EP 178 – Denise Kee – CEO at Xtremax – The Reporter and the Salesperson Are Quite Similar

by | Feb 12, 2022

Denise Kee seems to look at life through a very positive lens.  The conversation Asia Tech Podcast had with her was no different.  We smiled a lot during our chat…and I got the sense that her positive attitude also spills over into the culture that has been built at Xtremax, where Denise is the CEO.
Some of the topics that Denise discussed:
  • Worked as a journalist for Reuters and Bloomberg
  • Earned a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University
  • Xtremax was founded by her now-husband, James Leong, in 2003
  • Innovative ways to solve tech-talent hiring in Singapore
  • Finally joining James at Xtremax as Creative Director
  • Initially focused on usability and user experience
  • Her sales philosophy
  • The team’s first experience with AWS – a playground to build things in the cloud
  • Solving a large and complicated problem for the Government of Singapore
  • Throwing away their own servers and moving everything to the cloud
Other titles we considered for this episode:
  1. We Like to Fact-check
  2. Life Is Really About Experience
  3. What Is the Core Problem They Are Trying to Solve?
  4. I Know How to Ask Questions
  5. Everyone’s Going to the Cloud
  6. Feeling the Vibrations Before Everyone Else
  7. The Whole Cloud Is API-Driven
  8. When It’s API-Driven, Magic Can Happen
  9. Rainy Days Are My Favorite

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Michael Waitze 0:02
Michael Waitze Media. Telling Asia’s Stories.

Okay, we’re on. Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today we are joined by Denise Kee, the CEO of Xtremax. I really love that name. I really do two x’s. Denise, thank you so much for coming on the show today. How are you doing by the way?

Denise Kee 0:28
Yeah, good. Great. 10am in Singapore. The weather is good. It’s really good. It looks like it’s about to rain but rainy days are my favorite.

Michael Waitze 0:38
Really? Is this the rainy season in Singapore?

Denise Kee 0:42
I would say it’s December is the rainy season. Then I think it spill over a little bit into like, I think January. And so now we have a very cool rainy kind of like our weather, which is nice.

Michael Waitze 0:54
So January’s like the best weather month in Bangkok, by far because you can wake up in the morning, it’s 24 degrees. And by the time Yeah, yeah, it’s really nice. And by the time the afternoon rolls around, it’s up to 31. So if you want to go swimming or do something like that, it’s perfect for it. Well, yeah, 24 feels cool. Like if you lived in a place like Tokyo and New York 24, which feel hot.

Denise Kee 1:19
We live in the tropics, we love the tropics, love it,

Michael Waitze 1:23
I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Before we jump into the main part of this conversation. Denise, can we get a little bit of your background for some context?

Denise Kee 1:32
Sure. I’m okay. Currently, everyone knows me as a CEO of Xtremax. Prior to Xtremax right, I did a number of different things. And one of the most interesting thing that people always notice about me is that you mean you spend a few years being a journalist with Reuters and Bloomberg. Right? What you’re right, you’re right news article about corporate debt about bonds issued by Pakistan, or issued by tamasic. So and now you’re leading a cloud tech company. So they always find this really amazing that I did this switch. But many of them don’t know that. Right? Actually, before being a journalist, I was actually doing a lot of fly applications. I worked for a company called EDS. And now it’s being bought over by HP. And actually did a lot of those credit card systems for HSBC. HSBC and ABN AMRO, which is not the bank anymore. Yeah, yes, I did that. So they don’t notice that. They just noticed the interesting, middle part of my career life. He did this so amazing. And they forget that I’m actually the CEO, Xtremax, because that that that part of the career is like kind of interesting. So what kind of articles do you write? Who do you meet? And why do you want to change your career? That’s so amazing. And you did this like Master’s at Northwestern? I was like, okay. That’s the usual thing that people notice about me. And I wouldn’t introduce myself that way. I’ll still introduce myself as the CEO of Xtremax, you’re not

Michael Waitze 3:04
confused by the fact that people are super interested in in the fact that you did get a master’s degree in journalism. Right. And you studied at Northwestern, which is one of the best, you know, graduate schools in the United States. And it’s it is

Denise Kee 3:18
kind of your American or you’re American.

Michael Waitze 3:22
Is it not? Yes, to tell.

