Let us go back. Let us analyze the rise. Let Us Drone.
DJI was unheard of a few years back. When someone said “drone”, I'd think “military”. The once irrelevant company has transformed our perception of drones and their uses; all while taking over the consumer drone market. Let's take a look at DJI's origins, potential competition, and some of their non-flying products.
In 2015, Forbes conducted an excellent sit-down interview with Frank Wang, the founder of DJI. That interview can be found here. Of note…
The Biggest Drone Company is not in the USA
Frank Wang, the CEO of DJI (Dà-Jiāng Innovations) founded the Chinese company in 2006. Yes, you read that right, the leading drone manufacturing powerhouse is not an American company. Headquartered in Shenzhen, DJI has not only taken over the drone market in China, but globally.
As a kid, Franks free time was more heavily allocated to books about model airplanes than towards his grades in school. Enamored with a comic book that featured a red helicopter, Frank became enthralled with the idea of having a “fairy” that could follow him around with a camera. At the age of 16, Mr. Wang was gifted with a remote-controlled helicopter, which he promptly crashed. Undeterred, Frank pushed on with his obsession and dreamt of attending an “elite” American university. Rejected by Stanford and MIT due to inadequate grades, he opted to attend Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. It was at this university during his senior year that Frank made a breakthrough–transforming his “fairy” fantasy into a reality; what he made was a flight control system for a helicopter, allowing it to automatically hover. Voila, DJI was born in a dorm room; and drones marked with those three little letters would soon be filling the sky in millions.
Fast forward to 2013 when DJI launched their first Phantom; this drone was a pioneer of sorts. At just $679 off the shelf, the Phantom was ready-to-fly. The company hasn’t looked back since, adding the immensely popular Mavic Pro and Spark to its consumer drone lineup.
“Chinese people think imported products are good and made-in-China products are inferior. We’re always second class. I’m unsatisfied with the overall environment, and I want to do something to change it.” -Frank Wang
Does DJI Have any Competition?
With every market there are generally a few large players. There’s a Honda to a Ford, a Target to a Wal-Mart, or a Dominos to a Pizza Hut, but what is there to DJI?
Back in 2012 Colin Guinn, an American from Texas had 48% ownership of DJI North America. At that time, Guinn owned a cinematography company here in the states, and was in need of a camera that could record stable aerial video. Frank Wang happened to be working on a gimbal that would allow a drone to do just that. Reaching out to Mr. Wang while DJI was still in the pre-Phantom days, the two created DJI North America in July of 2012. DJI would have 52% ownership of the entity and Collin would have the remaining 48%. The Phantom was released in 2013 and business boomed. Revenue totaled more than $130 million at the end of the year, up from $26 million the prior year in 2012. DJI spread their wings even further in 2014, bringing in revenue of $500 million. Droning on to present day, we now have Mavic Pro’s, Spark’s, and Mavic Air’s buzzing overhead which have allowed DJI’s sales to soar to an estimated $2.7 billion in 2017. Holy drones.
Some relationships just don’t last; the relationship between Colin and Frank soured and Colin split (was booted) from DJI and joined up with Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3D Robotics. At the time, 3D Robotics had been working on the Solo, a drone that could compete with DJI’s Phantom. Solo was released in mid-2015, but sales were not nearly as high as anticipated due to the drone not initially being sold with the camera/gimbal, alongside problems with the GPS. In March of 2016, 3D Robotics announced they were no longer producing drones and had shifted their attention to software and drone applications.
Next, the action-camera giant, GoPro, stepped up to bat against DJI with the release of their Karma in late 2016. However, the drone was riddled with problems of its own and GoPro has since announced that they are exiting the drone business. So where does that leave the consumer and commercial drone market today? According to Skylogic Research, here is the market share breakdown in the $500-$1,000 category.
What’s it going to take for a company to make a sizable dent it DJI’s market share? Maybe someone who makes customer service a top priority, an area in which DJI has received poor marks.
DJI Doesn’t Just Make Drones
It has gotten to the point where when one hears the word “drone”, often the subsequent word that comes to mind is “DJI”. This is not surprising considering the domination they have managed to achieve in this field. What you may not be aware of are the other impressive products in their lineup.
Gimbal cameras: For the professional, the Inspire or Inspire 2 is a likely choice due to its in-flight stability, top speed, and powerful camera. An appeal to the Inspire series is the ability to choose which camera best suits your needs. Enter Zenmuse, a series of gimbal cameras DJI has created to capture some truly inspiring footage. Introduced at the end of 2017, the Zenmuse X7 is the latest super camera, capable of shooting 6K video and 24MP stills; but with a price tag of $2,699, this camera is designed to target those who are truly serious about their work.
The Osmos: If you live on this planet, you’ve undoubtedly passed someone on the street who had stopped to take a selfie with an outstretched arm, or a selfie stick. Living in San Diego, a tourism magnet of a city, I see this every day. DJI being the expert in gimbals that they are, decided to jump in on the action. The result? A series of handheld “gimbal sticks” that allows vloggers, hikers or “the Smiths on vacation at the Grand Canyon,” to capture incredibly smooth video. So your dad says there’s not a chance you’re getting an expensive camera for your upcoming 13’th birthday to shoot skateboarding videos for your vlog. Thanks to the Osmo Mobile 2 which retails for $129, you can use your smartphone to record the video which will be butter-smooth thanks to the “gimbal stick” it’ll be attached to. You’re now 14 and Volcom happened to stumble upon your vlog on YouTube; impressed, the company wants you to shoot an upcoming promo video for them while wearing their clothing. Not wanting to advertise a video shot on an iPhone 6, they agree to pay you $2,000 for a better camera. You’re in the big leagues now so you opt for the Osmo Pro Combo, which comes with the Zenmuse X5, a camera that is capable of shooting 4K video and 16MP stills. You recruit your buddy to operate the Osmo Pro Combo for the promo video and Volcom couldn’t be happier with the results.
Note: The above scenario is purely hypothetical. Parties mentioned are given as examples.
Ronin: Everything about Ronin screams “professional”. From its non-discrete physical presence to price tags ranging from $999-$8,999, the Ronin series is aimed at those who need a top of the line camera stabilizer. It’s worth noting that the Ronin is only a stabilizing contraption and does not come with a camera.
FPV Goggles: You want total immersion? Strap on a pair of DJI FPV Goggles and take your drone flying experience to a whole new level. The goggles come equipped with two high-quality screens that display up to 1080p live video with low latency. Even cooler? Turn your head (yaw) to the left or right and the drone will match your head movements, and look up or down to control the camera tilt. Putting on a pair of these for the first time, made me wonder why anyone would spend a great deal of money and time getting their private pilots license when most of that experience was available for $449. At the end of 2017, DJI released the FPV Goggles Racing Edition, which has a few upgrades over the original Goggles with better compatibility with non-DJI racing quadcopters.
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