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How GoDaddy Domain President Paul Nicks Proved the Long Way Around Can Still Lead to the Top

By Ron Jackson

In you are in the business of buying and selling domain names or are an entrepreneur who needs a memorable web address for an online business, there is a good chance that Paul Nicks is playing a key role in helping you get what you need. In February 2022 Nicks was named President, Domains at industry giant GoDaddy, a role that also involves oversight of the company's other popular aftermarket brands, Afternic, Dan.com and Uniregistry (Uni serves as both an aftermarket sales platform and registrar for new domains). That promotion capped a steady 15-year rise through the ranks at GoDaddy that gave Paul a front row seat and direct influence on an aftermarket boom that has been a key contributor to overall company revenue that reached $1 billion per quarter for the first time in 2021. 

GoDaddy has made a lot of domain sellers happy with their annual aftermarket sales growth rate of close to 30% since 2019, but Paul's contribution has gone beyond that. He has also been a tireless advocate for the domain investment community within the company, prompting GoDaddy to pay more attention to the needs of those customers. At the same time Nicks has helped develop a more professional environment in the field that has given it a higher level of credibility in the business and regulatory worlds. Toward that end, GoDaddy also stepped up as a

Paul Nicks
Godaddy President, Domains

major contributor to the Internet Commerce Association (ICA), the non-profit organization that works to protect domain owner's rights, and Paul is now personally serving on the 8-member ICA board.  

Given his stature in the industry, Nicks, who works from the GoDaddy office in Iowa, is someone everyone who makes a living in this business would benefit from knowing better. The personable family man has been a fixture at domain conferences for over a decade, so many have enjoyed meeting him and hearing what he had to say about domains. However, what is really fascinating about Paul is the remarkably round about route he took to get to where he is now. A lot of people experience some twists and turns along along the way but, when looking at the picture of stability that Nicks is today, it is hard to imagine anything but a straight line from the cradle to the corner office for him. The reality turned out to be the exact opposite. If Paul's story was a TV show the theme song might have been Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and it all began around the time he started to walk! 

"I bounced around quite a bit as a kid," Paul began. " I was born in Houston, Texas then moved to live on a sailboat with my mom after my parents divorced when I was around two years old. For the next six or seven years I lived on a 32-foot sailboat with my brother, mother and step-father that primarily docked around San Diego and nearby Coronado. Most of my memories from this time are fuzzy, but I do recall running a small business with my older brother that had us finding golf balls in the water near a course in Catalina and selling them back to the golfers. It was my job to dive down (as a five or six year old) and retrieve the balls, while my brother did the sales work, and pocketed all of the profits! We were “dirt floor” poor - I don’t believe there’s an appropriate sailor’s equivalent 

Paul on the sailboat with his stepfather in California.

for that old term - but when your home is on the water, I’m not sure we cared much about what stuff we weren’t able to buy."  

"When I was 9 or 10 my family moved back to Texas, where I primarily lived and went to school in Corpus Christi, with a couple of years on Padre Island as well," Paul continued. "Summers were spent living with my father in Houston where I learned valuable life skills like how to hunt, fish, throw knives and find my own outdoor entertainment. Every time we’d visit Houston, my dad would find at least one or two Astros games for us to attend which started my love of sports that extends now to my own boys. My trips to Houston also seeded my continuing fascination with NASA, and by extension, science and tech. I was lucky enough to go away to Space Camp one summer and it continues to be one of the coolest things I’ve ever done." 

Above left: Back in Texas, Paul took up soccer in Corpus Christi and also spent time on 
Padre Island where he agrees he never looked cooler than he does in the photo at right!

"In the summer before 7th grade we moved to Naples, Florida because it was listed as one of the fastest growing cities in the country and my step-father was in the drywall business. I worked on the crew filling holes in baseboards with wood putty, touch-up painting and various other small jobs. The business enjoyed great success despite my clumsy touch-ups and we were able to live as if we were wealthy for a while. Although I didn’t arrive until I was 13, we stayed in Naples through my high school and college years. Between going to my father’s place every summer in Houston and spending my high school years in Florida, I typically struggle to answer the seemingly easy question “where are you from?” Anymore I’ll typically say “somewhere warmer than Iowa” and let it be!," Paul smiled.  

