Cloudflare TV

What's Next with Michelle Zatlyn, Co-founder, President & COO

Presented by Michelle Zatlyn, Alina Ha
Originally aired on 

Alina Ha will be joined by Michelle Zatlyn to talk about her experience and perspective as the COO Persident and co founder of Cloudflare and her advice to female individuals looking to build a career in sales.

If you want to apply for a role at Cloudflare but are unsure of what the best fit would be for your skillset, please apply using this link and the Recruiting Team will follow up -

Women in Sales

Transcript (Beta)

Hi, everyone. And I'm Alina Ha from a strategic customer success team here in Le Bas in London.

And I wanted to thank you all. Thank you so much for joining our last session of today, Women in Sales Day.

And I'm really delighted to host this session together with our Cloudflare co -founder, president and CEO, Michelle Zatlyn.

Hi, Alina. How are you? Good. How are you, Michelle? Thank you so much for joining.

Oh, thanks so much for having me. I'm super excited to be here and connecting with our audience today.

So really looking forward to the next 30 minutes together.

Cool. Thank you so much. So before we dive in, here's a quick note for our viewers.

If you really want to ask questions to Michelle and myself, please submit them at livestudio at Cloudflare .tv.

Okay, Michelle. So I really wanted to ask you this question.

So when I was young, I was watching Santa Barbara and loved Cruz Castillo.

So for those who don't know him, he was the school policeman in the brown bomber jackets.

And after that, I really wanted to become a policewoman because I wanted to protect and help others.

And although I took a really different career path, I see the resemblance in my role now as a customer success manager because I help and advocate for my customers.

And when I was watching your recent interview with Stanford, you said you wanted to be a doctor.

And now here you are, a co-founder and president of cybersecurity company. And it made me think that so many times we change our initial career choices, but we still end up working towards similar purpose.

And I wanted to ask you, do you feel that building a better Internet actually follows the spirit of doctors helping everyone, no matter where they are from and who they are?

Yes. Well, I couldn't say it better, Alina.

I found myself nodding my head because it's like, yes, yes, yes.

I just kind of want to keep saying yes all along. No, I do agree. I think that I'm kind of 20 years into my career and I guess I have some reflections that I wish I had known in university or college.

And, you know, I did have a windy career path, but actually that's an asset, not a liability.

Trying different things, collecting a lot of experiences.

I actually think that, you know, once you get through it to the other side, it makes you more well-rounded.

But some things stay constant.

And, you know, I think Adam Grant has a great book called Think Again. And kind of some of your core beliefs and values, he describes, you know, you might want to rethink those more slowly than how you're doing something.

And I think that what you're describing is a little bit of that, where there's some things that just resonate with each individual as individuals.

We all kind of are drawn to certain things or something gets us excited.

And that's what makes the world go round, that there's such a diversity of what that looks like.

And so when I think back to when I wanted to be a doctor, I really was drawn to it because I loved the idea of helping people.

And I also loved science. Like I was just such a science nerd.

I loved it. It made me very happy. And so I thought, oh, well, if you love science, you like helping people, medicine was the place to go.

And it is. It is one great option.

But what I didn't realize that I realize now is there are a lot of other options, too.

And those weren't so obvious to me back when I was going to career services on campus.

And what I love about Kloffler and I get the same sort of reward.

And I worked at a lot of different companies where I didn't always feel like this is I feel like the work we do matters.

I feel like our customers are better off because our service exists.

They are thankful. They're grateful. They they we do things for them that are hard for themselves.

And there's some element of medicine that you go to the doctor because they are an expert of something that you are.

And you're like, please tell me what to do. And when they do it really well, you feel so, so much better after the fact.

And so I think there's some elements.

Obviously, they're very different, but there are some elements. And I guess I'm glad I had that realization during my career that, oh, wow, there are lots of ways to help people.

And and one thing that I do not think is well understood is the scale at which some of these companies operate at, including Kloffler, like the reach, the breadth, you know, the situations that you're faced when you're working on a day to day basis.

I feel like those are stories that haven't really been told or well understood, but it's really rewarding.

And so I guess I couldn't agree more. I agree. I think the gratitude we get from, you know, helping customers when they and it's not only under attack, right, like this can be really, really small.

