Few of Hong Kong’s billionaires have made their fortunes without a major contribution from the real estate business. Stories of Silicon Valley-style whizz-kids becoming super-rich in the city are much rarer. But Frank Wang (or Wang Tao), the founder of drone maker DJI Innovation, may go on to become a notable exception.
Wang’s isn’t a 100%-Hong Kong story. Born in 1980 in Hangzhou, he moved to Shenzhen with his family as a child. Having spent much of his youth building toy models, Wang developed an obsession with helicopter drones. He went to East China Normal University in Shanghai to study psychology but his keen interest in electrical engineering persisted. In 2003 he dropped out of that college, switching to Hong Kong’s University of Science & Technology (UST) to study how to make robots. He completed his undergraduate studies in 2006 (and a master’s degree in 2011).
Wang’s final-year project was a mini-helicopter drone. He got a poor grade but his model was well received on an internet forum for drone fans in Shenzhen. Encouraged, he launched a firm to make it called DJI in 2006 (for our first mention of the start-up, see WiC259), enlisting the help of two of his classmates.
In DJI’s early stages Wang received assistance from his alma mater UST. But he also benefited from a move to Shenzhen, which has developed into China’s tech hardware capital.
DJI grew quickly from start-up to a leading maker of small-scale drones for civilian usage, with a workforce of 2,800. It has become the world’s largest supplier of civilian drones, and arguably the first Chinese firm to achieve global leadership in a consumer product. Its market share in ‘civilian-use small unmanned aerial systems’ is about 70%.
21CN Business Herald reported this month that DJI’s revenue topped Rmb3 billion ($480 million) last year, earning a net profit of Rmb800 million. The newspaper also said that DJI is close to completing a second round of venture capital investment, which will value it at Rmb10 billion. At that valuation, Wang may become one of the richest Chinese tycoons under 40.
Need to know
Wang is the epitomy of Hong Kong’s increasing economic integration with mainland China – and in particular for the complementarity of different parts of the Pearl River Delta region. Expect more generous compliments from both the Hong Kong and Shenzhen governments as DJI’s success grows too.
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