Customer-centric innovation:

A conversation with Charles Beadnall, CTO, GoDaddy

May 2019  |  Interview

GoDaddy is empowering everyday entrepreneurs around the world by providing the help and tools to succeed online. With 19 million customers worldwide, GoDaddy is the place people come to name their idea, build a professional website, attract customers and manage their work.  

Recently, AWS Enterprise Strategist Miriam McLemore had the opportunity to sit down with GoDaddy CTO Charles Beadnall to talk about his experiences at the company, inspiring and driving innovation, and getting to the root of what customers really value.

Miriam McLemore: Let’s start at the beginning. Could you share a little bit about GoDaddy and your role at the company?

Charles Beadnall: Absolutely. GoDaddy is focused on helping small businesses get online. We’re best known for selling domain names, but the reality is that we help customers in a lot of other areas. For example, building a website, hosting their email, getting found by search engines, etc. In the small business market, a lot of our customers don’t have a lot of extra bandwidth to take on those kinds of technical functions. Our role is to make it as easy as possible for them to get online and be successful.

And that’s where my team comes in. As CTO at GoDaddy, I set the technical direction and engineering standards and practices across the company. That includes things like our adoption of the AWS Cloud, adoption of new technologies like machine learning, or defining the quality and standards for delivery in the company—all geared towards driving a better experience for our customers.

Miriam McLemore: Can you tell me about how you inspire your team to innovate on the customer experience?

Charles Beadnall: There are really two aspects to innovation. One is the spark of creativity, which I think is harder to inspire. The other is having a formula to enable experimentation. That is, a mechanism through which our teams have space to come up with a hypothesis, build an experiment, and then run it while capturing data from the results.

It becomes a continuous cycle of taking ideas and creating data-backed experiments against them. The data then lets us determine, was it successful? In our experience, unsuccessful experiments are just as instructive as the ones where metrics move in the way you’d like them to. Ultimately, it’s the data point that you have found that helps in identifying what does or does not resonate with customers.


The two aspects of innovation at GoDaddy

One thing I’ve told my teams is that putting this mechanism in place is a lot like riding a bicycle. Initially, it feels like something new and unique, but once you’ve ridden the bike around the yard a few times, you’re ready for the open road. And at that point, they’re also ready to help others get on the road as well.  

"There are really two aspects to innovation.
One is the spark of creativity, which I think is harder to inspire.
The other is having a formula to enable experimentation."

Miriam McLemore: Could you share an example of that innovation in action? What did that look like?

Charles Beadnall: One of our goals as we adopted AWS has been to raise the level of engineering rigor at GoDaddy. And what I mean by that is to bring more consistency in how we work. Early on in our cloud migration, we created a ton of paper documents to capture our processes, as well as retrospectives on what worked or didn’t work.

That experience, and the learnings from it, led us to create a self-service portal to capture these questions within a form. As well, we added things like financial approvals, and environmental creation scripts. Today, developers can use that portal to propose new projects (from initial idea down to projected build costs) in an automated way. Approvals are automatically routed, and once approved, their environment is automatically provisioned.

The self-service experience gives us an easier—and repeatable—way to experiment. And we are able to take the learnings from each project, and further automate and codify best practices. In turn, our developers tell us they are much happier with the new approach. It has removed barriers to innovation.

Miriam McLemore: When evaluating all the experiments and innovations, how do you rank and prioritize them?

Charles Beadnall: One strategy we use in my team is the concept of horizons, which stem from a McKinsey framework for sustaining growth and innovation. In this model, horizon one represents well-known and established core businesses. Horizon two represents new opportunities that are already incubated and successfully grown. And horizon three is all the brand-new things that you are exploring.

The reason for using this model is that if you talk about innovation all the time, it can lose its meaning. But when you apply the horizons model, then you can better manage expectations for impact and investment. What I mean by that is, for example, with horizon three, you can expect more variability and also more mistakes. With horizon two you can expect growth, and in horizon one, that growth is going to be slower but steady. Our domain name market is a horizon one business, as an example. The after-market buying of domains already purchased (and understanding their value) is a horizon three business, and an area we expect to have more variability. Our goal is to have a small manageable number of businesses in horizon three, a few horizon two businesses, and horizon one is the core business GoDaddy was founded around.


Using horizons to manage expectations for impact and investment

Miriam McLemore: I see a lot of parallels between Amazon and GoDaddy’s approach to being customer focused. Can you describe about how you define those customer outcomes?

Charles Beadnall: We’ve moved away from defining success as the purchase of a product. Now we’re focused on how frequently our customers are using the products they bought. Specifically, we are looking more and more into activation metrics versus the more traditional types of metrics. For example, if someone has bought a domain, have they connected a domain to a website? Have they published content on that site? Are they actively getting traffic? As a result, we’re constantly moving the bar forward, to hit the next customer milestone.

For example, one indicator for whether customers like a domain name is if they add it to their cart. We’ve invested in a search system for domain names to aid this decision. Most such search systems look at what already exists. But we try to find domain names that don’t exist—a fundamentally different problem, tied to a different type of metric.

Also, this is an area where we use machine learning to analyze the uniqueness of the customer. Some customers just want to get email accounts for their business. Others want to build ecommerce sites, upload content and sell online. At the end of the day, our goal is to identify what each unique customer will find valuable and help them along that journey.

Miriam McLemore: One other thing we’ve talked before is diversity and inclusion. I’d love to hear more about GoDaddy’s approach.

Charles Beadnall: Diversity and inclusion are hugely important at GoDaddy. We firmly believe that having a diverse and inclusive environment for employees helps us better address the different and unique needs of our customers and makes us better at innovating on their behalf.

GoDaddy has been a vocal leader in this space by providing transparency in our pay parity and diversity metrics. We were one of the first companies to disclose that information and encourage transparency and conversation in the broader tech industry. While we acknowledge there is still a lot of work to do, we’re proud of our progress.


Diversity and inclusion at GoDaddy

About our guests

Charles Beadnall
Chief Technology Officer, GoDaddy

Charles is responsible for ensuring GoDaddy engineering delivers a more powerful, integrated experience to customers through the adoption of key technologies and capabilities like public cloud and machine learning. Before joining GoDaddy in 2013, Charles was responsible for ad serving and personalization platforms at Yahoo!. Prior to Yahoo!, he held engineering leadership positions at Metaweb Technologies, Verisign, and WR Hambrecht + Co. Charles studied at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and holds a Bachelors of Arts degree from Northwestern University. 

Miriam McLemore
Enterprise Strategist, Amazon Web Services

Before joining Amazon, Miriam was the Chief Information Officer, Corporate and Consumer Technologies and a leader in the Global Information Technology Division of The Coca-Cola Company. In this role, she provided global leadership across the enterprise on all technology matters in support of global marketing, consumer/commercial leadership, product R&D, human resources, legal, sustainability, public affairs; and strategic security. Learn more about Miriam »


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