As of January 2016, GoDaddy has more than 62 million domain names under management, making it the world's largest ICANN-accredited registrar. It serves more than 14 million customers and employs around 5,000 people. GoDaddy has to cater to so many different needs that they have a huge variety of options immediately at hand, which could lead to confusion. However, they’ve figured out how to organize their offerings expertly, resulting in an easy-to-use interface. Every part of the website – the control panel, support area, and even the site builder – has clear directions and is organized in a way that simply makes sense. We spoke with Jeff King, SVP & GM of hosting and security at GoDaddy, who helped create the consumable, product driven system they use today.
HostAdvice: Tell me about yourself and how you got involved in GoDaddy hosting, and what it means to manage hosting the largest number of websites in the world?
This is a really fun place to work – I’ve spent my entire career in Silicon Valley at giants like eBay and Magento, so I’m used to scaling businesses. I was super excited about the opportunity to drive the business long-term. I joined GoDaddy three years ago, right after the new CEO, Blake Irving. We are sort of kindred spirits when it comes to technology and technology companies. He’s a long time product guy, like me. I’ve spent more than 20 years in product management, building products; I love to build stuff. GoDaddy is a company that broke out and had scale, with 55 million domains, 12 million customers, but didn’t have a great reputation for awesome products, so I was excited by the opportunity to turn that around. I have a ton of passion around user experience and building modern technologies. I know how to build awesome products, so I knew I could move the needle on the product experience, which would be great for our customers. I’ve now spent a lot of time with the team and we have a product lineup now that we can be very proud of.
HostAdvice: Can you give some examples of these products?
I think we set the standard now when it comes to Managed WordPress hosting for small businesses, and there is no better place to get cPanel. We were the fastest growing hosting company in each last year. We have new capabilities and products coming out all the time – we are about to launch a new cloud product which I am really excited about. Keep your eyes open for more info on that. There’s going to be a lot of great stuff coming out of GoDaddy hosting this year.
HostAdvice: WordPress, Drupal and online website builders are becoming more popular and powerful. How does this affect your business and what kind of trends are you seeing?
We are very clear on what is happening in the market, which I believe is, and will continue to be, fragmented. There are people who are willing to invest the time and learn how to build their own site; this is the “do it yourself” market that tend to use WordPress or SaaS website builders. As the technology advances it will only get easier to access. However, on the other side you have people who simply want to do what they do best, e.g. be the world’s best baker, and they want to outsource their web development; this is the “do it for me” market. We’ve studied this like crazy and generally the market breaks down to about 50/50. Half of small and medium businesses (SMBs) hire a professional to build their websites and the other half builds it themselves. It gets broken down even further internationally - India, for example, is a “do it for me” market. They are willing to pay for someone to build and run their website for them. Then there are places where the concentration is higher for “do it yourself.” We are investing in both of those areas.
I think the hosting business is changing fundamentally to react to this trend. It used to be that when you wanted a website you had to figure out where to buy a hosting account, and then what technology to use, etc. For me that’s painful. It doesn’t make any sense to have to buy a platform just to install another platform to start getting value from it. That is going away.
HostAdvice: Can you give an example of how you are investing in this evolving market?
What’s most exciting is what we’ve done at GoDaddy with WordPress. You skip the process of buying a hosting account, logging into cPanel, installing it, etc. We’ve eliminated all of those steps. When you order managed WordPress hosting, you’re into WordPress immediately. All the hosting, installation, configurations, security, etc. is taken care of for you behind the scenes; you never even know it’s there.
In the future, you’ll simply purchase a product. When running a Drupal or WordPress or even a Ruby site, you don't want to have to buy a separate server or host or cloud service and then build up a stack, etc.; you just want to get what you need and have it work. So we're trying to simplify that and basically invert the whole picture, making it much simpler for both small businesses and/or the developers who are serving small businesses to get started without the hassle of configuring and setting up their infrastructure.