But, you know, like you're taking such a big weight off their shoulders is definitely something I find I love about my work.

And you mentioned that, you know, like you have so much experience, but let's move kind of go back a little bit to your beginning.

And I think today's sessions is because it's the last session and women's and sales day.

I think this is a logical ending for this event because you were at the origins of Kloffler sales and you were not only the co-founder, you at some point, I assume you were the sales enablement.

You were the business development. You were the marketing person.

And thinking back, like, what do you what was your experience being a woman in this role in this industry 10 years ago?

That's a big question, Alina, and there's so many different ways.

I mean, there's lots of different ways to answer that.

And and, you know, if there are founders or people who want to start companies who are listening, I guess the point that I would make based on this kind of topic is, yeah, you end up doing things that you may be qualified for or may be unqualified for because inherently when you're building a company, everything has to get built.

So there's just way more things to do than people to do it. So everybody gets stretched out of their kind of their what their what their core competencies and you're always chipping in and doing other sorts of things.

And so there's lots of great articles out there talking about how if you're a founder, how you end up doing sales first before you hire people, because it's hard to hire somebody to do something if you don't understand what you're trying to hire them for.

And that's like at the at the core of it. And so, yes, so there is a piece of that.

And I think the mistake that sometimes I think people make early is they hire somebody for a job they don't really fully understand.

They get it wrong.

So that's mistake one that I've seen. The mistake, too, is equally bad, maybe worse, is they actually and they do do it.

They actually end up being pretty good at it because they care so much and they're just so passionate about what the company is doing, what they're building that they actually never end up hiring professional sales executives or BDRs or customer success managers to give away that Lego.

And that's, I think, a bigger mistake where it's you know, you could be the best salesperson, but you need a team because that's how you scale an organization.

And so that's kind of from my founders hat. I think that there's also kind of early in your career hat, which is what you were alluding to.

And then being a woman and working in sales and with customers.

And I do think that it's one of our board members, Scott Sandell, he's been on our board for a long time.

He spent two years doing sales, not at Klaffler, but early in his career.

And he to this day, he's a very successful investor.

He's like, that was so formative for me.

Like just being close to the customer and understanding they're busy. How do you get their attention?

And they move on their timelines, not my timelines. And that was like kind of a wide eye opening experience for him.

And so I think this idea of even if you don't want to be make a career out of it, taking one of the chapters of your career and working within a sales organization close to customers will serve you well, whether you become a product manager, whether you become a venture capitalist, whether you become go into the people function, wherever you end up going into finance.

It's just understanding that is almost like it's a great tour of duty.

It's a great it's a great experience that you can collect, even if you don't want to do it full time for the next 40 years of your career.

So I think that that's interesting.

I think that being a woman, you know, I think that that's a hard question for me to answer because I was also the founder.

So I had some extra leeway as starting Klaffler of, oh, wow.

So I, you know, I think everything you read online is true, plus more where sometimes it's harder.

You got to work hard.

You got to be more prepared. I mean, I think all those exist because there that that some element of truth in all of that.

Having said that, I will say, and I'm a very optimistic half class full person, even when that was the case, I often felt like I got fast reward cycles of, oh, wow.

That was that was really I wasn't really I didn't really expect much from this meeting, but that actually was really a good use of my time.

Look forward to the next one. And so having kind of those little bit quick feedback loops of like, wow, that preparation works.

And I felt like people were like, well, actually, you have something really interesting to say.

We are interested. Let's set up another conversation. To me, I guess that was a good that was a good feedback loop of, OK, the hard work paid off.

And then now fast forward today, you know, when you are part of a successful company, you get some there's a little bit less of having to convince people that you've earned a seat.

They kind of assume, OK, well, you're clearly doing something right.

So that that that makes that a little bit easier. But early on, yes, of course.

And I had to work harder and prepare more. But I did feel like I got fast feedback cycles that it was worth it.

And then that kind of reinforces that it was worth doing.

And then you get more confidence. And then and then, you know, just is a positive cycle going forward.

I have a like a question for, you know, your growth as a female leader, but it will be later.

But I think now I want to ask you, like you were talking about, you know, like all these Internet articles are true, you know, like back in the days, like 10 years ago, it's it was a little bit more like it's a little bit harder.

