Michelle Zatlyn – CloudFlare 2 of 2

“A nontechnical founder turned domain expert.” Michelle and CloudFlare are powering the Internet and making the Web a safer place.

Matthew: Lots of people who want to start companies admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make it easy. We want to dispel some of these myths and share with our audience an inside glimpse in the challenges that founders face. So, my question is: what do you make look easy, what comes intuitively and naturally to you? What are some of your skills that helped you in launching CloudFlare, and what’s been difficult, and how have you managed that?

Michelle: So, I think you should all become entrepreneurs but definitely not because it’s easy. Okay, so what am I good at? I’m really good at taking something and patching it together into something that people want. I’ve done that like, my whole career. If I look back, I worked at Google, I worked at Toshiba Consumer Electronics, and I worked at a software company and then CloudFlare. 

The only common denominator across all of them is I took something and patched it together into something that people, whether it was customers or users, really wanted. And I love that. I will just continue that every day. It gets me up in the morning and just creating something that people are like, wow, I can’t live without that. And there’s no greater joy for me. So, that’s something that, I guess, people have said, “You do a good job of that” but I love working on it. 

In terms of the challenges, there’s a ton. You always hear startups are a roller coaster. It’s totally 100% true. Every day there are ups and downs. You’re on an incredible high one hour and then a low the next because all that stuff gets you. You just try and change the risk/reward ratio into your favor so you keep trying to push the ball forward, which means you have to do more with less. You have to find the right people who share the same common passion that you do, and I think the most important thing is creating a service that actually solves a problem. If you can do that, then you’re on your way to success.

Matthew: So, what’s the most important lesson you learned since launching CloudFlare?

Michelle: So, this is for all those people who have an idea and want to be an entrepreneur but haven’t started yet. The only commonality across every entrepreneur in the history of mankind is that they all started to work on an idea. So, for me the most important thing that I learned was you’ve just got to start.

Where we started with CloudFlare, it has changed a gazillion times and we are in such a different place than where we started. The only reason that we got to where we are now is because we originally started and there were going to be ups and there were going to be downs. But you can’t plan for all that unless you start. So, stop planning, start doing and just make it happen.

Matthew: Excellent. That’s great advice. And so, in terms of your professional development and mentorship, what individual has really played a positive impact as a mentor to you professionally? And then, has there been an individual who has mentored you in the development of CloudFlare?

Michelle: Definitely. So, there’s clearly a ton of people who helped me make CloudFlare happen. Without advisors and friends and family and professors, we wouldn’t be where we are today, but there’s definitely some people who stand out. So, we had a professor at school, Professor Tom [Eiserman] who was our original advisor who said yes even though he was already in 13 other field of studies and “I’m full, I will take you guys on because I believe in what you’re doing” and he encouraged us.

You need people to encourage you because there’s lots of times where you’re like, after school, you’re at business school, you have other offers lined up where they’re going to pay for your relocation and your salary is going to be cushy. And you say, “I’m not going to do that because I’m going to pursue this idea that’s really like, a working prototype, an idea on paper. You need people to say, “Yes, that’s what you should do” or “Yes, you should do it. You can do it. I believe in you.” And so, he was instrumental and helping encourage us to continue to explore the idea and keep working on it. 

The other people that are really… my family. I think that you need a really good support system in something like this where they say, “Yes, move to California and give it a shot because if it doesn’t work out, you’ll figure it out. I know you’re going to land on your feet.” To have people support you and say, “Yeah, go for it,” we wouldn’t be here without that. 

Matthew: And so, what advice would you like to share with the audience about launching a startup? What do you think are most important, the key elements?

Michelle: Well, I already said it once. It’s starting. I know that sounds like so trite, but I meet with people all the time who are like, I want to be an entrepreneur. I love your story. How did you do it? They think there’s some secret formula. Again, I can only say the only secret formula is you’ve got to start. You don’t know until you start developing the product. You don’t know until you create something that people can actually use or see. You can talk all you want, but until you start it doesn’t matter. 

The second thing is when you pick your co-founders, if you do have co-founders, pick people with complementary…different skill sets than yours. It’s uncomfortable because you attack problems in different ways, and sometimes you’re like: no, but it’s hard to get them to see things through your perspective. But then, you cover a much wider ground and then the end product is always more robust.

Matthew: And what are the next steps for CloudFlare?

Michelle: Oh, we’re going to power the Internet. Our mission – this is why we created such a great team is to clean up the Internet. The Internet is broken. There are a lot of bad things that happen on the Internet in terms of hackers and spammers, and if you run a website you have to deal with all these sorts of things, like make your website load fast, anything that’s a pain. We strongly believe that if we don’t exist and sit here to help make websites faster and safer, websites are going to start retreating behind walled gardens. The free and open Internet, as we know it, is going to cease to exist.

And so, CloudFlare is going to power the Internet. So, currently 3% of the Internet’s traffic passes through our network. We’re going for 20%.

Matthew: Excellent. So, you’ve touched on it, but before we close, I’d love for you to give our audience your big vision for CloudFlare and how you hope it’s going to change the world.

Michelle: Definitely. So, our mission is just to, really not just to. So, our mission is to clean up the Internet. We want to make it so any person with a website can put their idea online, and that we’ll take care of the sphere of influence with them. So, if you want to write a blog about baking or comic books or you want to have an e-commerce store because you have something that you’re passionate about, you should be able to do that, and we’ll take care of the performance of securities so you don’t have to worry about that.

Matthew: Excellent. Well, Michelle, it’s been a pleasure having you on FounderLY. We hope you’ll come back as a guest. We’re rooting for your success with CloudFlare. For those in our audience who would like to learn more about CloudFlare and become a user, they have a free service that I think lots of people who have websites should use. You can visit them at www.cloudflare.com.

This is Matthew Wise of FounderLY. Thank you.


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