Name: Michelle Zatlyn
Canadian Hometown: Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
Current City: San Francisco
Current Pursuit: Co-Founder and Head of User Experience at CloudFlare
How did you get involved in the tech world?
I have a science background, and I used all of my analytical skills from science to get into finance. I loved the analysis but didn’t love the industry. So while doing a lot of community work I met an entrepreneur in Toronto with a startup called I Love Rewards (now Achievers). I then ended up joining as a founding team member, and that was my first taste of tech and entrepreneurship. It was a very early stage company at the time: we had more passion than resources, a big idea, a small team, and we wore our hearts on our sleeves. The two years that I was there, I got to see us winning big deals against a lot of the entrenched players. We saw a lot of growth and saw the power of how, with the right idea, with the right team, you can really make a lot happen…and that’s where it all began.
I worked at big companies too: Toshiba as a Product Manager, and at Google. All those companies - you know, the startups, a big company that’s growing, a big company that’s not growing - you really learn a lot in all those different business environments. It’s valuable as an entrepreneur to have a breadth of experience.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger less experienced self, what type of advice would you give yourself?
If you’re early in your career, going to work for a growth company or a great person will have a huge impact on how your life turns out, and no one ever told me that. Growth can be head count, revenue, market share. If you’re at a growing company, new opportunities will open up and you will get access to a lot of different things than you would if you were at a company that’s trying not to shrink. You often see all these people who meet at Paypal or Google, and they go off and start other companies. But that only happens at companies that are growing, not at ones that are stagnant.
In your career, who you work for is also really important. You want to look for somebody who is a rising star at a company; they’re well respected among their peers and they’re going somewhere. They are going to be successful at what they do, and if you’re working on their team, you’re going to be pulled up with them. Working for somebody who you want to be in 5 years is really key.
What do you love most about startups?
What gets me so excited at CloudFlare is that we have this real opportunity to make a big impact on the world, and I think our whole team feels like that. We've done a good job to date and we have so much left to do - but the feeling of we are going to make the web better, and knowing that we can, is incredibly rewarding.
What is the number one quality that very successful entrepreneurs all have in common?
There are different types of entrepreneurs, but no matter what type, you need to be relentless in order to make things happen.
How did you get involved in the C100?
I joined a year into C100, back in 2011, when Arif Janmohamed told me about the organization. It’s amazing how many Canadians there are in the Bay Area. Everyone is genuine and doing smart, interesting things. So of course you want to spend time with them - it’s a great organization with a terrific group of people.
Anything else you would like the C100 community to know about you?
It’s amazing how helpful people can be; one email, one phone call, one sentence can really change the way you’re thinking about something or change your trajectory. At an early stage company, that matters a lot. So if you have a business and you’re trying to come to the Valley, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn and mention the C100. Make sure to be clear about what you’re asking, and I will help if I can.