Cloudflare TV

Founder Stories: Why We Joined Cloudflare

Presented by Alonso Bustamante, David Harnett
Originally aired on 

Join Alonso Bustamante as he interviews successful entrepreneurs who now are doing big things at Cloudflare.


Transcript (Beta)

All right, let's get started today. Hello, Cloudflare TV. It's great to be live with you today.

I'm Alonso Bustamante, head of Cloudflare's London office and a member of our special projects team coming to you live from London.

And we've got a very special guest today, the head of our Seattle office and the head of our Cloudflare for Teams initiative, David Harnett.

How are you, David? I'm doing great, Alonso.

How are you doing? I'm doing all right. It's a nice, lovely gray overcast day in London, so it feels like par for course over here.

Yeah, that's a little bit like here in Seattle, but we're looking forward to our three months of sun, which is what the whole year is all about in Seattle.

Nice. It's a beautiful place.

I've had the chance to go there a couple of times and big, big fan. Well, thank you for joining us today.

This is an exciting new venture for Cloudflare, Cloudflare TV.

A great chance for us to get an opportunity to speak with our users, our followers, our customers.

And in this opportunity, I wanted to take a chance to speak with you.

You are a recent addition to the Cloudflare team. You joined us in January, if memory serves me right.

And you joined, I actually had a chance to speak with Janet Van Hise and Scott Tompania earlier this week.

And we talked a little bit about the regular path of people joining Cloudflare, which is you go on our website, you do an application, you go through maybe five, 10 interviews and you join the team.

However, you and your team in Seattle joined through an acquisition.

So you had a lot of different options. You had a lot of different things to consider.

And eventually you chose Cloudflare as a place where you wanted to spend your time building great product and our great Cloudflare for Teams product.

So I wanted to take a chance to talk a little bit about that and maybe hear a little bit about your story about joining Cloudflare.

Perhaps we can start a little bit with your background.

What were you doing before Cloudflare? Tell us a little bit about that.

Sure, absolutely. And it's been a great journey in Cloudflare since we joined on January the 1st.

So I'm originally from Ireland and I now live in Seattle and I have a wife who's originally from Ireland and three kids here in Seattle.

We call them the three little Americans because they've got American accents and we have, well, we're at least attempting to hold on to the Irish accents as much as we can.

My kids are 17, 15 and 14. Prior to Cloudflare, I worked in Microsoft for 15 years.

I've heard of that place. Yes. And that of course is prior to the company S2 Systems, which Cloudflare acquired.

And since coming over to the States in 1994, when I was 22, so you can work out the age there.

Since coming over to the States, I worked in banking in New York, in the city, in Manhattan.

I then moved to Washington DC, which was great fun back in 1995.

And I was there for three years.

I went to business school in the States, which was another stint of great fun up in Northwestern, up in the Chicago area.

It's a beautiful area, Evanston.

Yeah, Evanston, exactly. It's lovely. And then I got it in my head that I wanted to go to Silicon Valley.

So I applied for jobs over there and got a really nice job in Hewlett Packard in a group similar to what you're doing, Alonzo, in corporate development.

So doing acquisitions and strategy. And then I joined a startup in Silicon Valley and then joined Microsoft in 2001.

I was there for 15 years.

So that's what I've done before S2 Systems and before Cloudflare. So before we jump a little bit into S2 Systems and what brought you to Cloudflare, I guess you've been in some of the largest, most recognizable names in the technology sector.

As our CEO, Matthew, likes to say, names that even my family would recognize.

What do you think is common about some of those great historic technology companies?

What do you think, you know, allows them to survive on decade upon decade in an industry that is known for its innovation?

Well, yeah, I mean, the three big companies that I've been in are all, you know, pretty, pretty different, you know, from Microsoft to Hewlett Packard and then Accenture.

And those would be the recognizable names.

Obviously, innovation has, they have that all in common.

You know, Hewlett Packard has always had an underpinning of innovation and was one of the pioneers in Silicon Valley, of course, if not the pioneer of innovation in the garage that eventually led to a business unit and the second business unit and then a big business.

Accenture, a little bit different being a services company, but still a lot of innovation there.

Always staying ahead of, you know, understanding the latest technologies, but from the customer point of view, the customer problem point of view.

And then, of course, Microsoft, which, you know, innovated a lot early on, got a bad rap for maybe not innovating, you know, as much, you know, in the 2000s.

But it actually did underneath the covers.

And then, of course, now it's done. It tried to come out with Zoom, so.

Exactly. And my poor family here was forced to use every Microsoft product while I was there.

Yeah, that happens. So they didn't like that, especially the kids, you know, when there were iPods and things out at the time.

And then also using Bing as well over Google was rough for a while, but it's got a lot better now.