HostAdvice: How has it become possible to meet these fundamental changes in the hosting industry? Is it from advancements in the hardware and technology?
The technology has been there for a while. When I first came to GoDaddy, if you wanted a WordPress site you had to buy shared hosting or VPS hosting, and then install WordPress. When I was listening to customer calls (which I love to do), I learned that people were struggling with that process. They just want WordPress, so why don't we just give them WordPress? We built a bespoke environment specifically for WordPress. We're doing that for the adjacent products as well: Drupal, Joomla, Magento, Ruby, even LEMP and others like that. Essentially they will be turn-key, ready to roll, prepackaged products. The technology underneath is largely the same; we're just packaging it up in a way that makes it more consumable and takes the configuration burden away from the developer or small business.
HostAdvice: How is GoDaddy staying ahead or competing with these other services, like Endurance, etc.?
I don’t worry about those guys – they are not investing in the product experience or technology on the same level as GoDaddy. If you look at our financial statements, we spend three times more on technology and product than Endurance does. I think more about the next generation companies than I do about last generation companies in terms of who we're competing with. The experience from Dropbox, for instance, is magical. That's who we’re competing with because that's the experience that developers and small businesses are coming to expect.
We are investing hugely in design and product and customer experience. Today you can get a WordPress site up in seconds when it used to take hours. That was unacceptable. It didn't meet the needs of the market. The benefit of being a scale player is we have a common infrastructure platform underneath all of what we're doing that's built and managed by a very talented team lead by our CTO Elissa Murphy. We are building the underlying environment and managing all our products on top of it to be able to accommodate all level of products from the basic user to the tech savvy developer.
HostAdvice: So your competitive edge is the products you create?
That's more or less correct. When I started we used to internally call it “apps first,” which is to make the app the primary starting point for the customer rather than making them go through other hoops to get them going. This has driven us to change the experience by reducing the number of clicks overall, and making the experience more enjoyable from the user perspective. We also have an edge as a scale player with a common platform underneath it all.
HostAdvice: Let’s speak specifically about your WordPress hosting. How is it possible that it is so cheap when competitors are charging multiple times your rates? How do you explain that?
This goes back to what I was saying before about having a unified, scalable backbone and prepackaged consumable products. The market is changing. Take a shared hosting environment, for example. You have an un-optimized database tier, front end and caching layer. If we know you are only running WordPress sites, then we can build the environment and machines specifically for that. For example, we know 100% of those sites are going to be cacheable, so we can put in a specific caching layer, allowing us to take a lot of load and thus optimize the front end and back end servers. We do the same for the database. So we can build and scale a homogeneous environment much more inexpensively than a heterogeneous environment. And because it is homogeneous and made specifically for WordPress we can scale this very cost effectively.
HostAdvice: What are the important features and services a SMB should consider when looking to host a WordPress site?
I think any small business that wants to use WordPress should just use managed WordPress because it takes the burden off them to keep their servers secure and up to date. The beauty of WordPress is its pervasiveness but that's also one of its problems. For example, why do so many viruses get written for Windows? Because so many people have Windows. So to the extent that you have a very pervasive platform it is tremendously important to keep it patched and up to date. GoDaddy's managed WordPress product takes care of all that. We patch and manage every single site on WordPress within 24 hours after a new release comes out. In addition, our security infrastructure is constantly scanning and looking for vulnerabilities and trying to block them even before they come into the firewall.
HostAdvice: How important is a strong support team?
Support is critical. We have 24/7 support, globally, with local phone numbers in 30 plus countries now. All calls are directed to our support team specifically trained in WordPress and hosting. Many managed WordPress offerings by other companies only have support during business hours, or only offer chat. If you’re a small business owner and you only have time for help at 11 p.m. at night once your business is closed, you need around the clock support.
