Meet Camellia Chan, CEO & Founder, X-PHY

Camellia Chan

Camellia Chan is CEO and founder of X-PHY, a Flexxon brand. In 2021, Camellia won top 10 Women in Cybersecurity award in Singapore for her work with AI.

In this piece, Camellia talks to us about her journey into tech entrepreneurship, what excites her about the cybersecurity industry and her biggest achievement to date.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m Camellia Chan, the Founder and CEO of next-generation cybersecurity solutions and hardware storage solutions provider, Flexxon.

From an early age, I was always interested in business and entrepreneurship, searching for opportunities to connect people with what they needed. Even as a young girl back home in Malaysia, I looked for ways to make a little extra pocket money! It was years later when I was at university where I combined this passion for entrepreneurship with technology.

Lots of people think that if you’re a deep tech company founder, like myself, you must have years of formal education under your belt and a formal degree. I can safely say that isn’t always the case – it certainly wasn’t for me. In university, I studied business management and picked up a specialisation in IT. In my second year, I assembled my very first PC, and as they say, the rest was history – I was hooked.

Armed with this love for building tech, I started working in an electronics manufacturing company and picked up logic circuits. My colleagues in the engineering department taught me the ins and outs. I then spent a lot of my time studying a variety of technical topics that I am interested in.

In 2007, I combined my love for business and technology and founded Flexxon, which is now a leading cybersecurity and industrial memory and storage solutions provider. In 2021, we unveiled the X-PHY cybersecure SSD (solid-state drive) – the world’s first AI embedded data security SSD designed to deliver real-time protection against cyber threats. To date, X-PHY has collaborated with Lenovo to integrate the cybersecurity SSDs in Lenovo’s world-class laptop solutions. These laptops are benefiting from X-PHY’s zero-trust security framework and 24/7 real-time protection to data stored within the drive.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Sure, I made plans, but I also learned to respond and adapt. There are so many circumstances in life and work that come about unexpectedly, from the good people that share your vision to challenges completely beyond your control.

What I’ve realised is that on a near-term basis (daily, weekly and even monthly), the majority of circumstances will necessitate adaptation and are likely to alter your plans. Instead, it’s more important to have a larger goal or vision that speaks to you, such as wanting to create something that can truly help all society, and using that to guide your career.

This is how we responded to industry needs and evolved over the years at Flexxon. We diversified in response to mounting cybersecurity vulnerabilities from our core focus on industrial, medical and automotive NAND storage devices, to incorporate cybersecurity solutions. I noticed a recurring trend when speaking to our customers – that both blue-chip companies and smaller enterprises were victims of a cyberattack or very concerned about becoming a victim – it made sense to evolve the business to include a cybersecurity solution that could address this pressing problem.

What excites you about the cybersecurity industry?

It all boils down to three key drivers:

  • Firstly, the race against cybercriminals. Hackers’ methods are becoming increasingly sophisticated and when the pandemic accelerated digitalisation, it opened up an even larger cyber landscape. Traditional cybersecurity tools, like antivirus, alone are not fit for purpose and rely on humans to maintain good cyber hygiene. My goal is to always keep at least one step ahead of cyber attackers.
  • Next, technology is evolving all the time. The possibilities with technology are limitless and the same can be said for cybersecurity. It’s an incredible and fast paced industry to be a part of.
  • Finally, this is tech for good. Conquering cyber threats then opens up even more possibilities for citizens of the digital age.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am extremely proud of the commercial success we have achieved at Flexxon, but I’m even more inspired by the team that we have. Our people are our first customers and strongest advocates, and we need to create an environment that they can grow and excel in.

One of my biggest motivations for setting up the company was to create a workplace that would allow the team to thrive. I have always emphasised an environment with zero politics, high mobility and plentiful opportunities to learn.

We have made so much progress and delivered great impact over the last 15 years, and I can see how the team has grown to own our shared vision, put their hearts to making a difference through their work, and wearing a bright smile through it all.

Level Up Summit 2022

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What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Being a business owner and a woman in tech are two areas that are known to be extremely tough. Put that together, and you can surely expect that I have faced many challenges along the way to get here.

I believe a major factor in achieving success for me is never ever giving up on my goals. I’ve faced challenging situations in dealing with difficult customers for instance, and each time I learnt to create better processes to protect ourselves against potentially tricky situations – all while holding on to my principles.

As a woman in tech, you may be faced with my doubters and detractors. I know that if these challenges are allowed to get to me, I would then lose the opportunity to fight for our right to contribute equally, or more, to the industry.

Just keep fighting, and you can overcome any challenge.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

A combination of confidence and surrounding yourself with the right people will stand you in good stead. Here are my four top tips:

  • Go outside of your comfort zone – You might be changing career paths or perhaps applying for a job that isn’t backed by your degree, but if you pursue your passion with hard work and determination you can achieve what you set out to do. Put yourself in positions that scare you and you’ll learn a lot.
  • Build strong networks – A support system is vital in life, and in business. I am a strong believer in building genuine connections and friendships with the people around me. This is where you can lend a hand and rely on the support of your networks in both good and bad times.
  • Build dependable teams – When you’re at the point in your career when you become a leader, remember that no one is an island. Seek out and develop a well-rounded, efficient and effective team that plays to different people’s strengths. Not everyone should be good at the same thing, and you need diverse skills to continue innovating.
  • Learn to accept that things will go wrong – This idea is very much mirrored in the work that we do at X-PHY, as we try to keep ahead of the ingenuity of cybercriminals. If we are overly daunted by each setback, we would never achieve our goals. This applies to leaders and their teams.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Progress has definitely been made in the past few years as more women in the industry come forward to represent women in STEM and challenge the status quo. However, statistics still show that women are underrepresented. This will take many years to change as it is a gradual process, but small steps create big change.

To further support this positive trajectory, women can be more involved as mentors for others, sharing in their experience, and educational institutes can offer more inclusive opportunities for female students to get exposure to STEM industries.

Challenges of working in a ‘male-dominated industry’ can often be overcome by hard work and ambition – you just need to confidence to go after what you want. This is, of course, easier said than done but it’s important to remember we live in a wonderful time with tremendous opportunities for everyone, not just for half of us.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Hiring and recruitment practices are incredibly important and with visible, female role models in the industry, we encourage women to imagine a future in tech. Talented, driven women – as well as employees of different ages, nationalities and domains – create an impactful environment by challenging norms, building competencies and championing excellence. Fundamentally, it’s crucial businesses recognise this from the get-go and try to address unconscious bias early on when recruiting.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

One major myth in the tech and cybersecurity industry is thinking that you need a lot of technical knowledge and expertise to enter the industry. Education and learning don’t end once we leave school, in fact it is enriched when we enter the working world, get hands on experience and interact with experts in each field. If I had a magic wand, I’d make it so everyone can access and has the confidence to embrace lifelong learning and constant upskilling.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

YouTube is an incredible resource right under our noses – and I can’t recommend it enough! I follow topics and personalities on innovation and leadership. I love learning about their backstories, unique personalities, and trials and tribulations. Some of my favorite personalities include Alan Turing, Steve Jobs, George Soros and Warren Buffet.

Of course, within your own industry and community, find mentors and build networks that will support you as you co-create a better future for the next generation of female technopreneurs. Professor Annie Koh, Professor Emeritus of Finance (Practice) at Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University (SMU), is one of my amazing mentors and I’m very grateful for her guidance over the years!