So I think innovation is an underpinning of those three companies. You know, I always thought going to those companies was just a really good foundation for a career, even though, you know, in some cases it's not as fast moving as you want or you don't get as much responsibility as you maybe want, you know, as a young person who thinks they can, you know, take over the world.

But at the same time, you just get really good, a really good foundation and training for your career, because those companies can train, you know, you do a job and get trained, whereas in smaller companies, you've got to just do your job and then learn on the job, which is also great as well.

So that's kind of partially answering your question, Alonso.

Yeah, no, that makes sense. So you took, I mean, I know there's a lot more to it, but you took a lot of that foundation and that journey across, you know, different companies, across different industries and different types of training.

And you decided to put your energy into a startup and you became a founder.

Maybe you can tell us a little bit about S2 Systems, which was the company that you founded before or co-founded before joining Cloudflare.

Sure. So I was very lucky to be able to start a company that turned out to be in a pretty hot area and was wanted by another company as great as Cloudflare.

So having an even better time now being part of Cloudflare, which we can talk about in a minute.

So we started S2 Systems, there were four co-founders, Darren Remington was the first person who actually contacted me when I was in Microsoft to leave and go and do another venture.

He was in Microsoft before and we'd worked together closely and he was like an advisor for me.

So he was a, he, he saying he wanted to do something new was a big catalyst for me to say, okay, I'm going to move.

Then we had Mike Conrad, who also had worked in Microsoft and we'd worked together in Microsoft.

And then Kilian Koenig, who also had worked in Microsoft, although we had worked together a lot less than we had, than I had with Darren.

So the four of us got together and we started a company that does browser isolation.

And the reason why we did that is because we looked at the market and looked at how many attacks were coming through browsers.

And it turns out it's a very high percentage of attacks that come into organizations come through browsers.

It's in the order of about 70, 70%, seven zero.

And we looked at that market, you know, from a strategic point of view and looked at it and said, there must be some way of stopping these attacks.

And we stumbled on browser isolation from research in the market and saw that other companies have tried to do browser isolation, which is you basically take the battle somewhere else.

You take it off the browser in the client and you move it into the cloud so that you're actually doing your browsing in the cloud.

So if any malware or any attacks actually did get through whatever defenses you have, they're happening somewhere else.

They're not happening on your device.

So we... So am I to understand this in a way that maybe a Salesforce was able to take applications out of the actual device and into the cloud.

This was doing the same thing for the browser. Is that one way to understand that?

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And that's a great way of understanding it because our mission was browsing as a service.

Right. Which is, you know, it doesn't make sense.

It didn't make sense to us and it still doesn't make sense to us now as part of Cloudflare for Teams in this company to have your browser be a source of malware, a source of attacks, and it's sitting on your device when everything else like Salesforce and all other, you know, call them workloads have moved to the cloud.

So Office 365, G Suite, Salesforce, Workday, all of these great applications that we all use to do our jobs every day are delivered as services, but they're delivered a lot of the time through this product that essentially is a client with old technology sitting on your device getting attacked.

So, you know, why wouldn't you deliver that as a service? And there were many reasons why you wouldn't that we took on in our startup.

And we really had three things that were our guiding lights as an early stage startup.

And those were, the first of those words, no compromise on security.

So by design, having the browser in the cloud, in a container with a protocol that would send a visual feed to the, to the endpoint by design that had to be rock solid.

That was like our no compromise.

That's the whole reason why we were doing browser isolation. And then the second thing was performance, which really was performance and scale.

And then the third thing was user experience.

It had to be delivered in a way that users just really loved using it.

And didn't feel like there was a compromise of using some, you know, highly secure system that was just awful to use because, you know, we all know of other products that are out there that may be somewhat similar where you're running your workload somewhere else, not on your endpoint and users and people in organizations just really don't like them.

So, so we started the company around those three things and we said, you know, we have to achieve certain metrics around those three things.

Otherwise this isn't even worth it. And that's, that's how we started the company.

So this is not the first time that I hear part of this story.

I am equally excited hearing the story now as I was maybe six months ago. And to bring it a little bit back to maybe your thinking as a co-founder and a CEO, I would imagine there was no shortage of people who wanted to join this dream of building a better remote browser isolation technology.

So did, were you, was it always your idea to join a larger organization?

Was your idea to go at it alone?

Like how were you thinking about the next couple of years of your business? So we were, we were thinking about going it alone.

And, and actually right at the time of the acquisition, we had raised a whole bunch of money that had just not been wired into the bank account.

And we have to contact our investors and stop it and apologize and thank them all so much.

And it was really amazing, the good reaction we had from our, from our investors, our whole plan, which was still in progress because when, you know, Alonzo and I know you were, you were sympathetic to this, when a new company gets contacted by a bigger company to be acquired, it's, it's a very good thing, but it also really puts a lot of things on hold.

