The founder of China's most valuable tech startup reveals the secret to its success
Xiaomi's rise has been unprecedented. In just five years, the Chinese tech company has grown from nothing to become the most valuable private tech startup in the world.
What's the company's secret to success? According to its 45-year-old CEO, Lei Jun, who was interviewed in The Wall Street Journal, it's simply about "seizing the right opportunity."
"Even a pig can fly if it stands at the center of a whirlwind," Jun said in a Monday front-page story discussing the company's meteoric rise.
Founded in 2010, Xiaomi was able to capitalise on a massive gap in the market. The smartphone business was heating up in emerging markets as millions of new consumers began searching for their first handset.
Western brands tended to be too pricey, while in China, knock-offs and fakes proliferated. (Of course, Xiaomi has been accused of stealing Apple's designs before. But the company disputes this, and it's hardly in the same league as the direct copies.) Enter Xiaomi, which launched its first handset in 2011, boasting that it was faster than the iPhone — and half the price.
From the start, the company has been extremely savvy about its marketing. It has extensive online communities, which it engages with and offers flash sales too, as well as hosting a number of other unique events. It holds periodic "festivals" for its "Mi-Fans" (as its devotees call themselves), and has even been known to throw them parties in expensive nightclubs.
Lei Jun wasn't always so successful, and this played a part in his determination to catch trends — like mobile — early. "He reflected a lot on himself, on [former employer] Kingsoft, and why we missed the big trends in Internet," Kingsoft CEO Hongjiang Zhang told the Journal. "He's someone who really wants to do something that has a huge impact."
Today, Xiaomi is fighting Apple to be number one in China, and expanding into new territories in emerging markets, including India and soon Latin America.
Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra says the company doesn't intend to expand into Western markets for "a few years." But when it does, the potent combination of a very low-cost handset and a rabid fanbase should frighten every manufacturer on the market, from Apple to HTC to Samsung.
In short: If you're in the right place at the right time, you can do almost anything — like a pig flying at the centre of a whirlwind.
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