When Paul was 13 the family moved to Naples, Florida where one of his first stops was 
Wooten's Airboat Tours (a company still in business today!) for a ride through The Everglades.

"Through middle and high school, I learned I was really good at math, sciences and problem-solving. I took a new computer programming class taught by our math teacher in my sophomore year of high school, which was the first time I was able to do something creative with computers beyond playing Oregon Trail. This was around 1990, so our school was just lucky to have a computer lab. At the time the typing class with old typewriters was mandatory and the computer lab classes were only taken by the nerds, like me. Now, I say “nerd” with absolute affection, and not as a derogatory at all. Myself and a few friends that were on the math and trivia teams got a front page picture in the Naples Daily News that proudly stated “Nerd Herd Conquers Collier County” and after that I think my nerd-cred and eventual clique in school was well established," Nicks laughed.  

When it finally came time to go off to college you might thing Paul would finally be able to stay in one place for awhile but the constant change in scenery only accelerated. "My college years were not nearly as academically successful as high school as I bounced around between many schools flunking out, losing interest and overall not having a good time," Paul said. "The progression of schools goes something like this:

  • Texas A&M for civil engineering - failed

  • University of Central Florida for computer science - moved

  • University of Northern Iowa for computer science – quit to get a job

  • Northeast Iowa Community College - Associate’s degree

  • Jones International University (online) – poor choice

  • Capella College (online) - Bachelor’s degree in IT, finally, at 27 years old

  • Arizona State University (online) for my MBA  

"Those schools typically came with 1 to 2 years in between working odd jobs like various fast food chains, working as a laborer at a chemical plant in Texas City, valeting at a posh hotel in Naples, greeting guests at a comedy club in Disney World (where I met my wife who was on a school trip from Iowa), and working at a cardboard factory in Iowa," Paul recalled. 

Paul back in Florida for a visit 
during his time at Texas A&M.

In another visit back to Florida during his time at a cornucopia of 
U.S. colleges, Paul (left) catches up with his mother and brother.

"Throughout the bouncing between schools and weird work history I learned that I needed more of an intellectual challenge to be happy than what they were able to provide. During the evenings I took to playing around with building websites, as the programming classes I took were the ones that I was most adept in and enjoyed. Programming in general fascinated me because of the instant gratification of solving a problem and seeing the immediate results on screen," Nicks said.

"Because I was getting pretty good at website design and development I took a chance that eventually led to a major turning point in my career. As I was walking through a mall in Cedar Falls, Iowa one day I passed a kiosk with a gentleman selling high-speed internet (reselling a T1 connection from his house). We struck up a conversation and I told him I could build websites for his clients, which were mostly small businesses. Without a degree or a portfolio of note, he took a chance on me and I secured a part-time job in a field that I was genuinely happy with. I built several small websites and learned on the fly how to interview clients to determine what they needed when often they didn’t know themselves. I received ½ of each paying gig, which didn’t exactly pay my bills or student loans but I was having a great time!"

"My first salaried real job was as a database developer within the IT team of a small computer manufacturing company here in Iowa that specialized in custom server builds, mostly for Telephony companies. I landed the job in April of 2000 for $35,000 a year and then got married a month later; a pretty exciting time for me. I didn’t have my Bachelor’s degree yet, but the guys who hired me liked that I took the initiative in self-learning ASP.net and MS Access while working the part-time web building job. The company at the time was running an MRP software solution that didn’t scale very well for them and was expensive to maintain with contractors. My job was to start out writing custom reports for the sales and marketing teams, pulling directly from the database, and eventually to build a new system from scratch that was web based. Along with my programming duties I spent time doing the standard in-house IT stuff, like re-imaging computers, doing updates, and pretending I didn’t know exactly how viruses kept getting installed on sales and marketing’s computers."  

"Things were going great for a while as sales boomed in the .com era but around 2001-2002 the tech sector, especially Telephony, got hit very hard and we had to layoff employees. 

Paul and Penny, his wife of 22 years, 
soon after they first met.

We lost 4 people from a 6-person IT team, with just myself and my manager surviving. I had to learn how to do more as part of a much smaller team, both to keep the company afloat and keep myself valuable enough to keep around. I stuck around for five years, refining my coding by building custom web apps and also learning about networking and security," Paul said.  

