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Doing business with Damon Kelly of Enlighten Designs: From psychology to information technology

Doing business with Damon Kelly of Enlighten Designs: From psychology to information technology

He started his IT firm in a caravan, and now works with clients across the globe.


Name: Damon Kelly

Title: Founder and CEO, Enlighten Designs

Twitter handle: @damonenlighten

How long have you been in your current role?

I have been managing director and CEO of Enlighten for coming up 17 years. Prior to that I had just finished a double major in Psychology and Cognitive Science from the University of Waikato.

Enlighten Designs originated in 1999 in a caravan. I needed hosting for a website but could not afford to pay for it. I approached a local ISP and offered website design skills in exchange for free hosting of my website, a Quake 2 Forum. The ISP liked the designs so much that they continued to provide me with work; even asking me to redesign their own website. After a few sites, I realised that I could turn this into a viable business, and started Enlighten Designs. Since then we have grown year-on-year to where we are today.

What business technology issue is your organisation focusing on?

A lot of our customers now are being faced with digital disruption in their industries. We need to help them adapt to that, lead them through the transition, or even better – lead the disruption. Enlighten has been offering a lot of strategic guidance to customers, particularly on web and mobile development.

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What are your interests away from work?

Spending time with my family. I quite enjoy doing a bit of travel and I’m an avid snowboarder.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

“Focus on hiring great people and success will follow.”

A lot of our customers now are being faced with digital disruption in their industries. We need to help them adapt to that, lead them through the transition, or even better – lead the disruption.

Damon Kelly, Enlighten Design


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Professionally, who do you admire most?

I really respect the writings and work of Stephen R Covey. From a results perspective, Richard Branson has been able to achieve really great things while maintaining great cultures and brands for the various businesses he has started.

How long have you been working in IT? How did you get into IT?

I’ve been working in IT for over 20 years. I got into it as a job to pay my way through university, but it ended up being the industry I work in.

If you weren't working in IT, what would you be doing?

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If I wasn’t working in IT I would be working in biotechnology, probably in genomics as I find it a really amazing emerging field.

A key insight on working with virtual and/or teams working in different locations/regions?

With Enlighten starting in the Waikato, and working for both national and international partners (such as Microsoft in Seattle and Xamarin in San Francisco), we’ve really learned you’ve got to match the message with the right medium. Once a relationship is established it is much easier to communicate remotely, in the early days of our international partnerships there is a lot of travel and late night phone conferencing, but once that rapport is built it fits in to your daily communication easily.

There are times when Lync and email work fine, but you have to know when the message needs a stronger form of communication. Video is great for enabling face-to-face communication, but now is the right time to elevate our customer conversation again and be there for our customers in physical presence.

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The reason why we’ve started an Auckland office now, even though we’ve been in the Auckland market for a while, is to help our clients as they deal with the digital disruption that is happening in and around their business. Especially when clients are facing challenges, you just need to be there.

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Tags hamiltoncustomer focusinnovationMicrosoftentrepreneurial cioRichard Bransonuniversity of waikatodisruptionStephen R Coveydigitalenlighten designs

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