How two Harvard Business School students turned a class trip into a billion-dollar company

It’s common for students at top business schools to go on class field trips. It’s not common for two students to go on a field trip and turn it into a billion-dollar company. But in 2009, two Harvard Business School (HBS) students did just that.

Matthew Prince and Michelle Zatlyn turned their five-day Silicon Valley Immersion trip into CloudFlare, a flagship member of the “unicorn club” with a billion-dollar valuation and over 2 million customers.  Co-founded with Lee Holloway, the company now handles 5% of all Web traffic with over 500 billion page views per month.  If not for one pivotal field trip in 2009, it would not have launched.

During that excursion, Prince and Zatlyn took four steps toward launching CloudFlare that would eventually help change the very nature of the today’s cloud-based Internet landscape.

Here’s what happened:

They discussed leveraging Prince’s small, already-existing business (Unspam Technologies).

Prince and Zatlyn were in the same HBS section – Section D – and had previously talked about the possibility of starting a company together.  When they embarked for Silicon Valley on January 4, 2009, however, Zatlyn remained unconvinced.

Prince’s previous venture, Unspam Technologies, was inching ahead thanks to Holloway, who was essentially running it while Prince was at HBS.  “We were primarily a government contractor that worked in the anti-email spam space. We built something like the do-not-call list, but for email.”…


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