Through all of these experiences, good and bad, Nicks learned how to adapt to constant changes in his personal and professional life and keep moving forward. It was a skill set that would serve him well when the call finally came that would bring him to the right place at the right time - GoDaddy

In 2007, Paul landed at GoDaddy, famous for 
Super Bowl ads and Race Car teams. Here Penny 
Nicks gets a close up look at Danica Patrick's car 
during a GoDaddy holiday party in 2009.

"After I moved on from the server manufacturer, I took on a Senior Developer role at a contracting firm and worked on cool projects like a CRM at University of Iowa and an eCommerce site at a motorcycle store," Paul recalled. " After a year there, I got a call from a good friend of mine from the prior job who was working in the marketing department of GoDaddy. I didn’t know much about the company or the domain space at all, but she said they were a super fast-growing company that needed engineering talent. Really, all I knew at the time about GoDaddy was that they had Super Bowl ads and they were in the Internet space.  So I wasn’t sure what I would be getting into, but I did know that it was 

in a growth field that I had experience with. My interviews went well enough to get me a job offer as the Development Group Lead for our Parking products in April of 2007."  

"Personally, I’ve enjoyed bouncing around different disciplines within GoDaddy throughout my time here. I learned how to lead a dev team, then multiple teams, then finally moved onto the business side after I got my MBA. The great thing about working here has been the ability to grow into a different role whenever the old one started getting too easy," Nicks noted in a comment that harkened back to his peripatetic college years when he learned that the bigger the challenge he was given the more he thrived in the environment. 

Paul with Indy Car driver James Hinchcliffe at the GoDaddy office in 2012.

"One of my favorite times here was shortly after we were sold to VC firms," Paul said. " New leadership brought in a different energy that was hyper-focused on growth which I aligned very well with. The first time our interim CEO, Scott Wagner, came to the Iowa office he and I had a chance to sit down and talk about the Aftermarket and what it’d take to really lean into it and accelerate our growth. With nothing off the table, I brought up acquiring Afternic who I had worked with as a Domain Listing Service partner. Scott liked the idea and we moved forward. I had never been part of an acquisition before, and the entire process was exhilarating, tiring, and enlightening." 

"Going through due diligence was the most tedious process I had ever been a part of, but it was the first time I was really able to dig into how another company thinks and operates within the same industry. While I would put our engineers up against anyone, what we gained from Afternic was a much more complete team of sales, product management and business development, I learned a ton from 

Paul and NASCAR driver Danica Patrick celebrating GoDaddy's 2013 acquisition of Afternic.

listening to how that team approached the industry that I would never had been exposed to without working through the grind of diligence and integration. Buying Afternic really marked the beginning of GoDaddy as a leader in the Aftermarket and provided the catalyst for everything we’ve done since."

From the perspective of domain investors, another key moment in GoDaddy's aftermarket history came at the January 2020 NamesCon Global conference in Austin where GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani delighted attendees (just 4 months after he had taken the job) by making a firm commitment to serve domain investors and the investment/development community. Since its inception our part of the industry has struggled to build recognition and credibility in mainstream business circles, so having the leader of the industry's biggest company, with its unmatched marketing clout, put a spotlight on the power and value of premium domains was a major boost. For Nicks, who had been spreading the aftermarket gospel both inside GoDaddy and out for years, it was equally gratifying.

GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani stands up for the domain investor's community in his 
Keynote Speech at the 2020 NamesCon Global conference in Austin, Texas.

"Getting Aman up to speed on the importance/value of domain investors was my primary job when he came on as CEO," Nicks said. "Prior CEOs absolutely enjoyed the growth of the investor community and Aftermarket, but Aman really bought in and saw the community as unique within GoDaddy and able to do so much more if we invested in it. Investment has come in the form of assigning higher corporate priorities to product upgrades, like we’ve launched with a new domain portfolio manager, CashParking, Afternic, and Auctions experiences. It has also come from targeted acquisitions like we’ve had with Dan.com and DNAcademy this year and our continued platinum sponsorships of NamesCon and the Internet Commerce Association."  

Paul added, "I suppose another sign of the commitment to the domain investor community is my own position in the company by way of promotion to President of our Domains business unit. The thought being that we can build domain products for the most demanding clientele around, making the experience for everyone else even better. Not every customer will need powerful bulk tools, but everyone does need the security, speed and resiliency we’re building for our domain power users."  

