Inspiration comes in a variety of forms, even bad ideas. CloudFlare story is one of the best examples. Two Harvard Business School students were on a field trip. Matthew Prince had ideas, a lot of ideas. Michelle Zatlyn was to be Prince’s partner, but hadn’t decided on it yet. Tom Eisenmann is a faculty member of Harvard Business School, and thought that Prince and Zatlyn would work well together. Previously, the pair had been told that getting funding would be difficult, near on impossible.
While on a field trip to Silicon Valley, Prince didn’t let up hassling Zatlyn to be co-founders of a company. Prince had a small business already, Unspam Technologies. Unspam is a company focused on stopping security attacks and enhancing site performance of small website operators. According to Prince, Unspam was “…primarily a government contractor that worked in the anti-email spam space. We built something like the do-not-call list, but for email.”
Prince gave Zatlyn around 30 business proposals, ones that were possible and others that Zatlyn described as “insane”. Prince and Zatlyn spoke about working on Prince’s current business, Unspam. Prince knew there was a market for enhanced performance and security with small websites. Zatlyn said “We would proxy all the traffic, and we would do a look-up to see whether the visitor coming is a threat or not.” She followed with “We would introduce latency to the website, and most websites won’t, won’t, won’t tolerate that.”
So, the pair knew there was a market for their idea, and the biggest hurdle to them achieving their goal was known. Prince and Zatlyn knew that even if the business couldn’t work, they could do a business plan for their final semester rather than attend classes. So, the pair decided to do this as a short cut to finishing their degree. One thing they needed was the approval of a faculty member, and the pair asked Eisenmann. Eisenmann was busy, but felt strongly about the pair working together well. So, because it was two students he knew well and had shown potential, he decided to take them on.
While on the field trip, the pair watched presentations from companies that already had funding. One was an online dog grooming service Prince and Zatlyn believed was a horrible idea, but that got funding. That bad idea, and how it was funded, made Prince and Zatlyn believe they could get funding.
The result is CloudFlare. A member of the “unicorn club”, a valuation of over a billion dollars, users numbering over 2 million, over 500 billion pages views a month, and is entrusted to handle over 5% of all web traffic.