Lessons Earnt

Bob Par­sons’ stint in the United States Ma­rine Corps gave the GoDaddy founder the courage to think big and build his busi­ness into an em­pire.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - OCTOBER - As told to AN­DREW MAR­MONT

A mil­i­tary back­ground taught Bob Par­sons the courage to build his com­pany, GoDaddy.

DEAR BOB, you are born in 1950 in Bal­ti­more City, Mary­land, in a blue-col­lar neigh­bour­hood. Your fa­ther is a fur­ni­ture sales­man and your mother is a housewife. You don’t en­joy school and strug­gle to see its value in these early years, but you make it through. Barely.

Dur­ing your fi­nal years at high school, you go with two friends to speak with a Ma­rine Corps re­cruiter. In­trigued, and with the sig­na­ture of your mother (you’re only 17), you en­list. You show your teach­ers your or­ders to leave for the Ma­rine Corps and they change your fail­ing grades to pass­ing, en­abling you to grad­u­ate.

Eight months later, you find your­self in Viet­nam in a Ma­rine Corps com­bat unit. One night, while walk­ing through a vil­lage to set up an am­bush, you hit a trip­wire which causes an ex­plo­sion. You are badly in­jured and awarded the Pur­ple Heart, Com­bat Ac­tion Rib­bon and Viet­nam Cross of Gal­lantry. You fin­ish your tour and go back home.

Af­ter get­ting a job as a labourer at a steel mill, you de­cide to en­rol at the Uni­ver­sity of Bal­ti­more and study ac­count­ing — mostly be­cause it was listed first in the book of ma­jors. You love it and do well with your grades for the first time, thanks to the dis­ci­pline you learned dur­ing your na­tional ser­vice. You grad­u­ate magna cum laude.

Soon af­ter, you land a job as an ac­coun­tant at a leas­ing com­pany. While trav­el­ling for work in the mid-1970s, you buy a book on com­puter pro­gram­ming. This is a ma­jor turn­ing point. You are fas­ci­nated by writ­ing code and it spurs a sense of cu­rios­ity that stays with you through­out your life.

You be­come a com­puter hob­by­ist and want to learn about pro­gram­ming lan­guages. In 1980, you buy a com­puter and teach your­self how to write an ac­count­ing pro­gram, call­ing it MoneyCounts. From your base­ment, Par­sons Tech­nol­ogy is born.

The soft­ware in­dus­try is good to you and you start to sell MoneyCounts to con­sumers. Over the next three years, you learn a

valu­able les­son: big ads work bet­ter. Af­ter los­ing $40,000 try­ing to be fru­gal in the first 24 months, you risk buy­ing a full space ad­vert on the cover of a mag­a­zine. It works.

In 1994, you sell Par­sons Tech­nol­ogy af­ter reach­ing $100 mil­lion in turnover. Re­lo­cat­ing to Ari­zona, the en­trepreneurial spirit en­tices you back into busi­ness. Tech­nol­ogy is ap­peal­ing, so in 1997 you start GoDaddy with­out a plan — only to be in­volved in the in­ter­net. You hire smart in­di­vid­u­als and set­tle on de­vel­op­ing soft­ware to build web­sites. This morphs into a do­main name regis­trar. But there is too much com­pe­ti­tion at the time to get heard.

GoDaddy keeps los­ing money and it’s in 2001 where you learn your great­est busi­ness les­son. You take a trip to Hawaii and de­cide how to wind GoDaddy down. It’s here, af­ter watch­ing a smil­ing park­ing at­ten­dant your age, you ap­pre­ci­ate what you have. You de­cide to keep GoDaddy go­ing. If it doesn’t work out, you’ve de­cided that you can be happy work­ing on a craps ta­ble in Ve­gas.

In March 2001, the dot-com crash hap­pens. Rather than per­ish, GoDaddy gets go­ing. Cus­tomers no­tice your ads and in Oc­to­ber of that year, the com­pany is prof­itable for the first time. You re­call a Chi­nese proverb: the temp­ta­tion to quit is great­est be­fore you are about to suc­ceed.

GoDaddy con­tin­ues to ex­pand. The com­pany gets val­ued in 2011 at $2.25 bil­lion. Over the next few years, you cre­ate YAM World­wide, your cen­tral com­pany, and move into real es­tate and fi­nanc­ing. You take your mar­ket­ing lessons into BIG YAM, an ad­ver­tis­ing agency. You also build a world-class au­dio and video pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity, a high-end golf equip­ment busi­ness, mo­tor­cy­cle deal­er­ships and a pri­vate golf club.

De­spite your grow­ing busi­ness in­ter­ests, your ap­proach re­mains the same: do things right and do them well. Your cus­tomers re­spect this.

In Fe­bru­ary 2012, you start The Bob & Re­nee Par­sons Foun­da­tion, fo­cus­ing on help­ing causes that are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence but strug­gle to raise money.

As you get older, you re­alise it’s im­por­tant to have fun in life. Af­ter all, your lit­tle brother was right when he would say, “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE With Par­sons Tech­nol­ogy; high school goals; GoDaddy was val­ued at $2.25 bil­lion in 2011; as a baby; with wife Re­nee; a wounded Par­sons was awarded the Pur­ple Heart.

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