GoDaddy's recent acquisitions of innovative, investor-friendly companies like Dan.com and Uniregistry that Paul mentioned created shockwaves within industry - both positive and negative. Many pointed out that the powerful GoDaddy brand would bring instant credibility to the popular but less famous newer services. On the other hand, others who also loved what Dan and Uni were offering, worried about how things might change under new ownership, so we asked Paul about current plans for those companies.

This AI portrait of Paul Nicks reflects the amazing changes we are seeing technology today. Nicks plans to use every cutting edge domain tool he can get to build products users want. 

"Each of these acquisitions has fundamentally changed how we operate and build our products," Nicks said. "We targeted each company specifically to address the needs of our customers, from sales distribution to domain management to education. Each of our acquisitions brought in not only the top products in the industry across the identified needs but, more importantly, the teams who built those innovative products. The first and most important part of each acquisition has been to integrate the team, get them to understand our vision and offer their own feedback on how we can best move forward. Employees from Afternic, Uni and Dan make up the majority of my leadership team, and bring an insane amount of experience and innovative ideas with them."  

"What you should expect from the product-side is a continuing of the integration of Afternic into the GoDaddy domain management experience, built by the Uni team, along with the best features of Dan.com integrating into Afternic. Dan.com features that we’ll be integrating include the incredible sales lander technology, the transfer bot, and the really exciting lease-to-own (LTO) capabilities. I think LTO is going to open up many more sales opportunities as buyers can’t always come up with the capital for a large domain purchase, but are often able to handle installments," Nicks noted, adding "Just like Afternic drove the domain market forward via the Domain Listing Service, Uni drove it forward with exceptional UX and an integration between Aftermarket and domain management, I expect Dan to drive it forward with their innovation in payment options and sales lander optimization."     

The past few years have been very strong ones for the domain aftermarket but as we write this in December 2022 there are some serious headwinds in the general economy facing us in 2023. War, rising interest rates, inflation and  lingering Covid are among the issues that have to be tackled. Since no one knows when those problems may get resolved, forecasting how the domain industry may fare in the new year is a hazy proposition at best, but Paul was willing to take a stab at it.

"If the past is any indication, prior market downturns have led to an increase in small online business creation and entrepreneurship," 

Image from Bigstock

Paul pointed out. "We need to make sure that we’re building products that customers trust and offering them the most compelling reason to spend their likely limited marketing budgets on a quality domain name. Our business building offerings, including websites, email and commerce, combined with a pay over time model for premium domains make for a very compelling offering for anyone looking to establish themselves online."

We've talked a lot about business but if you really want to get to know someone you need to know what they love to do when they're not in the office. One thing I already knew was that Paul shares my love of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers (DNJournal is based in Tampa) - an affair that started for him during his high school years when he lived in Florida. In the photo below you see the family catching a Bucs game at Tampa's  Raymond James Stadium in 2008 (clockwise from Paul at the top are wife Penny, youngest son Parker and oldest son Paiden).

Football is just scratching the surface for Paul though. "I’m a big fan of getting outdoors when possible, so hiking, camping and summer sports like basketball, pickle ball or golf all interest me," he said. "I do also enjoy reading in the evenings, with Stephen King being my favorite go-to author (recently finished Fairy Tale and highly recommend it). Aside from my own leisure pursuits, I have one son - Paiden - who is a Sophomore at Iowa State University, and another -  Parker - who is a Junior in High School, both of whom are in various band programs and activities that tend to fill up my calendar quickly."

Paul teaching oldest son Paiden how to fish in 2005.

"One other interest of mine that has been greatly enhanced by my job and by being in this industry is travel. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to conferences all around the US and the rest of the world as well as visiting GoDaddy offices spread around the globe. A quote from Mark Twain hangs on my wall (thanks to a very thoughtful gift from my wife) that sums up my feelings well: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” 

The Mark Twain/Travel Photos wall collage that hangs on Paul's office wall. 
Paul personally shot each photo in his travels around the world.
(Click here or on photo to see a larger version).

I usually close an article with a comment or two but, other than thanking Paul for his time and insight, one thing I've learned as a writer is that when Mark Twain is in the house, the smartest thing you can do is give him the last word!

*****

 

 
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