Digerati50: Kamarul Muhamed - Malaysia’s unstoppable world beater
By Karamjit Singh April 17, 2021
- Recognised AI’s power in 2018, using it to enhance solutions
- Rapid expansion fueled by hybrid strategy of M&A, direct market entry
[Ed: Caption edited for accuracy.]
Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2020-2021 (Vol 4), a special biennial print publication released in July 2020. The digital copy can be downloaded from the sidebar link.
The following article is an expanded version of the print edition.
Kamarul Muhamed has rapidly grown Aerodyne Group into the world’s 3rd largest drone services company - and he’s not done.
[Ed: Aerodyne is now the 2nd largest drone services company in the world.]
You have to hand it to Kamarul Muhamed, founder and CEO of global drone services startup, Aerodyne Group. He doesn’t lack confidence nor ambition.
He got his big break in March 2018 when he snared his first significant funding from Axiata Digital Innovation Fund. Kamarul told Digital News Asia then, “The market is currently estimated to be over US$127 billion and we are poised to win a significant portion of the pie due to the disruptive manner of our solutions.”
Those software solutions, mind you, were entirely built by a Malaysian team of locally- trained software engineers. So much for locally trained engineers not being on par with those trained overseas.
You will find few Malaysian tech entrepreneurs even today, who lay out their ambitions on a global scale but there you had Kamarul, in 2018, aiming to be a global leader. At that time, without waiting for funding, just driven by its cash flow, the confidence of having a superior product and the bold ambition of its founder, Aerodyne was already a global drone-based managed solutions provider with offices in Malaysia, Australia, the US, Singapore, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Brunei, Denmark and the UK. It was already ranked the seventh largest drone services company in the world by a Europe-based drone research and consulting firm.
Key to his rapid expansion is the adoption of a flexible strategy comprising M&A, direct market entry and identifying local players in those markets and creating joint ventures. Aerodyne’s stake in the joint ventures is earned by injecting its solutions and industry knowhow into the market, thus giving the new entity the expertise to go after business that it otherwise could not compete for.
Through this approach, Kamarul has built Aerodyne into a global company with a presence in 22 markets, servicing clients in sectors such as oil and gas, power transmission/distribution, telecoms, renewables, construction, utilities, infrastructure and beyond.
[Ed: It is 35 countries now, and, Kamarul has just been announced as the 2020 EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Malaysia. As the headline says, the man is unstoppable.]
Clients benefit from optimised management of their critical assets and infrastructure, improved project management and situational awareness, and sophisticated geospatial intelligence, all powered by a platform combining analytics and AI, built by a team of engineers and data scientists in Malaysia, India, China and the US.
Since that March 2018 funding, Kamarul has raised two additional funding rounds from a mixture of international investors, with a US$30 million Series B being the most recent in Oct 2019. That Series saw a second close in Feb 2020.
Of significance is the participation by venture capital firm North Summit Capital from China in this second Series. Kamarul intends to leverage and penetrate that lucrative market while extending Aerodyne’s technological edge. The founder of North Summit Capital is Dr Min Wanli who previously was the chief machine intelligence scientist of Alibaba Cloud.
On his investment into Aerodyne, Min had this to say: “We see great potential in Aerodyne's large-scale data capture and analytics solutions to global critical infrastructure and related sectors. Hence, to supercharge its growth, we will help Aerodyne beef up its service efficiency by injecting DT (data technology) into product development.”
Recognising the power of AI to enhance his solutions, Kamarul started enhancing his services with it from the end of 2018.
“AI requires totally different skillsets to the analytics and software development resources that we had. As a result, some of my team were reskilled but we also had many external hires,” he says.
Stronger technical capabilities have also allowed Kamarul to expand his service offerings. “We shifted our focus, strategy and business plan. Today, we are what we call a DT^3 company, providing Digital Transformation solutions using Drone Tech and Data Tech,” he explains.
“AI allows for effective process automation, improves our autonomous capabilities and delivers a much faster and accurate defect/fault detection for asset inspections. With AI-powered predictive analytics, for example, further value can be unlocked for customers who use our services.”
Impressive achievements for a company now ranked as the third largest drone services company in the world. Kamarul’s success since 2018 has already spawned a cluster of home-grown drone companies, all inspired by his success and eager to replicate his rapid growth.
They may need to settle for just keeping him in their sights. He has set a high bar that keeps getting higher. “I’m planning to close five more M&A by end-2020.” There’s no stopping Kamarul.
Digerati50 2020/2021 is proudly sponsored by Maxis - Powering Malaysia's 5G era.