Denise Kee 3:25
I just want to make sure because people like us, journalists, past journalists, we like to fact check.

Michael Waitze 3:35
I love being fact checked. I was I’m very Americanism. In fact, I was born on Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. I don’t think you can get much more American than that.

Denise Kee 3:47
I just went to California.

Michael Waitze 3:49
I haven’t been in the United States in over 10 years, actually, in almost 11. It’ll be 12 this year. No, okay. I’m really curious what it was like to work at Bloomberg. I mean, you know, I worked at Morgan Stanley Goldman Sachs for 20 years. And we use Bloomberg for everything that we did. Were you were you at Bloomberg? In Asia in the United States. Like where did you work there? In Singapore? In Singapore?

Denise Kee 4:13
Yeah, I love Singapore so much. I don’t want to leave Singapore. But you’re not originally from Singapore.

Michael Waitze 4:17

Denise Kee 4:18
Yes, yes. Okay. No generation at least. Like I think my great grandparents are born here. My grandparents are born here. I’m really actually into like, Singapore. I love it. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 4:30
Can you guess when the first time was I was in Singapore? No. December 1990.

Denise Kee 4:39
Wow, what why do you remember that that date? Was it special to you?

Michael Waitze 4:44
No, it’s really important for me because when I was a kid, right, I got sent to Tokyo by Morgan Stanley at the beginning of 1990. I didn’t know the first thing about the rest of Asia definitely knew nothing about Southeast Asia right to me is Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam. I knew just as a country where the United States had a war, right? I didn’t wasn’t thinking about it these these countries in any other context. And my buddy came over to my desk one day, like in the middle of September and said to me, Hey, let’s go and let’s go to Malaysia for vacation. And I just said, yes, because I’m an adventurous person, I had no idea where Malaysia was. I knew that I had heard of it somewhere. And we literally got on a plane at the end of December and flew to Singapore for three or four days. And this was back when like Orchard Road was, you know, the difference between 1990 and like, 2022, it was just a completely different place. And for me, it’s interesting, because it gives me a perspective on how things have changed. I mean, back then you still had creative manufacturing CD players and soundcards in Singapore, right?

Denise Kee 5:47
Yeah, yes, yes. Now, it’s different. Yes. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 5:51
Now it’s different. So I like this idea of change and switching stuff. And I am also curious why you switched from because you, you went to school, specifically to study journalism, did the journalistic thing, and then came back to tech?

Denise Kee 6:06
Why? Because sometimes opportunities come and just look at opportunities. And you say, you know, life is really about experience, right? Yeah. And then you think that, hey, this will really give you a very new set of experience. Why not? And then I jump on it. That was when James was my husband. He said, our experiments in 2003. And so it was just like a one or two men show, when I joined. He was having problems with how do I find tech talent isn’t difficult than Singapore. And I gave him this like, funny idea of going to Pakistan. They say, why don’t you go to Pakistan, and then get the tech talent. And I had this idea because I was covering a story about Pakistan bond, Pakistan government was issuing a bond and I spoke to the finance minister, I think that was in Toto. And then he said that no, but Pakistan can be the next big. IT outsourcing after India, because we have the same kind of like demographics. And so I believe him, I believe, and I saw, I told James, why don’t you go to Pakistan, because I covered this bond story. And this is what the finance minister say. And then he said that all the money will be used to resolve the power problem in the country, because they have a lot of like power problems. There’s a lot loadshedding in the country, I believe, is going to be the next India, the next outsourcing country, and do say Yeah, great. Let’s put a ticket and go and run with them. to Pakistan.

Michael Waitze 7:39
Yeah, it’s a Pakistan. So what was the idea for Xtremax at the beginning, though, because I think that that’s changed over time, as well. And then tell me, so you went to Pakistan and what happened.

