Matthew Prince – CloudFlare 2 of 2

“Leaders should empower smart people with the responsibility to own the problem.” CloudFlare is powering the Internet and making the Web a safer place.

Matthew Wise: Are there any unique metrics or social proof about CloudFlare that you’d like to share with the audience?

Matthew Prince: It’s been a wild ride. We launched to the public . . . we’ve been working on CloudFlare itself since the summer of 2009. We ran a private beta though most of 2010. But we only opened it to the public in September. We launched at TechCrunch Disrupt on September 27th of 2010. We actually launched live onstage. We pushed a button and went from just a coming soon website to a whole functional service, and we didn’t really know what to expect. What’s been really amazing is that in the four months between when we launched and basically today, when this is being taped, we grew from almost no traffic through our site to doing well over doing a billion page views a month through the system, having more than 3% of the Internet’s visitors pass through our system in any given month.

What is evident to me is a couple of things. First, it’s that there is an enormous demand out there in the marketplace for a service like this and that we have build in infrastructure that can actually handle that demand. And secondly, that the team of really smart people that we’ve assembled, in order to build this, who come from companies like Google, Yahoo, and Netflix, I mean places that have run really big networks before, that we have really been very fortunate to have a team that can really can take on very hard challenges.

Matthew Wise: We know founders face unique challenges when they decided to start a company. What was the hardest part about launching CloudFlare, and how did you overcome this obstacle?

Matthew Prince: What was the hardest part? Well, no one had ever done this before, and frankly if you’re working on anything, it’s hard to do something that no one has ever done before. But the real challenge isn’t doing something that no one has ever done before, but sort of the opportunity costs over what you’re not doing. So, I think that that initial momentum of starting something is a real challenge, and in my case, I had other offers that I could have potentially taken up. I had just graduated from business school. My father runs a successful business, and the plan had always been that I would come back and help him run that. So it’s really hard to take that initial leap and go forward. So what we tried to do was to try to de-risk those decisions along the way, and it’s been a great process to work through that and figure it out.

But the hardest step is always the first step, and you just have to keep testing with each step, does this really make sense? And with each step we’ve said, “Wow, the market is really affirming that what we’re doing makes sense.” We have great advisers who are saying that the way we’re approaching the problem makes sense. We’ve found great investors that have said that they’re willing to step behind us. So at each step that’s allowed us to encourage on. We started out walking, but we’re in a full sprint at this point.

Matthew Wise: Excellent. Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. At FounderLY we want to dispel some of these myths. So my question is: What are some of the things that come easy to you, talents or skills, and what has been difficult and how have you managed that?

Matthew Prince: Well, I don’t know that I want to dispel the myth that founding companies is easy, because I think it’s really important for smart people to get out there and actually start things. There is nothing that is more rewarding than that. So I don’t want to discourage anyone from doing that. I think that, for me, this is the third company that I have been at least on the leadership team, and the second one that I’ve been the leader of. I think the thing that was challenging for me was always trusting the people that are around you and trusting that you don’t have to do everything yourself. I can write code, but I’m not the best coder. I can do business development deals, but I’m not the best at that. In fact, really in our company, I’m not the best at just about anything.

So what I think, for me, I have gotten better at with each company is trusting the team around me, that they are better. That comes in part because having done this a few times, you both build up a team that you trust and that you can say I’m surrounded by a ton of people who are significantly smarter than I am, and I just trust them implicitly because we’ve been through battle before. But then also to spot the right people who that have that kind of entrepreneurial spark and have that talent to be able to really drive through and deal with problems.

We had a huge denial of service attack at three in the morning last night, enormous, it was literally the equivalent of a 100 DVDs worth of data being sent to one of our data centers every second.

Matthew Wise: Wow.

Matthew Prince: A 100 DVDs of data every second to one of our data centers. What was amazing to watch, everyone’s pager went off, and what was amazing to watch was that the team all jumped into that and dealt with that. The way that you make that happen is you empower smart people with the responsibility to be able to own parts of the problem. If you’re dealing with something on the scale of CloudFlare, you have to have a bunch of people that can actually deal with these problems and that really feel ownership and love in that. That means as the leader of the team that you have to be able to give up some of that and say, “I’m going to trust you and you’re going to do that.” So I think that’s a challenge for all entrepreneurs, but an absolutely critical one if you’re going to build a big successful company.

Matthew Wise: That’s great advice. Thank you for sharing. Before we close, we’d love to get your vision for CloudFlare and how you hope it will change the world?

Matthew Prince: We’re going to empower the Internet. 3% of the Internet’s visitors pass through us today. Our goal is to make it a no-brainer that anyone uses CloudFlare. CloudFlare offers a free service that will inherently make any site that signs up for it at least 30% faster. In some cases, we make sites up to 90% faster than they were loading before. We use the collective information from all of these sites to gather it together to have a broad security attack. So I mentioned that denial of service attack that we experienced last night, those are stressful moments, but one of the great things about it is that we’re constantly then gathering data from all of those attackers. That means that the next time that one of our users is under attack, we can use that to help protect the system. So we’re trying to build something that really inherently is going to make the Internet a better, safer, faster experience for everyone, and that why it’s fun to come to work here every day is because that’s a really meaningful challenge that is both hard and also important. So that’s the great thing about CloudFlare.

Matthew Wise: All right. Matthew,we very much appreciate you being a guest on our show. We hope you’ll come back. We’re rooting for your success at CloudFlare. For those in our audience who’d like to learn more and register to become a free user of CloudFlare, you can visit them at www.CloudFlare.com. This is Matthew Wise at FounderLY. Thank you so much Matthew.

 
 

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