Frank Wang’s career in drone technology started with a school project in which he impressed his robotics teacher with a helicopter flight control system. Today he’s the world’s first drone billionaire, with a net worth of over $3 billion. Wang’s business, DJI, is worth an estimated $10 billion, and reportedly controls over 70% of the global consumer market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Wang is a somewhat unique figure among highly successful tech entrepreneurs, both because of the way he does business, and because of how he achieved his enormous success.
Driving the drone revolution
Drones are an incredibly versatile product, with commercial applications ranging from entertainment, to journalism, to disaster relief, to agriculture. While he’s responsible for bringing drones into general commercial and public use, Wang himself admits that he didn’t originally consider the wide-ranging potential of his products. According to him, his initial ambitions didn’t reach beyond supplying what was a small niche market with a team of 20 or fewer employees.
Unlike many other major disruptiveentrepreneurs, Wang built his product with relatively little regard for the market, and much more for his own personal interest. His talent and passionate interest in his field ultimately led to his long-term success, while marketing and the proliferation of his invention was driven more by interested partners.
An unconventional CEO
Frank Wang doesn’t lead his business the way other major tech entrepreneurs do. He doesn’t talk about developing great company cultures, finding the best people, flat hierarchies, or encouraging teamwork. Instead, his focus is on his products. Being directly involved in their development, Wang has a great sense of personal ownership over his business, of which he is a 45% stakeholder. This led to a break with his American partner, Colin Guinn, who led the American branch of DJI, DJI North America. After a serious falling out, Wang dismantled this branch entirely.
While Guinn and other DJI employees always pushed for Wang to pursue highly profitable relationships with other investors and businesses, he tends to balk at the prospect of losing any amount of control, even for great potential gain. His primary focus has always been his work on drones, rather than the business of doing business.
As someone who is more interested in his products than his market, he also appears to feel little to no responsibility for how his inventions are used. After his drones were used to deposit radioactive waste on the Japanese Prime Minister’s roof, and another crash landed on the White House lawn, Wang stated that he wasn’t seriously concerned about what his products were used for.
What entrepreneurs can learn
While many of the world’s most successful business owners like Marc Benioff, Jeff Bezos, or Jack Ma heavily emphasize leadership and management skills, Frank Wang clearly focuses on his own vision and product first. Despite his less than congenial relationships with many of the people he’s worked with, Wang sits at the top of a disruptive, industry dominating powerhouse. He is a part of another class of billionaire entrepreneurs that prioritizes their own personal ideas first and fits their business around those ideas. Other members of this club are Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, both of whom achieved success by demanding their idea of perfection at any cost. This style of entrepreneurship comes with a few important lessons.
You don’t need to hold on to the same team forever
Of DJIs original founding members, nearly all have gone to pursue other opportunities, often because of disagreements with Wang. Losing these team members may have deprived the business of their talents, but it also allowed Wang to uncompromisingly pursue his own vision for his company in the long term. Being entirely uncompromising might not work for all business owners, but knowing when to choose your own vision over an otherwise promising business partner or employee can be critical to creating something great.
Perfectionism does lead to success
Low budgets, tight deadlines, and high pressure investors often result in inferior products in every industry. Steve Jobs was famous for his unwillingness to accept low quality products, and Frank Wang is from the same school of thought. He is deeply unhappy about China’s dismal reputation for product quality, and is determined to turn this around. With this attitude, both Wang and Jobs managed to take unchallenged leadership of their industries and establish themselves as the only real choice for quality in their field.
Not every business owner has an industry redefining concept to build on like Frank Wang did, but understanding CEOs like him still provides a lot of actionable inspiration. With very few resources to start with other than an indomitable attitude and a great mind, he built a global multi-billion dollar industry. By taking the time to understand how he was able to do so despite defying much of conventional entrepreneurial wisdom, we can better understand what it really takes to succeed.