Denise Kee 7:48
And so he was looking for developers, right? He wanted to hire people, and then so that he can continue to develop systems for people. So as soon as was set up as a, as he came out with a product called iMessage dot two, and iMessage dot two is actually an email marketing campaign kind of too. So it took them three, there was no MailChimp, it could be the next MailChimp, but he didn’t, he didn’t continue that product. And he got nice number of customers in Singapore. And then after that, he switched to being very traditional Si, which is actually building applications for clients, so that the clients will come up with like, some requirements, and then he will go in understand the requirements. And he would do he needed, like developers now give him this idea of going to Pakistan and when, and here’s the interesting part. Okay, we look at the map and say, so where should we set up an office

Michael Waitze 8:41
in Pakistan? You mean, in Pakistan, Lahore know, the whole. So the finance minister was making this was talking about the context of what the money was gonna get spent on and you thought it was a good idea to go to Pakistan to find developers. You set up an office in Lahore, you know, India. And the idea was, it was going to be the next India, which is great. India has this whole infrastructure of IITs, right? So there’s the IIT Mumbai, the, you know, Indian Institute of Technology. Is there a similar sort of technology or technological education system in Pakistan so that they’re creating a bunch of great developers and technologists as well and people just don’t know that.

Denise Kee 9:17
Okay. So he gave me a few reasons why it will be the next India because they beat India a cricket sometimes. That’s one two, is that right? Actually, they produce a very large number of IIT graduates every year got it more than Singapore. Yeah, I can’t remember how many percentage of like India’s not as many as India but then they really produce a number of like, they have many like it colleges and you produce a number of like it registered patients why we want to go there. Three, he said that, oh is very easy to set up a business in Pakistan. We make it so easy. Just like Singapore, you go and register company right or the process is simple. It’s not complicated, and you’ll get things done very fast, which was true, because we really did set up the whole company in like maybe one or two weeks. It’s not very complicated, then we can rent office very easily get things done.

Michael Waitze 10:13
Were there a lot of companies from Singapore setting up offices in Lahore back then this was this still in 2003?

Denise Kee 10:20
No, no, that was maybe 2006 2007.

Michael Waitze 10:24
But even so like, that was almost 15 years ago, right. And, yeah, many years ago, even today, I wouldn’t have thought that setting up a company in Pakistan was easy. Not for any particular reason. But just because maybe it’s not publicized so much. Were they surprised where the Pakistan Pakistani government or even just the infrastructure, they’re surprised when two Singaporean showed up and started setting up an IT services company or an IT development company there and then started to hire developers? Do you not? I mean,

Denise Kee 10:51
yes, it will very surprised. And when we reached there, everyone that we spoke to the people living in Pakistan, I told them that I’m here, because I look different from them. Right. So I was wearing shorts, because it was so hot there. And they kept staring at me. And then they asked, Why do you come here? And they were so amazed. And

Michael Waitze 11:14
did you tell him the story about the finance minister, and you being a journalist and doing all that work? Yeah.

Denise Kee 11:18
I told them, I told them, they were and they just laughed. It’s not the right business climate. Yeah, at the time. And then we decided that to shut it down. Yeah, we shut it down, and then start, start developing the team in Singapore. And then then that business grew because we stopped managing the office and start doing our business. And I joined James, I joined James because I felt very responsible. And I said, I’m so sorry, I’ll quit my job. I will, I will join you.

Michael Waitze 11:48
You did but you didn’t become CEO right away, right?

Denise Kee 11:51
No, no, I took up the creative director role. Because I thought that to build application, we shouldn’t just care about how he works. But also right, the usability and the UX. And then at that time, UX was really a very new concept very, and my clients are not very in tune with the concept of UX. So I wanted to start the whole entire XR department, look into how I can bring usability to the applications that we build. So I set up a team of designers and also a team of digital consultants, they are actually doing a lot of like the UX work. So that was how I started then after that I took on the role of a business development person director role, and then start doing like sales related like kind of work,

Michael Waitze 12:34
did you enjoy sales? Because it’s a very unique skill to be able to, you seem somebody you seem like somebody who’s outgoing and friendly, and that people would like a lot, right? And that’s like, 90% of the issue with sales is you have to walk into a room and people have to like you, if you know what I mean. And then after that, the sales becomes easier. But did you enjoy that aspect of it? Or did you like sort of the behind the scenes building the team doing the UI and UX kind of stuff better?

Denise Kee 13:04
Well, to be honest, initially, I really hated it.

Michael Waitze 13:08
It’s hard sales, it’s hard.

