What is the ICE Award?
Each year, C100 awards an “Icon of Canadian Entrepreneurship” (ICE) for their impact on the world of technology and on the Canadian entrepreneurial community.
The purpose of this award is to recognize a Canadian entrepreneur who has played a historic role in technology and entrepreneurship, and contributed significantly to the advancement of the Canadian entrepreneurship community!
To honor Michelle Zatlyn, we convened our Charter Members for dinner and a fireside chat facilitated by her close friend, Chris O’Neill. She joins an accomplished list of “icons” including the likes of Stewart Butterfield (CEO & Co-Founder of Slack) and Tobi Lütke (CEO & Founder of Shopify).
Michelle was born and raised in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and grew up with family members who encouraged her to expand her horizons and take part in new experiences. They had one rule: she had to at least temporarily leave Saskatchewan. Initially setting her sights on medical school, she soon realized her passion was in technology as she saw a meaningful career path as a change agent to help people. The business of technology was pragmatic and actionable, and she was instantly drawn to that. While completing her MBA at Harvard she enrolled in a one-week trip to Silicon Valley in January of 2009. Michelle went on the trip hoping to identify the next rising-star early-stage company where she could play a pivotal role in their growth. Instead she felt the trip de-mystified her preconceived ideas about Silicon Valley and empowered her and eventual co-founder, Matthew Prince, to launch their own company, Cloudflare.
On the trip, she learned about Matthew’s idea titled Project Honeypot. If you installed a honeypot on your website, relevant authorities could be alerted to find and prevent potential hackers and restore your site. Michelle wasn’t immediately sold on the mass appeal of this idea. However, once she put together a survey of approximately 500 website owners she discovered an unlikely opportunity “staring her in the face.” The results of the qualitative portion of her outreach suggested a deep frustration with hackers — and site owners were seeking justice.
Michelle spoke of the company’s early days and her humble beginnings — arriving to San Francisco in 2009 without a network or a solid understanding of Internet security.
“Matthew and I were often an odd couple but the best entrepreneurs have a high rate of learning and approach opportunities with a growth mindset. As a founder, you are taking on new jobs constantly, and you have to adapt quickly. He and I had a strong Venn diagram in which there was enough overlap that we wanted to prove this idea out. We always showed up and worked hard. I was lucky but I can understand how founders can be challenged — amongst each other, with their investors, and with their Board. I advise people that you are the sum of your decisions and who you surround yourself with.”
At Cloudflare, Michelle is leading the charge to make the internet faster, safer, and more reliable — and doing so at a pivotal moment where public concern and scrutiny about cybersecurity is at an all-time high. Part of her and the company’s success, as she describes, is the emphasis Cloudflare has placed on working with the best talent and building a learn-it-all versus a know-it-all culture.
“It is so important to learn from people a couple years ahead of you. Take a step back and notice that solving difficult problems can be worth it and you are farther along than you may think you are. Make your trusted team your sounding board.”
What makes Michelle such a fearless entrepreneur? We learned at dinner there was really no Plan B. She remarked:
“I take the long-term view. Cloudflare was either going to be massive and have lots of customers and revenue or simply not exist. This was never a project but always a long term business strategy.”
Michelle’s leadership and bold approach to entrepreneurship has garnered her a great deal of accolades from the business community. She has been recognized by Forbes Top 50 Women in Tech, Fortune’s 40 Under 40, ELLE’s Women in Tech, among other high-profile acknowledgements. Recently, Michelle was additionally named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. As a C100 Charter Member, Michelle helps pay it forward to the next-generation of Canadian entrepreneurs through mentorship and coaching. She is a regular speaker at C100’s early-stage mentorship event, 48Hrs in the Valley.
⚡ Lightning Round ⚡
We asked Michelle some fun questions both about her professional and personal life.
Q: What was your first-ever business idea?
A: I created a board game in my junior achievement class, which was my first exposure to learning to create something that people wanted.
Q: You have to get on a plane and spend 6 months living and working out of a different Cloudflare office, which do you choose?
A: We just opened a new office in Lisbon so I’d probably go visit them!
Q: What is the most important question to ask a candidate in a job interview?
A: What are the two projects you’ve completed you are most proud of?
Q: How did your Canadian upbringing prepare you for a life of entrepreneurship?
A: Saskatchewan is all about community and hard work, which gave me the foundation to be an entrepreneur and build the company.
Q: Recite your Tim Horton’s order right here, right now.
A: A honey dip donut.
Q: Most enjoyable place to visit in Canada besides your home city?
Q: What book changed your way of thinking?
A: Grit by Angela Duckworth.
The C100 team and community congratulate Michelle on her incredible achievements as an entrepreneur! We also thank our Charter Member network and Partners for supporting this event. Stay connected to our community to find out who will take the prize in 2020 and all the exciting moments in between.
Article written by Joshua Goodfield, C100. Provide any feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Last updated: Aug 30, 2019.