Much like the warring factions in the critically-acclaimed HBO phenomenon Game Of Thrones, the nascent unmanned aerial vehicles industry is in the midst of its own clash for supremacy.
Now, just in case you thought this was some Game of Thrones fanboy tirade, it’s not (but don’t try and contact us tonight after 10). We’re here to discuss how DJI is basically dominating the real-life Game Of Drones. The Shenzhen-based outfit is coming off what baseball players refer to as quite a heater: In March its penultimate flagship model, Phantom 3, launched globally to near unanimous applause; The company cleared half a billion in sales in’14 – rumored to have netted around $120 million in profits – and early forecasts predict a $1 billion sales windfall for ’15.
So here’s a few reasons we expect DJI’s win streak to continue well into 2016, and likely beyond:
Not much is known about CEO Frank Wang (worth $4.5 billion), a sort of new age Chinese Howard Hughes-like character that eschews media attention. He has given only a couple interviews to Western media outlets, including Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, since arising to one of China’s wealthiest entrepreneurs.
In the Forbes piece, Wang manages to come off as brilliant, cutthroat, philosophical, and yet remarkably grounded and measured, all at the same time – it’s clear from the piece that the 35 year-old Hong Kong University graduate is a compelling and polarizing figure.
It’s also clear that Wang’s journey – he started out as a three man team building flight controllers out of his dorm room in 2006 – and the dogged determination with which he chased his dream of one day developing a flying camera, are the fuel that feeds the engine that is DJI. “Our goal is to maintain 100% growth in sales in the next two year. If we can do that, I believe we will have 90% of the market,” he told Forbes.
The Battle Of GoPro
Being a Chinese company (Wang says they once considered establishing a shell corporation in Germany but decided against it), DJI has dealt with its fair share of espionage from rivals, as well as competition from generic startups looking to mimic the company’s winning formula.
But how the company handled its abrupt breakup with longtime ally GoPro, sheds a bit of light on Wang and how he views DJI as a top dog in the Game of Drones. “They treated us like the original equipment manufacturers (OEM),” Wang told Forbes. “The deal came out to roughly this: GoPro would make two points of profit, and I’d make one point. I didn’t want it like that. I thought it should be, I make two points of profit, and [GoPro] makes one point of profit, because the product, from the beginning to the end, would have been mine. [GoPro] was only a sales channel.”
GoPro has recently announced it will be launching its own drone model.
You can have the fiery, most-well-intentioned leader in all of the Seven Kingdoms, but without products that consumers can’t help but snap up in record numbers (think Apple), good luck winning the Game of Drones.
But DJI need not worry in that regard – its Phantom line is easily the most popular line of consumer-grade drones ever released, and its off-shoot models such as the Flame Wheel F330 sell just fine among the hobbyist/weekend warriors.
Add to that the fact that the company’s flight controllers are regularly singled out as the most intuitive and easy to use on the market, and it’s no wonder that DJI is out in front by many lengths. As Wang so succinctly puts it himself in the Forbes piece, “It’s easier for them to fail. They have money, but I have even more money and am bigger and have more people. When the market was small, they were small and I was small, too, and I beat them.”