And you were very good to say, we're going to make it, you can be distracted, distracted, I guess.

Yeah. And it was really good that you were like, look, we'll tell you next Friday, whether we're going to the next stage.

And you did. And then now we'll tell you in four weeks, whether we've passed this level of due diligence and, you know, and that was really good because it allowed us focus for a period of time on this.

But so you're asking about people. Yes. We, we wanted to go it alone. That was our plan.

And we were able to attract some really good people because we just took this kind of very purest free metric approach and really good devs, as you know, love metrics, you know, because they can make an assessment about whether they can hit them.

And then, and then it's a very clear vision to go and try and hit those, hit them.

So we were, all of our team was in for, you know, five years plus 10 years, you know, whatever it took to, to get this off the ground.

And we really believed in it and continue to believe in us.

And why did that change? Well, like all startups, you don't just go off and develop your technology without talking to early adopter customers.

So we started talking to some big customers and smaller customers just to test the product, get feedback early on.

And very early into that, we had one very large customer saying, we love this thing.

We are being attacked.

We're, we're a target of zero day attacks. We love what you guys are doing, but we've made investments in this other larger company for lots of other technology that we have now 10 years of investment in.

Can you integrate with them?

And they actually made a, an intro to that company. And that company just turned out when they saw our technology, wanted to buy us just like that, you know, you just kind of get shocked of, wow, that wasn't what we expected.

And then that happened again with another company and customer saying, introduced to another tech company, we met with them.

And then at that point, we developed a hypothesis that maybe this technology remote browser isolation was in a window of opportunity where the larger companies would make a decision to do something or not.

And we had to decide then, do we want to be part of this process where this window is open, where maybe we can become part of a larger company or do we not?

And we decided, okay, let's put some feelers out there and see what happens.

That's, that's, that's a good segue to, I guess, I would imagine there, there's a portion of our viewers today who are founders who have been, or who are part of startups and, and, you know, they're going to face the situation that you're describing, hopefully.

Putting maybe the financial element aside, and obviously every deal has some form of transactional or financial element aside, what else was important to you?

What else was important to you as a co-founder?

What else was important to your co-founders and maybe what was important about where you wanted your team to land?

So, you know, that's, that's the, that's the big question, of course, when you're, you know, when you're a founder and, and so optimistic about your vision.

And, and I think the most important thing for us was, where do we want to be for the next 10 years?

So when you think that way, a lot of other things fall into place, because you have a passionate set of people who want to realize a vision.

That's why they've given up jobs in, you know, Microsoft or other big places that can employ, that would employ any of the great Cloudflare people that we have, or the people we had in our startup.

So, you know, when you say, where do I want to be for 10 years, it kind of gives you some clarity.

And then the economics go way down the list at that point, because all of your people left big companies, where they were probably getting paid more, certainly getting paid more than, than in our startup, for a vision that they want to realize, and for, for the type of environment.

So, so that's what we did. And actually, when we met Cloudflare, and Alonso, you know, this, we had what we called a vision alignment immediately.

The very first call, and we got introduced through Thomas, Cloudflare's CFO, through a board member that we had just added, called Amit Mittal.

We had a call, you were on the line, Dane was there, who's now my boss, who runs product strategy, which is the place where new products start in Cloudflare.

We had just a complete vision alignment, you know, like I talked about, I talked about the user experience, I talked about performance and security, and heard all of those things immediately from Cloudflare.

Plus, of course, you know, which we can talk about, you know, later on, but the network, when we'd all heard of Cloudflare, of course, and our developers had, you know, experience using the products, but when we really understood, you know, a few levels deeper about the network, we just said, this is, this is the most perfect thing for where we would want browsing to be.

So, I would say, getting back to your question, you know, thinking about where do you want to be for the next 10 years, makes a lot of things just fall into place.

Vision, people, you know, a very big thing, and Darren and I, who I talked about, we were really the face of, you know, the due diligence and negotiation.

Of course, the technical team, Killian, Mike, and the team were doing all the, all the technical due diligence, but we were really the ones who felt were representing our team, and that was very big for us.

Where do our people fit? Where would we want those people to work, who we really value, because they took a chance on us, and they, you know, where are we going to be for 10 years, just made that much, much easier.

Now, there's obvious things, you know, we were an early stage startup. Obviously, startups, you know, can go through some serious hard times where people are not getting paid at all, or very little, and some economics come into it, because they have families who say, you know, when are we going to eventually get some reward for all of this, but we were really lucky to not have to think about that, and really, it was the, you know, where do you want to be for 10 years, and where's the vision alignment?

And, I mean, I, as you mentioned, I was in that room, and I tend to ask all the questions here, but I'll chime in a little bit.

Like, it's very much as you're describing, and I think, I remember the moment we hung up from that call, we kind of looked at each other, and it's like, did anybody else feel that, like, connection?

