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Inside the Mind of Go Daddy's Controversial Founder

Bob Parsons on his unapologetic approach to business and life.

'Trep Talk

Bob Parsons has long appeared to have a bring-it-on approach to criticism. Whether it's a publicity stunt or racy commercial, the founder of Go Daddy makes no apologies for pushing the envelope in business. But when a video he posted of himself killing an elephant in Africa recently went viral, it primed a vitriolic social media backlash. PETA called for a boycott of his domain-hosting company and he fired back on Twitter.

Parsons, 60, told CBS News he believed people's "hearts were in the right place" in criticizing him, but they misunderstood his intention, which was to help starving people and stop elephants from destroying crops in Africa.

Several comments posted to the video questioned why the cameras zoomed in on villagers wearing orange Go Daddy hats. But the video wasn't part of a company marketing initiative, a company spokeswoman says, adding that it was "something Bob, the individual, edited and posted." After complaints, the close-ups of the Go Daddy hats and still photos of Parsons posing with the dead elephant were removed. 

Parsons, who founded the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company in 1998 and has since grown it to $1 billion in annual sales, had spoken with Entrepreneur.com just prior to the media storm. As the controversy unfolded, he didn't respond to requests for comment. Still, the interview sheds light on the man who's unafraid to court controversy and unapologetic about his approach to life and business. Edited excerpts follow.

Renegade or realist: If a renegade is somebody who does things that are different and not necessarily politically correct, I'm a renegade. But when managing my business, I'm not a renegade at all. Nobody's either a 100% good person or 100% bad person. Everybody is some of both.

Heroes: Generals Ulysses Grant and William Sherman won the Civil War for the U.S. Alexander the Great conquered the world. John D. Rockefeller conquered business. Julius Caesar was a brilliant leader. All of them were innovative, disciplined and focused on doing the job at hand.

His teen years: I was a terrible student. I failed fifth grade, and I wasn't going to graduate high school until I showed the teachers my orders to go into the Marine Corps. I was most certainly going to be a combat troop in Vietnam, where hundreds were killed every week, so they passed me.

Serving in Vietnam: I joined when I was 17 and I was out when I was 19. The guy that walked out was completely different from the one that went in. In the military, when you make a commitment to somebody, especially standing next to them in combat, and you say you're going to be there -- you're there, hell or high water. Becoming reliable and responsible, it all hails back to the military. After I got out, I went to college and graduated magna cum laude because I was a different guy. And what I accomplished since then I would not have done, had I not had that military experience. 

Expectations vs. ambition: When people with big expectations run into the problems that are inevitable in life, they become disappointed and give up. You can't disappoint a person with no expectations. If I had big expectations, I'd have flushed out early. What I like better is ambition -- ambition to deal with whatever comes your way, overcome it and get better. Persistence and ambition is what you'll find in every successful entrepreneur.

On imperfection: Business is imperfect. We're imperfect humans providing a service to other imperfect humans. No matter the business, there will always be things that could be made better. I like when people see something is wrong, they step up to see that it gets corrected.

Keeping life in perspective: We're not here for a long time, we're here for a good time. Life goes by in a finger-snap. Don't get stressed out over anything, just deal with it. That's another lesson I learned in the military in Vietnam. When you've got people getting hurt and dying around you, that's a difficult situation. The stuff we deal with? That's a walk in the park.

On taking risks: You'll see people who, as soon as what they've done is worth anything, they cash out. I kept all my chips on the table. By giving Go Daddy everything it needs and reinvesting profits, right now in our industry we're the tall hog in the trough. That's how you do that.

Why mistakes are important: When I started Go Daddy, I tried many things -- like building networks and selling education -- and none of it panned out. I lost millions of dollars the first couple of years. I made a lot of wrong turns, but that's the process of being successful in business. You got to go down a lot of wrong roads to find the right one.

Memorable business advice: What I learned from Rockefeller that's off-the-hook important is: You need to know exactly where you stand in a business at all times. Measure everything, because everything that is measured and watched improves. 

Not-so-secret quirk: I'm seldom, if ever, on time. Around here, they call it 'Bob Time.' I always got a check mark in the tardy column. 

Favorite book: Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. 

On motivation: I've never worked to make money. I understand we've got to eat and all that, but I never said I want to be a multimillionaire or a billionaire. To me, that's of no significance. I work to have the accomplishment.

I'm just a regular guy… who figured out how to run a business. I've made a few bucks, but that doesn't make me anybody special. Go Daddy has sales in excess of a billion dollars, but compared to the likes of Google, Amazon and Apple, that's nothing. We're pretty insignificant.

Teri Evans is deputy editor of Entrepreneur.com.
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