Episode 5
Episode 5
Building a Much Better Internet with Cloudflare COO Michelle Zatlyn

Building a Much Better Internet with Cloudflare COO Michelle Zatlyn

Front's co-founder and CEO, Mathilde Collin, sat down with Michelle Zatlyn, COO and Co-founder of Cloudflare shared what she learned along the way while pursuing her vision of building a better internet.

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Mathilde Collin I'm Mathilde Collin, I'm the CEO of Front. I'm here with Michelle, who is the CEO and co-founder of CloudFlare. Michelle, thank you so much for being here with me today. 

Michelle Zatlyn Oh, thanks so much for having me. And I'm really looking forward to our conversation, and I know I will learn a ton as well.

Mathilde Collin Me too. And super looking forward to it. So maybe we can start with just who you are. I would love to know what your role is at CloudFlare and what your day to day looks like. 

Michelle Zatlyn Sure. Of course. So I'm, as you said, the co-founder and CEO of CloudFlare. So we are about 10 years old as a company. We're about to have our tenth birthday at the end of September. And over the last 10 years, it was me and my two co-founders who started CloudFlare and now we have over fifteen hundred people. We went public recently, so now we're a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange. Our market cap is well, it fluctuates by about 10 billion dollars plus in market cap. I mean, last year we did two hundred eighty seven million dollars revenue. So we kind of took an idea startup and now it's turned it into a real business with lots of customers and employees. And CloudFlare, we helped make the Internet faster, safer, more reliable for any Internet property, whether you're a small business developer or a large company. And we've really grown over the last 10 years. So it's been an amazing journey. And my job is I'm still the co-founder. You're always a co-founder. And actually there are a lot of co-founders listening. It's an important distinction to remember. And but then I'm also an executive with the company as a COO, and I'm responsible for the go to market functions or sales or marketing or customer support teams as well as our people and places.

Mathilde Collin Given you've been doing this job for over 10 years now, is there anything that you wish you hadn't done 10 years ago? 

Mathilde Collin It's like it's always a hard question because entry you would learn so much. But is there something that's obvious that comes to mind that you wish you would share with people watching this? 

Michelle Zatlyn Yeah, definitely. I think I would have made different decisions along the way if I had realized it 10 years ago is. You know, we first heard it was all about the technology and and it still is, I mean, that's what our differentiation is and it's amazing. And I love tech and it's awesome. But what what I did not realize and I've learned along the way is sure it's solving a problem and how you're going to do that and do it in an elegant way. But at the end of the day, you have to build a great business around what you're doing to. And I did not appreciate that for many years building CloudFlare, and so therefore I think some of our customer decisions, marketing decisions earlier on weren't good ones. And I've since learned a lot along the way. And so now I try and talk to them all the time. I'm like, great, it's great about the technology or what you're building. And our customers care. But as soon as you start to fit on product market fit, that's kind of a term that we use a lot as as entrepreneurs. As soon as you start to find product market, then you really start to see adoption, whether of use or revenue. Then you've got to start to think about how am I going to build a healthy business around it? And businesses are different than technology. And I think the really great success stories are companies or entrepreneurs who can do both. 

Mathilde Collin I think one thing that's always, you know, I'm always amazed is when we talk or when I hear you talk, you always remind everyone who's listening what your mission is, and it's to build a better Internet. You said it better than I just said it. 

Mathilde Collin And I'm curious for all the founders and CEOs and COOs that are going through this process of formulating their mission, what what would be your advice to them? 

Michelle Zatlyn Yeah, when you're a success story, man, like it is really hard for the first one to four or five years, like very hard. And it's very hard to get people to come work for you. It's very hard to get your first customers to use your service. I mean, it's hard to get employee number 50 to come work for you because there's a lot of other great jobs, like why would people give up their great jobs to come work at a company that may go out of business? And when you 50 people, you don't know whether you have something or not or how big it is. And so and so. And I think even as a founder, you're looking at your friends around you. And I live in the Silicon Valley where people have these amazing ideas that are taking off. And there are definitely moments of do I have that or are we going out of business tomorrow early on? Right. And I think that that that's very common and messy, those early few years. And again, it's not a year. It's four years, which is a long time. That's a lot of days. That's twelve hundred days of your life. And so I say all of this, that there's a lot of great companies in the world. There's a lot of great causes to put to to dedicate your talents towards. And so for us at CloudFlare early on, it was like, sure, we're we're helping make it safer. But like, why does that matter? And it was Latorre up to a bigger mission. It is to help build a better Internet. And we didn't start with that on day one. But we we had the vision on day one. We we we uncovered it along the way. And it was a couple of years in and it just became really crystal clear where it kind of elevated everything. It made it easier to get people to come work for us selves. And they're like, I want to help make the Internet better to like. That really resonates with some investors, really. We're like, wow, I want to be a part of that. You know, for your own sake. You're just like, I'm really proud of the work we're doing. It becomes our North Star decisions we're making. Does this help make the Internet better or does it not? And it also becomes like an all star for internal decisions. And so, you know, we didn't start with the mission. We we started with a with a problem we were trying to solve for our customers. And and through that, we just we discovered that there was a bigger mission to what we're doing. And, you know, I remember listening to talks like this was like Drew hosting in a Dropbox and others that were talking about these things. And they were exactly right. It's like it's you're doing something bigger. It's not just a job. Like you're doing something much bigger than that. And to you, I think. But what is your business plan for what is your what's your mission as a business, as a company? And it kind of elevates everything and provides some levity. 