A key differentiator that GoDaddy brings to small business is our Customer Care Center. This is a team of business consultants available 24/7 in virtually every language around the world with a local number in almost every country. All they do all day long is talk to small businesses. When you call in with a problem on your website, they not only help you with your website but also help you understand how to optimize your site for SEO or speed. Rather than just helping you move a widget on your WordPress site, the team also helps solve business problems. This is our standard support with every managed WordPress plan.
HostAdvice: What do you see from e-commerce? What trends are you focusing on for 2016?
E-commerce is incredibly important. I have a personal passion for this. I worked at Ebay, which is a huge e-commerce platform, and Magento, which has by far the most transactions of any platform. WooCommerce has a vast small business install base. GoDaddy has its online store product which is very successful. So e-commerce is key and it is growing all the time.
SMBs are operating in a world where you have things like Amazon and Apple and your local spa or chain restaurant where you can manage your transactions online. Small businesses need to be able to keep up with all that. Technology enables this, and access to technology is getting easier and cheaper for small businesses. GoDaddy is a direct contributor to that. We are a huge WooCommerce host, we have tens of thousands of Magento sites and tens of thousands of our own online store customers. It is absolutely something that is a major trend and definitely something we will continue to invest in.
HostAdvice: What kind of opportunities do you see in e-commerce for GoDaddy, like online payments?
There are a lot of opportunities. We’ve been expanding our portfolio offerings, including online store, SEO services and email—in fact we acquired an email marketing company. Payments processing is a need for our customers but at this point it’s being fulfilled pretty well. I think we have the opportunity to make it even easier to consume. We continually look at new opportunities, including payments.
HostAdvice: What are the biggest security threats that you face?
The biggest problem we see is DDoS attacks, believe it or not. And it’s not only at GoDaddy; the whole industry is plagued with DDoS. It’s a huge issue. If you try to go to your website but you can’t get to it because your host is under a massive DDoS attack that is a big problem. This has to do with availability and that is another reason that you want to go with a scalable player. Smaller hosting companies can’t sustain a massive DDoS attack. If you’re on a budget host, you can be impacted more heavily. We invest heavily in technology and infrastructure to try to mitigate these threats. It’s very expensive and I’m proud of the infrastructure we’ve built.
HostAdvice: Tell us about GoDaddy Pro. Who was it built for and why did you build it?
This goes back to what we talked about earlier, mainly understanding our customers and respecting that about half of our customers sites are built by professional website builders. After talking to enough customers and professionals, we realized that there are millions of freelancers who had to manage multiple sites and there was no system in place to help them. GoDaddy Pro is a mechanism to provide a whole set of tools designed specifically for freelancers and professionals. We are constantly building services to make the life of the freelancer easier. We make management very easy, so as a professional you can see all your clients’ data in one place. You no longer have to remember (or worse, write down) client passwords and credit card numbers, or when domain names or certificates will expire by keeping spreadsheets everywhere.
Our goal with this product is to respect the workflow of the freelancer professional and make their lives easier. This is really important because we know that professionals purchase half of all websites out there for small businesses, so if our vision is to serve small businesses we need the professionals to love us in order to achieve our vision.
HostAdvice: How are you developing this system? What future prospects do you have for this ecosystem of professionals?
GoDaddy Pro is developed by our incredibly agile and customer focused development team. We have a customer council for small businesses and another one for professionals to get real time feedback on what features people are really using. We are letting the customer lead us down the path of the product development. It is exciting to see what innovations derive from that.
As an example, as a response to customer feedback, we just launched a whole bunch of pro incentives, such as discounts on tools that we know professionals normally purchase. We can use our scale to drive discounts and add incentives to add new clients to our services.
We are especially excited to be building a marketplace platform where small businesses can ask a question or look for somebody to build a website, and we’ll post those queries on GoDaddy Pro marketplace to connect them with web professionals. This completes the circle, as we are not only offering incentives for professionals to bring business to but us we are also bringing business to them.