And now we see that, you know, development of many companies and industry in general increasingly towards the more diverse workforce.

Right. And can you like from your personal experience, even though you were a co-founder and there was some a little bit of leeway.

But do you see this what the evolution in the industry was in this 10 years and what hasn't changed, but you wish has, you know, you wish they had changed?

So I think that there's the good where there are lots of great companies and places to work with great jobs where whether you're a man or a woman or a person of color, you get treated who you are and and judged on your merit.

And like, that's great. And I love those stories.

And there are many of those stories, like many. Having said that, it's not universal.

There's still a lot of people who don't think having a diverse team is better, even though all the research shows this, that it's better place to work and drives better business results.

There's some companies where this just isn't a priority and there's others where they say it is.

But when you actually show up, it feels like it's not.

So, so I guess since it's a careers day and there's a lot of job seekers listening, I think what so I so I believe that it's not every company is different.

You should come to events like this. You should when you're interviewing, you should try and get to know what's it really like, because you should be purposeful in your career choice again as a job seeker.

But then what I always say, and I try and tell people all the time when we are interviewing candidates is, you know, we want people to come to Cloudflare and stay for a long time.

We want you to feel like you belong and you're empowered to do great work.

And you should be purposeful in what you're choosing to do.

And, and so I think that like if you are thinking about your role, you should be purposeful of the type of company, go to a place where they actually really value this and, you know, I think Cloudflare is one of those companies.

There are many others, but there's also many others that I wouldn't, I would say that's not the case.

And so choose, choose with your talent. You know, it's almost like choose with your wallet, like when you're buying from brands online or things like buy, spend money with a company that you actually want to see succeed or the founders or whoever or the creator or whatever it is that you're that you think is doing a good job.

Same with your talent, go get a job at a company where you actually think that they're doing this right and help, you know, help show the world that's possible and make it harder for the companies who aren't prioritizing it is what I would say.

So vote with your talents and really be discerning. And then once you're there, do great work and, and, and set yourself up for success and the company up for success and I think good things will really happen.

From personal feedback, you know, as a woman of color and as an immigrant, as a woman, like, and this is something I discussed with some of my colleagues recently.

I think Cloudflare became this safe harbor for us, like, you know, we have something to, you know, like compare to.

And it's not something you like, I'm trying to sell it, but it's truly my personal experience that I, just like you said, like, I do feel that we did get to the point where I feel valued, you know, like, and I think I wish everyone had the same experience, you know, like when they go to work somewhere, because we spend so much time at work.

So like, you have to have this safety, right, like, and feeling of value as well.

Yes, yeah, exactly. And if you don't, then look for another job.

Like, go vote with your talent. And I, you know, some people say, oh, that's so easy to say, and it is, but if you are involved in technology, you can get another job.

I mean, everybody's hiring, everybody's looking for great people.

And so I do think, you know, I might not be the same for every sort of type of job.

But if you are a working professional working in the technology industry, you do can switch roles and companies.

And so then it becomes on you to do the work to kind of look at what else is up there, because I, you shouldn't put up with it exactly as you said.

Vote with your talent. Definitely. And actually, my next question is coming back to, you know, believing in yourself.

And so recently, I saw this TikTok video, which I watched on Instagram, but where the message was to women, let others say no to you.

So the meaning is that stop saying no to yourself before even trying.

And it hit me so deep, because it's so true, like we as women, like in many cases, majority of the cases, like we doubt ourselves the most, we're the most, the worst critics for ourselves.

And we lose a lot of interesting, amazing opportunity just because we before we try to say like, oh, no, no, like they're gonna say no to me.

And the question to you, Michelle, have you ever said no to yourself, and therefore miss something interesting or exciting?

Yes. Yes, I have said no to myself. And I'm smiling because I, I mean, just recently, I mean, very recently, the last few weeks, you know, I had someone I really admire called her was talking about this opportunity that was in front of me.

And, and her exact words to me, you know, we're like, Michelle, stop it, you don't need one more qualification to earn this, this opportunity, like, you are enough of who you are, like you are, you are, you are enough just as you are.

And, you know, it was, I, I kind of went away.

And that conversation resonated in my mind for many nights and thinking about it.

