GoDaddy executive Steven Aldrich (BA ’91) experienced from an early age what exposure to Carolina’s leading-edge faculty and education could mean for someone’s life.
Aldrich credits being a Carolina alum and son of UNC sociology department chair Howard Aldrich with providing an environment that led to both his founding of the first online auto insurance company 20 years ago and his career success as one of the nation’s top technology innovators.
Today, Aldrich chooses to invest in the IAH and its programs for faculty to ensure that other students receive the same type of life-shaping experiences.
“The heart of an educational institution is the faculty,” Aldrich says. “The IAH brings the best faculty together, allows them time to recharge, and supports them in bringing new ideas to their research and into the classroom. This translates into engaged and inspired students.”
Getting in on Technology’s Ground Floor
Technology innovation was part of Aldrich’s life from age 12, when his father left Cornell to join the UNC faculty and moved the family to Chapel Hill.
“When I was growing up in North Carolina, I had early exposure – through school, through work my dad was doing in those days using computers in his research, and through Research Triangle Park resources – to the first PCs,” Aldrich recalls.
“We had an Osborn, the first theoretically portable computer. It was actually more ‘luggable’ – it weighed 20-plus pounds,” he says. “It had the tiniest screen, something like 20 lines long and 40 characters wide. The thing weighed a ton. But it was revolutionary because it was thought of as an amazing new way to bring computers around with you.”
Aldrich began interacting immediately with this new technology, writing computer games for school while at home. Later, he attended the North Carolina School of Science and Math for grades 11 and 12, gaining rare access at the time to a computer lab. In 1987, he entered Carolina as a Morehead-Cain Scholar, ultimately graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a BA in Physics in 1991.
“I think I might have been the only guy on the hall with a computer,” he recalls. “I had a PC clone in our room. It was fantastic. I wasn’t a technologist or a computer scientist – I was a physics major. But I was always excited about what technology could do. I enjoyed it and thought about how much easier it could make people’s lives.”
Aldrich was primed when he moved to California in 1993, during the Internet Revolution, to enroll in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business’s MBA Program.
“The web was incredibly primitive at that time,” he says. “I remember doing online banking from my apartment. I had a dial-up modem and was delighted to be able to look on a screen and see that I had $37 in my bank account.”
He and fiancée (now wife) Allison Aldrich (BA ’91) used the Internet to email each other. Allison, also a Morehead-Cain Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa graduate, was working for a technology company on the East Coast.
“Then came a very happy confluence of events that led to my starting an online insurance company,” Aldrich says. “A Stanford alumni mentor had been assigned to me randomly. His company had been awarded the contract to create secure connections on the Internet.”
Insight Creates Opportunity
The creation of SSL encryption, developed by a consortium of companies that included his mentor’s firm, enabled secure purchasing online.
“I had the good fortune of sitting in on Friday tech talks where SSL encryption was being developed,” Aldrich says. “I thought, if we can create a technology that gives the Internet security, we can have an incredible change in the way people buy many things online.”
At the same time, regulatory changes in California were making it difficult for people to buy automobile insurance for the first time. Aldrich, who after graduation from Carolina had worked briefly in the insurance area of an investment banking firm, put the pieces together. He corralled two classmates – one with insurance experience, another with consumer marketing – to spend their second year of business school developing the business plan.
In 1995, Aldrich launched the nation’s first online auto insurance company while still in school.
“It was a tremendous ride from there, putting together a company that ultimately was bought by Intuit and, I think, changed how people think about buying insurance,” he says. “You can’t now turn on a TV without seeing a Geico or a Progressive or someone like that saying, ‘Come get quotes from us on the Internet.’”
Aldrich’s online company was purchased by Intuit in 1996. He then spent the next 12 years working in a variety of executive positions at Intuit, all focused on building solutions that help small businesses succeed. In 2009, he left Intuit to become president and CEO of Posit Science, maker of brain fitness and memory care software. In 2011, he became CEO of Outright, an online small business accounting software company that was sold to Internet service provider GoDaddy in 2012.
Now, as senior vice president of applications for GoDaddy, Aldrich focuses on helping the company develop applications that “make the business of business easy” for its 12 million small business customers.
Aldrich and IAH: Vision and Approach Align
Aldrich first connected with the IAH through a series of alumni events held in California. Friend and fellow Morehead-Cain scholar Jennifer Halsey (BA ’94) was a rallying point for Carolina alums and had served on the advisory board of the IAH. She hosted an event with former IAH Director Ruel Tyson and Development Director Mary Flanagan where he learned about the work of the IAH.
When he received the invitation to join the board, “I got really excited by the idea,” Aldrich says. “My dad’s a professor, so I know the importance of getting the professors engaged and getting them cross-fertilized.”
Aldrich joined the IAH Advisory Board and become a financial supporter because the Institute’s approach mirrors his own.
“Allison and I support environments where learning and innovation are encouraged to thrive,” Aldrich says. “We are excited about technology, arts and education, especially where they intersect. The IAH creates an environment for faculty to push their own thinking, expose their ideas to others outside of their own discipline and then bring that knowledge back to students. This virtuous cycle needs constant nurturing to keep Carolina at the forefront of higher education.”
The association with the IAH brings personal benefit, as well, he says.
“Thinking about the future of the University, how to solve problems, the importance of the arts and humanities,” says Aldrich, “the IAH provides a place where I can be part of that conversation.”