Monday, April 04, 2011

Go Daddy CEO Elephant Debacle

Go Daddy is one of those magical tech company success stories. An accountant and self-taught programmer takes a mundane technical process, domain name registration, and builds a billion dollar business marketing it to mainstream America through Super Bowl ads and frat boy humor. Aggressive pricing, frequent coupon sales and user friendly management tools accelerate Go Daddy’s capture of the Internet domain market until it becomes not just a household word, but perhaps the only registrar that most people can name on a whim. Then the unthinkable happens. Go Daddy jumps the shark, or in this case, shoots the elephant.

Beware of crossing the elephants. They never forget.This is no metaphor. Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons actually shot an African elephant to death and then triumphed the subsequent butchering of the beast set to music in a self-laudatory online video. Expecting a triumphant round of high-fives and yet more revenue generating publicity for his online juggernaut, Parsons was instead almost instantly vilified and denounced by everyone from animal welfare organizations to those who just felt a bit squeamish watching the same type of elephant they took their kids to see at the zoo being hacked-up into bite size pieces by a cheering mob wearing baseball caps.

We’re all familiar with the natural cycle of life where predator and prey engage in a deadly game of survival. But there’s a difference between nature films showing lions culling a herd of wildebeest of their weakest members and watching a pompous rich man’s home movies featuring himself killing the strongest and most genetically valuable bull of a dwindling elephant herd, then yucking it up afterwards.

Nobody begrudges Bob of his stunning success as a self-made Internet entrepreneur nor his right to enjoy the fruits of his labor to the fullest. An awful lot of us would like to follow in Bob’s footsteps in pursuit of the American Dream. But he’s not getting a pass on this one either, despite his protestations that the elephant in question was a threat to native crops and that the butchered meat helped feed a hungry village that day. For the same $20k to $40K+ those big game safaris typically cost, Mr. Parson’s could have outfitted that village with elephant-proof fencing and given them the seed, tools and livestock to make them a self-sufficient community. But that’s not nearly as much fun as blasting off a massive elephant gun nearly point-blank into a towering behemoth. Even at that, it took two shots in the black of night to bring the elephant writhing to the ground in excruciating pain.

It’s not the sport of hunting that’s in question. Even the ignorance of participating in what you believe to be a proper culling of overpopulated wildlife when you are really harming an endangered ecosystem could be forgiven. What pushes this incident over the edge is the smug smart-ass satisfaction of destroying something deeply cared about by others and then exhibiting contempt instead of remorse when called on it.

Social and conventional media alike have been abuzz with the backlash to Parsons’ elephant killing. Major animal rights organizations, such as PETA, have pulled their domain assets from and placed them with other registrars. You’d expect that. But an even greater groundswell has arisen within the tens of millions of domain and web hosting account holders that, like myself, were happy to do business with GoDaddy over the last half-dozen years.

This is, perhaps, a last straw. Go Daddy’s advertising is looking less cute and edgy and more crude and vulgar as the novelty of attractive women being portrayed as clueless bimbos contrasts with the image of professional women in the workplace. If men and women of the design/build team behaved like the domain and hosting aficionados of Go Daddy skits, Human Resources would be shrieking about actionable sexual harassment. It’s misogynistic 1960’s humor intruding into today’s egalitarian office.

Perhaps Parsons, too, is a relic of the past. One might argue that his company is exhibiting the creakiness of maturity versus the drive and agility of a lean, mean technology startup. Young companies looking to establish a position fall all over themselves trying to attract and retain customers. That’s how Go Daddy got where it is. But look what their customer portal has become. It’s evolved into a labyrinth of add-ons and up-sells that make it nearly impossible to just buy a domain in a matter of a few minutes like you used to. Now you find yourself endlessly clicking buttons to say, “No, I don’t want a certificate. No, I don’t want 500 names that are similar. No, I don’t want instant hosting. Etc, etc, etc.”

For those reasons, a lot of us long-time GoDaddy customers have been on the edge of moving on. I suppose it’s inertia as much as anything that keeps us renewing and adding to our entrenched and, in some cases, massive accounts. As one who has been heavily involved in elephant rescue, conservation and support the last few years, Mr. Parsons’ wildlife “snuff film” is both a dagger in my heart and the impetus to do what I should have done a year or two ago: Research the market and make the move to a provider that better meets my needs. I’m surprised by how many good ones there are. They’re just not all in your face on TV, so you have to do a little looking.

As a place to start, I’d like to recommend Go Elly - Elephant Friendly Domain Registration and Web Hosting Services. It’s a list of providers who have professed to be animal friendly or ecologically sensitive. The companies are competent, the pricing is competitive, even with Go Daddy, and they will assist you in transferring your domains or moving your hosting account and files. Even if you weren’t looking, it could be worth your while to see what else is out there. You might find yourself paying less or getting more features than you have now.

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