Could you turn your passion into a billion dollar business? That’s what Frank Wang did.
As a child, Frank had a passion for flight: “At elementary school I saw my first model helicopter in a shop. It cost the equivalent of several months’ salary for average people. My family could not afford it. But finally, after I did a good job on my high-school finals, my parents rewarded me with a model helicopter. I assembled it but I wasn’t able to fly it properly because to do that needed months of practice. So when I did try to fly it, the helicopter immediately crashed.”
Despite this early set-back Frank persisted. 10 years ago at 25 years old, he enrolled at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology and began working on his project of designing a better remote controlled helicopter.
His passion project became more important than his studies: “I spent three months intensively working on the project. At that time I was still enrolled at the university, but I skipped all the courses and just went to my home in Shenzhen. I would wake up at 2 p.m. and then work until like 5 or 6 a.m. for days at a time.”
“One time, when I did go back to the university lab, I tried to use my ID card but it didn’t work. My heart sank a little bit, because I thought I was kicked out of college by my professor. But actually I had forgotten to pay my tuition.”
Recalling the highlight of his early days: “The most memorable moment for me was when our helicopter automatically hovered in the air (for his senior class project) in January 2006. That was a good time. Nowadays so much of what I do is management… like catching spies.”
Why the spies? Because in the last 10 years Frank has grown his company, DJI, to over $1 billion in sales (more than 70% of the global consumer drone market) led by his signature Phantom drone. In April last year, DJI raised funds at a US$8 billion valuation, making Frank worth $3.4 billion.
The growth came after plenty of struggles. After university he set up his company from a 3 bed apartment in Shenzhen, and tried to sell his drones at exhibitions, saying “We were mainly just going to exhibitions and putting ads on hobbyist websites. The first time we went to an exhibition at Nuremberg, Germany we were placed in the China section, with one of those cheap and small booths, right next to stuffed animals…We were not even in the model section, we were in the toys section.”
Then, in 2013 the drone market took off at the same time he released his best-selling Phantom. Sales went from $120 million in 2013, to $500 million in 2014, to $1 billion in 2015. The FAA projected about 15,000 drones in the U.S. by 2020. Frank now sells that many every month.
Today, he’s the world’s first drone billionaire, with the first Chinese company leading a global tech revolution. In the last 12 months, the company has attracted top hires like Former Apple antennae-design lead Rob Schlub and Tesla’s former director of autopilot engineering, Darren Liccardo.
Frank combined his passion and talents with a growing wave and the best product on the market, and has ended up with a billion dollar business doing what he loves.
To be frank, there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same. The waves of the future are growing bigger and faster. Your passion and talents are your surfboard. So pick your wave and instead of sinking or swimming, take the entrepreneurial 3rd option and surf.