Michelle Zatlyn, COO and co-founder of Cloudflare, was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1979. Zatlyn was brought up in a family environment that encouraged exploration of opportunities, which led her from an interest in medicine to the world of business.

Early Years and Education

Zatlyn grew up in a household with her sisters, her mother, a teacher, and her father, a lawyer. She attended school in Prince Albert and was the captain of the basketball team at her high school. She first explored entrepreneurship when she created a board game in her junior achievement class. After high school, she went to McGill University, graduating in 2001 with a major in chemistry and a minor in business.

Journey to Business and Cloudflare

Zatlyn initially planned to go to medical school but found herself drawn to the world of business. Her first business experience was as a research analyst and consultant at Investor Analytics. She then worked at I Love Rewards and Toshiba. Zatlyn furthered her business education at Harvard Business School in 2007, where she met Matthew Prince, her future co-founder.

In 2009, the economic recession affected Zatlyn’s plans to continue her work with Google. Instead, she teamed up with Prince and Lee Holloway to develop a project called Honey Pot, which tracked email spam and internet threats. They expanded the project into a service that blocked internet threats and presented their business plan at a Harvard pitch competition. They won the competition and used the funding and support they received to start Cloudflare in 2010.

Cloudflare’s Journey and Growth

Within five years of its launch, Cloudflare was processing over 5% of all web traffic and attracting 5000 new customers each day. Companies such as Canva, Etsy, Walmart, and Best Buy were using their services. In 2019, Cloudflare went public, and its value was estimated at $5.57 billion. The company continued to grow, reaching a peak market capitalization of $67.9 billion in 2021, although it experienced a decline in 2022.

Michelle Zatlyn’s Leadership and Impact

Zatlyn has held several leadership roles at Cloudflare, including chief operating officer and president. She has contributed to the company’s growth and has been recognized for her efforts, including being named in Inc. Magazine’s “Top 50 Women to Watch,” Forbes’ “Top 50 Women in Tech,” and Fortune’s “40 Under 40”.

Zatlyn also serves on the board of directors for Australian software company Atlassian and shares her experiences and insights at industry events and on various podcasts.

Challenges, Lessons, and Advice for Entrepreneurs

In an interview with Foundr Magazine, Zatlyn recollects an early encounter with an industry giant who labeled her vision for Cloudflare as “impossible.” Regardless, she continued to pursue her idea. The effort and confidence in her business model were effective, as Cloudflare now serves millions of customers worldwide and has achieved a revenue run rate of $1 billion.

An important stage in Cloudflare’s development was the introduction of its freemium product. Zatlyn initially had reservations about this step due to a lack of data. Nevertheless, the positive feedback from users confirmed her decision and underscored the importance of validating a business with its users.

Despite Cloudflare’s success, Zatlyn acknowledges the difficulties she faced as a woman in the tech industry. She has become a resource for other women and minorities in tech, encouraging them to persist despite any skepticism or bias they may experience. Zatlyn’s advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to concentrate on their progress and attract those who believe in their vision, rather than trying to convince the skeptics.

Drawing from her personal experiences, Zatlyn’s message to entrepreneurs is simple: “You’ve got to keep yourself in the game.”