CloudFlare's Woman Cofounder on How She Helped Build a Billion Dollar Tech Company aka a Unicorn - Forbes
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Startup Lessons
Hollie Slade writes:
In these Lean In, “Ban Bossy” times, it’s worth remembering Sheryl Sandberg isn’t the only woman in Silicon Valley.
“Everyone references Sheryl Sandberg,” says Michelle Zatlyn, cofounder of CloudFlare. “But there really needs to be more than one or two data points for women in tech, that’s what’s been missing from the conversation.”
Rather than focusing on the negatives – women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce yet only 30% are in the tech industry, or the root causes - research shows that women who are initially interested in tech careers often don’t complete STEM degrees; highlighting women getting on with it will be more effective, thinks Zatlyn.
Alongside cofounders Matthew Prince and Lee Holloway, Zatlyn helped grow website performance and security company, CloudFlare from an idea on the back of a cocktail napkin into a member of the billion-dollar startup club handling more than 5% of global web traffic. CloudFlare’s growth continues to rocket, with the company set to double its team and add another 50 data centers worldwide this year as well as laying the groundwork for an IPO down the road.
“Diversity is really powerful,” says Zatlyn. “I like to think of a Venn Diagram. Matthew, Lee and I have lots of overlap – a shared vision, goals for the company, but there’s also a lot of surplus areas where we’re different.”
Advice for female founders:
“That’s what I always tell female founders, you’ve got to find a cofounder that’s got a different enough skillset. If people are too alike then you won’t move fast, you’ll move sideways,” she says.
Keeping momentum is also critical, says Zatlyn. CloudFlare’s had its share of hiccups – losing crucial customers, office break-ins, hacking attempts – but the main point is you need to regroup and learn from the experience. “Bad things happen to good people,” says Zatlyn, you’ve “got to move the ball forward.”
How do you pick the right investor? “The test of if you have a good investor is if you’d be scared to pick up the phone and call them if something went wrong,” says Zatlyn.
You don’t need to be a programming pro to run a tech company, says Zatlyn who doesn’t have a computer science degree. Around 80% of CloudFlare’s team are engineers, meaning Zatlyn’s had to learn the lingo on the fly to keep up with what they’re doing.
“If you’re curious and you want to learn enough you can learn a lot,” she says. Zatlyn started by listening in on meetings and going for lunch with the engineering team early on. Although she’ll never get to their level in coding, her glossary of terms that she’s been adding to over the years means she has a good understanding of what they do.
Starting a company and growing a company are totally different things. “Sometimes founders leave when the company’s a few years old because they feel like they were the ideas person,” says Zatlyn.
“Early on it’s all about quick iterations and being scrappy, scrappy, scrappy.” But as you go on you need to build more process, so that everyone is communicating. “Not everyone is in the same room anymore and you can’t go to lunch with everyone,” she says.
CloudFlare’s currently working on making SSL, the security encryption used on banking and ecommerce sites free. It’s a big deal because of cost most sites aren’t encrypted and if they were it would make surveillance by agencies like the NSA harder. Currently CloudFlare provides services to 2 million sites and counting.