I am amazed at the number of talented people who choose to call the small City of San Luis Obispo home. I guess we are ideally located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, have stunning hills to the east and shining seas to our west, and continually rank as one of the best places to live. Maybe I shouldn’t be so amazed?

But still, when the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Small Business Development Center said the upcoming (and free) “Coffee and Conversation” series would feature Karen Tillman, Chief Communications Officer at GoDaddy, I had to cheer and sign up to attend. It is a privilege to have access to the caliber of people in the tech network in SLO, especially as a startup that one day will join the ranks of some of the most influential companies (you heard it here first!) like GoDaddy.

Karen Tillman GoDaddy PresentationTillman has been with GoDaddy since 2013 and helped the company, now 9,000 employees strong, turn around its misogynistic image. For years, controversies plagued GoDaddy, from its advertising campaigns to its elephant-poaching former CEO. Tillman is not afraid to talk about where the company was, because she’s proud of how far it’s come. From gender diversity, to hate speech, to small business advocacy, Tillman’s challenges run the gamut.

For starters, Tillman said her biggest challenge was aligning the company’s internal strengths with its external image. “We had a terrible external reputation,” she said. “But internally, GoDaddy has always been a great company.” For years, people viewed the company as misogynistic. “Women own 51 percent of small businesses, and we were alienating them.” So, Tillman said they did something bold. “We were the first to publish gender distribution data and salary data publicly.” And now they do it every year. In planning to ensure the company promotes women as often as men, and pay is equal, Tillman said GoDaddy was able to meet those goals by 2018. The company has become an industry leader for hiring women in tech roles and was named one of the best places to work for women.

GoDaddy serves more than 19 million customers around the globe, giving them the tools to build platforms where they can express themselves, support themselves, and strengthen their communities. The company is currently conducting a massive study to see how the ventures that use GoDaddy are buffering their communities from a recession, improving economic prosperity, and increasing median income. Better data means the company can better advocate for its customers, and make better tools.

The company also works hard to protect the people who use the internet from hate speech, which has been at the forefront of many tech companies’ challenges. Tillman said they don’t have it entirely figured out, and right now, a user would need to report a website that they believe violates GoDaddy’s terms and policies. But that could change, and Tillman is closely monitoring how large publishers such as Facebook and Twitter handle dehumanizing content. At SoCreate, we will also be hosting a self-publishing tool and will need to decide how to determine what’s free speech and what’s offensive. I’m hoping to learn from these leaders in the field.

I appreciated Tillman’s transparency throughout the presentation. As a big company, it is amazing to me the amount of effort GoDaddy puts in toward understanding their customer, from the customer’s personal experience to the impact that customer is having on the world.

At SoCreate, we also work every day toward empathizing with writers, so we can serve them better and truly provide a tool that helps them. I look forward to the day that writers get to use SoCreate, so we can begin to understand how our tool also impacts people who experience the creative expressions built on SoCreate’s platform.

“We can only be an advocate if we know what’s driving success,” Tillman concluded.

We’re getting closer,

Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach