Exclusive: Cloudflare promotes Michelle Zatlyn to president, a gain for women in tech

Web infrastructure and security company Cloudflare has added “president” to cofounder and chief operating officer Michelle Zatlyn’s title, making her part of an small cadre of women serving as president at a publicly traded technology company.

San Francisco-based Cloudflare disclosed the promotion in an 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Thursday.

As part of the move, Zatlyn, who retains her seat on the Cloudflare board, will now oversee sales, customer support, special projects, communications, and human resources.

“I’ve been an operator, then an executive and a director of a public company, and now president,” she says. “I feel really lucky because not all founders get to see all the different chapters.” Cloudflare went public in September 2019, and has a market valuation of about $25 billion.

Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince credits Zatlyn with bringing discipline to the founders, including Lee Holloway, who left Cloudflare in 2015 for health reasons. “Had it just been me and Lee, we’d still be in the small office over the nail salon in Palo Alto, California, talking about all the amazing things we could do,” Prince says.

He says Zatlyn more recently took charge of planning and leading the execution of the company’s coronavirus response. “Her leadership within Cloudflare has been a big part of how we have been able to thrive, taking care of our employees, our customers, and our business,” he says.

Like many technology companies, Cloudflare has seen demand for its products grow as clients have accelerated their digital strategies. Cloudflare, which competes with Akamai—and at times with Amazon Web Services—essentially helps websites negotiate the Internet. It says it shields some 100 million customers from some 76 million cyberattacks a day. Revenue in its third quarter hit $114.2 million, up 54% from a year ago. As companies have shifted to remote work, Cloudflare has added products that provide security to clients’ employees and business information.

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While 2020 proved to be a fertile time for public offerings, Zatlyn notes that it remains rare for founder-led companies to go public. She says she has worked hard to make sure that the restrictions of being listed have not affected Cloudflare’s culture of transparency. Pre-IPO, for example, Cloudflare management would walk employees through the content of board meetings, slides and all, about a week afterward. Now, because of disclosure rules, those reviews take place after earnings are announced. Similarly, management put together a three-year plan that Zatlyn wanted to share with all employees. The legal team had concerns, but ultimately let her release the document with some financial data redacted.

Asked if she had to adjust her style as a leader when Cloudflare went public, and specifically if she had to edit her remarks in public settings, she said: “I feel like I’ve done that the last 10 years. Maybe it’s part of feeling like a minority in an industry that doesn’t have a lot of women.”

Indeed, experts say the ranks of women atop tech companies have improved but remain thin. There appear to be no formal data tracking the number of women who hold the dual title of president and chief operating officer at public firms. Research from Catalyst shows women CEOs—many of whom also are president of their companies—sit atop 30 S&P 500 companies, and only a portion of those businesses such as Oracle, CDW, ADM, and Arista Networks are traditional tech companies. (Sheryl Sandberg serves as chief operating officer of Facebook, but she is not company president.)

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Julie Wainwright of The RealReal and Katrina Lake of Stitchfix are among the female founder-CEOs who’ve taken their companies public. Stitchfix also has a female president, Elizabeth Spaulding.

Amy Weaver is president and chief legal officer at Salesforce, Robynne Sisco is president and chief financial officer at Workday, and Emilie Arel serves as president of Casper. Several private tech companies have women in the president role.

Overall, women account for just 16% of managers in the information technology industry, according to Catalyst. “We need more women in hard tech, as founders, as executives, and as team members,” Zatlyn says. Tech “is only going to become more and more important as an industry.”

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