According to a report published by advisory firm Sophic Capital in September, the drone market is expected to be cumulatively valued at $91 billion over the next decade, with the industrial and consumer drone markets experiencing noticeable growth. There are more and more aerial drones out there, available to anyone for just a few hundred dollars, most of them produced by Phantom maker Dajiang Innovation (DJI).
The Shenzhen-based company develops and manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) also known as drones, for commercial and recreational use, with the goal of creating “a very easy-to-use product that can realize the human dream to fly.” DJI’s products are used by professionals and hobbyists for aerial videography and photography, and the company controls 70 percent of the world’s consumers drone market.
Dreams of Flying
DJI was born from 35-years-old Frank Wang’s passion for flying devices. “I always imagined something flying beside us that could reach places we could not,” Wang told The Wall Street Journal.
Wang’s entrepreneurial story started early. As a teenager, he spent most of his time gathering knowledge about his passion. He attended the Hong Kong University of Science and technology after being rejected by American elite universities MIT and Stanford for low grades. During his senior year as an electronic engineering student, he invested all his time on his final group project, spending sleepless nights to create a helicopter flight control system. This was when his entrepreneurial journey really took off. His hard work and leadership potential caught the attention of his Robotics professor Li Zexiang, who later on became advisor and investor to DJI, and today is the company’s chairman. While attending graduate school, Wang worked on developing flight technologies from his dorm room. It is only in 2006 that the ambitious young entrepreneur funded DJI with the money he had saved from his university scholarship. At the beginning, the team was made up of Wang and two of his classmates, but they gradually hired more employees.
The company faced a downturn two years after it was created, with almost all their founding staff departing from the company. The main reason for that was Wang’s allegedly difficult character and his demands of employees.
“Personally, I was very aggressive,” Wang says, “After I read about Steve Jobs and discovered he had the same type of personality, it encouraged me. I understood that staying aggressive is the right thing to do to build a company.”
Initially, DJI sold its products to Chinese universities and state-owned enterprises, but later it concluded deals with overseas clients including hobbyists from countries like Germany and New Zealand.
In 2013, the company released the Phantom, a preassembled and resistant quadcopter initially priced at $679, while aerial drones that were available prior to this were priced at a minimum amount of $1,000. The product won the hearts of customers around the world and its sales boosted the revenues of the company. Today, DJI has released different models of the Phantom and the devices are hugely popular in all parts of the world.
In addition to that, DJI also manufactures advanced UAVs such as the Inspire 1 and the S-class for filmmaking and photography professionals. Star wars film and Game of Throne producers have started using DJI technology on set. Also, almost half of companies authorised to use drones in the US use DJI products.
The Chinese Dream
Although some raised security and privacy concerns involved in drone operations, DJI raised around $75 million in a financial round from Accel Partners, increasing the company’s value to about $10 billion. According to Forbes, Founder and CEO Wang, who owns 45% of the company, is now worth $3.4 billion.
In many ways, Wang’s company is making a change to the widespread perception of Chinese companies. “Chinese people think imported products are good and made-in-China products are inferior. We’re always second class,” he says. “Chinese companies now are getting better; before, they lagged behind. Now, more and more Chinese companies are doing well worldwide, like Huawei, Tencent and Alibaba.”
Wang plans to expand his business into other fields such as agriculture and industry. “The next five to ten years will be a very exciting period for unmanned aircraft and I am looking forward to the future,” he says.