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Monday, January 21, 2019

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Blake Irving (Credit: GoDaddy) Blake Irving (Credit: GoDaddy)

Looking Back at His Time at SDSU

GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving’s business philosophy combines his free-wheeling arts education with rigorous business know-how.
By Erik Good

“Art was my chosen field, but the school itself, the dynamic and all of those things combined to make it the perfect place for me.”

Blake Irving always knew he would never be an archetypal CEO, maintaining a rigid chain of a command and handling business on purely economic terms. Irving, the driving force at internet giant GoDaddy and a San Diego State University alumnus, made it his priority to seek out different perspectives to address problems and serve the needs of many. Irving has long believed that when people from different backgrounds in various areas of an organization are able to share their thoughts and perspectives, the result is better and more socially relevant solutions.

Irving’s business leadership philosophy marries tenets from his two degrees—a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from SDSU and an MBA from Pepperdine University.

Serving as the CEO of GoDaddy, the world’s largest cloud platform dedicated to small, independent ventures, Irving said he fondly remembers his time on Montezuma Mesa.

“I picked San Diego State University as an all-around experience that’s more about student life than most of the other schools in the Cal State system,” Irving said. “Art was my chosen field, but the school itself, the dynamic and all of those things combined to make it the perfect place for me.”

He made the most of the campus’s opportunities. Irving played in SDSU’s traveling 22-piece jazz band and in other jazz-fusion groups. His love of performing, which was kindled onstage at former on-campus hangout Monty’s Grill, has yet to fade.

“I still play,” Irving said. “I have a drum set in my office in Scottsdale and one in my house in San Luis Obispo. I play in a band called Lords of Uptime; we actually played in Vegas earlier this month.”

After graduating from SDSU, Xerox hired Irving, eventually agreeing to put him through Pepperdine’s MBA program. In the program, Irving was pleased to discover that his broad educational background in the arts had prepared him to approach problem-solving in an entirely different way than many students who came from traditional business backgrounds.

“There’s no right answer when you’re solving a design problem,” he said. “There are a myriad of answers that are equally good. Having that liberal arts view of problem solving that was less about getting to the right answer and more about getting to the closest answer to right was incredibly important.”

Combining the artistic approach of getting “as close to right as possible” with the rigor of fields like business and economics shaped Irving’s unique approach to management.

“I was allowed to have more creativity in the answers I was able to produce because I didn’t feel constrained thinking that there was one right answer,” he said. “It allowed me to apply a different set of thinking that was more creative and more critical than if I hadn’t combined an art degree with a master’s in business.”

As an example, Irving points to a Compaq computer he worked on in 1991. It was effectively a multimedia PC with built-in audio capability at a time before personal computers were the norm. While it wasn’t what the market considered the “right product,” it showed foresight and understanding of where the market was headed.

He saw that same value in GoDaddy’s business model when he decided to step out of semi-retirement and into the role of the company’s CEO five years ago.

“Most of the customers GoDaddy has today are small entrepreneurs with an idea and we give them the tools to turn that into something real online,” Irving said. “We help those people turn their ideas into a reality.”

Irving has emphasized GoDaddy’s focus on integrating existing products to give customers a seamless digital experience. That need to stay on the cutting edge of web development technology has pushed the company to stock its growing workforce with recently graduated students.

“Most of the developers we’re hiring—and we hire around 50 to 100 a year—are coming directly out of schools like SDSU,” he said. “They’re already using the tools so they’re already able to figure out how to integrate the dozens of products we’re taking to market.”

But recruiting and hiring students isn’t Irving’s end goal; he envisions inspiring and enabling young entrepreneurs to start their own business ventures and bring something new into the world.

“Right now, more students are starting businesses while still in college than ever before because tools exist to allow them to look like they’re a giant business when they might just be one person,” Irving said.

Though Irving announced that he would be formally retiring from his role at GoDaddy at the end of the year to travel the globe with his wife, he had some words of advice for students looking for guidance:

“Give yourself enough degrees of freedom when you graduate that you don’t hold yourself to a career path that you think is your destiny. Let there be enough room in your imagination to allow serendipity to push you into other types of careers that perhaps were not in your first consideration set. Don’t do what you’re supposed to do, do what you love to do.”