And I just thought, wow, I'm so lucky that someone cared enough to say that to me, you know, and, and, you know, I had someone else, you know, there's these mantras you see on Instagram, or TikTok, and you kind of at first you, you see them, you roll your eyes, you think these are silly, but then you're kind of like, you're having a conversation with someone like that.

And you're like, actually, these mantras are something to them. So, you know, people writing on their on their mirrors, I am enough on sticky notes and stuff.

And, and again, that's, that's not my I think that there are life, life is this collection of experiences.

And there's always something that seems like someone has it more put together or more successful than you are.

And on one side, that's good, because it makes you push yourself and you rise to the occasion.

And if you're a little bit competitive, you're like, wow, I want to do better than what I'm doing.

I want I want this and, and it makes you hungry for more. So that's like the good side of it.

The bad side is when you start to compare yourself, and you think, oh, I'm not as good or they're further along, like, that's the bad side of it.

And this doubting piece. And so I think the, the sweet spot is, if you can push yourself, right, because that's how you grow, right.

And I was, and I have a cloud for TV segment called Yes, we can, where I happen to introduce really interesting people, all related to technology, that all happen to be women.

And there's this woman yesterday, Lorraine Lee, who was terrific.

And we were talking about how when you put yourself into these uncomfortable situations, you expand yourself, you almost like you, it's like you puff up, because you're like stretched so much.

And you think, oh, my God, am I going to burst? What's going to happen? And even if it doesn't go perfectly, what happens when you put yourself in these stretch situations, these growth opportunities, you never quite go back to the same shape or size again.

And all of a sudden, you got confident. And next time you do it better.

And all of a sudden, it's, and you look back, two years later, five years later, 10 years later, you're like, wow, I'm a much better public speaker, I can handle challenges much better.

And you're like, I'm a much better, my stress level stays much more cool in an emergency, because I've just dealt with it a lot better.

I have a better language and framework and confidence about how to deal with it.

And all of a sudden, you're like, actually, I've really grown as a person and as leader, and I'm making huge impact, and you get to the other side.

And so the answer is yes, I definitely say no to myself many times throughout the, through your life.

And one thing that I've learned about myself, and, you know, again, this is, I think, good some of the self realization is, I always regret the things I don't do much more than regretting the things that I do do.

And so, and sometimes that leads to me biting off more than I can chew.

And I just kind of say yes to a lot of things. And all of a sudden, I'm like juggling a lot of balls.

And that's got its own set of stressful situations. But the things that if I lament the things that I still kind of bother me today, it's the things that I chose not to do.

And I found reasons why I shouldn't be doing it. And, you know, it was too expensive, or too risky, or wasn't ready yet.

And what if I don't do a good job.

And, and so I've kind of learned that about myself. And so now when I'm making a choice, or making a decision, I like I know that about myself, and I try to be aware.

And so these are the sorts of things where back to like life is a collection of experiences, try things.

And, you know, when you say it doesn't work out, it's fine.

Failure actually is a learning opportunity. It's one of these places where you've still expanded yourself.

And now you can talk about, it's like, how do you make something if it doesn't work out?

How do you make that a win?

Hey, I did this, it didn't work out. Here's what I learned. And that's why I'm excited to try it again.

All of a sudden, everyone's like, oh, wow, versus, oh, I did it didn't work out.

You know, the former is better than the latter.

Like, you know, and this is what I learned. Here's what I'm going to do.

You know, that's what I'm excited to do next time. Anyhow, so this is one of those things where, yes, it's totally normal.

And I don't even think it's women, I think it's men too.

I think that, you know, it's both men and women who have this conversation in their heads with each other.

I think it's good that we talk a lot more about it today.

I even see it in our Cloudflare chat rooms. It comes up like imposter syndrome and it gets brought up, you know, in interviews on Cloudflare TV.

There's a lot of articles written about it. So it's much more known, people have named it now.

And so now that I think it's named, it's like, okay, it's more recognizing when it's happening and what are you going to do about it is probably, I'm a very practical, let's do it sort of person.

And so it's like, what are you going to do about it when you're faced with it?

And that's that. The last thing I will say on this, which I haven't brought up, which I think is really important and never gets talked about, making these choices are hard.

It's not clear always what you should do.

And the problem is you can't outsource the decision making to somebody else.

