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Women in Business Q&A: Michelle Zatlyn, Co-Founder of CloudFlare

Michelle Zatlyn creates products people love. Growing up in Canada, she earned a degree in Chemistry and now applies the scientific method to improving businesses.
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Michelle Zatlyn creates products people love. Growing up in Canada, she earned a degree in Chemistry and now applies the scientific method to improving businesses. Prior to CloudFlare, she worked at Google and Toshiba, launched two successful startups and got her MBA from Harvard Business School. Outside of the office, you can find Michelle on the yoga mat or doing the Sunday New York Times crossword.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
When I 20 years old, I was envious of those people who had clear career paths. I now realize that some of the happiest people I know didn't necessarily have it all figured out right away. A windy career path can be an asset, not a liability. Understanding that has given me perspective about the power of curiosity, dealing with challenges, and adapting to changing circumstance.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at CloudFlare?
I have had experience working at large multinational companies, startups and small companies. From the very beginning of my career, I learned the importance of getting things done. Driving a project through to completion was important in each situation. When you start your own company, getting things done is critical. You have to make things happen faster than incumbents. It is a skill I look for in all our hires.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at CloudFlare?
My proudest accomplishment has been taking CloudFlare from an idea on the back of napkin to a company that is building a better Internet for millions around the world. CloudFlare has had its share of hiccups as well. The main point is you need to regroup, learn from the experience, and move forward.

How was the Heartbleed bug a wake-up call for the tech industry?
Heartbleed has been one of the most significant vulnerabilities since the birth of the Internet. The bug allows attackers to hijack customer's account. Roughly 80 percent of all companies that do business online were potentially affected by the bug. These attacks have been a wake up call for companies to reassess the ways in which they are housing their customers' data. Internet security isn't just an option for companies anymore, it is a necessity that must be addressed at all prominent boardroom conversations.

What advice can you offer women who want to start their own business?
Big opportunities, like starting your own business, don't come that often, so if the opportunity is right make sure you go for it. That being said, starting a company is a big responsibility. My suggestion would be to make sure you are able to commit the time and resources necessary for the idea to reach its full potential, and make sure it's something you're passionate about. Starting a business is hard, it takes sacrifice and perseverance so make sure you believe in it and are willing to work for it.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I try not to worry about balance and focus on enjoying my life instead. I have an incredible husband and family who support me and help me keep things in perspective. I also feel like one of the luckiest people in the world getting to be a part of CloudFlare, so it's not really work. Outside of CloudFlare, I love the Farmer's Market, enjoying a nice home cooked meal with friends over a bottle of wine, and yoga.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Working for someone who doesn't see beyond your gender. Your manager typically has the most influence to your future at a particular company. In order to grow into the professional you hope to be, it is advantageous to work with someone who is willing to give you the opportunities to gain experiences you rightfully deserve.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Olympians Misty May & Kerri Walsh for their dedication, commitment and hard work; Sarah Blakely, founder of Spanx, for her sheer determination and upbeat personality; Diane Von Furstenberg for reinventing her career in her 50s and bridging the fashion world with technology through her support of Google Glass; and Estee Lauder for building a profitable and sustaining business back in the 1950s (that's when there really weren't a lot of women in business).

What do you want CloudFlare to accomplish in the next five years?
To create a web where any web property can be as fast as; no company has to be afraid of hackers or being knocked offline because of denial of service attacks; it is one click simple to add any third party service to your online business. And, most importantly, to build a world class company where the best ideas win and where the best people in the world want to work.

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