The first global chinese innovator

Everyone knows what China has achieved in the last 40 years. Although many of us doubt the accuracy of the Chinese government data, no one disputes their remarkable and unprecedented success story that is the envy of the world.

Maybe because it all happened too fast, a considerable part of the western public still sees China as a somehow backward country. This is far from the truth, as you can infer from a brief visit to Shanghai, Guanzhou or Beijing, where ultramodern skyscrapers abound, bullet trains crisscross the landscape and many customers pay their daily needs with mobile wallets instead of cash.

Shanghai Lujiazui district at night (2016)

As of the Japan of the 70's and the Korea of the 90's, China leveled up in terms of sophistication in the last decade and moved away from copycats in order to foster indigenous innovation. In the first phase, Chinese giants were developed as local variants of western companies such as Google (Baidu), Ebay/Amazon (Alibaba), Expedia (Ctrip), Nokia Solutions and Networks (Huawei), Uber (Didi Chuxing), Facebook (WeChat, Weibo) and Apple (Xiaomi, LeEco).

These Chinese companies benefited from a market where the government made sure the local incumbents were protected from foreign competition via special subsidies, laws and regulations. Most of aforementioned companies are not competitive yet in more mature and transparent markets such as Japan, Western europe or the US.

However, there is also a new wave of startups breaking the mold of overreliance on the Chinese market and overprotection by the government. My favorite is DJI Technology Co, which became famous due to the popularity of their Phantom drones.

A Phantom 4 Pro

DJI may be the first global Chinese consumer brand

DJI, founded in 2006 in Shenzhen, make really great products and design and manufactures their drones in China using top notch technologies such as machine vision, long range video streaming, intelligent batteries and obstacle avoidance sensors.

DJI have routinely out innovated competitors from Japan, US and Europe in the last few years and they are currently the indisputable leader in the professional and midcore drone markets.

In 2016 the company have unveiled four new drones ranging from the ultracompact Mavic to the movie industry darling, the Inspire 2. Besides drones, DJI also build cameras, intelligent gimbals, platforms for the DIY drone community and, most importantly, their own apps and software. In a way, DJI is the company that most resembles Apple in China as it is vertically integrated.

DJI is now considered to be the greatest threat to GoPro and other action camera manufacturers. The startup supposedly made $1.5 billion in revenues in 2016 and is valued at upwards of $9 billion in a market that didn't exist only five years ago.

I hope that, in 2017, more Chinese startups follow the example of DJI and conquer the world by their own merit and innovations. The recent announcement of Hasselblad's purchase goes in the right direction.

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