And so back to this person I was talking to a few weeks ago, it was a hard decision that I was faced with, and I was calling a lot of people to get input on it.

And everyone had a different point of view. And I was frustrated because I was like, it's just not obvious what I should do.

And my husband, who knows me really well, we've been together for a long time, said to me, Michelle, someone's not going to make the decision for you.

You have to make the decision. And I think that as soon as I recognize that, it's true.

So then it's like, okay, it actually doesn't matter what everyone else thinks.

I got to decide. I'm the one who has to live with it.

I'm the one who's going to either, I don't want to lament it a year from now, whether I did or didn't do it.

These are some of the ways that I did it. But I think that doesn't get said enough that these things are complicated.

It's not clear.

Don't outsource it to somebody else. Don't outsource it to your boss. Don't outsource it to your parents or your sister or your brother.

You choose. And sometimes people won't understand because they don't have all the information.

And I think as soon as I recognize that, that it's my choice, it actually almost made it easier because I wasn't trying to please others.

Wow. This is so many yeses and I agree with you so much.

And one thing I wanted to tell you, similar about public speaking, I used to think that I'm terrible at it.

I actually had, I'm in California for a year and a half now.

And six months in, I actually told my manager back then, Blake, I was like, I'm really scared to speak up in bigger meetings.

And he said, come on.

You know your stuff. You know yourself. Why are you doubt yourself? Just do it.

And I'm really grateful to this advice because here I am now speaking to you.

And I've done so many Califor TV segments. And it's very, when you think about yourself, I've never thought I would do that.

This is the limit in your head that you just need to switch off and just do it.

And to the point about fear of failure, when you just finished Stanford, you actually rejected the job from LinkedIn.

And when you rejected it, they said, this is the biggest mistake in your career.

And he also said that while this is the very exciting journey, it was and still is very scary and difficult.

And it's normal for us to feel anxious about decisions, fear of failure, and have fear of failure.

How do you help yourself to overcome this anxiety and overcome this fear of failure?

Yeah, it's a good question.

And so it was after Harvard, not Stanford. Great school too, but just for any fact checkers out there to set the records right there.

I, yeah, yes. Yeah. You know, it's hard.

So it's, you know, I tell that story just because a little bit of tied to what I was saying before is you can't try and please everyone.

And really you are in charge of your own life.

And, and I think that sometimes like in school, like when I went to school, you know, you're, you're getting graded.

And so it's all about like, how are you doing on the grades and the tests?

And I like was really set up with getting good grades.

And it was like, I was really always trying to do that.

And so when I got to my working career, it was so different because it wasn't about getting a grade on a test.

In fact, in many ways, getting a grade on a test is so much easier than, and then having to decide, should I go take this great job offer at LinkedIn?

Or should I walk away from it and go and start a company that, by the way, every book says 95% of the time will fail.

You're just like, why would I, you know, what?

And, and feeling like you're don't know anybody and who, who, who do I think I am that I should really go and try and start a company and why me and, you know, so many other people have trying it, like, why would I be any better at this or worse?

Like, you know, you just don't know.

And so I tell this story because of this exact thing of, you know, you get to choose.

And what's an example where, you know, I asked a lot of people, but no one really knew.

And, you know, I had, I have, I'm really close to my family. My siblings had a point of view.

They were super supportive, but like, you got to choose. There was no, you know, boss to go talk to.

Like, I just really was like, okay, I got to make this decision.

You have some advisors, maybe some professors. But even then I, like, I often tell people, you ask 10 smart people, you will get seven different answers.

And I think that there's lots of ways to be successful in life.

And so it's back to like, it's your choice. You have to decide. And so for me, and everyone is different on this.

Like there's, this is where there's like a lot of difference in personalities.

And I think what your past experiences has shaped you, but the way that I was able to get comfortable with, you know, in this case where, you know, I had a really great job that had a salary with somebody who had worked there for a long time, was doing very well on this rocket ship of a company or no salary, move myself out to the Valley, like show up with nobody and kind of an idea.

Like that was a little bit of my choice. What I, what the way that in this case, how I got comfortable.

And again, I think is every, is the worst case scenario.

What is the worst case scenario here? And as soon as I can get comfortable with, okay, if it doesn't work out, here's what would happen.

Then that helps me, I think, make some of these, what seemed like more risky choices on the surface.

