If you are not an unmanned aerial vehicle (or a drone) enthusiast, you’ve probably have not heard of Dajiang Innovation Technology Co. (DJI). However, this Shenzhen-based company has been on an impressive growth streak since its founding in 2006, having generated around a billion dollars in revenue in 2015—up from half that amount, the year prior. Currently, DJI is the leader in the commercial drone space, particularly in the mid-priced and “prosumer” segments, and responsible for 70% of all commercial UAV sales around the world. (For related reading, see: How Drones Are Changing The Business World.)
According to Forbes, DJI’s market dominance has garnered it a $10 billion valuation, as private equity firms like Kleiner Perkins and Accel Partners have poured hundreds of millions of dollars in capital to gain a slice of an industry expected to grow 800% to $27 billion by 2021. Perhaps rightly so, DJI’s market leadership position, along with the company’s history, has drawn parallels to another pioneering tech giant: Apple Inc. (AAPL).
DJI: From Humble Beginnings
Much like Steve Jobs, DJI’s founder Frank Wang is also a visionary, and a perfectionist who is as demanding as he is brilliant. According to Fortune, Wang was born to middle-class parents in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where his vision for UAVs first manifested in his childhood. Fostering his dream through his youth, Wang founded DJI in his senior dorm room at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, and funded the company with his entire college scholarship.
At first, only concerned with breaking even in order to subsidize his passion, Wang was surprised at the support he received from fellow UAV enthusiasts across the world. DJI’s readymade drones, which utilized a cost-saving quad copter design as well as refinements to the controller, with a price tag of $679, served the needs of enthusiasts who had been forced to spend over $1000 on their own DIY drones. Released in 2013, DJI’s first model, the Phantom, quickly proved to be a success, though not without a few technical hiccups.
Less than a year later, DJI released the Phantom II: a fully upgraded version of the previous Phantom that addressed all its technical shortcomings. Spring boarding off the success of the Phantom, DJI attempted to expand into North America, but a falling out with business partner Colin Guinn forced DJI to shut down its North American arm. The fall out and subsequent firings of DJI’s American employees also led to the creation of 3D Robotics, the biggest threat to DJI yet, with its “Solo” model pitted directly against the Phantom. (For more, see: Drones: 10 Companies to Watch.)
DJI Continues Its Expansion
Still, Wang is not worried about his new competitors. As reported by The Verge, DJI continues to gain strength into growing markets, having recently opened a second flagship store in Seoul, Korea. The new store will also feature a multi-story wind tunnel where customers are able to test out DJI’s models, as well as a large floor for DJI’s drone-related accessories. The brick-and-mortar DJI locations--as architecturally stunning as any Apple Store--appear to be a way of implicitly thumbing their noses at Amazon.com Inc (AMZN), where drones are likely to be sold online only.
For the time being, the Seoul and Shenzhen stores will be the only brick-and-mortar properties of DJI, but with Wang’s immense vision and inhuman work ethic—he keeps a bed in his office to accommodate his 80-hour work weeks—there is a very good chance of more stores to follow. Currently, Wang and DJI represent the new breed of Chinese tech titans, alongside the likes of Jack Ma and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA), who according to Wang are shifting away from the old Chinese paradigm of manufacturing cheaper versions of advanced foreign products, and are becoming leaders of industry.
The Bottom Line
In the nine years since its humble beginnings, Dajiang Innovation Technology Co. has taken over the commercial drone market. Led by its perfectionist founder Frank Wang, DJI is not afraid to burn bridges and take on all comers in its quest to be the industry leader in its segment. Despite the threat of entrants from U.S.-based 3D Robotics and other firms, DJI continues on its path of dominance.