DJI – The Leader in Drones and Quadcopters

Dai-Jiang Innovation Technology Company or simply DJI Innovations is a Chinese company based in Shenzen, that produces commercial and recreational unmanned drones. It was founded in 2006 by Frank Wang, then a student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Originally DJI was intended to build flight control systems for model helicopters, but as multi-rotor drones became popular, Wang turned the company toward drone market. DJI in one of world leading brand from similar to e-commerce site Alibaba and smartphone maker Xiaomi. Its product line includes the high-end UAV flight and ground control system, the professional aerial photography platform, commercial gimbal system, high-definition long-range digital video transmission system, wireless remote control and imaging terminal and high-precision control modules for UAV’s.

The company has over 3,000 employees

2. History:

DJI was founded in 2006 by Mr. Wang at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). DJI did not sell any product during its first two years because there was nothing complete to offer mainly because of the existing system problems. In 2008, DJI begins sales in local markets and a year later it expanded its sales in markets outside China with a revenue of about US$500K. DJI’s earliest products were operating systems for hobbyists drones, but DJI’s started making advanced flight controllers with autopilot functions in 2011. It had 90 employees and $4.2 million in revenue in 2011.

In 2012, it developed stabilization technology for flight-control system, enabling drones to capture stable aerial footage. By the end of 2012 DJI had combined all the pieces for a complete drone assemblage: propellers, frame, gimbal, remote control and software. In start of 2013, DJI released the Phantom, a quadcopter at retail of US$679 that can carry a high-definition camera.

This year ended for DJI with $130 million in revenue. The company witnessed 4 times growth in 2014 and sales were 5 times than 2014 with 2,800 employees and three factories. In 2015, DJI opened its first flagship store in Shenzhen to attract a wider range of consumers.

3. Founder:

Frank Wang

Mr. Frank Wang Tao is the Founder and CEO at SZ DJI Technology Co., Ltd. It also worked as Chief Technology Officer in same company. He received his both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Electronics and Computer Engineering from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

4. DJI products

DJI manufactures a range of for industrial, professional and amateur use.

4.1. Flight Controllers

DJI produces professional and amateurish flight controllers for multi-rotor stabilization control. The main A2 main controller  is a complete flight system for various multi-rotor platforms. WooKong-M is a flight control platfrom which is specially designed for industrial, commercial and professional multi-rotor platforms. Naza-M V2 is a lightweight all-in-one multi-axis control platform with function extension capabilities.

4.2. Ronin platform

The DJI Ronin is ground-based camera stabilization platform which has its applications in everyday cinematography and aerial film-making. It is capable of stabilizing the camera while moving vigorously with the help of three individual motors.

4.3. Flame Wheel series

Flame Wheel is a series of multirotor flying platform developed by DJI, which is specially made for aerial photography in entertainment.

4.4. Phantom series

DJI’s quadcopters comes under the Phantoms series. It is an complete flying system with aircraft, camera, a controller and the mobile device for pilot. The Phantoms are designed for cinematography and photography and they are very popular among hobbyists.

4.5. The Spreading Wings series

DJI’s series of hexacopters is called Spreading Wings. The Spreading Winds are intended for carrying heavy payload and performing duties such as search and rescue, and surveillance.

4.6. The unmanned helicopter

DJI, Hong Kong University of Science Technology (HKUST) and Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) jointly has developed a small unmanned helicopter. It can operate with wind scale of 6 and intended for high elevation mission.

5. Business Model

Unlike most of Chinese manufacturers who have little thought for quality, DJI is focused on technical superiority, incorporating powerful dedicated digital signal processors and progressing from 8-bit to32-bit microprocessors. For their chips DJI incorporates with market leaders of chip industry such as Aramballa, MediaTek, and WT Microelectronics. Aramballa is known for powering GoPro cameras with its quality chips.. DJI also uses chips from same supplier for their cameras which can capture and stream 4K video at high frame rates. DJI drones come with a powerful commercial software, and it has more features than just capturing photos and making videos. The Pix4DmapperApp enables professionals with big and powerful drones building 3D models of terrains below from data sensed by the camera of drone. DJI phantom 2 can map a six-acre land in a single 20-minute flight from 150 feet elevation with the Pix4Dmapper and construct a precise 3D digital terrain model (DTM) with one inch fine resolution. This makes their drones a handy technology for architects, builders, archaeologists and even geologists.