And in this case, my worst case scenario was, okay, I was dating somebody who was my boyfriend.

Then he is now my husband. But back then we were dating, we were doing long distance.

He lived in Vancouver. I was living in Boston, going to Harvard about to move to California.

And, and I was like, okay, well, if this really doesn't work out with Cloudflare, I guess I'll, you know, I'll have to just move back.

I'll just have to move in with, with Jamie, my, my boyfriend. Okay. Well, that seemed fine.

I'll get a job in Vancouver. It was kind of my backup. Okay. What if we break up?

Like I literally went through this, like, if we break up, okay, I'll have no money.

Like literally no money. I was like, okay, well, I guess I'm going to move in with my parents.

I'm from Saskatchewan. My parents live in, in Saskatchewan.

I was like, I haven't lived there since I was 18. I was like, all right, I guess I'll be moving back into my parents' house in Saskatchewan.

Not my first choice.

Thinking about graduating from Harvard business school, my worst case scenario is I might have to move into my parents' basement in Saskatchewan.

But I was like, I think I can get a job from there.

And I think I'm employable. And I think, I think, I think, or maybe they'd lend me some money.

I'd go live in Toronto and try and get a new job.

And so I kind of was able to get comfortable. And I was like, and I remember people saying, Michelle, you have a Harvard business school degree.

You're going to be just fine. You're highly employable, but you just kind of back to, I've looked for jobs.

It can be hard. It's not always easy.

And I, my, I always, when people say that to me, I'm like, well, you've probably never actually had to look for a job.

It's not as easy as it sounds, but anyhow, the, the point is, is that's how I got comfortable with that choice early in my career, where it was, what was the worst?

Now I know lots of other people who would never ever even think about that.

I'm just going to be successful. I would never fail.

So it doesn't matter what failure looks like. People deal with these very differently.

So you just kind of find what works for you. You don't have to explain it to anyone you choose, and then you go and make the best, trying to make the most successful event out of it.

And so that's, that's, I think what the lesson is there.

Okay. I have, we have two minutes left, but I have really quick questions.

Just during my one-to-one with Nella Collins, who is our director of customer success in the media, I ask her questions.

How is it to be a female leader?

And what was really cool and kind of a revelation to me, Nella was like, I don't see myself as a female leader.

I try to see myself as a leader. And it is so simple, but, you know, like it was such a cool thing for me to realize to myself that we put so many, like ourselves in so many different boxes, right.

And like we say, okay, I am based on that.

And do you think that while we need to move forward to a more diverse workspace, we still, like as women, we need to stop seeing ourselves as just a female business development person, female customer success?

Well, I agree with Nella, like she's a leader. She's an incredible leader.

We're so lucky to have her at Cloudflare and the team she's built and the, and the customer base we've built.

So, so I absolutely, and I have a similar sentiment.

I will say that my, my, this is something that actually I've, so yes, but I guess this is the answer.

I think, you know, again, I am the president and chief operating officer of Cloudflare.

Absolutely. Like far done. I am an executive director of a publicly traded company, the New York Stock Exchange.

I'm a founder, like those are all true.

The, the, I will also say though, that back to my point of not everyone acknowledges that it's not equal for women at every company, not everyone acknowledges that they treat them the same.

And so while I think that, you know, the, I am a leader, I'm a VDR, I am a customer success, and I'm the best that I can be of that.

And I love it is the grade. I think that there's also an acknowledgement of, we have a lot of work to do.

And so being willing to talk about it, when you get asked to speak, show up and do it, when you, you know, trying to show people that you like what you're doing, if you do like, so it encourages other people to follow and become mentors.

And it's like people do what they see. If they don't see any women ahead of them, they're not going to join or to go take that career path, I think is also really important.

So we shouldn't shy away that we're women and that there are fewer women than men in technology.

There just are, but I'm very optimistic for the future because of what you just said and what Nelo just said.

And so, so yes, but, and so I think absolutely. And I think being willing to have this conversation and engage in it is also important because I used to kind of poo-poo and be like, oh, I just want to be Michelle known as a founder.

And I realize it is harder for a lot of other women. It's not equal at every company.

And so we also have a lot of work to do. And so I guess I'm, I want to help rise all tides everywhere.

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