Mathilde Collin How do you make sure that with many employees that you have, everyone knows about this mission? And I think my second question would be, how do you make sure that everyone knows how their job contributes to the mission? 

Michelle Zatlyn Yes, well, then how do you know whether you're doing a good job of that as a whole other a whole other, when you're when you're early, it's kind of gut level. You're around all the time. So you kind of know. And then now also maybe fifteen hundred people and it's harder to know. So we I mean, some things that we've done and I think lots of other companies have been books written about this, but we do our mission is to help build a better intranet. We talk about it a lot and and it does come up and I think it's because we really believe it. And so whether it's I'm talking about it or Matthew is my business partner or a CEO or an executive I like, it just comes up frequently, which is good. So it's and again, we all believe it. But then we've also done some other things and is actually Adam Grant, who's a professor who's written a lot about organizations, is he's an organizational professor who looks about how people work together. And and the idea was we we found situations where we feel like cops are made a different decision than other companies. And we created something called popular stories. And any time you join CloudFlare, it's like part of our guidebook, you go through it. And here are situations where we made a different decision than we think other companies would have, because it comes back to it reinforces what we believe as a business, how we do it, what our values are, and ultimately to serve this bigger mission. And so we've captured those along the way. And again, what gets qualified as a story is something where we feel like we made a decision differently than another company, because that's how these things get carried on through stories. Right. It gets easier to reinforce these sorts of things. So we talk a lot about it. It's it's it's shaping things. How does it tie back to that? When we launch things, we tie it back to that. But it was also tied up into actual decisions being made and and capturing those and and then making sure everyone who joins or reads those. And again, that situation will never happen again. But we hope that people will learn. While I think back to that story, here's how I'm going to make my decision because of that story that I read about three years ago. And that's kind of how we've helped carry it on. 

Mathilde Collin So I'm sure that having this clear mission, people understanding it contributes to having a great culture. And something from from what I've heard, CloudFlare has a good culture. One thing I was curious about is you expanded internationally. You can tell me from what I understand, that you have offices in Beijing, in Lisbon and S.F.. I'm curious how you made sure that across the different offices and across the different languages and traditions and values, you had a really great culture and you had some consistency. Is it ever that was something that you were looking for? 

Michelle Zatlyn Yes. The best part of my job, the people I get to work with, which is I think companies are combinations of people who show up every day building things right into the best part of my job or the people I get to work with. And the second best part of my job are our customers. And that's held true from very early. And so we've always placed a really high emphasis on people and we don't always get it right. So I don't this is always a tough competition. It's we're not perfect. There's lots of things that we get wrong when we learn and we're trying to adapt. So let me just start there. But but we do care like we really do care. You think CloudFlare has a soul? We always have. And and so we will always start with great people. And so we spend a lot of time recruiting a lot. And we've always spent a lot of time recruiting. And by we I mean, me and Matthew, like the founders, did a lot of it early on. And then now by we I mean all of our hiring managers, I mean our today, if you're hiring Manager Koffler, you're expected to stand between 20 and 30 percent of your time hiring for your team, which is a lot. That's two hours a day or one day a week. And and and sometimes seasoned managers come in and say, well, I'm just going to partner with a recruiting team. They do that. And and we're like, no, no, no, no, no, no. Like, people come work for you. They like they come work for you, you're involved in. And so. Again, for a lot of people, they love it and then, like a lot of managers love it, they really get to know the people who they end up hiring stay for a long time, and that's great. But we do spend a lot of time recruiting and a lot of time on the process. 

Mathilde Collin One thing I was curious about and so we've talked about the mission and culture and putting people first, and I think all of that contributes to people being engaged in a company. One of my beliefs, and obviously it's also because I'm in a business that deals with customer litigation, is one of the things that contributes to people being happy and engaged is understanding what your customers say about good and that it's good to know what they say is good because that gives you energy to know what they think is bad, because that gives you a purpose when you're working on something.

Mathilde Collin Now, I think when you're very small, it's pretty easy for everyone in the company to know what customers are saying. And you are not super small anymore. 

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