Commonly, the manufacturers discourage modification to their products but DJI welcomes developers to customize their drones with their own software and hardware DJI has reprogrammable and customizable drone called Martice 100 which is specifically for developers. It can also accommodate new payloads, like communications gear and sensors. This

idea has enabled DJI to build a community of developers that gives useful upgrades to their products. DJI’s SkyFund has invested in a startup called DroneBase which is a drone version of Uber. Anyone who wants to take photos from drone can link up with a drone pilot in their vicinity through DroneBase. Qualified drone pilots get missions which involve monitoring construction progress, surveying inspection for mining, terrain modeling and real estate promotion. The DroneBase allows customers to get the imagery and aerial data they want without buying a drone and the drone operators get business. DJI also promotes it business by staying in new stories about drones going to unusual places such as in the exploring largest cave systems in Vietnam and chasing the cruise ship.

DJI drones are more than just video drones and it has set its eyes on an more lucrative market: agricultural drones. DJI has launched $15,000 Agras MG-1, a bigger craft than its previous drones, with eight rotors and capacity to carry 2.5 gallons for crop smart crop-spraying. DJI has introduced a new concept of agriculture called “Precision agriculture” in which farmers need to spray fertilizer or pesticide only where it is needed. Agras has a built in microwave radar which gives inch-perfect accuracy and covers ten acres an hour, making it 40 times efficient than manual spraying. Currently the Agras are available in China and South Korea and it will expand to other countires in world later. In addition to this DJI is also looking forward to conquer to another markets such as emergency-service drones, delivery drones, or military drones. DJI’s portfolio now includes drones with thermal imaging cameras developed with partnership of world leaders FLIR. The cameras have resolution and high sensitivity and DJI leads the field in this aspect.

DJI’s CEO Frank Wang doesn’t want to share the skies with others, he is aimed at maintaining DJI’s lead as the into commercial applications like agriculture, security, construction and mapping. In an interview to Forbes he said:

“Nowadays we are still focused on doing well in making flying cameras. We’re enabling other applications with our software development kit such as agriculture and government functions. But we can’t predict too far, so we will see how things go as we move along. Our goal is to maintain 100% growth in sales in the next two years… If we can do that, I believe we will have 90% of the market.”

6. Competitor

6.1. 3D Robotics:

3D Robotics, founded in 2009, is an US company based in Berkley, California. It designs and manufactures commercial and recreational unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s). The company produces most advanced systems which includes consumer drones, fixed wing UAVs based on the ArduPilot platform and quadcopters for aerial photography and mapping. 3D Robotics is in fierce competition with DJI and according to 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson, his company his company is the Android to DJI’s Apple.

6.2. Walkera

Walkera Technology Co., Ltd was founded in 1994 and it is headquartered in Guangzhou. Walkera started as Chinese manufacturer of remote control helicopters for hobbyists but now it develops UAVs called micro air vehicles (MAV). Walkera MAVs equipped with daytime color TV camera, are designed for commercial and consumer use and they are also deployed by Chinese military and law enforcement agencies. The company has approximately 1500 employees.

7. Funding and Investments:

DJI has received the total equity funding of US$105 million in 2 rounds.. In May 2014, DJI received more than $30 million from Sequoia Capital at around a $1.6 billion valuation. Accel Partners, an investor in companies like Facebook and Dropbox invested US$75 million in mid 2015  at roughly an $8 billion valuation. It was one of its largest ever investment, Sameer Gandhi who led this investment for Accel Partners said:

“We think [the drone sector] is still an early market, but one that we think is a new global technology category,”

In November 2015, DJI acquired ‘strategic minority’ stake in Hasselblad to gain camera technology for undisclosed amount.

8. Revenue

The DJI is closely held company and does not disclose information about its exact ownership

structure and profitability. DJI begin It revenue in 2013 was US$130 million which increased 4 times in 2014 as DJI reported $500 million in revenue for 2014. The current estimated revenue of DJI is US$682.8M. The company now stands at US$10 billion valuation with a projected revenue of US$1 billion.