doing it better and better and better, she’s going to kill it and win. That’s what every small business wants. Positioning Danica in a way that’s about that is great; she’s great for us.

Why is promoting women in tech an endeavor that is so important to you?

I’ve always been a believer that your business or your company ought to be as diverse as your customer base, and unfortunately it’s an impossibility – just based on if you took people that matriculate from elementary to high school to college and the amount of women that fall out during that process. It’s not possible. I think that underrepresentation isn’t just with women, but it’s with minorities as well.

The experience that made me much more passionate about being an advocate is I had a sister who passed away in her 30s. She was a psychologist whose thesis was about women’s body image, their self-esteem and the effect of the media on a woman’s body image. My pledge to her was to do everything I could do in my field to forward women and to try and make that a more equal balanced proposition.

That’s an incredible story. It sounds like your sister lived with passion, and that’s something you carry with you today. Tell me more about your value at GoDaddy to ‘live passionately’.

One of our values is “live passionately.” Try to figure out your Venn diagram of three circles. One of them is what makes money, another what you do well, and the third, what you love. If you can figure out how to combine those, then you’ve found your sweet spot. This is what you’re doing because you’ve started your own thing. You don’t love every second of it, but you did it because you love it. And my gosh, you can actually make money! Who would’ve thunk? So, if we can help people do that, then that’s an incredibly powerful thing.

What makes GoDaddy a special place to work?

It’s an incredible culture. It’s a culture that works hard and plays hard. You live passionately. We join forces. We work with each other. It’s a super fun place to get great things done for a customer who, frankly, has been underrepresented. It’s for little businesses. Most of our businesses are made up of five people or less. These are tiny companies that aspire to be as big as they want to be. Some want to be big, and some don’t. Some want Fridays off. Some want to kiteboard four days a week. Whatever their aspirations are, if we can help them do that, that’s pretty darn cool.

Our vision is to radically shift the economy toward small business by empowering people to easily, confidently and successfully run their venture. If we can do that, 10 years from now we will look back overall at the world’s GDP growth and see this really small segment, these tiny sole proprietorships and small businesses, grow disproportionately to the rest of the GDP. If that happens, then we were successful. And that is something to be super proud of, because then you help people do what they love to make a living.

You’ve brought many individuals you used to work with over to your team at GoDaddy. What are the qualities those individuals have that make you want to work with them again?

First and foremost, you have to be fun to work with. Life is too short to work with people who are a pain, so hire people who are great across the aisle. These are folks who work well with others and who are experts in their field, but who don’t act like experts in their field. You hire people who are magnets of talent. I have a saying, “Be a magnet. Hire magnets.” What attracts people to you? Being genuine and authentic, having a sense of humor, not taking yourself too seriously, and having a sense of empathy are all qualities I look for in people.

Then, if you find some folks need help along the way, then coach them so they understand and realize, “Wow, I kinda lost that along the way.” Sometimes life happens, and business can be stressful. People’s worst behavior comes out when they are stressed – always. So, coach people to recognize when this happens and tell themselves, “I’ve got to recognize this is why I’m acting this way, because it’s a stressful situation. I need to take a chill pill. Take a breath and get back to putting this in balance. The sky is not falling. I can get through this.”

As for the folks I’ve hired in the company who I’ve worked with in the past – or people I’ve brought in who I didn’t work with but who knew people that I did – I think, honestly, came to work with me because I give people direction to, “Go create. Go build the business you’re in charge of, or the platform you’re in charge of, or whatever your gig is. Call me if you need me. I will facilitate getting all these people together, and now let’s have fun doing this.” And it works. GoDaddy is a fun place to work, and one of the things I wanted to make sure was embodied in the existing facilities in Sunnyvale, Cambridge and Kirkland was no high cubes. I wanted to be sure you can see across the room. Because there’s always a little something in the room like a shuffle board or foosball table where people can go and kind of shake off.

The offices have an agency culture to them?

Yeah, actually. There are a lot of agencies that do the same exact thing – like walls that you can write on when you get together. When people are having fun they tend to create better, and they tend to collaborate better. There’s a great culture at GoDaddy for that type of thing.

How do you manage running a company as big as GoDaddy and have a personal life at the same time?

I’m pretty good at it actually. I spend a lot of time here, and I also spend a lot of time in a little town called San Luis Obispo, Calif. I let work invade my personal life a lot, and I actually let my personal life invade my work, too. The blend of having that overlap happens, and you just have to be OK with it. There are days when I have urgent, pressing home matters invade me at work, and more often than not, the opposite is true where work invades my home life.

Do you think GoDaddy’s unlimited vacation policy helps employees achieve a better work/life balance?

We’ve got this balance we’re representing where if you’re hitting all of your numbers and getting stuff done that you’ve committed to get done, then we leave it up to employees to work with their managers when they want time off.

For me, I’ve never missed a Halloween with my kids. I had extreme cases where I had to travel in my job at Microsoft a long time ago. I ended up having to go to the Bay Area two times on October 31. We were introducing Windows Live, which is what my group was in charge of. Bill [Gates, then-CEO of Microsoft] said, “You’ve got to be in the Bay Area on the 31st to rehearse with us.” And I said, “Well, I’m not missing Halloween." They told me to figure it out, so I literally flew to the Bay Area, did a rehearsal, flew home to do Halloween with my kids, and at the end of their trick-or-treating and candy gorging, I flew back to the Bay Area to give the full presentation on November 1. It was that important to me.

At the end of the day, your tombstone is not going to be written about what a great worker you were. Your life is about what you did to contribute to your community, your family and those things that really matter. You have to be able to create an environment for your employees where they feel like they can be safe. GoDaddy is a superhuman place. I think it understands passion, and it understands the needs of small businesses – and those people work incredibly hard. They’re trying to figure out how to balance everything, so [at GoDaddy] we should be doing the same thing. It’s expected of us.

What would you say to a woman considering a career in tech?

A career in tech is an incredibly great place to exercise creativity. The medium that is available to use in technology for creation is pretty amazing. If you’re in software, you don’t have hardware to get in your way. If you have an idea, you can code it up on the Web, you can experiment, you can draw, you can do graphics and you can do imagery. I think that most people I know who have entered this field haven’t done it for the money. They’ve done it because it was a creative medium where they think they can have a big impact.

The things that have changed most people’s lives over the last couple decades are all about technology. Most of that technology has taken place in computer science, hardware and computing. What a cool thing to do – regardless of whether you are a woman or a man or whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a great place to create.