The compact camera industry has been declining steadily since 2010, shrinking by as much as 24% in 2018, as more users rely on their smartphones. But in the past two years, 360 camera manufacturer Insta360 (Shenzhen Arashi Vision Co.) has generated five times revenue growth, taking it to profitability. Thanks to its robust performance, Insta360 has raised $30 million from investors in the most recent funding round, and are targeting an IPO in 2020.
In this post, I provide an analysis of their strengths and weaknesses.
Secrets to Success
I’ve been covering Insta360 since 2016 and over the years I have seen them rise rapidly to become leaders in the 360 industry. I believe there are three key factors for their success:
Innovative Features: Insta360 is usually at the forefront in launching new features that are not only innovative but very useful. In 2016, they launched the Insta360 Nano, the first 360 camera for smartphones. It became so popular that it created a new class of 360 cameras and other companies scrambled to copy their design.
In 2017, Insta360 was also the first to add image stabilization to 360 cameras, and remarkably, they were able to add it via firmware update. In 2017, Insta360 also launched the Insta360 Pro, the first professional 360 camera with an amazingly easy workflow (with only one SD card).
In some cases, Insta360 also adopted features that were first announced by their competitors. Rather than ignoring the competition, they added these new features to their cameras, often via firmware update, thereby adding value to their products.
Marketing: I believe that what the 360 camera industry needs most is not additional cameras or features but better marketing. Even in 2019, most consumers do not understand the benefits of 360 cameras, and mistakenly believe they are only for 360 photos and videos. Insta360 has been reaching out to non-360 shooters far more aggressively than any other 360 camera company. Thanks to their efforts, an increasing number of photographers and videographers are discovering 360 cameras.
Customer Service: Since 2007, I have used cameras from many manufacturers (Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax to name a few), and Insta360 has easily been the most responsive among them. Many traditional camera companies are very slow to respond to issues, and usually deny problems, as what occurred with the Nikon D600 oil spot issue. Insta360 on the other hand responds to customer feedback right away. Their staff are constantly responding to their users through their Facebook group, and are actually knowledgeable when solving technical problems. Their CEO himself is very hands-on and is also active in responding to users in their Facebook group.
Insta360 is dominating the 360 camera industry but one possible risk is that they may be moving too fast. For example, many professional users argue the Insta360 Pro was not ready when it was launched, and it took several months of continuous updates before bugs were resolved one by one. Some professionals complained that they felt as if they were beta testers.
Insta360 is also releasing camera models at a very rapid pace (they have been releasing two or three cameras a year). This could cause customers to hesitate about purchasing a camera, worrying that their purchase may become obsolete if there is a new camera is just around the corner.
Notwithstanding Insta360’s potential weaknesses, they are consistently a step or two ahead of their competition and I believe they are poised to become the “DJI” of the growing 360 camera industry.