During our Disrupt London event today, TechCrunch co-editor Matthew Panzarino sat down with CloudFlare co-founders Matthew Prince and Michelle Zatlyn to talk about the company’s journey and challenges since it made its public debut as the runner-up in the Disrupt 2010 Startup Battlefield.
Today, Prince announced, CloudFlare powers 2 million websites that range from tiny blogs to Fortune 500 companies and government sites, including UK.gov. And the company’s growth isn’t slowing down, either. CloudFlare is now signing up 5,000 new customers a day. With all of this momentum, one out of 20 of all web requests now flow through CloudFlare’s network.
Before CloudFlare got to this point, though, it had to face defeat when it came second to Qwiki at Disrupt (we still feel badly about that one). In the end, however, Zatlyn argues, that worked out just fine.
“We always say that coming in second motivated the team to work harder to realize our vision. It showed our service to the world and our sign-up rates haven’t stopped since.”
“I’m not sure we could’ve handled the traffic if we had come in first,” Prince added.
Talking about startups in general, Panzarino asked about the importance of how you choose your co-founders, too. “Choosing your co-founders is the most important decision you’ll make,” Zatlyn said. There isn’t a lot of overlap between Prince and Zatlyn, for example.
“We have very different skill sets,” she said. “So dividing up responsibilities is easy.” Too often, founders look for people who are just like them — and then they don’t know how to divvy up responsibilities in the company. “Everybody has to have a clearly defined role,” Prince added. ” That’s often a problem with founding teams.”
The same goes for recruiting, too. “If you look at where we recruit from, very few people come from SF or London. They move from other places,” Prince said. Currently, the CloudFlare employees speak 20 languages. “Having people who have diverse sets of interests gives you a much stronger DNA within the company that allows you to see different problems from different perspectives,” Prince said. On the other hand, though, he also noted that the company has shied away from talking to reporters about the role of women in tech, despite having Zatlyn as a co-founder. Jokingly, Prince added that Zatlyn has a different perspective anyway, because she is Canadian.
It’s not just the co-founders, though, it’s also about the founding team. The first 10 to 20 people really matter, Zatlyn noted, with Prince adding that it’s also important to make sure you can trust everybody on the founding team. “The day you start a company with someone is when you know the least about them,” he said. “Every day after that, you learn more about them.”
Interestingly, the same goes for investors, too, in the company’s view. “People talk about raising money, but they don’t talk about the person behind it,” Zatlyn said. When CloudFlare last raised, the company even decided to go with a lower valuation because the team wanted a very specific investor to be on board.
“We’ve walked away from what would’ve been on paper great deals but just weren’t the right people for us,” Prince admitted.