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Friday, December 17, 2004

I had a pretty typical childhood growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in Baltimore. I was never much of a student, in fact my grades were rather poor all the way up through high school. To this day I am certain that the only reason I graduated high school was because I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in May of 1968 and my teachers gave me passing grades - either out of pity or good riddance - to ensure that I entered the Marines with a high school diploma.

I did a brief tour in Viet Nam with the 26th Marines in 1969. My Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS, was "0311 - combat rifleman." Tell this to a Marine and they will know what it means instantly. I was wounded in action after being in the bush a little more than a month. I was released from active duty in 1970 (two-year tours back in those days). Coming home from the Marines, I worked as a laborer in a steel mill for a year or so. The job paid well but was dangerous. I saw fellow workers injured on the job seriously and I was also hurt a few times. I decided that there had to be something better, so I decided to go to college. I was able to do this thanks to the GI Bill.

I never took entrance exams or the SAT when I applied to college; all I needed to get in was the cash to pay tuition. I was a different guy when I was in college. Maybe because of my Viet Nam experience, maybe it was the thought of returning to the steel mill, or maybe it was just because I matured a little bit -- but unlike high school I did quite well in college. I had changed. In contrast with high school, I found myself eager to learn and study all kinds of subjects. I majored in accounting and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Baltimore in 1975. Shortly thereafter I took and passed the CPA exam, becoming a certified public accountant. After graduating I had several jobs at a number of companies; primarily in accounting or business management roles.

I learned to program a computer quite by accident. It was 1974 and I was in the San Francisco area and had lots of time to kill. Somehow I wound up on the Stanford campus, at the bookstore. A book on learning to program in BASIC caught my attention, so I bought it. I read the book on my flight home and started writing my first few programs. At that time I worked for a subsidiary of Control Data Corporation which had a computer terminal (I communicated with it by printing on paper, like a teletype machine --- there were no monitors or CRTs in those days). Eventually I was able to get those first programs to work. Each of them did something that I needed for my job. Then I became hooked.

Eventually I purchased a Radio Shack TRS 80 computer (affectionately called a Trash 80 back then), then replaced it with an Apple II Computer. I would spend countless hours playing around with it, devoting most of my free time to learning the ins and outs of the operating system and programming language. Back then when I wanted my computer to do something, I would write the program. I never bought other programs. My father once told me that if you love something, it tells you all its secrets. Because I loved my hobby as much as anyone can love a hobby, I learned a lot of little secrets when it came to programming my Apple II.

During those days and like a lot of people, my hobby served as my education as opposed to any formal technical education (to this day I have no formal education in computer science). When IBM introduced its personal computer, I borrowed $5,000, sold my Apple II and bought an IBM PC. It had two 360k disk drives and 128k of ram memory. I still have that very same computer (although it now has a hard drive and 640k of ram memory). It has a silver nameplate on its front that displays the name I gave it. I named it Cinderella.

I turned my hobby into a successful string of businesses and a career. In the course of working as an accountant over so many years and with my interest in computers, I wrote an accounting program for my personal use. Then I got to thinking that if it was good enough for me (and my standards were and still are pretty high), I could try selling it. I named my software company Parsons Technology and set up shop in the basement of my house. Well, long story short, nothing is easy and I went broke twice trying to get this little venture up and running. But the third try was the charm and I finally learned how to sell software --knowing how to sell software is quite different from knowing how to build software. Parsons Technology went on to be quite successful. The company grew to almost 1,000 employees and had a 4% share of the North American software market.

After several years in the software business, I saw the writing on the wall for the shrink wrap software business. It was going to go away. So I sold the company to Intuit, moved to Arizona and, as per my deal with Intuit, retired for one year. It was both an exciting and difficult time; one where I was doing great financially, but also a period where my wife and I went our separate ways. I soon realized that retirement wasn't for me, so in 1997 I founded what is now Go Daddy and went to work again.

When I started Go Daddy, I didn't do it to make money. I started Go Daddy to have something to do. Throughout the process of building the company -- as I have always been the only investor -- I came creepy close to going broke. But that's another story. Since 1997 when I started Go Daddy, there was only one principle that I used to build the company. It's a simple one. Do the right thing for the customers and provide them with as good a deal as possible. No smoke and mirrors -- ever. The whole idea back then, and it continues today, is to make a little money from a lot of people. This differs from many companies who have just the opposite philosophy.

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