While the airspace has become increasingly crowded and more commercial providers enter the market, one company has managed to soar higher than most.
DJI, a Chinese-founded commercial and consumer drone manufacturer, first opened its doors in 2006 and has gone on to shape the industry’s hardware, software and applications in filmmaking, construction, inspection, emergency response, agriculture, conservation and other industries.
While the company is only 12 years old, recent research suggests that as much as 70% of the UK commercial market uses DJI drones.
Martin Brandenburg, DJI’s EMEA managing director, gave Commercial Drone Professional a sneak peek behind the scenes to its success over the last decade.
Recent reports suggest that 3/4 of the commercial market in the UK is using DJI models. How has the company gotten to that point?
It’s many folded and there are multiple reasons why DJI is where it is today. I think the number one reason is we are an R&D-driven company so it is truly the best-of-class technology that we’re striving for.
In the first few years at DJI, we didn’t really sell consumer drones as they’re known today. The vision of our founder and CEO Frank Wang was to bring out a product that he thought was perfect, and that’s still the mind-set of DJI. We like to think things through, we like to challenge the status quo and ultimately bring out products that we believe are the best we can make.
The general idea was, and still is, to make very complex technology usable and affordable for everybody. That’s the first step behind the success story of DJI, it’s what we like to call ‘democratised technology’. Because we focus so thoroughly on making that possible, we are able to build trust with our customer base and as we grew and developed new products, customers really liked what they received from us. It really enabled a lot of customers to become very creative which we have seen influences people to buy DJI in this market.
How do you think your offer differs between commercial and consumer?
They’re all on the same playing field to us. I get that question a lot, ‘what customer base do you most focus on?’ and I think what is unique about DJI is that we don’t really differentiate much between our customer audiences. Whether you buy an entry-level Spark or you buy an industrial flying platform, the experience that the user is looking for is equally important to us.
As far as I know, DJI is the only company in the multiplatform space that really offers all major platforms starting from entry-level all the way up to a very customisable industrial platform.
Obviously the differentiator is the use-case; the way we distribute it and supply the product to the different audiences. Within the consumer space we tend to use retail and online channels such as our DJI.com store. When it comes to customised drones, distribution obviously changes more to the direct model where we work with our customers but that’s the only major differentiator between the more hobbyist focused customer and the industrial user.
How does DJI look to compete with its competitors?
What’s extremely important to the company as whole is to basically question the status quo. We are never truly happy with today’s solutions and we are constantly pushing to find even better solutions.
This is really the driving force behind DJI, to continue to innovate, and, to listen to our customers. We have the ability to surprise our customers and at the same time listen to their concerns and provide solutions to their challenges. When you think about the enterprise or the professional imaging side of the business, I think this is something that we truly focus on and will continue to do so in the future.
Since DJI entered the sector, what are the main changes and challenges that you have seen?
One of the biggest challenges that you face as a relatively young company in the market is that you want to ensure that you’re addressing the market and are not being limited by regulations.
In the past we have seen what could be described as overreactions to the pace of innovation so we believe regulation should be fairly balanced. Specifically, when you are a commercial operator and you’re on a job, regulations are potentially a pretty big problem to overcome. This is something where we are actively working with regulators across the world to ensure that there is a balanced approach on drone regulation.
We have an active team that helps to educate governments and regulators across the globe to ensure that they have a better understanding of the type of innovation and the kind of benefits that our products bring to market.
Another area I believe DJI has done a good job is in addressing concerns about drones in general as a category; because the product or the category itself has grown so fast in some markets, particularly in Europe, there is a natural skepticism which we have to address and is typically what we do. We talk very much about solutions and the benefits from a commercial, as well as a consumer, point of view so that regulators, the general public and all other stakeholders really understand the benefits of a product and also the category as a whole.
How important are partnership in terms of business development and growth for DJI?
Ultimately, we want our products to be beneficial to the whole of society and there are many companies, verticals, individuals that have found an added value using our products which has been instrumental to really helping us grow.
One that we just recently announced was Komatsu, and together with Skycatch, we have co-developed a customised drone based on a DJI platform enabling 3-D mapping on construction sites.
This is the first time that we have co-developed a drone with a third party and it really underlines the fact that that we are listening to potential customers and helping to develop the right solution for their vertical.
What are the company’s plans for growth?
We will continue down the path of simplifying and democratising technology; making very complex things easy to use and enhancing performance. One of the areas where you might want to keep your eye on DJI is in the AI space.