We Wanna Be Friends With CloudFlare Cofounder Michelle Zatlyn

We Wanna Be Friends With CloudFlare Cofounder Michelle Zatlyn


If they gave out trophies for techie awards, Michelle Zatlyn's case would be full.

Once upon a time, Zatlyn dreamed of becoming a doctor. That is, until she discovered her passion for an open and secure Internet. So, she built CloudFlare, a web performance and security company that launched in 2009, along with two Harvard Business School friends, Matthew Prince and Lee Holloway. Today the company joins the unicorns with a billion-dollar valuation.

As head of user experience, Zatlyn is raking in the accolades: She was named one of 2015's "Women Who Rule Silicon Valley" by Elle magazine; a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, which also called CloudFare a Technology Pioneer; and Wall Street Journal selected CloudFlare as the Most Innovative Internet Technology company today.

It should come as no surprise that Zatlyn is a hard worker. But when she needs to unplug, she spends time with her family in SF.

7x7: What inspired you to start CloudFare?

MZ: While I was at Harvard Business School, I knew I wanted to be part of the next Google before it was Google, or Starbucks before it was Starbucks. And life has a funny way of presenting opportunities. It was then that I met Matthew Prince (cofounder). He was a serial entrepreneur and had all sorts of amazing ideas. Fast-forward eight years and Matthew and I, as well as our third co-founder Lee Holloway, have built a company that is helping to make the Internet better. CloudFlare is fundamentally changing the way that 2 billion people worldwide access information. It’s like hiring a personal trainer who's also a bodyguard for your web property. We make sites run faster and smoother, all while keeping cyber threats and hackers at bay. Today we see more than 5 percent of all web traffic run through our network, and have about 5,000 new customers sign up for CloudFlare every day. 

7x7: Do you think there is enough diversity in the Bay Area tech industry?

MZ: Diversity comes in many forms—gender, skill sets, backgrounds, languages and geography to name a few. On one hand, I think the Bay Area is the most welcoming place in the world to someone who hasn’t built a name for herself yet. If you have a tech dream, this is the place to chase it. On the other hand, we still have a lot of work to do. As many people and news publications have noted, there are fewer women than men in technology, and many ethnicities are under-represented. Personally, I’m proud to be playing a role in inspiring the next generation of women to see what opportunities are possible in technology. I’m optimistic for the future. 

7x7: Hackers and online attacks are always in the news. How can the Internet become a safe place for businesses and users? 

MZ: There’s no doubt that hackers are a real and constant threat. The Internet was built for all of us, not just the powerful. But as with any resource, people will try to take advantage of it for personal gain. CloudFlare is helping to create an Internet where any web property is as fast as google.com, and where nobody has to be afraid of hackers or being knocked offline because of denial of service attacks. We are democratizing the resources that were previously available only to the Internet giants, making them accessible for anyone with a web property, whether it’s for your small business or a Fortune 500 company.

7x7: What does your typical day look like?

MZ: High-growth companies are kind of like organized chaos, nothing is typical. I focus on company-wide operations to make sure that everyone on our team can do their best work without any roadblocks. The other big part of my job is making sure we attract the best talent. CloudFlare has doubled in size every year since we launched, and hiring the right team members is very important to us. 

7x7: When you need a low-key afternoon, where do you go for down time?

MZ: I love to go to the Ferry Building. There’s nothing better than enjoying fresh oysters from Hog Island or having a glass of wine at the California Wine Merchant. If the Farmer’s Market is on, I love checking out all the local produce and seeing what is in season. On a hot San Francisco day, you’ll find me by a pool with my husband and young son. 

7x7: Best thing to eat in SF?

MZ: My favorite restaurant is Out the Door in Pacific Heights, and I’ll find any excuse to make my way there. Anything on their dinner menu makes me happy, especially the pan-fried shrimp and chive dumplings, shaking beef, and broccoli side dish.

7x7: Favorite day trip?

MZ: Wine Country. I love to go to Scribe Winery in Sonoma. The drive is beautiful and, once you’re there, everyone is more relaxed, friendly, and all about food and wine. Sonoma is so close, but you feel like you’re really getting away. It’s the perfect way to recharge without going far.

7x7: Ideal date?

MZ: I’d start with tennis at one of the local courts, followed by a Thai massage at my favorite spot, Suchada. Dinner would either be at Out the Door or 1760—bar seating is a must. I’d end the evening with a nightcap at Saison. They have some of the best cocktails in the city and a beautiful setting.

7x7: What’s your go to place to take out-of-town visitors?

MZ: On a nice day, I like to take visitors to Lands End, hang out at Ocean Beach, and finish it off with gelato at Marco Polo Italian ice cream. 

7x7: What indulgence will you never give up?

A port and cheese pairing—they always go better together. 

Quickfire Round

Burrito or Burger: Burger

Presidio or Golden Gate Park: Presidio

Bi-Rite or Mitchell’s: Bi-Rite

Bartender or Mixologist: Bartender

Fort Mason or Dolores Park: Dolores Park

The Independent or The Fillmore: The Fillmore

Baker Beach or Ocean Beach: Ocean Beach

Three words that describe your life in San Francisco?

Active, fun, outdoors

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