Like, this was, they were talking the same language, the same vision, the same culture, and all those things were very important.

It wasn't only a technology conversation where things fit in, but it was also a people conversation.

I think there was that natural rapport that came out, so it definitely, I think, from both sides of the equation, that was felt very early on, which allowed us on our side to move, I think, you know, as quickly as we could at the time.

Now, there's obviously one thing that you mentioned earlier, is that these processes can get, you know, somewhat distracting, and they require a lot of work.

You, you know, you were part of a co-founding team, but there were other members of the team who were not part of the diligence process, or at least they weren't for the entire part.

How do you, as a founder, like, how did you communicate with your team about what was going on, and how did you manage to keep them excited, motivated, and, I guess, heads down doing work?

Yeah, that's, that's, that's a good question, because there's, there's no, there's no good answer that I can give to that, except that we were just 100% transparent.

You know, and you've been in our, in our offices, you know, when you're in a startup, you have one big room with everybody sitting there, and it's all very open, and, you know, it's a, it's a big part of the whole deal, that you join this startup, and you're going to be part of running the company, which, which everybody was.

So, you know, it probably led, led to a few roller coasters for, for our staff, but we were just totally transparent, talked about it constantly, and then, of course, when teams turn up in that one room, you know, everyone is involved, and, and we had, we had, you know, fortunately, I suppose, although it didn't really matter once we met Cloudflare, but fortunately, we did have multiple companies that descended on us in, in our Kirkland office, you know, our Seattle office, and then the teams were like, okay, so should we like these people, or should we like these people?

Who do I get excited about? Yeah, but it was, it was with Cloudflare, you know, everybody just didn't have to ask that question, because it was just, like you said, everyone got on incredibly well, there was a culture fit with everyone, everyone is now part of Cloudflare, everyone's having great careers now, now it's only been, you know, five and a half months, but all the things that we thought were going to happen are happening, or more.

So it was really transparency. And then we did have to, you know, keep people on track by like, everybody, next Friday, got to give up the day.

But Monday to Thursday, let's get the product, you know, to this point.

And of course, everybody's just working around the clock at that point, because, you know, you're all passionate about making sure that the company succeeds.

So we were, we were just totally transparent, we'd probably led to a lot of ups and downs, but, but it seemed to work out well in the end.

So we've probably got time for maybe one, one more question, maybe two.

And I guess the question is, tell us a little bit more about what it's been like here for the last six months.

Hopefully, you know, there's people listening who will, this will be an opportunity for some people to think like, you know, maybe my team should be joining Cloudflare.

And tell us what it's been like in that experience over the past six months inside, you know, and as part of this team.

It's been great. Certainly, some of the assumptions we've had, you know, most of them have come through, true.

And there's been a lot of other things, you know, pleasant surprises that, that we've dealt with, you know, as a team, but we're completely integrated now into, into Cloudflare.

We're not operating as our own little startup that's disconnected, because we're part of a new product suite called Cloudflare for Teams.

And Cloudflare for Teams is about providing access, secure access to any application and the Internet from any device.

And that just fits beautifully with the vision of S2 systems and browser isolation.

So, you know, we all really feel like we're part of something much bigger.

Even though, you know, we'd work to Microsoft, and that's a trillion dollar company now, but Cloudflare will be someday.

And to be able to work on a product in Cloudflare, talk to a salesperson in the afternoon, and then a customer that evening about the same topic, is just an incredible thing.

To be able to launch some technology in the morning, and it run in 200 locations around the world on Cloudflare's edge, a few seconds later, is an incredible thing that you don't have when you're part of a startup.

But it also doesn't come with the big kind of bureaucracy and feeling of multiple divisions that you have in larger companies.

Because, you know, Cloudflare, you know, as we all know, being in Cloudflare, very open, everyone willing to help, you know, don't have these silos of, you know, we're working on this, you're working on that.

So, you know, you go and do your job, just very, very open company.

And that was actually, even though we knew that from the vision alignment, just being in that for five months, was surprising, how open and collaborative people are in Cloudflare.

Which has made building out Cloudflare for Teams, and the other products, Gateway and Access, which fit really nicely with browser isolation, it's just made that such an easier and more natural thing to do for a bunch of people who just came from a startup.

Great. That's a pretty amazing story to hear.

It's really, it's fascinating to hear, you know, you going in your life from, you know, very large technology companies, then attempting and taking that structure and taking that foundation and then moving along to, you know, starting up a company and then, you know, hopefully joining the right company and being able to fulfill your vision over the next couple of years.

David, it's great having you with us at Cloudflare TV.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Next up for anybody viewing, we've got This Week in Net with our CTO, John Graham, coming.

So stay tuned. David, thank you for joining us. Thanks very much, Alonso.