Chinese maker of the drone that landed on the White House lawn plans to double sales
February 13, 2015 03:00 PM
(Bloomberg)— SZ DJI Technology Co., Chinese maker of the drone that crashed on Barack Obama’s lawn last month, plans to double sales in 2015 as it pushes for clearer regulations on unmanned flights.
DJI, which mostly sells online, is working with the U.S. and China governments on rules for commercial and recreational uses of its aircraft, CEO Frank Wang said. The company plans to open its own store in Shenzhen this year before expanding across China.
Wang wants to capitalize on growing demand for drones to monitor public safety, shoot film footage and search disaster areas. The company he founded in 2006 now has about 2,800 employees, including in Beijing and Los Angeles, and is worth “significantly more” than the 10 billion-yuan ($1.6 billion) valuation it received last year, he said.
“We want our consumers to say, ‘Wow, this is a product that I’ve never seen,’” Wang, 34, said at DJI’s Shenzhen headquarters. “Our goal is to make products that can override the ‘Made in China’ label.”
DJI is in talks with new investors for funding, Wang said, declining to elaborate. He prefers keeping the company independent, and holding an initial public offering is a long-term goal.
The company generated 2013 sales of $130 million, a figure it said at least tripled last year. Wang declined to give an estimate for this year’s revenue.
DJI offers drones for about 3,000 yuan to 17,999 yuan, with about 30% of sales coming from the U.S. and 20% from China, Wang said.
“We want to improve our products’ safety and functions so they can cater to entry-level users,” said Wang, who started DJI while studying for his master’s degree in computer science at Hong Kong’s University of Science and Technology.
The global market for unmanned aerial vehicles is expected to almost double to $11.4 billion during the next decade from $6.6 billion in 2013, according to the Teal Group. Obstacles for drone makers include government concerns about clogged airspace and potential terrorist attacks.
Obama stressed the need for rules governing drones after a pilot lost control of his DJI-made Phantom and crashed it on the White House grounds Jan. 26. DJI released a software update it said would prevent drones from breaching the no-fly zone above Washington.
Separately, Amazon.com Inc. said it would begin testing drone deliveries overseas while awaiting approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for trial flights in Washington state.
Authorities in Beijing also are considering new drone rules after Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and partner Shanghai YTO Express Logistics Co. delivered ginger tea packets to customers there, people familiar with the matter said. Before the Feb. 4 promotion, Alibaba and YTO said they believed the deliveries complied with the law.
Wang said DJI requires customers to register with the company, though it doesn’t share that information with the government. DJI is in talks with Chinese regulators about whether customers have to register with the government, Wang said
DJI’s aircraft include the Phantom 2 Vision, its first four-bladed drone with cameras of its own design. The Phantom -- with distinctive stripes that make the fuselage look like four bowling pins are attached -- has been a hit with video enthusiasts and celebrities.
Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who starred in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Rush Hour 2,” received a diamond engagement ring delivered with a Phantom 2 Vision+ summoned by her musician boyfriend Feb. 7, according to Sina.com.
“I never thought they’d be so ubiquitous,” Wang said.