Dreams Take Flight

Industry Leaders - - Power Play­ers -

Frank Wang, 34, is the world’s first drone bil­lion­aire. He is the founder and CEO of Da-jiang In­no­va­tion Tech­nol­ogy, also known as DJI, a pri­vately-held drone-maker with es­ti­mated 2015 rev­enue of $1 bil­lion and a valuation of $10 bil­lion.

DJI, as a whole con­trols 70% of the con­sumer un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle (UAV) mar­ket share through sales of its trade­mark Phantom drones, wherein frank is said to own about 45% of DJI. Last year, the com­pany sold roughly 400,000 drones. Its sales have quadru­pled each year since 2009.

In May 2015, the Shen­zhen­based drone maker inked the big­gest deal in com­mer­cial drone his­tory with Ac­cel Part­ner, a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist from Sil­i­con Val­ley. It se­cured $75 mil­lion in in­vest­ment, in an at­tempt to bol­ster the Sky­fund ini­tia­tive. The Sky­fund is a joint ini­tia­tive between Ac­cel and DJI, which aims to ad­vance the drone de­vel­oper ecosys­tem. Us­ing the money, DJI can de­velop and amplify ex­ist­ing and newer tech­nol­ogy for map­ping, imag­ing, agri­cul­ture, surveillance, and in­spec­tion soft­ware.

Over the last three years, DJI has made it to the in­ter­na­tional head­lines for all kinds of rea­sons. In­jan­uary 2015, a small drone, called the DJI Phantom, op­er­ated by a civil­ian,en­tered into the airspace of the White House lawn and crash-landed. In one, a Phantom 2 drone con­tain­ing ra­di­a­tion, landed on the roof of the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter’s of­fice. In an­other one, a DJI drone was used to sneak drug weapons, drugs, and a mo­bile phone into a prison court­yard out­side of London.

In an in­ter­view with Forbes in May 2015, Frank Wang passed it off as ir­rel­e­vant.

When young Wang was re­jected by his top choices, he joined East China Nor­mal Univer­sity, and later ended up at the Hong Kong Univer­sity of Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy in 2003. At first, he didn’t re­ally care much about what he was do­ing with his life. But, dur­ing his se­nior year, he found his one true love, build­ing he­li­copter flight-con­trol sys­tems, which led him to his des­tiny. Be­fore Wang started the com­pany, he spent three months in­ten­sively work­ing on a grad­u­a­tion project. His robotics pro­fes­sor Li Zex­i­ang has no­ticed Frank’s group lead­er­ship and tech­ni­cal un­der­stand, whichhe had brought into the group project.it was at a time when he was still en­rolled in univer­sity. Of course, like any techie would do, Wang skipped all of his

cour­ses and went straight to his home in Shen­zhen to work on his dream project. He would wake up at 2 p.m. and work un­til 5 or 6 a.m. for days at a time. Un­der the men­tor­ship of Pro­fes­sor Li Zex­i­ang, Frank man­aged to de­velop the un­manned minia­ture he­li­copter, which achieved world’s first flight on Mount Ever­est by reach­ing nearly to the top. This was four years ago, which led to the for­ma­tion of Da-jiang In­no­va­tion Tech­nol­ogy – DJI, the com­pany, which is now the big­gest drone man­u­fac­turer in the world. When Wang first started DJI, they only made flight-con­trol sys­tem. To­day, DJI drones are be­ing used on the sets of the newest Star Wars film and Game of Thrones and its prod­ucts are fill­ing mer­chants’ pock­ets. It is quite hard to be­lieve that only ten years ago, young Wang was launch­ing DJI out of his dorm room.

The son of an engi­neer father and a teacher-turned-small-busi­nes­sowner, Wang is liv­ing the dream. Wang may have been re­jected fromthe Amer­i­can elites such as MIT or Stan­ford, but the ta­bles have turned. To­day, he’s hir­ing the top one per­cent from th­ese uni­ver­si­ties.

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