Denise Kee 13:10
This is very hard, and especially right when your background is a reporter. Right? Right. And so people want to talk to you because you’re from Bloomberg, and I can open all doors and, and then it’s more like, Oh, they’re very keen to tell you their stories. And then, but but since it’s the other way, I need my clients to tell me their problems and their real problem so that I can solve it for them. And so you need a tougher reverse role here in trying to like get them to be very comfortable with me to share their problems. So my way of doing sales is not really to get people like me, I want people to want our services. So to what our services, right, is really to understand what is the core problem that you’re trying to solve? Right. And sometimes they haven’t sat down, I really think about a what actually is the core problem? There no other symptoms, okay, my, my system is down and my distance and all that. And then we have to really ask a lot of questions. So get them to really recognize that Oh, actually, this is really the core and to help us identify that. So only when we identify that right, then we can create a great solution around it.

Michael Waitze 14:16
Yeah. I mean, you make a really great point, right? And in a way, it’s almost like diagnosing a disease in a way, right? You can have a headache, you can have, you know, chills, you can have all these things. But those are just symptoms of a problem. So what’s the real problem? And actually getting people to share all that stuff with you, and then consolidating it into what the real problem is, requires a lot of time and effort. That’s also a skill, I think, right? And it’s interesting for them as well, because maybe they didn’t think they had a core problem. Maybe they just thought they had a bunch of symptoms. But as a biz dev person, you have to figure out what that is and go back to them and say, You know what, here’s what we need to solve and convince them as well. No,

Denise Kee 14:55
yes. So that takes a lot of time. So and I find that right It reporter and a salesperson are quite similar. We just go out there and ask lots of questions. And I love asking questions. I love hearing the stories from for my customers. Just I love hearing stories from the people that inspire interviews to sort of ease me into that into that role. Okay, no sales background, but I know how to ask questions. Yeah. And also it comes with sincerity, and trying to solve a client’s problem. Absolutely. I don’t want to sell you anything. I just want to really understand you. So you can figure out why. What is stopping you from fulfilling your dreams? Yeah. Then we come in with the tech.

Michael Waitze 15:38
Yeah, I know the feeling completely. I don’t want to sell anybody anything. I just want to solve their problem. That’s it. Yeah. It’s a completely different way of looking at sales, I think. But I completely agree with you.

Denise Kee 15:50
And we built the whole entire company culture around that. We are always learning, we are always developing a skill set, we are always focusing our on our clients problems. And that’s why we are we are successful, because a culture of focusing on our clients problems, right is being built.

Michael Waitze 16:08
And how has Xtremax sort of changed their iterated over time, right. So at the beginning, it’s almost like a dev shop. Right? Is

Denise Kee 16:17
James on Pakistan day.

Michael Waitze 16:20
Is James a developer? Is he an engineer?

Denise Kee 16:23
Yes. And he’s a very brilliant one. And whenever I meet his friends, when history will tell me, a James is very good quarter. And James is like one of the best I’ve met. And they always give me comments like that. And I really appreciate like our gyms in that regard. Yeah, that’s, I know how brilliant he is. But it’s not just about the coding. So the other day, I was telling him, he Do you know why we woke up so well, like this, this partnership, or this marriage? Or? So it’s why I told him like, you know, what, there are some people whenever there’s a change in the tech world, or the tech landscape, right, some people will feel that the vibrations more than other people. Yeah, for sure. And he can feel it, he will tell me, Oh, this is going to happen, that is going to happen. And everyone’s going to clump. And you’re like, what everyone’s why, why why everyone’s gonna call and that’s like, eight, nine years ago. And I see really, yeah, yeah. And he will explain to me why. But every time he identify a certain trend, he just treat it, like, intellectual journey for him. Yeah, he’s just like the guy who wrote like homosapien after you read the book. And you’re like, why did he do that? It’s like an intellectual thing for him. Right? He just liked to analyze this. And he, and he has a point of view. And that for me, it’s like, oh, wow, okay, how does it define then instruments business? And then I’m the one who say, Okay, I think we should do this. And this, and this, based on what you understand it’s going to happen in the future. That was why he said that cloud is going to be really big. And it’s going to be everything it will be cloud.

Michael Waitze 18:12
What was the epiphany or what was the tipping point, and I’ll tell you why I was looking at some charts recently. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Benedict Evans. So Benedict Evans used to be a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, he’s branched out on his own, and he’s really just like a thought leader. And every year, he puts out sort of conclusive reports about what happened last year, and what he thinks is gonna happen this year. And you go back and you look at his report from December 8 2021, not that long ago. And he’s got this slide on the rise of hyper scalars. Right, you talk about hyper scalars, right? The cloud providers, whether it’s Amazon, Microsoft, or Google, I still say Google, I know it’s alphabet. But let’s just say Google, because that’s what people know about. And if you look at go back nine years ago, almost 10 Now to 2012. In 2013, you’ll see literally like the beginning of the growth of this, and I’m curious what James saw back then or what the team that Xtremax saw back then that said, this is going to change and I’m curious why right? Because yeah, you can feel the tremors but you have to be kind of listening for them as well, in a way no,

Denise Kee 19:14
that won’t be an appropriate question for for James to answer. I don’t know what goes into those in his brain. Okay, but what I notice about him is that he he really read a lot. Yeah, you read some nice and read it. And that is a common trait that you find among a lot of top people. That’s one commentaries. They always read a lot. And then then they have an opinion on certain things. And then one of the things that James told me or my guy said to me, when we set our account at AWS and then they were playing with the, with AWS and they say that oh, this is so fun.

Michael Waitze 19:50
It is though,

Denise Kee 19:52
we can make things happen by writing codes. Because when you go to on premise servers and all that is all just hardware you can do much with it, but because the whole cloud is actually API driven, and things can happen using scripts, and they are all coders, right? They come from the application world. And they go in again, right this, and this will happen, I can write this query and this will happen. And suddenly, right solutioning, for an application sitting on club will be very different. Yeah, you’re not dependent on via what you do on the application. But what you do on application and the club, to form a certain solution, and that make them very, very happy. And so I remember that our first account on AWS right, at that time, it always was a bigger hyper scalar than Google Cloud, our haven’t even started. And so we started with like AWS, and then they created account and account is called playground estimates.com. And that’s our AWS, because they think it is it is just a playground is just a playground. Yeah, mark of

Michael Waitze 20:55
a true technologist says it again, it gets back to this idea of having fun, right, but here’s the thing. It’s like another challenge for you and the team of bizdev people, right? Because previously, if I understand it correctly, you’re selling solutions to problems that they have that are that you can kind of specify, but the cloud selling the cloud, right? And what’s going to change because of the cloud. It’s just another challenge, right? Because, you know, now you have to rock up to big corporates, governments and institutions like that and say, okay, the entire computing landscape is going to change, and here’s how it’s gonna change. Here, you’re managing servers that are on prem. So in your building, or maybe in somebody else’s building, what’s going to happen now is that’s going to go away. And you’re going to do all of your development in a place where you can’t see the servers, you can manage them, but somebody else is going to do it, they’re going to create other services for you. Everything’s going to be API based, some stuffs gonna be headless. And you’re gonna have to figure out how to make your own. Not just live in the cloud, but be cloud native. Why are you impressed?

Denise Kee 21:57
Mentioned headless?

Michael Waitze 22:01
Well, there’s an entire movement around what’s called the MACH Alliance, right. And the M is micro services. The A is API first, C is cloud native, and the H is headless. And this is what it looks like, not just today is going to be but the next five to 10 to 15 years of computing is going to be I think,

Denise Kee 22:20
no, I’m really impressed. Can Okay, can I spend the rest of this podcast convincing you to join our company? No. No,

Michael Waitze 22:29
no, no, because just like James, and it’s really interesting that you mentioned this, right? So I read a lot. But I also talk to a lot of people. And one of the benefits of doing what I do and having conversations with you is that not only do I get to learn a bunch of things, but I get to confirm the things that I think are true. So I think that this MAC Alliance thing is a big deal. And I think you’ve just confirmed that it is actually a big deal. But my curiosity also stems from what is it like for you, when you go into the government and say, look, the landscape for computing is going to change, and here’s how it’s going to change in their head start to spin again, because they’ve just gotten used to the fact, you know, just five years ago, that they’re going to outsource some of their development to you. So how do you how do you square all those circles? If that makes sense?

Denise Kee 23:12
Okay. Like, don’t go in there and tell them how wonderful club is, I just go in there and ask them, what are the problems? What are the pains that they’re experiencing right now? Why exactly are you are you trying to solve? And so at that time, right, the government approached us with, so we were doing all these websites, portals, because that’s how government talk to their public citizens talk to the Singaporeans. And so that’s their, their cell communication channels are not not social media at that time. And so our websites are really important to them. And so each schools have websites, there are 300 schools, and then each ministry is has a number of websites. And those are their main tools to communicate with their with the public, right. And for a period of time, they will getting hacked. And always on a newspapers for holiday, this school got hacked and that. And also, I can’t remember which year there was this guy who just stopped like, from Scream on the screen movies. He’s called Anonymous. I’m not sure whether you remember that guy, and kept posting YouTube videos about how I’m going to hack the PMO website. I’m going to crush this website, and it’s all targeting like Singapore government. Oh, wow. I don’t remember that. Yeah. And so is that like chattering and posting the YouTube videos and start threatening the Singapore government? I’m going to take down this website, by which day, I’m gonna take down that website by which day

Michael Waitze 24:36
oh my gosh, what was the solution to this though?

Denise Kee 24:39
And in Singapore, governments have like, okay, they had to put all their vendors including us on 24 by seven surveillance, watch out for any movements and all that. The solution to that sort of a problem is that of course there’s a lot more internet crime. There’s a lot more hacking going around, but what is still important to them right is there is a main channel in which they communicate to the public. And so they still need to put up the information website, but they don’t want to get hacked. And to be on this slide 24 by seven night surveillance and so, So collectively, we came together and said, How then can be achieved secured website. And so there were a few problems to solve. One is actually everyone is doing their own things. They built their websites on very different technology. And we have so many of them. And we have no idea who is using what, right, when they find a set of vulnerabilities on the internet, it was being announced and all that, right. He WordPress, this particular plugin has this vulnerability, then they have to go on a witch hunt, you have this you have this, you use this condition, which checker you’re saying. I don’t know what my vendors don’t get a consolidated Library Manager. Yeah. And now that I Okay, this is what you should do, can you patch can you patch can give me your timeline. They said, I have enough of this. I don’t want to live like this give. And so what you know, what is the solution. And so the solution is cwp is content website platform, the platform that su makes built on one of the hyperscalers, which is actually AWS. So we build a platform, we restrict the type of technologies that each agency can use, or each organization can use. And we said that they can only use this set of like plugins, they can only use this set of technology. And so then surveillance becomes easier, right? Much easier, you know that this is what is being used by all these 500 websites. So whenever something happens, then we can patch the security vulnerability very easily. And of course, when it’s API driven, that magic can happen, of course. So in the past, they have to pass one package of files to another guy was formed in frostbite to deploy and then the infrastructure say, How do I deploy this, oh, you just follow this guy, this is you cut and paste this file into this folder, cut and paste as well. And it open the config file and then change these variables. And then it’s a very long process. So because the cloud is actually an API driven infrastructure, we’re able to create a platform that allows automated deployment, click one button, yeah,

Michael Waitze 27:17
just you know, I run a multi site WordPress installation that I built myself. So it’s not a cwp per se. But because it’s multi site, I have it in a way, it’s a similar structure, but not nearly as sophisticated as what you’re doing for sure. But the idea is that you have this top up infrastructure up here that runs everything, all the plugins are up here, and every site gets access to the same ones, but only those ones that you’d give it access to. And if anything goes wrong, you just do it at the top, and it fixes it everywhere. And your access is restricted at the top. So in the interim websites and stuff on your cwp just makes it so much easier to manage the security of it, because if anything goes wrong, they’re gonna have to hack you the top thing, not each individual one, because they’re all built on the same infrastructure, right? We can

Denise Kee 28:02
never fully secure anything No, for no way. Yeah, that’s there’s no way. So later on, the Assistant Chief Executive of Graphtec, went on forum to talk about this ERP project. And I thought he had this brilliant way of explaining right? How do we manage to secure all the websites and no hacking activities. But he mentioned this, which I thought was the most appropriate description of what is going on, which is right. Being secured is not about preventing anything is really about right, when there is a vulnerability is a sprint, whether the hacker is going to get there first, or I’m going to get there first. And I thought that it is such a brilliant, okay, so this guy, the ECU, y’all gotta is a very brilliant man, I really enjoy working with him, his name is in putting together with us, right? He really make the CLP project very successful. And he has such a brilliant way of explaining this. And it’s true. So there was one case in point is that there was a WordPress vulnerability that exploited like 1000s of websites. And we have about a few 100. So it’s really about who runs there faster? Yeah. And he managed to patch all the websites, within a few hours. What very fast. And so in the past, I imagine you have to, and you catch this thing. We were very proud of the project is still in use. We are still hosting 500 websites for the government. There was really a demonstration of how we can use Cloud to really do amazing things. And from then on, right your life. From now on. You’re going to throw everything has some on prem kind of servers in our office. And then to make a statement to all our employees, right, a cow is really amazing. We better invest time. And every tool we are the servers in our in our office, we have two racks and then we just throw it okay, just no more.

Michael Waitze 29:56
Well, you almost have to drink your own Kool Aid, right? I mean, if you think that everything should be In the cloud, then all of your stuff should also be in the cloud. No.

Denise Kee 30:03
So all of our stuff in the cloud, yes,

Michael Waitze 30:06
as a company iterates and develops, you have to have the mindset of the employees also change along and adapt along with you. Right? So senior management, like you said, you know, James feels the tremors, and then maybe changes course a little bit because we see things at a senior level at the in the C suite level that maybe some of the sort of staff doesn’t see. But you have to bring them along as well. So their mindset changes along with yours, like, what are some of the challenges you have with getting everybody at the firm on the same page?

Denise Kee 30:39
Now, that’s a really good question. We struggle with that, of course, right? Every single company always have people problem, cultural problem and all that. But what is fascinating about this company is that by, I don’t know, somehow, we just managed to attract a bunch of people, right? Who really enjoy working on our projects, because they enjoy the whole learning. They enjoy a doing something very different. And they ascribe to our learning culture, which is I think, is a key to our success, really, because tech change too fast. And you really need to be you want to be in here, you want to be successful. You want to find new ways to solve like the customer problems, right? Then we really need to learn fast. And then we are proven as organization, why don’t we learn fast? We were doing on prem stuff in the cloud. And then, because we have gathered a bunch of people who are very curious, just curious about things, when they play with technology, they are actually having fun. So that makes things easier for us. So whenever we want to go to a new frontier of technology, they’ll be like, Yeah, we are going with you.

Michael Waitze 31:45
The first account you had at Amazon, or at AWS, you said was called playground at Amazon or aws.com estimates.com. Sorry, Xtremax calm. Is there kind of a playful attitude inside the company at some level? And also, are people allowed to kind of experiment on their own so they can enjoy? Is that part of the enjoyment that they get? You know what I mean? Were they not that they allocate 20% of their time, or 15% of their time, because I think that’s a little bit of a misnomer, but that they feel free to say like, I’m gonna try this thing, which is a little bit different.

Denise Kee 32:16
Yes, they do have the freedom. So they can come to us and say, I want to do this. And all of us will be excited. Yeah, you should do this. So they are also being encouraged whenever they propose that they want to do something. And we are like, yeah, that’s good idea. So yes, that’s how they learn. They have the freedom to try anything, and they have to freedom to score their bosses and

Michael Waitze 32:39
all that. But what does that mean? That’s it’s an interesting point. So like I mentioned earlier, I, when I was in Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, this idea of First of all, being able to experiment with almost zero, it was so hard to do, inside what should have been a pretty innovative culture, but really wasn’t. And the second thing was, the feedback loop went one way. Right? And it was very top down. There was no, I, there was no concept of like scolding your boss.

Denise Kee 33:03
We didn’t encourage them, we just tell them, I don’t want to tell you what to do. I want you to tell me what to do. I want ideas from you guys. And then we can brainstorm. And we can like, you know, test each other out. And so that the best idea will come of it.

Michael Waitze 33:19
But where do you get that from as a as a leader? Right? In other words, where do you learn that? That’s the right thing to do? Because I don’t I’m surely they did not teach you that in business school. Right? In other words, is that a personality thing that’s endemic to you and to James and to other people on the senior leadership team? Or is it something that you’ve learned over time by saying, wait a second, we need to get more feedback from our staff?

Denise Kee 33:40
Hmm. Well, I think it’s because James and I are very lazy people. We don’t like to strategize. We want our staff to tell us what to do believe

Michael Waitze 33:53
that. It’s a good joke. I don’t believe

Denise Kee 33:58
we are. That’s why we tell them to get very lazy. And by recently, we tell them, we’re very old and lazy. Just tell us what to do. So in a very open kind of transparent conversation that happens between like our staff and us. So as a small company, of course, in 2003, that was very easy, or 2006 is very easy, because we all sit, I just sit next to my staff. Right? And they’re all sitting in front of me. I’m not in the room on my own. And so and then wherever they are we I can hear whatever I’m doing, they can hear and then we will and then they can stand up and just say, Oh, I don’t think that’s right. No, you’re wrong. And I’ll say, Oh, great. Tell me more. So is that encouragement from both James and I, that actually really encourage all of them to come up and come forth to us if they really know who we are. And so and that’s the that’s the culture that we wanted to promote. There was another one of our key management, he actually shared with the person who just came on board. Yeah, it’s like if it tells James off, and you should do that. Often okay, because the last time I did I got promoted.

So, we like this, we like this. Yeah, we like that, that maybe the merits of people coming together bring ideas, and we can get the best idea of a bunch of people. And rather than just to person. So I think estimates belongs to our people. They are the one that’s responsible for the successor. And they are the ones that are very brave and courageous. Because whenever we say this is the new frontier, we will go this club, and all of them are like, yeah, we’ll go there. Yeah. Yeah, just a very spontaneous bunch of people.

Michael Waitze 35:40
Are there challenges for you as a woman in technology that maybe you did or did not anticipate when you took this role? Or even when you first started doing this? I don’t know, 1516 years ago? And has the landscape changed for that as well?

Denise Kee 35:53
Okay, personally, I don’t feel it. I think I’m very respected by the people in the industry. But recently, he has been very trendy to be a woman in tech. trendy, yes. Yeah. It seems that the world is celebrating women in tech. And they are recognizing that we need more of more of us in the industry, because we bring a very different perspective. So many years ago, right? What I brought in, I don’t know, tech, what I brought in is usability, UX, and the creative side of like doing things, that is science specs of things, or which, which I think I’m better or better than the rest of the tech guy. And this is where I can add value. I think the women in tech are being recognized now because by they go into the tech space and beginning to feel some of the gaps of not being filled before. Yeah, so that we have better set of solutions. Yeah,

Michael Waitze 36:44
yeah, fair enough. Even in my own business, I like to talk about diversity, but not just for diversity sake. In a way, you’ve mentioned this in little bits and pieces throughout this conversation. And the idea for me is that if you don’t have a diversity of opinion, you’re just going to keep doing the same things over and over again. Because even as you said, like just having if it’s just you and James, making all the decisions, the likelihood, like the innovation curve is just going to flatten. Because at some point, every person runs out of all of the ideas. But if you just keep bringing new and different types of people in male, female, green, blue art doesn’t matter to me, right? You’re going to get this diversity of ideas. And then you’re going to be able to grow in a way because like you said, you want to have people feeling different tremors. And if somebody comes in and says, Well, the next thing is x, and you’re like, Ooh, did not notice that. But let’s do some work on that. And then maybe that’s true. And that’s kind of why I asked the question, right. And the idea is, if you go back 15 years, there weren’t that many women in tech. And it’s not just about females. It’s about this diversity of opinion for me. So that’s kind of why I asked if that makes sense.

Denise Kee 37:54
Oh, yes, definitely. You thought about the problem you observe. And that was that that’s a really good observation, just like the story that I shared about how I joined Xtremax. And the first thing I really desire in us is not to go into coding. So that which didn’t, yes, it No, no, no, you are really not meant for coding, you are meant for bigger things.

Michael Waitze 38:22
But you’re definitely meant for bigger things. And I think that the nice that’s a really a great way to end I really want to thank you for doing this Denise Kee, the CEO of Xtremax. This was an extremely great conversation. I really appreciate your time.

Denise Kee 38:37
Thank you so much. Yeah, I enjoyed the session very much.


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