“Women don’t belong with infrastructure companies” Michelle Zatlyn on math, gender, and motherhood
I’ve had all sorts of amazing professional women on my Uterus Is A Feature Not A Bug podcast: Founders, CEOs, investors, mathematicians, lawyers and more.
But Michelle Zatlyn is one of the rarer types of female founders: A technical founder for an infrastructure company.
It’s so rare that in the early days of raising money for CloudFlare, some would be investors said things like “Well, Cloudflare is an infrastructure company, and women don’t belong with infrastructure companies.”
Yes, they actually said that. This decade. And you thought women like Zatlyn only battled unconscious, unspoken bias.
“Yes, that’s terrible, and I could write a book about all of that, but...we’ve since raised $182 million in total,” she says. “Not everyone is like that. We’ve had amazing investors who bet on us early who just saw me as Michelle….There is someone out there who will bet on you.”
Zatlyn-- and her co-founder Matthew Prince-- have spent six years building Cloudflare, a company that seeks to make the Internet faster and safer around the world. It’s hard technically, it’s hard diplomatically, and in the middle of it Zatlyn became a mother.
We talked about her journey as the only kid in her science classes in Canada, making math quizzes for her friends for fun on the weekends, scuttling her long time dream to become a doctor to move to the Valley and become a founder, and why becoming a mother was important to her. We also talk about what fears and concerns she faced about being able to do it all.
She tells herself this a lot: “Humans are really resilient. If you really want something often you can make it happen.”
One thing made me laugh re-listening to it: Zatlyn says the thing she loves about science, math and computers is that there’s always an answer, a reason something is going right or wrong in a program, that she found that comforting. The same most definitely can’t be said for motherhood.
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