Q&A: GoDaddy’s New Chief Product Officer, Steven Aldrich

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While years ago it might have been enough to just have a simple website, many small businesses are conducting more of their businesses online, and they need cloud service providers that understand what they need to continue to grow their businesses.

With 13 million hosting and domain customers all with different needs and goals, GoDaddy is a company that aims to create an integrated suite of products that let small businesses grow and run their businesses. Meanwhile, the company is also venturing into the a more advanced segment of web professionals, aiming to be the host and domain provider of choice for web developers and designers.

Earlier this month, GoDaddy appointed Steven Aldrich Chief Product Officer, a new role the company created with responsibility for the overall product strategy and development across GoDaddy’s Hosting, Presence and Commerce, and Business Applications groups.

Read more: GoDaddy Launches Logo Design Service for Small Businesses

Aldrich seems like the ideal candidate to oversee products at the company. He joined GoDaddy in July 2012 as senior vice president of business applications , and led the rollout of products including Microsoft Office 365 from GoDaddy and GoDaddy Email Marketing. He also has varied experience that could help him understand customers’ different needs.

In this Q&A interview, we ask Aldrich about how the CPO position came about, why techy people sometimes don’t get products right, what product opportunities lie ahead for hosting providers, and if hosting is as exciting as insurance.

The WHIR: It’s not everyday that a company just creates a new C-level position. Why did GoDaddy decide it needed this position and how will your day-to-day responsibilities change at GoDaddy as Chief Product Officer?

Steven Aldrich: Over the past three years, since Blake Irving became GoDaddy’s CEO, we’ve grown significantly in a number of ways. First, our product portfolio has expanded to help small business owners address more of the challenges they face on a daily basis. Secondly, we’ve taken our product portfolio international. We now have a localized set of product offerings with customer service in 37 countries and 17 languages. Finally, we’re attracting a broader group of customers because of our small business product portfolio, new offerings for web professionals, and the continued growth of Media Temple.

My role has also grown from focusing on small business productivity solutions to working across GoDaddy’s product teams to deliver the most spectacular experience for our customers. As Chief Product Officer, I’m also identifying new products and services to expand GoDaddy’s product portfolio and better serve our customers.

WHIR: As tech people, I think we have certain assumptions around what sort of products customers might want. How do you get in the mindspace of, say, a small business buying web hosting and related products?

SA: I think customer empathy is critical, so I try to get a 360-degree view of the challenges small business owners face daily. I ask a lot of questions of our front-line employees, like those in our customer care organization. I talk to small business owners that I buy from locally and online about their business, e.g., how did they get started, what challenges do they face? I interact via email and social media when customers contact us with praise or feedback.

We need to marry those qualitative insights with the rich data we have on how our customers are engaging with our products. I also have the good fortune of having been an entrepreneur and volunteer on the board of a small arts non-profit (BAGI). And I have worked with small businesses going back to my days at Intuit where we were steeped in how to listen and watch customers where they work, not just through surveys.

WHIR: Can you give us a sense of what opportunities you see in terms of new products and services for the small business market?

SA: The top need for small business is clear: “find me customers.” Our products need to directly connect to small business success, e.g., the domain, the website, the professional email account, needs to help them land new business. We also need to find more cost effective and efficient ways for them to run their business once they have made it through the initial growth phase.

In terms of how small businesses work, they are on the go more and more, hoping to squeeze as much out of their day as possible. And in the US and other parts of the world, such as Asia, the vast majority are equipped with smartphones and rely on them to get business done. We need to bring more products to market that deliver a great mobile experience for small business owners.

WHIR: You certainly have experience with technology products in the financial space (with Intuit) and in the insurance space with the online marketplace you co-founded for connecting consumers and insurance companies. Some would say these might be difficult products to get people excited about. Is it easier or harder to make products for the web hosting space? What are the particular challenges in hosting?

SA: I love financial management and insurance – how could anyone not find those topics thrilling?? To stretch the analogy, hosting is a little like insurance – it needs to be affordable and reliable. Like insurance, you are buying a promise that your applications will be delivered to keep your business up and running, attracting customers or delivering applications to your employees or suppliers. Behind the scenes, insurance is a very complex product with a tremendous amount of math and processes that the policyholder never sees. In a similar way, a hosting customer does not want to know how much we’ve invested in the network, the data center, or the servers – the services and applications need to be available and performant with the right options.

One of the biggest differences is that with insurance, a customer buys it once and then leaves it alone (hopefully for a very long time.) Hosting is a product that needs to deliver every minute of every day and that experience is critical to the success for the developers we serve and their clients. And if there is an issue or a question, the customer wants to talk to a knowledgeable, empathetic person who can guide them to the answer. It’s a fun challenge to meet.

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