Corporate Venture Building Pioneers – Conversation with Khairil Abdullah

November 10, 2021

In this third episode, FutureLabs Managing Partner Mario Aquino, speaks to Khairil Abdullah, CEO Axiata DigitalAt Axiata, he has spearheaded the journey of building new ventures such as Boost (ewallet) and ADA (integrated digital, analytics, and marketing). Prior to Axiata, he was a partner with more than 15 years at one of the world’s leading management consultancy firms. They talk about how large corporates can create the right set–upgovernance, structure, and incentives for new corporate ventures to succeed – and the many lessons learnt that come from their experiences of doing it for over a decade. 

Corporate Venture Building Pioneers: Conversation with Khairil Abdullah

Key highlights of the discussion

In the interview, Khairil summarizes four key guiding principles that played a significant role in helping him build and scale a strong portfolio of ventures when he took the helm at Axiata Digital. 

  •  Governance – importance of creating the new venture as a separate BU to gain enough autonomy, but with direct access to C-level/Board sponsorship 
  • Talent – bringing in a diverse set of talent into the organization is key. Generally attracting external venture builders has a lot of value as they come with a fresh perspective and a real sense of what it takes to scale 10x vs incrementally.  But it is also important to balance that with cultural fit with the parent organization – embrace the core values.   
  • Portfolio approach – it is important to have a portfolio of ventures instead of focusing on just 1 or 2 opportunities at the beginning. In that way, the parent company can truly experiment, and have a much more objective view about which opportunities need to be further progressed into scalable ventures and which ones to cull.  
  • Success metrics – in the initial phases of venture building, focus should be on achieving strong and repeat usage on the digital solution and “proof of value” — really addressing the identified market pain point.  Financials and achieving positive unit economics will only come later.  Building a rich ecosystem of strategic and commercial partners is also important vs doing everything from scratch. When the ventures have reached a certain scale, then revenue growth, as well as a path towards profitability, becomes more important to ensure value capture – as well as contributions back to the core.  


When asked What would you tell Corporates who are thinking about Venture Building or on the fence” — Khairil’s advice is clear:  Go do it! There is really no choice – both to protect your current business as well as to continue to be relevant in today’s digital world.  And nowadays Corporates can benefit from much more established corporate venture building practices – vs when Axiata Digital started in 2013.  


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About the speaker(s)


Khairil Abdullah

Khairil is one of the pioneers of Corporate Venture Building in Southeast Asia. As the CEO of Axiata Digital, he leads investments and operations across three strategic businesses. These include digital financial services such as e-wallet, micro-lending and micro-insurance; digital advertising that use data driven solutions to enhance business success; and platform services focused on API’s (Application Programming Interface) that redefine the way businesses communicate with consumers.


Mario Aquino

Mario is the Founder & Managing Partner of FutureLabs Ventures, a top-tier corporate venture studio and VC. Former Managing Partner of McKinsey Ventures Asia-Pacific, and co-founder of McKinsey Solutions (McKinsey’s corporate VC & innovation groups). Spent 20+ years in digital & advanced analytics space across Asia, the US, and Europe as an entrepreneur, advisor to tech companies and VC funds, executive, and investor. Core expert on Fintech, Artificial Intelligence, and Advanced Analytics. Built and scaled 10+ tech & analytics companies that have become regional and global players including two unicorns; extensive network in the innovation ecosystem globally.